The Growth of the Kingdom
The Scripture that the teaching is based on is found in the Gospel of Mark 4:21-35.
He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. 
The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of God stands eternal.
Prayer of Illumination:
O Lord, Your word is lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Guide us in understanding Your word. Help us to know it better today than yesterday, and better tomorrow than today. May this word transform us so that we better conform to the image of your Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus has been teaching for some time now. But it wasn’t until last week that we started to get a glimpse of what Jesus has been teaching. He has been teaching in parables. Last week, we looked at the Parable of the Sower and saw that not all will receive the seed of the gospel. For some, they will have no interest in the gospel at all; their hearts are hard like a path that has been trodden over too many times. Others will make false professions. Some are only looking for a sugar daddy and not a lord, so when persecution and troubles come they wither away; their hearts are shallow. Some never leave behind their desire for worldly and material possessions and their love of God is choked out of them; their hearts are distracted. Finally, some will receive the gospel and bear fruit some thirty, some sixty, some one hundred times.
Sometimes when we hear that three out of four soils will not receive the gospel, they won’t actually bear fruit, we become discouraged. We become discouraged in our efforts to sow seed, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Then when we turn on the news and hear that the Church is under attack. Last week there was an attack on a church in Nigeria. One hundred and twenty people were killed in the attack. Or we hear that the Chinese government has been cracking down on house churches and arresting believers. We hear those things and we worry whether or not the church will survive. Or maybe closer to home we hear that young adults, people around my age, are less likely to identify as Christian. We hear these things and we worry about the Church; we worthy whether or not she will survive and if she does how big will she be.
In this passage, Jesus tells two parables that address these concerns. He says not only will the Kingdom of God survive but the Kingdom of God will thrive. As we examine this passage, we’ll see the growth of the Kingdom of God and we’ll see who grows the Kingdom.
The Growth of the Kingdom of God
Jesus begins two of the parables by saying “this is what the kingdom of God like”. He says that in verse 26 and again in verse 30. That’s important for us to note. It’s important to note because the salvation that Jesus brings is not just about saving souls. The salvation that Jesus brings is for all of creation. Somewhere along the way, we got it in our heads that Jesus is just in the business of saving our souls out of creation. I’m not certain where that idea came from but it has been cropping up in Christian thinking for the last generation or two.
But the salvation Jesus brings is to all of creation. One of the most well-known and beloved Christmas songs is “Joy to the World”. It’s a beautiful song. We sing it during advent. There’s a line in it that goes “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found”. Genesis 3 tells us the curse has not just affected our souls; it’s affected all of creation. The salvation that Jesus brings is for us and our souls, but also for the renewal and redemption of all creation. That’s the image we get in Rev. 21:1-5. There we see a new heavens and a new earth; we see a new Jerusalem where all of God’s chosen will live with him; we see that we have new bodies, free from the stain of sin.
Even the word kingdom implies there is a place that Jesus will rule over. Kings rule over kingdoms; they rule over lands. Have you ever heard of a king without a kingdom; a king without lands? That just seems so preposterous. If an earthly king rules over a kingdom with land, then King Jesus will rule over a renewed heavens and earth.
Jesus is King. The parable of the lamp indicates that. The lamp was an image in the Old Testament that represented God, his word and his Messiah. Our English translations don’t do the best job of showing that. Verse 21 literally says, “Surely the lamp does not come in order to be placed under the bowl or under the bed, does it not come in order to be placed upon the lamp stand?” Jesus is the one who reveals God in all of his glory and splendor; he is the one who fulfills the law; he is the one who redeems his people. And the Apostle Paul says that is what makes him king.
Now this kingdom that Jesus rules over starts small. He says that the kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade”.
Jesus likens the kingdom to a mustard seed. If you haven’t ever seen a mustard seed, it’s tiny. It’s the size of the crumb. But this tiny seed grows into a tree that provides shade for the birds.
And the Kingdom of God started just the same; it starts off small. In Genesis 12 we read that God called Abraham to himself. Worship of the true God had all but ceased. And God calls Abraham to himself and promises that he will make him a nation and through that nation will bless all the families of the earth. But at this point it’s just one man and his wife who is barren. The Kingdom of God starts off small.
But if you follow the story of Genesis, as we did back in the fall, you’ll see that Abraham’s grandson Jacob had twelve sons. The kingdom is getting a little bit bigger. Then in Numbers after Israel left Egypt, roughly 400 years after Jacob, there are 603,550 men who are able to fight (Num. 1:46). Scholars think the actual number of those who left Egypt is more than 2 million. The Old Testament chronicles the ups-and-downs of the people of God. We read that many who were Israel, those who were physical descendants of Abraham and Jacob, weren’t actually Israel; many didn’t believe.
Then when Jesus comes on the scene and began to reconstitute the true Israel, the kingdom again started off small. There were only twelve disciples and a handful of other followers. But on the day of Pentecost, Peter preaches and some 3,000 people believe in Jesus. The kingdom is getting a little bit bigger. We spent last summer looking at the Acts of the Apostles and tracing the growth of the Kingdom of God. We saw the Kingdom of God grew.
