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MARK 4:1-20

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 20, 2004

I thought we’d start with a quiz. Do you all know who Sir Tim Berners-Lee is? On Tuesday Sir Tim Berners-Lee received the first ever $1.2 million Millennium Technology Prize for creating the World Wide Web. Others may claim to have created the web. But Sir Berners-Lee is credited with first proposing the web back in 1989 - and then working to put together the basic technology that makes it happen.

He was the guy who first worked out the core communication protocols like HTTP. We see that all the time. Does anyone know what HTTP stands for? (hypertext transfer protocol) Berners-Lee made HTTP happen and HTML. Which stands for what? (hypertext markup language). The underlying communication technology for the web.

This morning I’d like to share about communication.

While attending a marriage seminar on communication, David and his wife listened to the instructor declare, "It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other."

He addressed the husbands, "Can you describe your wife's favorite flower?"

David leaned over, touched his wife's arm gently and whispered, "Pillsbury All-Purpose, isn't it?"

Please turn with me to Mark 4:1-20. God desires to communicate with us. And, yet we struggle to hear what He's saying. In Mark 4:1-20 Jesus is teaching about the barriers that keep us from hearing God's word for our lives. 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. It goes on around here all the time. 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."

Pause here with me so we don't miss the significance of what's going on. In Mark’s gospel account this is the first time that Jesus uses a parable - a story to illustrate a great truth. Starting in verse 10 there are two reasons why.

First - Jesus uses a parable because of the attitude of the crowd.

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. But now its like a carnival - a circus. A huge crowd - from all over - pressing in on Jesus to see what sensational thing He would do next. They're not listening to God. He had compassion for their physical suffering - He healed people. But, that wasn't why He'd come.

Reading through the first three chapters of the gospel of Mark - Mark has been emphasizing specifics about Jesus. Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. God’s declaration of Jesus being the Messiah. Jesus' authority over Satan, sickness, death. His authority to forgive sins.

Mark’s point being that Jesus is the Messiah - the Savior - our Lord. 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 - in a sense hiding the truth so that people's curiosity would be awakened - so they'd listen to the message. So that when they didn’t understand - it would move them to ask questions. They’d seek the truth - and come to Him for the real reason He'd come. Otherwise they might keep coming back again and again for the show but never really come to know what God was saying to them.

Second - Jesus speaks in parables so that his disciples - those who are seeking to understand - 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 a number of "mysteries" referred to in the Bible. The 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. To His disciples, Jesus is explaining "the mystery of the Kingdom of God" - how one enters God’s Kingdom - what it means to live in God’s Kingdom.

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. In 1 Corinthians 2 - the Apostle Paul writes that only God knows the depths of what God knows. But, 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. The things of God are an unexplainable riddle. But, God wants to reveal those pieces to us. Think about the great lengths that God has gone to to communicate to us. God revealing Himself to us in His creation - all of which testifies of who He is. The inspiration and preservation of the Bible so we have it today - for us. Jesus who is God’s word in the flesh - wrapped up in the easier to understand packaging of where we live our lives. The bottom line is that God is continually seeking to communicate to us - to explain His word - the depths of His heart to us.

Say this with me “God wants to communicate with me.”

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?"

There’s a bottom line here. If we don't understand this parable - we won't be able to understand anything else Jesus is going to say. Because this parable deals with the openness of our hearts - how well we’re listing to God.

In verse 14 Jesus begins His explanation of the parable. Slooowly. So His disciples can get it. 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.

Starting in verse 15 - Four examples of what happens as God’s word is sown in the hearts of mankind.

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 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 else going on.

Its easy to fall into this trap - even with the best intentions. We're doing all these things for God - teaching Sunday School - singing on the worship team - ushering - pastoring - busy - busy - busy - serving God. We come to church because its what we do before we do the other things we have lined up on Sunday. Been there - done that - next item. Have we listened to God?

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. That’s the answer they're looking for!

Take a plant - put it into a shallow pot - and the roots do what? - quickly fill up the pot - so all the "growth" energy goes into the upper part of the plant. And the plant does what? This huge beautiful plant dies because it never developed the root system it needed for life. The seed takes root and grows quickly. But there's no depth - no maturity - no staying power through the difficult things of life.

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 hearts - 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 necessarily four different types of people. But, four possible conditions of our own hearts. Three are barriers that we struggle with. The obvious goal is to have a heart receptive to the word of God.

As I’ve been thinking about what Jesus is teaching here and how His teaching applies to our lives - one word has been going through my mind. That word is FERTILIZER.

This clay concrete we call soil here in Merced needs fertilizer to prepare it for planting. So do our hearts. To fertilize takes planning - when to fertilize - what type of fertilizer - how to apply it. The same is true of our hearts.

Callous hearts need the fertilizer of time. Say this with me, “We need time.”

I was visiting with someone here a while ago. This person told me that they get up every morning at 5:00 - before anything else can happen to rob them of their time with God. They get up at 5 just to spend time alone with God.

To some of us 5:00 a.m. is an ungodly hour. But, we must plan a regular time to get with God. If we don’t plan for it - it won’t happen.

Impulsive hearts need the fertilizer of study - to learn the joy of systematically reading and prayerfully pondering over the truths of God’s word. Say this with me, “We need to study.”

Maybe it’s easier to bounce from truth to truth and blessing to blessing and speaker to speaker - to read books about the Bible and devotional books that skim the surface of our faith. But there is no substitute for sitting down with Bible - opening it up - and reading through it.

“You are what you eat.” Have heard that?

God wants to deal with the deeper issues of our hearts - to bring some real life transformation - to create in us the enduring and incredible person that He intends - to grow us and strengthen us - to mature us - in the midst of all of what’s going on around us. If were living on a steady diet of God’s word - then His truths can get into us and change us from the inside out.

Burdened hearts need the fertilizer of silence before God. Say this with me, “We need to be silent.”

The people who study these things tells us that it takes approximately 3 hours to wind down enough to actually be in a place mentally - spiritually - where we can listen to God - with everything else put aside and have our hearts open - to stop talking at God and actually listen to what He has to say.

3 hours is major chunk of time - almost as much time as the some people spend watching TV in a day. But, we need to learn - emphasis on the word “learn” - this doesn’t come naturally. We need to learn to listen to God.

That means making choices with our time that give us opportunities to be silent before God. It means learning to wait for God to present His answers and directions to struggles. The listening portion of our prayer life needs to increase. Our meditation on God’s truth needs greater dedication. It may mean asking questions of spiritually older Christians about how God speaks to them.

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?


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.