A Study of Mark 4:3-20
All believers have an unashamed conviction that the Word of God is the power to work faith and holiness.
There are many so called Christian churches and many Christian organizations which no longer make that unashamed confession. There are some who deny the inspiration and the authority of the Bible; they do not believe that the Bible is, word for word, the Word of God without error. They point to supposed errors and contradictions in God’s Word and believe that God’s Word is perhaps true in some respects but not all respects. The result of this is that, instead of using the Word of God to build faith and holiness, these turn more and more to gimmicks and to drama and to other things to build faith and holiness.
There are others who believe that faith and holiness is within the power of men. These would say, “Yes, we believe the Bible is word for word the Word of God, but we believe in the doctrine of free will and that man must make his own decision to have faith and to be holy.”
There are still others who are indifferent and complacent and have no affection whatsoever for the truth of God’s Word and do not care to bother themselves with these things.
The truth is this: The Bible is word for word God’s Word. And it is the Bible, which is brought to the heart by the Holy Spirit, which is able to build faith and holiness. It is the power of God unto a true Christian life. The Word of God, as it is to be preached from the pulpit, sound, biblical preaching; the Word of God which is to be brought in catechism classes whereby children of the church are instructed in the truths of God’s Word; the Word of God which is to be taught in your home as a parent to your children; the Word of God which is to be read in your home and to be read by you personally – you are to open and to read that Word of God. The Word of God is the power to build the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is the power unto faith and holiness.
This is the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is the teaching that Christ gave repeatedly. He spoke it in word and in parable. One of those parables is recorded in Mark 4:26-29. We call this parable the parable of the Invincible Seed-that the Word of God is an invincible power and will cause true Christian faith and holiness in the hearts of God children, in the hearts where the Holy Spirit has implanted the seed of God’s Word.
This parable that we find in Mark 4 was spoken to a multitude by the seaside while Jesus was in a boat. It was spoken to a general audience (not simply to His disciples). It is recorded for us only in Mark. And it is not interpreted by the Lord. As to its place, we find that it is a wonderful complement to the parable of the sower, or better, the four different kinds of soil. In that parable which Jesus spoke, the man went forth to sow seed in his field. Some of these seeds fell on the wayside; others on stony ground; some among the thorns; and some on good ground. In that parable Jesus taught our responsibility to embrace the Word of God with a believing heart and to guard against all who would make that Word of God unfruitful in our lives (whether that is the false, subtle suggestions of Satan; whether that is the persecution of an unbelieving world; or whether that is the cares and the lusts of this present time).
Now the parable that we consider today, the parable of the invincible seed, teaches us the sovereign power of God, the power of God’s Word, to accomplish God’s purpose in His children. God will certainly and surely, through the invincible power of His Word, bring His children to faith and to holiness.
In this parable Jesus sets forth an aspect of the kingdom of God. We read, “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.”
As I said, this parable was meant to teach us an aspect of the kingdom of God, the kingdom which Jesus Himself had come to establish and was establishing in His ministry.
What is the specific principle of that kingdom which Jesus teaches us?
It is this: Jesus is teaching us the invincible power of the Word of God when it is brought to a prepared heart.
In the parable we read of three times: the sowing time, the growing time, and the harvest time. Jesus speaks to us first of the sowing time. The picture is that at the proper time of the year the farmer, taking a bag upon his shoulders, casts forth his seed and sows the seed. That is all that is said. Then we read of the growing time. And of that growing time, we read of two activities. The activity of the farmer-that activity is described as sleep: he rises night and day, he goes about his normal business, and he sleeps. He does not arise every three hours, take a candle, get down on his knees, and dig around in the earth to see if the seed is doing anything. No, with the growth of the seed he has nothing to do. He has sown the seed and now he does nothing.
But we also read of the activity of the seed. The seed sprouts and lengthens and grows into an ear and a blade and brings forth fruit. This totally transcends the ability of the farmer to comprehend how that little seed grows. It first sprouts through the earth as a little blade, and there is a hue of green across the field. Then it turns into an ear, swelling forth in a bud, a kernel of wheat or corn. It does this of itself. The farmer does not know how this happens. He simply stands before it and praises God.
Then we read of the harvest time. Immediately, straightway, the farmer will thrust in his sickle because the harvest is come. No matter what other projects he may have around on the farm, he knows that the field is ripe for harvest, everything is prepared, and he sends forth reapers into his harvest because the harvest will be damaged if he waits too long.
There you have it. And the point of the parable is this: the invincible power of the Word of God to work in the heart of God’s children to bring forth growth and maturity, to bring forth faith and holiness, until at last, being ripe, they are ushered into heaven.
The seed which is sown is the Word of God. That is very plain from the parable of the sower and from Jesus’ own words that the sower soweth the Word of God. That Word of God is compared to a seed. It is a living Word. And when it is implanted in the heart of faith it must bring forth repentance and holiness. Now the kingdom of God is like that. It is like a seed which is sown in a field which sprouts and brings forth a fruit. So in the kingdom of God the Word of God is sent forth and, by the Holy Spirit, brought to the heart of God’s children. That Word of God sprouts and brings forth the visible life of faith. That is the meaning of the parable.
The Word of God is the invincible power of God to produce faith in the life of His children. That is very important. That vividly underscores the origin by which the kingdom of God is established from its very beginning to its culmination. The kingdom of God, said Jesus, is advancing. It is expanding. And it does so by the Word of our God. From the point of view of men we would expect to read the following. “So is the kingdom of God, like a king gathering nobles to plan his conquest.” Or, “So is the kingdom of God, as a brilliant man gathering together counselors, bringing them into a ‘think tank’ to plot the expansion of his business.”
