Follow the Leader

Listen!

Mark 4:1-20

 

Opening:

          Have you ever tried talking to someone who didn’t want to listen?

ILL: This was often the case with my son, Jeff, when he was a teenager.  I was always amazed at how much he knew—he knew everything!—and he was equally amazed at how stupid I was!  When I would try to help him with a problem, he would often interrupt me and argue, or tell me why my idea wouldn’t work.  I’d say, “I’m just trying to help you; I wish you’d listen.” 

          How many of you have had similar experiences?  Of course, you know that this is payback for all the times you did the same thing to your parents.  I know that as a teenager I was way smarter than my parents; then when I was about 25, I noticed they were starting to catch up; they were getting smarter!

Jesus talked with lots of people; some of them wanted to listen, some wanted to argue, some wanted to ignore Him.  So He told stories, stories that made the truth clear for those who wanted to listen, and that made the truth obscure for those who didn’t want to listen.  And He started the first story with a single word: Listen! 

          Today, we’re going to listen to the first story.  How you listen makes all the difference.  Listen!

 

Offering and announcements:

1. Easter 2010: Invite card and opportunities for service—(back of tear-off tab) still some spots to fill in AdventureLand and first impressions.  Please mark your choice(s), complete the tab and drop into the offering or drop off at the Info Center.

2. Last week’s service with paintings (item #1):   DVDs are available at the Info Center for a $3 donation; you can read the announcement for details about the auction of original paintings and sale of reproductions.

3. World Vision—another opportunity to sponsor a child in Maseyisini, Swaziland:  go to the table in the Commons after the service.

          4. Life Group survey.

11:15 service only:  65th wedding anniversary of Tom and Gayle Reid.

 

Introduction:

Today, we continue our walk through the gospel of Mark which tells the story of Jesus, our Leader.  Our goal is to know Jesus and follow the Leader.  We’ll pick it up in Mark 4, where Jesus told a story about a farmer planting his field and his seed lands on four different types of soil.  Here’s the story. 

Mark 4:1–20 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:

3Listen! 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, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” 9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” If you’ve got ears, use them and listen!

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.

11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 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. 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. 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. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Jesus tells a story about a farmer sowing seed in his field.  (Candy Sowers here!)  In those days, seed was scattered by hand out of bag.  Fields were long and narrow and there were small paths that divided them, like these aisles.  The farmer would walk on these paths and scatter the seed very liberally.  Some it, of course, would fall on the path, which was trampled and hard; the birds ate that seed.  The rest would land in the field where the soils varied: some was rocky, some weedy, and some good.  The good news is that most of the seed that landed in good soil where it produced a bountiful crop.  In Jesus’ story, the good soil produced a huge crop, 30, 60 or 100 times what was sown.  That is a great yield.

ILL: I asked my fabulous farmer friend Fred Fleming (try saying that fast 10 times) about the yields in this story.  Here’s what he wrote:

The principle still holds today. You cannot beat good ground. A bushel of wheat is 60 pounds. It takes 60 lbs to plant an acre. Yield on good soil is 7200 lbs to an acre (120 times). Fair soil 4200 lbs (70 times). Poor soil 1800 lbs (30 times).

Fred is using modern farming methods to get those yields.  In Jesus’ day, those would be spectacular yields.

          Nice story—what does it mean?  That’s what the disciples asked, and before He explained it, Jesus said something that is really confusing. 

11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

It sounds like Jesus is saying that He told the story not to make the truth clear, but to hide the truth from people!  What’s up with that?

          Jesus’ stories—and He told many of them—were designed to do both: hide the truth and reveal it.  To any who were seeking, who were curious, who were interested, the stories made the truth clear.  To any who were hostile, who were stubborn, who were resistant, the stories hid the truth.  The difference wasn’t in the story, but in the listener. 

ILL: Not long ago I received an email from an old friend who has become very antagonistic towards the Christian faith.  He googled my name, found our church website and listened to a couple sermons.  Then he wrote me a stinging critique. 

In one sermon on greed and contentment, I told a story about a fisherman who was relaxing in the sun one afternoon; he had caught enough fish for the day and was taking it easy, lounging by his boat.  He was questioned by a rich businessman who considered him lazy.  The businessman told him that if he worked harder, he could buy more boats, catch more fish, and make more money.  “What would I do then?” the fisherman asked.  The businessman said, “You could relax and enjoy life.”  To which the fisherman replied, “What do you think I’m doing now?”  The point I was making is that you don’t always need more to be content; you can be content with what you have.  My friend analyzed it as two competing economic systems and thought the hero was the rich businessman.  I read his critique and thought, “You completely missed my meaning (which I thought was pretty obvious).” 

