(131) Inscription 35_The Parable of the Soils

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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 35: The Parable of the Soils

Mark 4:1-20

October 10, 2010



·         Synoptics

·         Leftovers 1st page (I mean it)

·         Chandler’s, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Scripture reading: Mark 4:1-9 (genea)


If you missed the video, you can watch it online. I hope you have been thinking more about how you can be a participant, not a consumer at your church. Talk to the deacons for more info.

·         Mark is the ADHD Gospel.


Jesus Groupies

NIV Mark 4:10 ¶ When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

I have a book called “Hard Saying of the Bible” and you better believe that this is in there. It sounds like Jesus is saying that he is hoping people don’t understand him.

Jesus isn’t trying to trick people, he is quoting from the OT, that’s ironic – you can preach, but these people have hard hearts, the message will regrettably have little effect.

·         But he is playing “hard to get.” Why is he intentionally hard to understand? He has a good reason, one that still applies.

I once heard Rick Warren say when he doesn’t preach, there are about c.20% less people in the church, the groupies. He doesn’t care about them; not that he doesn’t care about their soul, but he knows those folks are there for the wrong reasons.

They just loved hearing a famous author, but they didn’t really get what he was saying, or else they would be at church when he didn’t speak. In the words of the late philosopher [pause]:

He’s the one who like all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, and he like to shot his gun, but he don’t know what it means. Yeah, he but don’t what it means.  

This is what is happening in Jesus’ ministry. He has begun to some pretty cool miracles and is attracting large crowds, and a lot of them are just Jesus groupies.

·         The crowd is filled with people who want something and who are curious (life is pretty dull and TV hasn’t been invented yet).

·         Then those who genuinely want to follow Jesus.

Jesus is trying to sort the serious from the merely curious. But he can’t just ask, “Who here’s a groupie?” It’s like a job interview: You don’t ask if they’re teachable.

It’s really genius what he does: He tells them a parable that leaves them scratching their heads, and how they respond will indicate which one they are:

·         Some will say, “Wasn’t that cool! Remember when he...”

Others listened when he said “I don’t understand what he means, but he said ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ How do I get ears to hear? How do I understand? What do I do with this?”

And on any given Sunday, there will be people in church for a variety of reasons:

·         Some come so they can ask for money afterwards.

·         Some are here to see their friends.

·         Some come to check it off their list of good deeds so they can go back to living like hell during the week.

Some come to genuinely participate in the life of the body, to hear the Word of God proclaimed through song and preaching, to be shaped into the image of Christ, to be a part of community.

·         Then, as now, the test is “what will you do with the seed?

The seed

Jesus then explains the parable to the disciples, the genuine followers:

NIV Mark 4:13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop-- thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Q   So what is the seed?

I’ve always taken it to be the call to salvation and this parable describes different reasons people reject the Gospel.

But it says it’s “The Word,” (Luke: “The Word of God”). He means the Bible, God’s truth, his wisdom, his commands. Yes, that includes the Gospel call, but it includes much, much more.

·         In other words, don’t you dare think, “I am already a Christian, this doesn’t apply to me.”

Whether or not you are a Christian, you are continually having the Word of God sown into your life.

Q   What is the #1 place the Word is sown?

At church. I hope you are reading on your own, keeping up with the Inscription readings, studying in groups, but the church remains the primary place most people hear the Word of God.

·         God appointed pastors to be sowers of the Word under Jesus.

As a Christian, you may hear “God expects me to serve,” “my marriage isn’t disposable,” or “if something in your life causing you to sin, you must cut it out” (the last 3 sermons). 

Or a non-Christian should hear, “You are a sinner, separated from God, you are living rebellion to your creator. Submit to him, He loves you and will forgive you, restore your soul.”

The soil

In either case, we do our best to faithfully proclaim God’s Word, but then it is in your court, or your soil.

I write and preach knowing I could write the perfect sermon, clearly and faultlessly demonstrating the truth of Scripture, and deliver it perfectly, and you still respond “Whatever.”

