Mark: Gardening Tips

Sermon by Derek Thomas on May 9, 2004

Mark 4:1-20

May 9th, 2004–pm

Mark 4:1-20
Gardening Tips

Dr. Derek Thomas

We come this evening to the gospel of Mark once again, and
we come now to a section in the fourth chapter which contains at least four
parables, the first of which we’re going to look at this evening. That was
actually the point of singing “Ye Sons of Earth Prepare the Plow,” the whole
rendition there by William Cooper to a tune that was familiar to you from a
Christmas carol. Those words are beautifully expressive of this parable of the
sower, or sometimes called “the parable of the soils.” Before we read this
passage together, let’s once again look to God, the Holy Spirit. Without His
work of illuminating the words of Scripture, all our efforts are in vain. Let’s
come before God in prayer.

Our Father, again we come as a needy people.
We come as those who by nature are blind and cannot see and deaf and cannot
hear, whose hearts are closed and dull and cold and dead. And we pray, Lord, as
those who have been made alive by the Spirit: Come, Holy Spirit of God, and
quicken us again and illuminate to us the words of Scripture that, that which we
read and study this evening might be hidden deep within our hearts, that it
might bear fruit for You, a hundredfold if it pleases You. For Jesus’ sake we
ask it. Amen.

Hear the word of God.

1He began
to teach again by the sea. 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. 2And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was
saying to them in His teaching, 3‘Listen to this! Behold, the sower
went out to sow; 4as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road,
and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other 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. 6And after the sun had risen, it was scorched;
and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among
the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8Other
seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a
crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.’ 9And He was
saying, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ 10As soon as He was
alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the
parables. 11And 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, 12so 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.’ 13 And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this
parable? How will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows
the word. 15These are the ones who are beside the road where the
word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the
word which has been sown in them. 16In 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; 17and 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. 18And others are
the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have
heard the word, 19but 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. 20And 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.’” Amen. May God bless to us the
reading of His holy and inerrant word.

They were coming from everywhere: men and women
and children, families, young people who brought their friends. Most of them
came because perhaps they were sick or they knew somebody who was sick, and
Jesus had been performing these acts of healing in Capernaum and in the
surrounding towns and villages–all kinds of sicknesses, deformities,
disabilities that in this age could not be healed and remedied. Some were
coming because they were poor and they thought perhaps in Jesus would come a
Messiah, a Savior, One who would lift them up out of the poverty of their
existence, give them hope, give them something to live for. Others were coming
just because they were curious. A preacher was in town making a great name for
Himself. Thousands were going to hear Him. Wouldn’t you go and hear this man
who’d been raised in Nazareth, not a considerable distance away, a carpenter’s
son? It represented in those days, I’m sure, the best entertainment in town.
And some were hostile and there were enemies abroad. And there were visitors
from Jerusalem and there were the religious police of the Pharisees and the
scribes of Jerusalem. And Jesus is telling stories.

I. The message of Jesus is
understood only by those who have ears to hear.
The first thing I want
us to see is that the message of Jesus is understood only by those who have ears
to hear. It’s understood only by those who have ears to hear. What did they
hear exactly? These men, women, children, young people who came to hear
Jesus–what is it that they heard? When they went home again and someone might
have asked who hadn’t been there, “What did He say?” They would say one thing,
“He talked about the kingdom.” That was Jesus’ message: It was about the
kingdom, the kingdom of God. I’m certain if you were to ask those who heard
Jesus speak, even those who couldn’t understand what it is He was saying, they
would say, “He kept talking about the kingdom.”

In the parallel passage in Luke
it’s very clear: “Soon afterward He went through the cities and villages
proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God,” and then comes
this parable. This parable is about the kingdom of God. That’s how
Jesus’ came, preaching the kingdom of God. Those were the first words out of
the mouth of Jesus just as they had been the first words out of the mouth of
John the Baptist. There’s something happening now and it’s about the kingdom of
God. “The kingdom of God has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom
of God is among you.” That’s what they heard, with all the bells and whistles
that the term kingdom would associate in their minds and in their
hearts.

