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Posts Tagged ‘Mark 4’

The literary structure of Mark 4:37-41

Today we’re in Mark 4:35-41 looking at the familiar story of Jesus calming the stormy sea. This is a rich story, with a lot to teach us. So much so that I plan to work with it again next week. The focus for today is on what we learn from this episode about the identity of Jesus.

First we begin with –

The setting

As we saw, Jesus has just spent the day teaching the crowds in parables.

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.”

Notice first of all that it’s “evening,” either dark or starting to get dark. And Jesus wants to go to the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. [This is the first time that Jesus leaves Galilee after starting his ministry there, as Mark tells the story, going over to a predominantly Gentile region.] He may be, once again, trying to find some peace from the crush of the crowds (4:1; 36)

The phrase “they took him with them in the boat, just as he was” most likely means that since Jesus was already sitting in the boat when he was teaching (4:1) they simply left with him still sitting there.

JesusBoat

This is a boat recovered from the mud of the Sea of Galilee in 1986

The “other boats” with Jesus aren’t mentioned later in the story, although it’s possible that they too got caught in the storm.

Now let’s look at –

The story

And it begins in dramatic fashion with a great storm.

37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

“A great windstorm” refers to a sudden whirlwind from above, like a tornado. The sea of Galilee was (and is) subject to such sudden storms because of its geography. And this was an intense one. The wind pushed the waves over the side of the boat and it was filling up with water. If this didn’t stop, they would sink. It was a real crisis. We know it was bad because some of Jesus’ disciples were experienced fisherman, and as we will see, they thought they were about to die! (v. 38)

38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.

I think this shows his humanity. Jesus was tired! Tired from teaching all day and it was evening, or possibly night time by now. So Jesus is in the back of the boat asleep, unaware of the crisis taking place. But not for long. v. 38 goes on –

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

The disciples are in a panic. And so they wake Jesus up and rebuke him, because he doesn’t seem to care! Undoubtedly they want him to do something so that they don’t die. But what they want is unclear. They certainly didn’t think he would perform a miracle, because when he does, they’re totally shocked. So perhaps they wanted him to pray to God for deliverance, that they would survive the storm.

Next we see how he does much more than this. Jesus himself turns the storm into a great calm

39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (I have translated it “silence” instead of ESV’s “peace.”)

Jesus told the wind to stop and told the sea to shut up. By the mere power of his words the storm and the waves cease and there is calm. It went from being a “great windstorm” in v. 37, to being “a great calm” in v. 39.

40He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

So he not only rebukes the sea, but just as his disciples rebuked him, here he rebukes them. After seeing all that the’ve seen, do they still have no faith in him? We’ll come back to this part next week, Lord willing.

A great awe

41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

I think it’s interesting that his deliverance of the disciples from what they feared, paradoxically, makes them have great fear!

Notice the further movement of the story-line. It goes from a great storm, to a great calm, to a great awe on the part of the disciples. This is the awe that you have when you see God act in power to save. God is suddenly revealed and it’s astonishing.

With regard to his identity, Jesus is obviously much more than they thought he was. They had seen him teach with great authority. They had seen him heal people. They had seen him cast out demons. But this was something entirely more astounding, which causes them, and us – to ask –

Who is this?

“Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

To answer this, first we need to remember the Hebrew background of the “deep waters” which are connected to the powers of evil or Satan. 

That this is a part of what is going on in our story can be seen in that Jesus speaks to the storm as a personal force. He “rebuked the wind” telling it to stop! And he “said to the sea, ‘Silence! Be still!’” – v. 39. And in fact the words “rebuke” and “be silent” are the same words spoken to a demon in Mark 1:25 in the context of an exorcism. So we’re dealing not just with a nature miracle here, but with the powers of evil.

The second thing we have to remember is that Yahweh is the one who subdues the stormy waters, and all the powers of evil that they represent. For instance Psalm 93:3-4 says, “The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!” God is stronger than the stormy sea and the forces of evil and chaos.

But even more specifically 1. Yahweh rebukes the treacherous sea:

  • It is God who “rebuked” the primordial waters at creation and they receded – Psalm 104:7.
  • It is God who “rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry” – Psalm 106:9.

In the same way Jesus rebukes the storm in our story and it responds.

