THE PROMISE

THE PROMISE
A sermon based on Mark 4: 26-34
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
June 13, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


[Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would
sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”
–Mark 4:26-27


A few moments ago earlier in the service, Caleb sang a song that many of you know. The song is
titled “Hymn of Promise.” The opening stanza uses gardening metaphors, as does the sermon text from
Mark does. Did you notice them? These are the words of the first stanza:
In the bulb, there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree.
In cocoons a hidden promise—butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.1
The composer of both the words and the music for “Hymn of Promise” was Natalie Sleeth. Ms.
Sleeth composed music in a lot of different genres and for many different groups. She was perhaps best
known for composing music for children’s choirs. “Hymn of Promise” is arguably one of the most
popular anthems that she composed.
As I understand it, Ms. Sleeth was prompted to write “Hymn of Promise” on the occasion of the
death of her husband Ron. It has since become a popular anthem in many church circles over the last 35
years. In fact, you may have recognized it from some of the performances by the First Baptist Sanctuary
Choir. I think it is one of our choir’s “greatest hits.” Although the song was originally conceived as an
anthem, it has also been arranged as a hymn for congregational singing. Over the last couple of decades,
it has been included in a number of hymnals of different denominations. (Sadly, ours is not one of
them…)
“Hymn of Promise” has three stanzas, and the last line of each stanza is the same. It helps to
hold the song together, but it also is the main idea of the song. It is also the main idea of what Jesus was
communicating in the two parables in the scripture text. That last line is that the true nature of things is
“Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Unrevealed until its season, something
God alone can see…

1 Words and music by Natalie Sleeth. ©1986 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved.P a g e | 2
In today’s text from Mark, Jesus tells two stories concerning seeds. Right at the outset, I would
confess to you that I am not much of a farmer. Aside from some science experiments that were
assignments in elementary school—you know, the beans in the Styrofoam cup thing—I have seldom
been able to grow much. Yes—the truth of the matter is that I have a brown thumb. I have hardly ever
been very successful in growing plants. But here is something that I have observed about gardening:
seeds do not look very much like that plants that will one day spring from them. Nor do the seeds
resemble the fruit that may be eventually harvested later.
And Jesus points those two things out in the parables. In the first parable, he talks about a
farmer planting seeds in a field. After he is finished with the planting, the seeds grow on their own out in
the field. He notes that it is a process. It does not happen all at once. As the seeds germinate, first a
shoot comes up out of the ground. From that shoot, a stalk grows. Eventually, a head appears at the end
of the stalk. And when the head of grain—or the fruit—or the plant—is fully ripened, then the time for
the harvest has arrived.
Jesus says that the farmer really does not know how that happens. He just knows that it does.
He plants the seed into the ground and then goes about his other tasks. All that he knows is that the
growth of the crop happens just like that. It is something of a mystery to him. The crop that will
eventually be harvested from the seeds that are planted is “Unrevealed until its season, something God
alone can see…”
In the second parable, Jesus begins by talking about mustard seeds. Though it is not actually the
smallest seed in the world, it is the smallest seed with which Jesus’ listeners would have been familiar.
Our Lord says that, once it is planted, it grows up to be the greatest of all shrubs. (When I hear the word
“shrub,” I do not think of large, tall plants. But one Bible commentator that I consulted this week wrote
that he has personally seen at least two mustard plants grow as high as ten feet tall in the Holy Land.2
So
I guess they do…) In fact, Jesus says that the mustard shrub can grow so tall that even birds can make
their nests in it. Who would have guessed it just from looking at a tiny mustard seed? No one really. Its
potential is “unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see…”
Verse 28 contains a word that is crucial to the understanding of what Jesus is talking about in
these two parables. After the seed has been planted and it begins to grow, Jesus makes the observation
that “the earth produces of itself…” the Greek word used here is the word automatē. This is the root
word from which are derived English words like “automated” and “automatic.” It can also be translated
as “without visible cause” and without human work. Other possible translations are “of itself,” “out of
its own power,” “without visible cause” or even “caused by God.” The only other place in the New
Testament that automatē is used is in Acts 12:10. In that instance, Peter was miraculously released from
prison because the iron gate to his jail cell “opened for [him] by itself.”

