22-10-23 - THE SOWER AND THE SEED AND WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY TO US - Mark 4
MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC
Lord Jesus Christ, our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we know that you hear our prayer when we ask it, bowing to you in a humble manner, giving you our requests with concern, pain, anguish, sorrow, sadness in our hearts, since we are currently living difficult times; with wars between brothers and sisters in different places in this beautiful world that you gave us to take care of. We ask you to give them strength, to be able to continue with their lives to be able to overcome so much devastation around them with death, pain, hunger and sorrow. And also for all the dearest people and all that are suffering with sickness and pain we ask for a miracle in their lives and they can be testimony about your greatest love. Lord. We ask you to please intercede before God the Father since it is through you that He will listen to us, protect them, take care of them, hug them and do not let them go from your hand Oh! Lord Jesus hear our cry, we humbly ask you. AMEN!
Before we dig into this parable, I want to pull our lens back for an important view regarding how we approach Scripture. Setting the context for this, I want to consider the horrific events we’ve witnessed over these last few weeks. In what way does this, line up with what Scripture tells us? In so doing, I acknowledge that I’m no expert in the complexity of these events, yet there are some things that can’t be denied.
First and foremost, is the miracle prophesied in Scripture of Israel’s very existence, a nation God, time and again, confronted about her sin and rejection of Him. The cycle: Israel sinning, God confronting, they repenting, and He forgiving and restoring relationship. But Israel soon doing what she so often had done by turning her back on Him until finally as part of God’s judgment, these people are dispossessed from their homeland and are scattered throughout the world. But in God’s amazing plan, these same people one day being restored to the land God promised to them. Now to be clear, does God’s hand of favour mean that Israel has always acted righteously, always acted in a way that you and I would want them to act? Not at all. Yet they are the people about who God has said, Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land. Zech 37:21,22 And what we’re told in Zechariah 2, I have scattered you like the 4 winds of heaven - this is the Lord’s declaration ….
For the Lord of Armies says this: “In pursuit of his glory, he sent me against the nations plundering you, for whoever touches you touches the pupil of my eye 2:6-8. Israel, a people who in 1948, would begin streaming back from all over the world, to a place, novelist Mark Twain described as a, Desolate country whose soil is rich enough but it is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse …. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country Innocents Abroad. Isaiah describes this same place as, The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing 35:1,2.
That look at Israel is history. What about the future in light of things now seen?
Well in some respects, we don’t know. That is to say, is the gathering of nations and the hostilities now seen, 50 years to the day of the Yom Kippur War, events leading up to what we’re told in Zechariah 37 and 38?
Again, we don’t know but what we are seeing should lead us to give careful consideration to what we do know. First, the undeniable truth that Israel and specifically Jerusalem is at the center of biblical prophecy - not Rome, Istanbul or Athens – the Bible’s clear teaching that end time events will center around Jerusalem located in this small strip of land, that when compared to the size of BC has a land mass of only 2%. Yet it is to this tiny geographic strip, the world will assemble in an attempt to destroy Israel and in this place where Jesus will return to earth. In what Israel’s enemies intend, the Psalmist prays, O God, do not keep silent; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!” Ps 83:1-4 But as Zechariah 12 assures, God will use Jerusalem to bring His judgment on the world and, On that day, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock. All the nations will gather against it to try to move it, but they will only hurt themselves Zech 12:3. And among the players Zech 38:5 tells us who are determined to end Israel’s existence, will be Iran Persia along with what most believe will be Russia Magog.
So again, is this the day Zechariah and others speak of? Let me be perfectly clear - I don’t know but what we are seeing bears attention, not in efforts to determine the ‘when’ but to understand that when the Bible speaks, it speaks authoritatively true in everything and in light of that, it should determine what our faith in Christ is to mean and how we are to live as Heb 10:25 tells us we see the Day approaching.
Sure, events like these will have some who run around making definitive statements on things Scripture does not make clear. Like previous foolishness heard about blood moons with people making pronouncements about things that couldn’t be said or people declaring Jesus’ return on a certain date because they’d discovered some Messianic code hidden in Scripture. Foolish even dangerous speculations, doing what Scripture clearly tells us not to do. So, there are things said that are to be totally ignored yet, we also err greatly when we give little attention to the warnings Scripture does give us about events we will see before the return of Christ.