2. Yahweh stills the waters:

  • It is God “who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves. . .” – Psalm 65:7.
  • It is God who – “rule(s) the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” – Psalm 89:9.

In the same way Jesus stills the waters in our story and they are calm.

What I’m saying is that the truth of Jesus’ identity is revealed in this incident. God miraculously saved them – but it was Jesus who acted! Not by praying to God, but simply by speaking the command. This is why the disciples are puzzled and confused. They ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Well, only Yahweh does this, but Jesus just did it! What does it mean? n the story they remain puzzled; they can’t seem to connect all the dots.

But for the reader of Mark it should be clear that Jesus is God’s Son. And so, ‘like father like son.’ Jesus does just what his Father does and calms the stormy waters. He is nothing less than God in the flesh, present with us.

Now, we may also underestimate who Jesus is, like the disciples did, so that we go through life afraid that he can’t take care of us in our trials. But in our story today we learn that Jesus is more than able to save us from any and all evil; from any situation we find ourselves in. Jesus is God with us. And he can speak peace and calm into our lives as well.

And not only this, Jesus is worthy of our awe and praise. The disciples were in awe of him, and later came to acknowledge him as the Son of God and worshiped him. And as we see Jesus do his work in our lives and in our midst, we too should be awed and amazed. And we should lift him up in praise and adoration.

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Two seed parables parallel structure – Mark 4:26-32

Have you ever worried about how Christianity is doing these days? I do. I think about the moral compromise of so many churches, the divisions over often silly things, the biblical illiteracy among us and how we are so unlike the early church that Jesus began. Is God really going to be able to use us to bring about his purposes?

Today we’re finishing up Jesus’ parable discourse in Mark 4, looking at vs. 26-34. Here Jesus gives his disciples words of encouragement because as we have seen the response to Jesus’ ministry thus far has been mostly one of rejection; it has been disappointing to say the least. And he gives his disciples encouragement by way of two seed parables, which I think can encourage us as well, as we think about how things are going in our day.

The first one is –

The parable of the growing seed: Mark 4:26-29

And here Jesus is once again speaking to the crowds.

26And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.”

Here the seed and the kingdom of God are being compared.

27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

There’s a contrast here between the farmer and the seed in the ground. After he sows the seed the farmer basically does nothing. Notice all that could be said, that isn’t – the farmer’s tilling, fertilizing, weeding and dealing with pests and so on. This is done intentionally to highlight what Jesus  wants to focus on – the growing seed.

It “sprouts and grows.” The farmer doesn’t even understand how this happens. It says, “he knows not how” the seed sprouts and grows. It’s beyond him. But the seed not only grows, it goes through several stages of growth – the blade, the ear and the full grain in the ear. And all this, we are told, happens “by itself.” The seed has within it the ability to bring forth life and growth.  So Jesus is saying – that once the farmer plants the seed – the life and growth of the seed, or the kingdom, comes from itself.

 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Now that the growing part is over the farmer comes back into the picture, but only to receive the result of the seed’s growth.

This image of harvest is a common one in the Bible for the resurrection. (The phrase “at once he puts in the cycle” echoes Joel 3:13) So the ripe grain speaks of the final day.

What’s the lesson we learn from this? Even though there is rejection and a disappointing response, and the kingdom which has been planted seems insignificant now, the kingdom will grow step by step by its own power until the final day and the harvest is ready.

Like the farmer we can’t make this happen or even understand how it happens – other than sharing the gospel. But the kingdom will produce life, growth and in the end, the harvest of the final day. This is a real word of encouragement to the disciples given what they are experiencing at this time following Jesus and the meager results so far.

The second parable is –

The parable of the mustard seed: Mark 4:30-32

30And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth . . .”

Once again, a seed – here a mustard seed – and the kingdom of God are being compared. The mustard seed, we are told is the smallest of all seeds. And it is like a grain of sand. Now, it’s not technically the smallest seed. Some seeds are microscopic. But proverbially in Jewish thought – it was used of the smallest of all things.

“. . . 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches . . .”

This is the key contrast of the parable and points us to the meaning. Something that starts off so small and seemingly insignificant, in the end becomes something quite large – the biggest of all garden plants. And the black mustard plant can grow to a height of 6-10 feet.

And then v. 32 ends –

“. . . so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Along with the language of “large branches,” this phrase emphasizes the largeness of the plant; birds can make nests in its shade.

