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THE SCENE IS A FAMILIAR ONE. Jesus retreated to the seashore, only to be followed by such a crowd that He had to seek refuge in a boat.
The majority of those following Him probably believed that the Messianic prophecies promised a political messiah who would deliver them from Rome and assist them in establishing an earthly kingdom of their own. Many of them hoped that Jesus was this messiah. Little did they care, or perhaps even realize, that Rome's dominance over them was a direct result of their disregard of God's love. (See SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 30-33.)
Thus, many of Jesus' parables instructed His followers regarding the true character of His kingdom. The two parables we will study this week are of this nature. They emphasize, as did the parables we examined last week, the role of the Holy Spirit in the growth of our Christian experience. As you study, ask yourself what role the Holy Spirit has played or is playing in your life.
Last week we learned that when we are established in Christ He transforms our character into His likeness. We also studied the Holy Spirit's role in this accomplishment. The parable of the growing seed expands upon this theme.
Give titles to the three main sections of this parable as found in Mark 4:26-29.
"According to verse 27, the seed germinates and sprouts; it springs up and matures in a mysterious manner that goes almost unnoticed. This is the emphasis behind Mark's phrase 'he knows not how.' In verse 28 it is stressed that it is not by human intervention that the seed grows; the earth produces fruit 'spontaneously.' This does not mean that the sower abandons his work, nor that he is uninterested in what takes place.... It means that the seed must be allowed its appointed course, as the process of growth and ripening advances toward a harvest that is approaching. The sower takes account of the growth of the seed, but he cannot fully understand it. His ultimate interest is in the purpose for which the seed was sown."-William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1974), vol. 2, p. 169.
What do the following parts of the parable symbolize: (1) the growth of the seed; (2) the power motivating that growth? John 3:1-8.
This parable illustrates the same truth Jesus spoke to Nicodemus regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. To be "born of the Spirit" is to have God as our Father and to be like Him in character (1 John 3:1-3). As children of God who are constantly receiving the grace of Christ, we do not have to yield to sin (Rom. 6:12-16; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18); we seek always to maintain union with Him. We are unable to explain the process of Christian growth and character transformation, but like the growth of the planted seed, it carries on invisibly.
Which of the following characterizes your Christian growth? (1) The seed has not yet been planted. (2) The grain is flourishing. (3) There is a drought. Consider what farmers do to help the seed grow. What things can you do to assist your spiritual growth? What efforts might actually hinder spiritual growth?
Review yesterday's lesson, then meditate upon the following statement: "As the plant receives the sunshine, the dew, and the rain, we are to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. The work is to be done 'not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.' Zech. 4:6.... By constantly relying upon Christ as our personal Saviour, we shall grow up into Him in all things who is our head."-Christ's Object Lessons, p. 67. Record one or two of your thoughts regarding this quote in the space below.
Just as the seed grows to produce grain, so the object of Christian growth is the reproduction of Christ's character in the believer's life. How does Galatians 5:13-26 describe this reproduction?
The fruit of the Spirit are those traits that develop when people invite the Spirit to live in their hearts. This fruit is not the harvest of human nature, but the result of a force entirely external to us that works within us.
"Salvation is not just a business transaction. It is a relationship.... We need salvation not only from death and the ravages of sin but from sin itself, from the iniquity that cuts us off from God. We need to have reestablished the harmony and unity that Adam enjoyed with God before the Fall....
"To re-establish this relationship, to bring man into harmony with God and in line with the stipulations of the covenant, is the work of the Holy Spirit."- Raymond H. Woolsey, The Spirit and His Church, pp. 57, 58.
The Jews wanted a messiah who would coerce other nations to submit to Israel. But through the parable of the growing seed, Jesus taught that the Messiah's kingdom begins in an individual's heart, affects every aspect of a person's life, and spills over into the lives of others with the vibrant strength of His love.
When Jesus came to us as the Son of man, He veiled His glory as the Son of God. The kingdom He established then was His kingdom of grace. At His second advent, the eternal kingdom that He then inaugurates (Dan. 7:14, 27; Rev. 11:15) will be His kingdom of glory.
Name three instances from the life of Christ Illustrating how He exhibited the fruit of the Spirit. These fruit demonstrate His character, a character the Holy Spirit longs to help us develop. Pray for the Spirit to transform your heart and the church at large
For what purpose (other than developing a Christ like character) does the grain grow? Isaiah 55:10, 11 gives a clue.
