9. Born from Above – The Need for Milk before Meat

9. Born from Above – The Need for Milk before Meat

9. Born from Above – The Need for Milk before Meat.

“The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of what are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” (Mark 4:26-29, NLT).

CONTEXT – Mark 4 is all about parables, including various parables, as well as some teaching by Jesus about parables. Jesus was just off shore, sitting down in a boat, teaching about the Kingdom to a large group that was gathered on the lake shore, listening intently. His preference to teaching with parables was not surprising to the people, since “in his public ministry he never taught without using parables.” (Mark 4:34).

Jesus instructs the disciples to open their ears and put on their thinking caps when Jesus told his parables. Listen closely, he said, and really try to understand what he is saying. If they pay close enough attention, understanding will come. However, if one listens casually, apathetically, half-heartedly, then that hardness of heart will keep them from getting the point of the teaching. Active listeners, he is saying, do their best to listen, respond, obey, and trust that God will help them not just understand but to live it out. Passive listeners will not understand a thing, and Jesus’ teaching will end up clear as mud.

THE PARABLE – Jesus tells the story of what the Kingdom is like, how the Kingdom operates. The main character is a confident farmer who scatters seed on the ground, and patiently waits while the seeds grow underground and then above ground. The seed sprouts and grows, and the farmer doesn’t know how it all happens. It’s a mystery to him, but he still trusts the process. The earth produces the crop on its own, somehow. First a leaf blade (the green stem or stalk) breaks ground, then the heads of wheat are formed on the stalk, and finally the mature grain (the full kernel) appears. When the time is right, the farmer knows to harvest the ripe wheat with his sickle. The harvest is apparently sure to come in this natural growth process.

The farmer could reasonably represent the believer, a representative of the Kingdom, who is sowing seeds of God’s word into a fertile heart. God’s word is like seeds of truth that are to be received and lived into. The believer doesn’t know the ins and outs of the growth process, how it all manages to develop and mature in the dark underground and then above ground. But the believer is patient and hopeful, he doesn’t intervene by digging it up or messing with the process, except of course by adding light and water. He knows he can’t make the seed grow any faster than it’s supposed to. The believer sows the truth, and then sleeps without anxiety, and goes about his day in peace.

Only God knows how things grow, whether in nature or in people. Development is God’s secret, and creation energy is God’s alone. We are to trust that He is managing the process to further the Kingdom. God knows the timing of the harvest, when the crop is ripe and the harvesters are ready. There is a sure destiny where the harvest is concerned, because God knows how to bring abundant fruit from the gospel seed. The Kingdom is always on track to reach its full development in God’s power and for His purposes.

The ground in the story is the fertile human heart, which receives and nurtures the seeds of truth and supplies the seeds with nutrients through the life-giving Holy Spirit. It does not pay to interrupt that process through impatience or distrust. As Lockyer says, “Make no attempt to hasten the growth of the seed, which He has left to the natural operation of forces hidden in the soil.” It is futile to seek to fully understand the inner working of the Holy Spirit. The seeds of truth grow secretly, quietly, in the dark, then in the light, and we know not how.

The Soil as the Word. Another way to understand this story is that the ground represents the world in need of the Word of God. The farmer would represent believers who invest the truth and life of Christ in the world, through their Christian walk and lifestyle and prayers, following the truth in daily life. The world receives this seed from believers everywhere, and the farmers leave the work of Kingdom growth to the actions of the Holy Spirit, operating quietly underground and then mysteriously in the light. But there is another way we can understand this little parable about the seed in the ground and the mystery of its growth.

The Mystery in the Womb. “You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord. You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place… carefully, skillfully, shaping me from nothing to something. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance. You saw who you created me to be before I became an embryo! (Psalm 139:13-16, a psalm of David; TPT). 

WOMB = the physical organ of the woman that is constructed of muscles and ligaments and blood vessels that encircle the fetus, making a safe place for the unborn baby to grow and develop within the pregnant mother; a protected shelter that completely surrounds the growing child in the womb; a quiet and peaceful refuge, a nourishing sanctuary, and a life-giving haven for the developing unborn baby; the protective barrier that guards the growing fetus from outside danger.

Creator God designed a safe place within each woman’s body to offer safe harbor to a growing baby when the woman is pregnant. This womb is of course necessary for a fetus to bond with its mother, to develop in peace, to be enveloped in loving nourishment, to grow in the security and trust needed to develop in a healthy way. This secure shelter within the pregnant woman prepares the baby to grow to the point where it will survive outside the womb. In the womb, the unborn baby is literally surrounded by a divinely designed system to protect and feed and cherish the child within her. The woman’s womb is the sanctuary in which the strongest human bond of love is established, the bond between mother and child. Just as man provides the seed to kick-start human life in the womb, the Holy Spirit provides God’s seed to initiate spiritual life in a receptive heart (1 Peter 3:9).

