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
like…and “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,
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.