The word kingdom actually
only occurs a half dozen times in the Old Testament. That’s very surprising
given that John the Baptist seems to sum up the whole of the Old Testament by
saying, ‘It’s all about the kingdom.’ And it is all about the kingdom.
It’s about the kingship of God. It’s about the rule of God. It’s about the
reign of God. It’s about God coming in redemption and restoration and saving a
people for Himself and sending His Son as the King-Messiah. It’s about the
kingdom of God.

For centuries–perhaps for 200
years, 300 years perhaps–synagogues up and down the land of Judea had been
talking and giving Bible studies about the kingdom of God. And many knew
exactly what it meant (at least they thought they knew what it meant)
that when Messiah would come, when the king-figure would arrive…According to the
promises of the Old Testament, when the King comes He will destroy the occupying
forces of Rome. Rome was everywhere. Their soldiers were on every street
corner. Their banners and emblems could be seen fluttering in the wind no
matter we’re you looked. Rome was everywhere. The jackboot of the Roman Empire
had trodden upon Judea. And men and women heard Jesus speaking of the
kingdom…“The king has come! …and this spells the end of the Roman Empire,”
that’s what many of them thought. It’s like, I suppose, the words “Andrew
Jackson” in the ears of a Southerner, or those words of Winston Churchill before
Parliament in June, June 4 of 1940, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight
in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing
confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever
the cost may be. We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight them on
the landing grounds. We shall fight them in the fields and in the streets. We
shall fight them in the hills…and we shall never surrender.” And that’s what
they wanted Jesus to say. That’s why the curious came to hear Jesus because He
was speaking about the kingdom of God. And many of them heard that word
kingdom
and they saw the surrender and defeat of the Roman Empire. That’s
the kind of thing they wanted to hear.

And instead what are they
hearing? They’re hearing a story about a farmer, a farmer so insignificant–not
even, not even a good fishing story. Since He’s sitting in a boat on the Sea of
Galilee after all…because of the crowds He’s gone into this boat and sat down,
and He’s using the water of the Sea of Galilee as a natural sounding board for
the great throng of people on the shoreline. Not even a good fishing story–it’s
a farming story.

Jesus is telling stories.
That’s what every good communicator does, isn’t it? That’s what we’re told.
“Every good communicator is supposed to tell stories.” If ever there was an
opportunity for being sensitive to the seeker-friendly context now in which
Jesus is ministering and preaching it was this. But, you know, when Jesus tells
this story, many of them don’t understand it. And more than that, Mark and Luke
and Matthew cite the fact that Jesus quotes from Isaiah chapter 6, “So that they
may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest
they should turn and be forgiven.” Jesus is speaking in parables. He’s
speaking in parables. And Mark says, ‘This is the reason. It’s the same reason
that is given to the prophet Isaiah when Isaiah is commissioned by God to be
God’s mouthpiece, God says to him, ‘You’re going to take a message and it’s a
message that people won’t understand. And it’s a message that people won’t
accept and it’s a message that people will reject. That’s My commission to
you.’ And there’s a sense in which Jesus is speaking in parables to fulfill
that very same thing.

There are two functions for
parables
. One was to prevent His enemies from taking action against Him.
You know, what would the henchmen of Pilate–? What would Herod’s men in
Galilee, hearing Jesus proclaim Himself as king and saying to the people of
Galilee in the north that the kingdom of God has arrived–what would Herod’s men
make of that? They would’ve arrested Him immediately, taken Him down to
Jerusalem, imprisoned Him, maybe put Him to death…too soon. So one of the
reasons for Jesus speaking in parables was in order to prevent His enemies from
taking action against Him too soon.

