2019-3-17 The Seed of the Kingdom

The Seed of the Kingdom
Mark 4:1-20
3-17-2019

Since the New Year, we have been looking at the Gospel of Mark. Mark has been showing us that Jesus is the Lord; that he is God incarnate. Mark has told us that John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. Mark told us that Jesus has taken on our judgment in his baptism and that he has authority over sickness, demons, and sin. Mark has told us about some wrong theories about Jesus that people have had for 2,000 years. This morning, we pick up the story in Mark 4:1-20 and will see some of Jesus’ teaching. I invite you to follow along as I read from Mark 4:1-20.

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. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: ’Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’

Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them 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—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.’ [1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer of Illumination:

Lord, soften the soil of our hearts so that your Word may take root and grow in us. Amen.

Stories are a common teaching device. We use stories to teach a deeper truth. When kids are little, we teach them fairy tales. We tell them Hansel and Gretel, a story that teaches the deeper truth not to go off with strangers. C.S. Lewis used The Chronicles of Narnia to teach the deeper truth of the gospel to children.

Jesus used stories to teach deeper truths about the Kingdom of God. We often call them parables, which means they are something thrown alongside to show a deeper spiritual truth. Mark records four parables that Jesus told, the parable of the sower, the parable of the light and the basket, the parable of the seed growing, and the parable of the mustard seed.

After telling those parables when the disciples are alone with Jesus, they confess that they didn’t understand the stories. They missed the deeper spiritual truth that Jesus was teaching. So often like the disciples, we miss the deeper spiritual truth that Jesus teaches.

Jesus responds that “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!’’” Believers, Jesus says, are given the secrets to see the deeper spiritual truth while unbelievers miss the deeper truth of Jesus’ teaching.

The parable of the sower explains why that it is. It explains that there are three groups of unbelievers who miss the deeper spiritual truth of the gospel but there is a group of people who understand the spiritual truth of the gospel.

Three Groups Missing the Deeper Truth of the Gospel

The first group Jesus tells us about the seed cast along the path. He says, “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.”

The paths that wound their way through the fields in Palestine were hard as concrete. Lots of people would walk along the path with their animals and the soil would compact. When I was in seminary, there was this path that circled the campus that lots of runners would use. One time when I was running along the path, I slipped and fell. The path was almost as hard as the road. The soil had compacted from hundreds of people running along the path. If a farmer were to sow seed on a hardened path, the seed would just bounce off.

This group of nonbelievers is hard-hearted. Their hearts are hard like soil compacted from people walking over them. Like Pharaoh, their hearts harden because of their sin. Some of these hard-hearted nonbelievers are antagonistic the gospel. When I was in college, one of my professors was antagonistic toward the gospel. She was a media professor who was the advisor to the school radio station. One of the students wanted to have a show where she would talk about events from the perspective of a Christian. While normally the GM of the station made decisions about what shows went forward, this professor refused. Her heart was hard to the gospel.

While some hard-hearted people are antagonistic to the gospel, more are often too busy and not interested. They just have no interest in God, his character and ways. C.S. Lewis wrote a book from the perspective of a senior devil to a junior devil. One of the pieces of advice that the senior devil gives is to keep the man that the junior devil is trying to keep from the Christian faith busy. If the junior devil keeps the man constantly busy, then he will never consider the Christian faith. More often than not, people whose hearts are hard to the gospel message will not be antagonistic but too busy and simply not interested.  The gospel will bounce off their hearts like seed bounces off a hard path.

The second group that Jesus tells us about is seed that is cast on rocky soil. He says, “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.”

Much of Palestine is limestone with only an inch or two of soil covering the limestone. When seed is sown in thin soil, the heat of the sun causes the seed to germinate quickly. But because the soil was thin, the plant’s roots would be shallow and unable to go deep to get water and nutrients in the summer heat. So the plants would just wither in the heat.

There are those who are like rocky soil, their hearts are shallow. Have you ever met someone who came to faith and after a rough season no longer identified as Christian? I know I have. They come to faith and think that now that they’re a Christian, it’ll be a cakewalk. They think that there will be no more pain or suffering; they think that they’ll only get good things. They believe the lie that prosperity teachers sell; the lie that as a Christian their bank accounts will grow, they’ll get the job they want. Well, pain and suffering were still a part of their life; as Christians we don’t always get what we think we need. And those who have a shallow faith, soon after experiencing pain and suffering they stopped identifying as a Christian. That is why the lie that prosperity teachers sell is so dangerous. It teaches a shallow Christianity; a Christianity that is only an inch deep.