But it also alludes to some Old Testament references where trees represent kingdoms and birds building nests in their shade represent nations under their control (Ezekiel 17:22-23; 30:6; Daniel 4:12; 21).So this is a way of saying that in the end the kingdom will have worldwide dominion. It will be the greatest of all kingdoms and empires ever.

So the lesson here is that even though there is rejection and a disappointing response, and the kingdom seems small and insignificant – in the end the kingdom will be the biggest kingdom with worldwide dominion

The smallness of its present form is not a true indicator of what it will become; it will cover the whole earth. This also is a real word of encouragement to the disciples given what they are experiencing at this time following Jesus, rejection and a meager response.

And then we come to the conclusion of this parable discourse –

Conclusion: Mark 4:33-34

33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

 So these are just some of Jesus’ kingdom parables. There are others, for instance in Matthew 13 there is also the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the parable of the leaven, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price and the parable of the dragnet.

When it says, “as they were able to hear it” it means that the content of his parables was pretty basic stuff. For instance, he’s not ready to talk to them yet about his death and resurrection and the role this plays in the coming of the kingdom. But the form of the teaching was still in parables, which were like riddles and had to be explained. And so he told his disciples what they meant.

Lessons

Alright, what can we take from all this? Notice that Jesus was drawing great crowds still. Chapter 4:1 begins by saying – “a very large crowd gathered about him.” Even as he’s turning away from the crowds and all those who reject him to focus on his disciples, he draws great crowds. But Jesus isn’t interested in great crowds. It seems to be all that American Christians care about, but not Jesus. Jesus is interested in disciples. People who are sincerely and earnestly learning to follow him and to walk in his way. And although there are few of these at this point, he turns his focus to them.

These parables also teach us a bit about how the kingdom comes into this world. The kingdom is already here, but not fully here yet. That awaits the final day. This is what some call the “already, not yet” of the kingdom of God. Many thought that the kingdom would come full blown all at once. But Jesus indicates that there’s a process involved. It begins with his first coming and there is growth and then the fullness comes with his second coming. The kingdom is already here, but not yet all the way here.

And then finally, I want to say that we too should be encouraged by these parables. We’re not in the disciples’ situation. Today Christianity is worldwide. But, as I said at the beginning, we can truly wonder at what passes for Christianity today.

These parables should also encourage us in our situation. The kingdom, that is, true Christianity, will grow step by step by its own power until the final day and the harvest is ready. And the kingdom, again, true Christianity, in the end will have worldwide dominion over all the earth. Like the disciples we can have confidence that our work will bear fruit in the end. God’s purposes will be accomplished.

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The literary structure of Mark 4:1-34

Have you ever heard a riddle that you just couldn’t understand? Here’s an example from the book, The Hobbit, which I would never get on my own: “Voiceless it cries, wingless flutters, toothless bites, mouthless mutters.” What is this? The wind.

Well today we are looking at how Jesus’ teaching is often hard to understand, especially his parables, which he used as riddles, and he teaches us that only those who listen carefully to him and work hard at it will discover his meaning. The two passages that we’re looking at today are 4:10-13 and 4:21-25.

By way of –

Background

– remember that in our story so far Jesus has suffered a great deal of rejection:

  • When he healed and forgave the paralyzed man he was accused of blasphemy – 2:7
  • Because of his unique Sabbath practices we learn that the Pharisees sought “to destroy him” – 3:6
  • Then he was accused of being possessed by a demon and that his ministry was empowered by Satan – 3:22-30
  • Even his family rejected him, thinking he was “out of his mind” – 3:21

Two weeks ago we saw how all this rejection raised the question, ‘Why have so many not believed?’ And we heard Jesus’ answer in the parable of the seed and the soils. Many people have a spiritual condition of hardheartedness that won’t receive the good news of the kingdom.

But this rejection also brings about a change in Jesus’ approach. Now there are believers and unbelievers; insiders and outsiders. And in our verses today Jesus turns away from the outsiders – the Jewish leaders, the crowds, even his own family, to focus on the insiders; his disciples.

This is what we find in –

Mark 4:10-13

 – our first passage.

10And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.

By “alone” it means that the crowds are gone. Jesus is now just with the 12 apostles and it says “those around him” or the broader group of disciples. These are the insiders (literally in 3:31-34).