Like what Jesus tells us that should cause us to take note, where, Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these events are the beginning of birth pains Mtt 24:7,8. Earthquakes like we saw in Turkey in Feb 2023, 60,000 killed; Morocco Sept 2023, 3000 killed; Afghanistan Oct 2023 2000 killed.
Broad categories? In these ways, yes but events happening like those coming against Israel to destroy her, should give urgency in our understanding that we are nearing the end times of which the Bible speaks. What does that mean? I can’t say. Could it be tomorrow or is that tomorrow 50 years from now? Again, can’t say.
The timeline - in question but the events and the nearing of those events? - authoritatively true. And IF these are true, how do we approach what else is seen in God’s word that also should be seen as authoritatively true? Our focus not on the events because we can be misled by those but on how we are to live, in light of those events. Foremost in this is to first determine where we stand in relationship with Jesus Christ AND then to decide what that relationship really is to mean to us. Because IF what He says is true and IF what He says plays out exactly as He says, can we keep following Christ in the way that we have?
Which brings us back into the book of Mark, looking at a parable that too often is used as a category that describes our response to God’s Word and once that’s determined, we turn the page and move on, thinking it has no more to say to us. But in fact, it has much to say to us in how we are living out our faith. Let’s take a closer look.
First, by observing the manner in which Mark writes. Most of what Mark gives us in his gospel centers around what Jesus does. Unlike the other gospel writers, he doesn’t focus a lot on Christ’s teaching. Take for example, Mark’s use of parables where he includes only half of what Matthew does and less than 1/3 of what Luke gives us.
But here in this chapter, Mark takes us from what will be his focus on great miracles to a focus on Jesus speaking great truths but Jesus speaking much of His truth in parables, which is teaching rooted in stories and illustration that reveal to those who, with open hearts and open minds, are willing to see and hidden from those who choose to remain blind. This form of teaching having its effectiveness not in the story told but in where the story intends to take us.
In this Parable of the Sower, Jesus placing great emphasis on our need to listen, Mark emphasizing that by using the word, listen 10 times. Jesus adds His own emphasis when He says to the disciples, How will you understand the parables if you don’t get this one? :13 This tells us that in some way, this parable of the Sower and the Seed is foundational.
But how? And why?
Because first and foremost, it lays before us a picture where we must determine where we stand in relationship with God. And it’s for this reason, I began this morning as I did because at a foundational level we need to determine above the noise of images shown and accusations made, do we really believe, really trust that what God says is true? – as we see the future unfolding that awaits the world but more importantly, as you see the future that’s awaiting you?
At first glance, the story Jesus tells seems to focus on what we see in the foreground, just a Sower planting some seed. The first focus on the Sower and to a lesser degree our focus on a cloud of seed, flung into the air. But as we linger over the picture, we see that Jesus doesn’t direct our focus to the Sower or the seed, but to the ground. Because it’s the ground that both represents and determines what the Sower is doing. The ground being you and I.
Of course we can’t ignore the foreground image of the Sower which is Jesus sowing seed and similarly what we, as followers of Jesus are to do, in making Jesus known. As Paul reminds, How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? Rom 10:14,15 NLt
And then there’s the second image that catches our eye, seed, actually a spray of seed, flung far and wide. Some seed hitting good soil, others nestling among some rocks. Seed - sent as it is, to do what it does. Let’s pause on this for a moment. Simply put, the seed doesn’t change. It doesn’t adjust itself to the conditions on which it is thrown. It’s not made softer so it won’t bounce off rock hard ground; it’s not made harder so it can dig deeper into thorny ground. It isn’t engineered to be more tolerant until climate conditions become more favourable. Nope. The seed is the seed. So too, notice that the Sower doesn’t deliver seed differently for one soil than He does for another. He doesn’t look at some ground then make an assessment that He needs to apply different seed or that He’s wasting seed by delivering it in places He’s quite certain it won’t grow. No, He leaves the success of the seed to the soil that receives the seed. The seed - distributed widely, freely offered to all but not taking root in all. There’s nothing different in the seed but everything different in the ground willing to receive it. Which is to say, we don’t alter the seed to make it more acceptable to the ground that receives it. We don’t make it something it isn’t – like promising a great crop that’s easy, trouble free, needing no care or attention. Just throw the seed, forget it and then wait for a great crop with nothing more to do.