"There can be no growth or fruitfulness in the life that is centered in self. If you have accepted Christ as a personal Saviour, you are to forget yourself, and try to help others. Talk of the love of Christ, tell of His goodness. Do every duty that presents itself. Carry the burden of souls upon your heart, and by every means in your power seek to save the lost As you receive the Spirit of Christ-die Spirit of unselfish love and labor for others.-you will grow and bring forth fruit. The graces of the Spirit will ripen your character. Your faith will increase, your convictions deepen, your love be made perfect. More and more you will reflect the likeness of Christ in all that is pure, noble, and lovely."-Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 67, 68.
Who in the Bible exemplified the seed growing to bring forth fruit for others? What types of thing did she do, and for whom? Acts 9:36-42.
"All the widows" (Acts 9:39) In ancient times, the life of a widow was usually difficult (Luke 21:2-4). But Judaism and Christianity did much to improve their situation (Deut. 14:29; Deut. 27:19; Mark 12:40; James 1:27). Under the Mosaic law, widows, who were often exploited (Ps. 94:6; Isa. 1:23; Mal. 3:5), were granted protection. Exodus 22:22 states that widows were not to be taken advantage of, while Deuteronomy 24:17 states that a creditor could not take a widow's clothing as collateral for a debt. Widows received a portion of the third-year tithe (Deut. 26:12), and they shared the right to glean the fields (Deut. 24:19-21).
The same Holy Spirit who enabled Peter to raise Dorcas from the dead guided Dorcas' good deeds. Her work for others was proof that she had accepted Christ.
Look around you. What groups and individuals are being exploited or taken advantage of in your church, place of employment, neighborhood, etc.? Now honestly consider your life over the past few months. What have you done for someone like this without seeking any gain in return? Finally, in what ways have you shared your faith? Determine with the Holy Spirit's help to be a blessing to others every day of your life.
As you read the parable of the mustard seed, consider the following description:
The plant to which Jesus most likely referred is the black mustard, whose seed is about a millimeter in diameter. Yet a mature plant can grow as high as 12 feet with branches an inch or more thick. Its four-petaled yellow flowers produce tiny black seeds that attract goldfinches and linnets to feed among the foliage.
"The smallest seed you plant" (Mark 4:31, NIV). While the mustard seed was not technically the smallest of seeds, it was noted for its minuteness. Jews referred to a drop of blood as small as a mustard seed. Or if they were discussing a minuscule infraction of the ceremonial law, the rabbis would talk about it in terms of the smallness of the mustard seed. Thus it was not unusual for Jesus Himself to refer to it.
Women often used the black mustard to cook with. In the spring, they prepared the tender leaves to eat. And when the seeds matured, they would grind them for use as a dressing or flavoring. They also mixed the seeds in a plaster used to relieve pain. Oil from the seeds worked as a laxative. Thus the mustard seed and plant provided an illustration to which most of the people listening to Jesus could relate.
The parable of the growing seed emphasized the growth of the seed and the power behind that growth. What does the growth symbolize? Mark 4:31, 32.
The Jewish leaders looked with contempt upon the motley throng now intently listening to Jesus, particularly the few unlearned peasants and fishermen who, as His disciples, sat next to Him. They concluded that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah and that the 'kingdom' He proclaimed, composed of this insignificant group of followers, would never amount to anything. Jesus could have chosen no better representation of the way His 'kingdom' appeared to the minds of unregenerate men than the illustration of the insignificant mustard seed....
"Here the figure of a 'tree' represents the triumph of the gospel message throughout the world. The kingdom and its subjects might appear insignificant now, but, says Christ, this will not always be the case." - SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 409.
Explain the role the Holy Spirit plays in the "triumph of the gospel message throughout the world." How can you have a part in this "triumph"?
As you review Mark 4:30-32, ask yourself how the parable of the mustard seed assures us of the growth and success of God's kingdom.
This is one of Jesus' most personal, touching parables. His immediate band of disciples was very small compared to the largeness of the work they were to initiate. They were pitted against some difficult odds, not the least of which included coming from a low rung of the socioeconomic ladder. In addition, they were often tripping over their own egos and temperaments. Surely they would despair again and again. But now their Leader, through the use of a most familiar object, was reassuring them of success. Indeed, it would be a parable to encourage them long after His return to heaven. Jesus would send His emissary, the Holy Spirit, to remind them (John 14:26).
What do the birds (Mark 4:32) and their act of nesting in the branches of the mustard plant represent?
"Could this be related to Daniel 4:12 and Ezekiel 17:23; Ezekiel 31:6, where the people of all nations are given the promise of a place in God's kingdom? Rabbinical literature at times used the phrase 'birds of heaven' to refer to the Gentiles....
