Brad Libolt speaking on Mark 4:1-9. He spoke about the parable of the sower, and challenged us to look at at how we sow God’s word, and to examine what kind of soil we are.
- Remember the question we are asking this year as we go through Mark: Who is Jesus? We have learned a lot about who Jesus is, and we will continue to learn more. One thing that Jesus is, is a king. Remember in chapter 1 God called him his Son, royal language, and Mark said he was the Messiah, the anointed one, also language used for kings. And remember in chapter 1 verse 15 Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand…” So we have the kingdom of God at hand, and Jesus its king has arrived.
- The kingdom of God is one of those phrases we throw around as Christians a lot. We understand Jesus is our king, and this time of year we sing a lot about Jesus being a king. But what does it actually mean? What is the kingdom of God?
- So, for the next couple weeks as we approach Christmas, we are going to kind of step outside of our question: who is Jesus? And look at another question: What is the kingdom of God? And since Jesus is the one bringing this kingdom, it actually still has a lot to do with our overarching question: Who is Jesus?
- We are in Mark chapter 4 now, and this is exactly what Jesus is doing. He is teaching about the kingdom of God through something called parables. Parables are stories that have some kind of meaning. They are like examples or illustrations. Jesus uses things his listeners were familiar in their every day life to explain something they weren’t familiar with. He is bringing heavenly concepts down to the level of his earthly hearers. Mark chapter 4 is full of these parables about the kingdom of God, so that is what we are going to look at the next few weeks: What is the kingdom of God?
- Many of you know I grew up on a farm. My family grew alfalfa, a type of crop that is turned into hay for cows and horses and sheep. About every 7 years or so, we would have to replant our crop of alfalfa. My dad had multiple fields, and each one had its own characteristics. I remember one field we had and it was really sandy. The soil in it was super fine, and there were spots in the field that roots could never get down into because the soil was so sandy. These spots in the field wouldn’t produce much alfalfa, because the soil wasn’t good. We had another field that was super rocky, so there were spots in this field that nothing could grow at all because there was no soil. But then we had some fields that were great. The soil was good and rich, and perfect for growing alfalfa. These fields would yield a lot of crops, and the alfalfa harvest would be great.
- Now, when we initially planted these fields, we weren’t selective of where we put seeds. We had no idea what kind of soil it was or what kind of crop it would produce, so we would just spread seeds everywhere, then wait for the harvest to see what was produced. It wasn’t until then that we could actually see what the different fields’ soil was like.
- We just planted seed everywhere. We wanted to harvest as much as possible, so we would plant as many seeds as possible. That’s the way it works. If you want a lot of crops you plant a lot of seeds. Whether or not the soil is good is not up to you as a sower. And that is part of what is going on in this parable. The sower goes out to sow seeds and he sprinkles it everywhere and then there are complications in the way it grows, but that isn’t the sowers fault, it’s just a characteristic of the soil.
- Look again at what this parable says.
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
- So great crowds are coming to Jesus, and he goes out into a boat so he can teach them. And he starts teaching in parables, and this is what he says. He tells a story of a farmer. Kind of weird right?
- Now, in high school I was a state champion soil judger, so I should be able to explain what is going on in this parable… but honestly it’s pretty confusing. What exactly is Jesus saying, what is going on with these types of soil and this farmer and the seed? Sure would be nice if we had someone to explain it to us, would even be great if we had Jesus to explain it to us! Actually that’s exactly what we have. Look at the next few verses.
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “ ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”
- When Jesus is alone with just his disciples, they ask him about the parables. And he is about to explain it for us, and we will get there in a second, but look at what he says first. He says to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God. Who is the you? Well it would seem it was the disciples, but there are also others with them, so who is this group of people that has been given the secret of the kingdom of God?
- Remember what Jesus said at the end of the parable up above, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So this group of people that is inquiring about the parable, they are the ones who had ears to hear. They are interested in what the parable is actually about. So Jesus says to them, they have been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but the rest of the crowd that didn’t have ears to hear left confused.
- So we gain some insight into parables right here. For those who have ears to hear and who desire to know what they mean, the kingdom of God is revealed to them. But for those who don’t desire or care to know what they mean, they are just confusing. And Jesus uses a quote from the Old Testament, from Isaiah, to describe these people. He says, “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
- In Isaiah this quote comes in chapter 6. God is commissioning Isaiah to take his word to the nation of Israel, and in this commission this is what God says to Isaiah,
“Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
- So think about what is going on here. Isaiah is a prophet, sent to the people of Israel to bring them a word from the Lord, and this word, this message is that judgment is coming. God tells him that the people won’t listen, they will see and not perceive, hear and not understand. They will reject God’s message that comes through Isaiah. And when Isaiah asks how long this rejection will last, God says until Jerusalem is destroyed and only a few remain. This is referring immediately to exile, when Babylon will come in and destroy Jerusalem and the people will go into exile, and there will be a remnant, some who remain. Like a stump after a tree is felled.
- So why would Jesus use this quote from Isaiah to explain what is going on here? Well, Jesus is doing the same thing Isaiah did. God has sent him with a message, with the gospel of the kingdom, and he is preaching it to people who hear him but don’t understand, who see it but don’t perceive it. In the parable just above about the sower and the soil, Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and he is saying just like the Israelites who rejected the prophet Isaiah’s message way back when, the people in the crowd are rejecting Jesus’ message now.
- And what will this rejection lead to? Judgment. Not necessarily exile from the land like the judgment that happened to the Israelites, we are talking about ultimate judgment, the judgment that God will pour out when Jesus returns.
