When I was a teen we lived just outside of Saint John New Brunswick in Hammond River and when I needed to think or just find time alone I would go down to the river, find a big rock and just sit and enjoy being next to the water. And it seems that it has always been like that, as a kid when I spent my summer vacation on Grand Manan you could often find me along the rocks of Swallow Tail or down by the edge of Pettes Cove enjoying being next to the water.
There just seems to be something refreshing and renewing about being next to water, we try to get out to Peggy’s Cove each year and our vacation times always end up somewhere around large bodies of water. I can’t even imagine living somewhere without quick access to the ocean.
It had been a rough couple of days for Jesus. He had been preaching to large crowds and families were bringing their sick children and parents to be touched and healed, I can only imagine the amount of emotional energy that it must have cost Christ. In the third chapter of Mark we are told Mark 3:20 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. Jesus was riding this huge wave of popularity; you gotta love it when you are loved.
But not everyone was happy with what was happening. Jesus had to deal with the scribes and Pharisees, that seemed to be an ongoing battle, but this time they didn’t pull any punches. In Mark 3:22 But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”
And you kind of expect that, everything Jesus taught threatened the status of these leaders, he was shaking up the status quo, leading people into a closer personal relationship with God which bypassed the religious establishment of the day. And really Jesus was able to give as good as he took, what with referring to the religious establishment as hyrpocrite, snakes and white washed tombs. It wasn’t entirely a one way street.
But what must have really hurt Jesus was his family’s reaction in Mark 3:21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt, when those who love you and are closest to you dismiss you as crazy. What is the line Sheldon uses in the Big Bang Theory, “I’m not crazy my mother had me tested.” Apparently that didn’t apply here.
But you can kind of understand his families feelings, Jesus had given up the security of the carpenter’s shop to become an itinerant preacher, itinerant is a fancy word for homeless. He had found an entirely new circle of friends, including 4 fishermen, a tax collector and at least one zealot, and a zealot was only half a step away from being a terrorist. And then not being content to simply preach feel good messages it appeared that he was willing to take on the entire religious establishment all by himself. Might sound a little crazy, but they didn’t have to mention it in public. Maybe it was this incident that caused Jesus to say later in his ministry Matthew 10:36 “Your enemies will be right in your own household!”
And so he has gone to the edge of the sea of Galilee, presumably to re-charge his batteries, in Matthew’s account it tells us Matthew 13:1 Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. But it appears the crowds have followed him and they begin to press in to hear him preach until finally he borrows a boat, maybe Peter’s or John’s, and turns it into a floating platform preaching to the crowds on the shore. And, as he does so well, he points his audience’s attention to the everyday and then uses it to direct them to the eternal and he begins to teach them using a parable, and a parable is simply an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus started with the here and now and used that to explain how to get to the there and then. In this case it was a man sowing seeds in a field.
We do need to note a couple of things here at the very beginning. The only responsibility that Jesus laid on the sower was that he sows the seed. The sower received no credit for the seed that grew nor any condemnation for the seed that didn’t grow. All too often we lay the responsibility for the fruitfulness of the see at the feet of the sower. If a church doesn’t grow it’s the preacher’s fault, if people aren’t saved it’s the preacher’s fault, if the church splits it’s the preacher’s fault.
But if we listen to this parable, it would appear that if the seed is the word of God and if the sower is the servant of God then his singular responsibility is to sow the seed.
And in the case of the farmer, we know very little about how he went about his task. Traditonally we are told that he would have worn a bag of some kind filled with seed and would have walked some type of pattern through his field broadcasting the seed by hand. Perhaps he did it in a very traditional method, up one row and down the other or perhaps he tried some new techniques and added a little variety to the pattern he walked or a little pizzazz to the way he threw the seed. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t know, Christ didn’t spend very much time on the sower at all. He is dismissed in a sentence and a half Mark 4:3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. So presumably he did what he was supposed to do. If he had of walked up and down the rows and not thrown any seed at all I am sure that Jesus would have mentioned it, had he sown something other than the seed that he was supposed to be sowing that would have come up as well.
And just as the farmer discharged his obligation by simply sowing the seed the preacher’s duty is to preach the word. And some do it in a very traditional method and some add a little more pizzazz to the task, but the important thing is that they do it.
And the second thing Jesus did not blame for the lack of fruitfulness was the seed. It was the same seed that was sown on the hard ground, the thorny ground and the good ground. Just as the sowers responsibility was to be a sower the seed was responsible only for being the seed, nothing more and nothing less. The only thing that was different in the four cases was the ground the seed fell on.
And so Jesus told the crowd the parable of the Sower and the Seed and then he changed the subject and went in a different direction. It was only later in the day when it was just the master and his students that he took the time to elaborate on this particular parable. And that’s where we come in, because the explanation is as valid today as it was two thousand years ago. And we each find ourselves somewhere in Jesus’ explanation.
