A Fruitful Life: Part 1

The Voice of Hope
The Voice of Hope
A Fruitful Life: Part 1

A Fruitful Life: Part 1

Mark 4:1-20

            As we continue our study of Mark’s Gospel, we come to the record of Jesus’ teaching that’s often called “The Parable of the Sower.” You’ll notice as we read Mark 8:1-20 that the sower is only mentioned twice, once in verse 3 and again in verse 14. The main thrust of the parable seems to be the types of soil on which the seed falls. We could more accurately call this “The Parable of the Soils.”

            When we study parables in the Bible, we need to remember they usually contain one primary message. In this parable of the soils, Jesus concentrates on the types of soil and how each responds to the sowing of the Word of God. How those soils, which represent people, respond, determines whether or not they will understand the mysteries of the Kingdom and the resulting fruitful life.

            Jesus’ teaching in this text speaks to us right where we are, in the daily decisions of living. Let’s read this text from Mark 4:1 to 20; and as we do, you will see that Jesus is teaching us how to have “A Fruitful Life.” 

            This text reveals several key INGREDIENTS necessary for producing “A Fruitful Life.”

The First INGREDIENT is,

            The Skill of the Sower

            As I mentioned earlier, this parable is often called “The Parable of the Sower.” But of all the ingredients necessary for producing a fruitful life, the sower is given the shortest space in the text. It’s not that He’s unimportant. In fact, without Him, there is no possibility of fruit being produced. He must do his job well for a crop to be produced. While the main focus of this parable is on the types of soil, we must look at the character of the sower.

            I find it interesting that Jesus begins by saying, “Listen, behold…” I remember years ago an evangelist who would periodically ask during his preaching, “Are you listening?” Jesus said to His listeners, hear! And He followed that up with “behold.” These are both words that command attention. They cut through the distractions we’re so often surrounded by. You and I should cultivate the discipline of becoming good listeners.

            We see quickly from the context that the sower is Jesus. And He is not just ‘a’ sower. Some Bible versions neglect the Greek use of the definite article, but the New American Standard has it correctly translated as The Sower went out to sow His seed…” Everything we see in Jesus’ life and ministry, from His introduction by John the Baptist to this section of teaching, is a picture of Him sowing the seeds of truth about the Kingdom of God. And, if ever there was a person who was skillful in sowing, it was Jesus.

            When the Divine Sower walked the earth, sowing was done by hand. A quantity of seed was carried in a sack or a fold of cloth over the left shoulder. The cupped, right hand was thrust into the loose grain and then swung in a smooth arc to distribute the grains evenly across the ground. I have done this myself in my home garden, sowing a cover crop. It’s not as easy as it sounds or looks. It takes practice to get an even distribution of the seed.

            As we observe Jesus’ life and ministry, He didn’t always scatter the seed the same way in every setting. But He always knew how to sow the seed for the greatest potential harvest!

            Before our text, Jesus spoke plainly to the people. Now, He begins to speak in parables. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this change. Why did Jesus do this? Did He want to hide the truth from some and reveal it only to a few? You know better than that! The Good News is for all people. So, what gives?

            The key is in verses 10 through 12. “But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And 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, 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.’” A.T. Robertson writes “The parables are a condemnation on the willfully blind and hostile, while a guide and blessing to the enlightened.”

            Jesus’ audience was divided into two classes: those who heard Him gladly and exercised the will to believe, and those who were hostile toward Him with a spirit of skepticism and unbelief. The reason for the parables was so that the unbelieving would continue in their unbelief. In the Old Testament, we see a similar progression in the life of Pharaoh. After he repeatedly hardened his heart, God began to accelerate and assist the process.

            The skill of the sower is the first necessary ingredient in “A Fruitful Life.” Jesus wants to sow His truth in your life, and that leads us logically to the next ingredient.  

Another INGREDIENT is,        

            The Quality of the Seed

            Everyone with a basic understanding of the laws of nature knows the importance of planting good seeds. I know the great frustration of going through the hard work of preparing a good seedbed, carefully planting, and covering the seed, only to discover that most of those seeds never germinate. All that work – for nothing! Nobody knowingly plants defective seeds.

            One of the blessings of this parable is that Jesus explained it to the disciples in such great detail and the gospel writers recorded that teaching! In verse 14 Jesus states clearly that “The sower sows the Word.” Immediately, that assures us that the lack of harvest we see later in the parable isn’t the result of poor seed quality!

            One of the reasons for a less-than-abundant harvest in today’s world may be the contamination of that seed by human reasoning. That is, many Bible teachers today compromise the clear teaching of Scripture. They try to make the Good News less offensive to potential Christ followers. But the Gospel, by nature, is offensive because it confronts our sin and offers us only ONE solution: the blood of Jesus Christ.

            True Believers insist that there’s only one way to God through the blood of Christ. That provokes an instinctive and often violent reaction in many people. I know because of some of the responses to the Bible teaching we present! “Do you mean to tell me that you know the only way to God? What makes you think your understanding of truth is better than mine? Do you mean that you actually take the Bible literally for what it says?”  

            Just recently, Pope Francis gave his blessing to a document that permits Catholic clergy to bless same-sex relationships. Many Protestant denominations have already gone down that road. But no matter what human leaders may say or do, the truth of God’s Word and its authority in the life of a genuine Believer do not change! The original “seed” is uncontaminated by any human reasoning of us mortal creatures.  

