Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: Honor to be with you tonight and to share a portion of the Word of God with you. Turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of Mark, the second book in the New Testament; Mark, chapter 4. Let's pray together.
Lord, what a marvelous truth it is, one that we have experienced just now, and that is that you, Lord God, you inhabit the praises of your people. You dwell within, you live among the praises and the people who render you praise. You show up in a very unique manner.
Lord, it's my desire that each one of us as we render praise to you, and do so through the listening of your Word, and then afterward even in closing song, that since you inhabit, since you dwell within the praises of your people that we would give you the best seat in our hearts; you'd have the best seat in the house. That you would be the guest of honor, that your dwelling inside of us and among us and our praise, Lord, would be honoring to you, one that would cause you, the inhabitant, to feel at home in us.
We welcome you here tonight, Lord. The songs have been about you, not about us. The expression has been about you, not about us. Our worship and now the study of your Word is deliberately focusing the attention off of us and onto your eternal truths, because, Lord, we confess we need a perspective change. We need to see differently, and think differently, and live differently than we have up till now—all of us. None of us have arrived; all of us are growing, moving.
So, Lord, even like this the parables that we're about to study entail, it's our prayer that the soil of our hearts would be good soil. We would break up the fallow ground as the prophet said, allowing the seed of truth of the Word to penetrate deeply and bear forth fruit continually, in Jesus' name, amen.
I love a good story, and I love a good storyteller. Now, one of the problems I have with books, and I try to read a bunch of books. I get them, and then I have good intentions, and then I like end up reading twenty at a time. Because some of them I want to get through because I want to get the information in it, but they just don't write well enough to grab my attention. And it's not easy, in a book especially, to keep my attention. You gotta be a pretty good author for me to stick with the reading of a book.
But every now and then I come across an author or I hear a person who is very gifted at telling a story, and so that even though the subject might be complex, or even boring, the person has such a knack at conveying the information and telling the story, or telling it in story form that I'm hooked.
I remember when I was going to college and I took a course called Radium Physics, and it was all subatomic particles, especially photon energy and renographic energy. And I looked at the book that I bought for the class and I thought, "Oh, man, I'm going to hate this course. This is not going to be good. It's not going to be fun." But I had to take it.
But lo and behold, the teacher that I had made Radium Physics my favorite subject. I liked this guy. First of all, he had like really long hair, and he was, like, a professor. I thought, really? He kind of looked like I did then. And he knew the subject so well, and he would use stories, analogies to convey complex, unknown truths to me. So that when I walked away from my afternoon course in Radium Physics, I thought, "I get the principle. I understand how this works. I'm really getting a grasp." And I loved the way he conveyed it.
One of the ways that Jesus conveyed truth was through telling stories. The Greek word parabole, parable, is a word that means cast alongside of. The word is used forty-eight times in the New Testament. Parabole: to cast something alongside of something else. Now, a parable is more than a story. To cast something alongside of something else in story form means that you cast something that is known in front of people so as to convey to them something that is unknown to them up to that point.
You're going to teach them something that they won't grasp because they don't see it, it's invisible, it's in concept form. The concepts are difficult for the human mind to grasp, but if you teach them that unknown truth, that hidden truth, by casting alongside of that unknown truth something they do readily understand, you'll have them nodding and you'll have them enjoying it. And so that's how stories or parables in the New Testament were given.
Jesus wanted to teach the people spiritual things, so he did it by showing them physical things, visible things, agricultural stories that they all understood, rich metaphors, rich analogies. So, in saying that "the kingdom of God is like this," and if they understand "this," then they'll have a little inkling of what the kingdom of God is like.
If you just speak in theological terms, and you speak, you know, like a systematic theologian rather than like my teacher when he taught me Radium Physics, you'll have people scratching their heads going, "I think he knows what he's talking about, but he didn't give me anything."
Jesus spoke often in parables. It's estimated that a full one-third of Jesus' teaching was in parabolic format; which I find interesting because I was reading that the ancient rabbis also, the good ones, taught about one-third of the time with parables. One famous rabbi by the name of Rabbi Meir, like Golda Meir, Prime Minister, one time Prime Minister of Israel. Rabbi Meir taught one-third with legal discourses, one-third biblical exposition, and one-third in a story-telling format, or in parables.
Now, we can see even without the New Testament, just in the Old Testament, the power of a story. King David was on the throne. He grew complacent. He sinned. And he just sort of went on with his life like nothing is a problem. And he probably would go to bed at night saying, "I know what I did was wrong, but you know what, I'm going to work really hard in getting over it."
And just marginalized his sin and he just kept going until one day he got a visit from Nathan the prophet who told him a story. "David, I've got a problem," he said. "There were two guys that were living in the same town. One was very, very wealthy and he owned many flocks and herds, and one was a very poor man.
