Realistic encouragement from Jesus (Mark 4)

– Geoff Milton

If we are believing Christians, we are all involved in a vast worldwide enterprise, the Kingdom of God (v11). It concerns sowing seeds of God’s word, God-given growth and producing a bumper crop. In the Parable of the Soils (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus gives us realistic encouragement about the growth and harvest of the Kingdom of God.

In a small church it is easy to be discouraged about the spread and growth of the Christian gospel, but this parable gives us great encouragement that God will grow his kingdom, including in us and through us.

            In the parable, the farmer sows the seed of God’s word and we see a variety of responses and results. In good soil there is a bumper crop, but Jesus helps us to be realistic, pointing out the different impediments to the harvest in other soils.

Clearly some of Jesus’ hearers simply heard a farming story (v 1-8) and thought no more about it. But we see another group of people in v10, including the disciples and other people who actively ask Jesus to explain the parables, which he does (v11-20).

If we want to grow as Christians and be part of growing God’s kingdom, let us hear God’s word and ask for his understanding so we can bear his fruit in our lives.

So this parable has a very important spiritual message. A good question to ask ourselves as we consider it is “What soil am I?” and “How do I become good soil?”

In v14 the seed/word is sown i.e. the message of the Gospel of Jesus, Son of God – who he is, what he has done through his death for our sins and resurrection, and how to respond with repentance and faith (1:15).

In v15 we see that some people are like seed sown on a hard path – they hear about Jesus but Satan immediately snatches away the message like a bird pecking a seed. That is probably not us if we go to church regularly, but some may come to church to please others, or tick “Christian” on the census and it all washes over them with no impact.

Others are like seed sown in shallow rocky soil (v16). Here the seed springs up in the warm damp soil, they are pleased about it, but they have no deep roots and when trouble or persecution comes, they wither away. It is easy to say “I would never be like that” but we should seriously ask ourselves how we would respond to active government spying on and suppression of Christians, as happens in numerous countries.

We need to ask God to help us develop deep roots that help us follow Jesus when under pressure i.e. to be good soil not shallow soil.

Surely being like the thorny soil (v18) is the biggest issue for Aussie Christians. Such people hear the word of God but worldly things choke the young plant – the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and desires for other things, making it unfruitful for the kingdom of God. How easy it is in Australia today to be focused on getting more and more stuff and a bigger barn to put it all in (Luke 12) or more and more leisure experiences or more worldly achievements so that life with God is choked. Let’s ask ourselves: Is Jesus first in our lives? – or is it more stuff and more wealth and more worries? If so, we need to get rid of the thorns and weeds choking our growth as Christians and live firstly for Jesus.

But can we really expect a bumper crop of 30 fold, 60 fold or 100 fold what we planted? When I was studying theology at Ridley College, God put the college chaplain, Harrie Scott-Simmons, into  my life. He spent most of his time discipling young ministers to be. We studied the Bible and prayed together, he encouraged me to pray daily for the little youth group I was helping to lead and he gave me Christian books. He helped many people in the same way. It was a small, quiet ministry. But let’s do some maths. Say Harrie discipled 3 people each year and each one of them discipled 3 more and so on. That’s 3 in the first year, 9 in the second year, 27 in the third year and an astonishing 59,000 after ten years! A bumper crop indeed! Let us be good, deep, rich, fertile soil that bears much fruit for God’s glory!

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