GOSPEL OF MARK – ROBBY GALLATY – Program 9
By: Dr. Robby Gallaty
|By: Pastor Robby Gallaty; ©2010|
|Jesus frequently taught in parables to both reveal and conceal teachings from those who heard him. But he always used a context that would be familiar to his audience.|
Work of Word in Soil of Souls
The title of the message this morning is this: The Work of the Word in the Soil of Souls. Turn with me to verse 1 of Mark 4. When Jesus wants his students to learn, he normally opts to teach in a system called what? Parables, right? You got it. Now there are two reasons Jesus speaks in parable. Write this down. The first one is this: he speaks to reveal. In fact, Jesus will reveal things, and we’ll see in just a few moments, he reveals to the inner circle; not to the outsiders, but to the inner disciples. It’s a form of discipleship. Jesus used parables most of the time and let me show you how you understand a parable. A parable, write this down, is almost always with a setting and a plot. Secondly, it’s always in the context of the hearers. The hearers at the time of hearing would have understood the story. Jesus would use things that they know like fishing or sheep or casting things out, nets into the water. They would have understood this. And so a parable is always set in the context of the time. But here’s the key. A parable has one driving truth. It’s not an allegory. See, an allegory is you read a story and each person in each setting in the plot has different meanings to the story. That’s not the case with a parable. Every parable has one driving theme and we’re going to see what the driving theme of this parable is.
Secondly, not only did Jesus teach to reveal, he taught parables, as we’ll see this morning, to conceal. He concealed the secrets of the kingdom of heaven from those who are on the outside. In order for us to understand why Jesus does this parable, it’s important for us to understand the context. Remember what I said, church. Here it is: whenever we come to a difficult passage for those faithful Bible expositors, those who are diligent to study the text, you have to understand the context of the passage, right? Here’s a saying: a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text. What does that mean? Let me explain it to you. If we take a text out of the context of the passage, we pretext it, meaning we can make it say whatever we want to; proof text it into proving what we believe. If you don’t believe this happens, turn on the television today and watch preachers who do it all day long, right? They’re constantly proving things that are out of context. Context is king. That’s the key.
Now what is the context of Mark 4? You have to go to the passage before. Remember last week. We talked about how Jesus performed a messianic miracle. The man can’t speak or hear. Jesus performs a messianic miracle and the crowd has a choice. Is this the son of David or, they say, he’s of the devil. Jesus says whoever speaks blasphemy against the Son of Man or of another person will be forgiven but whoever speaks a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is going to commit the unpardonable sin and will never be forgiven in this age or the age to come. And so notice Jesus doesn’t call down the unpardonable sin on them. He says this is how you commit it.
And then we have the switch. Friends, you might to circle Mark 4. This is the definitive change. It’s a shift in Jesus’ ministry. Go to Matthew 13. Let me let you hear from the mouth of Jesus, why he speaks in parables to conceal the message. Matthew 13:10. If you’re one of the disciples, this is what you’re saying up to this point, okay. You just left it all to follow Jesus. You left a lucrative business. If you’re Matthew, you left your college degree, you’re Ph.D., you left your accounting business. And you would think that, because you left it all; because you believe this man is the Son of God, everyone else would see it. And so after that ordeal with the Pharisees calling the devil, the disciples have to be saying, “Jesus. Hold up here. I mean what in the world is going on? They’re not only saying you’re not God. They’re saying you’re the devil. If anybody could see that you’re God, it’s got to be the Pharisees and the scribes and they miss it!” And Jesus says, “Guys, come in real close. There’s an interesting teaching I have to show you.”
And right in the heart of this teaching, Jesus says in Matthew 13:10, look what he says. After the disciples ask him this question, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them,…” now, who’s them? The Pharisees. The scribes. Those with a hardened heart. To them, look what he says, “…to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables.”