"The poor man had nothing except one little female lamb that was like a pet to the family. In fact, that little lamb drank from the guy's cup, ate from his own food, and slept at night on his bosom. Just put its little head on that man's bosom, and it was like a daughter to him, a family pet.
"Well, the rich guy was having a friend blow through town one day and he thought, 'I'd love to give my friend some lamb chops.' But, David, you know what he did? Instead of reaching into his many flocks and herds and killing his own lamb, he stole the poor man's single family pet and killed it, and made lamb chops for his buddy."
David's face got so red and he stood up from his throne. He goes, "That man shall surely die!" And Nathan waited with a pregnant pause, lifted up his finger, and said, "You are that man." And then he applied it, "The Lord God has given you your master's kingdom. The Lord God has given you the kingdom of Judah, the kingdom of Israel, and if that would have been not enough, the Lord would give you even much more.
"But you have sinned and taken a wife to yourself that belonged to another man, Bathsheba, and you killed Bathsheba's husband Uriah the Hittite. You're that guy. And you didn't kill a little lamb; you killed a human being made in the image of God." So while David pointed his finger at the prophet, he had three of his own fingers pointing back at him. And that parable busted him, laid him bare, drove the truth home in a very poignant manner.
So in chapter 4, in verse 1, "And again he began to teach by the sea." That's the Sea of Galilee, that lake we've told you about: Sea of Galilee, seven, seven and a half miles wide, thirteen miles long. "And a great multitude was gathered to him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea."
It had been a very strenuous and probably emotional day so far for our Lord. First of all, his own family came from Nazareth and tried to take him away and bring him back to Nazareth, because he was saying that he could forgive sins and he was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And all of these claims that his own brothers especially, stepbrothers, were sure made Jesus nuts, crazy. He'd been working too hard. "This is going the get him into political trouble. We gotta take him home."
Number two, he was attacked by the scribes that day by saying the miraculous power that Jesus did, he did by being in league with Beelzebub the prince of demons. And then third, as the afternoon started wearing away, when they said, "Your family is now here to get you and to speak to you." Jesus said, "Well, who really is my family? Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" And he pointed to them, "Whoever hears the Word of God and does that, that's my family."
Now, the afternoon continues to wear on, Jesus leaves Capernaum proper, goes outside of that village wall toward the Sea of Galilee. Gets into a boat, and as the crowds pressed him, they could only press him so far because he's now on the water sitting in a boat; sitting because rabbis would sit while their pupils would stand. We have it totally backwards. [laughter]
We're all sitting, but if this were rabbinic, you would be standing because it would—and I'm not going to ask you to do it; don't worry about it. It would show a reverence for the teaching, a reverence for the Word. So the shoreline, because it rises from lake level and goes upward toward Capernaum, just like the ocean does, it's a perfect setting for teaching.
I always thought that if I could plan, architecturally plan the perfect church sanctuary, there wouldn't be a raised platform and a flat floor. We did this because this was a soccer field at one time, and cheapest way is just to build a platform and keep it this way. But if I could plan it, the stage would be at ground level, and all y'all would be rising up. So you'd all have good seats, and it would all be in a round. And you wouldn't have to look up; I would have to look up.
So that's the idea, Jesus is in the boat, he's looking up as the shoreline rises to the crowd that's all around him. And the Lord knew something about this crowd like every single crowd, including tonight, this crowd. Not everybody in the crowd is listening the same way to the truth. Not every heart in that crowd is receiving what is being spoken the same manner.
Some are openhearted, some are hardhearted, some are closed minded. Some as soon as they hear the truth, they marginalize it. They go, "Well, I don't know if that's true or not." Or they think about somebody else this applies to, or they get distracted by thoughts of their own day, and things they have to plan. But they don't really enter into it so that the truth really penetrates them.
And so he brings a story into play, something that they would all relate to, an agricultural story, a picture that they all knew very well of a man carrying a bag of seed. And he would reach into the seed bag with a hand and he would walk out into the fields and scatter the seed, and some of it would fall on the footpath that was hardened because of foot traffic. Part of that seed would fall in soil where there was other plants, other weeds that would choke up the life.
Some of that seed would fall into the soil that looked good, but it was only topsoil; underneath was bedrock or a shelving of rock so the roots wouldn't go down very deep. But some of that seed would fall into tilled, readied, dark soil and would yield quite a harvest.
So knowing that they all knew that familiar scene, he wants to talk to them about spiritual truths. So he lays alongside of—that's parable, parabole—lays alongside of a heavenly truth, something that they could grasp by giving them an earthly picture or a parable.
Verse 2, "Then he taught many things by parables, and said to them in his teaching: 'Listen! behold,' "or check this out." 'A sower,' "that is, the guy with the seed bag, the guy throwing seed out." 'A sower went out to sow,' "to throw seed." 'And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside.' "
The wayside is the footpath. If this sanctuary were a field, the center aisle is the wayside, the aisles up here in the front is the wayside, the aisles on the side, that's the wayside. You would be sitting out in the field. So where the foot traffic goes, that's the wayside. It's trodden down by feet. Nothing can really penetrate it till it's broken up and cultivated, that's the wayside.
