Well what I wanted to do this morning, is really pretty simple. I wanted to teach from a parable that Jesus teaches us in Mark 4 that I think is really REALLY important for us to all keep in mind in the times we’re living in. And we’ll talk about why in just a minute.
Jesus was (unlike many of us) an interesting teacher. His teaching was comprised mostly of pictures and illustrations. The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole, which really means to compare. It’s a metaphor. “This is like this.” A parable is a concrete depiction of a cosmic truth. That’s why Jesus is constantly saying, “The kingdom of God is like …”
A parable is an illustration. It’s a picture. It’s a way of taking something as abstract and as multi-dimensional as the kingdom of God and making it something very concrete, something easy to grasp.
“The Kingdom of God is like this”
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like this”
Not all parables have explanations. Sometimes they’re just great mysteries. But other times Jesus will come back and explain it to us and shows us how it applies to our life. Now one of the most practical, applicable parables that Jesus teaches is the parable of the soils. People will call this parable ‘The Parable of the Sower’ which I think is a horrible title for it, because this is not really a parable of the sower, or a parable of the seed, but a parable of different types of soil. Let’s read it together.
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. (Mark 4:1)
He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: (Mark 4:2)
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. (Mark 4:3)
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:4)
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. (Mark 4:5)
But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Mark 4:6)
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. (Mark 4:7)
Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)
Downtown – Guy who was totally different So a few years back, my friend was having a concert downtown. It was the sunshine theater if you’ve ever been. Well I don’t play music anymore, but I still love going downtown and experiencing playing a show. So I went down to be my friends ‘roadie’ basically, where I helped him unload his gear, and set up his guitar rig, and tune his guitars, that kind of stuff, well we went and set up and then we had an hour or so to kill before it was time to go back to the Sunshine for the concert itself. So we wanted to get some food so we went to this little restaurant down there. And while we were sitting there, out of the corner of my eye was this kid who used to go to youth group, and I used to be his youth pastor. And I was so excited to see him, he was grown now, probably mid 20’s at this point. And I hadn’t seen him in years. Well I invited him over to our table and he sat down and I was just so excited to hear how life had been for him. Well my heart sank when he told me that he didn’t believe in God anymore, and he wasn’t going to church, and he went on to tell me about his life that, to me, just felt so meaningless, and sad, and angry, and lonely, and awful. But I just tried to encourage him and show the love of Jesus to him, and after a bit, it was time for us to go and he said goodbye and that was it. I haven’t seen him since. And that night as the concert was happening, I just kept picturing this kid who was so in love with Jesus, and passionate about church, and so full of life and love and joy. And then fast forwarding maybe 7 years to this guy in his 20s that had totally left the faith, and was living a life that, to me, seemed totally devoid of purpose, and meaning, and significance, and belonging.
What causes a person who was once so in love with Jesus and passionate about church fall away?
The sad truth is that a lot of people who begin a walk with God don’t finish. Isn’t that a downer? Isn’t that a bummer?
And that’s why this parable is so important. The reason I want to talk about this is not because I want to depress you or scare you or anything like that, it’s to tell you that finishing your race as a Christ follower requires intentionality. It requires you stay clear on what you’re doing and having the resilience to push through even when it’s hard.
Just like anything, a great relationship with Jesus is not an accident. And in the same way:
- A Marriage that lasts
- A Career that lasts
- A Ministry that lasts
…is Not accident.
So to summarize the parable we read. There’s a farmer and he sows seed onto different kinds of soil. This farmer is using ‘broadcast sowing’ where he would just scatter the seed where he wanted it to grow. So not every seed would grow.
4 Different Soils
- The Seed sown along the path
- The seed falling on rocky ground
- The seed falling among thorns
- The seed falling on good soil
It’s only the last one that survives and grows. And he ends the parable with “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Now what do you think that means?
Well first off, you need to know that when Jesus told this parable, he didn’t immediately explain himself. You had to stay long enough to get the whole story. And I think that in and of itself shows us something about how Jesus conducted his ministry. And that’s that he didn’t feel the need to immediately explain everything he said.
Ex: “Eat Flesh/Drink Blood” A HUGE percentage of his followers walked away when he said that and he didn’t go chasing after them.
Which is really a pretty dumb thing to do don’t you think?