"Let all the birds of the air find a place. in the mustard tree. The gospel of Jesus must create a nesting place for all the peoples of the world-for men and women, for Black and White, for the rich and the poor, for the educated and the illiterate, for the caste and the casteless, and all the in-betweens. For in Christ, we have no division, but oneness; we have no nation, but one commonwealth of God (Phil. 3:20)."-John M. Fowler, "Appreciating the Importance of Little Things," Adventist Review, October 22, 1992, p. 7.
Compare the symbolism of the mustard plant providing shelter for the birds with the symbolism of the seed growing to provide sustenance.
"In us as individuals, is the seed of grace growing, giving shelter to the 'birds of the air'?"-Fowler, p. 7. What can you do to provide shelter for someone in need of Christ's grace? A kind word, a smile, a thoughtful deed are small seeds that can make a vast difference.
FURTHER STUDY: The parable of the mustard seed is about great things coming from small beginnings. Read the following Bible stories that pertain to the same theme. What does each account teach you about yourself About God? 1 Kings 17:1-24; Matt. 16:5-12; Luke 21:1-4.
Choose from the following: Christ's Object Lessons, 'First the Blade, Then the Ear," pp. 62-69; 'Like a Grain of Mustard Seed," pp. 76-79; 'Other Lessons From Seed-sowing," pp. 80-89; Steps to Christ, "Growing Up Into Christ," pp. 67-75; "The Work and the Life," pp. 77-83; The Desire of Ages, 'Nicodemus,' pp. 167-177.
"The only way to grow in grace is to be disinterestedly doing the very work which Christ has enjoined upon us-to engage, to the extent of our ability, in helping and blessing those who need the help we can give them. Strength comes by exercise; activity is the very condition of life. Those who endeavor to maintain Christian life by passively accepting the blessings that come through the means of grace, and doing nothing for Christ, are simply trying to live by eating without working. And in the spiritual as in the natural world, this always results in degeneration and decay. A man who would refuse to exercise his limbs would soon lose all power to use them. Thus the Christian who will not exercise his God-given powers not only fails to grow up into Christ, but he loses the strength that he already had." - Steps to Christ, pp. 80, 81.
1. Relate this week's memory text to the two parables we' studied this week. Consider what these verses say about the Holy Spirit. Where do you see the element of growth in these verses? (see also verses 18 and 19.)
2. Consider who the sower might be in each of the parables. (Matthew 13:31, 32 mentions a sower.) In what ways could;. it be Christ? His followers? How do you see yourself as a' sower?
SUMMARY: Christ's kingdom is a kingdom of grace, sprouting like a tiny seed in each of our hearts, rooting and grounding itself in Christ's love through the power of the Holy Spirit, and growing to produce the fruit of the Spirit for the benefit of others.
Atul Invited Us, Part 2
V. J. Khandagle
When young Atul first heard about Jesus, he became excited and shared the good news with anyone who would listen. Following evangelistic meetings in Atul's home, the boy and 25 others, most of whom Atul had invited to attend, accepted Jesus as their Saviour and were baptized.
Although Atul cannot walk, he eagerly witnesses for God. He is a natural leader and has helped to form a singing group that witnesses for the Lord. His faith and testimony are a strong attraction to the people who hear him. His zeal in his new found mission for Christ is an important factor in the growth of the church in his village.
The polio that crippled Atul has crippled thousands in India. And Atul has encouraged and witnessed to others who share his affliction. He uses an old hand-pedaled tricycle to get around on the dirt roads in his village. The rough roads are hard on the tricycle, which often needs repair. But Atul or his father do the best they can to repair it so he can continue his missionary work for Jesus. Atul is witnessing to three Hindu friends, all crippled by polio. The three ride to church on the back of Atul's tricycle The Hindu boys are learning about God as Atul shares his hope his courage-and his tricycle. Atul hopes that soon his friends will accept Jesus as Lord of their lives.
The church in Atul's village is growing, and members hope that soon they can build a church, but for now they crowd into Atul's parents' home. A church will cost about $5,000, far beyond the peasant believers' ability to pay.
Pray for Atul and his family, as they struggle with daily living in a harsh and unforgiving land where millions of children are hungry, needy, blind, or handicapped. Pray that God will provide a simple church in which to worship.
Pray for Atul, who refuses to accept discouragement as he shares his hope in Jesus with anyone who will listen to him.
Atul, now 13 years old, continues to witness for the Lord he loves. V. J. Khandagle is Sabbath School and personal ministries director of the Southern Asia Division.
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