"'Some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of air came and devoured it. Some seed fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, because it had no root it withered away. Some seed feel among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.'"
"'But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold and some a hundred.' And then he said to them, 'He who is ears to hear, let him hear!' "Or, if you will, "If you're listening, and you can figure out what I'm saying, great, take it to heart; if you're tuned in to the spiritual message behind this story, good. Listen and take it to heart. He, who is ears to hear, let him hear."
"But when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parable." Don't you love these guys? They didn't like say, "Excuse me, Rabbi," as the crowd's around, "we don't, we don't get it. You're a spiritual teacher talking about farming. We don't get it."
They waited till the crowd went away and probably while he was telling this story they were like shaking their heads, like nodding, going, "Yeah! Amen! Yeah, it's good." Maybe even rubbing their little fisherman beards and, like, yeah, they're in the know, "This is so good." And then afterward they went, "Huh?" So they want to know what it is.
"He said to them, 'To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,' " little stories, " 'so that' "—now he's going to quote a very famous text they would all understand. And if you've read the book of Isaiah, especially chapter 6, you know it as well.
When God told the prophet Isaiah to go speak to the people of Israel, and the nations, this verse was found. God spoke these words. So he's pulling out of Isaiah 6. "'So that, "Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them." '"
These parables served two purposes: number one, they revealed truth; number two, they concealed the truth—and it all depended on who you were and what kind of a heart you had in listening. Some people were curious about spiritual truths.
I don't know what it was like for you, but I remember as soon as I was a saved young man, I was so spiritually hungry. I wanted to know what every single verse in the Bible meant. I couldn't get enough Bible study. In those days there were cassette tapes. Do you remember those? They're now in museums [laughter], little cassette tapes. And we used to go to the tape-lending library and get our pastor's cassette tapes.
And he would go through the whole Bible. I'd listen to them. I went through the Bible several times because I'd listen and then I'd forget what was said the second time around, and the third time around, and the fourth time around. But I was just so curious. I was just so hungry.
So these stories—for those who already have a spiritual understanding, these stories will serve to deepen one's understanding as something familiar as compared to something that is unfamiliar.
Parables are sort of like windows and mirrors—windows that show you God more clearly; mirrors that show yourself more clearly. As you read it you understand truth as God reveals it, but you also see yourself in light of that truth, and sometimes, well, you like what you see, and sometimes you don't. So they're like windows and they're like mirrors.
But parables also conceal the truth. There were some people who were hardhearted, or they marginalized every sermon they heard, or every truth that came from the rabbi's mouth, or every text of Scripture that was given. "Well, I don't know if that's true. I don't know if that's inspired. It doesn't mean that."
And there's some people, their self-talk is so loud they don't get it and they don't want to get it. They're never moved. They're never stirred by the truth, never penetrates. So they're just going to hear a story and go, "I don't know, the preacher talked about farming today."
It's funny, when I give a sermon, many times I use illustrations; I love them for this very reason. And sometimes they're humorous illustrations, sometimes they're serious, sometimes they're from magazines or newspapers that I collect. But invariably somebody will come up to me and they'll remember a sermon that I preached months ago. They won't remember any spiritual truth out of it. They go, "I liked that one that is about—that joke you told about such and such, or that story."
That's one thing they grab a hold of. So it's like, "Well, okay, at least there's entertaining value in it. [laughter] That's all they remember; they really didn't get anything of depth out of it. And that's what it would be, it would conceal the truth from those whose hearts don't want to receive it, and it would deepen the truth, reveal the truth in a deeper way to those who wanted to.
The same truth that awakens one blinds another. Just like the same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay. The same rain that waters the field, floods the rivers. The same truth opens up a person's eyes, and it blinds another person's eyes; they don't quite get it.
So let me lay something on you. Listening to truth can be dangerous. Let me state it another way and I don't want to scare you off: listening to truth from the Word of God can be hazardous to your health if it doesn't go deeper than just entertainment value or knowledge value. Unless it's deepening your walk with the Lord, it could actually be serving to put a callous over your heart. So, listening is dangerous.
"And he said to them," now, he said to his disciples. They came to him and said, "So tell me about these stories again. Wh-wh-what's up with that?" "He said to them, 'Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?' "Now that's an important verse, and it shows us that this parable is like the key.
Remember in school you would have, like, the key that unlocked the mystery, or the key that unlocked the atlas? The key kind of told you the answers in textual form. And so there's three main elements to the truth of these parables: the seed, the sower, the soil.
