Of Jesus’ hand-picked twelve disciples, one betrayed him and the eleven who remained were pretty ordinary, uneducated men. At Jesus’ Ascension, the number of his followers was 120. Today, there are about that many on Crown of Life’s membership roster. And today, about 1/3 of the world’s population declares allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
From such a small beginning has grown a kingdom that extends to all the ends of the earth. And this kingdom will never end, but will endure through all ages until the glory that never ends. How did that happen?
Jesus told his disciples many parables and each parable instructs how the kingdom of God works. The parable of the sower shows us how the word is received. The parable of the weeds teaches us that the kingdom of God isn’t identical to the visible church. The parable of the hidden treasure and of the priceless pearl tell us that the kingdom of God is our most valuable possession. The parable of the net teaches us to cast the net of the gospel and let the Lord take care of the results.
In our text for today, Jesus tells two parables: The parable of the Growing Seed and the parable of the Mustard Seed. He tells these parable so that we will Trust in the Word to Do Its Work.
Now both of these parables have to do with the growth of the kingdom. In the growing seed parable Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
What makes the kingdom grow? “Night and day, whether he sleeps or not, the seed sprouts and grows, though he doesn’t know how.” Just as the seed has a wonderful power to grow and produce a harvest, so does the Word of God. The Word of God has a wonderful power to be planted and then grow in the hearts of people and produce a harvest for the Lord.
Once the farmer gets his seed into the ground, isn’t he relieved? Aren’t farmers confident that once their seed in their fields they can wait for a harvest? In confidence in the power of the seed, the farmer begins to do other things while he waits. He drives around to see if others farmers have their seed in. They fix their machinery. They cultivate.
In the chapters before Mark 4, our Savior plants the seed of the word in Galilee, along the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum. In Capernaum he planted the seed of God’s Word in the synagogue, and at the tax collector’s booth. He planted the seed publicly, and in individuals’ homes.
One morning Jesus got up early to pray by himself and when they found him he said, “Everyone is looking for you!” He said, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” He also prepared his disciples to continue the work that he started. “Come follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Follow they did. Plant they did. Read the book of Acts and you’ll see where Jesus’ disciples went to plant the word.
In this first parable Jesus talks about the kingdom of God spreading through the word, the powerful word. And before he ascended into heaven he said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus was confident his Word would work. The word has always worked. God said about his word, “My word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” “Is not my word like a hammer that breaks rock into pieces?” “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword.” A double edged sword cuts in every direction. The disciples and apostles were confident too. “They preached the word wherever they went.”
“…the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain.”
If the word of God is so powerful, then why does the Bible collect so much dust? If we believe in the power of God’s Word, why is it so hard for us to witness the truth of God’s Word? If we are God’s children, and God’s children listen to the Savior in his Word, then why don’t we believe what God wants us to believe? Why don’t we obey the way God wants us to obey? Is the fault in me? Or it the fault in the Word? If we are trusting in the Word of God to do its work, then why is there so much pressure in visible churches to change their teachings so the kingdom can grow?
How amazing that this Almighty God comes to us for reconciliation. We doubt him and comes to us? We don’t believe him and he wants back into our hearts? After what Adam and
every week, but there was Eve did to him? After what I do to him every day?
God seeks us out and saves us with his powerful word. The Bible says that God’s Word saves our souls. James says that the Word of God “can save you.” (Ja. 1:21) Paul says that the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ who came to save sinners is the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” God’s Word reveals to us the righteousness that is ours in Christ. After revealing to us that there is no righteousness in us, the Bible assures us that there is righteousness earned by Christ, through his innocent suffering and death, that delivers the sinner. The Word of God has the power to save, because it tells us of the one who came to save us.