2 Walter W. Wessel, “Mark” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing
House, 1984), 653. P a g e | 3
The point that Jesus is making by using that word is to say that it is ultimately God who is
responsible for the results in the life of the Spirit. In verse 27, he says that the farmer “would sleep and
rise day and night, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” The gardener knows
what it takes to grow a successful garden. And good gardeners will do it. Watering, weeding, fertilizing—
these are the things that the gardener can do if the gardener wants to see a fruitful harvest. But
ultimately, in spite of his or her best efforts, the gardener knows that he or she cannot make the plants
grow. That is God’s business…
One of the lessons to be learned today from Jesus’ teaching is that everyone who is one of his
followers has a God-given potential to spiritually flourish. O, it may not look like that at the outset. Just
like a seed initially appears to be devoid of life to all appearances, so may our potential in the life of the
Spirit seem to be less than promising.
But here is a spiritual truth. And this is the takeaway from today’s sermon: God has planted
within each follower of Jesus the makings of a fruitful and fulfilling life in the Spirit. And he desires
that we grow and reach our full potential.
This is something of what Jesus meant in John 10:10 when he told his disciples, “I have come
that you might have life, and have it to the full…” Jesus came that he might liberate us from the things
which weigh us down and shackle our spirits—the things that rob us of reaching our full potential as
children of God. God wants to take the seed of the Spirit that he has planted inside of you and grow it
into something grand and wonderful. Something that would be difficult to achieve from all outward
appearances.
That is really what being a disciple of Jesus really means—to let God work in your life to produce
something unexpectedly unforeseen. The life of the Spirit is characterized by abiding peace…penetrated
throughout by love…it is a faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for
good…it is hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances…it is the power to do
what is right and to withstand the forces that would seek to make you do otherwise. This is the
abundant life that Jesus came to give. This is what God wants to grow in all of us as we follow Jesus…
Most of us here have been Christians for a long time—years and decades for most of us. Maybe
we feel like we have seen it and heard it all before. But it is a spiritual truth that none of us ever arrive
with what God has planted in us coming to a full and final maturity…There is still growth to be
determined…there is still a time for a spiritual harvest in each of our lives. No one is ever finished
becoming more of who God wants us to be…
Philippians is thought by scholars to be among the last letters that the Apostle Paul wrote. In the
third chapter, he spends some time reflecting on his own personal spiritual journey up to that point. He
speaks of his Jewish heritage and of his accomplishments in that tradition. He talks about how he
persecuted the church out of a sense of zeal for God. He has spent most of his adult life serving Jesus. P a g e | 4
He has travelled to cities to spread the good news. He has endured shipwreck, and hunger and
persecution and death threats and illness for the sake of the gospel.
And yet, he still writes that he wants to know the power of Christ and his resurrection in his life.
He still wants to know God more intimately than he does even then. Beginning in verse 12, he writes,
“Not that I have already attained [the power of Christ in my life], or have already been made perfect,
but I [continue to] press on to take hold of what Christ Jesus took hold of me…Forgetting what is behind
and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called
me heavenward in Christ Jesus…”
That passage from Paul still amazes me. If toward the end of his life the Apostle Paul had not yet
felt that he had “arrived” as a follower of Jesus, what does that say about you and me? If Paul did not
think he had become all that God had in mind for him to become, then surely you and I still have a ways
to go also. And it all begins with what God has planted in the soul of each one of us—a spiritual seed
that is waiting to grow and develop into what the Spirit calls each of us to be…


The sermon today began by quoting the first stanza of Natalie Sleeth’s “Hymn of Promise.” I
would like to end the sermon by quoting the final stanza. The song began with a discussion of seeds and
the potential that God sees in each one. The song ends with a note of triumph—
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
And to God alone be the glory! Amen

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