Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 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." Mark 4:26-29 (ESV)
On this weekend we pause for a moment to consider how we are blessed to live in the country that we do, and to thank the Lord our God for all He has done for us. One of the blessings we often take for granted is the abundance of good food that we have. Why, one only has to walk down the aisles of the mega super market to see shelves overflowing with every kind of food imaginable. Our children have never known a day where there was nothing to eat. Instead, we have the challenge of teaching them to eat right and get exercise to stay healthy.
One thing we don't often think about is where that all the food in the stores comes from. Beyond the supermarket and the warehouse, before it is processed, every kind of food is grown by someone. That bagel you ate for breakfast this morning was made from wheat, and a farmer raised the wheat. Your bacon came from a hog farm, probably out in Iowa somewhere, and a farmer fed and cared for that hog. Your orange juice came from an orchard, where a farmer tended to the trees and gathered the orange harvest. Where would we be without the farmers? This country is overflowing with good and wholesome food of every kind, truly a land of milk and honey, and God bless those who grow the good food for us and to the glory of God.
Jesus told today's parable about the farmer. He didn't glorify him, but presented him as a beholder of miracles. "He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how." Today farmers use high tech planters that count the seeds and evenly spaces them as he lays them in the ground, so many seeds per inch, so many seeds per acre, in rows so many inches apart, each seed so far down in the soil. But essentially he is doing the same thing the farmer did in Bible times. He scatters seed on the ground. It's just a lot more organized than it used to be.
Does the farmer have to understand all the biological functions of the seed? No, he just plants it under the soil in the right conditions, and the seed grows all by itself. He cannot make it grow faster or slower, he can only select the seed, plant it, irrigate it with water, add nutrients and fertilizer. He cannot manufacture a seed. He has to take the seed from a living plant that God has created. But the result is powerful. From one seed comes a plant that produces many seeds. The seeds produce grain, fruit, or vegetables much more valuable than the original seed he planted.
I like driving along country roads in mid May when the corn plants are just rising out of the ground. Each seed has produced a blade of green peeking out of the soil. The scene goes on for miles and miles in every direction. Little green corn plants everywhere. Each one in itself is a miracle. The farmer, no matter how highly educated he is, doesn't know why the plant grows. He just knows it will grow, given the right conditions.
Jesus says this similar to how the kingdom of God comes to us. A preacher comes along and plants the seed of God's word among us. He preaches the gospel to us. He does not know who will believe it and who will not. He preaches and teaches, not understanding how the Holy Spirit will work, only trusting that He will.
By preaching gospel I mean he proclaims both law and gospel. He first tells us the world we see is a beautiful place, but a broken place. The world is in rebellion against God. We are part of this broken world, and we are broken also. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. In the earthly tent, our human body, we groan and are burdened. If you are in the peak of health you may not think much about this passage, but if you have health problems, pain and discomfort each day, you know what he means. Just take a walk through one of our many hospitals and nursing homes and you will understand. There is much pain and suffering that cannot be cured, only endured.
We experience that brokenness not only through health problems, but also through broken relationships, grief, and the daily grind of life. Some of it we inherit through original sin, just being born into a broken world. Some of it we bring on ourselves when we disobey God's commands. In this way we all experience hardship and we long for a better life. This is the message of God's law, reminding us that we are headed for death, and we cannot save ourselves.
The faithful preacher is careful not to tell us that we can overcome the world by working harder at being obedient. This idea is gaining in popularity, but it is a dead end. The kingdom of God does not come by our doing, but only by God's doing.
The law message prepares us for the gospel. The gospel message is that good news about how God rescues us. He has rescued us by coming into our world, not merely to teach us how to live a better life, which we could never do, but by living that better life for us. Jesus went to the Heavenly Father with a deal, his perfect life in exchange for our broken ones.
When this message is received by someone, it is as if a seed has been planted and started to sprout. Now you've surely heard the parable about the sower and the different kinds of soils. The seed planted in the rocky soil sprouted, but the sun wilted it because its roots had no depth, and so on. That parable was about the quality of the soil--this parable is about the mystery of how faith grows once it is planted.
It is a mystery how faith in Jesus takes hold of a person and grows inside them, producing a lifetime of good works, the essential fruit of saving faith. We cannot predict where the seed of the word will spout, which souls will respond and grow, and which will become stony and hard and reject the word of life. Those that receive the word do grow, and grow surprisingly well.
Jesus preached the parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed is a small seed, but grows into a big plant. Nature sure can surprise us sometime, but not nearly as much as the work of God does.
Perhaps the greatest surprise is that God does his work in us without any help from us. Salvation is totally God's work. If the word of Christ takes root and grows in us, it is to God's credit. Does the mustard plant boast because it grew so much? No, it doesn't measure itself. It just grows and produces its crop for us to enjoy on our hot dog.
The Christian is the same. We do know why faith grows in us. We do not choose God, actively call Him to come into our heart, or accept His offer of salvation. To say this would mean that we are, in part, responsible for our salvation. Instead, we are careful to proclaim that all the glory for salvation goes to God, who called us by the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word. Like the plant, we do not add anything to our salvation. We are simply planted and grow.
What we want to watch out for are the things that obstruct the gospel among us. Now the plant has to bloom where it is planted, but we Christians can avoid things that hinder the growth of God's word among us. Things like jealousy, greed, drunkenness and lust work against the power of God's word, and we should stay away from them. So often we do not take the Bible's warnings seriously enough.
But God is faithful, and when we confess our sins, His forgiveness is total. We are readied for the harvest, that time coming when He will take us from this broken life and gather us to Himself, where He enjoys the fruits that He has produced in us, lives of faithfulness and dependence upon Him.
Yes, thank the Lord for the fruitfulness of the earth and of this, our country. And thank the Lord for what the seed of His word has produced in us. Let it grow until the harvest comes. Amen.
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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