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LSB Proper 6B Sermon – Mark 4:26-34

June 14, 2015

June 14, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground…. [The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed….”

Jesus tells two parables to teach about the kingdom of God, a kingdom that you belong to. The parables use the imagery of planting seeds: the scattered seed produces a crop; the planted mustard seed brings forth a large tree. These parables illustrate how the kingdom of God expands among people and how the kingdom of God grows from the act of one Person.

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.” This is how Jesus speaks about the expansion of the kingdom of God. A man puts seed into the field. That happens each Spring here in the Cumberland Valley. Into the tilled ground is put corn seed, soybean seed, hay seed—whatever the farmer desires to have produced at harvest time. Some of you plant tomato, pepper, or various spice seeds into your garden. That is done because you know that is how you can obtain fruit or vegetables in the Summer and Fall.

But note what Jesus says about the man who scattered the seed: “He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Jesus states that the farmer’s work is more-or-less completed after putting the seed into the ground. He will have a job to do later: “When the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” But until that time, the planter doesn’t work to make the field produce the crop. No, that is what the seed in the ground does of itself: “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”

The growth of the seed into plants that produce fruit is not the planter’s act; it is the action completed by the seed in the ground, as this has been ordered by nature. The planter had to place the seed into the ground. If that was not done, there would be nothing to harvest in due season. But even still, the planter does not cause the seed which he has sown to grow.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the truth about how you have become part of the kingdom of God. An act has been performed for you. The Gospel has been placed into you. Each time that you hear the Gospel of Jesus’ acts of salvation which He performed for you, that seed is put into your hearts and minds. Different planters have done this for you: the various men who have filled this pulpit or the one on 13th Street in Harrisburg; if you belonged to different churches, other preachers have done this for you; some of you had very pious and faithful parents who put the Gospel into your hearing; most of you had a Sunday School teacher tell of Jesus’ works, a few of you had a Christian Day School teacher do so. But there are two truths to know about this: (1) if this seed of the Gospel had not come to you, you would not belong to the kingdom of God and (2) the people who placed the seed of the Gospel into your hearts and minds did not cause it to work.

That first truth is vitally important to always remember. Your place in the kingdom of God is not a birthright. Your belonging to the kingdom of God is accomplished by a divine act being done for you—having the words and works of Jesus placed into your hearing. Before that happened, you were a field with no good seed in it. Nothing in you would produce faith in Jesus or bring about knowledge of God. In fact, it could be said that there was other seed in you—ideas, thoughts, and beliefs which would lead you away from the Divine Will and have you be at enmity with God. But that changed when you heard the message about the Incarnate Son of God who came down to earth and lived perfectly and gave Himself in atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world and also rose to life again. That is when you became a field that was planted with the seed of the Gospel that produces faith and faithful living. Without that happening, there would be no life in you.

The second truth is also significant. Those who have been speakers of the Gospel have performed a great and divine act. It is a great privilege to be someone who has had the seed of the Gospel placed into them and then to be able to place it in another individual. And it is a solemn duty that they not plant a different seed—a different Gospel or teaching—into the hearts and minds of their hearers. But the production of faith and faithful living in a person is not the work of the speakers of the Gospel. No, it is the work that the Holy Spirit performs as He calls people by the Gospel, enlightens them with His gifts, sanctifies them and keeps them in the one true faith.

The planters know that they have done something great by scattering the seed. But they also know that the end product is not the result of their work. They won’t claim that you are the believers that they produced, saying: “Look at all the believers that I have made!” No, they will recognize that they were just an instrument in the process and give the rightful credit to the Holy Spirit. Giving that credit is an act of faith, since it expresses the trust in the seed doing what its supposed to do, which is belief in the Gospel accomplishing what the Lord Jesus desires it to do.

So far you have heard that the seed which Jesus mentions in the first parable is the Gospel that recounts His words and works that brought about salvation. That truth is connected to the other parable that you heard from Jesus today: “[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed….” That second parable was not about how the Gospel works in individuals to bring them into the kingdom of God. Rather, it is a story that shows how the kingdom of God grows from the act of one Person, Jesus Himself.

Recall what Jesus said: “[The kingdom of God] 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.” Jesus’ story is about Himself. The kingdom of God at its very beginning had just one Person in it, Jesus. That’s all who belonged to it. When He lived upon the earth, He was the only truly righteous man—the One who walked not in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but who had all His delight in the Law of the LORD. And in all that Jesus did, He prospered.

Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed about Himself parallels the prophecy that the LORD made about Him through Ezekiel: “I Myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I Myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.” That is what occurred when Jesus lived. He was planted on a mountain height and became a noble cedar. That mountain height was Mount Calvary. And the tree which He became was the rugged cross on which He hung as the fruit of salvation. But through that act, the kingdom of God began to develop, as people from all nations could find their shade and shelter in Jesus’ righteousness.

That is what happened for you. As you have heard the Gospel of Jesus, you have become part of the kingdom of God. His work of salvation has been accomplished for you. He purchased and won you by His death, so that you would be His own and live under Him in His kingdom. You live in the shade and shelter of the Tree of Life. You find your security and salvation in Jesus’ righteousness. As you and others who have heard and believed the Gospel do so, the kingdom of God increases in the number of its citizens—all those who have Jesus as their Lord.

These two parables of Jesus tell your story. They reveal your identity as someone who belongs to the kingdom of God. This identity has been given to you, as the seed of the Gospel of Jesus has been spoken to you. That is the seed which has been planted in your heart and mind. It produces faith in Jesus’ work done for you, so that you find your dwelling place within His shelter. It also produces faithful living, the harvest of good works that you now perform because of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying you.

So you can hear the words of the Scripture and know that they speak about you: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” This is how you have become a new creation. This is how you have been changed from a plot full of weeds to a field that produces faith and faithful living.

None of this was a birthright. None of this was always yours. But it has become your story and identity. The Lord Jesus has accomplished your salvation and connected you to Himself. The seed of the Gospel has been placed into you. This is how you are part of the kingdom of God that grew up from His work. So it is just as Jesus said: like a man who scattered seed on the ground and like a mustard seed that grew into a tree where birds make their roost.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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