If you were to investigate the different ways that people have responded to Jesus over the years you would get as many answers as there are people. But if you took the time to examine those responses you would find that you could narrow all of those responses down to the same four pictures that Jesus drew on that day for his followers.
And I know that all generalities are wrong but I would suspect that everyone here falls into one of those categories as well. So the question today isn’t “What is the response of others to Jesus?” instead it has to be “What is my response to Jesus?” What has your reaction been to the claims on Christ on your life, because if you have heard the word of God then you have responded, one way or the other.
Mark 4:4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it.
Those Who Are Hard on the Outside In the Holy Land during the time of Christ the fields were long and narrow and between each field was a right of way, a path that was used by farmers on both sides. And it was on this pathway that the first seed fell.
It is interesting to note that this was very same fertile ground that made up the field, it was not rocky or stony, but because of constant pressure of people walking over it day after day it had become packed down and rock hard, and as the sower scattered his seed some of it was broadcast across these right-a-ways and just lay on top of the hard soil, providing a buffet of seeds for the birds.
And so Christ tells us in Mark 4:15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. And so the hard ground represents the man with the closed mind. Now let’s make one thing clear, we are all close mind over some things. Now personally I like to think I’m only close minded when I’m right, but that’s just me.
Billy Graham told the story about the young preacher who want to make an improvement in the sanctuary of the little church he was pastoring in so he approached the board and suggested they buy a chandelier. Well one old fellow stood up and said “I’m agin it, and I’m agin it for three reasons. First there aint nothing in the bible about them there chandeliers. Second there ain’t nobody in the church who can play one and third what we really need is more light in the sanctuary.”
Well about some things it really doesn’t matter if you are close minded, whether you drive a Ford or a Chev, whether you vote liberal or conservative, in a hundred years it won’t make any difference. But to be close minded when it comes to spiritual things can have eternal consequences.
It happens at times that the path to the human mind has been trodden down as hard as the paths in those fields.
Alexander MacLaren was a Baptist preacher who lived a hundred and fifty years ago and he explains it this way, “They have been trodden by the heavy baggage wagons of commerce, the light cars of human pleasure, the merry dancers and sad funeral processions have all used that way and each footfall has beaten the once loose soil a little firmer.”
It is a fact of life that we are made insensitive to the Gospel by the effects of necessary and often innocent things.
The urgent has robbed us of the eternal and so we say “I will get to it, in just a minute, tomorrow, next week.” And while we wait the seeds of God’s word lie exposed and vulnerable and listen to the warning of Jesus; Satan will come and take it away. Jesus doesn’t mince words here, Satan is waiting to discourage people from accepting the grace of God and the salvation of Christ and the most effective way is to steal the seed before it can penetrate the heart.
As you drove away from Cornerstone last Sunday morning what did you take with you from the message? Can you remember the scripture I used, the main points or a key thought? Or were they snatched away. You know how it happens. 1) An immediate argument in the car right after church about where to go for dinner. 2) Lots of activities, appointments and busyness on Sunday afternoon. 3) Preoccupation with a problem at work, school or home. 4) A personality conflict with another church member or one of the staff 5) Irritation because of how far you had to park from the front door or because we didn’t sing your favourite song, the music was too loud or too quiet and on and on ad nausem.
And the story continues: Mark 4:5-6 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died.
Those Who Are Hard Inside This kind of makes me think the story was written about Halifax or at least Kingswood. The picture that Christ draws here is soil that looks and is fertile, there just isn’t that much of it.
And when the seed falls in this soil it quickly grows under what seems to be optimum conditions. It is almost forced to grow in a soil that is warmed by the heat absorbed by the rock and the nutrients that have soaked into the shallow layer of topsoil. And yet because the roots can’t penetrate any deeper than the rock these plants that literally spring forth from the ground die in the heat of the sun.
Christ explains the application in Mark 4:16-17 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 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. These are the folks that the gospel only penetrates emotion deep. Just as the seed finds a receptive home in the rock warmed shallow soil these people often seem very receptive to the gospel. Perhaps they’ve been on the search for truth or maybe it is the result of some emotional upheaval in their lives. Maybe the high of a marriage or the birth of a child or maybe the low of a marriage suddenly ending or the death of a family member or friend. Whatever the cause the emotions make the heart fertile ground for the gospel. But the rock that lies just beneath the surface is often the rock of an unrepentant heart.
And so they quickly and gladly embrace the promise of heaven, prosperity and abundance of life they never grasp the concept of “Take up your cross” or “Repent and turn to God.” They see Christ as a fire escape from hell but not as Lord of their lives. Because the roots of the gospel message have been unable to entwine itself around their hearts these folks are not able to stand in times of adversity.
