The Mysterious Harvest

The Mysterious Harvest 

(Mark 4:26-29)

Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like a man who plants seed in the soil and then lives his life, waking and sleeping while the seed grows and produces a crop. He knows not how the seed grows, yet it does, it matures to harvest. Surely we’ve all experienced the wonder of this miracle — we plant, we water, we fertilize and prune but then we stand back and watch the mystery of blossom and fruit and harvest.

The kingdom of God, the realm where Jesus exercises Lordship, advances as people proclaim the gospel — as we plant kingdom seed in the soil of human hearts. We know from other parables that the seed is the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19), sons of the kingdom (Matt. 13:38) and the word of God (Luke 8:11). The sower cannot be Jesus since we cannot say of the Creator of the universe that He does not know how the seed sprouts and grows nor can we say of Jesus that He sleeps while the seed grows, for we know that He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). So the sower must be a disciple. Really, it is Jesus sowing through a disciple, the Master sowing through a servant. 

1. Notice the sovereignty of God in the growth of the seed. A man casts seed upon the soil ... and the seed sprouts and grows (Mark 4:26,27). The seed sprouts and grows because God has sovereignly designed natural seed and kingdom seed to produce life and to grow. The church sows the seed of God’s word, but the entrance of the kingdom into a human heart, the establishing of God's rule of grace in a human soul, the salvation of a human soul, is God's sovereign work. The seed sprouts and grows because that is how God designed it.

We preach God’s word but we cannot cause it to grow into saving faith any more than a farmer can cause wheat seed to grow into mature wheat. We labor in kingdom work as kingdom partners with God, but entrance into the kingdom is always God's gift to those who repent and believe. The servant, the church, does not give the gift of the kingdom. Our gift is to sow God’s word and God causes the growth.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again (or from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). We enter the kingdom as we are spiritually regenerated, born again but only God can give spiritual birth to spiritually dead people. We are born, “Not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

James reminds us, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). The word of truth is sown into a human heart and God, by the exercise of His will, causes it to grow into saving faith.

2. Notice the mystery of growth and harvest: The farmer casts seed upon the soil ... and the seed sprouts and grows — how, he himself does not know (4:26,27).

There is a mystery in the way people surrender to the Gospel. What causes one person to repent and believe while another walks away, rejecting the Lordship of Christ? I do not know. It is a mystery. Many years ago I shared the gospel with a tough old guy who had spent his adult life driving taxis in a large, crowded city. After over five decades of life, he had very little experience with churches and no understanding of salvation truth. We talked about the cross of Jesus and the empty tomb, our need for a Savior and God’s gift of grace.

As I spoke with him, I began to doubt the effectiveness of my witness. He had a rough, crusty exterior and gave little indication that the truth was connecting with his soul. I thought to myself, “He probably can’t wait for you to shut up and leave his house.”

After we had talked for an hour or so, I asked, “Have you ever considered asking God to forgive your sins, placing your faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and surrendering to the Lord Jesus as your Savior?” His response was simple and to the point, “I would be a fool not to; I just didn’t know how.” 

Totally astounded, I replied, “Oh. Well then let’s pray.” I was amazed at Jesus’ ability to penetrate a hard heart with the seed of grace, truth and light. The Holy Spirit’s ability to convict and convince was a mystery to me then and it still is today.

Isn't it that way with a farmer? Can anyone really explain the way a seed opens and grows into a mature plant? The farmer cannot control the climate or the process of growth. He just knows that when he plants the seed and cultivates it, if conditions are right, it will grow. That’s the way God set up the universe. The farmer can plant and rest with complete confidence in the operation of God's immutable laws. So may we as we share the seed of the kingdom. 

3. Notice the inevitability of growth, The seed sprouts and grows ... first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head (Mark 4:27,28). 

The farmer cultivates the seed with water and fertilizer but cannot make the seed grow, does not even understand how it grows but if conditions are right, nothing can prevent its growth into maturity. It is designed to grow. It is the same with the word of God. 

