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MARK 4:1-20

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 2, 2000

I encourage you to turn with me to Mark 4:1-20 and follow along as we read through and consider these verses together. This morning we’re looking at communication. Specifically that God desires to communicate with us. And, yet we struggle to hear what He’s saying. We want to see what Jesus says about the barriers that keep us from hearing God’s word for our lives.

I’d like to begin by sharing a story that you may remember. There was an elderly couple that was having trouble remembering things. It seems that they had taken to writing things down. When one of them said something the other wrote it down on a piece of paper so they wouldn’t forget.

One night they were sitting on the couch watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and the husband said, “I feel like a some of that apple pie you made - with a scoop of ice cream on the side.”

His wife said, “Honey you sit right there and I’ll go to the kitchen and get it for you.” So she started to get up and as she was getting up her husband asked, “Are you sure you shouldn’t write it down so you don’t forget.”

“Oh no,” she said. “Its a simple thing I’ll be right back.”

Well, she was in the kitchen for about ten minutes - rattling pots and pans and making all kinds of strange noises. When she finally came back to living room, she had 3 eggs over easy, some fruit, and 2 strips of bacon.

Her husband looked at all this sadly and said, “Honey, I told you, you should write it down. You’ve forgotten the toast.”

What keeps us from hearing what God is saying to us?

Mark 4:1: He - Jesus - began to teach again by the sea - the Sea of Galilee - And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that he got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.

There were huge crowds following Jesus. This crowd was so large that it pressed up against the shore. There was no room for Jesus. So, He had to get into a boat - like a floating pulpit - a little ways off from shore and teach the people.

Verse 2: And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Jesus takes an illustration from nature. Something like this was probably going on nearby. He could have pointed down the curve of the seashore to where a person was sowing seeds. The crowd could see the seeds falling on different types of soil. The birds coming and eating the seeds. Its a vivid scene.

Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Its a way of saying, “Pay attention. Think about what I just said.”

Verse 10: As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”

I’d like to pause here so we don’t miss the significance of what’s going on. This is the first time that Jesus has begun to teach using parables - these stories that illustrate great truths. There are two reasons why He did this. First, because of the attitude of the crowd. And, second, so that His disciples will understand His message.

First - Jesus speaks in parables because of: THE ATTITUDE OF THE CROWD

In the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the early ministry of Jesus. In Mark chapters one and two - we saw the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in John the Baptist’s announcing the arrival of Jesus. We saw Jesus’ baptism and the declaration of God as to Jesus being the Messiah. We saw Jesus’ temptation and affinity with us. The calling of the first disciples. Jesus’ demonstrated authority over Satan, sickness, death. His authority to forgive sins.

The point being that Jesus is the Messiah. He’s the one we must listen to if we are going to understand God’s word for mankind - for us.

In His early ministry Jesus was able to talk with the crowds and teach them about the Kingdom of God - explaining God’s word to them. During these early days Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount - perhaps the greatest message every preached in the presence of men. (Matthew 5-7)

But now its like a carnival - a circus. A huge crowd has come from all over - north - south - east - west. The crowd is pressing in on Jesus to see what sensational thing He would do next. They’ve come seeking healings - the touch of the miraculous in their lives. They’re not listening to God.

Jesus did heal many people. He had compassion for their physical suffering. But, that wasn’t why He’d come. Jesus came to preach the word of God - to die and live as our Savior - to bring healing to our hearts and souls.

In Mark 4 - Jesus begins to teach using parables - hiding the truth so that people’s curiosity would be awakened - so He’d capture their attention - so they’d listen to the message. When they saw what He was doing and didn’t understand why - when they heard what He said, and didn’t understand what He meant - it would move them to ask questions. They would seek the truth - and come to Him for the real reason He’d come. Otherwise they might keep coming back again and again but never really coming to know all of what God was saying to them.

Second - Jesus speaks in parables so that: HIS DISCIPLES WILL UNDERSTAND HIS MESSAGE

In contrast to how Jesus addresses the crowd - Jesus tells His followers and His disciples: “To you has been given the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables” - in riddles.

There are two kinds of hearers - those who follow Jesus and are His disciples - who seek to understand His teaching and live by it. And there are others - who follow Him other reasons. To His disciples, Jesus explains “the mystery of the Kingdom of God”

There are a number of “mysteries” referred to in the Bible: The mystery of lawlessness; (2 Thessalonians 2:7) the mystery of godliness. (1 Timothy 3:16) These mysteries are the inside information on what God is doing and why - the missing pieces to the puzzle of life - that cannot be understood by man apart from God.

Humanity is continually looking for answers - to understand our existence. A scientist will come along and put in a piece of the puzzle. Then a psychologist will put in another piece. A philosopher will put in another part. Mankind is continually working away at putting together this complex puzzle - trying to understand life.