Underline this part. You need to be underlining in your Bible, right? You need to work with the text. You need to wrestle with the text, okay. Underline this section: this is why I speak in parables. Why? “…because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
What? Jesus, what are you talking about here? We’re going to get to that in just a minute. But Jesus is saying this: “The reason I speak in parables is this. I’m edifying the church and I’m concealing from the crowd or the unbelievers.” Go to Mark 4. We’re going to take the passage and we’re going to study it together.
“Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside [him on] the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen!’” Circle that word. That’s one of the key words. Listen. Hear.
“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up [quickly], since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil [here’s the good soil] and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and [even] a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘He who has ears to hear [circle it again] let him [circle it again] hear.’”
Did you notice that the parable is bookend with the word hear? Hear. Hear. So that’s one of the clues. Go to verse 10. “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
Now, let me stop here. This is a direct quotation to Isaiah 6. Do you remember the story in Isaiah 6? You can turn there later. Isaiah comes before the Lord. He sees God high and lifted up and at the end of that interchange or exchange, he says, “Here am I. Send me.” And then God gives him probably the most bizarre commission in all of the prophets. I mean, think about this. This is the weirdest command I’ve ever heard. He said, “Isaiah, I’m going to send you and you’re going to preach in such a way where people will have ears to hear but won’t hear. They’ll have eyes to see but won’t see and they won’t understand.”
Now think about that. Now, you would expect Isaiah to go out and preach these deep, doctrinal messages, right? I mean, these weighty passages like people couldn’t understand. But he does just the opposite. And if you’re a good Bible expositor, you’ll find that even in Isaiah, it says that he speaks on a child’s level. He speaks so simple. But the problem is the people don’t hear and they don’t understand. And this is why. Here’s the key. They have a hard heart. That’s what Jesus is getting to in this passage. The passage is not about sowing and seed. The passage is about the heart.
Let me give you the people. First of all, who’s the sower? In this passage, who’s the sower? Jesus; or us when we go out with the Word. So when you and I go into the Word, we sow. Now, what does the seed represent? The Word. And just like that little seed has an impact to grow into this huge tree, so does the Word have the power to grow in the life of an unbeliever. The same immeasurable power, abundantly more than could think or imagine is embedded in the Word when we cast the Word out to sow.
But here’s the question, what is the soil? Because that’s really the key. Look at it. What is the soil? And the answer is what? The heart. That’s what this passage is about. It’s about the condition of your heart. Now, let me just state this at the front. Commentators have gone back and forth as to what this means. I’m going to come down and say this. The first three soils are of unbelieving hearts. The last soil is the only believing heart. The first three, in essence, you can say this. They are unbelievers. They are unregenerate. They are not born again. They have not been justified. They have not been converted. But, Robby, they look like they’ve been converted. That’s the key. That’s the deception that you can been sitting next to somebody this morning that actually looks like a believer. It might even be your spouse. All the appearances of a believer. But deep within there’s hardness of one’s heart.
Look as Jesus explains the parable for us in verse 13. “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” Basically what Jesus is saying is this: if you understand, it will unlock all the other parables. So this is pretty important.
Verse 14. The sower sows the word; we understood that. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. It doesn’t have time to grow.
And then there are those that are sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation comes, or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. So these are people that get excited about God. Tribulation comes. They turn from God.
Verse 18. “And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves [to be ]unfruitful.”
But look at the productive soil. “But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold”
If you’re taking notes, write it down. The first one is the trampled soil. Now, Jewish people in the first century would have understood this. You’ve got to understand. Seed sowing was common in the first century. This is the way they would do it, church. They would have a big bag on their side and they would strap it around their back. And then the farmer, kind of in a rhythmic manner, would take the seed and throw it out as he walks through the field. And he would walk through the field and he would throw the seed.
There was another way to do it for the lazy farmers and, basically, what they would do is this. They would put the bag on the back of a donkey and they would cut a hole in the bag and they would move the animal through the rows in the field. Get the idea? As the animal would move, the seed would fall.