I know I’m belabouring the point but given the times in which we live, we need to be crystal clear – Jesus did not come to make us better, He came to make us new. And that means dealing with our sin. Those in the so called ‘Progressive Christianity’ camp have done much to re-engineer the seed, to the point it is no longer seed. In their view, sin? - a movable, unacceptable measure. Judgment? - something a loving God couldn’t possibly do. Repentance? - an outdated judgmental concept. Being made right with God? - available in any number of ways. The Bible’s authority? - in need of updating and greater flexibility in the understanding we bring to it. The Bible’s purpose, as one of ‘progressive’ christianity’s leading proponents states, is to teach us, what it means to be human and to deepen our understanding of what it means to live an enlightened life. Really?!
But consider, early in the parable we’re told, The sower sows the seed but Jesus changes that to The sower sows the word 4:14, obviously this word central to His teaching. So what is this word?
Jesus tells us this. In Matthew, Jesus began to preach, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near Mtth 4:17. In Luke when the Pharisees complained that Jesus ate with sinners, Jesus says, “I’ve not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance Lk 5:32. And when Jesus spoke to men on the Road to Emmaus, we’re told: “Jesus said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the 3rd day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations Lk 24:45-47. I could cite other references but I think it safe to say, this word / seed Jesus speaks of is repent.
Listen, if you hear nothing else this morning, hear this – God has not made adjustments to the seed. His truth has not been altered to accommodate our opinions or wants. His judgment of sin has not been scrapped because we don’t give a thumbs up to what He’s said. The seed is the seed which when planted, tells me of my sin but far better, tells me that Jesus died to forgive my sin. As Romans tells us, For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord Rom 3:23; 6:23 The gospel, the power of God bringing salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile Rom 1:16. The word of God doing what the condition of the heart will allow.
So with those looks at the Sower and the seed, let’s look closer at the soil conditions Jesus wants us to see, these soils describing how different people respond to His message of repent.
Our 1st look is the seed that falls on hard ground or along the path. What’s depicted is a narrow path leading to a destination or a path allowing access to the crops. Paths beaten down, made hard from travel. Their condition, as hard as rock, just like some people for whom the truth of Christ bounces off. And any message about sin? Not interested, don’t care and who’s to judge?
Among these hard grounders, those who momentarily hear but what’s heard, nothing worthy of their attention, nothing that lands and before that can change, we’re told the ‘birds of the air’, Satan’s emissaries, rush in and eat the seed before anything germinates and takes root. But notice, the Sower doesn’t say, I’m wasting seed by throwing seed in places that are unreceptive to what I’m offering because His offer is to all and He also knows that even among those who are rock hard resistant, some will find that God’s seed can find its way into even the most resistant heart – perhaps a heart like yours. He’s done that in the hearts of some here today. And He did that in the hearts of those who lived in Nineveh, a city as evil as it gets. A city Jonah had no interest in going to. In fact Jonah didn’t want them to be receptive instead he wanted them judged for all the evil they had done. And yet, despite appearing as hard as rock, God had other plans. Which is why our task is to pray and sow and letting God take care of what happens.
Then there is the 2nd soil, characterized as rocky ground. Those receiving this seed are captivated by what they hear. To them, Jesus offers something they don’t have and so, liking the environment, they hang around for awhile, His words seeming to take root, like a plant’s leaves momentarily perking up with the gift of sudden rain but as :6 states, there is no root that actually digs into the soil to take hold. Instead what’s in evidence are just seeds that have produced some environmental greenery, with no roots attaching to soil. For a time looking good among the other growth but when conditions turn harsh, they are revealed as shoots that never put down roots attaching to life. Hot house showy but greenery only gained from the moisture in the air. This isn’t soil mixed with rock, this is the thinnest layer of soil sitting on top of impenetrable rock.
This imagery a good description of people who may be attracted by how some Christians live or by what the church provides – some warm relationships, great activities, uplifting music, good principles from which to live but never actually experiencing repentance and being changed from within. And without repentance and bowing to Christ, our sin is not forgiven. Instead, the response is emotional – the embrace of some hugs, the surround of some feel goods, perhaps even recitation of some words but at the core, never repentance. People of whom Jesus speaks some of the saddest words found in Scripture, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven …. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, Depart from Me, I never knew you. Matt 7:21-23
The 3rd ground we see is seed spread in the vicinity of good ground but among the good, appearance of things intended to stunt growth and discourage fruit. The bad unrecognized for what it is. With a cursory glance, it’s just small growth stuff among the healthy. No big deal just a few weeds and some thorns that are accommodated as they blend in. Truth is they don’t appear to present much of a problem, even as time goes by. But as they are left to grow, they do what is in their nature to do - steal nutrients and pirate water. And deprived of these, the plants in close proximity, while displaying a whole lot of leaves, produce no crop.