Notice what he says in verse 14, "The sower sows the word." So the seed is the Word of God; the seed is truth of God. Now, that's a great analogy. Truth and a seed are very similar. There's great potential for life in the Gospel; there's great potential for life in a seed. You throw seed in the ground, it can produce life. You throw the Gospel in somebody's ears and into their heart, it can produce life. Doesn't automatically do it, but it has the potential. So he says, "The sower sows the word."
Now, Peter's listening to this. In fact, Peter's probably the guy who opened his mouth on behalf of the disciples and said, "So tell us about these parables again." Now the explanation Jesus gave made on impression upon Peter, and he's going to write a book many years after this called First Peter; very original title. [laughter] first epistle, general epistle of Peter. In it he says, "Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but of the incorruptible seed, the word of God which lives and abides forever." He remembered the explanation that Jesus gave.
Now, notice it says, "The sower sows the word." Probably in its original context, the "Sower" refers to Jesus Christ. He is the one sitting in the boat, speaking to the crowd, has been, will be for the next few years. He's the one giving out the Gospel truth, but he's going to commission his disciples to "go into all the world."
So the sower is the person who dispenses the Gospel, throws out the Gospel; the person that led you to Christ, or the people, many people perhaps. Maybe you read a book, or you heard a sermon followed up by an evangelist who gave an altar call, or a friend led you to faith in Christ. There was somebody who sowed the Word, the truth into your hearts when you came to Christ.
In effect, tonight I'm sowing truth. I'm a sower. And not only are you the soil, by I'm the soil too. See, the teacher is responsible not only, not only for speaking, but for listening to what is being spoken. The danger with sowing seed, the danger with preaching the Gospel—now just as I said it's dangerous for you to listen, and you better listen well, the person who speaks the Word of God—remember that little phrase in the book of Leviticus? The warning where God says, "Don't sow mixed seed in your field." That's a good truth for every preacher. "Don't sow mixed seed, preacher. Don't sow Gospel and psychology, Gospel and this, Gospel and that."
A lot of times people want to mix philosophy and tradition and psychology in with the Scripture. And where the Scripture doesn't fit, they will often throw out the Scripture, and take a more modern approach. So the sower, in this case Jesus primarily, but then his disciples, and then eventually you and I, we sow the Word.
Now, we're going to look at the soils in the next few verses. The soil is the heart. The soil has great potential. If the soil is ready and it's fertile, it can produce, but if the soil is left to itself, nothing will grow, or weeds will grow. Isn't it amazing how weeds grow? You don't even plant them. I never go and say, "H'm, I'd like to put some weeds here, maybe a few over here by the house." They just decide they want to go there; I never invited them.
A heart, a human heart left to itself will become barren. The human heart, your heart, my heart left to itself becomes barren. If you're not working with it, bringing it before the Lord, "breaking up the fallow ground" as the prophet said, eventually it can go barren. The prophet said, "The heart is deceitful above all else, and desperately wicked." "Keep your heart," Solomon said, "with all diligence, out of it proceed the issues of life."
So he says, "'the sower sows the word. And these are the ones by the wayside' "the footpath, "'where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.' "This is the calloused heart. It's that trail that I was talking about that divide the fields up and prevents the seed from penetrating because it's so hard. It's not going to dig down.
Now, can you picture the guy with the seed bag going out into a Middle Eastern field throwing out the seed, behind him were a flock of birds; it's always the case. Just like pigeons in an open square, or birds at the zoo, sort of the ducks that follow you around. They know you're going to drop something, and they're just sort of waiting for that to happen.
Wherever there was a sower, there were birds that would follow. So that whenever that seed would fall on the hardened footpath, the birds would come in and rip it off. So Satan comes immediately and takes the Word that was sown in their hearts.
This is the person who is just not open to spiritual truth. Now, you can sit that person in a church, and you can put a powerful teacher or evangelist in front of them, and unless the Spirit of God unlocks that heart, or unless there's an openness to receive, it's going to just bounce right off. Not going to penetrate; not going to produce fruit.
The Old Testament word for such a person was "stiff necked." Remember that word? God said to his people, "You are a stiff-necked people." They just wouldn't listen; it wouldn't penetrate. Do you know people like that? Sure you do. You go, "Do I know someone? I'm married to a person like that." Or, "I have a few kids like that." Or, "I have parents like that." Or, "I know a friend like that.
You have shared with him. You pray for them. You've exposed them to Christian concerts and outreaches and you've done everything; they're just hardened. Now, the danger comes when you start wanting to give up on that person: "They're hopeless, they're useless."
I remember thinking about that. So many of my—when I came to Christ, so many of my high school buddies, I thought, "There's just no way." One was like Mr. Popular, the jock on the football team. Saw him at my high school reunion a few years later. Smile on his face. John Booth the jock, the football hero was a born-again Christian. And then Eric the devout Mormon, fallen Mormon drug addict who went back to Mormonism also came to faith in Christ.
And honestly, these were people I'd just say, "Ride them off." They're just so hardened. They'd always argue. The guy that I met in Israel when I was working out in the fields, that's why these truths are very, very poignant to me. Cambridge, scholar, studied botany, understood the theory of evolution, disavowed any ideas of special creation, would love to find me in the afternoon and pick a fight and an argument because he could, scientifically, he could win every one of them.
He gave me a phone call one day. Was visiting California where I was born and reared. On the other end he sounded so humble, not his arrogant, cocky self any longer. He said, "Skip, can I see you?" I said, "Is this Tony?" Because he had a big, thick British— "Hello, Skip. Can I come see you?" I said, "Yeah, what's up?" He goes, "I'm in California, and I've become a born-again." And I just didn't—I didn't know what to say, "Na-uh-um-uh, is this Tony?"
Well, the Bible says the Word of God is the hammer that breaks the rocks in pieces. Do you know somebody who is hardhearted? God's Word is still the hammer that breaks the rocks in pieces. Don't stop sharing with them. Continue to share.
"'These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground,' " verse 16, " 'who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness,' " so there's an emotional response. " 'And they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.' "
Let me tell you agriculturally what Jesus is referring to. In Israel there are rocks everywhere. You have to go there to really appreciate some of the Scriptures that we read—I mean everywhere. And once I went to Israel and I stood on the Mount of Olives, which is just all like limestone rock shelf, the typography, it's just a hard place.
So when you buy a field, the first thing a farmer does is clear it from the rocks, and terrace the hillsides, and give it enough earth without rocks so that they can develop a root system for their plants. Because otherwise you'll, you'll sow your seed in the earth, but just under the earth, just after the topsoil, just down a couple of inches is a shelf of rock, so it won't develop a root system.
It'll grow, it'll grow quickly, because it's heated up from the sun, and there's enough nutrients to give it a quick start, but not enough to sustain it, and no place for the roots to go. So it's all top growth. And so when the sun comes out, burns it away, it doesn't last.
So when I went to Israel and I saw the rocks everywhere, basically it's a rock country, and then I recalled what Jesus said, it made sense. He said on the Mount of Olives coming down with his disciples when the Pharisees said, "Rebuke your disciples!" Because they said, "Hosanna!" like we sang, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Tell your disciples not to say that; tell them to hold their peace." Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if these hold their peace, the very rocks will cry out."
And when I looked around and I saw it, "Man, this whole place is—well, if that were to happen literally, it would be like a rock concert. I mean, literally there are rocks everywhere. [laughter] It would be a loud anthem. It wasn't like one little rock here, and one little rock there, it's the whole thing's a rock. It'd be like ahhhhh. [laughter]
Okay, but notice they "receive it with gladness; but they have no root in themselves, so they endure only for a while." This is the emotional hearer. He's so glad, she's so glad, they hear the Gospel, they hear truth: "Yes, yes! Amen! Hallelujah!" They're into it. But that's about as far as it goes their shallow, little response that evening, that day.
They get excited about the Gospel, the problem is they get excited about anything, everything, every fad, they're excited about it. Any new doctrine, they're excited about that. Any cause, "I'm excited!" So there's no depth. So when they get challenged in their faith, when there's hardship in their life, when there's suffering, and they're like, "How could a God of love allow this? I'm not going to believe anymore." No depth.
I believe that the enemies of the Christian faith come from this camp. The most ardent, outspoken writers, haters of the Gospel, were people who had some, at first, emotional response. But God didn't deliver what they thought God should give them, so they turn, they become bitter, they become sour, and then they attack eventually. The truth doesn't penetrate the will and the mind.
"'Now, these are the ones sown among thorns,' " verse 18, " 'they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world;' " there's a lot of those, right?" 'The deceitfulness of riches, the desire for other things,' " just notice those three categories, " 'entering in choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.' "
This is a crowded heart. Seed goes in, but there's weeds all around it. Root system of the weeds take up any nutrients left in that soil for the real plant that the farmer has sown. Now, weeds grow naturally. I went out in my backyard this year and looked out and I had the biggest crop of dandelions I'd ever seen.
I like flowers; I hate dandelion flowers. So those had to be taken care of. I planted the grass, or I had the grass planted. I didn't plant those dandelions, but they came up, and they came up with a fervor, and they're competing with the roots.
There are believers who never really make a break with the world, and so there's always competition going on, the cares of this world competing: "Oh, I'm so busy." And doing this, and there's this, and there's that, and their whole life they're so busy making a living they have no time to have a life, especially a spiritual life. If you're too busy for God—you know the answer—you're just too busy.
Or there's the lure, the deceit of, "Oh, I could get rich if I only did this and that," and they pursue the garnishing and gathering of riches. And the desire, just sort of a general category, for other things enter in, choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful. So here's a person struggling between two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and kingdom of this world. People they hang out with, music they listen to, movies they watched, and they get this value system that competes with truth, and so they're caught between two kingdoms.
They're miserable people, miserable people. They stay close enough to the world to be miserable as a Christian, but they have enough of Jesus Christ in them to be miserable full-blown in the world. Better off if they just totally both got into the world or totally got into Jesus Christ. "I would that you were cold or hot," Jesus said to the church in Revelation, "because you're lukewarm, I'll spit you out of my mouth."
Miserable people like the farmer who had a tree, several of them, but he had one particular tree on the edge of his property and he would always say, "That tree is the most beat-up tree I own. Because I beat it by day to get the fruit down, thieves come in at night at the edge of the property and beat it by night. It's the most beat-up tree I have because it's on the edge, living so close to the edge. Most beat-up tree I own."
Or like the young girl that had a divided heart. And a young man was wooing her, and loved her, and proposed marriage to her, and he said, "I may not have a yacht like Johnny Brown, I may not have a mansion like Johnny Brown, but I love you." And she said, "I love you too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown." [laughter] That young girl had a divided heart. "Well, I love you. You're showing me lots of affection, but you've just described somebody I may be interested in."
" 'But,' " verse 20, " 'There are the ones sown on good ground, who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, sixty, and some a hundred.' "This is the fruitful heart. It's receptive; their heart's open. Their heart's always fertile. It doesn't have to be broken up. You don't have to beat it and penetrate it or break up fallow—it says open, soil's good. They have discernment, but they're just open to truth; they're open to God changing them.
Don't you love Psalm 1? "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night, he shall be like the tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in its season, its leaf also does not wither; and whatsoever he does shall proper." It's a good heart.
Now, he mentions here, notice, "thirtyfold, sixty, and a hundredfold." That's a 3,000, 6,000, and 10,000 percent return on one's investment. Invest your life into spiritual things. You'll never out give God. The rewards eternally, the joy that you get now even temporally, spiritually, you can't get anywhere else.
Something else I just want to pass along before we move along, and that is, as you read this parable, you discover something sad: 25 percent there's no growth at all, just complete rejection; 50 percent the growth is minimal and only temporary; and only 25 percent is real spiritual growth—75 percent gone. This is one of the reasons many pastors leave the ministry.
One I read about who is relatively famous recently who has left the ministry. He just thought—he was young, but he was working really hard, working really hard, became pretty well known, pretty famous. But the thought of him preaching to a congregation truth knowing, he said, "knowing that many of them, most of them won't change at all." He goes, "I don't want to sign up for that for the next thirty years."
But you see, you gotta live for the 25 percent. The 25 percent, man, will give you the joy to keep going forward. "I have no greater joy," said John, "than to know that my children walk in the truth." And if you can just look at and cultivate and get around and help motivate that 25 percent, it's worth it, because the return on the investment is incredible.
"Also, he said to them, 'Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lamp stand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."
Now a lamp didn't have a switch that was plugged into a wall; you understand that, of course. A lamp in those days was a shallow dish made out of clay about that big, just about three to four inches in diameter. It had a shallow little lip on one side (spout) so that a wick could be laid across it, laid in it with a few ounces of oil—that was a lamp, an oil lamp, a little clay oil lamp.
I've seen them many times in the Middle East. I picked up a few over the years, some that are fake, some that are real from antiquity. And then a lamp stand was nothing more than a little shelf in most common homes, simple homes. Just a little shelf that protruded out of one of the walls, and you'd set the lamp on it. If it was a wealthier home, there were separate, sometimes very ornate lamp stands that you'd set that little oil lamp on.
The higher you put it, the more light can be dispersed. So the idea here is a parable on the truth. The Gospel was never intended to be kept hidden, to be kept secret. The Gospel truth, the Word of God was never to be enjoyed just as a private little light, but to be given out to everyone. Our responsibility is to communicate the light of the Gospel to the world.
I'll never forget preaching at a church in California, and I did a few weeks in a row. And every week I called people forward to faith in Christ, and the next week the crowd was a little bit bigger and more people came to faith, the next week it was a little bit bigger, and more people came to faith.
And after that third week, I overheard one of the ladies saying to her friend, "He's ruining our church." What she meant is, "We had a nice quiet little gathering where we lit our little candles, and kind of held them close, and basked in the warmth and the light of our little candle, but there's these unbelievers coming in and filling the front at this "altar call" thing, and it's, like, ruining our little status quo, ruining our church."
And it broke my heart, but I thought, "Oh, that God would ruin more churches like that." [laughter] More of our churches need to be ruined if that's what ruining is, where unbelievers come and hear the truth, nominal believers get serious, and get deep, and get real, and get on fire.
"'If anyone has ears to hear,' "here it is again, hearing carries responsibility," 'let him hear.' And he said to them, "Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.' "
If you learn spiritual truth, and you apply that truth, more truth will be given to you for you to apply to your heart. This is why some people get bored with Bible study, because they never apply the truth to their hearts, to their lives. It never penetrates. It's just a little: "Yeah, I kind of understand it. Okay, that's sort of an interesting fact and figure."
