by Roger McCay
7 February 2021
Sermon Passage: Mark 4:26-29; Revelation 1:5-6
Link to Audio Version
As we await the return of the Lord, each generation deals with its host of troubles. Our generation is no different. Times are tough. Looking at all the turmoil and difficulties going on these days, it brings to mind the tired look on the face of a brother who spoke to me in passing on a particularly difficult day in Iraq, saying, “Come Lord Jesus, come.” His comment is one I’ve echoed many times, and perhaps you have also. We certainly prayed the Lord’s prayer together this morning, petitioning the Lord, “Thy Kingdom Come.” And it is a hopeful prayer that is surely being answered.
Yet, as we eagerly yearn for the Lord’s return, the Kingdom of God can seem so far away, while the pressures and troubles of the world are right in our face. Oh, but that the Lord’s Kingdom were here now. The thing is, brothers and sisters, the Lord’s Kingdom is here. And it is here now.
Last week, in Rev. 1:5, we saw how Jesus is the ruler of “the kings on earth.” Jesus is King, reigning at the right hand of the Father. Yet, while the Kingdom of God is already here, the Kingdom is still to come.
The Scriptures speak of the Lord’s Kingdom in many places, revealing the Kingdom of God to be “God’s rule.” It is the Lord’s eternal (past, present, and future), sovereign, dynamically active and eschatological rule (or reign) over all things. This includes every single aspect of creation; every nation; every people; dominions and powers – both earthly and heavenly. Psalm 103:19 proclaims this: “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”
Christ Jesus’ reign was prophesied. At a certain time, there would come a person – a King who would rule over the Kingdom of God for all eternity. Thus, Daniel 7:13-14:
… and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
The Lord Jesus himself tells us quite a bit about the Kingdom of God. In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, saying: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel. Then Mark records (in Chapter 4 of his Gospel) five of the Lord’s parables concerning the nature of the Kingdom.
Now, parables are a very unique genre. Jesus masterfully used them for a variety of reasons. But, there is great mystery in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ parables reveal this mystery uniquely and even more potently than just frank explanations could do. They are portraits and not simply snapshots or abstract paintings. As C.H. Dodd has said, they leave “the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
Our parable for today is the fourth parable of the Kingdom in Mark 4. Here, Jesus speaks of a seed, which is a simile for the Kingdom, and he speaks of its cultivation from the time the seed is sown, through the time of growth, and to the time of the harvest.
Take a look again at v. 26: “And he said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.'”
What is the scenario for when seed is scattered upon the soil, i.e. sown? The sowing of a seed only occurs once, of course. The seed, by the scattering, is deposited into the waiting soil, prepared for the seed’s arrival. This is also done at the right time of the season, so that it might fulfill its purpose in growth, yielding a healthy harvest.
Like the seed, the Kingdom of God was brought by Jesus into the world. He established it in a very humble manner, in his person and his Word. When Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand in Mark 1:15, it was quite literally true. It was as close as a touch. For in the person of Christ lay the authority of God, and so his rule—his Kingdom. Everything had been prepared for his coming, so the time was ripe. The Kingdom was sown in the person of Christ. The promised Messiah King had come to save his people
This reality of the Kingdom of God upon the earth didn’t end when Christ ascended into heaven. In fact, Christ assured us that his Kingdom remained solidly planted, stating at his ascension, in Matt. 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Thus, the Messiah King is presently reigning over his Kingdom planted on the earth.
27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
Like a seed, over time, fulfills its purpose by mysteriously sprouting on its own and bursting from the soil as it develops into a fully grown and ripe grain ready for harvest, so it is that the Kingdom of God also accomplishes God’s purpose in this world. The purpose of the seed, as it mysteriously fulfills its destiny by stages, is the focus. Likewise, the Kingdom of God in this world is actively, yet mysteriously, fulfilling its purpose towards completion of God’s plan.
This mystery is emphasized in vv. 27-28: “the seed sprouts and grows—how he does not know. By itself the soil bears fruit …” Thus, it is not by human effort or will that the purposes of the Kingdom are directed and accomplished. God Almighty does this. It involves his power and will at work across all time and all places. Imagine the vastness of just coordinating such things. It’s beyond us. It should be no wonder that the scope and workings of the Kingdom are not immediately evident to us.
But, can the Kingdom somehow grow like the plant in the parable? How can an all-powerful reign over all things grow? There is certainly growth – growth in the ranks of citizens of the Kingdom. Col. 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” No longer are we of the Kingdom of evil. Christ freed us. In Christ, we who believe constitute the Lord’s present Kingdom on earth. As Rev. 1:6 tells us, Jesus himself “has made us a kingdom”—his Kingdom.
Thus, as people come to faith in Christ, they are brought into the reality of the present Kingdom of God upon the earth and in heaven, where Christ reigns and we dwell. And this growth of the Lord’s Kingdom is not hidden. In the ranks of the elect we see sure evidence of God’s purposes being accomplished (in our sanctification, works, and worship)—like the farmer sees the blade, the head, and then the full grain of the head in v. 28.
Nevertheless, until the Lord comes in judgment, the world remains in rebellion against God’s present Kingdom, seeking to keep us from living the life to which we are called by our King. In America, for example, it has come about that tremendous pressure has been placed upon Christians to compartmentalize our Christianity, and so live as secular people in the secular world. You see it in the news, and perhaps you have experienced it first-hand. People are threatened with the loss of business, jobs, punishment, and more. Christians are being labeled as extremist threats, hate-filled bigots, and so many other things both blatant and subtle.
