Sunday Services at 10:00am
1155 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield
Date: February 4, 2018
Speaker: Eric Stillman
Series: Savior and Lord
Scripture: Mark 4:1–4:34
This morning, we are in the fifth week of a sermon series I am calling “Savior and Lord,” looking at what it means to relate to Jesus as both Savior – the one who died for our sins to give us eternal life – and Lord – the one who we follow and emulate. We are working our way through Mark’s gospel in this series. Mark was Peter’s traveling companion, and the Gospel of Mark is mainly Peter’s eyewitness testimony of Jesus (Peter was first known as Simon before Jesus changed his name). It is also the first gospel written, around 60-70 AD. So far, Jesus has begun to call disciples to him and shown himself to be one who teaches and heals with a divine authority, and run into a number of conflicts with the religious leaders that have left them wanting him dead. Some are claiming he’s crazy, others that he has been sent by Satan, but others are realizing that He could be the Messiah, the one sent by God to save His people and bring justice to the world.
Now, at this point I would bet his disciples might be wondering about what has been happening. Specifically, why do some respond to Jesus in worship, while others want to kill him? In chapter 4, the first of Jesus’ long teachings in Mark’s gospel, he addresses this question of why His life and teaching seems to produce such divergent responses.
Mark 4:1-34 - Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." 9 Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 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!'" 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." 21 He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." 24 "Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you-- and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." 26 He also said, "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." 30 Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
There is a lot in this passage. The scene is this: Jesus is standing on a boat a little bit off the shore, teaching a huge crowd that has gathered to listen to Him. In chapter 2, it says that he spoke to them in parables. The first parable is an extended story about a farmer sowing seed. Farmers would scatter the seed before returning to plow the ground in anticipation of getting a crop.
What is a parable, and why does he speak in them?
Parables are a type of speech whose meaning does not lie on the surface, but demands enquiry and insight in order to understand. Jesus often used everyday occurrences like farming, nature, and government in his parables. Because they are not direct communication, but are stories with a hidden meaning, they have a fascinating effect on their listeners. Jesus explains this in 9-12:
9 Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 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!'"
He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 here. Some will respond by rejecting him. They’ll think he’s simplistic, or loony, or confusing, and will just walk away. To them it will just be parables, so that even though they hear, they won’t understand, and won’t turn to Jesus and be forgiven. Others, however, seek out Jesus. They want to know Him, to understand Him. To them, Jesus says, the secret of the kingdom of God is given.
Later on in the passage, he says:
21 He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." 24 "Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you-- and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."
Parables have a hidden message, but like a lamp, they are not meant to stay hidden. They are meant to divide those who don’t care and don’t want to know from those who do want to know. Those who don’t want to know, even what they have will be taken from them. Those who hear the Word and refuse to respond again and again will eventually reach a place where they are so hardened to God that they can not understand. But those who do want to know will be given more.
So before we continue, consider where your heart is at this morning. Do you care? Do you want to know God? Do you want to understand Him? This morning is going to like a soil test. Five minutes south from my house in Windsor is the Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station. At this facility, one of the things they do is soil testing. You can bring in your soil, and they will test it and let you know whether it needs more limestone, fertilizer, compost, or manure. In some small similar way, this parable is a soil test on your heart. Listen to it one more time:
"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." 9 Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
According to Jesus’ explanation, the word of God is like a seed, and our hearts are like soil. His desire is that we would bear good fruit, a bountiful harvest. What does that mean? Two passages come to mind. The first is:
Galatians 5:22-23- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
God’s desire is to transform you into a person whose life bears much fruit. That you would be so filled with God’s Spirit that you would have the power and grace to love others, even when it is hard, and even when they mistreat you. That you would have a joy that is not shaken by circumstances, that you would be able to rejoice even in your sufferings. That you would have peace, even when all around is crazy and chaotic, that you would have peace in knowing God is your Father who cares for you. God wants you to give you patience, that you would be able to bear with whatever or whoever might come your way with grace and love. Kindness, a genuine care and concern for others, no matter who they are or what they might do to you. Goodness, that you would be a person of integrity, doing what is right no matter how hard or whatever the cost might be. God’s desire is that His Spirit would make you faithful, someone who is trustworthy and dependable. He wants to make you gentle, someone who is strong yet tender with others. And self-controlled, able to do the right thing at all times instead of the easy thing. That is the kind of person that bears much fruit. When you hear His Word and it takes root in your life, He will change you by His Spirit, so that you might bear much fruit.
