The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly

The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly

The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly.

“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.

(a.) 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).

(b.) Mark decides to provide an example of one of Jesus’ parables here by starting the chapter off with the story about the four soils. Seed is dropped into the four different kinds of soils, and only one soil was fertile and resulted in a great harvest. The heart that is open, receptive, and submissive to the word of God was the fruitful soil. Only the teachable kind of heart can be fruitful in the Kingdom. Jesus then explained his story to the disciples later.

(c.) Evidently, Jesus was in the habit of taking the disciples aside and unpacking the parables after they were spoken to the crowds. He wanted to make sure they were getting the point of the story. (Mark 4:34).

(d.) Jesus then 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 – This particular parable is only found in the gospel of Mark.

(a.) 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.

(b.) The farmer represents 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.

(c.) 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.

(d.) 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.


(a.) Some scholars say that in this story Jesus is addressing the Zealots in His midst, of whom there were plenty, and that He is offering an alternative way of thinking about the Kingdom. They wanted to bring the Messianic Age now, by force, by removing Roman rule. Jesus seems to be saying that He will not act according to their urgent demands. He will not purge the Jews of Gentile rulers and sinners. He is not working on the immediate liberation of Israel. That just isn’t His mission at this time. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom Come is a process that only God oversees and understands, and that you can’t force it through sheer human effort. Jesus is telling the Zealots to wait patiently for God’s Messianic Age, for God’s rule, and depend on God’s timing and process.

(b.) There are many who suggest that the three stages of growth mentioned in the parable reveal a good picture of the process of God’s revelation of the Word: First the stalk just breaking the ground, which is the Pentateuch, the Torah; then the head of the wheat, which is the whole Jewish Bible, the Old Testament; then finally the full kernel of wheat, the mature grain, which represents the New Testament.

(c.) St. Paul reflects this parable in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” (NLT).

(d.) 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.

(e.) 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. Permanent judgment, no.

(f.) 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. St. Peter in his words to young believers reflects 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. In fact, we can safely say that we are all mysteries even unto ourselves. Most of the time it’s best to not even try to discern that which is a mystery. 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 in Christ. 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. God in His mercy will make that happen.

(g.) No matter where we are in the growth process, whether physical or spiritual, we can embrace Peter’s final words in his second letter: “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.


(a.) What do you think the ground represents in the parable: the human heart or the world? Which do you prefer, or do you like both? Why?

(b.) Have you ever tried to interfere in someone else’s mysterious growth process? How did that turn out? What’s the difference between interfering and encouraging someone’s growth process? Is it possible to interfere with one’s own growth process? What would that look like?

(c.) Have you ever felt judged or condemned by someone else when you were in the middle of developmental change, whether physical or spiritual? During which stage of development in someone else are you most tempted to judge that person? What might be keeping you from growing up?

(d.) Are there some parables that seem incomprehensible to you, even though you have tried very hard to understand? Are you comfortable discussing these parables with others, and doing some research on them?

(e.) Are you looking forward to the final harvest, to the end of the Age? As Lockyer said, “As you await this moment of reaping, may you abound in hope as you contemplate the joy of harvest in the heavenly fields above.”


(a.) Many translations of Scripture, including the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and the Passion Translation with notes.

(b.) Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.

(c.) Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible.