Parable of the Sower

Mark 4:1-20

When you truly seek to HEAR God’s Word and let it take root, it will transform your desires, your hopes, your dreams, your response to trials, the pursuits of your life, the way you raise your kids, the way you love your spouse.  It will produce a bountiful harvest.

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This week I’m at Target.  I notice this lady staring at me.  I’m like what is this lady’s problem.  I finish getting the stuff I’m there to get.  I head over to the cashier, guess who’s standing there, still staring at me?  So I start messing with my phone, because that’s what we do today to avoid awkward situations. Finally, she says, I want to apologize for staring at you, but you look like my son who passed away.  I chat with her a little, tell her I’m sorry for her loss.  She says “thank you, but I have a favor to ask.  I know it’s weird, but will you give me a hug and say “bye momma”.  You all know my stance on hugging. But like I said, I’ve been so convicted by my reading in Mark and how Jesus accepts everyone, even weird ladies wanting hugs at Target, so I go for it.  Side hug.  I wave at her as she leaves, and say “by mom”.

The cashier rings up my stuff, and she’s like “that’ll be $238.”  I’m like hold up, my stuff should only be like $33, there must be a mistake.  The casher says, “your mom said you were paying for her stuff along with your things.”  I’m like that woman was not my mother.  The cashiers like “well I saw you hug her and say good-bye.

So I pay for the stuff, and then go out in the parking lot to hunt this lady down. I see her across the parking lot loading up her stuff in the car, so I run towards her.  She sees me coming so she jumps in the car.  I get there just as she’s shutting the door so I grab her leg.  And I start pulling it.  She’s struggling to pull her leg into the car … and her wooden leg popped right off into my hands.  So I start pulling her other leg, like I’m pulling yours.

Stories are great aren’t they?  Even cheesy dad joke stories like that one.  Two weeks from now, most of you will have forgotten what this sermon was about, but you’ll remember this silly story.

This week, as we continue our study in the Gospel of Mark, we get to the first of Jesus’ Parables.

A parable is a simple, memorable, story to illustrate a spiritual concept.  Jesus used stories as one of his primary ways of teaching, especially when teaching to large crowds.

A little bible trivia … What Gospel contains the fewest parables?

The Gospel of John contains ZERO parables.  Mark has the next fewest, and all the parables in Mark, are also included Matthew and Luke.  In the coming years, we will have ample opportunity to study those as part of our 4-year teaching plan at Refuge, but for our time in Mark, this will be the only parable we hit.

As we’ve said, Mark’s main objective with his gospel is showing us that Jesus is Messiah.  The King, who has come to establish a new Kingdom.

Of course the word Kingdom meant one thing to Jesus and quite another thing to the crowds that gathered to hear him speak.  Ultimately, Jesus will be rejected by the crowds, in large part, because he didn’t stack-up to a Messiah that the patriotic Jews were hoping and praying.

But Jesus never offers us a formal definition of the Kingdom of God, instead He imparts the vision of the Kingdom through His actions and teachings though these parables.

And the imagery Jesus uses in these stories is telling:  sketches of everyday life … fishing, farming, women baking bread, merchants buying pearls …

These images would seem opposed to a real kingdom or all powerful world leader.  Doesn’t a king have the ability to impose his will on his subjects?

Farmers and fishing?   What kind of King is this? 

Through these parables, as we’ll see tonight, Jesus is indicating that the Kingdom He is establishing, is resistible.  It’s humble.  It’s not going to force itself upon you.

This week, we’re talking about the

  • Parable of the sower/seeds/soil (many names)

Mark 4

1 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him …

People are showing up.  They’ve heard about Jesus.  They’ve heard of the miracles.  They want to see the show themselves … 

 … so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

And now Jesus speaks …

LISTEN!

You teachers … No way I could ever do what you do.  Especially you middle school teachers.  You’ve got like 1-kid in your class actually listening, and the other 20 are off on another planet.

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it.

5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died.

Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.

Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

And the crowd erupts in thunderous applause. (doubtful)

More than likely He got the same blank stare you middle school teachers get.  The same one I’m getting from some of you right now …

Did Jesus just give a lesson about gardening?

Hey Jesus, my back hurts … when are you gonna heal my back like you healed those other guys?

Someone mumbles … when’s he gonna multiply some bread, I’m hungry.

The crowd that day is not so different than crowds that gather in our churches today.  We all show up with our motives …

10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.

And Jesus is now going to tell them …  this isn’t normally the case, but occasionally we get to see Jesus explain one of his parables …

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

    ‘When they see what I do,

      they will learn nothing.

    When they hear what I say,

      they will not understand.

    Otherwise, they will turn to me

      and be forgiven.’”

Does anyone else find that annoying?

OK, hang on Jesus … so you’re speaking in code, and only some people can understand, but others … too bad, so sad?