They never ask God for that truth to transform the way they do business, treat their wives, love their husbands, speak to the world at large. And eventually to be exposed to Bible truth without really making that kind of application you'll get bored with it. You'll lose what you have. It won't make sense to you. God won't reveal anything to you unless you put into practice what he already revealed to you. Why should he tell you anymore of his secrets?
"'To whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.' And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, and after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.' "
That's how the Gospel works. You share the Word, you share the truth, you share the Gospel with somebody, they listen to it. Now, you can't see what's going on inside that person's mental processes. You don't know what's going on inside that person's heart, but God may be working in the individual life, and pretty soon there's signs of life.
There's a little—boop!—leaf that's sticking out of ground. You go, "Oh, look at that. He's sort of interested in spiritual things." And then pretty soon more of the plant comes out, and then the full head of grain, and then eventually, notice it says, "He puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come," that is, God reaps at the right time that individual into the kingdom of God. That person eventually comes to know Christ.
A farmer can't make a seed grow, and a farmer once planting the seed doesn't know what stage is going on until he sees it just sort of come up out of the ground. And so you and I we share, we don't know what affect it's going to have, but life may be happening around you the more seeds that you share. And, again, you might have those wonderful surprises like I've had with some of the people that I've mentioned from my past. "You got saved, how did that happen?"
Wouldn't it be cool for you to get to heaven and run into people, they come up to you, give you a big hug. And you go, "Uh, what's all that about?" Of course, you probably wouldn't say that in heaven. "But I'm sort of surprised you giving me a big; do I know you?" "Oh, yes. You should know me."
Or, they say, "No, you don't know me. But at work I overheard the conversation you gave that day to your coworker. I was in the next booth, and I was there when she laughed at what you said. And I was there when she cussed you out, but you kept talking, and kept praying for, and kept sharing, and I was overhearing that and I gave my life to Christ." And you don't know it till later on.
"And then he said, 'To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It's like a mustard seed, when it is sown on the ground, it is smaller than all the seeds on the earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all the herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.' "
Now when it says it's the smallest seed, it doesn't mean it's the smallest seed in existence in the entire planetary system known as earth, but in the earth of Israel in the local herb gardens, which were quite small, and especially in Israel and Palestine at that time it was known as the smallest seed in the herb garden.
But this mustard plant is an unusual one, and most scholars call this the Khardal mustard, a plant, a mustard plant that can grow fifteen feet high in some cases. And its branches are firm enough to withstand birds coming in and building their little homes in it, their nests.
Now, some people read this and they think that this is a parable of the growth of the church upon the earth. That it's an unusual growth that will take over the whole earth and bless the whole world. Eventually, the whole world will be able to nestle in its branches and enjoy its fruit and its shade.
Perhaps, but I don't think that's the primary meaning, and here's why: Jesus doesn't explain this parable here or in the other Synoptic Gospels. So he doesn't tell us what it means. So we have to look at the parables where Jesus did explain them to take and apply them. So if you go back to the parable where he says, "You don't understand this parable? How are you gonna not understand the rest of the parables of the sower and seed?"
We understand that birds are not a good thing. Seed is sown, the birds of the air come in and rip it off. Satan, he says, are like those birds that comes in and steals the seed. So if you have in a known parable a metaphor explained, in this case birds being evil, when you have birds in the branches of the mustard seed, using the first parable as the key, you infer that evil is apt to go on.
So I don't think the primary idea is that it's going to grow and bless the world, and everybody's going to be converted to it. That's how some people actually translate this parable is that the world will eventually be converted. I think what it means is it's going to grow, it's going to make an impact, but it's going to get so big, so institutional that it is prone to even have evil lurking within its branches, and that has happened throughout church history with false prophets, false teaching.
One of the problems—my shoe is untied, let me just tuck—cuz I know you're looking at these little things dangling and go, "His shoe is untied; I wonder if he knows it?" Yeah, I know it, but I'm not going to be rude and like just tie a knot in front of you, so I'll just, like, tuck it in and do it later. Of course, by now I could have it tied, but— [laughter] great, spiritual analogy. Let me tell you this parable here of the shoe and the shoelace. Okay. [laughter]
When you and I speak of a Christian, we know what we mean. When you tell the world a Christian, they don't know what you mean. To the world a Christian is somebody under the umbrella of Christendom. A Christian is Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, anything that could fit with a church—liberal, conservative, anything, the Metropolitan Church, which is a gay-driven church—all of it, it's all Christian to them. It's just the opposite of Muslim, or not a Hindu: "It's a Christian; it's the West."