The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10,11).

The word of God never returns empty. It always accomplishes the purpose for which God spoke that word. In eternity past, God spoke into nothingness and darkness, “Let there be light,” and a universe of light and life burst into being. He is the God who “give life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17).

The sowing of God’s word into hearts and into history releases powerful forces that result in the salvation of souls. The sovereign, saving purpose of God is released when we sow kingdom seed. His word is, “living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow …” (Hebrews 4:12). Nothing can restrict God’s word or prevent the fulfilling of God’s purpose through His word. Though people are free to refuse the blessings of God’s word in their own life, they cannot prevent it from being proclaimed and producing fruit in the world. Just as a blade of grass can eventually split a rock, in like manner the word of the kingdom forces its way, pierces its way into hearts and history.

When the angel informed Mary that she would conceive “the Son of the Most High” in her womb, she asked, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you ... For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). 

“Nothing will be impossible with God” can be translated, “No word of God is without power.” Contained in God’s word is the power necessary to accomplish whatever God’s word proclaims. Just as an acorn contains the DNA of an oak tree, so God’s word contains the DNA of God’s purpose. The word of the kingdom contains in it the life of the kingdom poised to explode into hearts and history.

Through the gospel of the kingdom, God releases redeeming, life-giving power. The Apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes ...” (Rom. 1:16).

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).

Peter said, “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (I Peter 1:23).

As the farmer sows seed into the soil, so the church sows the gospel of the kingdom, the word of the cross, into the hearts of those who have ears to hear. The Holy Spirit takes that word and applies it with convicting, convincing grace, producing repentance and saving faith, leading to spiritual regeneration. People are born again, awakened from spiritual death into eternal life. 

The farmer plants seed in the soil and cultivates it but is not the cause of its growth. It grows because this is how God designed seed. In the same way, the follower of Christ proclaims the word of the kingdom and cultivates it with prayer and mercy but the release of life-giving power through that seed, resulting in the miracle of spiritual regeneration, is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit.  

The multitude of gimmicks used in evangelism today — emotional manipulation, secular business world strategies, the mass marketing of cool Jesus — are entirely useless in leading people to a true experience of salvation. In fact, these may hinder the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is the responsibility of believers to be living witnesses of Christ to our generation. We are called to be faithful in planting and cultivating seed. But the power to produce eternal life is entirely the power of God.

Well then, if God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), then why does the powerful, life-giving word of the kingdom not produce repentance and faith in everyone? Because a human response is required.

After Peter preached the gospel on Pentecost, the people “were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Peter commanded them to repent and be baptized and 3,000 souls were added to the church that day. The word of the kingdom penetrated into the soil of their souls and produced life. 

Yet only a few weeks later the apostles were arrested and brought before the Jewish council. There they testified of Jesus — the same messengers preaching a similar message. 

What was the result? The Jewish leaders “were cut to the heart and intended to kill them” (Acts 5:33). Some time later, the same Jewish leaders brought Stephen before the Council and he preached the Gospel and, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54). Then they killed Stephen. The word of the kingdom pierced their hearts but they did not receive the word. The seed of the kingdom fell on rocky soil and produced no life (see the parable of the sower, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). 

There is a human response required. God awakens us to receive the word of the kingdom with repentance and faith but not everyone accepts the awakening gifts of repentance and faith. However, when the seed of the kingdom penetrates a heart and a person receives God’s gift, the result will be salvation.

Notice the sovereignty of God in the growth of the seed. 

Notice the mystery of growth and harvest. 

Notice the inevitability of growth. 

4. Notice the seasons of growth: first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain (Mark 4:28,29). There is a process in nature and in the kingdom of God. We cannot hurry the process nor delay it. It proceeds according to its God-ordained rhythm. We do well to let patience have its perfect work (James 1:4).