Didn’t Jesus come for everyone?  Why would he speak in code so that some people can’t understand?

Jesus is protecting His message.  He’s literally doing what he’s teaching on.  He’s planting seeds.  So that those who truly want to hear the message … meditate on it, ponder it, take it to heart … and have a level of understanding.

While those who would want to use it for evil would be confused by it.  The Pharisees would use the information and turn it on the people …

Oh, we need good soil huh?  Cool.  What we’re going to do is create a good soil class that you’ll need to take.  And we’re going to implement a good soil tax that you’ll need to pay.  And I’m going to make a list of all the things you need to do for me before I will dub you good soil.

Jesus is protecting his message from those with dark motives … and giving it to those who have a true desire to hear his message, and a heart that is open …

13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables?

 Jesus is trying to get the disciples attention.  Guys, this is a big one.  If you can’t get this parable, you’re in trouble.  This is sort of a parable that explains all the other parables.

14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others.

 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away.

16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.

20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!

Simple right???  Be good soil.  Duh.

It is simple, if we pause, and do what Jesus asks before he taught this parable … Listen.  That’s one of the most important skills we need to have as a church.  To be able to not only listen, but listen well, listen deep, and listen to understand

In this parable, I see 3-different components

  • SeedSowerSoil

First, let’s be sure we understand the seed.  As Jesus says, the seed represents God’s Word.  The Gospel.  The Good News that while we are all messed up and broken, we can rest in knowing that we have a savior in Jesus.  That on the cross, when Jesus said It Is Finished, He meant it.

And so in the primary sense, the sower is representative of Jesus, who has come to proclaim this Good News of the Kingdom of God.

But in a secondary sense the sower is all of us who are called to share this Good News.

At first glance, as I studied this parable this week, I’m like … what a horrible farmer.  He’s just throwing his seed all over the place.  You probably know some folks like that …

I’m just out planting seeds everywhere.     

You’re sitting at the big awkward table at Starbucks …  and you start a conversation with the person next to you

I just want you to know that God loves you!

 … then you just walk away.

Boom.  Planted a seed.  Never know what God will do.    

Some of you aren’t brave enough to do this, but I spend a lot of time in Starbucks and I’ve noticed some of you just try to talk really loud during your bible studies so maybe the people around you will overhear, and somebody catches a little Jesus?   Planting those seeds.    

I once had a guy at a gas station, straight off the Jesus bus (literally it was a bus, and on the side of it said The Jesus Bus) walk up to me ask … “Son if you died today, do you know where you’d go?”

Just planting seeds.  Never know what God will do. 

Maybe you’ve accidentally on purpose left your bible in the backseat pocket of the airplane.  (Just planting seeds) 

But that would make you a terrible farmer.  I don’t know a single farmer who would get in his truck, go to the seed store, and while driving back to his field, throw the seeds out the window.

I’m just seeding the world.  Never know what God’s going to do.

Our call to share the gospel isn’t to just toss out random seeds …

We’re called to plant seeds in the fields that God has entrusted to us.  The households we have.  The relationships we have at work.   Friends at school.  In our neighborhoods.

I noticed this week, Jesus says the farmer went out and planted the seed in HIS field … it wasn’t random. 

We don’t randomly do this in any other area of life or business.  I don’t drop off my business cards at the bus stop.

Well, just see who calls meJust sowing seeds. 

No.  I take it seriously, so I don’t end up in the unemployment line.

But with our faith, sometimes we just randomly throw seeds out the window of the truck, and pray God lands them somewhere they can grow …

… when God has already provided us with custom made garden boxes, with our names on them, filled with miracle grow, just waiting to be planted.

I was encouraged this past week, as I watched Chance the Rapper bring Church to the Grammy’s.  Taking the gospel of Jesus where it has historically not been welcome.  Chance took the opportunity to plant seed in HIS field … The stage at the Grammy’s.

If I showed up at the Grammy’s trying to plant the seeds of Jesus, I’d probably be arrested, because I wasn’t invited to that party.  I’m not a Grammy nominated rapper.

But Chance the Rapper, was able to speak truth from the stage …   Magnify, magnify, lift it on high … Spit it, Spotify to qualify a spot on his side.  I cannot modify or ratify, my momma made me apple pies, lullabies and alibis … the book don’t end with Malachi.  (warned you)

That evening he shared his story .  He talked of a great God.  He planted seeds in his field.

Is Chance the Rapper the new role model for missions?  Probably not … I can’t listen to his complete album with my kids in the car.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t learn a little from his example of planting seeds in the unique fields God has prepared and cultivated for each of us.

  1. On to the SOIL. The soil is about how we hear and listen to God’s word.  Whether a non-believer or a believer.

As Jesus says “anyone with ears should listen and seek to understand

Remember, he’s not forcing his kingdom on anyone.  He’s saying, listen, take my words to heart.

