- Benjamin Sherrill
The Mysterious Growth of the Kingdom
Updated: May 28
Let us begin by considering the following missionary efforts and be reminded of how God builds His kingdom:
William Carey worked 7 years in India before seeing the 1st convert to Christ, Krishna Pal.
Adoniram Judson saw his 1st convert to Christ in Burma, Maung Nau, 7 years after he left America.
It was 7 years before Robert Morrison saw his 1st convert in China .
These missionary efforts attest to the Scriptural parable our Lord taught in Mark 4:26-29 speaking on the nature of the Kingdom:
"And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Now when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
This is one of the most neglected parables in Scripture. It is not mentioned in any other of the Synoptics. There are multiple layers of mystery and beauty within this text, but let us start simply with the first phrase.
Knock Knock, the Kingdom Delivered
“The kingdom of God is like…” What an astounding statement! It's easy for us living 2000 years after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord to read right past that. However, for Jesus’ contemporary Jewish audience this was truly groundbreaking information. As students of the Torah, the audience would have been aware that the Messiah and His kingdom were a one-packaged-deal. This was precisely our Lord’s message that he pronounced to his audience. In other words, Jesus is saying “Yes! All of those promises and prophecies you grow up hearing about, it’s me, I’m that guy” (Gen. 3:15;49:10; Isa. 9:6-7; 42; 49; 53; Ps. 22; 72, etc.) You could imagine the utter shock and probably distaste hearing that the long-awaited millennial kingdom had been inaugurated by some random-guy named Jesus, a carpenter from Nazareth of all places…
Nevertheless, it was all true, the kingdom had come because the king had come. As Pastor Toby Sumpter says in his fine book Blood-Bought World, “Jesus bought this [world] with His blood. Deal with it!”. The rest of the parable builds upon this foundational point, don’t miss the umph of it! Which leads us to our second point:
Faithful and Obedient Work, not Result-Driven Work
“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know.” (v. 26-27) Here our Lord is demonstrating that His disciples ought to be concerned with faithfulness and obedience, not results because the results are given from and belong to God.
This section of the parable makes reference to his disciples, his laborers in the kingdom as being the “man who casts seed” and the seed being the message of God’s Word and his all-encompassing Gospel. Notice in verse 27, that the sower does not have many responsibilities, but only one: to scatter seed after which he goes to bed, rises and repeats the process. When he is sleeping and rising, the text says that the seed sprouts and grows. Yet, I love how our Lord puts this, “he knows not how”. By not knowing how, Jesus means the sower cannot see nor understand how the seed is growing.
Jesus is concisely and beautifully describing the relationship between God’s sovereign purposes in and through His kingdom and its growth throughout the world. In the kingdom of God, disciples faithfully labor day and night as God in supernatural and mysterious ways accomplishes His will in bringing all things under his feet (Heb. 10:13). Paul reminds us of this when he corrected the divisiveness within the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 3. Members of the church were dividing the congregation up saying that some of them were disciples of Paul, and others were disciples of Apollos. Paul brings Apostolic correction to them in verses 6-7 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
As Christians we must remain steadfast and faithful at our outposts. We sow the seed day and night by delivering the message and discipling our families, fellow church-goers, co-workers, etc. We labor to build the kingdom with all of our might, being committed to personal holiness and simultaneously the covenant Lord brings the results. God brings the increase in the kingdom. God is the one drawing the nations to himself. God is the one changing hearts. The Psalmist describes this process like this: “Through God we will do valiantly, And it is He who will trample down our enemies.” (Ps. 60:12) These “regular”, “ordinary”, means of grace change the world. Think about the world-changing impact of the Gospel on one man who once was a drunk, lust-filled, fornicating, idolater. He is redeemed and given a new heart by the work of Jesus Christ and because he has become a new creation, he is now a good, bold, strong, courageous, meek, loving man who is a father, brother, son and co-worker. Now multiply that across several families, churches, cities, and nations. How does that not change the cultural, societal, educational, political tides? Which leads us to our last point.
The Unusual Victory of the Unusual King
Everything about the life of Jesus was unusual, from his younger years to his adult life. It seems that he was constantly being misunderstood by his family, his disciples, the Roman and Jewish authorities, etc. The masses thought he was just about everything he said he was not and not many in that wicked generation believed who he actually said he was. In like manner, when Jesus taught about his kingdom it was often misconstrued. There were those who wanted Jesus, like King David, to expel the Romans, restore the Jewish nation and usher in the kingdom by force. Essentially they were longing for Jesus to fix everything immediately; “So Jesus, aware that they intended to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself, alone.” (Jn. 6:15) Even as Jesus was teaching them once more about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), getting ready to ascend to his coronation session (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:18-22), the disciples were still insisting upon a misunderstanding of the nature of his kingdom, “So, when they had come together, they began asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Many today still suffer from a misconstrued understanding of the nature and timing of Jesus' kingdom. All Christians believe that ultimately, we win. We’ve all heard someone say something like “I’ve read the last page of the story and we win!” or allow Pastor John MacArthur to say it more plainly, as he said in one of his sermons: “We don’t win down here. We lose!” Meaning, Christians win…ultimately, at the end, after history is lost in sin and darkness. Then Jesus will come back and take over the world by force and set things straight.
However, the Scriptures show that this King that was predicted, prophesied, and promised came to earth teaching that his kingdom had come, is coming, and will continue to come, in an unusual way. This kingdom is upside-down, bottom to top, and thus, it will be victorious but not in the way normal earthly-kingdoms are considered victorious. Jesus did not plan to wing history, and pull a ‘hail-mary’ touchdown pass at the end of time to clinch the game. By contrast take a look at verses 28-29 “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
From this description we learn that God’s metric for growth is unusual, once again. His kingdom is counter-humanistic, it does not take things over-night like a revolutionary would. His kingdom does not blow up in an instant like a firework would. Instead, it spreads and grows in individuals, families, churches, cities, and nations, like a mustard seed that grows over a long period of time into the tallest and strongest tree or like leaven in a lump of dough gradually worked through ‘until it was all leavened’ (Matt. 13:31-33). The Bible is permeated with these type of gradual-growth descriptions when speaking of the kingdom of God. Thus, this type of work takes time. It prescribes buckets of hard-work and lots of faith-filled plowing.
As daunting as that seems when we look around at our nation, culture, city, church, or even family, I would like to point us back to the glorious reality that “The soil produces crops by itself” (Mk. 4:28). God has sovereignly purposed that history would see the blessing of all families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-4; Gal. 3:7-9; Rev. 7:9-11), through the gradual-growth of His kingdom in the world (Ezek. 40-48; 1 Cor. 15:20-28). How do we know this will be accomplished throughout history? The prophet Isaiah says that “The zeal of the Lord of armies will accomplish this.” (Isa. 9:7) and the fact that King Jesus gave His disciples His own Spirit guarantees the success of the mission (Matt. 28:18-20), just as God’s presence with the Israelites guaranteed the success of taking over the Promised Land, the land was already theirs.