Please read Mark 4: 26-34 and 1 Corinthians 3: 1-9 and then pray:
“Jesus, Lord of the harvest, may your word, the seed of your Kingdom, produce much fruit in my life, to the glory of Name. Amen!”
As we celebrate this season of harvest, I trust that our hearts are full of thanksgiving for the many and various good gifts God has blessed us with. Let thanksgiving never cease to flow from out of our hearts. God is good. His love and faithfulness endure forever! The promise of God to the world is this;
As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease (Genesis 8:22).
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).
I want to give thanks today for the untiring and devoted work of our nation’s farmers. When was the last time you thought about their magnificent contribution to the wellbeing and strength of our nation? I am tempted to suggest that during harvest season we should all be outside once a week clapping for farmers. What do you think? What a vital work they do! Do we appreciate it? Farmers and farming communities deserve our utmost thanks.
I met two jovial farmers on my way into Littledean URC last weekend. They had parked their tractors and decided to have a chat by the roadside. When I wished them a good morning, the two of them, with their broad Gloucestershire accents, were putting the whole world to rights. They noticed my guitar and asked if I was on my way to the Chapel. I introduced myself and said that I was leading worship, and they were welcome to join us. They chuckled and said they had far too much to do, but they hoped that the Chapel’s congregation would say a prayer for them. We shared a few jokes together, and one of them nick-named “Tosher” suggested a new prayer was needed; Give us this day our daily petrol. I left them to continue their talking and laughing, but not without sincerely thanking them for their hard work. What great characters they were! May God bless them!
All arable farmers would admit that although they work extremely hard, there is only so much they can do. They have a big part to play in producing food for a hungry nation, but they know that when it comes to the actual growth of crops for harvest, their power is limited. They can do so much; they can play their part; but there is Something/Someone bigger behind the actual living process of growth. The farmers prepare the ground; they plant the seed; they may fertilize the soil, and they may do other things, but there comes a point where they just have to leave the crop to grow with the help of the rain and the sunshine. The seeds do their work. God does His. Growth is ultimately down the Almighty, and his goodness and love. Growth is God’s department. Many a farmer prays – perhaps even Tosher does – and so they should! They look up to heavens – so should we!
We (the farmers) plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is feed and watered by God’s almighty hand;
All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all His love. (Matthias Claudius 1740-1815, tr. Jane Campbell 1817-78) See James 1:17
From a biblical perspective concerning our understanding of the Kingdom of God and its growth, this is very important. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like this, and he then presents the parable of the growing seed. If you want to understand my Kingdom and the nature of its growth – understand this says Jesus. What does he ask us to understand and to grasp?
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 corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
The farmer scatters the seed on the good soil; he does not make it grow. Did you notice that very significant phrase in the parable – all by itself?
The only other place in the New Testament where that Greek phrase is used is in the wonderful story in Acts describing Peter’s miraculous escape from prison. Chains fall off Peter and locked doors open “all by themselves” without any human intervention. This is God’s work. He sent the rescuing angel to help Peter. Peter is set free by God. (Acts 12:10) God has much more Kingdom work for Peter to do!
The parable of the growing seed has one major point and we must grasp it. I love the way this is explained by George Eldon Ladd in his book The Gospel of the Kingdom;
The parable of the seed growing by itself sets forth a single basic truth: “the seed bears fruit of itself.” The Kingdom of God is like a seed in this one point: a seed contains the principle of life within itself. There is nothing the farmer can add to the life in the seed. He cannot make it grow, he cannot cause it to produce life. His one task is to sow the seed. Then he may go about his other tasks. But while he is busy about other things, even while he is asleep, the life resident within the seed and the powers resident in the earth assert themselves and produce fruit.
The Kingdom of God is a miracle. It is an act of God. It is supernatural. Men cannot build the Kingdom, they cannot erect it. The Kingdom is the Kingdom of God; it is God’s reign, God’s rule. God has entrusted the gospel of the Kingdom to men (and women). It is our responsibility to proclaim the Good News about the Kingdom. But the actual working of the Kingdom is God’s working. The fruitage is produced not by human effort or skill but by the life of the Kingdom itself. It is God’s deed. (p64)
The main foundational parable Jesus taught which is in all three synoptic gospels is the Parable of the Sower, sometimes referred to as the Parable of the Soils. Once again, this famous parable includes the initial key work of scattering the seed far and wide. The Parable of the growing seed starts in the same way – scattering seed faithfully and liberally. Jesus says that the seed is the word of the Kingdom. (4:14) The seed is the word of God. It must be scattered – and this is done by disciples. The seed will land in various types of soil. Only some will grow and produce a harvest – but there will be a harvest. There is a relationship between these two parables and we must note it. Our part – the scattering of the seed and God’s unique part – the growing of the Kingdom and the ultimate harvest.
Now the parable of the growing seed is only found in Mark’s gospel? Why would Mark choose to include it? He was writing primarily to encourage persecuted disciples of Jesus in Rome, and it seems to me that he wanted to powerfully remind those hard-pressed disciples that they must simply concentrate on faithfully scattering the seed – the word. God would grow his Kingdom – and his Kingdom would grow “all by itself” through God’s power and grace and goodness. Persecution could not stop the growth or hold back the work and reign of God. His Kingdom would grow and his Kingdom would come. The disciples in Rome had merely to concentrate on scattering the seed, on sharing or “holding out the word of life in a dark world” (Philippians 2:16) – and leave the growth element to God. Growth and the furtherance of the gospel is God’s work. It is God supernaturally working in the hearts and lives of people to grow his reign, his Kingdom. His Holy Spirit works in tandem with the scattered word to produce new life and growth. The Spirit and the word combine together to bring people into the Kingdom. James 1:18 explains the process of growth, as does 1 Peter 1: 23-25;
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands for ever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.