But often the words, fall on deaf ears.  We don’t produce fruit.  And we wonder why?  Why isn’t my faith maturing and growing?  Why don’t I see fruit produced in my life?

First Jesus says because the seed can fall onto a hardened footpath.

My grandpa was a farmer.  Some of you have seen that old 1964 Ford Truck I’m fixing up.  That was my Grandpa’s truck.  He bought it brand new.  We used to ride that truck through the paths of the corn and hay fields.  Over time those paths hardened from the traffic of the truck and other farm equipment.

That hardened path is that cynical, jaded part in many of us.  We hear the gospel, but don’t accept it.  It never takes root.

That might be a non-believer who hears of Jesus, but just can’t accept it …

Or it can be the person sitting in this room right now thinking grace is just too good to be true, and still trying to earn their salvation.  The Gospel has never taken root.

Maybe your heart is hard with pride, anger, bitterness, hatred.  Last night several of us volunteered and helped out with a HOM event in Dunbar.  Dwayne has told me, that many of those kids get hard hearts at a very young age, because being “hard” is the only way to survive.

Just like the paths in my grandpa’s field, our hearts become hard from getting trampled on.  Walked on.

I planted a new palm tree in our yard last weekend.  Our front yard is the left over muck that was dug out of the foundation of our house, so they could replace it would rock and sand to give the house a solid foundation.  So our front yard is just this super hard dirt.

So I try to dig a hole to plant this tree, and it’s like hitting solid rock.  Nearly broke the shovel.  I had to break up the hard soil.  It took some time and effort.  I ran the garden hose for a while to soften it.  And eventually the soil loosened and I was able to dig down and plant the tree.

The way we open up for seed to be planted in us … is to break up the hard ground.  Soften it up.  Lean into the people and relationships who break up the ground for you.

Come together like this.  You know what worship is?  Breaking up that soil.  Reading God’s Word.  Seeking counseling.  Push yourself into the activities that help break up and soften your hardened heart and soil.

And if your soil isn’t hard as a rock right now … be a plow for others.  Love them and pray for their hearts to soften.

Next we’ve got the shallow soil.  The seeds that fall onto this kind of soil sprout up quickly, but they don’t last long because they don’t have deep roots.

If you’ve been around the church anytime, you know these kinds of people, or maybe you are these kinds of people.

You get on fire.  Go to a youth conference or mission trip, and you come back and you’re like … man, God flipped my world upside down.  I even read my bible and had some prayer time. 

Then you get home, and reality sets in.  Nothing has really changed.  Your marriage is still a battle.  Your boss is still a jerk.  You’ve still got a bills to pay.  Those same sins are waiting for you.  And before long, that mountain top experience is just a distant memory.

The same thing can happen to us on Saturday nights.  We sing songs that move us.

Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, build, loud chorus, soft chorus … it’s not hard to create emotion in people. Our hands go in the air, but no roots ever form.

Preachers, bang on their pulpits, take you through a range of emotions, say just the thing you needed to hear. We hear the message.  That was a good message.  I was so moved by that message.  I love my pastor.  But you’ve not opened your bible in years.  So no deep roots ever form.

Life goes on.  We don’t love the poor.  Our patience hasn’t increased.  Our self-control mirrors that of a 5-year-old.  There’s no fruit in our life.  Why?

Because we’ve confused emotion for devotion.   Feeling for faith.  Being a fan of Jesus instead of a follower.

I’m a jack-of-all trades, master of none.  I’m constantly wanting to learn a new hobby. I get all excited about it.  Boating, fishing, playing guitar, photography, graphic design, kayaking, video editing, biking, gardening, preaching …

I’ll spend all this time, and I’ll research and I’ll get excited, and I’ll go to Amazon and do a one-click purchase because they’ve made it way too easy … and in a short time, there the equipment just sits collecting dust.

Our soil is shallow when we mistakenly believe that when we follow Jesus, our lives are immediately going to be transformed into this amazing fairytale.  Rainbows and unicorns all the do-da-day.

But at the first sign of trouble.  How dare God turn his back on me?  Temptation comes.  The emotion is gone.  We haven’t established roots in God’s word, no prayer life, no connection to God’s people, no conviction, and we quickly whither and fade.

The wedding was so exciting.  We planned and planned, and spent half our life savings for this one night.

But the marriage quickly hits the rocks.  It’s the deep ROOTS into God’s word … about submitting to one another, about love being patient and kind, not boastful or proud or rude, that will carry us through.

We start coming to a new church, and it’s exciting at first.  So many new people.  They all seem so nice.  This is my kind of place.  A fresh start.

And then it gets messy.  Feelings get hurt.  It’s our deep roots in relationships with one another that will carry us through the difficult times.

