Mark gives his readers far less of Jesus’ teaching than any of the other Gospel writers. His Gospel is fast-paced and Mark is more concerned with presenting the identity and mission of Jesus than all of his teaching. There is no Sermon on the Mount. No lengthy discourse sections. If anything, Mark just states that Jesus was teaching. Mark had a different agenda than Matthew, Luke, and John. Mark was a superb storyteller. He races from Jesus’ early ministry to the cross and empty tomb. Mark didn’t have time for much of what Jesus taught.
Mark 4, however, is like a short pause in the flow of the Gospel as Mark unfolds Jesus’ teaching on the counterintuitive nature of the kingdom. Jesus taught in many ways, but Jesus’ teaching can by and large be characterized by parables. Jesus taught about life in the kingdom through parables.
The main point of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 4 is that things are not as they appear. Resistance to the kingdom should be expected, and the growth of the kingdom will be slow but gradual. God is building for eternity, not next week. This is why sanctification is often slow and painful. We would do well to learn that life in the kingdom is lived by faith, not sight. Sight of the kingdom in its fullness is coming, but right now we walk by faith as the kingdom grows through the sanctification and suffering of his people.
The disciples were learning this truth by experience. The more they followed Jesus, the more they learned the world’s opposition to him. It can be a startling revelation. I remember the first time I experienced opposition from the world. In college I was confronted with an atheist who caused me to question everything I’d ever believed. He didn’t see Jesus the way I did. He was repulsed by Jesus; both by his message, and his mission. I was startled by the reality that the kingdom of God is foolish and disgusting to the world.
Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom is both timely and soothing at this point in Mark’s Gospel. As the Messiah, Jesus came to announce the arrival of the promised kingdom. Jesus is the sovereign Sower. The seed is the gospel, the kingdom, which will grow with irrepressible power. The harvest is guaranteed, though the growth may be slow.
Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God brings great comfort and perspective to all Christians, but especially ministry leaders. Ministry can often be grueling. The work is hard. Progress is often slow. It’s easy to doubt whether the hours of prayer, study, counseling, and shepherding are worth the labor. But Jesus assures pastors and ministry leaders of a couple things in his odd stories about farmers and seeds.
First, God sovereignly plants his kingdom in the world and in the hearts of his people when and how he pleases. Second, God grows his kingdom in the world and in the hearts of his people slowly but surely. God gives growth to his kingdom in his people according to his infinite power, sovereignty, and wisdom. The growth may be slow, but it is also certain.
When we become discouraged with the growth of the kingdom in our churches and cities, we must remember that the end is certain and God’s timing is perfect. He will develop and expand his kingdom according to his flawless plan and timing. Our kingdom work will never be in vain! The Lord will accomplish his kingdom purposes in and through us.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.