Have you ever thought about how Jesus strategically used His teaching to prepare His disciples for the harvest work He had invited them to join Him in? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each record large portions of teaching that the disciples were exposed to, and besides considering the themes and audience present for Jesus’ teaching, there is also great value in considering the placement of each teaching within the overall context of Jesus’ ministry.
Just before getting in the boat with His disciples to cross to the “other side” (Gentile area on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum) where He would deliver the two demoniacs, Jesus taught His parables on the kingdom, the most famous of which is the Parable of the Sower. It’s the only parable from this group that is recorded, along with its explanation, in all three Synoptic Gospels. When compiling a list from the three Synoptics, we see that Mark adds an eighth parable to Matthew’s list of seven, and both Mark and Luke record an illustration used to further illuminate the Parable of the Sower.
Parables on the Kingdom
- Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4 & Luke 8)
• Explanation of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4 & Luke 8)
• Illustration of a Lamp on a Stand (Mark 4 & Luke 8)
- Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13)
- Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4)
- Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13 & Mark 4)
- Parable of the Yeast (Matthew 13)
- Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13)
- Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13)
- Parable of the Net and the Fish of Many Kinds (Matthew 13)
Mark’s addition to Matthew’s list, the Parable of the Growing Seed, offers encouragement for the nature of the harvest in God’s growing kingdom.
“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. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4:27-29 NIV
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In this parable, it is God who provides the soil, and it is God who provides the rain. The farmer might scatter the seed. He is faithful in that. But the farmer cannot control what that seed does. The seed’s growth is in God’s hands.
In the work of evangelism, scattering seed as we share the good news, there is our part, and then there is God’s part. It’s a mystery. We don’t know what’s going on in a person’s heart. We don’t know what factors are at work that ultimately bring them to a place where they will be ready to respond. We just know that it is God’s Spirit who must germinate that seed and bring it to life.
The teaching on the Sower and the Four Soils, the teaching on a disciple’s part and God’s part in the harvest work, comes after Jesus has appointed the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19 & Luke 6:12-16) but before He sends them out Two by Two to preach the Good News (Matthew 10:1-8, Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1-6).
Because of the placement of these kingdom parables in Jesus’ ministry, we should see them as being strategic preparation for the disciples before they were sent out. The Twelve were chosen to be sent out to preach the Good News, and they would need to understand that the kingdom impact of their mission would be dependent upon God’s power and not their own performance.
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”
Mark 3:13-15 NIV (emphasis added)
The key to their success would be the “be with” factor. He was calling them to “be with” Him. He would promise to “be with” them.
Before going to the cross, Jesus told the Twelve that the Spirit was being sent to “be with” them.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever…”
John 14:16 NIV (emphasis added)
Before His ascension, Jesus reminded the disciples that “making disciples of all nations” would be possible because He would “be with” them.
“’and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
Matthew 28:20 NIV (emphasis added)
The disciples obeyed Jesus’ commission and experienced His presence and power with them as they went out to preach the good news.
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”
Mark 16:19-20 NIV (emphasis added)
As the disciples began their ministry at the birth of the early church, it was obvious to everyone they encountered that they had been with Jesus.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
Acts 4:13 NIV (emphasis added)
We are called to be faithful in spreading the seed of the Good News. That is our part. God’s promise is that He will be with us as we do, empowering the message for an eternal kingdom impact. That is His part.
Just as Jesus emphasized for His disciples in their preparation for harvest work, He also wants to remind us again and again…
Be with Me! Walk with Me. Delight in Me. Depend upon Me.
I will be with you! I will strengthen you. I will guide you. I will fill you. I will use you.
Be with! This is the spiritual secret giants of the faith like Hudson Taylor, D.L. Moody, Gladys Aylward, George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, and Billy Graham learned and lived out. This is the dynamic Christ-life we’ve been invited into.
As you go, be with Jesus!
By Doug Holliday