The Word of God also has the power to bring us to faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17) The Word of God has the power to nourish this faith. After assuring us that there is an inheritance in heaven waiting for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter tells us that we “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming…’of the last day.’ (1 Pe.1:5)
The Word of God has the power to work regeneration and new life. We are born of corrupted seed, born to die because we are born in sin. But Peter tells us (1 Pe. 1:23) “For you were born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” Imagine a holy God coming to damnable sinners like us and making us his children through the Word of truth. James 1:18 says, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth.” Jesus said, “The words I spoke to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63)
Is there enough time today to talk about the power of God’s Word to grant us the hope of heaven after this life? As crowded as our lives are, we his children still look forward to the blessed goal of our God-given faith. The Word of God not only tells us about this hope of heaven, but it also has the power to change our outlook on life, our point of view. Our home, our destination is heaven.
Finally, the Word of God is a source of strength for every issue of life. You sinned terribly? God saves mightily! The blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from every sin. You feel alone. God is with you and will never leave you. You feel overwhelmed. He tells you his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
And while a dying world yawns at the message we graciously granted life. While a dying world questions critically the truths of the Bible, we are granted life. While a rebellious world persecutes the believer, the gospel has the power to make that conviction even stronger in the face of persecution.
The growth of the kingdom comes through the word. Jesus was confident in His Word. Jesus preached and taught his Word. The disciples preached and taught his Word because they were confident in its power. And Jesus’ second parable talks about the incredible growth of the kingdom through the word.
In the parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus says, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all the garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
The mustard seed was the smallest seed in Jewish gardens, but it grows to 10 or 15 feet high. In America mustard plants don’t grow over four feet tall. All other plants were dwarfed by the mustard plant. Birds could sit on its branches in its shade. When this seed grows it grows fast and it can crack concrete.
The seed is the kingdom of God. Who would have thought that a boy born in such lowly circumstances would have a rule that extends over heaven and earth? Who would have thought that a handful of disciples preaching the good news of the kingdom of Christ would spread into a religion of followers on every continent and in every century?
While the world yawns and persecutes, the kingdom grows. While the church wonders why it doesn’t grow faster, the kingdom grows, inwardly and outwardly. Our own WELS has grown into a synod of 385,321 baptized members; and 305,558 communicant members, with 1,286 congregations, and 1,349 pastors, 1,594 teachers, in twelve districts. Our own WELS has 20 congregations which have signed services. All within the lower 48. We started with four pastors in Milwaukee in 1849 who wanted to start a synod. Did you know that today they are over 200 Lutheran synods in our world today? How did it happen? The word. The Holy Spirit using the word.
Worldwide our missions include 533 congregations, 86,502 baptized members, 132 preaching stations, 8 teachers, 146 national pastors, 17 student pastors, 197 national evangelists, 13 national vicars, 220 Bible Institute students, 145 seminary students.
We run one of the largest Christian prison ministries in the nation, distributing hundreds of thousands of Bibles and Bible correspondence courses to inmates across the United States over the last 20 years. I conducted a prison ministry for about six years in WI. Had a number of guys that came a revolving door of inmates who needed to hear about Jesus who heard about Jesus. Like others who do such work, my Bible Classes never made it onto any statistical report.
We support work in world mission fields like Malawi, Zambia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Japan, Russia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, India, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. We also support mission work in the United States, Canada, and the West Indies.
Our congregations—either individually or as federations—operate one of the largest Lutheran school systems in the country with 324 Lutheran elementary schools; 403 early childhood ministries; 23 area Lutheran high schools; and Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis.
We maintain Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn., Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., and two preparatory high schools: Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., and Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich., for the education of our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers.
One tourist in Israel said when he examined some mustard plants he found that a typical pod contained two or three seeds, rarely four. He determined one seed may have grown to become more than a hundred seeds. One species of brown mustard produced on average 250 times more than what was sown.
In Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed Jesus says that the Word that fell on good soil produced “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Let’s remember whose seed this is. God’s.
Oh, one more thing. The mustard plant is not a real attractive plant, especially when it gets brown. To me its scraggly and rough in appearance. But it’s the Lord’s illustration and parable. “…the seed sprouts and grows.” And when the mustard seed is planted, though it is the smallest seed Jews planted, “Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all the garden plants.” When Jesus left this earth visibly he left 120 followers behind. Today, in Fort Myers, there are that many at Crown of Life who believe in Jesus. Trust the Word to do its work. Amen.