Mark 4:26-34

 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIKE…

 

People today---especially the young people---use the word “like” too much.  “I’m like….” has become a paradigm for modern youthful posing and musing.  Conversation, you know.  Hip stuff.  Artsy.

 

But the word “like” has a place in religious talk.  Jesus uses the word three times in this short section from the book of Mark in which he describes what the Kingdom of God is…like!  There, you see it and hear it.  This what the kingdom of God is likeand “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed…”

 

Jesus wants you and me to “get it.”  And so he says the word “like” often.  Actually, every parable that he taught (those are earthly stories with a heavenly meanings) is a “like” story.  The word is there.  With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.  He did not say anything to them without using a parable.  But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.  Jesus knows we like to hear stories.  We like to hear his story.  We like to hear his-tory (history!).  The Bible is that.  It is a collection of stories that are real and right and righteous and true.  From the Bible we hear the story that our God is like our father.  He is our Father!  From the stories we see what our Father’s heart is like, and it makes us glad.  From the stories and parables we see what our hearts are like, and that makes us sad.  We are like that second son in the story who left his father and went away to waste his wealth and life in wild living.  But we are like that son too---God grant it---who came trudging back to his Father with his broken pride and life.  And it is still like that with our Father too.  He still comes running down the road to take us back.  Always.

 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like something.  Jesus here says that.  The only way you can tell someone else what something is like is if you have first seen it and know it.  Jesus does this.  He knows from personal experience what the Kingdom is like because he has been there.  He knows what the Kingdom is like because he is the King of that Kingdom.  He rules there with his Father.  He decided from his throne of justice to come and be our Savior.  He decided that for a time he would lay aside his king’s clothing and take up beggar clothing and wear that.  He emptied himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross.  He took on himself the form of a servant.  That was the King who did that…the One who is in charge of this Kingdom.  It is his Kingdom.  He knows what it is like.  And twice in his prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, he invited us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come”…and “For thine is the Kingdom.”  He said it because he knows the Kingdom and what it is like.

 

The only reason for telling someone what something is like is because you want them to understand it the best way that they can without being able to actually see it.  Jesus talks this way in the words before us.  He tells two parables about things we have seen and have witnessed.  Who hasn’t planted bean seeds in waxed paper cups and waited for those seeds to grow up out of the damp ground with their two little ears and little green leaves and uncurling life?  The Kingdom of God is like that:  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain---first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” Something miraculous is here!  Something magical, if we can use that word.  We talk about the Invisible Church.  That is the church made up of all believers.  We are all members of that church.  It is that collection of all people who believe that Jesus lived and walked and healed and helped and lived and died…for them.  How did they come to this?  They were planted.  How did they rise up, a great army of people as the Prophet Ezekiel noticed?  God caused them to sprout up and grow.  He put the life into those people through his Word and through baptism and through the Lord’s Supper.  The Kingdom of God is like that.  It happens just like that.

 

A second reason for wanting to tell someone what something is like is that they just aren’t able to get it by themselves.  Jesus knew this in the words before us today.  He speaks to the people about the Kingdom being like something.  But there are those words too, “…as much as they could understand.”   Unless you tell them what it is like, they won’t get it.  They won’t of themselves be able to say, “You know what, the Kingdom of God is like a seed planted or like a mustard seed.”  What would make them be able to come up with that comparison and that like?  Jesus wants you to know what his kingdom is like.  He wants you to look at what you know and then he tells you, “You want to know me and my kingdom and how you are in it and how you came to believe in me and how you live now with my promise of life living and thumping in your chest?  You want to know this?  Then look at this seed and look at this little tiny seed and you will know when you consider them what the Kingdom of God is like.

 

When Jesus tells us what his Kingdom is like, he tells us the miracle of life.  There is that seed growing.  It is---and please remember that this is truly the way it is---All by itself. You can’t make it happen.  God is the author of life…even life in a little mustard seed.  Scientists can put all the raw materials together to make the seed.  They can make their little pile of plant parts look like a seed.  But they can’t put the life there.  That is God’s work.  And we know what he uses to make that life come about in your part of the field.  He uses “The Means of Grace.”  He uses his Word, the Bible.  He tells you how all things came to be.  He tells you in that Word how all things were doomed by the disaster in the Garden of Eden.  He tells you how you who can’t live, live.  And he tells you how he who can’t die, died.  He tells you who have nothing by yourselvesthat you will have everything.  He tells you how he who has everything and is everything became nothing.  He tells you how this wonderful work of his will save you and make you live.  He bends over and looks you in the face and says, “Believe this!”  And you do!  By his power you do it!  You are like a seed springing to life at his command, a seed that is growing into a plant with good things---good fruit---that makes him happy.  That’s how it is.  That is what it is like.

 

It all happens “All by itself.”  That how it happens.  Surely the seeds sprouting in the garden don’t say in their little plant voices, “We sprouted!  We did it!  Now let’s see what else we can do!”  They don’t say that.  It happened “all by itself.”  When people come to pastors’ churches, pastors need to remember that it is God’s working that makes it all happen.  They are like sowers who sow seed into the ground, but it is God who makes things grow and happen in all spiritual agriculture and in all agriculture period.  That is the reality.  That is what it is like.  And when people don’t come to pastors’ churches---for whatever bad reason---pastors have to remind themselves that they can’t make people believe.  They can’t invent programs that will just make people want to sprout and grow and bear fruit.  Jesus tells pastors here, “All by itself the soil produces grain---first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”  Thank God that it is like this!  Thank God that his Kingdom does not depend on our working and watering and sometimes worrying to make it sprout and grow and be what Jesus here describes.  That is God’s work.  We have our hand in it, to be sure, but he gets all the credit for making what happens happen.  

 

There is a harvest time in the Kingdom too.  That is what it is like.  “He puts the sickle to it because the harvest has come.”  How could we miss this?  How could we not be thinking that it would be like this?  Our efforts aren’t going to be able to continue forever.  Someone cares that we get to the final harvest.  Jesus is that someone.  His Father cares that we mature and get ripe and ready for his Kingdom to come.  So he teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come!”  Our God is like that farmer waiting for his prized seed to get to maturity.  He still walks in the garden in the evenings and anticipates how it will be.  So do we.  Surely we do.  Surely we say with the Apostle John at the end of the book of Revelation, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.”  

 

The Kingdom of heaven is like something.  It isn’t just an abstract thing.  You are the real people in this Kingdom.  Your children (and your parents) are in this Kingdom because God has made you live.  He did it through his Son Jesus who speaks the words before us today.  It’s a real place.  It’s like that.

 

And it is a shady place.  Not in a shady way.  But listen, “Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”  There you have it!  Rest in the shade of the trees.  Be at peace in God’s Kingdom.  He has called and gathered and enlightened and sanctified and kept you.  You are safe on the branches of that Kingdom.  He’s in charge.  He made it all happen.  Stay in Jesus and his Kingdom.  Be like one of those birds in the mustard tree.  Perch in its shade.  

 

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)  The Kingdom of God is like something you now have.  Jesus died to bring you into his kingdom.  He separates you to be kings with him.  He gives you this Kingdom.  The Kingdom of Heaven is yours!  Amen.