But there’s another reason to for
Jesus speaking in parables, because the parables act like tongues do on the Day
of Pentecost. On the Day of Pentecost when men and women spoke in tongues, it
was a curse upon the people of God. It was a curse upon the Jews. It
was saying God was taking His word and He was taking His gospel and He was
taking it to the nations of the world. It was a divine, covenantal curse on
those who had rejected His message…and there’s a sense in which the parables are
doing exactly the same. Because there were those who should’ve understood the
words of Jesus but they didn’t understand it, and in a sense it was God’s
covenantal curse. And Jesus is saying, ‘I’m bringing My word and I’m bringing
My gospel and I’m bringing it to those who have ears to hear.’ “To you,” He
says in verse 11, “To you–” And He’s speaking now to His followers and to the
Twelve. “‘To you has been given the secret, the mystery of the kingdom of
God.” He’s talking about the Twelve and those around Him. There’s a
fundamental lesson here. That you don’t get to grips with the message of Jesus
from a distance. That spiritual illumination only comes to those who are
personally committed to Jesus Christ, who have ears to hear what Jesus is
saying.
Unless there’s a personal relationship, unless there’s communion,
unless there’s fellowship with Jesus…To this eager, tiny band Jesus gives
Himself wholly.

So Jesus tells this parable and
then He explains it to this tiny band. And actually in doing so He explodes two
myths about parables. A lot of contemporary scholars think the parables should
not be interpreted. It’s a bit like explaining a joke. You know, if you’ve got
to explain a joke then it’s not a joke. ‘And there’s a sense,’ modern
commentators say, ‘if you have to explain a parable then you’ve missed the
point, because the whole point of a parable is to create an affect.’ Well,
Jesus explains the parable, so you can throw that one out the window.

And then, when I was in seminary
it was all the rage…and it’s still the rage in some quarters still…that parables
only have one point, and that if you see two things in a parable you’re going
astray and if you see three things in a parable you’re definitely wrong. And
the whole point was to perhaps avoid some of the extravagancies of parable
interpretation. There’s an interesting interpretation of this parable that
emerges out of the Middle Ages. When Jesus says at the end that some produce a
hundredfold in fruit, a hundredfold harvest, it’s referring to the martyrs who
have given their lives to Christ. And when Jesus speaks of the sixty-fold
harvest, He’s speaking of the monks who have given and made a vow of celibacy.
And when He’s speaking of thirty-fold, who are the thirty-fold? Those whose
contribution was being an obedient wife. Only thirty if you’re an obedient
wife. Well, Jesus is speaking in parables and He’s speaking in parables to
those who have ears to hear. And let’s come up close to Jesus. Let’s sit at
His feet. Let’s listen to His voice, hear Him tell this story about a farmer
sowing seed on the ground.

II. The central role that the Bible plays in the kingdom of God

And
let’s see in the second place the central role, the central role that the Bible
plays in the kingdom of God. “The sower sows the word,” Jesus says. That’s His
explanation in verse 14. “The sower sows the word.” That’s a startling thing,
isn’t it, when you think about what Jesus has been doing? Jesus has been
healing sicknesses and maladies. People have been bringing their children,
their parents, their brothers, their sisters, their friends for Jesus to heal
them.

“There’s a point,” Warfield says. There’s a
point. Just for a moment in Capernaum, just for a brief moment when all
sickness seems to have been banished by the presence of the King…And you might
think that the kingdom comes through acts of supernatural miracles of healing,
and that’s how the kingdom comes: making the lame to walk, enabling those who
couldn’t speak to vocalize, opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping deaf
ears. When the King comes marching into Judea some were thinking, “That’s how
the kingdom will come, in acts of extraordinary miracles, extraordinary acts of
power.”

There are all kinds of thoughts about how the
kingdom comes. I think we’ve got some folk in our day who think it comes
through the sacraments. It comes through baptism. It comes through the
celebration of the Lord’s Table. And they take pride of place in the worship
service and that these are the boundary markers of the children of God. There
are others who think that the kingdom comes through force of arms, that if we
send our troops out to Iraq that the kingdom of God will come, that Islam will
be defeated and that the Christian banner will fly in the Middle East again.
And others think that the kingdom of God will come through acts of social
justice, that that’s what we need. We need to engage in acts of social justice,
works of mercy, works to the poor and so on. Through social reform, through
politics, through legislation–the kingdom of God will come.

And Jesus says, ‘It comes by the word. It comes by
the word.’ Jesus is the farmer and He comes proclaiming the word. It’s
the word that finds its final form in the Bible, in the Scriptures, the
sixty-six books, these two million words in Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. This
is how the kingdom of God comes. When you hold a Bible…some of you are holding
a Bible in your hands right now…you’re holding the very tool…you’re holding the
very instrument through which the kingdom of God comes.

