Evangelism as Jesus practiced it (Mark 4:26-29)

The God of fruitfulness germinates new life.

Jesus spent no effort trying to persuade people he was their king.

That’s astounding when you compare the billions of dollars and person-hours of effect expended in the American presidential election, so one person can have partial power in one country for four years. How on earth did Jesus become the enduring king of the planet with a staff of twelve and a zero-shekel advertising budget?

The crucial difference is how Jesus became king. To become president, Biden had to convince the majority of Democrats he was their best choice, and then convince the rest of America that he was a better candidate than Trump. The huge spend of effort and finance was all about gaining acclaim from the people. That’s how power works: it’s given by the people (or taken from them in war).

By contrast, Jesus’ kingship is not derived from human recognition. It comes from divine appointment. That’s why Jesus spent no effort trying to convince people he was king. He believed God would give him the kingship, that this would happen by divine decree, that this would happen whether people acclaimed him or assassinated him.

This makes perfect sense when you understand what Jesus said through what he did. He believed the earth was God’s kingdom (the kingdom of God), since earth lives under heaven. That puts us in partnership with God: we plant seeds and reap the benefits, but we don’t make the seeds grow. Harvest time comes all by itself, because God has blessed the earth as his fruitful realm.

That’s is why Jesus took such a relaxed approach to evangelism (i.e. announcing the good news of God’s kingship). It’s like this:

Mark 4:26–29 (NIV)
26 This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

The farm works without the farmer having to understand biology. The grain grows whether the farmer is awake or asleep. All by itself, the harvest comes.

No, Jesus it not promoting passivity. Humans are involved in planting the seed and gathering the harvest. But harvest comes because of God decree that this is how the world should work (Genesis 1:11-12).

But what if the world isn’t functioning as God decreed?

What if the man spreads the seed, but it falls on the path and the birds eat it? What if the seed cannot take root because the soil is hard? What if the seedlings choke to death among the thorns and thistles? As every farmer knows, the world is full of threats to the harvest.

And yet, farmers still plant grain. In a broken world, only some of the seed is productive, yet the divine decree of fruitfulness is still in force. You see that every time one seed develops into 30 or 60 or 100 seeds (Mark 4:3-8).

That’s the chilled approach Jesus takes to evangelism (the proclamation of God’s kingship). God decreed the earth to be his kingdom, and so it is. Jesus isn’t king because humans offered him the position; he’s the anointed ruler because God decreed it. That’s why Jesus looks nothing like Biden or Trump trying to get elected.

In fact, Jesus doesn’t even tell people he’s king. He sounds more like a story-teller than a commander. Instead of ordering people to accept his authority, he tells them stories of what it’s like in God’s kingdom. Instead of issuing ethical demands or imperial edicts, his stories make us aware of what needs to change, make us hungry for what could be.

Three years into Jesus’ seed-planting kingdom stories, it finally dawned on someone who the king was: You are the Anointed ruler, the Son of the ever-living Sovereign (Matthew 16:16). Jesus had made no effort to convince them of this because his royal authority came not from human recognition but divine appointment: This was not revealed by flesh and blood, but by my Father in the heavens (16:17).

His authority is God-given, not forced on people. It grows by revelation, as people begin to see the humble king coming in the name of the Lord (Matthew 21:1-9). His authority overturns the existing order that is showy but fruitless (21:12-22), but divine appointment is not reliant on human recognition (21:23-27).

So what?

Compare our idea of evangelism to what Jesus did. Much of our evangelism sounds like pressing people to make a choice for Jesus.

No, I’m not suggesting we do nothing. We have a partnership with God in planting seeds and harvesting. But often it feels like we’ve set up laboratories for getting the seeds to germinate.

Jesus didn’t have a strategy for converting the world, for getting people to make decisions about him. Like the farmer who did not know how, Jesus was content to leave the harvest growth to God. All by itself the soil produces the grain, because that’s how his Father designed the world.

So, maybe we could just tell stores of what the kingdom of God is like, stories of the lives where the Spirit is at work. There’s no need to sell the Saviour to the world; it’s so much easier to just plant the seeds in our everyday conversations, and leave it with the God of fruitfulness to germinate the new life.

That leaves us free to participate in the kingdom life we find in God’s anointed.

Open Mark 4:26-29

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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