Welcome to the seventh in a series of sermons exploring the first eight chapters of Mark’s stories about Jesus. We have seen that the crucial question is “Who is Jesus?” and after that, how will we respond to him? While we were told in the first verse of the first chapter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, this is not widely known, and puzzlingly Jesus does not seem in a hurry to reveal who he is.
There is currently a programme on ITV inviting us to vote for the Jesus we want ... the soulful Jesus, the acting Jesus, the rock-star Jesus. We saw last week that Jesus, as he really was, upset his family, who thought that he was mad, and the teachers of the law, who thought that he was in league with the devil.
We saw also last week that Jesus recruited twelve of his followers to be with him, and then to go out preaching the kingdom and to drive out demons. They were to continue and expand his work of preaching the kingdom and summoning people to obedience. Anyone who obeys the will of God is a family member - his “brother, sister or mother”.
And then he tells the parable of the soils. A casual reading of the parable would suggest that Jesus is telling us to be careful to avoid being shallow soil or weedy soil. Instead we are to be good soil and bear fruit. You know the sort of thing: buck up your ideas and pay attention, or Satan will whisk my words from your minds. Well, if you are expecting a lecture this morning, then you can relax, as I suspect that Jesus is doing something different here.
Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, has just appointed his twelve apostles, and he is here alerting them (and us) to the fact that it will not all be plain sailing. Jesus himself has experienced great success in preaching, healing and delivering folk from the power of Satan, but he has also encountered unbelief, disobedience as the people he healed refused to keep quiet, as uncontrollable crowds have mobbed him, and as his family and the religious authorities have rejected him.
So Jesus tells a story about a familiar scene - a sower and his seed. This matters to his hearers because if there is no harvest, there will be nothing to eat. The seed is the word of the kingdom. This is problematical to his first century hearers, almost politically incorrect. Surely a kingdom is brought in by might or political power? This is precisely the route that Jesus rejected in his confrontation with the devil. The sowing of seed appears weak and vulnerable, but actually there is great power in the growing thing. Plants can break up concrete and transform landscapes. So the word, proclaiming that God is King and announcing that we must fall into line with this and obey (believe and repent), is the way that Jesus will transform the world.
This parable is a parable about parables. You will observe that in many reading schemes the middle section is missed out:
Mark 4:11-1311 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?
Jesus has obviously been reading Isaiah 6,
Isaiah 6:9-109 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
We love to sing of the grandeur and holiness of God: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes”. There is a mystery that God will not overrule us or force us to believe. If we are determined not to believe, then he reserves the right almost to cooperate with us in allowing us to reject him. To those on the outside (remember last week?), God’s ways look mysterious and forbidding. To any who are seeking after good, he reveals himself and welcomes us in. Some people would like to select a different Jesus who makes no demands and is a gentle comforting presence. The parable suggests that we come to Jesus as Lord, master, boss, ready to it in with his will.
The reality is that we do not understand God, but that we know that he is good. The reality is that God is in charge, but we do not always see it now. The reality is that Jesus ached to see his Father’s will done here on earth as it is in heaven, and gave his life to achieve that. The reality is that we encounter many setbacks and disappointments but we are confident that there is good soil and God will reap his harvest.
- And so it is true that we share God’s love with some folk and they appear totally oblivious.
- It is true that if we are determined to live linked to Jesus we can expect to be ridiculed or treated badly (but we do not face the depth of persecution endured in some cultures, and we also should not go out of our way to provoke trouble).
- It is undoubtedly true that as soon as anyone starts to follow Christ, all sorts of distractions come in the shape of a new demanding and rewarding job (or perversely the loss of our job), in a new relationship (or the break up or lack of an existing one), in hobbies and pastimes that are good in themselves but take our time, energy and money, forcing Jesus into second or third place. People we thought were our friends (even within the church) seem to act in ways we find hurtful and we are smothered by our feelings of resentment.
Who here is good soil? I do not know. Most of the time not me, as I struggle with all the temptations and distractions that are common to us all. The good news is that these problems seem designed to help us to develop perseverance, and this leads us to develop a character like Jesus, and this gives us hope, and this does not disappoint because God has taken the initiative to pour his love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit. (Romans 5) If you want to be good soil, then you can be, and will be as you allow him to work in you. It is not a matter of you choosing Jesus but allowing him to choose you and make you special.
- What do you receive as the primary meaning of the parable of the soils?
- If asked “Who is Jesus for you?”, what response would you give?
- When facing problems and difficulties, does it make easier o more difficult to follow Jesus?
- How does this drive our prayer lives?