God has blessed us in so many ways! He has forgiven our sins and given us new life, life in all its fullness, eternal life, a relationship with God as our Father. We have God the Holy Spirit living inside us and the happy certainty of heaven. But as well as all these wonderful blessings we have received from God, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We also have the privilege of giving our offerings to God’s work, and more than that, of giving our lives back to God in grateful worship and service and witness.
Last week we thought about the Parable of the Sower and the different kinds of soil. That parable ends like this.
Mark 4:20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
There are different kinds of crop Jesus envisages for Christians. The fruit of good works, giving glory to God. The harvest of Christian character, the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and faithfulness and self control. But perhaps the most important crop is the most obvious – more plants. The whole purpose of seed and fruit is to produce more plants. And one of the greatest joys in the Christian life is to lead others to know Jesus too, the privilege of winning souls for Christ. So Jesus follows the Parable of the Sower and the Soils with three more short parables which are really about evangelism and witnessing, to challenge and inspire us to go out and bear fruit. Three parables about how the Kingdom of God grows.
The lamp on a stand
21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.
Back in the days before electricity and gas, each house would have just one lamp. And its purpose was to bring light to the whole house.
So you didn’t hide the lamp under a bowl or under the bed. You put it on the lampstand. Whether Jesus had in mind the kind of bowls used for measuring as the basis for trade and business or just the cook’s measuring bowl, bowls can get in the way of the light shining. Business and household chores can equally lead us to hide our light. And maybe the bed is just a symbol of idleness. Some Christians are just too lazy to let their light shine!
Of course the best place for the lamp was on its lampstand so that its light could shine everywhere it was needed. Anywhere else and the lamp is wasted and useless.
It can be so easy to keep quiet about our faith. To forget to tell our friends and colleagues that we are Christians. Just to avoid the subject altogether with neighbours who are not believers. In many places today there is tremendous pressure not to talk about religion. Especially in the workplace. We are told that Christian faith is a “private” matter. To keep our opinions to ourselves. It isn’t easy to witness for Christ in today’s world.
But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said this. Matthew 5: 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
We are not all called to be evangelists, but we are all called to be witnesses, to tell other people about the wonderful things Jesus has done in our lives. We need to let our lights shine, by deeds and also by words. By actions, and by testimony. Paul commands the Philippians,
214 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life.
It is “the word of life” we are offering, not just our own opinions but God’s priceless message of salvation. Being a Christian is not just another hobby, some people collect stamps, some people go to football, some people go to church. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to escape the judgment of the Holy God which is coming on this runaway world. On a sinking ship people are usually very grateful to be handed a life jacket. Don’t expect to be thanked! But tell everybody the good news of Jesus anyway!
22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.
God didn’t entrust us with the gospel so we would hide it, but so we could share it! If we don’t sow the seed, there’s never going to be a harvest! And to encourage his disciples Jesus told two more parables about how God’s kingdom grows.
The seed growing secretly
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Just as God gives growth to tiny seeds hidden away below the ground until they burst out in growth, so God is giving growth to His kingdom and the seeds of his word.
Here is an encouraging picture of the Kingdom of God in the world. The hiddenness of the kingdom in these days will ultimately be followed by a time of glorious revelation. The seed has been planted. Christ has come and revealed God’s way of salvation in words and actions and in love and in power. And now is still a time for sowing and planting and proclaiming the gospel. Harvest time is definitely coming! In other parables such as the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus used “harvest” as a symbol for the Day of Judgment. At Christ’s return God’s Kingdom will be revealed in power and glory. Right now the seed is growing in secret, but despite any appearances to the contrary, the Kingdom IS growing.
The parable of the seed growing secretly is also a reassuring picture of how the gospel grows in an individual’s life. Even if words sown do not lead to an immediate response, they can still be growing deep down inside. By God’s grace seeds sown long ago can still produce a glorious harvest of repentance and faith and new birth. When we share our faith with our friends if they don’t respond immediately we can so easily be discouraged. Sometimes they argue with us. Sometimes they simply ignore what we say. But always remember this parable – the seed may be growing, just growing secretly.
But of course, we have to sow the seed in the first place. The word of God must be preached in words that the hearers will listen to and understand and remember.