·         The Bible has a lot of warnings to preachers, but this warning is to the listener.

See, this story is really about the soil, not the Sower (hence “The Parable of the Soil”). The dirt is the only thing we can do anything about. Each of us is one of these kinds of soils. 

·         In different times and circumstances, we might be different types of soil. 

1. Hard Soil

The first possible response to the Word is a hard heart, like being sown on a path. Have you ever walked across a dirt path that is so hard it is like concrete? That’s the image here.

·         It like when I seeded my lawn, the stuff that landed on that patio ain’t ever going to grow.

There are two types of hard hearts:


1. Rebellious hearts

God speaks to us and we think “no way, no how.” Jesus says that Satan swops in eats it up, but that is okay, because we weren’t really doing anything with it.

We might try to reason it away – “this can’t possibly be true because of the crusades...”.

We might mock it – bring friends to make fun of the preacher, the music, the style (eg: with Ty at El Monte).

·         It’s one thing to be skeptical while submitting to Jesus; it’s another to use skepticism to avoid submission.

We might just ignore it (eg: Locking keys in my car, “lost” connection.)

The hard heart has a million reasons the word doesn’t apply to them. At the root of it, it is refusing to submit to God, whether they are a non-Christian or Christian.

·         It’s not surprising for a non-Christian (cf. Lewis’ two types of people).

But how can a Christian refuse to submit? He may be Lord of 90% of your life, but whenever he tries to address that 10%, your heart is hard, you refuse to listen.

·         Of course that’s like saying you’re 90% faithful to your wife.

Breaking up the fallow ground

Q   What can you do if your heart is rebellious?

Acknowledge it – acknowledge that you don’t care what God thinks. I’d prefer “I don’t care” to ignoring your hard heart.

Ask yourself if this is really a good idea.

Repent and ask God for a soft heart – God will do what it takes to soften your heart; it can be as hard or easy as you make it.

·         The old preachers called it “breaking up the fallow ground.”

2. Unprepared hearts

·         Your heart can be hard simply because it isn’t cultivated.

Let’s say you stayed up too late Saturday night because you did a Lord of the Rings marathon (extended edition), sleep through the alarm clock, come to church late and sleep through and most of the sermon.

Or let’s say during the sermon, God really convicts you, but afterword, you head out to watchthe game” or lunch with your friends, and you never think of it again. Satan has snatched the seed before it can germinate.

Getting ready for church

Q   What can you do to prepare an unprepared heart?

Q   When do you start getting ready for church?

Now back that up nine hours and start preparing then. Kid’s get sent home a note asking for good sleep and breakfast before tests. Isn’t this more important?

a. Prepare Physically: Be sure to go to bed on time.

·         Peter once kicked me out of a party because it was getting late on a Saturday night – at least he said it was the reason. 

If I need enough sleep, don’t you? It’s almost more important for you – I won’t fall sleep as I am preaching, but you might.

·         Don’t stay up partying all Saturday night.

It turns out that a hangover is not conducive to learning and life change. Who knew? But if you do have a hangover, we need to talk, and I will speak loudly to drive home the point.

b. Prepare Emotionally: Try to postpone arguments until after church. Create stress-free mornings. Nothing spoils your ability to receive the Word like anger and stress.

c. Prepare Mentally: Come ready to learn, ready to listen intently, to the sermon, to the worship, and to conversations.

d. Prepare Spiritually: Come in humility and meekness, prepare to be taught, not to critique the pastor and music. Read a Psalm, pray.

e. Take time to reflect: During worship, wrestle with what God has said to you. Stay up here while we go downstairs.

Q   Does this seem like God is asking a lot? Would your work require any different?

If God really is your creator, and the condition of your soul is more important than anything else, then you just might need to adjust your schedule for him!

Rocky Soil

That’s the hard soil, but Jesus also talks about shallow, rocky soil. He says the seed on rocky soil sprung up quick BECAUSE it had no soil. What does that mean?

In Palestine, the soil is very rocky. There will be big rocks a couple of inches down. The heat from the rock would help them germinate quickly, but it dies because it can’t put down roots.

