Jesus’ Message – Between a Rock and a Soft Place
(Mark 4, 1-20)
We are continuing in our sermon series through the Gospel of Mark. And over the last few weeks we have been following this Jesus that is going around Israel, telling everyone he encounters about himself and the kingdom of God he is bringing. And we have seen some people loving what he says. When Jesus healed a disabled man, people were celebrating. Praising God. But last week we saw a different response as well. The religious elite, the superstars of faith, the people who knew the Old Testament by heart … outright opposed Jesus. Told him he was crazy. Called him possessed even. Didn’t want to listen at all to what he was saying.
All of it leading us to one question. A question that might have popped up in your head over the last two weeks as well: Why do people react so differently to Jesus? How can what the Bible calls the best message ever, given by the perfect messenger, God himself, lead to some people believing in God. Have their lives changed for the better. Have their sins forgiven. Getting healed from their illnesses. Have relationships mended. While the same message leads to the exact opposite reaction in others. Makes them angry. Makes them even want to kill Jesus.
And to answer this question Mark takes us in chapter 4 of his gospel into a parable that Jesus is telling. A speech where Jesus uses an image from the day-to-day life of the people in front of him to explain what his message is and how we can respond in a way, that this message leads to a wonderful change in our lives.
Before we get into the text, I would like to pray with us. Because what we need tonight are not my words. They really can’t do that much. But we need God to speak to us through it.
— Prayer —
Jesus starts with his parable in verse 3:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
The image that Jesus is using here is taken right from the workplace of many of the people listening to him. But even if they had a different profession, it was something that everyone was familiar with. And in this image, he draws their attention to 3 things: The farmer, the seed and the ground the seed falls on. And from verse 14 on, Jesus now makes my job a whole lot easier, because he starts to explain what these 3 things have to do with him, his message and our reaction to it.
And he starts and that’s my first point, with explaining the farmer and the seed. God’s offer.
1. The Farmer and his seed – God’s offer
14 The farmer sows the word.
When we compare verse 3 and verse 14, we notice that the seed in Jesus’ picture is the what he calls the Word.
What does he mean with the Word? A little later in the chapter Jesus clarifies that this word is God’s Word. It is his message that he loves you and me more than we could imagine. That you are unbelievably valuable to him. That he would love nothing more, than to live in relationship with you and me.
But that message also includes that we didn’t think the same about him. That we chose to live without God. Set our own rules instead of following his advice for our lives. Looked for fulfillment in our career, our money, our relationships, our hobbies. Make them into the center of our lives rather than God. Cut him out and thereby separated us from the one we were created to live with. Lost the chance to go back to this wonderful and loving God.
And the good news that Jesus is bringing. The core of what we as a church believe, is that despite what we did, God still loved us. That although we left him, he did not leave us. And that he sent his only Son, this Jesus that we are reading about, to remind us of that. And not only remind us, but 3 years after this story Jesus died on a cross. Died so that we could be forgiven for turning away from God. Died to offer us a way back into the relationship we were built to live in. Find the peace and joy, that we are looking for but couldn’t find on this earth in God again. This is the seed, God’s offer, that Jesus is sowing like a farmer.
And the way Jesus describes himself sowing this message, must have seemed pretty strange to the people back then. Because usually you were supposed to sow carefully. Farmers only had a limited amount of seeds. So if they wanted to get a good return out of the seed, they had to watch where they threw them. But Jesus goes about his message completely different. He sows the seed all over the place. And I like how Justin Martyr, a Christian writer, who lived around 100 years after Jesus, puts it. He says: “So intent is the farmer on a harvest that he sows in every corner of the field “in hopes that good soil might somewhere be found,”.
Jesus throws all caution to the wind because he wants everyone to hear his message. God’s offer is not something for very good people who deserve it or people who are smart enough to get it. In the way Jesus describes his sowing, he wants us to understand, that this offer is for you. No matter what your life looks like. No matter how far away you think you are from Him. You are valuable to God and that he would like nothing more than to live in relationship with you. This is the word, God’s offer, that Jesus is sowing to everyone one of us tonight.