- He had raised dead
- He opened blind eyes
- He gave people hope, and significance, and forgiveness.
And now they don’t understand one thing he says, and they walk away?
Jesus didn’t always explain himself right away. You needed to stay around to understand the whole story.
Interesting: casually interested – weeded out
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
I have no doubt that you have things in the Christian faith that you don’t understand. Anyone ever struggled to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with life in the real world? Most of us do. But the people that last, are the people who are ‘earnestly seeking’. That we can push through even when we don’t have all the answers.
If I want to last, I must have the resilience to not quit even if there are things I don’t understand yet.
And that resilience is your responsibility.
Can I do a little rant? You have to take personal responsibility for the condition of your own heart and the health of your own faith.
As much as you wish it, you can’t make people want God. As much as I wish it, I can’t make you want God.
’What did I do wrong?’ Nothing. You can’t make people want God. You don’t bear the responsibility ”It’s my fault they don’t believe.” – No it’s not. You might be a hypocrite and make it harder, but if you’re honestly trying and they have no interest, it’s not your fault.
If someone has no interest in God, that’s not your fault.
And in the same way, if you have no interest in God, it’s not your churches fault. Whatever church that is.
Of course we can be better and do better.
- Serve – Of course we can do better at serving each other
- Love – Of course we can do better at loving our city
- Worship – Of course we can do better conducting worship services
But still, you can’t make people want God. Because it’s not us, it’s the GOSPEL that does the changing.
Did you know that Paul says the message of Jesus is so powerful that it makes an impact, even when the messenger is in the wrong. What?! Let me show you.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. (Philippians 1:15)
The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. (Philippians 1:16)
The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. (Philippians 1:17)
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, (Philippians 1:18)
Isn’t that amazing? Paul rejoices when the message of Jesus goes out even when the preacher isn’t everything they’re supposed to be. Because what’s important is the message. It’s not about the person delivering the message of Jesus, it’s about the message of Jesus.
So, you see, if someone doesn’t believe, it’s not because the ‘message’ is somehow bad, and it’s not someone else’s fault.
Our culture: crazy idea – if people do wrong and make bad choices, it must be b/c somebody else made them do it.
School shootings – B/C of this/that – 1,000’s same environment
We have a lot of excuse makers in America today. And in the church today. And professionals that help people make excuses.
I don’t want to be hard on you, but excuses keep you in bondage.
You don’t have to be what you used to be.
Did you know:
- You don’t have to live your life bound up by the wounds of your past?
- You don’t have to be who your parents were?
- You don’t have to be who society tells you to be?
If we’re gonna be people who give people hope – then we can’t be people who are constantly playing the victim of past hurts. I’m sorry to tell you.
Because of God’s grace, you have the power to choose.
Story: You know, I was thinking the other day about something: I grew up in this church. I’ve lived my entire life at this church, with the exception of 2 years when I did school in Colorado, and when that was done, I came back immediately. I’ve never been a member of another church. My while life. And I LOVED my time in children’s church and in youth group. But what’s interesting is there are people who grew in this church ALONGSIDE me, and they just feel like “so wounded by the church, and oh, it was such a toxic culture, and they were brainwashing us, and I felt so ashamed of who I was.” And then there’s the rest of us and we’re thinking “Uhhh…. What the heck are you talking about? We had exactly the same experience as you, and you’re delusional.” And I think it just goes to show you, that two people can have the exact same experience and it has two totally different results in them. What’s the difference? The condition of their heart, obviously.
Ok so let’s read Jesus’s explanation:
Jesus “4 types of people who began their walk w/ God.”
The farmer sows the word. (Mark 4:14)
Seed = God’s Word. Jesus is the word made flesh.
“And what’s wrong with the word?” Nothing.
- D grade quality for on the road
- C grade – among the rocks
- B grade – among thorns
- A grade – good ground
Same seed. Same message. Some lasted, some didn’t.
And so the “soil” represents who we are in on the inside.
- Our Habits
- Our Choices
- Our Thinking
Kinds of Soil
1. The Path
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. (Mark 4:15)
So think about a dirt path, that has been walked on over and over. What is that dirt like? HARD. Packed tight.
Some don’t last because they become hard hearted.