So they ask Jesus “about the parables” that is, how to understand what he has just taught the crowd.

11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God . . .”

So God has given them something (“has been given” is a divine passive). What is it? “The secret of the kingdom of God.” This refers to Jesus’ teaching, which speaks of who he is – the king, what the kingdom is like and how it comes into this world. It’s the insiders who receive this; those who gather around Jesus.

But then Jesus says something quite radical –

“. . . but for those outside everything is in parables, 12so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

Parables are often seen as illustrations that Jesus gives to make his teaching clearer, like sermon illustrations. Here Jesus tells us that the exact opposite is true. He uses parables , which are, as I said, like riddles or puzzles – to hide his meaning from the unbelieving; from outsiders. We can rightly ask, “What’s this all about?”

Well, he’s quoting a version of Isaiah 6:9-10 (It’s most similar to the Isaiah Targum). And just as in the context of Isaiah it’s a way of saying that God is judging those who have rejected him, here Jesus is saying that his parables are a judgment on those who reject him.

  • Parables further advance those who believe and gather around him because he gives them further insight and understanding into what they mean.
  • But parables keep at a distance those who reject Jesus, for no explanation is given.

He has shared the gospel with them and they have rejected it. So now they are held at a distance. And this is a judgment from God.

What he’s saying is that his teaching is concealed to outsiders, but is revealed to insiders. Turn to Mark 4:34. This verse says, “He did not speak to them (the crowd) without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

Now don’t misunderstand. Any of these outsiders can leave behind their rejection of Jesus and become an insider if they want. But as long as they stay there they will get nothing further from Jesus. That this is true is seen in that Jesus’ family in chapter 3 rejects him, they are outsiders, but later they come to believe.

Then we come back to the insiders –

13And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

 Jesus challenges them to see if they understand the parable of the seed and the soils. If they can’t understand this one, which he seems to be saying is pretty easy, how will they understand any of them? And so he helps them by telling them what it means in vs. 14-20, which we have already looked at.

This brings us to our second passage –

Mark 4:21-25

All these sayings, which are parables in themselves – and might seem like they aren’t connected, teach a simple truth: It takes work to understand the teaching of Jesus.

Even though he speaks in parables, and in general his teaching can be hard to understand, Jesus really does want his teaching to be understood. He compares it to a lamp in v. 21 (also Matthew 5:15; Luke 8:16).

21And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?”

Just as a lamp is meant to shine out, so his teaching is meant to give light to all.

Jesus’ intention is expressed in v. 22 –

22For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.” (also Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:17; 12:22)

Everything Jesus hides, he wants to come to light. Everything he veils, he wants to be made known. But, we have to do some work. Jesus hides his teaching so that only  those who really seek after it will find it.

The two exhortations that come next tell us what we need to do –

23If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear.”

We need to listen. Today we would say, “pay attention to what you read,” since Jesus’ teaching is now written out in the Scriptures. Jesus is saying, ‘If you want to understand, you need to listen carefully. You need to put some effort into understanding what he’s saying.

And then comes an important principle –

24With the measure you use, it will be measured to you . . .”

Jesus uses this principle in other places (Matthew 7:2/Luke 6:38), but here the focus is on understanding his teaching. What he’s saying, is that there’s a relationship between the effort we put in – and the understanding we receive from God.

  • To say it another way, the amount of careful listening you put in – seeking, puzzling, discerning, studying – equals the amount of understanding you will get.
  • And likewise, the less of these things you do, the less understanding you receive.

But then, there’s the generosity of God for those who put in effort. The end of v. 24 says –

“. . . and still more will be added to you.”

So, if you pay attention and receive from God in proportion to your effort, God will give even more understanding on top of this; a surplus; an added bonus.

In the first part of v. 25 Jesus says –

“For to the one who has, more will be given . . ..”

 The disciples are an example here. They have received the message of the kingdom and have gathered around Jesus and are asking questions. They have some understanding of his teaching and what he’s up to. So more is given. Jesus tells them what the parables mean.

But even for us today Jesus is promising that if we study carefully, the Spirit of God will help us to understand. An example of this is Peter when he confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus tells him that God revealed this to him (Matthew 16:17).

