What Happens Beneath the Soil
The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) is definitely one of the most famous parables in Scripture. Next to the Prodigal Son, I think I’ve heard more sermons on the Sower than any other parable. But one thing I noticed from my journey through Scripture this week is the importance of this tiny little passage, the Parable of the Seed, just a few verses later in Mark 4. It’s almost an addendum to the Parable of the Sower, but it actually stands alone as its own separate thought.
26And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;
27and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know.
28“The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
29“But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Jesus describes the kingdom of God like a man who plants a seed, goes to bed, and then wakes up (continuous sleeping and waking in the Greek) to discover that the seed is growing. I love that next phrase—“how, he himself does not know.” I actually think Jesus was using a little humor here. Because the guy wakes up and wonders, “Hey, what’s that seed doing there?” As if he didn’t know what would happen. And I think the way Jesus words these few short sentences reveals the absolute impotence and powerlessness of the human agent involved in Kingdom work. It shows that apart from the work of the Spirit, our best effort is ridiculous. Our greatest endeavor is absurd. It actually reveals that the growth of the seed doesn’t depend on the sower at all. Yes, we must sow. Yes, we must water. And yes, some of us will reap. But it is God, the Holy Spirit who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).
Taking credit for what happens beneath the soil could possibly be one of the biggest evangelical failures of our day. We are wired to take credit for things. The bent of our DNA is to receive and accept accolades and recognition. But God is calling us to return the credit to Himself, the One who indeed causes the seed to grow.
In fact, this should actually bring us some relief and reprieve, liberating us to preach, share, and live out the gospel without the weight of responsibility that we must do something to cause the seed to grow. In reality, we do nothing to cause the seed to grow. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. And where the fear of evangelism once paralyzed us from sharing this incredible news, the liberating truth of this parable should do the opposite. Because God, the Holy Spirit is the real agent at work while we are sleeping. And that reality alone should move us into action to accept the responsibility of seed-planting, and seed-watering, knowing that we leave the growth up to our sovereign God.