Why did he miss my meaning?  He didn’t want to understand what I was saying.  He wanted to find fault, not understand; he wanted to argue, not agree. 

This is precisely what Jesus faced.  Remember last week we read that Jesus’ family thought He had lost His mind and wanted to take Him home.  And the Jewish religious leaders thought He was in league with the devil and wanted to kill him.  Jesus was facing some stiff opposition.  This is why He told stories that for some illuminated the truth, and for others hid it. 

          And this very story illustrates this idea.  The seed is the word of God, God’s message, the gospel, the good news.  The seed falls on different soils; the message is received in different ways by people.  So Jesus begins by saying, “Listen!” and ends by saying, “If you have ears, use them and listen!”  Listen!  Listen to understand!  Listen to receive!  Just like the soil has to receive the seed, we have to listen to the word and receive the truth from God and let it bear fruit in our lives. 

The story raises the question: What kind of dirt are you?  How do you listen and respond to God’s word?

 

1. Four soils: four responses to God’s word.

 

  • Hard ground: unreceptive response.

Some seed fell on the path, beaten hard by many feet, so the seed just lay on the surface and was eaten by the birds.  Jesus explained:

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.

These people hear the message but don’t receive it.  The message doesn’t penetrate their hearts.  They make no attempt to take it in, reflect on it, understand it or accept it.  Why are people hardened and unreceptive?

  • They may be antagonistic, like my friend, or like the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  They may be antagonistic to God’s message:
    • For intellectual reasons.  There is a very vocal anti-God minority that claims to reject faith on intellectual grounds, represented by authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.  People who read and agree with their books may react with antagonism to God’s message—they reject it without an honest hearing.
    • For moral reasons.  The gospel makes moral demands upon us that many find distasteful and so they reject the gospel.  I have a friend who told me he rejected the gospel on intellectual grounds.  I asked him if he would consider following Jesus if I could answer all his intellectual objections.  He said no because he wanted to do what he wanted, and he was doing some things he knew were wrong.  In the final analysis, his objection wasn’t intellectual, it was moral.
    • For personal reasons.  Many people have been hurt or offended by Christians, and because of that, won’t give the message a hearing.  They’ve been burned, and now they won’t listen.  Christians, your life in the everyday world is so important!  You are the only Bible many people will ever read, and they may decide to accept or reject the gospel based on you! 

People can be hardened and unreceptive because they are antagonistic to the gospel.  Or:

  • They may be suspicious.  They aren’t hostile, just suspicious, and their suspicions, their doubts lead them to quickly dismiss rather than truly consider God’s message. Or:
  • They may be indifferent.  This is the largest group of unreceptive people.  This is what I saw in Turkey.  Turkey is 99.8% Muslim, but they are secular Muslims.  The call to prayer sounds and no one notices; they don’t care; it’s background noise.  Christians in Turkey say that the biggest obstacle to the gospel is not Islam; it’s indifference and secularism.  No one cares.  No one is thinking about God.  We face the same thing here—the biggest obstacle is indifference.  Most people aren’t even thinking about God.

They may be antagonistic, suspicious or indifferent, but what they all have in common is that they don’t receive God’s message; they don’t give it an honest hearing, a chance.  The word falls on deaf ears and hard hearts and is never received.

          The very fact that you’re here means you probably aren’t an unreceptive or resistant person to God’s message.  But if you find yourself arguing with what you hear, or just flat rejecting it, then I beg you to soften your heart give God’s word an honest hearing.  Listen!  Eternity is at stake!

 

  • Rocky ground: shallow response.

Some seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was thin and shallow.  The seed sprouted and grew quickly, but in the heat of the day, it withered just as quickly because it lacked deep roots.  Jesus explained:

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.

The seed that falls on shallow soil enjoys a good start.  It sprouts and grows rapidly.  The person hears the word and “at once receives it with joy.”  Things are looking good—but not for long.  Since they have no root, they last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes, they fall away just as quickly as they started. 