Now you and I know that that's not true. Christianity is not the same thing as Christendom. And in the branches of Christendom are all sorts of birds like the World Council of Churches. Boy that sounds like a great group; doesn't it? World Council of Churches—ooh that sounds good. Well, the World Council of Churches tells Christians that they shouldn't begin to think that they have the truth.
And they suggest that Muslims and Hindus and people of other faiths should be appointed to prominent position and chairs within Christian universities and colleges, because nobody has a corner on truth. Now, the world would love that kind of advice; we reject it. That's bird talk; birds are in the branches. [laughter]
"And with many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable he did not speak to them. And when they were alone, he explained all things to his disciples. On that same day, when evening had come, he said to them, 'Let us cross over to the other side.' "
You know, we've been talking about how important hearing is tonight, how important it is to listen, and here we have in front of us as we close a great example. Notice he says to them, "Let us cross over to the other side." How important it is to listen to the Lord carefully. If only the disciples would have really listened to this. "Let's cross over to the other side." They would know because they're about to go into a storm, that they're going to make it to the other side.
If Jesus says, "Let's go over," you're not going to go under. But they forgot what he said. If they would have just said, "Now, wait a minute, wait a minute. I heard explicitly that he said we're going 'over.' "But the storm was so violent they thought, "We're going under." That's why we need to listen to the Lord and listen to his promises very carefully.
"'Let us cross over to the other side.' Now, when they had left the multitude, they took him along in the boat as he was. And the other little boats were also with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we're perishing?' "
Ever said that to the Lord? "Don't you care?" "And he arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace, be still!' "One translation says, "Shut up!" [laughter] Kind of like that one. "And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But he said to them, 'Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?' And they feared exceedingly."
Now, they were afraid before the storm. Once the storm's calm, now they're like really afraid. They're seasoned fisherman; they've seen storms before. They're very common in the Sea of Galilee. I've been out there where it's calm, and within twenty minutes a gale comes up.
Because the Sea of Galilee is situated 620 feet below sea level, and these warm thermals come off the lake, and you've got these steep canyons around it, and the Mediterranean Sea brings cool air in from the west, funnels it down, and with these warm thermals create this reaction that causes that lake to just churn up like crazy. But it says, "They feared exceedingly, and said to one another, 'Who can this be, that the wind and the sea obey him!' "
If you have ever been in a storm at sea, and if you have I sympathize with you because I have been. If the wind does suddenly stop, the water is still moving. It takes a while for that water, now churned up, to subside. So the fact that the wind stopped, because Jesus said, "Shut up!" and the sea stopped, it was still, is not one miracle, but two miracles; that's why they "feared exceedingly." Not only could he control the wind, but—okay, the wind stopped, but usually the sea is still bouncing us around—it's perfectly glass. And they said, "Who can this be?"
Let's close with this thought, because you and I go through storms in life, metaphorically speaking, or literally. This was literal storm, but there will be many trials and tribulations, you go through them. When you go through a storm, a trial, heartache, pain, watch your attitude in the storm.
Why would God allow you to go through a storm? Because he wants depth out of our lives. If there's no pain, we are going to be the most shallow people imaginable. If we don't go through trials that cause the roots to go down deep, we're not going to be worth much.
So here's the deal: We listen to the truth. We're open to the truth. We ask God to make it deep in our hearts and our minds, and we—"Lord, help me by your Spirit to put this into practice and see some transformation in all my relationships, etcetera. And, Lord, when the trials come, I'm going to say, 'Lord, as hard as it is, I bless you. I thank you that you don't want me to live a shallow life, but you want depth to come to me that you would allow that kind of storm.' And I'm going to lean hard on you, and be amazed, and be fearful in a wonderful way, instead of a hardhearted way."
"Why would God allow this?" Why wouldn't God allow this? "Whom the Lord loves he chastens." That's another word for spanks. Ever gotten spanked by God? Oh! He knows how to spank, let me tell you. He's a great Father and he knows how to give it to you in measured response so that the result is fruit.
So take heart, like it says in Hebrews, "take heart." Those knees and those hands that are bowed down, bring them up, get a straight back. And if you're suffering tonight, by the will of God, dare to rejoice. And don't say, "Lord, how can I get out of this?" Say, "Lord, what can I get out of this?" So that you can learn and pass it on; pass it onto me, I want to learn.
Father, we thank you that you give us stories that we can relate to that reveal deep, heavenly truths, mysteries of the kingdom. Mysterious, heavenly truths that can be seen by earthly examples that we would be familiar with, that the simplest people would be familiar with. And thank you for your chastening hand. Thank you for bringing us into storms by your will.
And I pray, Lord, we'd walk away with that picture of Jesus in the boat sleeping, resting. It's all under control. So much so that in the storm he's getting a great sleep. And I pray we would take our cues from him. That if he said we're going over, we're not going under. I pray that we would cling to you; we would cling to your promises, and bring us the kind of joy that transcends the storms, in Jesus' name, amen.