Fell by the wayside
Yesterday we encountered a mystery. Jesus declares His word publicly – that is, for all. But also He also proclaims it to a particular audience – not everyone has ears to hear. You might think that Jesus takes a laissez-faire attitude to this phenomenon. But no, He pleads “He that hath ears, let him hear.” Jesus wants all people – anyone with ears! – to receive His word. Yet He acknowledges that not all will. How can this be?
Well there is no deficiency in the power or the willingness of Jesus. The lack comes from us. In the parable of the four soils Jesus speaks of four reactions to His word – three of them are deficient, to say the least (Mark 4:1-20).
First, there is proclamation that is like seed falling by the wayside (Mark 4:4). It is like a farmer sowing on a path – the seed sits on top of the unyielding ground and the birds come and eat it up. In the same way Satan snatches the word from hard-hearted listeners.
The gospel does not forever remain as an option for its hearers. If we don’t receive it, it is snatched away. The devil is like a bird with seed, pecking at it wherever he can. Satan does not concentrate on heavy metal concerts and voodoo ceremonies. He flocks to churches. He flocks to the proclamation of the word. Ever since he asked “hath God said?” he has been devouring the word through doubt and distortion. If we are hard to the gospel, Satan takes it away.
Second, there is stony ground. There is immediate growth but then “affliction or persecution” rise on them like the sun on rootless saplings. The new enthusiast withers away to nothing.
It’s not a question of if “affliction or persecution” come, only when. Therefore the need for a “rooted” faith is paramount. Instant joy is no sign of a true conversion to Christ. There is an immediate “gladness” that can mask a deficient hearing of the word.
Third, there is thorny ground. This chokes the life out of any initial growth and renders the hearer fruitless.
What are these thorns which can so strangle a person? Are they gross immoralities? No, the thorns are very ordinary. They are “the cares of this world… the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things” (v19). In other words wealth, worry and wanting are spiritual killers. These insidious powers are enough to squeeze the life out of a hearer of the word.
Fourthly though, there is good reception of the word. This response is like good soil which receives a seed and “brings forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (v20).
This is incredible fruitfulness. A potential yield of 10 000%! What does a person do to create such incredible abundance of life in themselves? It’s actually very straightforward. Jesus simply says they “hear the word, and receive it.” It’s not as though soil combines the power of the seed with its own life-producing power. It is simply the environment for the seed to do its thing. It is a recipient of the power which resides in the seed.
The Christian is supposed to be like that: just making room for the word to do what the word does – create new life!
John 15 verse 7 speaks of abiding in Jesus as His word abides in us.
Colossians 3 verse 16 speaks of the word of Christ dwelling in us richly.
This is how incredible growth will happen in our Christian lives. The hearer who makes a home for the word of Jesus will find exponential fruitfulness in their walk – thirty, sixty, a hundred fold!
Yet as we anticipate such a harvest we should be aware of how this growth will come about. It will not look immediately impressive. Instead it will be 1) weak yet powerful; 2) inward yet outgoing; and 3) gradual yet multiplying.
1) weak but powerful.
The story is told of a medieval Italian so terrified of the judgement that he commanded a giant marble slab to be placed over his grave. He did not want to rise and meet his Maker, so he thought the marble slab would keep him down. Yet before the burial was complete and the slab was laid, an acorn fell into the grave. Over the years, a great tree grew and split the slab in two.
Now you might think, what chance does a little acorn have against a giant marble slab? There’s no contest. The acorn wins every time.
In just this way the words of Jesus spoken from a pulpit, or over coffee, or in the open air – they seem so weak. Yet they change eternities!
2) inward yet outgoing.
Jesus does not tell the story of The Brick Supplier who delivers a pile of bricks to four different builders. That would be a very different parable. Some builders would try very hard and build very high. Some wouldn’t. But if it’s about seed sown in soil – how is the soil going to grow the seed? How can anyone try to grow? Well, it’s organic. It happens by the power of the seed itself.
And that’s the thing about the word. The word is planted in us. And unless we’re closed and Satan is snatching it away, the word is at work internally. It’s internal but it will also be outgoing. Down the track what has gone into us will grow out of us. It first has an inward effect but, if it’s allowed to do it’s work within, it cannot help but transform our outward life.
3) gradual yet multiplying
Imagine the sower goes back to the field the very next day. What would he find? No discernible change. In any of the soils. But seed takes time. And so does the word.
If we want a quick fix for our lives we should try some other way of change. But if we want deep-rooted lasting change, then we must receive the word into our hearts.
Don’t let it fall by the wayside. In time it will produce a bumper crop – thirty, sixty, a hundred times what was sown!