Mark 4:1-20 Again Jesus 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. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching, he said to them: "Listen! A sower went out to sow…
Once again, we are beside the Sea of Galilee. Once again, the crowds are crowding Jesus. Once again, Jesus is preaching the invasion of the Kingdom. But for the first time, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells a parable.
A parable is a challenging thing. Parables are comparative illustrations. They are stories about stuff which was familiar to those who first heard them. But these stories; these illustrations, use the familiar, to teach the unfamiliar. Parables are not told to reinforce the status quo, but rather to be unsettling. Jesus’s parables are not like proverbs told to point out the obvious, - A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush - but rather, parables are supposed to disturb you into realizing God is doing something different in your midst. A parable is supposed to be a challenging thing.
Jesus uses parables to shock his listeners. Jesus uses parables to change people. Jesus uses parables to change perspectives. The purpose of a parable is to change paradigms. You have heard of paradigm shifts. When suddenly you now see something from a new reality. “Oh, I get it! Now I see!” That is what a parable is supposed to do. Jesus is changing the way his disciples view their world. Jesus is changing the way we view our world.
I am all excited now. Let’s get to the Parable of the Sower… Wait, no… the Parable of the Seed… No, the Parable of the Soils. My paradigm is already getting shifted.
Mark 4:3-9 “Listen, A sower went out to sow and as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
This sower would have been someone you would have seen in the rural area around the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ day. Maybe, in the distance Jesus pointed toward a farmer out spreading his seed on the side of a nearby hill. Perhaps, if Jesus were alive today he would have said… “Listen, a homeowner went out in the yard to plant grass seed. Some fell on the sidewalk…” But Jesus is not talking about sowers or homeowners, this is a parable. Jesus is attempting to change our paradigms.
So, if this is the Parable of the Soils, we have four different soils. We have four different results.
--The Path – The seed on the path is immediately eaten by birds before it even gets a chance to grow.
--Rocky soil – There is initial growth but there is not enough dirt so the sun burns it up.
--Thorny soil – The plant grows but it is never healthy enough to produce any grain.
--Good soil – Which grows and cranks out 30, 60, 100 times!
Note the four results are at different stages of plant development. The path had no growth. The plant did not start to grow. The rocky soil sprouts, and then dies. The thorny soil grows, but has no fruit. The good soils grows all the way to maturity, producing grain. Going the distance may be part of the paradigm shift.
But, then, Jesus adds, at the end of our comparative illustration, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." The Greek is… Who has ears, hearing Hear! The Hear is in the imperative! It is a command. You are going to have to really pay attention if you are going to get paradigm shifted. It is like Jesus is implying, some of you are going to get this. But if you don’t have ears, you are not going to understand.
What are we supposed to make of this? What is the shocking paradigm shift? 30, 60, 100? What do I have to use my ears to hearingly hear?
Fortunately, Mark tells us…
Mark 4:10-12 And when Jesus was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that "they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven."
That’s cryptic. The parables are for those on the inside, so those on the outside don’t get it. Perhaps, we need to remember that the parable of the soils is found in Mark chapter 4, which is right after Mark chapter 3. In Mark chapter 3 Jesus is attacked. Jesus is leading the invasion from heaven to earth; earth kicks back.
In chapter 3…
--When Jesus heals a guy’s hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees and the Herodians plot how to kill him.
--The demons attempt to name him and claim him… Satan is fighting back.
--His family attempts to take Jesus in a rubber room… “He is out of his mind.”
--The Scribes, sent by the Sadducees, accuse him of being in cahoots with Beelzebul.
The Pharisees, the Herodians, the Scribes, the Sadducees, even his own family are out to get him…What in the world is wrong with Jesus? Everyone is out to get him!
So, the secrets of the Kingdom of God are only for those who are not out to get him. The secrets are explaining the dawning of the kingdom of God on earth. The secrets are shifting the paradigms of those who have ears, who want to know what the kingdom of God is all about. Parables are to shift the paradigms of those who long for the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Now, Jesus explains the Parable of the Soils.
Mark 4:13-20 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And 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. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And 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. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but 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. But 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."