This ground describes my lawn which has a great affinity for clover. And the thing about clover is that it doesn’t submit itself to the grass. Quite the contrary. When it bothers me enough, I could use my weed whacker; pull out some tentacles; even rent out some sheep but in due time, the clover will do what it does as it spreads, choking out the grass. Because that’s the nature of clover, a nature solved only if its removed at its roots. It’s to this Jesus speaks where our lives become pre-occupied with everything else but Him. Filled with going after what He says are the ‘deceitfulness’ of riches and other ‘things’ :19. Deceitfulness being the operative word because they begin by filling in the space left for them, occupying time, priorities, pursuits. Most of all, occupying the first things to which we give our passion and our love. Acting like clover, filling in the empty places, then aggressively moving to overtake and squeeze out what’s been occupied.
And then the last soil in which the seeds yield a rich harvest. Seed that digs in and establishes deep roots that drink from resources when times get tough and drawing on supply when there appears to be none. And the result – a crop planted in good ground that’s bountiful, which is why seed is cast in the first place. Sowed to accomplish what the sower intends. Seed producing fruit – not seed yielding an apple but bushels of apples, and yes, a plantation of apples out of which many apple seeds will come.
That is a capture of the soils Jesus presents and it is imperative that we understand where we stand in light of these. Is Jesus of no interest meriting no more than a brief glance, then a quick turn away? Is He a brief attraction that for a time is admired but represents a commitment never made? Is He a decision made but more believer than follower? Or is He the very reason for our lives – Who we love, Who we follow, Who we serve?
At the outset, I said this determination is critical BUT if we understand this parable only as a decision once made, we miss other perspective this parable directs us to see. Because even as Christians, we need to determine the soil condition of our lives now – not in a decision once made.
In some cases, that means coming to the place this morning where you face up to the truth that you have allowed a lot of weeds and thorns to rob you of any meaningful, transformative relationship with Jesus. Yes, you are a believer but the evidence seen by your spouse, your children, your co-workers, and let’s be honest, the evidence seen by yourself, is pretty sparse.
That just coming to church and going through the routine all over again next week isn’t cutting it as a real relationship with Him. Changing that requires being honest with God and repenting which shouldn’t really be a big thing because it’s not as if He doesn’t know. And the best thing about being honest with yourself and God, is that God has been waiting for that all this time.
Not finger pointing and putting down but waiting to embrace with open arms of love when you finally determine you’re not going to just ‘play Christian’ any more but instead deciding that you are ready to really live for Him. To be the Christian man or Christian woman no matter your age, who this day are deciding to live out your faith beginning by confessing and getting rid of the clutter that you’ve allowed to get in the way. Moving from stated belief to real lived out belief.
For some, it means getting off the fence and making a decision about Jesus. Not what the church is, or the youth group is, or what the church friendships are but who Jesus is? To decide. Because be clear, the absence of a decision for Christ is actually a decision against Him. There is no middle ground. And without a clear decision to bow before Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, one day His words, Depart from me, I never knew you will be said to you.
One final word about the last soil of which Jesus speaks. It’s the good soil. Good soil does not mean perfect soil that’s immune to weeds and drought. Times of storm will come. Weeds will do their best to dig in. We’ll go through times when rains don’t come. When relationships may fall apart. When our kids are cascading into trouble. When the EKG sends out alarms.
Times intended to damage. Times intended to make us believe God doesn’t care. Sometimes those times come differently that we might think but the intent is the same, to cause us to become rock hard resistant to what God wants to do in and through our lives.
Like when we dig in and say no to the Spirit’s prompting to respond. When we choose not to repent from the sin we know to be true. When we turn a deaf ear to the Spirit’s prompting to change or to act. And no matter how well planted we are, when we resist the God’s voice, it’s not long before we become like the un-watered dried and brown grass we experienced this summer. Alive underneath but no evidence of that by what is seen.
Simply put, without repentance our relationship with Jesus will become rock hard dry. Without repentance, transformation will not occur, prayers will go unanswered, worship won’t move from mouths to hearts. And without repentance the revival we so desire to see in this place will not, cannot come.
Which brings me back to where I started – that we need to step back from the noise that surrounds and make certain where we stand in relationship with Jesus Christ, deciding what that relationship really means to us. Because knowing what we know, can we keep following Christ in the way that we have?