2. The 4 different grounds – Our response
And here is where Jesus now turns to the ground that his seed, his message can fall onto. Because although God took the first step and made all of us this amazing offer. He will not force us to take it. Like in any loving relationship, it needs two people to say yes to each other. And the 4 grounds Jesus will describe in the next verses stand for 4 different answers we can give to God’s offer. Four different ways we can react to his message. 3 answers that will hinder his message from really sinking in. That will lead us ultimately rejecting Jesus like the Pharisees did. And one way to receive God’s offer that will let the seed grow into something beautiful in our lives.
And when we now go through these different answers, I would encourage you to ask yourself: What is my answer to God’s offer? Take soil sample of your heart and see where you fit in.
And I hope you don’t misunderstand me here: This is not to judge you or make you feel guilty. Nobody in this room is perfect and we will all notice areas in our lives where we are not the type of ground that we would like to be for Jesus’ message. But with this parable, Jesus wants to give us the opportunity to know how we . Maybe for the first time or maybe even more than it has done so far.
The first ground:
1. The Hard Path
Read with me verse 15:
15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
Back then, people didn’t have concrete roads like we do today. But when Jesus talks about a path he means something almost just as hard. It’s a piece of land that has been dried out by the sun and was hardened by hundreds of people and animals walking on it daily. Forming the earth into something that no water and definitely no seed could ever enter into. A place where nothing would ever grow.
And Jesus says, our hearts can be just as impenetrable for his message as the path is for the seed. And that might be for very different reasons.
Maybe we made it that way ourselves. When we hear Jesus’ message, we reject it. Like the Pharisees we saw last week, we don’t want to follow this Jesus. We want to keep the control about how to live our lives ourselves. Want to be a self-made man or woman rather than trusting God to lead us.
Or maybe you sit here this evening and your heart was hardened towards Jesus by others who trampled on it. Maybe by a church or Christians you met and that treated you, or people close to you badly. You saw on the news, the terrible things even priest and pastors are capable of. And all of this convinced you that the message they stand for can definitely not be the right one.
And if that’s your reason for not following Jesus, I can completely understand that. But I hope that the first point made clear to you, that Jesus is more than what we see on TV. That his message is completely contrary to the people or the institutions that hurt you.
And Jesus would love nothing more but to show this to you. But he needs you to open up just a little crack in your hard heart.
Because if God’s offer to us is living in relationship with him. Then it is something that, like every other relationship, we will only fully experience if we are in it. I could explain to you for hours why Lily is a great person to be friends with. What a wonderful impact she has on my life. But you won’t really know what I am talking about until get to know her yourself. And it’s the same with God. He is not some theory that can be explained logically from the outside. Jesus’ message will always stay a mystery to us unless we take a step towards Jesus. Invite him into our lives and start to live in relationship with him.
2. The Rocky Place
But maybe you have already taken this step and you are more like the second ground: The rocky or shallow place. Let’s continue in verses 16 and 17.
16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
One problem that farmer in Israel encountered was that some places might have looked like good soil to grow their crops in. But sometimes there were rocks lying under this shallow piece of good soil. And the danger was, that if you didn’t take these rocks out, they would prevent the plants from growing deep roots. Roots to reach the water and nutrients the plants needed to survive especially in dry seasons. So if the farmer didn’t dig deep enough to take those rocks out of the ground, the seed would produce a small plant at first. But this plant would die pretty quickly under the heat of the sun.
And Jesus says our heart can be like this shallow ground. We start out with such passion for God. We love his message, the people we meet at the church. We can’t wait to experience all the good things he has promised in our lives. But when we meet difficult times. When we lose our job. When our family or friends don’t agree with our faith. When a relationship falls apart, leaving us heartbroken. How quick are we then to turn away from God. Turn back to trust ourselves again out of fear that God might not take care of us.
But here Jesus warns us: If you want your relationship with me to grow, you need to dig deep and have deep roots. You need a good, a deep understanding of who God is. How much he loves and cares for you. And that includes going through hard times with him.
Because these times are exactly where God can prove his love to us. Can show us that he cares for us even when things are dire. We will only grow in our trust to God, if we actually risk putting our whole trust in God. An I know, that is a big step at first. But the more we see how God takes care of us in difficult times, the deeper our roots, our trust will grow. And trusting God in the next challenge won’t be as hard anymore.