Have you seen something like that? Have you wondered why? The reason is their hearts are shallow and the gospel has never really taken root in their lives. It hasn’t gone down deep. Maybe there is a change in behavior but it’s only superficial; it wasn’t a real life change. The roots of the gospel never penetrated deep into their heart. They are not looking for a lord; they’re looking for a sugar daddy. They’re looking for someone to cater to their wants and keep them from persecution and pain and suffering. Their hearts are shallow.

The third group that Jesus tells us about is thorny soil. He says, “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.”

There are weed seeds in the ground. That’s why weeds just appear in a bare patch in your yard. In places where you have seeded, if weeds germinate with that seed then the weeds will take all of the water and nutrients. The weeds will choke out the seed and ultimately kill it.

In college, I worked in the Scotts Miracle-Gro call center. One of the common calls we would get was in the early spring, around this time of the year, when people were reseeding their lawns. They would till it up, seed, and when the grass would begin to germinate so would the crabgrass. And if they didn’t do something about that crabgrass then and there it would choke out the grass. All of the water and the nutrients would be taken by the weeds.

The thorns and weeds, Jesus says, are “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in”. Thorns and weeds are distractions that take time and love away from the gospel. The gospel begins to germinate in the heart of someone but the desire for money and popularity germinate as well and take the nutrients of the heart away from the gospel. These are those who would rather keep up with the Joneses than keep up with reading Scripture.

Walter Underwood tells this story that perfectly illustrates a distracted heart. He tells of a young man who proposed to a young woman. He said, “Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Rolls Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.”[2]

We will share the gospel with some who will make a profession of faith, but their hearts are divided. Their loyalty and love are divided between the things of this world and God. But only one will survive. In Matthew, Jesus says “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Our love cannot be divided between money and popular, the worries of this life and the desires for other things, and God. If our hearts are divided like that, then the worries of this life will choke out the gospel.

The gospel comes to three groups of people and fails to take root. They miss the deeper spiritual truth of the gospel. Some have hearts as hard as stone and the gospel bounces right off; others are shallow and want a comfortable life without any pain and suffering; others desire the things of this world. Is there any hope at all? Will the gospel take root in anyone and bear any fruit? Or will everyone miss the deeper truth of the gospel?

The Group That Understands the Deeper Truth of the Gospel

Jesus tells us that there is one group that does not miss the deeper spiritual truth of the gospel. Jesus says, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.’”

There is a soil that is prepared to receive seed and allow it to flourish. It is not hardened to almost concrete; the rocks have been removed, and the gardener removes the weeds so that the seed can flourish and bear fruit. This is good soil.

There are hearts like that. Hearts that God has prepared to receive his word and bear fruit. Like a farmer he has tilled the soil to break it up, he has removed the rocks so that the seed can go deep into someone’s heart, and he removes the weeds. God does that. For his people, he prepares their hearts to receive his word and bear fruit of faith.

For those of us who believe, he has done that in our lives. He prepared our hearts, he has planted the seed of the gospel in our hearts, and caused it germinate. And the same God who caused the gospel to take root in our hearts also promises that he will continue to water and nurture us so that we bear fruit. He does that as we spend time in word in devotions and through corporate worship with other believers.  The Apostle Paul tells us that God will continue the good work he began in us (Phil. 1:6). He will continue to break up the rocks in our hearts so that the gospel goes deeper into our hearts. He will remove our distractions so that the things that would choke out the gospel are gone. And we will bear fruit.

While God does cause people to come to faith through the hearing of his word, he is pleased to work through us. So let us share the gospel with others. We don’t know who God is preparing to receive his word. So let us cast the seed of the gospel indiscriminately knowing that God is preparing hearts to receive his gospel and bear fruit. And when Christ returns there will be a bountiful harvest of believers.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 4:1–20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Walter Underwood, The Contemporary 12 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), pp. 86, 87

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