Now, what’s interesting is the soil is hardened. Don’t misunderstand me. A lot of people have said this is seed that falls on the roadside. I don’t think so. I think the idea is this. If you study the fields in the first century, you’ll see that the farmer would plow just like they do today with rows of crop and there would be a walkway in the middle. And because of the trampling on the walkway by the bare feet of the farmer, the ground would be compacted from the years of tilling and harvesting and walking and reaping and sowing. The ground would be hard. And no matter how much seed you would throw on that hardened ground, it would never penetrate the soil. This is what Jesus says. The heart, the human heart, is the same way. That because of sin in our life, the Word doesn’t penetrate our heart.
Here’s an interesting reciprocal process in the Bible. The Bible shows us that because we are sinners, we do not receive the Word. And because we do not receive the Word, we’re sinners. Do you see it? This process of because we are sinners, we don’t want the word and, because we don’t want the Word, we remain sinners. Romans 1 talks about this in verse 18. You remember the verse. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men.” What he’s saying is this. God’s wrath is being poured out onto earth, who suppressed the truth with their wickedness. What he’s saying is this. Because of the sinfulness of mankind, we don’t want to hear the truth. We suppress it. “But what is made known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. His eternal power and divine nature, his invisible qualities have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made so that men and women are without excuse.” This is what he’s saying. No one has an excuse as to seeing there’s a God. But the problem is because of our own sinfulness as unbelievers, we don’t want God, right? We’re sinners who love sin and our heart is hardened to God.
There’s a question you need to ask yourself. Is this my heart? Do I desire the pleasures of the world over the Word? Is my heart hardened to God? This is how you know if this is you. You come to church and you have no desire to hear the sermon. You have desire to read God’s Holy Word. You have no desire for the things of God. You could care less about God. It’s all about what you want to do. It’s your sinfulness has consumed your life and, due to that, your heart is hardened. That’s the trampled soil.
The second soil is this, the shallow soil. Look at it. This is the soil where the seed goes in and it sprouts up quickly. Now once again, we have to go back to the first century. On the ground of most of the soil, there was a thin veneer of soil about two to three inches deep and underneath that soil, which was good soil, there was limestone rock. And because the rock was there, the roots would go down, but they can’t go very far. And the plant will sprout up quickly but because there’s no depth to the root—in essence, no discipleship, there’s no investment in the life of the believer, at that point which is still an unbeliever—the sun comes out, scorches the plant and the plant withers and dies. And basically what Jesus is saying is this: what is the sun? The trials of life. Now you know people like me who start out great for the Lord, right? And then they seem to fizzle out. Anybody know anybody like that? Do you know someone like that? We all know people like that. These unbelievers here may look like God’s working in their life. They might even walk an aisle. They might even come to church. They might even carry their Bible with them. On the outside, even for months, they can put on an act. And that’s what Jesus said. This man here had shallow ground. He starts quick but there’s not long-term fix. There’s no long-term fruit.
Adrian Rogers said it best, “A faith that fizzles before the finish had a flaw from the first.” That’s it. A faith that finishes will have a good foundation in the beginning but the reason the faith fizzled is because it did have a flaw from the first. You may be saying, “Pastor, how do I know this is me?” This is the question to ask yourself: when times get difficult, do I run to the Lord Jesus Christ or do I run away from God? Am I only around when the good times are happening and when the bad times comes, I flee? When the cares of this world become overwhelming, do they make me bitter or do they make me better? That’s the shallow heart.
Notice, thirdly, the polluted heart or the polluted soul. See, what they would do in the first century is, after they would harvest the ground, they would come back and burn the tops of the trees or burn the crop off and start over. And sometimes it would look like the field is clear. But lurking below the surface are thorns and weeds that will strangle the seed. And so as the seed is being sown, the weeds come in and strangle it. And Jesus likens this to the cares and the luxuries of this world. It’s being disconnected. It’s loving one thing but being strayed into another. Jesus said it in Matthew 7. You remember what he said. Matthew 6. You cannot serve two masters. For you’ll either love one or hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Church, you can’t have it both ways. You’re either going to serve the Lord Jesus Christ or you’re going to serve the things of this world. You can’t have it both ways. Let me ask you. Is that you?