But maybe you are going through a difficult time right now and you feel like trusting God with it is too hard for you. Then we as a church want you to know that you don’t have to do this alone. We have mini groups that meet during the week for exactly this reason. To encourage each other in difficult times. A place where you can be honest and understood. Where we can go together through difficult times without losing our faith, but rather strengthen it in the process.
3. Among Thorns
But not only the hard times can be dangers to our faith, but the good ones as well. Read with me about the third ground in verse 18 and 19:
18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
During my studies some friends and I worked over the vacation time as groundskeeper at a retirement home. And one task every spring was to weed the numerous rose beds that this home had. And we always hated this work. It was 8 hours of being on your knees, ripping out the weeds between the rose bushes. And once you were done with them, you could start all over again. But we had to do it every spring, because otherwise the weed would have killed the flowers. It would have taken all the water, all the nutrients away from the roses. And after some time, the beautiful plant would have been choked by the weeds around it.
And Jesus says: We can encounter these weeds in our heart as well. Even if our hearts are soft and deep soil for his message. Even if we follow God in our lives. The same heart can also be good soil for what Jesus calls the worries and desires of life. Maybe it’s your career that you spent all your time and energy on. Hoping to one day make it to the top of the ladder. Or you just started a new relationship and spend all your time with your new partner. Or it’s the new Netflix series that you just can’t stop watching. All these things fill up our schedules. Making us feel, like we don’t have time God.
And not that God is against any of these things. He wants us to have good things in our life to enjoy.
But Jesus warns us about making these things our priority. Because like weeds, they can take all our resources: our time, our energy, our attention, away from our relationship with God. And Jesus is very clear here. He says if we don’t keep God as our priority, if we don’t weed our hearts regularly, it will choke our faith. The good things in life will draw us away from God.
So maybe we can take a few minutes out of your next week and ask ourselves: Where are things that take up my time, energy, money that I could invest better towards my relationship with God. Maybe you could skip Netflix one night and spend that time with God’s word instead. Alone or even together with a friend or your partner. Maybe you could go to bed a little earlier so you can get up the next day and pray before going to work. Or and I know this sounds crazy, you could take off work an hour early to attend a mini group here at the church where you can do both, reading bible and praying together. Whatever works for you. We need this time with God. If we don’t make him our priority, the distractions around us will choke the beautiful plant that Jesus’ message could grow in us. Choke what we read in verse 20:
4. The soft Ground
20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Again Jesus must have sounded completely crazy to his audience. Because seeds back in Jesus’ days usually produced a crop anywhere from 10-20 times. But Jesus exaggerates here on purpose to make us understand 2 things.
On the one hand he wants to give us a taste of and underline how beautiful the flower can be that God wants to grow in us. How when we let God into our lives, grow deep roots in him and weed out the thorns, he will build our character. Heal relationships and broken hearts. Take care of us even in desperate situations. Grow our faith in ways we couldn’t have imagined before.
And on the other hand, he wants us to understand that the natural outcome of good and healthy growth as a follower of Jesus is to sow the same message as he did. That God doesn’t only want US to grow, but others through us as well. That our faith grows like a dandelion, spreading its seeds across the grounds around it. Bringing God’s offer and the great things we have experienced with him to the people in our lives as well.
And like Jesus, we will encounter all these different grounds ourselves. People who will be hard and won’t want to listen at all. People who are quick to trust but fall away just as quick. And I know how frustrating this can be. How discouraging.
But I hope that Jesus’ parable encourages you to keep trying. Encourages you to sow just as generously as Jesus did. At your workplace, in your family, in your group of friends. Giving the people around us a chance to experience all the beautiful things that this wonderful God has in store for them.
And if you noticed that your heart is more like the hard or shallow ground. If you are wrestling with questions or want to give Jesus this little crack in your heart to come into your life. I will be staying up here for a little while after the service. And I would love to talk to you about that. If you feel more comfortable to speak to someone else here, that is also totally fine. But I hope that you don’t let God’s offer just pass you by or let it just stay a theory for you tonight. But