And then we have a warning. The last part of v. 25 says –

“. . . and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (For this whole saying see also Matthew 13:12/Luke 8:18; Matthew 25:29/Luke 19:26).

This is the other side of the coin, as it were, of God’s generosity. Those who don’t listen to Jesus, who put in no effort, will lose even what they have.

The examples here are the outsiders – those who have rejected Jesus. They have heard the good news of the kingdom but have not received it. So for these they get puzzles and riddles without explanation. They don’t receive anything else from Jesus. And like the seed on the hardened soil of the path the birds come and take it away. ‘Even what they have is taken away.

Let me end by asking us, we who are insiders –

Do you understand?

In contrast to outsiders, we have received the gift of Jesus’ teaching. Not just the parables but all that he taught as recorded in the gospels. We also have the Old Testament as background to understand it. And we have the rest of the New Testament that reflects back on it that helps us. And we are given the gift of the Spirit to lead and guide us as we interpret and apply his teaching to our lives.

What an amazing gift and treasure! Jesus says of his teaching in Mark 13:31, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This is the gift we have.

But, are you putting in the work? Do you even read the Scriptures?

Are you content with what you already know? For there is much, much more than any of us will ever discover in one lifetime.

Are you hungry for more? Do you wrestle with it and struggle with it until you understand it?

Are you like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who didn’t just take someone else’s word for it, but it says, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

The measure of effort you give is the measure of understanding you will get – plus more.

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We’re back in the gospel of Mark today, in chapter 4, looking at the parable of the seed and the soils, sometimes called the parable of the sower. Chapter 4 is one long teaching by Jesus centered on parables. And this teaching is a response to the rejection Jesus has just experienced from various Jewish leaders and even his family.

Such rejection raises the question, ‘Why have so many not believed in Jesus and his message of the kingdom?’ The teaching today helps explain this, and it gives a message to his disciples as well, which we will need to pay attention to.

We’ll be looking at the parable in vs. 1-9 and the interpretation Jesus gives in vs. 14-20 to his disciples in private.

Introduction

1Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them. . .

So once again there’s a large crowd gathered around Jesus. And it says he was teaching them many things in parables. Parables have to do with comparing two things to make a point.

3“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.

So we have a farming image, that, as we will see makes a point about the kingdom of God. These are the two things being compared.

From Jesus’ explanation to his disciples we learn that –

14The sower sows the word.

Jesus is talking about the good news of the kingdom of God that he’s sharing with everyone (1:15).

And then we come to the focus of the parable –

The four soils

The sower and the seed are all the same, but the seed lands on different kinds of soil. And these different kinds of soil represent different people in different spiritual conditions.

The first soil is that of the path.

4And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Jesus is here talking about ground that is a walking trail next to, or through a field. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground and so the birds eventually eat it.

And then we have Jesus’ interpretation in v. 15 –

15And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

These people hear the words of the gospel but they don’t sink down into their minds or hearts. Their hearts are hardened. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom. The result is that Satan takes away the seed.

So here there’s no germination of they seed. These people dismiss and reject the message Jesus brings.

And then we have the rocky ground.

5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. When the sun comes out it withers away.

Next we look at Jesus’ interpretation starting in v. 16 –

16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

These hearers receive the message, but it doesn’t go deep into their lives; it doesn’t become firmly rooted in their heart. And so when things get difficult they fall away from the faith.

So here there’s genuine faith and there’s germination and life, but only for a short time.

And then we have the thorny soil.

7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

This soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds or plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there’s no fruit.

Then we have Jesus’ interpretation –

18And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

These people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” to their lives. They focus on worldly worries, trying to get more wealth and don’t have a single minded focus on the kingdom of God. These are the thorns.

The result is that the new life of the gospel in their lives is killed off and no fruit is produced. So here there’s real faith, there’s germination and life, but it dies before the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here – from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So let’s look at the good soil.

8And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

Notice how the seeds here finish the process –

  • they germinate, unlike the hardened soil of the path
  • they continue to grow, unlike the shallow soil
  • and they bring forth a harvest, unlike the thorny soil.

And then we have Jesus’ interpretation –

20But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

These hearers fully accept the message of the gospel.