Jesus explains the parable. The seed is the word. The seed is the word of Jesus coming as the Son of God, as the Son of Man, as the one who forgives sins, as the one who is actively restoring the earth, as the one who is invading the earth. The word as the one who binds the strong man and pillages his house! The sower sows the word of Jesus. Or as the Gospel of John says… The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us!
This word is sown when it is heard. In all four examples, it is said that they hear the word. Those who hear the Word respond in four different ways… some not at all, some briefly, some fruitlessly, and some explode with a miraculous harvest… each seed cranks out 30 more; some produces 60 times or even the unheard of 100 times a seed. (A note for the agriculturely challenged… a hundredfold is good!)
The Parable of the Soils is about the hearing and responding to the word of Jesus.
Got it, so, what is the shocking paradigm shift? What is the secret insight into the kingdom of God? What is the challenge of the Parable of the Soils?
Let’s process this. We have ears… let’s hearingly hear. I suspect there are several paradigm shifts…
--It is not the Parable of the Seed. There is nothing wrong with the seed. The same seed is heard by every soil. The perfect word of Jesus is fruitful. The seed is alive. When the seed hits the good soil, it explodes. SHIFT - We must trust the power of the word. We tend to lean toward spiffy sowing techniques… nicer buildings, better preachers, louder bands… The word is powerful! We must let that change our thinking. Trust the power of the word.
--It is not the Parable of the Sower. There is nothing wrong with the sower. The sower sows. “Well he shouldn’t have thrown the seed on the path, that’s wasteful.” That is not the way we should think. The sower doesn’t discriminate. SHIFT – We present the word without discernment. We don’t judge the value of the soil before sharing the seed. That’s weird, that is a shift.
--The Parable is about the Soils; about receptivity to the word. Not all are going to grow, or be fruitful. It is an explanation of why many failed to be followers of Jesus. Remember the Gospel of Mark is sent first to Roman Christians in 64AD. It would be an answer to why most of the Jews rejected Jesus. It is why many don’t buy the word… they are not good soil. It is not a failure of the seed or the sower. SHIFT – We don’t fail when the word does not take root.
--It is a warning about our own hearts… Satan is out to snatch the word from our hearts. Satan ratchets up the persecution. Satan, as Nero, put the screws on those first century Christians to give it up. Satan takes our fears to turn us away from the word.
--Fear of being different
--Fear of being rejected
--Fear of being lonely
--Fear of poverty
--Fear of Death
Our fears are used by the strong man to turn us away from spreading the seed. We must remember Jesus bound the strong man. SHIFT - When we bind up the strong man, we can spread the word!
--Let’s not miss that the parable is about joy. The joy of 30, 60 and a 100! We can be an effective part of the invasion of the earth. SHIFT - There is joy being who we were called to be… the good, fruitful soil! I need an enthusiast to give me a woo-who! Spreading the word is joy!
--But I think, the big shift, the shocking shift, the drop your mouth open shift, is the underlying presupposition of the whole parable… BIG SHIFT - The word is going to spread. Jesus began an invasion which will conqueror the world!
That which was small is destined to spread through the whole world. Jesus told the 12 to sow the word…now there is a billion Christians in the world. The invasion continues.
Each heart who rejects Satan, moves the invasion toward victory.
Each hungry mouth that is fed, progresses the earth toward wholeness.
Each illness that is healed, steps us toward the recreation.
Each good soil who hears the word, breaks the bonds of sin moving us toward the resurrection.
Each person who becomes fruitful, explodes toward the restoration of creation.
We advance the kingdom of God one sown seed at a time.
We do not fail when the seed does not take root, we keep throwing the seed.
We do not get discouraged when people bail, as life goes wrong, we keep throwing the seed.
We do not quit when some are seduced by the stuff of the world, we keep throwing the seed.
We can be involved in the joy of 30, 60, and even the hundredfold when we faithfully keep throwing the seed.
1 Corinthians 15:24-26 Then comes the end, when Jesus delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
A parable is a challenging thing.
April 9, 2016
Los Alamos Church of Christ