Read This Page in My Language
Green is the color of growth. That is why the liturgical color for the Sundays after Pentecost is green. The season of Pentecost focuses on the life of the church, and therefore, many of the appointed lessons have to do with growth. Sometimes the claim is made that the reason Jesus used so many agricultural illustrations is because he lived in an agricultural society. No doubt that is true. But I think it has to do with more than that. God purposely designed this world and the way it functions so that we can better understand him and the way he works with us. That is the purpose of these two parables today.
Both parables have to do with the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the place where God rules over his subjects with his love. And that place is the heart of believers. God rules our hearts not through coercion or force but with forgiving love. This kingdom then is not a specific place, but rather a specific people. And these people – Christians – are scattered throughout the entire world. Sometimes they gather in local congregations, but the congregation per se is not the kingdom. You are the kingdom of God. Not the entire kingdom but a significant part of it.
What Jesus teaches today is that his kingdom on earth will grow. No matter how much Satan attacks God’s people, God’s people will continue to increase on earth. The second of these two parables talks about the outward growth of the kingdom. The kingdom begins very small, like a tiny mustard seed, and then over time, it grows into a glorious, grand, and peaceful kingdom. So grand that it encompasses the entire earth, and so peaceful that as birds find shelter and protection in the branches of a tree, believers find peace and serenity in the shelter of God’s kingdom.
I don’t think this second parable requires much interpretation. When Christ spoke, it he was about to sow the mustard seed–that is, he was about to establish his kingdom. And then the first growth we see is given as one hundred and twenty souls as they met together in Jerusalem. But then the number quickly increased to more than three thousand on the day of Pentecost. And since then, it has grown into millions and billions.
So, just as Jesus said it would, his kingdom has and continues to increase. Verses 30 – 32: Then he said, “To what should we compare the kingdom of God? Or with what parable may we picture it? It is like a mustard seed, which when sown on the ground is one of the smallest of all the seeds planted in the ground. Yet when it is planted, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches so that the birds of the sky can nest under its shade.”
Now I know I started with the second parable, but I did that on purpose. Because whereas the second parable of the mustard seed describes the growth of the Christian church, the first parable talks about how this actually happens. The answer isn’t super satisfying to those of us who like to understand everything, but it is the correct answer. It is a mystery. We can say many things about it, and we will, but just how and where and when an unbeliever is converted to a believer is very much a mystery from our vantage point on earth.
Think about your own conversion. How did it happen? For many of us we were born into a Christian family and baptized. But when you start to ask questions like, “How come I was born into a Christian family?”, and when you think about all the workings of God that had to take place in previous generations for you to be born into the family you were and baptized as a baby, it’s mind-boggling.
Others of us became a Christian later in life. Again, we may be able to remember when it happened and how it all came about, but when we ask the question, “Why me?”, or when we consider all the factors that needed to come together for it to take place, it is a mystery.
I was talking with someone this past week, and she was sharing with me the story of how she became a Christian and how she was baptized later on. It was fascinating. Or I think of many of our members on the Hispanic side who God brought to an entirely different country to hear the Word of God. How is it that someone who is born in Mexico comes to know Christ from a blue-eyed, Caucasian, Spanish-speaking pastor, who happened to come to Waukegan at this particular time in their life, where they happened to be living at the time, and in some way the pastor and the person happened be connected? Mystery.
Of course, we know that God’s Word is the power behind it all, just like we know a seed is what causes a plant to grow, but how does life get into a seed? And how God’s Word germinates in a person’s heart, we can’t explain that scientifically. And that is what Jesus says. Verses 26 and 27: “The kingdom of God is like this: A man scatters seed on the ground, and while he sleeps and rises, night and day, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”
Now some people may argue, “No, we do know how a seed sprouts and grows. We’ve studied it and understood in our modern age the inner workings of the plant.” Yes, but how does life get into a seed? And what exactly is life? I mean, if the universe formed itself from lifeless matter as evolution teaches (which is not true), where did the life come from?
And of course, the comparison is appropriate–that just as great a mystery is the sprouting and growth of the Word in the hearts of men and women. “The wind blows where it pleases.” Jesus told Nicodemus. “You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Hence, the question in the title of my sermon: What difference has God’s Word made in your life? Because the very fact that you are a believer means that it has made a difference. Right? God’s Word causes growth. That is what Jesus is saying. His kingdom will grow on earth. In what way? Like a mustard seed that grows into the largest of bushes. How will this happen? Secretly. At first you won’t even know what is happening. Like a seed in the ground. The ground produces fruit on its own: first the blade, then the head, then the full grain in the head” (v. 28). Application? This is precisely what God is doing inside of you! Do we realize it? And when we do realize it, what difference has it made?
Think about that question for a moment. How different would your life be without God in it? What kind of person would you be? What kind of family would you have? You can’t say God hasn’t made a difference in your life. We often live that way because we forget that the power behind who I am today is all God, not me. But when we remember that God’s Word has changed me–there was no faith in Christ at first. There was no plant. And then little by little over the years my faith has matured: first the blade, then the head, and then God willing the full grain in the head.
It gives us much reason to pause and thank God, doesn’t it? It certainly is the basis for why we worship him. Who are you? You are God’s creation. Whose are you? You belong to God! You are a member of his kingdom! And what is the basic truth that Jesus is teaching with these parables? God’s kingdom grows! That is true not only collectively, as in all the believers. It is true not only numerically, in that more and more people are brought to faith each day. But it is also true individually. God’s kingdom grows throughout the world, but it also grows inside of you! That’s the promise. That is the statement of fact.
Where are you in that growth process? Are you just a blade sprouting out of the ground? Are you far enough along where there are buds appearing on the blades? Or are you a ripe fruit ready to be harvested, ready to be taken to heaven?
Somebody says, “Well, I’m 85. I must be a ripe fruit.” No. Maturity in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with the Word planted in you. There can be elderly people who are still in the budding stage, and there can be younger people who are ready to be harvested. So, how do you know? Well, we don’t always know. The growth is always mysterious. But God knows. God knows exactly when the plant is ready to be harvested. Because harvesting here is God taking the believer to heaven.
Think about that as I read to you verse 29 once again. The sickle in this parable is not the sickle of judgment. It’s not the grim reaper. It is the angels coming and taking our souls to heaven. “When the crop is ready,” Jesus says, “he swings the sickle without delay, because the harvest has come.” Sometimes the crop is ready when the person is just a child. The harvester, who is our loving God, swings his sickle and takes the child to heaven.
What a comforting picture! Harvest time is a joyful time. The death of a believer is full of joy. The believer has borne the summer’s heat and withstood many a storm during his or her life, and now God lovingly cuts the believer off from this life and brings him to his heavenly home. What a beautiful and joyful picture whether one happens to be young or old!
So, how far along are you? Well, only God knows that. But what we do know is that he planted the seed of his Word in you to bear fruit. That is the whole reason (i.e., so that the seed germinates, grows, and bears ripe fruit). God knows what he is doing with you. The fact that you are still alive is proof that he still wants you to grow. When you are done growing, he will take you home to be with him. There is no doubt about that. But in the meantime, no matter how old you are, he is still getting you where he wants you to be.
So, there is a difference God has made in your life. And there is a difference God continues to make in your life! The power for change is in his Word. Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Use the Word. Don’t worry about whether you are growing enough or fast enough. The farmer plants the seed and then proceeds to other work. All by itself it grows whether it is daytime or night. So, keep using the Word. Keep coming to church. Keep learning your Bible. If you do that, God himself will take care of your growth. You will grow. You are God’s kingdom. And God’s kingdom doesn’t just grow a little bit; it grows and grows. Amen.