Even today the Kingdom of God is growing. There are more Christians today in South America, Africa, and Asia then there ever have been before in the history of the Church. The Kingdom of God is getting bigger. It is growing most rapidly in China.
In the 1950s, Mao Zedong thought that he was stamping out Christianity when he expelled all westerners and missionaries from China. He began persecuting the Church and numbers dwindled to the hundreds. What ended up happening was that the Church went underground. And in going underground, the Church in China had to take seriously the cost of following Christ. Despite the persecution, the Church grew. The surrounding culture saw how these persecuted Christians responded with grace and mercy; they saw how they made society a better place for everyone. And the Church grew from hundreds of Christians, to thousands; then from thousands to roughly 31 million Christians. The Church started off small but has grown large. And the Kingdom of God is still growing there.
It’s growing with former Muslims who have fled their homelands in fear and have landed in Europe with Christian neighbors. Yes the Kingdom of God starts off small, even unimpressive, but it grows far beyond the size of its seed. It grows to be large and great.
The One Who Grows the Kingdom of God
While Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God starts off small and grows larger, he also tells us who causes the kingdom to grow. In verses 26-29 Jesus says, “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Again, we see that the growth of the kingdom is slow and steady. The seed is sown, then weeks later it sprouts and begins to produce a stalk, then the head, and finally months later the full kernel of the head. Growth is slow but steady.
But notice who is the one causing the seed to germinate, sprout, grow, and bear fruit? Is it the man who scatters the seed? No. It’s not the one who scattered the seed. The preacher is not the one who causes someone to come to faith or causes the kingdom to expand.
Truthfully, I find that rather comforting. I cannot cause someone to come to faith or cause the Kingdom of God to grow or shrink. It’s comforting because it’s not on me to save someone. It is beyond my ability to regenerate someone, to break up their hard hearts and make the soil good. That is beyond me. That is beyond you.
So if it isn’t pastors and preachers who cause the Kingdom of God to grow, then who does? God. God is the one who causes someone to come to faith; he is the one who causes his kingdom to grow. All of that is his work. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who comes into our hearts, breaks the hardness of our hearts, removes the rocks, weeds out of sins, and causes us to bear fruit.
The Apostle Paul puts it like this in 1 Corinthians 3, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
The church in Corinth had all sorts of issues; one of those issues was division. They were divided over who they should follow. Should they follow Paul? Paul was the one who brought the gospel to them. Some were saying they should follow Apollos. He was an excellent preacher while Paul was unimpressive in person. Others were saying they should follow Peter. He was one of the disciples; he spent three years with Jesus. They were divided.
But the Apostle Paul says to them that the one whom they should be following is God. God is the one who brought them to faith and caused them to grow in their understanding. Peter, Paul, and Apollos just watered, they were the instruments by which God grew and nurtured his people.
Maybe you’re wondering, “Ok, if what you’re saying is true, then why in the world should I ever share my faith? What is the point of the Great Commission? If we are unable to cause someone to come to faith or cause the kingdom to grow, why share the good news?”
We share the good news because God has said join me in my mission of redeeming creation. We share the good news because we love God and what he done for us. And because we love him we want to do what he does.
I have to confess, I’m not the most skilled with my hands. I can change the oil in my car and the tires, but that’s about it. I can’t build cabinets or entertainment centers. My dad can. He is an excellent carpenter. If my dad were to ask me to help him with one of his projects, I would. I would do it because I love him. How much more is that true for our heavenly Father? Our love for our heavenly Father far exceeds our love for our earthly fathers. And so when he calls us to join in his mission, we do it because we love him and we love what he loves.
God may work through you or me in causing someone to come into his kingdom. Maybe we are the ones who sow the gospel in someone’s life. Or maybe we are the ones who water and help nurture the faith in someone. But it is God who causes his kingdom to grow.
God will continue to grow his kingdom until it is ready for harvest. When it is ready for harvest, there will be a great multitude of believers from every nation, tribe, and tongue praising God. On that day, Christ will return and renew the heavens and the earth. But until that day, the Church will continue to be in the world but not of the world. We will continue to be in the world but not of the world. God will continue to grow us in number and throughout the globe. He will continue to send his adopted children throughout the earth to scatter the seed of the gospel, to water and nurture those whom he has caused to come to faith.
So take hope. Do not despair. Do not believe the lie that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. God is at work in the world. He is growing his Kingdom. Every place where the gospel is preached he is at work growing his Kingdom. In some places it may be growing quickly, like China and Africa. In other places it may be growing more slowly. But know that the Kingdom of God will continue to grow until Jesus returns.
It will continue to grow because God wills it so. God is the one causing it grow. He is the one tilling the soil so that people receive the gospel. He is the one who removes the rocks from our hearts. He is the one weeding and pruning us so that we are healthier and bear more fruit. He is the one renewing and reviving his Church.