Sowing and Reaping

Psalm 126
Mark 4:21-34

There was a church hymn that was written in 1874 and was still popular in the 1980’s when I first began attending church. The song was written by Knowles Shaw who was inspired by the last couple of verses in Psalm 126 (5-6).

Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Can anyone guess the song title?

“Bringing in the Sheaves.”

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

In his The Treasury of David Commentary, the 19th-century English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes:

He that goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. He leaves his couch to go forth into the frosty air and tread the heavy soil; and as he goes he weeps because of past failures, or because the ground is so sterile, or the weather so unseasonable, or his corn so scarce, or his enemies so plentiful and so eager to rob him of his reward. He drops a seed and a tear, a seed and a tear, and so goes on his way. In his basket he has seed which is precious to him, for he has little of it, and it is his hope for the next year. Each grain leaves his hand with anxious prayer that it may not be lost: he thinks little of himself, but much of his seed, and he eagerly asks, “Will it prosper? Will I receive a reward for my labor?” Yes, good husbandman, doubtless you will gather sheaves from your sowing. 1

In Mark 4, Jesus tells 3 stories about sowing and reaping which I believe were inspired by Psalm 126.

Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died.

Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant (Mark 4:3-10).

The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted! (Mark 4:14b-20).

Jesus also said, “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 wheat 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).

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade (Mark 4:30-32).

At first glance, the first two parables sound similar, in that both talk about a sower sowing seeds. But the first one we are more familiar with (for it appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke, whereas as today’s is unique to Mark) focuses on how the condition of the soil affects germination. In other words, the big picture of that parable has to do with human responsibility.

But in the second one, which is the focus of today’s message, displays God’s sovereignty. Jesus tells about a man who scatters seed and then simply allows nature to take its course. First, the seed sprouts; then it produces a stalk and leaves, then a head of grain, and, finally, the grain is ripe. And the emphasis is on how all of this happens without any help from the man who did the sowing. Verse 28 says, “The earth produces crops on its own.” Then the parable ends with a harvest; “bringing in the sheaves.”

It’s not surprising that Jesus did not explain this parable, as He did some others. And it’s really not that difficult to figure out. The seed is the Word of God, as in the previous parable. The fact that the crop grows without the farmer’s intervention means that God can accomplish His purposes even when the sower is absent or unaware of what’s going on. 
The big picture of this Parable then is apparent: God will use the seed of His Word in the heart of an individual for His divine purposes that we are not privy to.

The application of the parable for us is also clear: followers of Jesus must be faithful in sowing the seed and being content to leave the results in God’s good hands!

The picture of the sower representing Christians is quite common in the Bible. The apostle Paul, for example, speaks of himself as sowing in 1Corinthians 3:6; “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” Who sowed the seed? The apostle Paul sowed the seed. Who watered the seed? Apollos watered the seed. But who made it grow? It is God who causes the seed to take root and to grow. Paul writes, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. (I Corinthians 3:7).

You and I have the responsibility; yea the privilege of sowing seeds of the gospel of Christ in the soil of other peoples’ hearts. We are not responsible for the soil of the other persons’ heart, we are not responsible for the growth of the seed; we are only responsible for sowing!

Once we sow, God steps into the picture. And there’s no limit to what can happen on behalf of the Kingdom! This parable naturally leads to the next one about how the smallest of seeds has the potential to become a large tree. So, taken together, these parables speak of the great potential that exists when one sows a seed. In other words there is power in planting seeds.

Now I’m not a horticulturist, I don’t even mow the grass anymore! But I know there is tremendous power in a seed.

In April of 2015, National Geographic ran an article entitled, ‘Methuselah’ Palm Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seed. In the 1960’s, the ancient Israeli mountain fortress of Masada was re-discovered near the Dead Sea. Believe it or not 2,000 year old seeds were found in the storehouses. In 2005, that seed was planted and immediately began to grow into a date palm tree that now stands over 10 feet tall and has been named the Methuselah Tree. The same article tells how scientists in Russia were able to grow a plant from a 32,000-year-old seed that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel in Siberia.2

Similarly and yet infinitely and eternally more powerfully, there is life in God’s word!

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12).

There’s an old anonymous saying that suggests, “We can count the seeds in an apple, but we can never count the number of apples in a seed. It’s a quote about potential. Robert Schuller took that old saying and changed it to, “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.”

