February 5, 2017
Just about every day we are put into a position of having to respond to others. The phone rings and the telemarketer forces you to respond in some way. The mail brings your new car insurance rates and you have to respond in some way. Many of us respond by just hanging up the phone. We might accept the new insurance rates or look for something else. One way or another we will respond.
In the gospel of Mark people are called to respond to Jesus. I found it interesting to learn that Mark uses what some have called, “sandwich stories.” Mark tells about an event, then weaves in another event only to return to the first event. James Edwards points out that the middle event is the key to understanding the whole passage. There are 9 of these sandwich stories in Mark’s Gospel
Today we are going to look at one of them. It is the parable of the sower. This parable forces us to respond to Jesus in one way or another. So let me ask you, What is your response to Jesus?
I. JESUS CHRIST WANTS ALL TO HEAR THE GOSPEL. Mk.4:1-9
We have just been at the Lord’s Table in communion with him. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table we are acknowledging by our eating and drinking that we believe Jesus Christ is the absolute center of our living. Everything about our life depends upon and revolves around Jesus who gives us his eternal life.
In this well-known parable we see that the gospel is presented and embodied by Jesus. Let me drop down to v.14 where Jesus begins to explain the parable. In v.14 he says, “The sower sows the word.” Clearly, Jesus is the sower of the good news through his words and his actions. In v.3 we learn that the sower “goes out” to sow. That’s what Jesus did. This same expression is found in 1:38 where Jesus says, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." It’s the same Greek word.
In v.3 Jesus begins the parable with the word, “listen.” In v.9 he says the same thing. Jesus is calling people to listen up because what he is saying is of great importance. The word for “listen” in both verses means to hear and respond.
So Jesus is the One who sows the word. Last week in the story of the paralytic in Mk.2 a crowd was gathered and Jesus was preaching the word. What is the word? Well, according to Mk.1:15, the word is that “the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” The Jewish people in that day would have thought that the kingdom of God was basically synonymous with the kingdom of Israel. On Palm Sunday the people embraced Jesus thinking he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. But as Jesus tells this parable there is a different emphasis. The kingdom of God is the good rule of God. Those who repent, turn from their own way of seeing and doing things in order to enter into a new life in God’s good kingdom. I do not believe that Jesus was preaching a different gospel from the gospel we have heard. The gospel spoken by Jesus is for everyone. Jesus spoke the good news about having a new life, but it is also true that Jesus is the good news about having a new life. To embrace his good news is to embrace Him.
In the parable the sower, the farmer, sows the seed lavishly. The soil in Israel is not generally great. It is rocky and often shallow, so the farmer is indiscriminate, hoping that some of the seed will fall on good ground. What is the result? Well, it looks as if about 75% of his efforts proved fruitless. Seventy-five percent of the seed fell on unproductive soil. It’s not very promising. But then we see that the seed that fell on good ground had an amazing result. It produced 30, 60, and 100 fold. In other words, for every seed sown, it produced 30, 60, and even 100 more. From my reading, a yield of 30 fold in Palestine would have been considered miraculous.
Jesus came lavishly preaching the good news of eternal living in the kingdom of God. He went around validating his message with amazing miracles. Jesus went mostly to the Jewish people, but he also went to Gentiles. But as the word of the gospel is sown into the world, it would appear to be generally unfruitful. So few people seem to embrace Jesus. But then again, the Sower is not just any farmer. And the gospel is not just any message. The Gospel is brought by the person of Jesus who is God in the flesh. Jesus is the one who brings the harvest. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.” God’s word will not return empty. In fact, the results produced in the good soil are amazing because the life of God is working in the hearts of those who receive Jesus.
It is important to understand that the message and person of Jesus is the only hope for our lives. The gospel message of Jesus is the only message that promises eternal life with God in his kingdom. The gospel seed that Jesus sows is the only seed that produces such a fruitful yield. So it is imperative to listen to Jesus. Don’t miss this good news.
II. JESUS CHRIST BRINGS DIVISION. Mk.4:10-12
These verses are the key to the whole passage but they are not so easy to understand. In Mark’s gospel there are insiders and outsiders. The insiders are those who embrace Jesus. The outsiders are those who persistently harden their hearts in unbelief. In v.11 Jesus says that he purposely speaks in parables and then he quotes from Is.6:9-10 as an explanation for why he speaks in parables.
Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted in each gospels, Acts, and Romans, always in the context of unbelief and hardness of heart. It almost sounds as if Jesus is purposely teaching with parables in order to confuse people so that they do not understand and turn in repentance. But that is not what I believe Jesus is saying. After all, as Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
I believe Jesus is saying that the reason he speaks in parables is to challenge people to discern the condition of their heart. Jesus wants people to come to a decision concerning him. To those whose hearts were open and believing, Jesus graciously gave more and more understanding about life in the kingdom of God. To those whose hearts were closed in unbelief, Jesus did not give further understanding. They had no interest. The parables present an opportunity for all who hear. It’s an opportunity to explore deeper or to refuse to listen. God does not force himself on anyone but offers himself to everyone. In Jesus Christ the good news is presented in a powerful way and people must respond to Jesus.
There is an element of warning in these verses. Those who persist in hardness of heart and refusal to believe in Jesus are on a trajectory towards death and hell. A person who is persistent in unbelief will see and hear but not perceive or understand. And so they will not turn or repent and find forgiveness. This past week I was reading in Ez.35. In a pronouncement by God against the people living in the area of Mt. Seir, God refers to their “perpetual enmity.” A few verses later God says that the result of their perpetual enmity would be their perpetual desolation. To be at enmity with God always leads to desolation. How could it be any different? If a person refuses to embrace life in God’s kingdom, the only alternative is death apart from God’s kingdom. So Jesus calls everyone to listen carefully to him and make a decision regarding him.
III. JESUS CHRIST CALLS BELIEVERS TO DISCIPLESHIP. Mk.4:13-20
Suppose a person listens to Jesus preach the gospel and responds in belief. What does that response look like? This is what Jesus discusses as he breaks down the meaning of the parable.
As Jesus proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God, there are those who hear but their hearts are so hardened in unbelief that the gospel never penetrates and Satan easily takes the good news away.
Those whose hearts are like the rocky soil hear the gospel and they receive it joyfully. It sounds good. But their hearing, their understanding of the gospel does not go very deep. As soon as difficulty or persecution comes they immediately fall away from the faith. “This isn’t what I signed up for.”
In v.18 we read about people whose hearts are like the thorny soil. They hear the good news, but their lives are so full having to deal with life in this world, along with their desires to get rich, be successful, and have material things, that there is no room for the gospel in their lives. They hear it but it never controls them. They don’t have time to attend to the gospel and Jesus. There is no fruit. None of these people know or follow Christ even though they all heard the good news of Christ.
In v.20 we read about those who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit. It is interesting to note that in v.15-19 the word, “hear” is written in the aorist tense which conveys the idea of once and done. Been there, done that. But in v.20 the word, “hear” is written in the present tense, which indicates continued action. They hear and continue hearing. In others words they accept, they embrace Jesus and the good news about life in the kingdom of God. They take Jesus into their hearts. And they are bearing fruit.
What is the fruit? Growing up I was often told that the fruit was seen in people coming to Christ as a result of my sharing the gospel with unbelievers. Jesus does not define the fruit other than to imply that it comes from accepting Him. If fruit bearing is limited to the number of people I bring to Christ, I would have to say that I bear little fruit. I believe the fruit we bear is seen in a life that is transformed as a result of following Jesus. Our character, our conduct, our conversation, our thoughts are transformed in keeping with the character, conduct, conversation, and thoughts of Jesus. We are not talking about being a nice person. Fruit bearing is what results from our discipleship to Christ. Disciples are those who apply themselves to follow Jesus. Being a disciple is not optional. Rather it is the essence of hearing and accepting the gospel. Being saved and being a disciple are not two different things in the teachings of Jesus.
So what is your response to Jesus? Are you his disciple? Have you embraced Jesus as Savior, Lord, and King? Is your life bearing fruit in keeping with the person of Jesus? Turn from your current way of living and come to Jesus in faith. He will bear fruit in your life. You will begin to be like Jesus. Amen