Story – North valley – soil near river We live in the north valley. And there’s some of these paths along the river that people have been walking on for years and years and years, and they’re like concrete.
Jesus said some people are hard hearted.
Hard candy shell Some of us walk around with a hard candy shell on thinking that we’re protecting ourselves.
You haven’t said you’re Sorry 10 years. You don’t apologize to anybody. No ‘I’m sorry, I’m wrong, would you forgive me?’ Some people live their life like that. Where they’re always right. There’s nothing tender about them at all.
Jesus says those are the people who don’t make it.
Like a path that’s been stepped on and stepped on. Hurt in life. And so they compensate by developing this callus on their heart.
Hear me friends, please don’t become cynical. For the record, cynicism is my least favorite characteristic. No one’s life looks exactly how they were expecting. But you can’t become cynical.
Hear me: you can’t harden your heart. You just gotta trust that doing good enough to overcome evil. When people hurt me, I’m not gonna give up on them. Ask Jesus to give me more love to I can keep on loving. Keep reaching out to people. Keep believing in people. Keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
I refuse to become hard hearted.
Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32) (NLT)
2. Rocky Ground
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. (Mark 4:16)
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. (Mark 4:17)
‘Rocks’ in this parable symbolize the things we trip on. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase ‘Stumbling Block’ which are the things that trip us up.
Some don’t last because they become offended.
You of course know this don’t you, that the main reason people leave a church is because of offense. Offense WILL take you away from God’s best.
Gospel Bill – Hate Mail Story: gospel bill show. At first, hate mail, incredible amount, but after it was 100 times bigger, it was all gone.
If you let bitterness creep in, it’ll take you out.
“You don’t know what it’s like, you’re a leader!” Well let me just tell you. I receive heat all the time. People write me letters because I’m too this or too that. Happens all the time. The odds are high that something I’m saying in this sermon will make somebody mad and they’ll give me an earful. It’s just part of the job. But listen, I REFUSE to let bitterness creep in.
Here me on this, when you let bitterness creep in, it’s the beginning of the end. That’s the beginning of the end for all of us. You let bitterness creep into your marriage, man, you better watch out. You let bitterness creep into your relationship with the church, hold on to your butt, because that only ends one way.
Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. (KJV) (Psalm 119:165)
They talk too much about money.
Building Program- People got mad I remember talking to a pastor friend and they were doing a building program. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically like this fundraising effort where they’re trying to raise money to buy or build a bigger building to do church in. And he said that people got so offended. Offended over making another chair for someone like them. ‘I don’t want that’. Explain that one to Jesus when you stand before him. ‘Jesus I quit serving you b/c the church thought it should be bigger and reach more people. I don’t believe in reaching more people, in fact I think there’s too many people in heaven.’
People. Stumble. Over the dumbest things.
People will say “I’d never go to church. Too many hypocrites.” Of course there’s hypocrites at church, you’ll fit right in.
Here’s the idea: if you read scriptures, see it doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be of God. God’s part is perfect. Anytime you assemble humans, imperfection.
Don’t let imperfection of: church, pastor, leaders, members become a stumbling block for you.
I once heard a cool pastor say : ’Measure with a long stick.’ What does that mean? Well think about during construction and you use a level. Well if you have a level that’s just 3 inches wide and you’re trying to get a huge beam level, that would be the wrong level to use. Why? Because a small inferred toon in the wood here might make you think the whole beam isn’t level when it is. So for us it means, don’t micro-analyze one little incident and make huge conclusions. When trying to understand a person, consider their life over the long term, not just one sentence that you disagree with or thought was mean or whatever.
Remember Jesus saying “You have to eat my flesh, and drink my blood”? People heard that and though “Oh my gosh, is he talking about cannibalism?! Gross! I’m outta here!”
Calm down. He’s not talking about literally eating his body. He’s talking about his Crucifixion – and receiving his sacrifice.
Shoulda measured by a long stick.
- ‘Did Jesus heal your body?’ Yes.
- ‘Did he perform miracles?’ Yes.
- ‘Did he love you?’ Yes.
- Was he a hypocrite? No.
- Was he dishonest? No.
Look at the whole package. They’d forget every good thing Jesus did, walk away over one thing they didn’t understand. Chose to measure w/a short stick.