And don’t just think to yourself that these are just other people’s issues. The pressure to conform and keep your Christian beliefs to yourselves is upon you. The world expects you to live a dual life.
On the one hand you have your secular sphere, and are expected to live just like your politically correct, conformist neighbor. On the other hand, you have the religious sphere, in which you are still allowed to practice at home and on Sunday mornings (although in some locales the latter has recently been in dispute). Just don’t let the two spheres intertwine. When you do, the PC Police (or whatever they’re called these days) will come down on you hard. You might even find yourself cancelled. Times have changed. These days the pressure isn’t just from your boss or certain social circles. In this day of social media and internet news, a housewife or a 7th grader who takes a stand for Christ has the potential to make international news and receive national denouncement.
But this pressure for compartmentalization is an enforcement of a lie. It proclaims a false reality. For the Lord is sovereign over all. There is no such thing as a secular reality (in other words a reality removed from God’s rule). His Kingdom is present now, and there is nothing that falls outside his sphere of authority. The pressure upon us to live a secular, separate life is the direct result of rebellion against God’s rule and authority. Any resulting persecution upon faithful Christians is an attack against King Jesus himself that is taken out upon his people.
And so, Jesus’ parable is an encouragement to us. Whatever might be going on, whatever troubles we might be experiencing, whatever chaos or moral decline we might see in the world, God’s Kingdom remains a present reality at work accomplishing the Lord’s good purposes. And though we might not see it (or at least recognize it), we are assured that this has been and continues to be happening consistently throughout time and events. Indeed, the parable allows for a long, long time for God’s purposes to be accomplished.
So, considering these things, what does all this mean for us each and every day? Well, it all goes back to the basic concepts of trust and obey. We trust in the Lord. We follow Jesus’ call in Mark 8:34 to follow him, in denial of self, taking up our cross, as his disciples. Like the Apostle Paul stated clearly in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
What a glorious blessing that in our daily labors and interactions, as we seek to live faithfully, we serve the King of Kings, Lord of Lords! In our faithful obedience, we are blessed to be participants in God’s Kingdom work, which the Lord uses towards the fulfillment of his purposes. As we are Christ’s Kingdom (Rev. 1:6), God’s kingdom is at work on this earth in us and through us, priests of God bringing the Lord glory.
Yet, even knowing this and having the best of intentions, perhaps you struggle with the pressure of the world to conform to its secular, while ironically idolatrous, agenda. You struggle, yet at times succumb. The pressure is so relentless and harsh. And perhaps worries, temptations, sin, and the consequences of sin make it seem like you are trapped.
But if you are a believer, you are not trapped. On the cross, Jesus died so that you might be set free from sin! If you trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, you have been set free. Now as you follow Christ, moving forward on the Lord’s righteous path, the Lord expects you to trust in him as you take each step.
My friends, let us trust in the Lord and call upon his strength and power to help us follow him in all things. Whatever troubles avail you, in the power of his Spirit he can give you the strength you need. In his strength, let us live our faith boldly in every aspect of our lives. Whether you are at work, school, home, watching a game, hunting, shopping, golfing, or what have you. Nothing is outside his rule and power. Resist separating one part of your life from who you are in Christ. The Lord reigns over every aspect of every part of your life. Since the Kingdom of God is a present reality in Jesus, we must live as citizens of the Kingdom.
And then what? Look again at v. 29: “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
If the seed is a simile for the Kingdom, what happens when the seed reaches its full and best potential as grain at just the right time? Yes, its time to harvest the grain. Jesus is teaching us that like the time, when the grain is ripe for the harvest, so the time, when God’s Kingdom has fulfilled its purpose (when it is complete and ready, according to God’s perfect plan), the stage will be set for the consummation of the Kingdom. The Lord Jesus, our King, at the perfect time, will then return in judgment, bringing his Kingdom in its fullness and glory.
Jesus, elsewhere, puts it this way: Mark 13:32-33
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’
And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.
What a great and certain hope that we have in Christ! Despite all the chaos and trouble in the world, sin and the consequences for sin, whatever may come, even the worst imaginable tribulation, we know our inheritance. There is no power that can keep that from us, for it is safe in God’s hand (1 Pt. 1:4-5).
While we are Christ’s Kingdom now (Rev. 1:6), we await the final consummation of the Kingdom. Phil. 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As blessed citizens of the Kingdom of God, let us trust in the Lord Jesus, and follow him in faith. Whatever may come along our journey of life, following Jesus leads to glory. Jesus may return at any time, let us be ready. Since the Kingdom of God will come with Jesus, we must live as citizens of the Kingdom.
There is mystery in how God’s Kingdom is a present reality systematically accomplishing God’s purposes in the world. But our role in the world is clear. We are to trust and obey, and in so doing participate in some way in the Kingdom work that God is accomplishing.
Be encouraged! As Jesus said, in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The Lord is in control. Jesus reigns, and if you are one of his, you are a citizen in his Kingdom. He knows you and loves you. You are blessed with the benefit of certain hope and confidence in God’s Kingdom now, in Christ, along with joyous anticipation for the Kingdom come. Since the Kingdom of God is in Christ, Christians should live as citizens of the Kingdom.
 C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, (Digswell Place, GB: James Nisbet and Company, Limited, 1961), 5.