- BUT, remember what remained after the judgment on Israel in Isaiah. A stump. And what did it say this stump was? The holy seed.
- Now to those of you who have been coming on Thursday nights this should ring a bell. Remember the promise in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sinned and brought death and destruction into God’s good world he promised that a seed from the woman would one day come and strike the seed of the serpent, but the seed of the serpent would also strike the seed of the woman. And now in Isaiah we see this hope of a seed again. That even after exile within the remnant of Israel will be a seed, THE seed.
- And now we know that this seed has come, and that it is Jesus. And this seed came to crush the head of the serpent that will also strike his heal. Jesus came to destroy evil, but in doing so he would be destroyed by evil as well.
- So Isaiah proclaimed the word of God, that judgment was coming, to a people who weren’t really listening. But even in that judgment, there is hope in the seed.
- Now Jesus is proclaiming the word of God as well, and it is still that judgment is coming, still to people who aren’t really listening. BUT like in Isaiah, there is hope in the seed. And what is this hope?
- This hope is that the seed, Jesus, will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. The hope in the judgment that Jesus is proclaiming is that Jesus himself will take that judgment. Jesus will be bitten by the seed of the serpent, he will be killed by evil itself, but in doing so he will defeat evil, and crush the serpent’s head. In doing so, he will establish God’s kingdom and offer a way for people to enter into it. He will take evil upon himself, and be judged for it by God, so that there is hope for those who deserve to be judged instead.
- This is the message Jesus is proclaiming, and it is the same as the message Isaiah was proclaiming. Judgment is coming, but there is hope in the seed. Jesus is the seed, and our hope is in him.
- And this message, this proclamation Jesus is bringing is what the seed is in the parable. Look at how he explains it.
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
- He says the sower sows the word. What is the word? The word is the message that the kingdom has come, its the message of hope in the seed. The word is the gospel. It’s the fact that the seed, the Messiah, has come in Jesus. It’s the fact that with the coming of king Jesus comes the kingdom of God. It’s the message that you can repent and believe and enter into this kingdom. The word that is being sown is the best news anyone could ever hear, it is the greatest story ever told. It is the story of how God is redeeming, saving his creation through his own son, Jesus Christ. It is a message that was relevant to people 2000 years ago, and it is still relevant to us today.
- So the seed that is being sown is the word. And what must happen to the seed, to the word, if it is to grow and bear fruit? Well, it has to be received. Jesus then goes on to explain the different ways the word is rejected.
- The word that is sown along the path is immediately swallowed up by Satan, and it has no opportunity to even begin to take root. The word that is sown on the rocky ground is heard, and immediately received with joy. People are all about it at first. But, there is no soil for it to take root, so when tribulation and hardships come the seed gets torn out. It wasn’t rooted deep enough. Then there is the word sown among the thorns. This word is also heard, but the cares and desires of the world are too great so the word gets swallowed up and can’t survive.
- These are all the ways the word can be rejected. Notice the cause. The first is that the word never even begins to take root, Satan just snatches it up right away. The next is that the word takes root but bad things uproot it. The last is that the word takes root and good things come along and uproot it.
- But here’s the thing. Was the farmer in the wrong to sow the seeds in these places? No, he wasn’t. Just like on my dad’s alfalfa farm, we planted seed everywhere, we didn’t know where it would grow and where it wouldn’t. That wasn’t up for us to decide. Was Jesus selective of where he sowed the word? Nope. Remember he told this parable to a massive crowd. While he was telling it, people in the crowd were responding to it in the very ways he was explaining. So in the same way, our job is not to be selective where we sow the word. Our job is just to sow it, and sow it everywhere. We have no idea what kind of soil we are sowing into, and it isn’t our job to determine that for someone. Our job is to bring the word to everyone. To sow seed everywhere, just like the farmer, just like Jesus.
- But this parable doesn’t only speak to us as sowers, but also as soil. We should take a step back and consider what kind of soil we are. Do we want nothing to do with Jesus and his message, and every time it is brought up we are completely closed off to it? Or do we like the idea of Jesus and his message, but life is too hard? Or we like the idea of Jesus and his message, but life is too good? We don’t want to give up the “good” things in life for Jesus? My prayer is that we are none of these types of soil, but that we are the good soil. The soil that receives the word, buries it deep, lets it take root, and starts bearing fruit.
- So how do we know if we are the good soil? Two things.
- First, it goes back to when Jesus first told the parable. Remember he said he who has ears to hear, let him hear. If you hear the message of Jesus and are interested, genuinely wondering what it means and who he is claiming to be. If you are like the disciples and those in the crowd who went up to Jesus after and wanted to know more, there is a good chance you are the good soil. Those who wanted to know more were given the secret of the kingdom of heaven, so do you want to know more, or are you content where you’re at?
- The second way to know if we are the good soil, is if we are bearing fruit. Is our life showing that we have the word deeply rooted in us. Do we treat others with love and patience, do we share the gospel with our friends and family, do we confess and repent when we sin, are we worshipping God with our lives. Are we bearing fruit? If the word is truly rooted deeply within us, then it will bear fruit.
- So take stock. Which kind of soil are you? Are you completely closed off to the message of Jesus and want nothing to do with it? Does life seem too hard, or the things of the world too good? Or do you want to know more, are you interested in Jesus? Are you bearing fruit, can you see evidence of an implanted word in your life?
- The kingdom of God, the hope that Jesus offers, should be presented to everyone, but it will only be received by some. Will you receive the kingdom of God?