It’s like people today. People think you can sum up a person by who they voted for in the presidential election. Like you think you can sum a person up in one sentence.
No, measure with a long stick. Look at someone’s life. Don’t freak out when there’s one thing you don’t understand.
Jesus says: ‘The people that are easily offended, they’re the people who don’t last’
3. Thorny Ground
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; (Mark 4:18)
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. (Mark 4:19)
Some don’t last because they get distracted.
And he lists 3 things:
Worries of life
They’re just purely negative. – Eeyore’s of the world. Everyone has problems. But Jesus here is teaching that certain people push through problems while others allow those problems to take them out.
Deceitfulness of wealth
Money’s not bad. Money is neutral. Jesus’s isn’t saying that money is the issue here, no he’s saying ‘the deceitfulness of wealth’. For some people, money becomes the great distraction that makes them forget about the truly important things in life. Basically what Jesus is saying here is that these people neglect their faith for the sake of earning more money.
Desires for other things
So this is his catch all. Could be someone who’s just obsessed with the negative, could be someone who’s obsessed with money, or it could be anything else. Sports, hobbies, sex, success, – all things that are not inherently evil in and of themselves, can ultimately serve as a distraction from God’s word taking root in your heart.
4. Good Ground
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.” (Mark 4:20)
Those who last…
Hear the Word
So to me, this is basically showing up. Showing up to church, yes. For lots and lots of people, ‘hearing the word’ happens mostly at church. And to be perfectly honest, that’s huge. It’s a bigger deal that most people think. But ‘hearing the word’ doesn’t ONLY have to happen in church. You can also :
- Prioritize relationships with people who point you towards the things of God rather than away from them.
- This can also be listening to sermons in your car, or a good audiobook, or of course, reading scripture, or a Christian devotional.
Accept the Word
This is about inviting the word into your life. Not just on Sundays and Tuesdays. But to let the word of God truly become the thing that informs the rest of your life. Where you don’t have a ‘Christian’ category and a ‘rest of your life’ category, but you invite Jesus into every part of your life. You let him teach you :
- How to become the best version of yourself.
- How to become the best husband or wife you can be.
- How to become the best parent you can be.
- How to become the best lawyer, or realtor, or construction worker.
- How to teach you to forgive, and love, and show mercy and compassion and justice.
Produce a Crop
This is about living a life that produces good things. That the world is a better place because you were a part of it. In 100 years, we’re all gonna be dead. Probably. Maybe not, maybe they’ll come up with special vitamins that let us live to 200, but probably not. ‘Could Jesus return before I die? Yes of course.’ But however it plays out, there will be a time where you’re life here on earth is over. And to me a very humbling question is ‘When people think of my life, what might they say?’ Now we shouldn’t be paralyzed by that question, but we should absolutely be motivated by that question. Am I living a life that is, in Jesus’s words, producing a crop?
That’s the question that Jesus presents to us in this parable.
In this parable, the ground doesn’t change. It is what it is. There is no scenario where where thorny ground becomes good ground. But that’s what’s amazing about you. You have the power to choose. You have the power to ensure that your heart remains soft and open to God. And if you become hard, or bitter, or distracted, you have the power to change that. That’s what Gods grace is all about. It’s about empowering you in your weakness.
I am responsible for the soil of my heart
Closing Statement The parable of the soils teaches us that you get to choose what kind of soil you want to be. You can be hard hearted, you can be offended, you can be distracted. You have that much power. But you can also chose to be good ground. Don’t let your heart slowly drift from God. Don’t let that happen.
- Don’t let the disappointments of this life make you hard hearted.
- Don’t get taken out by the inevitable imperfection of churches and Christians.
- Don’t let yourself become distracted by worldly things that have no eternal significance.
Pay attention to the life you’ve living. Be intentional about keeping your heart tender to God’s voice, seeking him, pursuing him, and following him into the life he has for you.
Jesus Which of course leads us to Jesus. You want to talk about someone who had the right to become hard hearted. You want to talk about someone who had the right the become offended. It was him. But even when we humiliated him, tortured him, killed him, through all of that, he kept his eyes on his mission. What he was here to do. And he’s raised from the dead so that anyone who calls on his name, receives eternal life. Not just in this life, but in the life to come.