How do you get the roots to take hold? By changing the composition of the rock beneath the surface. By getting to know your bible, by reading it, attending services to hear it taught by hanging out with other Christ followers.
Every once in a while at the tail end of a hurricane one of the big evergreens on our property will blow over and they pull the roots out of the ground, they are thirty foot tall but their roots are only appear to be inches below the surface and so when the wind blows strong enough from the right direction down they come. And sometimes that happens with people, they have a surface faith but it hasn’t really penetrated deeper than that.
Mark 4:7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.
Those With Other Stuff This seed wasn’t sown on the hard soil of the path or for that matter on shallow soil covering rock, instead it landed in rich fertile soil, but in this rich soil lay the remnants of the thorns that had once grown there.
And as the rain and sun caused the wheat to begin to grow the thorns grew along with them, eventually depriving the good seeds of those things they needed to survive. If the thorns had of been torn out of the ground and eradicated in the first place instead of simply being ploughed under it wouldn’t have been an issue, but they weren’t
And so Jesus tells us in Mark 4:18-19 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 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. Of all the analogies this one scares me the most, not only does the seed germinate but it grows and matures as well. The people who are represented in the first two groups would appear to have never truly embraced salvation and all that goes with it. They are rootless and they were fruitless. They never really take off, at the very most they are a flash in the pan. And it’s fairly obvious that the last group, which we will talk about in a few minutes, are truly born again, submissive, active and productive, but frankly this third group concerns me.
It would appear that these folks were truly touched by God, they grew and were right on the verge of producing fruit when all of a sudden their progress came to an end. Why? What happened?
Because as Jesus tells us, thorns grew up around them, thorns which suffocated the normal healthy growth of the plant.
And what do those thorns represent? Listen again to Christ, Mark 4:18-19 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 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. And Jesus doesn’t say that these things might cause problems or that they might hinder our progress as Christ followers he tells us they will crowd out his word.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
The worst part is that most of us never realize that we are being choked until we have been choked.
There are three things that Jesus warns us about, 1) The Worries of this Life We become so caught up in the everyday worries of this life that we have no room left in our lives for the things of God. Instead of trusting in him we try to work out all of those details ourselves. Remember the word of Jesus in Matthew 10:29-31 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. We get to the point that we are harassed by anxiety and harried by the everyday and have no time for God.
The second thorn that Jesus talks about is 2) The Lure of Wealth I love the way the King James phrases it Mark 4:18-19 “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, “and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. The lie that if you are only rich enough and have enough stuff then everything will be all right. The bible never condemns being rich. But it does warn us that when either money or the desire for money takes first place in our lives away from Jesus we are skating on thin ice. Which is why Paul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
And sometimes we rationalize our quest for riches by saying that it really isn’t all that important to us like author Joe E. Lewis who said “I don’t like money actually, but it quiets the nerves.” Actually it was also Lewis who said “It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, as long as you’ve got money.”
And I know there are folks out there that try to justify the lure of wealth by saying that when they are finally where they need to be they will be able to give to God’s work. I don’t believe it, if you aren’t doing it now with what you got you won’t do it later when you’ve got more. If you can’t give 10% of a $100.00 it’s doubtful you will give 10% of a $1000.00
And then the third thing that Christ warns will choke our Christian experience is The Desire For Other Things I call it the cult of the next best thing. Those that have motorcycles call it bigger bike disease, those with water craft bigger boat disease, those with travel trailers well you get the picture. We want bigger homes, nicer cars, larger salaries more prestige. And there is nothing wrong with aspiring to better things in life, until it becomes an all-encompassing passion. And then it becomes a picture of discontentment. We are never happy with what we have and it becomes the plague of pursuit, always pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching while our minds become strangled by the lie, “Enough just isn’t enough.”
If those thorns are choking out your Christian life they need to be dug up and eradicated. It’s not enough to simply bury them. Kind of like the old guy who used to testify in church and say “I’ve gotten caught up in the web of sin again” and finally another old feller had had enough and he shouted “Kill the spider”
And then Jesus tells us the rest of the story,
Mark 4:8
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!” Those Where it Stuck This is what we’ve been waiting for and what the farmer was expecting when he sowed the seeds. A crop. It’s not enough for one seed to produce one plant that would just be a waste. The fruit of the apple tree isn’t apples it’s more apple trees.
And Jesus explains in Mark 4:20 that he’s not talking about wheat.
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!
That my friends is you, because in each one of us comes growth, maturation, and finally reproduction. When we talk about the purpose of our church is to help depopulate hell what we are saying is we are here to reproduce and to make more Christ Followers. So where you at, how’s your mud. As we stop and pause to remember it is time to ask ourselves what has the seed of God’s word produced in our lives?