  • In contrast to the soil of the path, their hearts are not hard to God’s word. They receive it.
  • In contrast to the shallow soil, the word goes deep into their lives. It is nurtured through attention and study. It is firmly rooted.
  • In contrast to the thorny soil, they stay focused on the kingdom and not the things of the world: getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the busyness and going in all directions at once that this involves; seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth; and pursuing entertainment and leisure.

These people get it and mature as disciples of Jesus and are blessed in the fullness of the kingdom.

Notice the description of a bountiful harvest – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” So even though ¾ of the total seed sowed bears no fruit, here the harvest is abundant. Even though so many don’t respond to Jesus, the harvest on the final day will still be great.

This leads us to the question we began with –

Why have so many not believed?

 The sower is the same, Jesus. The seed is the same, the good news of the kingdom of God. What’s different is the kind of soils that the seed lands on; the spiritual condition of people who hear the gospel.

Jesus is teaching us here that God is not forcing people to receive his kingdom. He allows us all to choose to receive it or not. And so many, if not most, will reject it. And specifically with regard to the Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus, the explanation is hardness of heart. The seed of the good news fell on the hardened path in their case. (See Mark 3:5)

And then we come to –

Jesus’ message to us

Beyond an initial reception of the gospel, which his disciples and we have done, that is weren’t not hard hearted toward the gospel, we must continue to overcome obstacles that stand in our way. What are the two enemies of disciples identified in this parable?

1) Living a shallow Christian life so that when testing comes we fall away.

2) Being focused on this life and not the kingdom of God.

And Jesus really wants us to get this message because he begins his parable by saying, “Listen” and he ends it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are you listening this morning?

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We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the sower this morning. I want us to focus on the central theme of the parable by asking the question, ‘What kind of dirt are you?’

I will be using Mark’s version in chapter 4, but will be bringing in Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as well. We will look at both the parable itself in vs. 2-9 and the interpretation of the parable given by Jesus in vs. 14-20.

Some basics 

The seed is “the word” (v. 14). In Matthew 13:19 it is the “word of the kingdom,” so we’re talking here about the gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

As we learn in Mark 1:15 Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus is saying that with his coming, all the promises and purposes of God are coming to completion for the salvation of the world and of all who will receive the word with repentance and faith. [In Luke it is “the word of God.” This may simply refer to the gospel as from God, or it may refer to reading all of Scripture in light of the coming of Jesus and the kingdom.]

This seed/gospel can produce this life/salvation in our lives. As it says in Luke 8:12 the purpose of sowing the seed is that people may “believe and be saved” (also v. 13) So there is no salvation without the gospel and the life it gives. We are just dirt in the imagery of this parable. But we do have to receive and hold onto the word through faith and repentance.

In this life, salvation is pictured as the seed growing in us. And at the resurrection it is pictured as the seed bearing fruit on the day of harvest, a common image for the final day.

The point of the parable is that not everyone who hears the word, receives it and holds onto it until the final day. And it’s not because there is something wrong with the seed or the sower that some don’t receive it. The only difference in each case is the dirt, or the people who hear it. Some dirt is receptive and some is not. 

So this parable teaches us how to be the right kind of dirt – that can receive and hold onto the gospel so that we have life and salvation both now and into eternity.

If you will pardon the pun, let’s dig deeper into this by looking at-

Three wrong kinds of dirt

These may characterize different people throughout the course of their lives, or it may characterize each of us at different times in our lives. In either case these are three obstacles to receiving and holding onto the life and salvation that the gospel brings.

1. The dirt along the path. From the parable we learn that the seed lands on a walking path next to, or through a field. As the phrase “trampled underfoot” in Luke 8:5 indicates, there is a lot of walking here. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground, gets walked on and the birds eventually eat it.

From the interpretation Jesus gives, we learn that these are people whose hearts (Matthew 13: 19; Luke 8:12) are hardened to the gospel. They aren’t interested in God. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom.

Because their hearts are hard, the seed of the gospel can’t penetrate. As Matthew says, they don’t understand the word (Matthew 13:19; 23). It gains no entrance into their minds and hearts. The result is that Satan takes away the seed, so that they “may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

So here there is no germination. There is no belief and thus no salvation.

2. The rocky dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is too shallow (“it did not have much soil” – v. 5). The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. (Luke has “on the rock” – 8:6). The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. (Luke has “it had no moisture” 8:6 that is, from a lack of roots.)  When the sun comes out it withers away.

