I shared the gospel with a family. The husband and wife began attending church with their two daughters, Julie and Cynthia, and their son, Nick. The children received Christ and baptism. Today, more than 40 years later, the family and all three children still attend church regularly and live their lives for the Lord Jesus. A few months ago, I had the privilege of baptizing the husband of one of the girls.
In his teen years, Nick, the son, felt God’s call to ministry and has faithfully preached the gospel for nearly three decades. He currently pastors a large church in Lexington, Kentucky and has led hundreds of people to Christ and through the waters of baptism.
Parables of a Growing Kingdom
You may be thinking, “That’s great, but what does it have to do with me?” Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of God in Mark 4:26-29 and 4:30-32 show us. The first demonstrates that God’s kingdom contains within itself the power to grow. People plant. Once planted, however, that gospel seed grows and becomes a great harvest. We do not know how but God does it. Soon the judgment time (represented by the sickle of verse 29) comes.
The second of the parables contrasts a small beginning with disproportionate growth. The mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds used in Jesus’ day. Visitors to Israel in late winter and early spring can see thousands of yellow mustard flowers growing wild along the hills near the Sea of Galilee. Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6 indicate the mustard seed stands for something very small. However, the small mustard seed can produce a bush up to six feet tall with large branches on which birds can rest. The Old Testament used this image for Gentiles finding a place among God’s people.
Lessons from Parables of a Growing Kingdom
All three seed parables in Chapter 4 of Mark (vv. 3-9, 26-29, and 30-32) speak of seed being sown into the ground. All three also speak of seed growing up. They crucified Jesus and buried him. All hope seemed lost. Then he arose! Likewise, we sow the gospel seed—at times seemingly without effect—but we don’t give up because the seed will take root and produce.
The human part of growing God’s kingdom is planting the seed. We may never know the result of the seed we plant. God has given us the task of sharing the good news of the kingdom. At times people grow discouraged by the small size of their church or Sunday school class or the seeming lack of response. Don’t grow weary because you will reap if you continue. Our task? Planting.
God owns the kingdom, not us. Just as the farmer cannot make seed grow, so we cannot make people respond to the good news. The farmer plants. He waters. But only God can give the increase. The farmer can frustrate the growth and even hinder it, but he cannot cause it. In fact, even with modern technology, the farmer still does not know what causes the growth. He knows the important elements of soil and nutrients and sun and rain, but he cannot specify what makes the plant grow. In the same way, we cannot cause kingdom growth. The Word of God planted in a person’s mind is watered and nourished by the Spirit of God and brought to fruition. Exactly how, we do not know.
God Gives the Increase
Keith Parks, missionary to Indonesia, traveled a winding trail several hours up the side of a mountain until he came to a remote village. There Keith shared the gospel. Most of the people had never before heard the gospel but several received Christ and were baptized that very day. The missionary grew excited, but he also felt sadness because he lived in another part of the country and knew he wouldn’t be in the area again for at least a year. In fact, he didn’t make it back for two years. In the meantime, he prayed for the villagers.
Keith returned with little expectation but found not one but two thriving churches—one in the village he visited and another in a nearby village. He asked the church leaders how so many more villagers had come to Christ and how they had grown in their faith. One teacher told him, “I can’t explain it. I don’t have an education in these things, but when I open the Bible to teach, it is just like there is a little Jesus inside me who tells me what to say!” God causes the growth.
We may not see God’s part of growing his kingdom, but his work continues. Don’t grow tired. God is still at work even when we can see little of the fruits of his labor. God carries on his work without noise but he also carries on his work without fail! Small beginnings can result in large outcomes.
God has a way of taking small beginnings, even life events which seem negative, and, when combined with faithful witnesses, turning those small beginnings into something large for his kingdom. Just ask Queen Esther! God seemed silent but he had placed Esther to save his people. In a similar way God functioned without a word through the birth of baby Moses and soundlessly in preparing David as a shepherd. Just as God worked inaudibly through Joseph when sold as a slave to Egypt until the time was right, so he often moves quietly today. Yet, he still works!
Great growth in the kingdom of God can come through quiet obedience in sharing the good news of Jesus. From the beginning, kingdom work has been like that. The church originally could meet in one upper room. Later 120 met, then 3,000 at Pentecost. Soon the disciples numbered 5,000 men plus the women and children. Now the church numbers millions and millions. The church which began small in Palestine has grown to include multitudes from every tribe and tongue and nation.
At first the day of grace deals with small things, a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand. The kingdom now grows rapidly in many countries. For instance, a missiologist stated that more than 50,000 people a day in China come to Christ. The kingdom, with small beginnings, now has grown like a mustard plant with great branches spreading far and wide.
Let’s look for ways. Let’s become active participants in God’s growing garden by sharing his good news. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you who you can bring to church with you this Sunday. Ask God to open the door for you to share with a coworker or family member. Ask the Lord to give you both the opportunity and the boldness to share the good news. Just as in the family from West Kentucky over 40 years ago, small beginnings can result in large growth for the kingdom.
One day the sickle will come to God’s harvest fields (Mark 4:29). A final ingathering will occur. Until then, we can plant the gospel seed, knowing that God will bring the increase.
An award-winning writer, Dr. Bill Patterson has several hundred articles in print, mostly on biblical themes or biblical sites. Bill has served as a pastor and missionary for more than 40 years.