Romans 10 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
If we HAVE shared our faith with our friends, if we have told them the good news of Jesus Christ, then we must put our trust in God that the harvest will come. Leaflets we put through doors, adverts on Facebook, whenever we invite our friends and neighbours to something in church, even if they don’t come, words of testimony, these are all seeds still growing secretly. We have God’s promise in Isaiah 55:
10As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
If we have faithfully planted the seeds, it is God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
God gives the growth. Our task in simply to pray that the Spirit will blow where he wills and breathe new life and new birth. To pray and pray and keep on praying. We may not see signs just yet, but it is always worth sowing the seeds because even if they are growing secretly right now, one day the harvest will surely come. And when the plant does grow, what a wonderful plant it is!
The parable of the mustard seed
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
If Jesus had lived in England he might have said, “Mighty oaks from humble acorns grow.” As he was in Palestine he used the example there of the tiny mustard seed which can grow into a plant over 15 foot high!
The mustard seed is a picture of the way in which God’s great works can spring up from small beginnings. Think of how Jesus’s life had a humble start, born in a stable, a refugee in Egypt then growing up in the back of beyond, Nazareth. And after three short years of ministry, the death of a common criminal accused of blasphemy. Eleven ordinary men, discouraged by the execution of their teacher, began a tiny sect which grew to take over the Roman Empire and is now followed by a third of the people in the world. When we think of the apparent weakness and insignificance of Jesus and those eleven disciples, remember how God has blessed and prospered his church over the centuries! And how much more wonderful it will be when Jesus returns with the glory of the holy angels, and the church will be transfigured into immortality and eternal glory and the whole world will bow the knee and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of all. What a glorious end result from such small beginnings!
There may be times when we may feel small and weak and insignificant as a church. Just a few dozen of us trying to reach more than ten thousand people in North Springfield. Remember the parable of the Mustard Seed. Small beginnings – great results!
Then the mustard seed is also a picture of the gospel in a person’s life. The road to faith can begin in such small ways. A brief conversation. An invitation to church. A piece of Christian literature or a DVD or even a song. An instinctive prayer in times of trouble.
In Borehamwood our neighbours were two retired Baptist Deaconess, Maggie Popham and Winifred Waller. They had worked all their ministries in small Home Mission aided Baptist churches. Maggie would often remind us of Zechariah 4:10. “Do not despise the day of small things.”
Small things. A single word of testimony. An invitation. A copy of the church magazine. A random act of kindness. Turning the other cheek or going the extra mile. Something as simple as just letting somebody know that you are a Christian. Just putting the lamp on its lampstand instead of hiding it under the bowl or under the bed.
Big things grow from small beginnings. In God’s Kingdom, great things will come – but they come slowly and gradually over a long, long time! A long long time! We live in a world of instant everything. We look for rapid results and dramatic growth. We want everything yesterday – but mustard seeds take time! This parable reminds us that in God’s Kingdom success will come. But it will come slowly, imperceptibly, and very very slowly. Because God measures success not by size, not by big numbers but by holiness, love, and faithfulness. The standard by which God measures success is the sacrifice of the cross, the tiny seed of grain which has to fall into the ground and die if there is ever to be a harvest.
Small beginnings but what a joyful ending when somebody commits their life to Christ and becomes a brand new person inside! So here we have three parables of how God’s Kingdom grows. And in the middle of them Jesus says this.
24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
Watch how you listen, Jesus says. If sermons are going to change our lives what matters is not how good the preacher is at speaking but how good the listeners are at hearing what God has said and putting it into practice.
“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.”
God deals with us as we deal with Him. If we respond to the truth God has revealed to us, he will reveal even more. If we ignore that truth, we may even lose what we have
25“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
All parables demand a response. The more we respond to God, the more he will bless us. If we don’t respond to God, one day we will lose the opportunity.
Don’t hide your light – put it on the lampstand. Keep on praying for the seed which has been sown and is even now growing secretly. Do not despise the day of small things – remember the mustard seed.
“For the man who has something will receive more. As for the man who has nothing, even the nothing he has will be taken away.”
“He who has ears, let Him hear.”