2010-07-18 (am) Mark 4:1-20 Being Jesus’ Family-Bearing Fruit
This morning, as we look at this parable, we’ll focus our attention on 3 things: the Sower, the Seed and the Soil. As we look at them, I encourage you to consider how they parallel nicely Lord’s Supper.
This parable is usually called the parable of the sower, because of the prominent importance given to, well, the sower. A sower went to sow seed. The NIV translates the word for sower as a farmer. But that is less precise than the Greek.
The guy who is doing the seeding is a sower. He went to sow seeds. Have you ever seen the way they used to sow seeds, before the days of seed drills and air seeders? The guy would reach into a bag, grab a handful of seeds and scatter them around. Sometimes, people, still use this method when overseeding a lawn, or something like that, but most often broadcast spreaders are used.
Why? Because it is hard to seed a field evenly and consistently when you just throw it out like that.
It kinda reminds me of a story about a guy who is famous for making curling rink surfaces. When they prep a curling rink, a guy, carrying a tank of water on his back, with a hose running from the tank to his hand, makes his way backward down the ice, spraying the water as he goes. The way the water comes out of the hose, the technique he uses to spray the ice, can create the most excellent ice surface. There’s one guy who’s really good. He can get the droplets to form perfectly, evenly and consistently, so that a perfectly pebbled texture coats the ice.
It wouldn’t surprise me if there were guys like that back in Jesus’ day. Guys who were gifted at throwing seed so that it landed where he wanted it to land, that the fields were evenly seeded, and who would take great care not to waste any seed on paths, rocky soil, and weedy areas.
I can see these seeders, these sowers going around, offering their sowing abilities to different farmers, who would pay them, just as a farmer might pay a guy with an air seeder to seed his fields for him.
Why do I think this is likely? When I worked on the farm, the farmer I worked for did all the seeding. He had the experience, and it was an important job. He needed to do it! He did it well, a mere farmhand like me wasn’t gifted at driving straight enough! Not only that, even though I worked in the barns with the cows, I could never tell them apart by looking at them. Whereas a 12 year old kid just down the road could look at one of his dad’s 200 head, tell me the cow’s name, the bull she was bred with, the name of the cow’s mother and perhaps even the grandmother of the cow. He had the gift.
The sower in Jesus’ parable is a gifted person, like that. He’s good at his job. He sows the seed where he wants it. And he wants some to land on the path, on the rocky soil, among the weeds, and, of course in the good soil.
Think about that! The sower, gifted though he is, in this case, purposely allows the seed to fall in the unlikeliest places. Look whom Jesus invites to his table; whom he invites into fellowship with him, who he invites into communion with him—he invited me! So should I be less or more inviting than he?
Should we, as carrying on the sower’s work, discriminate who gets to hear the gospel? Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “They’re not going to respond.” Maybe that’s true, 25% had the seed snatched away immediately. But the sower put it there anyway. Is our attitude the same?
The seed is God’s Word. It is the truth. It is the true reality of the world we live in. This world was created by God. It was created very good. Satan entered God’s good creation and spread lies, which our first parents believed and who then plunged the world into sin, disobedience to God. God, in his grace, did not dish out the penalty of sin immediately, but allowed Adam and Eve to fulfil God’s plan for them, promising that salvation would come through their offspring.
God kept things going, even though humanity was supremely wicked. Through God’s grace, there arose righteous people who yearned for the truth, who followed God, who worshipped him in spirit and in truth. Through these people, chosen by God, God’s own Son was born, taking on humanity himself. Bearing the shame, the curse that God demanded as a result of sin.
Jesus, the Word, the way, the truth, the life, lived, suffered, was humiliated, was scorned, abandoned and rejected, was accursed, so that whoever believes in him shall not die the death he died, but will live the life that he lives, having conquered death.
Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to live among his people, the saved ones, the called out ones. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, these people have had their lives transformed, so that, those who once persecuted the church, became the greatest missionaries. Those who lived only for themselves, began to live for God and other people. Those who were in love with themselves, or with things, began to love God the most and to love others as they love themselves.
Indeed, those who have the seed, the word, the Holy Spirit in them were and are able to do more than what Jesus did when he was in the height of his earthly ministry, carrying on the work, and even the suffering of Christ.
They do this when they attend themselves to the Word. When they make the truth the most important factor in their lives. When they refuse to listen to what their itching ears want to hear, but instead, buckle down and dig into the word itself.
Consider the state of much of Christianity today. How is it treating the seed, the Word? Is it trying to be faithful? It is accepting the hard teachings as that—hard teachings, counter cultural, but nevertheless, truth? Is it trying to mould itself to fit the Word, or is it trying to mould the Word to fit itself?
Hey, we live in a world of modified seeds. We have manipulated the strains; we’ve engineered the genes. We’ve made it possible to grow greater, better crops in more areas than ever before. Some people question what impact it might have on the quality of food in the long run.