You know what those rocks are that Jesus is talking about beneath the surface?  Issues.  Anyone in the room got issues?  PBC.  People Be Crazy.  I’m crazy.  You’re crazy.  Turn to your neighbor and say “you’re crazy”.

There are rocks just beneath the surface everywhere.  Every marriage has rocks.  Every job hits bumps.  Every church has PBC’s.

When you look at someone who has deep roots, don’t look at them and think they had it easier than you, because they didn’t.  They’ve just heard God’s word, and allowed Him to create deep roots that have tapped into the moisture of life … the love of Christ.

As Paul says to the Ephesians …

Eph 3:17-18

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ …

Jesus gives us a 3rd category of soil, the thorns

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain …

… the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful …

This is the scariest one for me.  Because we don’t see the weeds and thorns creeping in on us …

I grew up in the country.  The sticks of Southern Indiana.  We had a business in town that the sign out front read “Lawnmower Repair and Tax Returns”.  Not sure how that works, you show up to get your lawnmower fixed, and you’re like …  dag gum it, you did such a good job, how about you do my taxes too. 

We had ponds on the farm I grew up in, and in those ponds were frogs.  And you went out at night and you gigged for frogs

Have you heard of the concept of putting a frog in hot water and it will jump out, but you put a frog in cold water and gradually heat it up, it will not perceive the danger of being cooked to death.  (ok, we didn’t boil frogs, just cut off their legs and ate them, but the boiling analogy worked better).

The creeping in of weeds and thorns is often times unnoticeable, and if we’re not paying attention, our tender plants can be slowly choked without us even noticing.

Things that aren’t necessarily bad … work, money, kids, social media, technology … it’s easy for us to get so caught up in these things that we slowly lose sight of what God is doing in our lives.

I read a survey this week …

  • 1/3 of all people would rather cut off their own finger, than give up the internet.
  • Another 1/3 said they’d give up their sense of taste to keep the internet. (pizza, really?)

Is the internet or social media a thorn?  It can be.

Listen to this … same survey …

  • 15% said they’d forgo human interaction all together to keep the internet.
  • 20% said they’d give up love.
  • Half said they’d allow a stranger to die if it meant giving up their internet connection.
  • And a measly 35% said they’d give up the internet if it meant curing cancer.

I get it, the internet is important to our daily lives.  Shopping, job searching, sermon prep, googling answers to every question we can imagine, pictures of cats …

But when I die, do I want my headstone to read:

Brian was a great Facebooker

Do I want people to say … man, we’re going to really miss Brian, he could really use that Gingham filter on Instagram?”

Or do I want them to look at my life and see fruit that God produced in and through me?

We can get so entangled in weeds… that we miss what God is trying to do.  We can be so distracted that we never speak to Him and wonder why we can’t hear him speaking to us.

It’s a divided loyalty.  Trying to live in two kingdoms.

Jesus includes the worries of THIS LIFE as weeds.

We worry about our kids getting good grades so they can get good jobs.  We worry about being able to pay our bills.  We worry if we’re doing enough for God.  We worry about what people think of us.  Some of you are worried right now about what kind of soil you are.

We worry about tomorrow, and don’t live today.  We get caught up in the weeds and lose site of Matthew 6:33-34

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In the first Harry Potter movie … Harry, Ron and Hermione fall down into this cavern, onto a pile of weeds that initially breaks their fall … WATCH THIS …

What does Hermione say?  “Just relax” …

We remove the worries of this world … We get untangled from the thorns and weeds …  by resting in the finished work of Jesus.

Which bring us to our final soil, the Good Soil.

I’m new to gardening (one of those new hobbies), but the one thing I’ve learned, the best way to avoid weeds taking over my plants, is to have strong, deep rooted plants in the first place.

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.

HEAR THE WORD (not work the hardest)

ACCEPT IT (let it take root)

When you HEAR and accept that Jesus came to save sinners … That He came so that we can rest from the work of tying to earn favor with God …

When you truly seek to HEAR God’s Word and let it take root, it will transform your desires, your hopes, your dreams, your response to trials, the pursuits of your life, the way you raise your kids, the way you love your spouse.

It will produce a bountiful harvest.

This is the spot I’m supposed to ask you … Well, what kind of soil are you?  But here’s the thing …

Have you heard God’s Word?  Have you accepted His grace?  Then because of Jesus, you are alive and you are good soil.

You may have seasons of hardness, shallowness.

Paul was hard soil.  But God softened him and produced some amazingly sweet fruit.

Peter had shallow roots.  God fertilized and deepened those roots and produced fruit.

Allow God to soften you, fertilize you, maybe even prune you from time to time, and watch the harvest grow.

Written by Brian Culbertson

Sinner turned Saint because of Jesus.

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