Ask yourself what we’re doing here tonight. What
are we doing here tonight, you and I, in First Presbyterian Church on a Sunday
evening? What are we doing here tonight? Compare it to the glitz and glamour
of Hollywood. There are people more excited about the last edition of
Friends
than they are about what’s going on here tonight. Now I had to
smile just a little bit when Channel 2 was out on Friday night. There was an
accident and the car hit the power pole in front of Channel 2 here in town and
the power was out. My friends, what we’re doing here is far more important and
far more significant. We’re singing the word and we’re praying the word, and
we’re reading the word and we’re preaching the word, because the kingdom of God
comes by Jesus sowing the word of God. There’s nothing else here. This is a
beautiful building. There’s no doubt about it. But in comparison to
Hollywood…This pulpit doesn’t rotate. It doesn’t go up and down. It doesn’t
even have decent air conditioning. But it’s a pulpit, and it’s a pulpit from
which the word of God is proclaimed and expounded. The Bible, it’s the
center of the kingdom of God.
That’s what the kingdom of God is all about.
It comes by Jesus preaching and teaching the word. He sows the word in the
hearts of men and women. That was Paul’s last thought, his swansong to Timothy:
‘Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season, Timothy. Preach the
word! That’s the important thing. That’s the fundamental thing.’


III. The majority of those who hear the word reject it.
But notice, thirdly,
that the majority of those who hear the message, the word, reject it. I put it
in that blunt way because this parable is saying that only…well, only a quarter,
only ј of those in whom the word is sown, only ј come to fruition. And it isn’t
because of any lack of imagination of the part of the sower. We need to embrace
that.

There’s a fundamental lesson, that there
are three types of soil in which the word does not come to fruition
. When a
missionary comes and gives his testimony as they do hear on frequent occasions
on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings, and they come and they tell you what
they’ve been doing. They’ve been sowing the word. They’ve been faithful
servants of God and they stand there and they tell you, “This is what I’ve been
doing, and I’ve got almost no fruit to show for it.” Be ready to get out your
checkbook and write a check in support of that missionary because, alas, I think
we’re all of us guilty of being drawn by numbers and great numbers and inflated
numbers of conversions. And here is Jesus saying, ‘This is a fundamental truth,
men and women. This is a fundamental truth that the vast majority of people
reject the word of God.’ They reject it as old-fashioned and outmoded and
having nothing whatsoever to do with them.

And
Jesus speaks of various types of soil. He alludes, first of all, to seed that
falls on the path, seed that falls on the path. It just lies there
shriveling in the sun. The sower is walking up and down the field. He doesn’t
have a tractor, doesn’t have one of these huge things with air-conditioned
cabins and digital radios and global positioning satellites and all the rest of
it. No, he walks up and down. And as he walks up and down that piece of ground
gets hard. There’s no soil there. It’s just dust and rock. And as he scatters
that seed…You’ve done this when you go and buy that fertilizer with weed-killer,
you know, for your grass. You should’ve done it…too late now…you should’ve done
it a month ago, two months ago . Maybe you get that little, five-dollar thing
that you hire. Forget it. It’s a waste of money. Just throw it. Throw it
like that. And sometimes it falls on the path and it just lies there and it’s
shriveling in the sun. But it’s more than that because Jesus says Satan comes
and snatches away that seed. The birds, they see it just lying there. They
come down and they eat it. Satan is coming and he snatches away that word as
soon as it is sown. My friends, the devil is walking about in this sanctuary
tonight. He walks about in this sanctuary tonight. His henchmen are here. And
some of you, your minds are so open that everything falls out. Nothing is
retained. Your mind is elsewhere. Your thoughts are elsewhere. You’re
thinking about, “When will this sermon finish?” Yes, that’s what some of you
are thinking. You’re thinking, “I want to go home now.” You’re saying to
yourselves, “I’ve got seventeen things I must do tomorrow morning.” C.S. Lewis
in his Screwtape Letters, in that so very English way of his, speaks of
Satan’s henchmen, reminding this person who’s in church…And he’s obviously in
London, and he’s thinking about the #75 bus and “Will it be late?” and “Has [he]
missed his ride home?” And he hears nothing. Satan is prowling about making
sure that the word doesn’t germinate, doesn’t bring forth fruit. Some of you
have Teflon hearts and nothing sticks.