No. We read the simple, faithful, tireless proclamation of the Word of God: this is the way the kingdom of God comes, at the heart of which is the preaching of the gospel by the church. By this means the kingdom of God shall be established and extended on this earth-through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
And this is the Word of God throughout. This is not only the formal teaching of the Word of God, but this is also the record of what happened in the early church in the book of Acts. The kingdom expanded from Jerusalem out into the Gentile world.
And what was the means of this expansion?
How did this take place?
Not by the coming together of great lords and great minds to plan the expansion of this new religion. But by humble men who preached and taught the Word of God. The Word of God preached and taught and witnessed-hat is the means whereby the kingdom is built and established.
Do you understand that?
If you understand this, then you will not simply tolerate church services centered in the preaching of the Word, but you will defend that to the death. You will understand that God has willed that the worship of the church find its center in the preaching of the Word. For it is that Word and the preaching of that Word which is the primary means for the building of faith.
If you understand this, then you will teach your children the Word of God. And you will do your utmost to see to it that they are taught it. You will see that in the catechism classes of the church or in the Christian school.
Still more, if you understand this, you will be jealous for the expansion of the Word of God. You will do all, according to your gifts and your talents, to speak of that Word of God to your neighbor.
And still more, if you understand this, then you will be those who support a solid seminary where men may be taught, according to God’s Word, to be faithful preachers and teachers. Not brilliant scholars who are able to show their learning merely by writing articles for journals, but sowers of the Word, good farmers, men who preach the Word of God.
Yet still more. This parable then assures us of a certain growth of God’s kingdom by the means of the Word even unto the moment of harvest. No mention was made of a drought, or of any seeds which do not germinate, or of fowls or stony ground or of tares among the wheat. Rather, Christ wishes to emphasize the certainty of the link between the sowing of the Word and the final harvest. We read in verse 29, “When the fruit (not if the fruit) is come.” The Lord wants us to understand the certainty, the invincibility of the Word to accomplish in His children all that God intends to accomplish. By the Word He brings us to the blade, that is, to the first apprehensions of God and of sin. But He brings us, more, to the ear, to the growth in grace and an understanding of the Christian life. Then He brings the full corn and the ear-maturity of faith and dependence upon God. But God uses that one Word of God from the very beginning to the end to accomplish His purpose. Jesus said, “I will build My church.” Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me shall come to Me.” The apostle Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 3:7, “The Lord shall give the increase.”
By what means?
By the Word of God.
That means that the church which preaches the gospel and sees to it that the gospel is preached faithfully on the Lord’s day is not on a fool’s errand. When the Word is preached, that Word will never return in vain. When we pray for the gospel causes, when we desire the gathering of the church, when we pray for the conversion of all those whom God has given to Jesus Christ, we are not speaking in the air. We are not exercising ourselves in futility. But we may have confidence. The Word of God is able to gather the kingdom from the very beginning even unto the end.
Still more. Jesus is underscoring the mighty operation of grace in the establishing of the kingdom. In this parable we read that the farmer knows not how. It is not in his knowledge to understand the way whereby the seed germinates and grows into a harvest. The power of the seed is in the hand of God.
Why does a seed do what it does?
It does it because God made it that way, by the active providence of God. The farmer understands these three things: he is impotent-he cannot do it; he is ignorant of exactly how this happens; he stands in the expectation that nevertheless the seed will sprout and grow.
The seed of the Word of God is sown.
How is it that the word of the gospel gets beyond the ear and into the heart and opens the eyes?
God does that. The Holy Spirit does that. God works, and God’s is the power to make that Word of God powerful and effective. What a beautiful truth we have. This is the understanding that the church must have; this is the understanding that a minister of the gospel must have. He must do all in his power to make the Word of God, as he preaches is, clear and understandable, personal and applicable. But, at the same time, he realizes that he is impotent to make this Word fruitful in the lives of the people; he is, ultimately, ignorant-that is, he does not see the work of the Holy Spirit actually bringing that Word to the heart; but, nevertheless, he is confident that God will do it. Through the preaching of His Word, God will build His church.
And that is the confidence we have also in teaching and reading the Word of God, and of witnessing the Word of God.
Do you believe this?
The Lord has shown us that one of the most significant indicators that someone has been brought into His kingdom is that he reverences the Word of God.
What is the indication of being brought into the kingdom?
An emotional response?
Shivers up and down your spine?
Feelings, deep affections, being drummed up into a powerful emotional state in which you cry?
Is that the evidence?
No, the indication is this: when a person takes the Word of God seriously.
Are you in the kingdom?
How do you know?
Simply that you can point to a moment in your life?
No. This is how you know.
Do you take the Word of God seriously?
Has the Word of God come with power in the Holy Ghost and with joy?
Has God opened your eyes so that you say, “God is not the God I thought Him to be. God is not simply as I want Him to be. But He is as He has revealed Himself to be in His Word. I am not a little independent kingdom off on my own to do my own thing with everything revolving around me. But I fell in Adam. I am a sinful person. My heart is such that apart from divine intervention I would never believe; I would go to hell.”
Do you take the Word seriously, personally?
Do you acquaint yourself with that Word so that the Word lives, sprouts, and grows in your life?
This is the indication of passing into the kingdom of God. The Word of God is reverenced in a person’s life. The Word of God follows that person. That person hears that Word of God. That person has that Word of God echoing in his heart. It is with him wherever he is; at home, at work, at school, wherever he is. That is the message of the Lord to us.
Let us be jealous. Let us be faithful. Let us be diligent. Let us sow the Word of God in home, in church, and in our lives. And let us be confident. For this Word of God, above all human powers, abides unconquered. It will establish God’s kingdom. It will tear down and it will build up. It will work faith and holiness. The Word of God will work these in the heart of God’s children even until the day of the harvest when Jesus Christ appears to take His own to Himself.
Now he that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
By Carl Haak