            Jesus made it clear many times in His ministry that He wasn’t going to sacrifice seed quality to make Himself more likable or popular. All who claim to speak for Christ today need to take the same approach to handling God’s Word! We have neither the right nor the authority to tamper with the Word of God.

            The quality of the seed is an important factor in producing lasting fruit, and the seed we’ve been given is of unsurpassed quality.

The Next FACTOR is,

            The Condition of the Soil

            Now we come to the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The sower is Jesus; there is no one better equipped than He. The seed is the Word of God; there is none of purer quality. So then, all things being equal, the harvest is dependent on the type of soil that receives the seed!

            As I mentioned earlier, this is the point in Jesus’ ministry where we begin to see the attitudes of His listeners begin to gel; that is, thought patterns are being solidified about who Jesus is. Some see Him as the Promised One and hear Him gladly. Others see Him as an impostor and are becoming rigid in their opposition. These patterns, in varying degrees, produce the types of soil Jesus now defines for us.

            The first soil type is the soil by the wayside or on the footpath. It is clear from the details Jesus gave that this soil never truly received the seed. Because the ground was packed hard by many passing feet, the seed lay exposed to the birds that came quickly and snatched it up.

            In the explanation of this soil in verse 15, Jesus clearly states that Satan comes and takes away the Word before it can penetrate their hearts. The apostle Paul echoes this reality in Second Corinthians 4:4. …the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is why prayer is such an important prelude to sowing the seed! Only the Holy Spirit of God can operate on the hearts of men and women to remove that blindness and break up that hard-packed soil of their hearts. 

            The benevolence of the Sower leads Him to scatter the seed generously everywhere in hopes that even a few grains will find sufficient soil along the path to take root and produce fruit. The Sower desires that “…all people [will] be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s First Timothy 2:4.

            But what causes this compaction of the soil, making it unreceptive to the seed? I thought of how Paul speaks of the beauty of the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace in Romans 10:15. And I thought of Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve when He sent them on their first mission. He told them to shake off the dust of their feet as a witness against those who would not welcome them or their message.

            Reflecting on these Scriptures and my own experience leads me to believe that one reason for the “hard-packed” soil of the path is a prolonged exposure to the Gospel with no accompanying response. As a result, the soil of the heart becomes hard and impenetrable. Does this soil type illustrate your spiritual condition?

            This soil typifies those whom Jesus spoke about when he said in verses 11 and 12; “Unto you, it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” Jesus was quoting Isaiah 6:9 about Isaiah’s commission to preach repentance to an unresponsive and hard-hearted people.

            From now on, Jesus would speak in parables to those who opposed Him. Because they had decided to reject Him and harden their hearts, they would not be able to understand the unfolding revelation of God’s plan for His people. How tragic!

            The second kind of soil is the rocky soil. Luke and Matthew’s account of this teaching helps our understanding by describing this kind of soil as “stony places” or “stony ground.” In other words, the soil depth was shallow, and underneath was bedrock.

            Some of you already know that this kind of soil will absorb the sun’s warmth more quickly than soil that has greater depth. So, it’s no surprise that the seed would sprout quickly and spring up in this type of soil. But the same shallowness that allows rapid warming also means it’s going to dry out faster.

            There were those in the crowd who came out to hear Jesus because it was “the place to be.” There was a certain excitement about this itinerant preacher who was passing through the land. Many had heard and seen how He could heal illnesses and physical disabilities with just a touch, or even a word. He could command evil spirits to leave the oppressed and they dared not defy Him. What a great man He was and what a joy to be alive to see His ministry.

            But we know that later on when the crowds turned against Him and called for His death, some of those same people were there. John 9:22 tells us the religious leaders threatened the common people that if anyone confessed that He was Christ they would be “put out of the synagogue.” So that was the end of their identification with Jesus. Their response proved what Jesus said about them not having any roots. When they were persecuted because of the Living Word, they turned away from Him. They were easily swayed by the pressure of others.

            There are many people today who respond to the Gospel at a large crusade or rally. They get caught up in the emotion of the moment and they’re surrounded by thousands of others who are praising the Lord and praying. With all that emotional and vocal support, they commit to “accept Jesus Christ as Savior,” but many make that choice without thinking through the ramifications of their decision. They forget, or haven’t been told, that becoming a Christ-follower involves discipleship; there’s a cost involved.

            When they face ridicule from friends or family, it catches them off-guard, and many give up. When the Holy Spirit asks them to break off ungodly relationships or get rid of their porn collection, or empty the liquor cabinet, that’s farther than they want to go.

            How about you; is this the type of soil your life represents? Are you with Jesus until there is a personal cost involved; until the Holy Spirit asks you to make changes in your lifestyle? Are you with Jesus when it’s popular, but silent or absent when He’s unpopular? The Scriptures call that being double-minded and being double-minded leads to instability. Eventually, that instability leads to a total departure from the faith.

            In the natural world most farmers who have areas where the soil is thin, where bedrock lies just a few inches below the surface, will abandon those areas. They are unsuitable for raising crops and there’s not much they can do about it.

            But in the spiritual application, that underlying bedrock can be broken up. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of this reality by saying; “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” If you and I allow the Spirit of God to take the Word of God and penetrate our hardened hearts, that brokenness can lead us to productive soil that will bring forth fruit. But I warn you, that breaking may be very painful and come at great personal cost. That’s why Jesus said that His followers must be prepared to give up EVERYTHING.  

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