From the interpretation we learn that these are people who “immediately receive the word with joy” – 4:16. As Luke puts it “they believe” the gospel – 8:13.

But there’s a problem. They have “no root in themselves” (Mark 4:17). The gospel doesn’t penetrate deep into their lives; it doesn’t become deeply rooted in the heart. And so when testing and persecution come they fall away from their faith. As Luke puts it, “they believe for a while, and in a time of testing fall away” – 8:13.

So here there is genuine faith and there is germination and life, but only for a time.

3. The thorny dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds/plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there is no fruit.

From the interpretation we learn that these people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” (4:19) to their lives. These are “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things.” These are the thorns.

The result is that these worldly concerns choke the new life of the gospel in their lives and no fruit is produced. 

So here there is real faith, there is germination and life, but the life is cut short so that there is no ultimate salvation at the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here, from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So then let’s look at –

How we can be good dirt

In contrast to the hardened dirt along the path, we need to receive the word into our lives. All the soils hear the word. But the word must be “accepted” (4:20) into our hearts and lives. The receiving here refers to accepting it in faith (Luke 8:12). It has to do with “understanding it (Matthew 13:23). Letting it penetrate into our minds and hearts. Luke says we have to “hold it fast in an honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15).

In contrast to the shallow soil, we need to let the word go deep into us. The word has to have roots within us. We can’t just receive it and that’s it. We have to nurture it; cultivate it. We need to learn it, study it, meditate on it. Then we can endure in times of testing because the word has gone deep within. It is well rooted and grounded in us.

In contrast to the thorny dirt, we need to weed our lives. The word may well be in us and growing, but if we allow other seeds in they will grow and choke out the word.

We must beware of “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (4:19). Luke has it this way, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (8:14). If these enter in they will take over and kill our life with God.

Jesus is talking about getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the business and going in all directions at once that this involves. He is talking about seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth. And he is talking about pursuing the pleasures of this life – the good things of life, entertainment, leisure. All these things come in and distract and overwhelm us so that our commitment is no longer solely focused on the Gospel and the Christian life.

We need to get these weeds out of our hearts, or whatever life and transformation we have will not last to bear fruit on the final day.

Let me end by asking –

What kind of dirt are you?

  •  Is your heart open and responsive to receive God’s word?
  • Do you let God’s word go deep into your life so that is firmly rooted by learning it; by studying it?
  • Are you putting the kingdom of God above all of this life’s activities and concerns and pleasures?

As Jesus says at the end of parable, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” – v. 9. We must listen to what he is saying! Be the dirt that receives and holds onto the word and the life it brings at all costs. Is there anything more important? And then you will bear fruit – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

William Higgins

 

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I want to share with you about growing and moving forward in our Christian lives – from the Scriptures and from my heart.

Our Scripture comes from Mark 4:21-25 –

“And he said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’” (See outline)

Paul Nolt once said to me, “What you put into something, is what you get out of it.” He was talking about church involvement. And I thought, “Hey that would make a good sermon.”

What he said also reminded me of Jesus’ words in Mark 4:24 – “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Or as I’m putting it – you get what you give.

I want us to look at this principle of the kingdom, first of all to see what it means in its context. And then I want to make some suggestions about applying it more broadly to our Christian lives.

Our principle is a part of a section in Mark 4 focused on –

Understanding Jesus’ teaching

As we know Jesus’ teaching is often hard to understand. Even his close disciples struggled (e.g. Mark 7:17-18; 8:14-21). This is especially true of his parables, which were meant to conceal as much as reveal (Mark 4:11-12). Jesus is telling parables in Mark 4.

But here, Jesus is saying that his teaching really is meant to be understood. He compares it to a lamp in v. 21. “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?” (also Matthew 5:15; Luke 8:16). Just as a lamp is meant to shine out, so his teaching is meant to give light to all.

Jesus’ intention is expressed in v. 22 – “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light” (also Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:17; 12:22) Everything Jesus hides, he wants to come to light. Everything he veils, he wants to be made known.

But, we have to do some work. Jesus hides his teaching so that only those who really seek after it will find it. The two exhortations tell us what we need to do:

  • v. 23 – “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” We need to listen.
  • And then he says in v. 24 – “Pay attention to what you hear.”