The Mystery of Growth. In this little parable Jesus talks about the mystery of growth in nature. This law of development is also true in human life. We are knit together in secret in the womb, beneath the ground. The human seed is buried and is provided nutrients and immediately begins to develop. We don’t comprehend this miracle, and the secret of human growth remains a mystery. And of course our Creator doesn’t stop this miracle of growth in the womb. Human development continues above ground, outside of the womb, just like in nature. God continues this mystery of weaving together life till the day we die. God causes each human being to grow as He wills, in His timing, with His blessing, according to His secret program. We can’t hurry along this process and add some fast-grow to the slowly growing person. We may be able to determine the natural growth process, the stages of development, but we can’t unlock the mystery of why and how it all happens. There remains throughout life a mystery in each person’s growth. It is tempting to be critical of persons in the midst of a stage that is difficult and turbulent, but it’s not wise to permanently judge someone in the midst of growth and change. As someone struggles through the often dramatic growth process, remember the big picture: each person you see is God’s priceless and wondrous mystery. Moral accountability, yes. Behavior improvement, yes. Sympathy for human imperfection, yes. Spiritual judgment, no.

Caring for the Young in Christ. “But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?” (1 Corinthians 3:2, Message). There is a mystery as well in our spiritual development. Literally, God only knows the secret of how and why we each grow spiritually the way we do. Sts. Paul and Peter in their words to young believers regarding milk vs. solid food reflect the reality of spiritual development. In 1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like new-born babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk, so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” It takes seasoned, saintly discernment to sense where someone else is in his/her spiritual development, whether someone requires milk or is ready for solid food. In fact, we can safely say that we are all mysteries even unto ourselves. We simply do not ultimately know the Lord’s intentions with anyone, including ourselves. Unfortunately, we often judge or condemn others and ourselves as to their/our spiritual status. Too often we impatiently judge the first sign of a stalk for not being a full kernel of wheat. Here is the writer of Hebrews in a word to the wise about spiritual growth. Hebrews 5:12-14“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s Word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.” (NLT) As Hebrews suggests, perhaps we don’t encourage enough the early growth in others to grow into a mature growth. We certainly all need to grow up into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15). But only God knows what that will look like in each believer, who will hopefully grow from a stalk to the ear to the full kernel in time for the harvest.

Pure Spiritual Milk. The new believers in Christ seem to be similar to infants in normal human development. At first, they don’t have teeth, so they cannot start out eating solid food. The nutritional milk must be something easy to digest, easy to understand, not too “heavy” or abstract. Spiritual milk for the young in the Faith depends upon an umbilical cord of tender human connection and relationship with a loving person. Infants young and old need to feel safe to ask questions, explore the meaning of something, taught by someone the new one can easily trust. Even if the biblical idea is basic and understandable, if there is fear or uncertainty or insecurity in the air, the child will not learn anything. We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make him drink. But on the other hand, we can make him thirsty. Stories make young ones thirsty, noticing how Jesus depended on parables to spread the Word. With adult newcomers to the Faith, the Gospel stories needs to be presented in bite-size morsels with a light heart and playful spirit, with joy and confidence. The imagination is more likely to be captured in that type of scenario. An unhurried atmosphere in a spirit of discovery is important to reduce any stress there may be. Biblical visuals are needed as well, so the stories seem more real and less abstract. Reading aloud is just as important to adults as it is to children. Reading the gospels aloud, for example, sparks questions, discussion and imaginative interaction, and provides a bonding experience between the reader and the learner, which makes that learning time a more pleasurable and memorable experience. Intimate knowledge of the child will allow enough understanding to help discern when a child in Christ is “growing teeth” and can start to digest more solid food. Extreme, prolonged “baby talk” is not helpful when teaching Scripture to a new believer. Speak clearly in a way they can understand that honors their dignity and assumes intelligence, without reverting to language that is beneath them. The parent needs to grow in his/her vocabulary as the child grows in understanding. Key ideas in teaching to young people or young believers… Be warm and playful; be creative and imaginative; provide a peaceful atmosphere; allow for lots of personal interaction; people learn best through experience, so help the other person to learn the Faith by experiencing it; provide an example of what a good learner looks like; Love is the universal language. As George MacDonald once said, “Be easy to please, but hard to satisfy” in order to encourage continued growth. It’s interesting that in the early church, a newly baptized infant was given a drop of milk to symbolize their need to be fed with love, pure nourishment and the goodness of God right from the start in order to sustain life.

Keep Growing! No matter where we are in the growth process, whether physical or spiritual, God expects us to continue cooperating with the process He set up. Extended infancy is not acceptable to our Lord, who wants us to mature into what He has in mind. Neither is extended adolescence. God wants us to grow up! God’s seed through the Holy Spirit conceived a new spiritual life in each of us, and He has plans for that life as it matures. The life of Christ in us holds the promise of something meaningful for the Kingdom, and for that to happen, we need to continue growing. The Lord certainly inspired these words from Peter, his final words: “You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to Him, both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18). Each day grow in our friendship with Jesus, getting to know Him better and better, growing deeper roots and becoming increasingly fruitful.