Jesus knew that His followers would face opposition and persecution, and they did.  For the first three centuries, Christians were an outlawed and persecuted faith.  Today, over 200 million Christians suffer persecution, discrimination and even death for their faith in more than 35 countries around the world.  More people have died for their faith in the last century than in the other 19 centuries of church history together.  Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too.”  We live in a world that is hostile to God and to the Christian message.  (You can read more about this at www.persecution.org or www.persecution.com.) 

          Most of us don’t think much about persecution, about suffering for our faith, because it doesn’t happen much here.  But we are the exception rather than the rule.  And I can’t help but wonder what would happen to us if our faith was tested in the fires of persecution.  Would we stand the test, or wilt under the heat?

          I like easy. I am good at easy!  I avoid trouble, hardship, pain, and discomfort.  How many of you are like me?  Given the choice between pain and pleasure—well, I’m a pleasure guy. Given the choice between easy and hard, I’ll take easy every time.  But listen to what Jesus said:

Matthew 7:13-14 Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. 14But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.

The easy way is the way to hell; the way to life is hard.  It’s not easy being a Christian—but it’s the way to life.  Even without any outward persecution—take persecution out of the equation (as it is for most of us)—and it’s still not easy being a Christian.  Jesus calls us to take up our cross, to die to self and live for God, to love not just our neighbors but our enemies.  Try that death-to-self thing.  It’s not easy, but it’s life-giving.  We live in a culture that values easy. 

ILL: How many of you hike or backpack.  It’s hard.  You walk with a load on your back for miles, sleep on the hard ground—it’s hard.  That’s why most people don’t do it.  But you get to see things that most people don’t ever see.  But it’s hard.  Here are some actual comment cards turned in at trailheads in the Bridger Wilderness Area:

  • Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands.
  • Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
  • Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
  • Please pave the trails so they can be snow-plowed during the winter.
  • Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
  • Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
  • A MacDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead.
  • Too many rocks in the mountains.

My friend, coach Jim Hayford, says “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”  We live in a culture that values easy, and when it stops being easy, people bail.  We bail on friendships when it gets hard.  We bail on marriages when it gets hard.  We bail at work when it gets hard.  We bail on church when it gets hard.  And many people bail on God when it gets hard.  And it will get hard—that’s what Jesus is saying in this parable.  The sun will come out, it will get hot, and if your roots aren’t deep, you’ll wilt in the heat. 

          So how do you put down deep roots?  How can you go deep so that you survive the heat? 

  • Sink your roots deep into God’s word.  Know the word.  Know what you believe.  Know who you trust.
  • Sink your roots deep into community.  We do this better together.  Alone, we’re more likely to wilt; together, we grow.
  • Sink your roots deep into Jesus.  Stay close to Jesus.  Trouble can push you away from Jesus or closer to Jesus.  Like Peter, we say, “Lord where else can we go?  You alone have the words of life.” 

Some people hear the word, but never put down roots.  Their response is shallow and short-lived.  Listen!  You don’t want to be that person. 

 

  • Weedy ground: distracted response. 

Some seed fell among the thorns, the weeds that grew up and choked the seed so that it was unfruitful.  Jesus explained:

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.

There are people who hear the word and begin to grow; they look like they are doing well and will be fruitful.  But then other things begin to crowd their lives and they never get to maturity, to fruitfulness.  Jesus mentions three things, three weeds that can crowd our lives and keep us from fruitfulness.

  • The worries of this life.
  • The deceitfulness of wealth.
  • The desires for other things.

ILL: When I was a sophomore in college, I was leaving my New Testament Greek class, and a classmate named Greg Romine grabbed me and said he had a word from God for me.  He gave me these verses, Mark 4:18-19, and said it was God’s word for me—a warning from God.  I read them, and thought he was crazy!  I was a poor college student, without two nickels to rub together—how could this apply to me?  I was going to school on a full-ride scholarship; so I had no worries—room and board were paid for.  And I had no wealth to deceive me.  And at that time I had no desires for other things—I had no money so it was easy to have no desires.  I thought Greg gave the word to the wrong guy…but I never forgot it.  And when I got out of school and

  • got a job and the worries of life,
  • got a wife and the worries of life,
  • got kids and the worries of life,
  • and made some money and got the desires for other things
  • and got some things which gave me the desire for other things

I remembered this word.

It was a warning from God for me.  And I think it is for most of you too.  In fact, this soil—the weedy soil—may be the most common soil among American Christians.  We are more likely to be distracted from God by all the good things around us.  This is our big temptation: other things, good things, distract us from God, and He gets less than our best, and our lives become unfruitful. 