Jesus once ran into a man who was a rich young ruler and this young man had it all by the world’s standards. And he said, “Jesus, I want to have eternal life.” And Jesus said, “Have you done everything well?” And he said, “I’ve done it all.” He said, “There’s one thing you still lack. Go and sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” The saddest verse in the Bible, church, listen to me, it says the man turned away because his possessions were too great.
Now, we look at that and think, man, that guy’s rich. That guy’s possessions are poverty to what you and I have today. Do you realize that? He had nothing compared to what we have. We have cars; two cars. We have multiple televisions in our house. We have computers. We have laptops. We go on vacations. We have condos. We have boats. We go on extra-curricular activities. We go fishing and hunting. By the world’s standards, that man is in poverty.
Do we think we could be any less deceived today? Let me ask you. Have you gotten choked out by the riches of this world? Have you tried to make a name for yourself instead of making a name for God? Because if you have, Jesus would say examine yourself! Look at your heart. Because this is what your heart should look like.
The productive soil. Look at it. Here’s the picture of the productive soil. Jesus said it will produce 30-fold. Get this. That was unthinkable. I mean, nobody produced 30 times the investment. But then Jesus goes on. He says it could produce 60 times and 100 times, which was astronomical. It’d be the equivalent of investing $10,000 and getting back $1 million. I mean, think of the return. And Jesus says this is the productive soil. This is authentic living, living that not only receives the Word with gladness, but lives the Word out in your life. People will see that you’re a believer. At your funeral, people will come up to your spouse and say, “That man, that woman, was a man of God.”
Friends, are you living in such a way where you’re producing fruit? Now get this. You can’t produce the fruit. It’s God who produces the fruit. But people will see the fruit in your life. Let me teach you some Greek. I’ve debated about doing this but I want to show you to prove a point. In the first three hearings, that word “hearing” is in the aorist tense. That doesn’t mean anything to you, but this is what that means. The aorist tense is a one time, final hearing. It’s heard and done with. It happened in the past. It was in one ear, out the other ear. So when Satan came and took the seed, when the thorns choked it out, when it grew real fast at no depth, it was a one-time hearing and it was gone. But in the last hearing, the one that’s productive, it’s in the present tense. And basically what Jesus is saying here is when that word goes into the heart as you’re hearing now, it is dwelling. It’s happening now. It’s continually growing. It’s developing every day in your life. It’s producing fruit.
There are three things I want you to see about this parable as we take home these walking points. Here they are. The first is this; only a small percentage of the people we talk to about the gospel are actually going to hear and be saved. Now that’s encouraging us—well it’s probably discouraging because think about it; only one out of four believe. Not good odds, right? But what Jesus says is this. This is interesting. One out of four will only believe; but at least one will believe out of four, or a percentage-wise. But it’s not you who’s doing the saving. It’s Me. And so what the idea for you is you need to go and sow seeds. Now, what he’s saying, too, is this: “Don’t determine the person by the outward appearance because it could look like the soil is unproductive but it’s underneath the surface of the heart that I’m working.”
When I first came to Chattanooga, I had an opportunity to speak to a church in Georgia. And I was preaching this message in George, it was a youth event and they had a bunch of youth, but they also had parents in this church. And it was a sanctuary like ours. Maybe a little smaller with a long row on both sides just like this. And as I was preaching the message, I got up to preach. I started to preach just like this and they had some girls on the front row that were talking. I mean, what are these girls doing talking, you know? And not only talking. They begin to pass notes to one another in the beginning of the sermon. You know, writing notes and passing notes. And then all of a sudden, the cell phone comes out and it’s beginning to be distracting not only to the kids, but the parents. And so, right in the middle of talking, I said, “You! You. I want you to move over here.” Just like that.
Now, I’ve never done that before, and don’t get nervous. I don’t plan to do it again, okay. Well, let me take that back. Rig hasn’t made it to the big church yet, okay! Our son. Poor Rig, right?