·         This tells us a quick, emotional response doesn’t necessarily mean real change has taken place.

It may have been an emotional response to the Word: Yeah! God makes me feel so good! I have such peace! This is great!

·         But if you accept God out of emotion, you can reject him out of emotion.

Or it may have been a “Let’s see what God can do for me” response. He can save my marriage, he can help me get my life in order. This is the religion of Oprah.

An article was written describing “the new American religion” – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It basically means that God exists to keep me moral and happy, but mostly happy.

Q   But what happens when God doesn’t make you happy? What happens:

When our marriage gets hard, and God doesn’t seem to work?


When he doesn’t protect you from bad thing?


When money is always short, even though we are tithing and doing all the stuff we are supposed to do?


When we feel discouraged, and God isn’t making everything better?

·         That’s when you find out if your soil is shallow and rocky or deep and rich.

See, there is nothing like trouble to test the depth of your roots – anyone can follow God when it’s easy. When things get tough, we find out if we really believe.

·         Trials will have one of two affects: It will cause us to wilt and die, or to drive our roots deeper into the ground.

You can either get rid of God and throw the Bible onto the shelf with all the other self-help books that failed you, or you can lean into him all the more desperately. 

we grow deep roots by following and obeying God even with it doesn’t “work,” when it is not fun, when there is nothing to gain but God himself.

Growing roots is not glamorous, it is not fun. There is nothing on the surface to show for it, there is no immediate payoff.

Thorny Soil

Finally, Jesus talks about the weeds that can choke the life out of God’s Word in our lives. What a great analogy! I hate weeds, they are so persistent – you pick them, then they grow back...

·         You have two choiceskeep picking them or else give in and let them take over.

Satan is unrelenting in his attempts to pull us away from God. If he can’t stop the seed from germinating, he will try to tempt you during the hard times. And if that does work he will try to tempt you during the good times.

·         America is one of the most prosperous nations in the history of the world, so it is not surprising he specializes in this.

Jesus describes three types of weeds:

1. The worries of this life:

The most helpful books I never read is “Tyranny of the Urgent.” The title alone is so good – urgent things, worries and concerns rule our life, leaving nothing for the truly important stuff.

2. The deceitfulness of wealth:

Wealth is not bad, but is it deceptive – it makes it easy to ignore our pain. Money can’t buy happiness but it does let us fake it.

3. The desires for other things:

Not just bad things, but finding our joy and completion in things other than God.

conclusion – Good Soil

But finally, Jesus talks about the good soil that produces a crop that is 30, 60, and 100 times more than was sown.

·         In ancient Palestine, 7-8x was normal, 10 was great (1 lb., get 10 lbs.), so Jesus’ promise was inconceivably rich.

By comparison, in North Dakota, with all of our modern technology, they get thirtyfold. Eastern Washington is one of the rare places where we get that one hundredfold

This parable is not simply a sober warning, it’s final emphasis is a hopeful promise of great bounty. God isn’t trying to make your life dull and arid, but vibrant and living.

1. He warns the Christians: Don’t let your salvation always remains a pitiful little seed and never blossoming into the rich bounty God intended.

He is trying to take your faith from some half-hearted matter of avoiding hell and pull you away from a mediocre life, pursuing such trivial things such as a nicer car, a bigger paycheck, a promotion.

·         God is trying to and turn it into “having life, and that more abundantly.”

2. He warns the non-Christian: Don’t miss salvation.

God is trying to save you from sin’s destructive power, from being a desert where nothing can grow. Sin is death, not life. You may think of sin as a party and fun, I think it’s like Auschwitz. Anything that is fun in sin is the remnants of good.

·         A life like this becomes its own hell, and result in eternity separated from God, who is the source of everything good. 

Q & A

Q   What kind of soil are you?

When you hear God’s Word spoken to you, how do you respond? Rebelliously ignore it? Accept it but never grow roots? Or let it get chocked out by lesser things? Or let it take root

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