And
some falls on the rock.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground. When
they hear the word, “Immediately,” Jesus says, “they receive it with joy.”
There’s a response. There’s an enthusiastic response…but it’s not conversion.
It’s not regeneration. It’s not a genuine work of the Holy Spirit bringing a
person out of darkness and into light.
They profess for a while, for a
little while. Alexander McLaren, a Scotsman, you understand, said that “any
initial experience of joy is bound to be doubtful.” Only a Scotsman could say
that (laughter). I think what he’s saying is that if that’s the only response,
if that’s the immediate response…There’s no response of a conviction of sin.
There’s no response of the need for mercy. There’s no response of the gratitude
of a forgiven heart. There’s just the joy and that’s all there is. The
enthusiasm of a large meeting, the psychological sway that an evangelist can
often make, the expectations of parents about young children–there’s a response
just for a short time and it is gone.

And
then there’s a third kind and the seed falls on thorns and they are choked
and it doesn’t mature and it produces no lasting change. And then there’s
growing disappointment and trials and the cross and frustrations and
difficulties come and they abandon their profession, like “Demas hath forsaken
me, having loved this present world,” Paul says. And there’s nominal
Christianity.
Only the Bible doesn’t recognize nominal Christianity. It
just speaks of it as apostasy. And Jesus says these are the three kinds of
soil.

And
there’s a fourth one, and it gives a picture of what true Christianity is like,
good soil. And the seed falls on good, cultivated ground and it brings
forth…and some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundredfold. A Christian is
known by his fruit. “By their fruits you shall know them,” Jesus said. Now
some shine brighter than others…but and some are thirty, and some are sixty, and
some are a hundred…but it’s not zero. It gives a template, you see, of what a
Christian is. A Christian is someone who brings forth fruit, fruit to the
praise and glory of God.

Let
me ask you tonight, what is the seed, what is the word, what’s it doing in your
heart? Prepare the soil of your heart. You know, when you come to church, when
you come to a worship service, when you come to read your Bible in the mornings
or in the evenings–you need to prepare that soil. You need to cultivate it.
You know, when Mrs. Wadsworth or Dr. Wymond are playing those pieces at the
beginning, take your seat. Open your Bible. Start praying. Prepare your heart
and ask the Holy Spirit, “Lord, make me receptive. Keep the devil at bay that
the word may bring forth fruit.”
As John Piper puts it
in a sermon on this passage:
“Don’t play into the hands of Satan by letting
the newspaper be your agenda for your Sunday mornings!” Read a Psalm. Read some
Scripture. Spend some time in prayer before you come to church. You know
you’ll profit so much more.

Sometimes, you know, we have not because we ask
not. And listen hard, my friends, to the word of God. Listen hard to the word
of God. Read these bulletins that we prepare so diligently (maybe not so
diligently this week) but read them; study them. Apollon, that fowl fiend is
prowling about and he’s saying to some of you…some of you young men, “Look at
that beautiful girl.” And he’s saying to others of you, “A little more sleep, a
little folding of the hands, a little catnap until it’s over and I can go
home.” Focus, my friends. Focus! Focus on the words of the Call to Worship.
Focus on the words that are read from the Scriptures. Have a receptive
attitude, not a resistant one. Love the word of God. Love it with all
your heart and soul and mind and strength. And search for it, and when you’ve
found it, treasure it like gold and silver. What kind of response–? What kind
of response is the word going to have in your heart and mind tonight? Let’s
pray together.

Our God and our Father, we thank You for this
parable. And we pray, O gracious God, bring forth fruit tonight in our
hearts–thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. We want a hundredfold but only if it
brings You glory. Take our hearts and seal them, we pray, for those courts
which are above. Hide Your word within our hearts that we mightn’t sin against
You. Give us a seriousness about the things of the kingdom of God, for Jesus’
sake. Amen.