But anyway, I said, “You over here.” And she said, “Me?” Now I could tell at that moment she was not a believer. I could tell at that moment she’d probably never gone to church before. I could tell that by the dress and outfit she was wearing. She probably never been to church before or hadn’t been in a while. I said, “You over here.” So she moved against her will over there. And you could tell she had anger on her face. She wasn’t happy about it.
But as I began to preach, it seemed like God was softening her heart. And I began to watch her as I was preaching. And right when I was coming to the invitation time, when I was going to give all the kids an opportunity to respond to the gospel, to repent of their sins, put their faith in Christ, she pops up. Her friend pops up. They’d had enough. They walked down aisle. Right in front of the church. Just walked out of the church. And I thought, “Well, so much for that one, right?” And I began to preach and I thought, well, she had gone.
But she didn’t leave. She was standing in the back. And I don’t know if it was the overwhelming presence of the Lord. I don’t know if it was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know. But I began to preach and I said, “If you would like to come forward and pray with me, I would like to encourage you. If God is moving in your life, I want to pray with you. Would you come forward?” No one came at first. Then all of a sudden, I looked up from praying and out of the corner of my eye, I see someone walking down the aisle. It’s her. It’s the girl that I called out. She walks down the aisle.
She walks right up to me and, tears in her eyes, she says, “Robby, I want to know Jesus. I’ve never known Jesus and I want to know Jesus.” And, folks, I got to lead her to the Lord right in the front. Now, people were getting excited. I saw people talking and fidgeting. I didn’t know who this girl was and I didn’t know what God was doing. And when I presented her to the church, someone ran up to me after the church and the kids were all excited and they said, “You’re never going to believe this. But we found that girl walking on the street. She’s not even a part of the youth group. In fact, she doesn’t even live here. She was visiting her grandmother’s house and she happened to be walking and we invited her to the service to come in and come to find out, she’s never even been to church her whole life. She doesn’t even know about Christ.” And the first time she walked in, God spoke to her heart.
Listen to me. This is the lesson. We cannot judge a book by its cover. God hasn’t call us to save people. God’s called you and I to sow. Go and sow. Don’t worry about the results. Which is the second point I want to make. Don’t worry about the amount of fruit that’s produced. You be faithful to sow. I have people come up to me after services and say, “Pastor, I just don’t know why anybody didn’t respond to the message. I mean, you preached your heart out. Nobody responded.” Listen, doesn’t bother me. My job’s to preach. God’s job’s to save. Not mine. And it’s your job to sow. Listen, leave God to do the saving. You go out and do the sowing. Don’t worry about the fruit that’s produced. You just produce fruit by sowing. First of all, only a small percentage will come.
Thirdly, watch this. The evidence of the changed life is the evidence to prove salvation. Let me say it this way. How do I know I’m a believer today? This is how you know. Look at your life. That’s how you know. Now, let me make two statements. One, you cannot work to be saved. It’s by grace you’ve been saved through faith. It is a gift of God not of yourselves, not by works. Any questions?
But, look at verse ten. We stopped there. Verse 10 says we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works before the ages began. So we’re not saved by good works. But we are saved to work for God, right? So the evidence that will build the case of your salvation to your family and friends and ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ is your life. But here’s the deal. If you’re not bearing fruit of good works, I would question whether you’re a believer. I’d really question. “But, Pastor, 20 years ago my son walked the aisle in this church. Well, he curses now, he goes to bars, he smokes every weekend, he drinks all the time and yells at his wife. But we’re holding on he’s a Christian.” No! No! Listen, you can fall into a momentary lapse of sin but your lifestyle should be a lifestyle of holiness and righteousness unto the Lord. You should have a desire for the Word. You should have a desire for holiness. You should have a desire for God.
Question yourself this morning. Do you have a hardened heart this morning? Are you calloused to the Word? Then, my dear brother, I beg you to repent this morning and put your faith in Christ.