Another passage that helps us understand what it means to bear a good crop would be Ephesians 2:10 –
Ephesians 2:10 - For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Each of you were created in Jesus for a purpose, to do things that He created you to do. His desire is that you would bear much fruit and have a great impact in how you live and what you do.
But despite God’s desire, there are three other kinds of soils, and consequently three other kinds of hearts, three other ways that people respond to God’s Word. The first is the path, where the seed falls and is immediately snatched up by the birds. In v. 15, Jesus explains these people: 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. The picture that comes to mind here is of the hard heart. Some people, Jesus said, have hearts that are hard as a road, and His Word can not take root in their lives, but bounces right off and is immediately snatched away by Satan before it can make any difference in their life. What might cause a heart to become that hard towards God?
Hurt. Plenty of people have gone through suffering that has caused them to harden their hearts towards God, to became angry towards Him, so that they have no desire to listen to His Word or to consider the possibility that their could be a reason behind their suffering.
Sin. Some are calloused towards God because they have deliberately chosen to live for something other than God.
Preconceived notions of who Jesus is. Like the Pharisees, they think they know God, and so have no use for His Word.
Some of you may be hard hearted, or some may have been that way at one time. Pray for God to break up the heart, to soften the soil so that you might hear and respond to Him.
The third kind of soil is the rocky places, where the soil is shallow and the roots are not deep. When the sun comes up, the plants are scorched and withered because they have no root. Jesus explains them this way:
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.
We’ve all known people like this. Maybe you’ve been one like this. You go to a conference. You respond with enthusiasm to God, giving your life to Him. You’re sure you will follow Him forever, no matter what comes your way. A month later life gets more complicated, and the experience you had seems like it was fake, and you’re back to the person you once were. You received the word with joy, but you only lasted for a short time, because your response was only a shallow, emotional response, and you had no root.
One of the things that keeps us from becoming the people God has created us to be is a lack of depth. The Word has not taken root deep in our hearts. What does this look like?
You have a very simplistic understanding of God and the gospel. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. And then things get hard. And you wonder where the wonderful plan went. And you fall away.
God is for you, not against you. God works all things together for good. God will never give you more than you can handle. Then how come I have cancer? How come my mom died? How come I can not get a job? And you fall away.
Or maybe you believe in God, but you don’t really spend time with Him regularly. And so when hard times come, you don’t know how to draw strength from him.
There is a depth to the faith that you need in order to stand firm through suffering and persecution. You need a deeper theological understanding of His Word, and a deeper connection with God. You need to know that Jesus promised that you would suffer, and that you would be persecuted, and he also promised that he would be with you through it. And you need to know how deep His love for you is, so that you know that whatever you might go through, it is not because He does not love you. Without this kind of depth, you are likely to fall away when the hard times come, and miss out on all that God has created you to be.
What can you do? Read the Word regularly. Spend time with God in prayer. Come to church. Join a community group. Go deeper.
The fourth kind of soil is the thorny soil. The thorns grew up and choked the plant so that they were unfruitful. Jesus explains it this way: 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.
The last thing Jesus talks about that keeps people from becoming the people God created them to be is that the cares of this life and the desire for money and the things of this world distract them from what really matters. How is that for a soil test? Maybe you feel like your roots are pretty deep. But perhaps what is really holding you back is this – the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things. What has really captivated your heart is not Jesus but something else. You are distracted by jobs, money, possessions, the desires of this world.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
What do you do?
Give things away.
Get to know Jesus more until He is your number one desire.
Why are some responding to Jesus by worshiping Him and others by turning away from Him or wanting to kill Him? Some are good soil, but others are hard, rocky, or thorny. Some have hardened their heart towards God, while others have no depth, or are divided in their desires. Do a soil test on your heart. Are you divided by the cares of this world? What kind of depth is there in your heart?
In the last two parables in this section, Jesus talks about how the kingdom of God starts small and hidden, but eventually becomes a great harvest, or a large plant. Somehow this faith, that began with this small band of fishermen, tax collectors, and tradesmen following this Jesus, that included a crucified Savior, became a force and movement that transformed the world, a faith that has spread all over the world. And the seed of the Word, planted in your heart, can grow and become something that completely transforms your life, and through you, the life of others, and the world, for eternity.
And for those of you who believe: be faithful in the sowing of seed, in preaching, in evangelism, in love, in service. Do not despise small beginnings. You may not see the effect, but there will be a harvest. And in the end, it won’t be because of human effort, but the growth will happen in God’s time and in God’s way.
Let’s pray that God would help us to be good soil as we hear and respond to God’s Word in our lives.