Friday, March 31, 2017
It is remarkable how easily I miss the profound and important truth that the Lord taught—even after much study. Perhaps this is simply my inattention (probably so) or perhaps my unwillingness to “pay close to” what I hear the Lord Jesus say (Mark 4:24). Regardless, the most excellent Shepard is kind and patient with us. Is it no wonder that he had to reprove his twelve disciples repeatedly for be so dull of mind? What an extraordinarily powerful act of God it is to awaken us to pay attention to his word, to actually heed the Gospel message and then for God the Spirit to grow the “seed” of truth up so that human beings can be transformed spiritually!
I have been very familiar with the Lord’s parable which is generally called the “parable of the sower” (Mark 4:1-9) and have overlooked another in that same section of Mark—that of the “growth of the seed.” This realization came to me as I read a book which cites and attempts to elaborate on the meaning and significance of this parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29). The book is: I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus, by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp (IVP:2008).
While this book is not primarily about the parable itself the authors propose a grid for understanding and applying the truth that particular parable conveys. I came away from that reading with a startling and refreshing perspective on the meaning of the process of spiritual awakening and growth in the human soul. I recommend the book as a tool for understanding how to gauge what is happening in the lives of those who are being drawn into the Kingdom—those we pray for and seek for ways to bear witness to. These reflections are partially in response to the book and the parable.
In Mark, after the Lord explains his most well know parable (Mark 4:1-20) about the different soils, there is an additional parable which follows. This is the parable about the process of growth of the “seed” of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:26-29). There are five distinct phases that occur as the seed is imbedded into the soil (the human soul).
“He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’” (Mark 4:26-29, New Jerusalem Bible)
First, there is the planting of the seed itself (v.26). This would be obvious—the hearing of the Gospel and the “seed” of truth about God’s salvation is the landing of the seed in a person’s soul. This “planting” of the seed of the word occurs in relationship with a disciple of the Lord. All communication of the Gospel is mediated through persons to other persons. A relationship is established between the believer and the person who has not yet come to believe in the Lord.
Second, there is the beginning of the process of growth of the seed as it begins to come out of the soil. That is, it sprouts and begins to grow up (v.28). This is surely the development of faith in its beginning stages. That beginning stage is curiosity about the Lord Jesus and the Kingdom of God. This is not yet seeking after God to know the truth—that is a later stage in the process. This comes about because the seed of the truth was planted through a trusting relationship with someone who is the Lord’s disciple.
Third, there is further internal change in the person. This is the “ear” and represents a recognition and willingness to change some specific area of one’s life. This is not yet conversion nor is it seeking after God yet. Rather, it is the expression of the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination and conviction about a particular aspect of the person’s life that is not right. And further, it is the stirring of the conviction that he or she must do something to change.
Fourth, there is the “full grain in the ear.” (v.28) This is now the point when that conviction about the need to change takes on an urgency which, under the Spirit’s work, becomes a pursuit of truth and answers. This is a critical time because the enemy will be at work to counter this pursuit of God and truth. And thus it is therefore especially a time when we need to intercede for our friends and family who are under this inner compulsion to find answers from God.
Fifth, there is the full growth of the seed and the harvesting of it (v.29). This is what we could call “conversion” or entry into the Kingdom of God. This is when it is ripe for harvesting.
What usually happens is that those who care enough to pray and be a witness in word and action to people about the Lord do not discern where others are at in this process. Perhaps we confuse someone’s curiosity as readiness for seeking or conversion. If we do so then we may miss taking steps necessary for the further growth of the seed at that stage. What my friend needs is to have his questions answered by someone he trusts. That is my witness at that point. I love him and respectfully seek to clarify the answers he seeks—what he is asking and not those I think he should be asking!
I think that so often we have no idea “where” people are at in this conversion process which this parable speaks about. And further we do not appreciate that our witness in a trusting relationship is vital to help foster the growth of the seed. While we do not know how this growth process happens (v.27) we can see evidence of it and we can become detrimental to that process if we are not wise and speak and act in accord with the leading of the Spirit.
God’s work is to energize the seed of the Gospel in people while we faithfully speak of it and demonstrate it with our lives. Our lives make it attractive or give the enemies lies credence for those not in the Kingdom. God’s purpose is for his disciples to walk alongside people as he works by his Spirit to lead them to the truth about the Son of God and spiritual life in the Kingdom of God.