God’s Family Is Always Growing
God’s family is always growing. That is the truth that these three parables teach. First, let’s address the idea of parables. The parable is a short story, not an allegory, and as such, it is told to convey one basic point. The parable is a story to be heard; it is not a manuscript to be studied, and hearing it we discern the punch line of the story more readily. Jesus’ stories were the way in which He called people to the concrete situation rather than to abstract concepts. Jesus was interested in people in real life, in showing such people how to “seek first” the kingdom of God.
But stories have a way of separating people. Some hear and some do not; that is, some catch the meaning and some miss it. Jesus chose the parable as a teaching method, a strategy by which He separated those who were honest and sincere about understanding the kingdom from those who were only curious or were critical of his ministry.1
THREE PARABLES THAT TEACH ME ABOUT GROWTH IN GOD’S FAMILY
Each of these parables is like puzzles. They reveal a simple illustration that describes something spiritual that is hard to understand. Jesus takes what is puzzling and makes it clearer.
1. The Lamp – The visibility of God’s family (Mark 4:21-25)
“He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.”” (Mark 4:21–23, CSB)
The first puzzle about the growth of God’s family is that what is hidden is open.
Jesus begins to talk about the growth of God’s family is hidden. What we do will never be concerned. Instead, we are called to show others our faith. The parable of the lamp reminds us that we say and do as Christians is always an open affair. Then as always, Jesus gives us an extra point to the parable. He sets it up by reminding the people: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.” Remember that this parable of the lamp calls back to the visibility of parables that we saw in the Soils Parable:
“When he was alone, those around him with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that they may indeed look, and yet not perceive; they may indeed listen, and yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back and be forgiven.”” (Mark 4:10–12, CSB)
“And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”” (Mark 4:24–25, CSB)
To make sure people understand, Jesus said to “pay attention to what you hear.” In this case, it about the point of the lamp. Pay attention to the point of this parable. The growth of God’s family is dependent on the way we live in the open.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I can get away with this? Nobody’s watching. Can I do it”? Well, if you have and the answer is yes, I have a message for you today. The Bible says that God sees everything we do. He takes note of everything. He knows what’s going on in our hearts and minds, even before we do what we do. I’ve always been amazed that people think they can get away with things and God isn’t going to know about it, because the Bible teaches just the opposite.2
How you treat other people, that is the way you will be treated. More responsibility will be given to you as a Christian.
Jesus isn’t saying, “Take heed what you hear.” He says, rather, “Take heed how you hear, the way you hear.” In other words, when you receive truth, if you release it to others, more will be given. If, on the other hand, you simply take in truth without allowing it to flow through you to others, you’ll begin to lose what was given to you previously, and find fresh revelation or insight no longer being given to you.3
We are called to shed God’s light and reveal His truth. But we can not “give out” without first “taking in.” The more we hear the Word of God, the better we are able to share it with others. The moment we think that we know it all, what we think we know will be taken from us. We must take heed what we hear (Mark 4:24) as well as take heed how we hear (Luke 8:18). Our spiritual hearing determines how much we have to give to others. There is no sense trying to “cover things up” because God will one day reveal all things.4
2. The Growing Seed – The trust in God for the growth of God’s family (Mark 4:26-29)
““The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”” (Mark 4:26–29, CSB)
The second puzzle about the growth of God’s family is that what is natural is supernatural.
Jesus compares the growth of God’s family to a process similar to how a person scatters seed. In the previous parable of the soils, the point was focused on the response of the soil. In this case, the point is that the process of the growth of the seed is unknown to the one who plants the seed. A man goes day by day and watches the seed but doesn’t know how it works.
As he sows seed, a farmer doesn’t understand exactly how the seed grows. Yet one day he looks out the window and sees a crop. Keep in mind, Jesus is talking about the mystery of the effect of the Word. And, like the seed sown by the farmer, it’s inexplicable how studying the Scriptures causes the kingdom to be established within us and among us. People who are not believers think we’re crazy to come week by week to study a page or two from a book thousands of years old. Yet when we study the Word corporately and have devotions personally, something happens miraculously. We begin to look at life differently, and good fruit begins to grow. Oh, we’re not perfect. We have a long way to go. But the process has begun.5The stress in the parable thus falls upon the sowing of the seed as a messianic work which unleashes mysterious forces which operate of themselves in the achievement of the sovereign purposes of God.6 The process of spiritual growth is spontaneous within the kingdom of God, but it remains a total mystery to natural humanity.7
3. The Mustard Seed – The longevity of the growth of God’s family (Mark 4:30-34)
“And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to describe it? It’s like a mustard seed that, when sown upon the soil, is the smallest of all the seeds on the ground. And when sown, it comes up and grows taller than all the garden plants, and produces large branches, so that the birds of the sky can nest in its shade.” He was speaking the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, he explained everything to his own disciples.” (Mark 4:30–34, CSB)
The third puzzle about the growth of God’s family is that what is small is great.
The second parable gave the disciples both warning and encouragement. The encouragement was that, from very small beginnings, the kingdom would eventually grow in size and in influence. While a mustard seed is not the smallest seed in the world, it was probably the smallest seed that the Jews sowed in their gardens. It was a traditional symbol of that which is tiny. Our Lord began with 12 Apostles. Later, there were as many as 500 believers. Peter won 3,000 at Pentecost; and throughout the Book of Acts, that number steadily increased. In spite of the sins and weaknesses of the church, the message has been carried to other nations; and one day, saints from every nation shall worship before His throne.8
The warning in this parable comes from the birds in the branches. Like the Parable of the Sower earlier, the bird represents Satan and his work. While God’s kingdom will continue to grow, Satan will continue to attack. We have to be aware that Satan will hide in the growth of God’s kingdom and try to steal from God’s glory. Judas betrayed Jesus. Ananias and Sapphira tried to disrupt the work of the church of Jerusalem. Simon Magnus tried to hurt the work in the church of Samaria. There will be people who are in the midst of the church, whom Satan will try to manipulate to destroy God’s work. Yet, Satan will fail.
God’s kingdom is always growing. That is the point of the parable of the mustard seed. What starts out real small grows to be extremely large. Something as small as a mustard seed grows so large that it is the largest plant and it can house birds in its shade. God’s kingdom will continue to grow. It will never wilt or shrink. God’s kingdom will be bigger than any government, any corporation, any population and any planet. His kingdom will be larger than the universe itself. It is big enough for you. God has enough room for you. He wants to bring in as many people into His Kingdom as He can. He wants you to be part of His growing kingdom. The challenge is that God wants to use you to grow His kingdom. He wants you to share His Good News with people who need His help.9
1 Myron S. Augsburger and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Matthew, vol. 24, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 18.
2 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2009 Edition. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, n.d.), 222.
3 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 240.
4 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 123.
5 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 240.
6 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 169.
7 R. Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 154.
8 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 123.