Mark 4:26-32 • April 9, 2017 • Pastor Tim Tseng
Main Point: God’s kingdom, which promises material and spiritual nourishment and protection, gradually and inevitably will triumph over this world.
It’s Palm Sunday! Let’s rejoice because Jesus and a small group of disciples led a revolution that has changed the world – and is still changing the world. This is the gospel of the kingdom of God!
The King Who Speaks in Parables
Let’s begin by looking at the last two verses of today’s scripture (Mark 4:33-34). Even though he is a king, Jesus doesn’t rule by issuing laws. He doesn’t seem interested in creating a check list of sins or a check list of things to do to prove one is saved. Instead, Jesus prefers to rule by telling parables.
But Jesus also interprets and explains his parables to his disciples even if the crowd doesn’t quite understand them. So Jesus is a King who not only speaks in parables, he explains and interprets the parables, too.
The quick lesson for is us this: we cannot listen to Jesus’ parables or read the bible without help from an interpreter. Note also the Ethiopian Eunuch who needed Philip’s help to understand Isaiah 53 (Acts 8). The Catholic church has a tradition of teachings that help them interpret Scripture. For Protestants and evangelicals, Scripture is a priority, but that doesn’t mean that we do not seek help from tradition, reason, and personal experience. But for all Christians, Jesus’ interpretation always comes first. How many Christians only know that Jesus died for their sins and gave them salvation, but don’t know the Jesus of the Gospel? How many believers ignore Jesus’ teachings against legalism and Pharisaism? Jesus doesn’t just die to save us for everlasting life, he interprets the Word of God and how life is to be lived for us.
What the Kingdom of God is Like
So as we turn to Mark 4:26-32, Jesus explains to us what the Kingdom of God is like. And the main point about the kingdom that Jesus makes is this: it will gradually and inevitably triumph over this world, which is a wilderness bereft of resources. But with the coming of Jesus Christ and his disciples, the kingdom has grown slowly in this world and will provide spiritual and material nourishment and protection for all.
For many Christians who do not pay attention to Jesus’ teachings, the Kingdom of God is about a war of survival. It’s about protecting ourselves against evil in a variety of forms. Islamic terrorism, for example, is one of the most concrete enemies that many Christians are willing to take up arms against. And Christians in the past did fight Muslims in the “crusades.” No doubt, this is a very real conflict. Earlier today, two Coptic churches in Egypt were bombed during their Palm Sunday services. More than 37 people were killed and over 100 injured. ISIS claimed responsibility. Please note that mainstream Islamic leaders condemned the attacks. The bombings add to Christian fear about Islamic extremists, who are, indeed, targeting Christians.
In the U.S., another example is secular humanism and its cousin liberalism, which scares many Christians. Indeed, the changes in our culture are frightening to those who are used to the Christian American way of life of forty years ago. So many Christians have rallied politically against these evils through what is called “culture wars.”
It’s important to recognize that crusades and culture wars are driven by two emotional forces: (1) fear and (2) desire for conquest, or, desire to be dominant. Not surprisingly, many evangelicals who do not pay close attention to Jesus, support authoritarian spiritual and political leaders.
Culture Care, Not Culture War
But Jesus and authentic Christians reject fear and a desire for conquest. Whenever the bible uses battle image, it is an internal spiritual battle or a fight against principalities and powers (not humans). It is a battle that uses love, truth, and grace as its weapon, not fear and lust for conquest, control, or dominance.
So consider these two parable again. What is the final result? The Kingdom of God eventually produces a harvest that provides nourishment; it is a tiny mustard seed that becomes a mighty tree that provides protection and shade. Jesus’ kingdom conquers by slowly growing new life within this barren world, thus providing much needed nourishment and protection for all creation.
Yesterday, my family celebrated my dad’s 90th birthday. A number of our relatives came from NYC to celebrate. We had a great time. It was exhausting, but fun. I believe that families are a good thing, even though there is often idolatry, exclusion, and misunderstandings. Families provide nourishment and protection. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is like a family that never stops growing! The Kingdom of God is about extending this vision of healthy families to the entire world – to invite all people into God’s family so that all people may be nourished and protected – spiritually and materially. Furthermore, like my family, Canaan’s English ministry is small. But Jesus assures us that no matter how small, the kingdom of God will grow and become incredibly impactful.
Finally, consider the bird in Jesus’ parables in chapter 4. Once the bird was considered the enemy because it swiped the seed from the path and destroyed any opportunity for the seed to grow. But, in this parable, the bird is not the enemy, but one protected by the trees. Without making too much of these illustrations, I suggest that the kingdom of God is about turning enemies into friends, brothers, and sisters.
In sum, the kingdom of God will inevitably grow, remake, and redeem God’s fallen creation. But it won’t do this by the world’s use of fear and conquest. We can be confident in Jesus and renounce culture wars. Rather, let us use culture care, for we were called to tend God’s creation (Gen. 2:15). Let us cultivate what is good in this world by showing it how much God loves us in our brokenness. Let us show in our actions that Jesus was willing to die for sinners. This is the gospel.