Today we would say, “pay attention to what you read,” since Jesus’ teaching is now written out in the Scriptures.

If you want to understand, you need to listen carefully to Jesus. You need to put some effort into understanding what he is saying.

And then comes our principle. Mark 4:24 – “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you . . .” Jesus uses this principle in other places (Matthew 7:2/Luke 6:38), but here the focus is on understanding his teaching.

What he’s saying, is that there is a relationship between the effort we put in and the understanding we receive from God. To say it another way, the amount of careful listening you put in, equals the amount of understanding you will get. The more reading, seeking, puzzling, discerning, the more understanding you receive. And likewise, the less of these things you do, the less understanding you receive. Again – you get what you give.

But then, there’s the generosity of God for those who put in effort. The end of v. 24 says “. . . and still more will be added to you.” So, if you pay attention and receive from God in proportion to your effort – God will give even more understanding on top of this; a surplus; an added bonus.

In the first part of v. 25 Jesus says, “For to the one who has, more will be given . . ..” This is just how the kingdom of God works. God is amazingly generous.

The disciples are an example here: they are carefully listening, trying, asking questions, hanging in there with Jesus. And they have some understanding of his teaching and what he is up to. So more is given.

  • In Mark 4 Jesus gives them some private explanation of what he is saying for some of the parables.
  • But even beyond this God helped them understand in various ways. Think of how God helped Peter understand in Mark 8 that Jesus is the Messiah. This came from God.

So these words of Jesus are a promise to us. This is what God will do for us when we put in the effort.

And then we have a warning. The last part of v. 25 says – “. . . and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (For this whole saying see also – Matthew 13:12/Luke 8:18; Matthew 25:29/Luke 19:26). This is the other side of the coin, as it were, of God’s generosity. Those who don’t listen to Jesus, who put in no effort, will lose even what they have.

The examples here are the Pharisees and to some degree the crowd. The Pharisees have already rejected Jesus and only seek to argue and find fault. The crowds are apathetic. They don’t seek after Jesus, but hang back. In both cases Jesus’ teaching goes right over their head. They might get a bit of it, but they end up walking away scratching their heads. The light of Jesus’ teaching is hidden from them.

Now let’s look at –

This principle in other areas of the Christian life

What do you put into Bible study? This is the context of Mark 4, after all. The measure you give, is the measure you will get. How much careful reading are you doing? Are you more like the crowds – casual, apathetic? You know, you pick up your Bible every once in a while. Or are you more like the disciples – trying hard?

What about seeking out God in prayer? Being in God’s presence? How much time and energy do you put into this? Does God feel distant? Have you not heard from God lately? You get what you give.

More broadly, what about growing in your Christian life? How much focus and effort do you put into this? Is it an afterthought? Or is it a priority in your life? The measure you use, will be measured to you.

What about being part of a church? God uses congregations to minister to us, to give us support and encouragement and equipping for ministry. But what do you put into a congregation? What effort do you make? What commitment do you have? And do you expect to receive . . . without giving?? Remember our kingdom principle – what you put into a congregation is directly proportional to what you will get out of it from God.

We could go on and on. Have you ever been in a worship service and said, “God didn’t speak to me?” Well, what did you put into the service in terms of being prepared? Often we just drag ourselves in to worship expecting to have someone give us energy and inspiration for another week – when we haven’t done anything. It is measure for measure. The measure you give is the measure you get. If you come and sit and do nothing, should you expect anything from God?

What would it be like if we all came having put in much effort? Can you imagine how much God would bless us?

Finally, don’t forget the bonus. If you put effort into these things – bible study, seeking God, growing in your Christian life, in your church, into worship, not only will you receive from God in each of these areas – you will get even more. God’s gonna poor more blessings into your life.

But also, don’t forget the warning. If you don’t put in effort; if you are apathetic – even what you have will be taken away.

There is no standing still in the kingdom of God. You are either moving forward or you are moving backwards. You are either going forward and being blessed or you are going backwards and losing God’s blessings in your life.

So I encourage you this morning, move forward – and receive God’s abundant blessings!

William Higgins

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Section 1 – “And he said to them”

Two sayings: “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?

For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”

An exhortation on listening: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

Section 2 “And he said to them”

An exhortation on listening: “Pay attention to what you hear.”

Two sayings: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.”

For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

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