Mark 4:21-34 (ESV)
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
Mark lists many of the parables Jesus taught, showing the reader that Jesus expected his audience to ponder and respond to these comparisons. In verses 26-29 Jesus gives another parable about a man scattering seed on the ground. Interestingly, Mark is the only gospel writer who records this particular parable. Jesus described what happened after the man, or the farmer, scattered his seed and went on with regular life. Things proceeded normally for him. He slept night after night, he rose day after day, and even though the farmer did no actual “work” after scattering the seed, somehow the seed sprouted up and grew. The honest farmer admitted that he didn’t even know how this all happened. Jesus taught that the “earth produces by itself” (v. 28). The Greek word translated “by itself” is actually the word that the English “automatic” comes from. So Jesus taught the earth produces “automatically.” The seed has power in itself, and it grows in a way consistent with its design. First the blade appears, then the ear, and finally, the full grain arrives. Again, the seed has everything it needs to bring forth the harvest. After the seed, or the gospel, is sown, it is a matter of time before God makes the seed grow and bring forth his harvest. When the harvest is ready, the farmer brings out his sickle to reap in the wheat.
Jesus used this parable to teach that the final harvest would come, but it wouldn’t come as suddenly as his followers hoped. The disciples were called to do what God asked them to do while waiting patiently for his timing. We can become overly discouraged as we look around at the world and see no sign of God’s coming. He allows things to continue as usual, and it often seems like bad becomes worse, while God remains out of sight. But just as a planted seed will grow and bear fruit, what God has promised will come to pass. Soon, God’s sickle will emerge, and the last judgment will arrive. As the patient farmer sleeps and wakes without anxiety, so too the Christian should do as God has commanded her, knowing he will accomplish all that he intends when everything is just right. If you are anxious about God’s timing today, be patient. God keeps his promises. He knows “what” is right, and he knows “when” is right too.