Planting Seeds

This week I started a new book in my Bible study.  I am studying the book of Mark.  It is the last gospel for me to study as well as the last book in the New Testament.  It has been quite a transforming journey to study the Bible this way for myself.  I'm continually amazed and in awe of God.  It leaves me thankful and completely humbled.  

I am a visual person and I thought I would teach my kids what I just studied in a hands on way today. Jesus taught often in parables to relate His teaching with something they could understand.  I tried to explain the concept of parables to my kids this way...  Imagine I am trying to teach you something you don't know, but I explain it in Minecraft terms (a game I DO NOT get at all but they are obsessed with).   Jesus did the same thing with the people he was with, but most often He would use agricultural references because that was something they understood well.  

The parable He teaches in Mark 4 is the Parable of the Sower.  
 "He says, Listen to this!  Behold the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up." (Mark 4:4)

Jesus later explained that the sower sows the Word.  We are the sowers.  The seed is the Word.  We are left here on earth to first and foremost glorify the Father, but we are also to share the gospel.  It is not our responsibility what the person does with it.  That is between the person and God.  We are just told to share.  This is a very important parable for us to learn because there will be different responses to the gospel.  We are left with the responsibility to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Sometimes this can be frustrating and disappointing if we don't see results.  We may even get to the point where we want to give up.  The problem is not the seed.  The seed is the Word and it is perfect.  There is no need to tamper with the Word or try to change it to be more effective.  

The issue Jesus is talking about here isn't about the sower (anyone who is faithful to share the gospel) or the seed (the Word).  The issue here is the soil.  The soil refers to the hearts (or minds) of those who hear the gospel message. So the basic truth of this parable is the condition of the heart that hears the message.  It has nothing to do with the sower.  

The first type of sowing done is along the road. This soil refers to those who are hard-hearted.  Sometimes the gospel is shared and people refuse to listen to it.  It is complete rejection and they want nothing to do with any part of it.  It's as if it literally bounces off of them just as seed planted on the road would be.  
...and the birds came and ate it up.  (Mark 4:4)
Jesus explains in verse 15 that the bird is Satan who comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.  

The seed planted here makes no impact.  It never penetrates.  Nothing is absorbed.  It just bounces off and is snatched away.  This is a very scary condition of some human hearts.  Some people are hard hearted and do not accept the Word, therefore are lost.  If you've shared the gospel much, you have probably shared with people who are in this condition.  
 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.  And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  
The seed that planted in the rocky soil had a little better reaction than the first.  "These are ones who when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away." (Mark 4:16-17) 

This person is depicted as receiving the word with joy.  Joy could be defined as having an emotional response.  Just because someone is showing emotion doesn't necessarily result in genuine salvation.  The more likely factor would be sadness, brokeness, and mourning.  We learn in the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are the ones who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  What is the mourning over?  Our sin and need for forgiveness.  Joy does come.  It comes in the relief and release of true conversion.

I cannot know any person's heart to know if they are really saved or not.  However, a saved person is known by their fruit.  Have you ever witnessed someone come forward at church, make a profession of faith, get baptized, and appear to be completely on fire for the Lord?  I have seen this many times.  I know of one individual who was so inspiring to me.  They "got saved" and then wanted to go to a Bible school instead of a traditional college.  Then not long after, they fell into a sinful lifestyle, fell out of church and live in a way that is completely contrary to what the Word teaches.

What happened?  What went wrong?  I've said this very thing myself..."I witnessed them get saved!  Was this not real?"  In this soil, there is no firm root.  It is planted in rocky soil where there was no depth.  When the sun rose it was scorched and withered away.  Jesus explains that when affliction or persecution arise, immediately these people fall away.  Pressure proves what is genuine.  That's why so many times throughout the New Testament trials are mentioned.  Trials test and prove our faith to see whether is is genuine.  

"These described here are shallow responders, false converts, who respond emotionally without counting the cost, selfishly seeking personal satisfaction.  This rises, frankly, out of self-love.  There are people who say, "Oh yeah, I certainly want that.  I want Jesus if He can take care of my life and forgive my sin and take me to heaven.  But it's all very self-centered." (John MacArthur)

I've pondered the difference between some when they encounter trials.  Some people say emphatically, even in through the midst of a significant trial--the kind that bring you to your knees, "I know my God is good.  His plan is perfect."  Then you see some who go through something similar and basically shake their fists at God and denounce any faith they once claimed they had.  What is the difference?  The second has seeds planted in rocky soil.  When affliction or persecution arises, they fall away.  These are not genuine believers.  

 Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 

We have kudzu taking over a fence row across the street.  This is most definitely a weed that takes over and chokes out everything else.  There are also thorns in the midst of it, which worked perfectly for this illustration! 

"And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." (Mark 4:18-19)

This is the person who wants salvation but also wants the world and earthly things.  The rich young ruler asked Jesus what would it take to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give them to the poor.  Sadly, he went away, unwilling to do what he was called to do.  I think this is a stumbling block for our country.  We want both.  We want God and the world.  It cannot work together, it simply doesn't work together.  We either love one or the other.  Just because we choose God, it doesn't mean we won't have anything.  He will give whatever He chooses to give us.  The difference between a true believer is not the love of the things of the world and the desire for those things,  but a consuming love for God and seeking first the kingdom of God.  A prosperity gospel says the exact opposite.  It says you can have everything of this world and God.  It's a lie.  It deceives and chokes out the truth.    

"Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, then yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:8)
There are some who upon hearing the truth of the gospel are humble and contrite in spirit.  They are broken over their sin and desire heaven, salvation, and forgiveness.  The main difference between this soil and all the others is a desire to be delivered from the dominating power of sin.  These want a life of righteousness and holiness.  This is the only soil that represents true salvation.  This soil is not natural.  Hard soil is natural.  We on our own do not desire God, we desire ourselves.  This good soil is only a work of the Lord.  Even the hardest soil of all can be tilled up and made into good soil.  There have been the hardest of hearts, those that seem almost hopeless, that come to a point of true repentance and true salvation.

It is God's will for every single person to be saved.  This parable was such encouragement to me because I have gotten so many different reactions to the message when I share.  Then reading this passage which was written over two thousand years ago I was reminded that nothing has changed.  It was the same then.  If fell on deaf ears then and false conversions were made many years ago, just like there are today.  We are commanded to share.  We need to expect rejection and perhaps false conversions, but there just may be good soil that produced fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. 

It's not up to us.  We are just called to share, to plant seeds.  God does the rest. That is freeing.

A few questions to consider...what kind of soil are you?  If you are good soil, are your being a sower yourself?

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