Jesus says that there are pieces to the puzzle that only God can put in. When the Apostle Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 2 - he writes that only God knows the depths of what God knows. When we come to salvation in Jesus Christ - the Holy Spirit - God - enters into us and begins to explain the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10,11)

This is awesome. Mankind - apart from Jesus Christ can’t understand. The things of God are a riddle - and unexplainable parable. But, God wants to reveal those pieces to us.

The bottom line is this - Jesus is focusing His disciples on the word of God - which only His disciples will be able to understand. Today - God is continually seeking to communicate to us - to explain His word - the depths of His heart to us. The question is - are we listening?

Verse 13: And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?”

Disciples - Pay Attention! If we don’t understand this parable - we won’t be able to understand anything else Jesus is going to say. This parable deals with openness and receptivity of our hearts to the word of God.

Verse 14: The sower sows the word. The sower is Jesus Christ. The word is God’s message to us - the Gospel and everything we need to do to live in obedience to God - to live in the promises and blessings of God.

Four examples of what happens to the word as its sown in the hearts of mankind. This is where we run into problems.

First example - verse 15: These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown - and the birds came and ate the seed - when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.

These are the callous hearts - the unresponsive hearts. Its like trying to sow seeds on asphalt. These people so busy with the daily things of life that thoughts about God don’t have a chance. There’s just too much going on.

Maybe there are people like that here this morning. You’ve come to church because its the right thing to do - not because you’re interested in hearing God’s word - or being transformed by His power working in you - but because its another item on the list - another obligation to fulfill. Been there - done that - next item.

Its easy to fall into this trap - even with the best intentions. We’re doing all these things for God - committee meetings - teaching Sunday School - singing in choir - busy - busy - busy - serving God. But, are we listening to Him? Are we living and serving the way He wants us to?

Jesus says that Satan takes away God’s word - we can’t hear it - because it never has a chance to sink into our heart.

Verse 16 - second example: In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.

These are the impulsive hearts. These are informercial people. Their garages are filled with “Thighmasters” and “Ronco slicer-dicers.” They respond enthusiastically to everything - new diets - the latest books - whatever’s popular at the time. When they hear the word of God - some new truth - teaching - or understanding - they embrace it - joyfully. The seed takes root and grows quickly. But there’s no depth - no staying power.

Take a plant - put it into a shallow pot - and the roots quickly fill up the pot - so all the “growth” energy goes - not into the developing a root system - but into the upper part of the plant. A huge plant will grow that way - real quick. But it’ll die quickly - because it doesn’t have the foundation - the root system to sustain growth.

Commitment - perseverance - hanging in there for the long haul - are not virtues we hear a lot about these days. Sometimes living the Christian life is hard. In America today its getting harder. Even in the church its hard.

The number one reason for church growth today - when a church is growing numerically - the number one place those incoming people are coming from is from another church. Aside from what that says about the failure of the church to reach the unchurched - its a very sad commentary on Christian commitment. “I’m here because the teaching is good - the choir always has a good number. Once the blessings stop - if being here makes me uncomfortable - I’m out of here.” Some leave physically - others leave spiritually or emotionally. They lack the commitment to hang in there when the going gets rough.

Moving from blessing to blessing - wonderful experience to wonderful experience - when do we stay in one place long enough to allow God to work through the issues of our lives - to allow the truth of God’s word to sink in and take root and bring some real life transformation and growth.

Third example - verse 18: And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

These are the burdened hearts. They struggle with three types of burdens - three types of thorns that snag them.

First, “the worries of the world.” They ask, When? Where? How? They’re worried about every situation they face. They can’t rest or leave things in God’s hands. They’re constantly trying to work things out for themselves.

Second, they’re burdened with “the deceitfulness of riches” - the pursuit of wealth - their own pleasure.

Third, they’re burdened with “the desires for other things” - whatever those things are. They don’t know. But they do know that this isn’t it. They drift from one unsatisfying experience to another never satisfied with what God has blessed them with.

The word of God doesn’t have a chance. Its choked by all these other “burdens” that are a greater priority.

Fourth example - what happens to God’s word as its sown in the hearts of mankind - verse 20: And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

The receptive heart - accepting the word - immediately responsive.

Looking at these four examples of four different types of hearts, its important to see that what Jesus is describing is, not four different types of people, but, four conditions of our hearts. Three are barriers that we struggle with. We’ve all been callous at times - all been impulsive - overly focused on the things of life. The obvious goal is to have a heart receptive to the word of God.

One of the saddest things happening in churches today are the numbers of people who go week after week - listening to the word of God being preached and taught - and yet never understanding the things of God - the mysteries - the great truths that can transform our lives. They go week after week - unchanged - because they’re really not open and obedient to the word of God.

Jesus is trying to communicate to a crowd that’s so focused on everything else that they’re completely missing the message. God wants to share with us from the depths of His heart. Are we listening? Whatever the barriers that keep us from hearing we need to remove them.