But this is where my analogy breaks down. I don’t know anything about genetically modified grains, at least not anything authoritative. But if we try to modify God’s Word, we’re in for heaps of trouble. We have to stay true to the scriptures, as close to the way they’re written as possible. So that we will remain close to Christ, who declared that he is not only the sower, but he is also the Word, the seed that is sown. Jesus gives life. Just as the bread and the fruit of the vine give nourishment to our physical bodies, Jesus gives us true life, true nourishment.
Some people have suggested that this parable could also be called the parable of the soil. There are four soils described. These represent four responses to God’s Word.
In one case, the Word, the truth of God is snatched away by Satan right away. You might imagine a situation where there’s a group of people and a person shares the gospel, and then immediately afterward, someone else speaks, and says something that contradicts the gospel, or that suggests the gospel is just one way among many, and no decision needs to be made.
Satan buries the truth under an avalanche of lies. And before the person knows it, they’ve forgotten what they’ve heard, and their minds are consumed with some other thing. It would be hard to imagine any such person present this morning. Nevertheless, let us examine ourselves, each of us, have we heard the gospel, and believed it, and are we growing deeper in our knowledge of it?
The second soil represents the shallow Christian. They’re the ones who are completely gung-ho one moment, but at the depths of despair the next. They have no depth. They have a limited, narrow understanding of the gospel. They think of it in terms of what the gospel, or what Jesus can do for them. And then the moment Jesus or the gospel fails to meet their expectations, they become disillusioned.
They reject the truth, because, well, they expected one thing and then the exact opposite thing happened. Why can’t God do what they want him to do? Why do bad things have to happen?
Surely, no one here thinks like that, right? If we’re honest, we all do. We’re all tempted to give up on Christ when difficulties come. When Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations, we’re ready to pack it all in.
But we’re reminded, as we remembered in the Lord’s Supper this morning. We eat and drink to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. Think on that! God died! Jesus suffered. All our pain, sorrow and difficulties were borne by Christ. He knows! He knows what we’re going through. He’s ordained it all, he loves us, and it is true, it is for his glory and our benefit. No, we can’t see it, we may never see it or understand it, but it is true.
How do we know it is true? Jesus, before the foundations of the earth were laid, knew he would come to die for those who killed him. Jesus knew he would be forsaken, cursed and abandoned by his friends. And yet he came, he lived on earth, he died, so that we won’t have to die like that. No matter what we’re going through, it doesn’t compare to what Jesus, the truly innocent suffered at his father’s hands.
Be encouraged; don’t settle for a shallow faith, tossed about by the wind and the waves. Dig deep, get to know Jesus as more than your best friend, know him as your saviour who suffered most heinously for you!
The third soil represents those who hear the Word, but the cares of life, the seductiveness of wealth, and the desire for other things choke out the word. What do you think of that?
Isn’t that a constant temptation? Don’t the weeds grow attractively about us? Are you there? I find myself there more often than I ought. How about you? Are you letting the weeds choke out God’s word? The desires for the good life? The cares of your loved ones? The temptations from the culture around us?
Do you need to do some weeding in your life? Do you need to shut down the temptations before they have a chance to grow? Do it by focussing on the Word. Tonight we’re looking at the Word, how Jesus used it to destroy Satan’s temptations. Use the Word as a sword. Know it, quote it in your own mind and turn from temptation. At least that’s what I’m preaching to myself.
And of course, the fourth soul—the bountiful harvest. In this, the 30, 60 and 100, reminds us, subtly not to compare ourselves to others. Some will produce excellent fruit, copious amounts of it. Others, less. But all bear fruit.
Don’t just sit there being a pretty plant. Live out the gospel, not only in deed, but also in words. Look for opportunities to sow the Word. What else does a farmer grow a crop for? Some of it is for personal use, some for selling, some he sets aside as seed for the next season.
Use the Word in your life, use the nourishment from Jesus, as real as the bread and the wine you saw touched and ate/drank, use it for yourself, for others, for future harvests.
The gospel brings good things into our own lives! It brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All those things benefit you as well as others! How can the weeds of this world compare to all that! Focus on that! Remember the soil that the Holy Spirit is forming you to be!
Farmers work their fields all the time, getting rid of paths, picking rocks, weeding, tilling the good soil. The Holy Spirit acts in our hearts as a farmer preparing the field. But we get to participate: together with the Holy Spirit, break up the hard-packed paths! Do some rock picking! I worked in a field that was adjacent to a quarry, lots and lots of rocks to pick, but still, that was nothing compared to Israel! Do some weeding! Even tilling good soil takes time and energy! Spend time reading and knowing the scriptures, so that you will, together with the Holy Spirit be good soil, producing, bearing fruit! Amen.