The gospel of the kingdom is sown into a human heart and it matures into saving faith through the unseen work of the Holy Spirit. Some people come to saving faith early and quickly. Others through a long, arduous journey. We witness to them and we cultivate the word of our witness as we pray for them, love them and invite them into the fellowship of the church but we cannot cause, force or manipulate anyone into saving faith. There is a season of growth into salvation and there are also seasons of growth after a person has come to faith. 

There is also a historical and end time aspect to the seasons of growth. The seed of the kingdom is sown into the soil of this age. Now there is this long period of germination, centuries long, while we wait for the mature grain and the return of the Lord of the harvest. 

The Apostle James counsels patience: “Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.  Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains” (James 5:7).

Peter reminds us that the delay is not because God is indifferent but because of the outworking of His patient mercy, “Not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Through storms of trial and tribulation the church cries out to God with the martyrs at the altar of heaven, “How long O Lord?” But there will come a day when the last seed has ripened and the last soul has been brought into the harvest of the kingdom. 

Then will come that day seen by John: “And I looked and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth and the earth was reaped” (Revelation 14:14-16). But that will not be a harvest of kingdom grace. It will be a harvest of kingdom judgment.

5. We close by noting the faithfulness of the servant. He sows the good seed and then sleeps (Mark 4:27). This is not the sleep of unfaithfulness, complacency or indifference. It is the normal sleep of a servant who has labored in the heat of the day and now needs rest. The farmer rests in the confidence that the seed will sprout, growth is inevitable and the harvest will come. The universe is designed that way.

So with the follower of Christ. We labor and we rest, confident that the gospel seed will prosper in hearts that are dark and dead and in a world which is violent and blasphemous in its rejection of its Creator and Savior. 

There is a sense of quiet trust in the heart of the sower. He does not stay awake agonizing over the seed. Yes, there is a time and place for prayer, for travail and intercession. Yes, we do pray over the seed sown into the lives of the lost. But there is also a time for quiet, faithful waiting.

The servant rests for the reasons which we have stated. First, he is weary from labor. He also rests because he cannot cause the seed to grow; growth is based on laws which he cannot control. Finally, he rests in the mystery of harvest, trusting in the process of growth hidden in the mystery of the kingdom of God.

But the farmer not only sleeps. He also gets up by day and continues to labor, continues to cultivate the seed (Mark 4:27). He knows that the seed will not sprout instantly nor will it mature in a day. So he rests and he rises, in rhythm with the seasons. 

As in the field of a farmer, so in the kingdom of God. We live in rhythm with the seasons of grace, quietly resting, faithfully rising to sow the word and cultivate the word of the kingdom with prayer and mercy.

The word of the kingdom does surely prosper, it sprouts and grows though we do not know how. There is a work which the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the heart of people and in the heart of the age which the human eye cannot see and the human mind cannot fathom. There is an inevitability to the seasons of harvest; God’s word does not return to Him empty but always accomplishes His purpose.

In Psalm 37:3 the Psalmist counsels us, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” That may also be translated, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.”

Faith is believing that God is who He says He is and does what He says He does. Faith begins by simply trusting in, feeding on, the faithfulness of God. Faith trusts the sovereignty of God in the growth of the seed; trusts the mystery of growth and harvest, believes the inevitability of growth. Faith is obeying God in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and believing for harvest without understanding or seeing how it will work out. 

How many missionaries and church planters have plowed and planted in hard, barren soil with little visible fruit but continued to believe God for harvest? In some cases, the harvest was many years later. There have even been times when witnesses laid down their lives and slept with the saints in glory and the harvest came generations later. But they sowed and rested in faith.

We look around us at the multiplying violence and chaos, the almost unfathomable depths of human suffering and grief, the de-evolution of human society. Yet we sow, we rest and we rise in quiet confidence that the kingdom of God is breaking into hearts and history by God’s power and for His glory.

Study Questions

1. What are some ways that you personally can sow kingdom seed?

2. Peter shared the word / seed of the kingdom and hearts were pierced. Some people repented, others wanted to kill him. How do you deal with this in your own witness?