Please rise. Receive the
Lord’s benediction. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

***********************************************************************

A Guide to the Evening
Service

The
Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
Be Thou My Vision
This ancient Celtic hymn text expresses the desire of a Christian to live a
God-centered existence: for the Lord to be what we see, our constant mental
preoccupation, our ever-present companion, our wisdom, our true Father, our
protector, our delight, our only inheritance, first in our heart.

Praise Waits for Thee in Zion [Psalm 65]
My People, Give Ear, Attend to My Word [Psalm 78]
Jerome (who died in 420) said that he learned the psalms when he was a child
and sang them daily in his old age. He wrote, “The Psalms were continually to be
heard in the fields and vineyards of Palestine. The plowman, as he held his
plow, chanted the Hallelujah, and the reaper, the vinedresser, and the shepherd
sang something from the Psalms of David. Where the meadows were colored with
flowers, and the singing birds made their plaints, the Psalms sounded even more
sweetly. These Psalms are our love-songs, these the instruments of our
agriculture.”

Another writer (Louis F.
Benson) writes of the impact of the Genevan Psalter upon the French exiles in
Geneva in the middle of the sixteenth century: “The sight of the great
congregation gathered in St. Peters, with their little Psalm books in their own
hands, the great volume of voices praising God in the familiar French, the grave
melodies carrying holy words, the favor of the singing and the spiritual uplift
the singers,–all of these moved deeply the emotions of the French exiles now
first in contact with them.”

Fairest Lord Jesus
One of the songs many Christians learned as children in Sunday Schools and
Bible Schools. We sing the first stanza only tonight, before the young children
come down front for the devotional.

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
This is one of Horatius Bonar’s hymns and perhaps one of his most familiar.
Based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, it is a reminder of the passionate
desire of our Saviour for the lost and perishing to come and embrace Him and
know the joy of forgiveness of sins and peace with God. Bonar once wrote:

“With a weak faith and a
fearful heart, many a sinner stands before the Lord. It is not the strength of
our faith, but the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice that saves! No feebleness
of faith, nor dimness of eye, no trembling of hand can change the efficacy of
Christ’s blood. The strength of our faith can add nothing to it, nor can the
weakness of our faith take anything from Him. Faith (weak or strong) still
reads the promise, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all
sin.”
If at times my eye is so dim that I cannot read these words, through
blinding tears or bewildering trials, faith rests itself on the certain
knowledge of the fact that THE PROMISE IS THERE, and the blood of Christ remains
in all its power and suitableness upon the altar, unchanged and unaffected. God
says that the believer is justified. What God hath joined together, let not man
put asunder.”

The
Sermon
Tonight’s sermon encounters a section Mark in which Jesus tells several
parables. Last week we read the parable of the Sower (sometimes called, ‘The
Parable of Soils’). Tonight’s passage see three more: the Parables of the Lamp,
Growing Seed and Mustard Seed. T what exactly are parables? And why did Jesus
use them? Everyone is familiar with Lightfoot’s definition: ‘an earthly story
with a heavenly meaning.’ Perhaps a better one is that of Vincent: ‘A metaphor
or story connected with the affairs of daily life is used as an illustration of
moral and spiritual truths, on the assumption that what applies in one sphere is
relevant also in the others.’

Parables have Old Testament roots. The Hebrew word (mashal) has a wide
range of meaning. It can refer to a story or illustration (such as the farmer
and the soils), or to a word picture, or even a wise saying (similar to a
proverb). Essentially the parables served to do several things all at once:
First of all they were convenient vehicles for veiling the truth from those who
had no business knowing it. Jesus’ enemies were foiled in their attempt to
catch him out because they couldn’t understand what he was saying! Parables
served as covenant curses on the wicked. Second, they served as useful snapshots
(for those ‘with ears to hear’) of what Jesus had come to do–to establish his
kingdom, his rule. They powerfully depicted that King Jesus had arrived and was
engaged in a work of spiritual restoration. They spoke of urgency and the need
for a response. They divided hearers into those who were in Christ’s kingdom and
those who were not.

Tonight, nothing has changed. Jesus will come in his word and ask you, ‘Do you
have ears to hear?’ And “What are doing about it?’

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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