          So what can we do?  How can we weed our gardens so the word can grow in us?  What can we do to ensure that the weeds don’t overgrow the word and make us unfruitful?

  • Live more simply.  The less we have, the less chance we’ll get choked.
  • Give more generously.  This is the best antidote for the “deceitfulness of wealth.”
  • Use what He gives us for His purposes.  We are managers of God’s property, not owners; what we have belongs to Him and we use it as He directs for His purposes.
  • Trust God with our daily life, rather than worrying.

Some people hear the word but it never matures; it gets choked out by lots of other things.  They are distracted.  Listen!  You don’t want to be that kind of person.

 

  • Good ground: fruitful response.

Some seed fell on good soil where it came up, grew and produced a great crop.  Jesus explained:

20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Here is the response to the word that Jesus wants, and this is the dirt I want to be, and I’ll bet you do too.  We want to be the good soil that hears the word, accepts it and produces a crop.  We want our lives to be fruitful for God.

          I hope that each day as you read your Bible, you’ll ask God to speak to you, and you’ll listen!  Hear the word, accept it and let it work in you and change you and bear fruit.  “Speak to me Lord and I’ll do what you say.”  We say this all the time: read your Bible and ask God for one thing for the day.  Then write that down in your journal and do it.  Put it into practice.  Produce a crop!

          I also hope that each Sunday when you come here, you’ll ask God to speak to you and you’ll listen.  It doesn’t matter who is speaking.  It bothers me that some people call the office and ask who is speaking this Sunday.  Or they get here and look at the name on the top of the outline to decide if they want to stay.  It bothers me, because we’re coming to hear from a man; we’re going to hear from God.  God’s word is the seed that gets sown in our hearts.  And God can speak through anyone.  Listen, God spoke through Balaam’s donkey, and if God can speak through an ass, He can speak through me!  Or Brad, or Michael, or Matt, or whoever is up here.  Please, it doesn’t matter who is speaking—you are here to listen for God’s word to you.  I hope each week you’ll ask, “What is God saying to me?  What is His word for me?”  And you’ll accept that word, and put it into practice and let it bear fruit.

          Listen!  Be good ground that accepts the word and bears fruit.

          I’ll finish with a warning and a promise.   Here’s the warning:

 

2. A warning: don’t assume you are good ground

          This parable is a warning: don’t assume you are good ground.  I recognize all four of these responses in me.  There are times when I’m hard-hearted and unreceptive; times when I am shallow and give up too easy; times when I am distracted by other things; and there are times when I’m good ground, receptive to God’s word and growing and fruitful.  They are all true of me at different times.  So I can’t just assume that I’m good ground. 

          Whenever I read this parable—which is at least six times a year, since we read through the NT twice each year in our Bible reading plan, and this parable is in three of the gospels—it always makes me stop and examine my heart.  I hope it will do the same for you.  I hope you’ll take some time to think about how you listen to God’s word and how receptive you are, and how much fruit it is bearing in your life. 

          The worst thing you could do is just assume that you are good ground and blow right past this story.  If you’re like me, you’ve got some hard spots, some rocks, and some weeds you need to deal with.  Do it!

          And here’s the promise:

 

3. A promise: there will be a great harvest!

          The story ends with a great harvest: 30, 60 or 100 fold.  When we listen and receive God’s word and let it grow in our lives, it will bear fruit!  What kind of fruit?  Here is one kind:

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

The fruit of the Spirit, the fruit the Spirit produces in us, is the character of Jesus.  How many of you would like to be more loving?  More joyful?  More peaceful?  More patient?  More kind?  Be receptive to God’s word and you will be changed.  you will be a better person, more like Jesus.

          Here’s another fruit: a transformed you will result in a transformed world.  You will love other people better.  Your relationships will be healthier: you’ll be a better husband or wife, mother or father, son or daughter, friend or neighbor.  You’ll be a better employer or employee.  You’ll care more about people; you’ll work for justice; you’ll help the poor and the suffering.

          And the end result of all this: you’ll multiply.  The seed planted in you will turn into 30 or 60 or 100 others.  Others will see the change in you and hear the word from you and they’ll be changed.  There will be a great harvest and the Kingdom of God will cover the earth! 

          But it all starts here, in your heart.  Listen!  Listen for God’s word and receive it and grow.