And it is worth quoting from Jesus’ Parable of the Sower with regard to where the seed (the word) successfully grows and produces a harvest;
Others, like the seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:20)
The word and the Spirit combine to grow the Kingdom in the hearts and lives of certain individuals. I am only here today because the seed of the Kingdom, God’s word, was planted in me through the powerful, sovereign, gracious work of the God’s Spirit and because I heard God’s Word. The Word which is shared by all Christians, not just preachers, is the sword of the Spirit. God alone should receive all the glory for my salvation, for my entrance into the Kingdom, and for any harvest produced either in me or through me. He is the responsible for my salvation. I am saved by his grace alone.
Our other bible reading from 1 Corinthians carries exactly the same message and biblical principle. The Corinthian Church was disunited over several issues. Placing certain leaders on pedestals had not helped. Some claimed that Corinth was Paul’s Church because he planted it – therefore they “followed Paul”. Others believed Apollos was now the true leader because he was presently pastoring and encouraging the Church. Paul explains that this kind of thinking and partisan spirit is childish and reveals that there is much spiritual immaturity amongst them. Paul reminds them that he and Apollos and any other leader who can be named are “only servants” who God has called and used to help build his Church. However, it is God who makes the Corinthian Church, and any other Church grow. Yes, Paul planted seeds, and God used him to pioneer the Church. (1 Corinthians 9:11) Yes, Apollos watered the seeds through his teaching and pastoral care. But all true growth is down to God alone. God brings individuals into his Kingdom and makes them members of Christ’s body – the Church.
It was Jesus who said “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18). Who is responsible for the growth of the Church? Who grows the Kingdom? God alone. Paul stresses this twice to the Corinthians;
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (! Corinthians 3:6) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (v7)
Or as it is explained in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the New Testament – The Message:
It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the “centre” of the process but God, who makes things grow.
How vital for us to grasp this and remember this as Christians and as a local Church – particularly as we are about to commence LYCIG (Leading Your Church Into Growth) next weekend. We all certainly have an important part to play, like Apollos and Paul did, as did all the members at the Church in Corinth. But the actual growth department is God’s. Peter Clarkson does not grow the Church here, neither do any other individuals, gifted and not so gifted. It is the work of his Spirit and his word within individual lives that brings about the growth. When writing to the Philippians Paul states the following facts:
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you, will bring it on to completion until the day of Christ”. (Philippians 1:6)
“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
God does the work within us – the key saving work. He causes the seed planted in us to explode into spiritual life and kingdom growth. However, we are called to be God’s “fellow workers.” What an important point this is that Paul makes. (1 Corinthians 3:9). Leaders like Paul, and Christian leaders today can scatter the seed of the word through preaching and teaching. Members of any church can also plant seeds through sharing the word with friends and family and neighbours. We can all plant and scatter the word of life. We may also be involved in watering seeds that others have scattered and planted. We water seeds through our prayers, our loving encouragement of people, our hospitality and our pastoral care. We work in partnership with the Holy Spirit. But God causes the growth – and he alone gets all the glory. This is why the LYCIG prayer emphasises this key biblical truth.
God of mission,
who alone brings growth to your Church,
send your Holy Spirit to give vision to our planning,
wisdom to our actions,
and power to our witness.
Help our church to grow in numbers,
in spiritual commitment to you,
and in service to our local community,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
It is Jesus alone who is “the author and finisher” of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2). He will build his Church! He will grow his kingdom – from tiny mustard seed to glorious tree. He sends his Spirit to do this. He sends his Spirit upon his Church, upon us, that we might scatter the seed with his power and love, that we might water it with diligence and care. He calls us all to be fellow workers in the field – the field of the world for whom he came to die and rise again and give eternal life and hope.
All the world is God’s own field, harvests for His praise to yield. (Henry Alford 1810-71)
Jesus exhorted his disciples, and he exhorts us, to fully open our eyes and see that there is a spiritual harvest in the world that is to be reaped through the power of his Spirit and his Word. After he had challenged the Samaritan women and offered her “living water”, she went away and scattered the seed amongst the local villagers and population. She planted seeds and the kingdom grew. Listen again to the climax of the remarkable story that surrounded her witness to Jesus who she came to believe was the Christ.
Read John 4 v 27-42.
There is also the not dissimilar story that Matthew records in his gospel as Jesus stepped out to scattered the seed, the word of the Kingdom among many Galilean towns and villages.
Read Matthew 9:35-38.
Can we hear and receive these important words of encouragement from our Lord? Jesus says to us also, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Will you be a worker for Christ – a “fellow worker” in the field? Will you scatter seed – the seed of your testimony as the Samaritan woman did? Will you water seed that is already around, in both this church and the local community? All hands are required and needed on deck! Participate in LYCIG with joy and openness to the Spirit. Open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest! Challenging the Galatian Church at the end of his letter to them, Paul writes these words;
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6: 9-10)
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)
And now unto Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – be all glory and praise, now and forever. Amen!
Revd Peter Clarkson (October 3rd 2021)