“And he 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, ESV)
We are apt to think that the Kingdom of God comes in power and triumph, as if it tramples down all opposition, no matter how fierce, crushes every foe, and at the end of the metaphorical day stands triumphant over the field of battle, vanquished enemies stretching away to the horizon in every direction. Ironically enough, this is also exactly how the Jewish people saw the Kingdom of God coming. It was going to kick Rome’s ass, and take names [sorry only Marines will understand the reference], take final control over the Promised Land and reign in power forever, so that the Jews would no longer be subservient to anyone.
Then along comes Jesus with this oh-so-strange-and-unexpected parable of the growing seed that upsets all of our preconceived notions about how God should act if he is to reign triumphant in the world. The NIV Application Commentary quotes Bilezikian:
[the imagery Jesus employs is] not that of marching armies, heroic deeds, and valorous exploits, but the humble, homely imagery of sowing, tilling, and harvest. The seed is scattered, falls, and lies on the ground, and meets a variety of fates. Instead of striking out, defiant and aggressive, the Kingdom of God appears lowly and vulnerable. The seed is subject to adversity, rejection, delays, and loss. The parables contain no promise of instant and universal triumph.
Seed is sown, the sower goes home, and…and…
…Time goes by, nothing striking seems to happen at all, indeed for a long time, one cannot even tell that the sower has done anything at all, but then one day green shoots start to appear, and over time the shoots turn into stalks and finally into full plants with heads of grain ready to be harvested. Can the sower explain how this all happened? Heck no, all he did was put seeds in the ground, the rest is up to the soil, sun, and water.
This is the hiddenness of the good news of Jesus Christ. We do not know how it takes root in the human heart, we cannot explain how it grows, we surely cannot make it grow ourselves, this is all the responsibility of God. We are helpless to make it happen.
John Gill comments:
this work is done secretly, and powerfully, under the influence of divine grace, without their knowledge, though by them as instruments; so that though the sowing and planting are theirs, all the increase is God’s: this may encourage attendance on the ministry of the word, and teach us to ascribe the work of conversion entirely to the power and grace of God.
Here is a humbling truth: We sow, we plant, the increase is God’s. Who can boast about that?