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The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

[Read Mark 4:26-29]


…he knows not how

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 farmer doesn’t know how it happens. He plants, and he waits in faith, trusting that those seeds, so small and buried out of sight, will do what seeds do and become a harvest.

“The earth produces by itself first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”

The farmer can only plant the seed. He can’t build the stalk or assemble the grains. He plants and then must trust in those internal processes God Himself has created within the seed.

This is how the kingdom of God grows. “The kingdom of God is as if…”, Jesus said. In God’s kingdom, the seed is God’s Word [Luke 8:11]. God’s Word is planted, then it grows itself into a harvest.

The Word of God’s Law is planted like a seed. At first, that Word might frustrate the individual. But then it begins to grow roots and take hold inwardly, and it brings about, in that person, regret over sin and a new, true way of seeing things.

The Word of God’s Gospel is planted like a seed in that same person. The Gospel shows them God as their Savior who forgives their sin, receives them, and begins a new creation in them. By God’s Word, a new man, a believer in Christ, is planted and sprouts in that person and begins to grow to maturity.

As the believer in Christ grows toward maturity, the fruit, the good grain growing in them, is obedience to God’s moral commandments – willingly, out of love for God, because He has first loved us — and good works for your neighbor in need, because Christ has helped us in our needs — and the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [Galatians 5:22-23].

This is the “harvest of righteousness” [2 Corinthians 9:10; James 3:18] – the “full head of grain” – which results from God’s implanted Word.

Of course, that farmer, after the seed is planted, after a while of waiting to see some growth, might start to get nervous. And the bad-news weather reports might make him worry. Is there really a harvest for me?

And, in regard to God’s kingdom in this world, the church – and in regard to our families or children, and, especially, in regard to ourselves – we may have cause for concern at times that the implanted Word of God is not producing His harvest in us. We may really have cause for concern, but not for despair.

This is because God has called us to “walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” [Hebrews 11:1].

Faith is confident in results not yet seen because faith is confident in what God has promised. God’s Word will accomplish what God has promised, where and in whom it is planted.

Therefore, the kingdom’s future is never dim or in question. A week after planting, the farmer doesn’t despair over the lack of a harvest. He understands it takes a whole season – “First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Then, “When the grain is ripe, at once He puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

            The harvest of God’s Word also has its seasons. When the world looks barren, there is the empty field for planting. Jesus only ever complained that His workers were few, never that His harvest was lacking – “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” [Matthew 9:37]

Jesus told another parable in today’s Gospel with a great promise about His kingdom: “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Others, who do not yet believe, will believe – many will – and they will find rest in the branches of Christ’s church in this world. And there is an abundant harvest finally seen on the Last Day – “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” [Revelation 7:9]

Parents also must labor by faith in the effectiveness of God’s Word. The hope for your children is not determined by the state of the world. “For He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” [1 John 4:4]. The seed of God’s Word, planted in their hearts, is stronger than sin, death, and the devil.

God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” [John 1:5]. God’s Word has this power in the lives of your children, but only if you are planting that Word in them.

Make sure that the Word of God’s Law, His moral commandments, is in their ear and applied in their life at home. Teach them the Bible in family devotion time. Teach them the basics of Biblical doctrine. Use the Small Catechism or other resources made for families.  

And make sure, above all, that the saving and forgiving Gospel of Jesus – the knowledge of what He has done for them on the cross – is in their ears all the time, and that Christ’s forgiveness is applied to them at home. They learn life in Christ by their life with dad and mom.

No matter what is happening in the world, God’s Word has more power – so be giving them God’s Word.

And God’s Word will be effective within you. There are still a lot of weeds and a lot of stones in the soil – the more you dig, the more sin and shame you find within you, along with doubts.

By what you see in yourself, there is no hope. But your hope and trust is not in yourself but in God’s saving Word. God’s Word is doing and will do, within you, what Jesus has promised. His Word will not fail – “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” [Romans 1:16].

The work of God’s Word takes a whole season within us – a lifetime – “First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain.” “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6]. Keep receiving God’s Word.

God’s Word has such sure and certain power – to forgive sins, to save, and to produce His fruits of righteousness within you – because the Word of God is Jesus Himself and contains within it all the saving benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” [John 1:1,14].

Jesus said of Himself that He is like a seed, a grain of wheat, planted in the ground by His death to rise and produce an abundance of fruit by His resurrection: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24]

You are the fruit He has produced by His death and resurrection – by His completed work of redemption for you. You are His fruit, His grain of wheat, and He produces fruit within you and through you.

Within every seed and grain of God’s Word, there is, working within it, the death and resurrection of Jesus for you.

God’s Word, therefore, no matter what, has the power to save and to sanctify – to make holy – all those who receive it, and to produce in you a harvest of righteousness. A

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