The quote reminds us of the great potential in sowing just one solitary seed. For from one solitary apple seed could come not only one apple tree but perhaps a whole orchard.

You have probably never heard of Edward Kimball. Kimball was a Sunday School teacher in Chicago who didn’t think he was doing a very good job. Especially with one kid named Dwight. Dwight was the class clown and wasn’t receptive to what his teacher was trying to plant. So one day the teacher went to the shoe store where Dwight worked and talked to him personally about what Christ had done for him. And as a result Dwight L. Moody gave his life to Christ and later became known as one of the greatest evangelists in church history, leading thousands to faith in Jesus and leaving the legacy of Moody Church in Chicago.

But, the story doesn’t end there; actually, that’s where the story begins! When Moody was preaching one day, Frederick Meyer was listening. Meyer had already made a commitment of faith to Christ, but Moody’s preaching motivated him to enter full-time ministry. F. B. Meyer became a tremendous preacher, teacher, and author of over 70 Christian books and Bible commentaries.

One day a young man named Wilbur Chapman was listening to F. B. Meyer and gave his life to Christ. Chapman became an evangelist and preached to thousands.

One day, a professional baseball player who played for the Chicago White Stockings had a day off and attended one of Chapman’s meetings and gave his life to Christ. His name was Billy Sunday. He quit baseball and eventually was America’s most popular traveling evangelist drawing the largest crowds ever before electronic sound systems. Are you beginning to understand why you can’t count the apples in a seed? Billy Sunday’s most famous line was, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

Sunday held a crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina, where many people came to faith. The people there were so thrilled by his preaching of the Gospel, that they wanted him to remain to have another crusade. Sunday’s schedule required him to move on, so the Christian businessmen of Charlotte invited Mordecai Ham. Ham announced that he knew for a fact that a house of “ill repute” was located across the street from the local high school, and that male students were skipping lunch to visit there. When word got out that some of those students decided to go to heckle Mordecai, a young man named Billy Graham decided to go see what would happen. And you know the rest of the story.

But wait a minute, this story’s not over yet. A bored 35 year old CPA was lying on his bed in a motel room in Indiana, turned on the television and started channel surfing until he came upon Billy Graham preaching at a crusade. And although this man up to that point in his life was turned off to religion, when Billy Graham gave an invitation at the end of his message, this man knelt at the foot of his bed, confessed his sins asked for forgiveness. Bruce Bequette rose up a new man. Mr. Bequette enrolled at Garret Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, was ordained and accepted a position of pastor of Willard FUMC in 1979.

In the fall of that year, a 30 year old atheist was sitting in Bequette’s living room listening to him talk about how Christ died for our sins. And although that atheist left that home that night still an atheist a seed had been planted that came to fruition about a month later when Randy K’Meyer bent the knee asked to be forgiven and accepted Christ.

So, you see, Kimball reached Moody, who touched Meyer, who reached Chapman, who helped Sunday, who reached the businessmen in Charlotte, who invited Ham, who then touched Billy Graham, who reached Bruce Bequette, who reached me. So thanks, Edward Kimball. Even though you doubted your ability as a Sunday School teacher, you sowed a small seed that became a mustard tree.

You can count the seeds in an apple, but only God knows how many apples are in a single seed!

We all have been entrusted with the seeds of the Gospel. The truth is we are surrounded by people who need the Lord, some of whom are our family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. People we have already established relationships with. People who trust us to tell them the truth. We must broadcast the truth about Christ; the forgiveness of Christ, the grace and mercy of Christ.

We all have a part to play. God uses ordinary people, and when ordinary people are faithful in sowing seeds God does extraordinary things through them!

We began this message by referencing an old hymn and I would like to close with another . . . Little Is Much When God Is In It.

In the harvest field now ripened, there’s a work for all to do;
Hark! the voice of God is calling, to the harvest calling you.
Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.


1 The Treasury of David, Psalms 111-150 Electronic Edition STEP Files © 1997, Parsons Technology, Inc., PO Box 100, Hiawatha, Iowa. All rights reserved.

2 news.nationalgeographic.com/…/150324-ancient-methuselah-date-palm-spr…

Randy K'Meyer

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