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“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.”
Parables are incredible things.
• Parables take something that is earthly and teach us something heavenly.
For example, take a very familiar parable, the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son.’ Jesus takes a very earthly example – a father’s love for his son and his broken heart at his son’s rebellion and his overwhelming joy at his son’s return home. That’s something earthly that every father can understand.
Then Jesus says, ‘okay, if you can understand that, if you know how that feels, then you can understand something about how your heavenly Father feels about you when you rebel against Him and repent and return.’ There’s a connection between the earthly and the heavenly.
• Parables take something that is earthly and teach us something heavenly.
Now here’s what I think is interesting about this. What this means is that there must be some connection between what is earthly and what is heavenly. There must be a connection between the ‘creation’ and the ‘Creator.’ If there was no connection between the earthy and the heavenly, between the creation and the Creator, then there would be such thing as ‘PARABLES.’ They wouldn’t work. BUT THEY DO.
And the thing here is, believers have always believed that this connection between the earthy and the heavenly, the creation and the Creator is INTENTIONAL. What I mean is, the Creator created the creation in just such a way that the earthly things are meant to tell us something about heavenly things. Earthly things are created with the image of God built into them.
This is just what St. Paul is talking about in writing to the Romans, chapter 1:20, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived… in the things that HAVE BEEN MADE.”
So, this is the great problem with theories of creation and evolution that leave God out. If the universe was created by a ‘big bang’ and not the Word of God, then what can it tell us about God? Nothing.
If the human species evolved on its own apart from the creative Word of God, then what can we learn about heavenly things and God from our human experience? Nothing.
But influence by the Holy Scriptures, believers have always maintained that God created the world in all its little parts and pieces, from the biggest star in the sky to the most microscopic part of a single cell. And God established the way that all of creation is to work together in perfect harmony – ‘tov meoth.’ ‘Very good.’ And that very ‘mysteries of God’ are contained in it.
Take the institution of ‘marriage’ for example. God created the institution of ‘marriage’ for the purpose of mutual companionship and having children and raising families. But ‘marriage’ is not an end in itself. ‘Marriage’ is a parable that teaches us something about the relationship of Christ to His Church and His Church to her Lord, Jesus Christ.
Husbands are to love their wife and be committed to her well-being to the point that they lay down their life for her. Why is that? Because it’s a parable. If we can begin to understand how hard that is and how costly that is, then we can begin to understand the commitment of Jesus Christ to His bride, the Church, to the point that in love for Her, He laid down His life for Her well-being.
Likewise, the wife’s submission to her husband’s love for her and her desire to honor and praise him for his love for her, is a parable of the relationship of the Church to her Lord Jesus Christ.
God actually designed marriage just as He did, not only because it serves men and women and children well, but so that it would be a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why same-sex marriage is wrong. When you change the nature of marriage from what God has instituted, it’s not only NOT GOOD for men, women and children, but you loose the parable and it no contains within it the very ‘MYSTERIES OF GOD.’ And it becomes an end in itself.
So, I know that I said, ‘parables are incredible things.’ But really, ‘creation’ is an incredible thing. And the institutions that God has created are incredible things, because God created it all in just such a way that they contain the very ‘MYSTERIES OF GOD.’
Something as common and mundane as a seed is not just a seed – but a window that opens the Kingdom of God to us.
I. Parable of the Growing Seed
“And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29).
The world of agriculture is full of these little parables that contain the mysteries of God in them. Previous to this, Jesus told them the parable about the sower who went out to sow seed and the seed fell on all different kinds of ground. Who would have thought that something as ordinary as DIRT holds the secrets of the Kingdom of God in it?
Now in this parable, the emphasis is not on the ground but on the seed itself. Regardless of the type of soil it falls on, how does that sown seed grow and produce a crop? And how does the way a seed grows tell us about how the Kingdom of God works?
The key word in this parable is the word that is translated “BY ITSELF.” In the Greek, it’s the word, aujtomavth. “AUTOMATICALLY.” The seed produces “automatically.” “By itself.” The sower “knows not how.” There’s just something hidden in the seed itself that goes to work once it’s planted in the dirt.
Jesus adds this little detail for emphasis when He says that the sower “scatters the seed on the ground” and then goes to bed. “He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how.” It just does.
And it is from this ‘earthly’ example that we are to learn something about the ‘kingdom of God.’ Just as the seed does it’s thing when it’s planted in the dirt, so does the Word of God do its thing when it is planted into a person’s heart. How does it happen that someone hears the Word of God and that Word creates faith in Jesus Christ in the heart? It happens, “BY ITSELF.” There is something mysterious in the Word that does it. And it’s not important for us to know HOW.
Luther understood this well. Luther writes, “After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course.”
“People ask me how I did so much to reform the Church. I always tell them that I didn’t do anything but preach and while my friend Melanchthon and I were drinking some fine Wittenberg beer, the Holy Spirit was busy at work.”
In his explanation to the 2nd petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come,” Luther says, “the kingdom of God comes BY ITSELF, even without our prayer. But we pray in this petition that it would come to us also.”
The Word DOES WHAT IT DOES BECAUSE IT IS WHAT IT IS. It is the Word of God. It was the WORD OF GOD that created the whole world. And it’s the same Word today as it was in the beginning.
Just speak the Word and let it do its’ thing. Just be in the Word and let it do what it does ‘BY ITSELF.’
“But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Even the harvest of the crop that comes from that seed tells us something about the Kingdom of God. The seed produces a crop for the sake of the harvest. In other words, to plant seed in the dirt is not the END IN ITSELF. To speak the Word into the ears and eyes so that it may create faith in the heart is not the END IN ITSELF. There’s a purpose and a goal that it’s all headed towards.
It is for the sake of the harvest that the seed is sown. It is for the sake of the gathering of believers into the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN that the Word is preached. The Kingdom of God has a goal, a destination. It’s headed somewhere and that SOMEWHERE is the gathering of believers into heaven when Jesus comes again.
II. Parable of the Mustard Seed
“And He said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32).
More of the mystery of the Kingdom of God revealed in a tiny seed. This time the MAIN POINT OF COMPARISON is the contrast between the SIZE of the seed and the SIZE of the tree comes from that seed.
The seed is such a tiny thing. You look at it and you say, what could ever come of it? It’s so small. It’s almost nothing. But just look at what it becomes. But the ‘mysteries of the Kingdom of God’ are hidden in that tiny seed.
How tiny was that seed that was planted in the womb of the virgin Mary? What could ever come of it? How small and insignificant. But look at what has come of it. From that holy seed, invisible to the naked eye, comes the Lord and Savior of the whole world. From the tiny infant born in Bethlehem comes the One who bears the sin of the world and reconciles sinful man to his holy, holy, holy God. From that ‘tiniest of all’ seeds, comes the Holy, Christian and Apostolic church in which people from all over the world find their life and place of rest.
Seeds scattered that produce a crop “of itself,” “automatically.” The smallest of seeds produces the grandest of trees. All of this everyday, earthly stuff is shouting out to us about the Kingdom of God. Pretty incredible really, that God has packed so much of His Kingdom into something as simple as seeds.
Just wait until you see what He does with bread and wine. Amen.