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Worship Message - "The Parable of The Sower"

The Parable of
The Sower

About four months ago, we celebrated Christmas. We celebrated the fact Jesus came to earth to be with people physically to teach by word and example.

About three-and-a-half weeks ago, we celebrated Good Friday. We celebrated the fact Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for sins. That He did so willingly.

Three weeks ago, we celebrated Easter. We celebrated that death could not hold Jesus. On the third day after His death and burial, He came back to life.

Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. What important, meaningful days those are. Days to celebrate all Jesus did for us.

However, between those events, Jesus did something else that is important and meaningful. He taught, so many of His lessons giving instructions about how people should live.

It is some of His teachings we are considering during this time right after Easter. A consideration that includes the challenge that we know and obey the teachings, thereby honoring our Risen Savior. In fact, obeying and applying what we know is our spiritual responsibility.

The teachings we are considering - one last week, one this week, one each for the next two weeks - are all parables, which are stories Jesus told to teach spiritual lessons. Stories that were difficult for some who heard them originally to understand, but each one containing lessons that could and can be understood through study and prayer.

Since it is our responsibility to obey and apply what Jesus taught, let’s listen carefully to today’s parable, which is the Parable of the Sower, found in the first three of the Gospels. The one used as the base for this message is the account in Mark. Mark 4, beginning with verse 1, where the setting of the teaching is given.

Mark 4:1 - Jesus began to teach beside the sea.

That is significant. Earlier, Jesus had done much of His teaching is Jewish places of worship. At that time, He often spoke very directly, giving specific instructions about how people should live. Bt it was not long before there was such opposition to Jesus - the opposition coming from religious leaders - He found it difficult to effectively communicate His teachings. That is when He began to more often teach away from places of worship. Here is an example of that. Jesus taught today’s parable beside a sea.

As just mentioned, one advantage of His move from places of worship to outside areas was not as much interference from religious leaders. Though they followed Him there eventually, it took a while for them to figure out what He was doing.

Another advantage was that in the open, more people could be taught at the same time. The crowds were not restricted by the size of a building. Hence the report, still in verse 1, that a very large crowd was gathered around Him.

In fact, so large was the crowd, Jesus got into a boat, went off shore a bit, and taught from there.

Whenever I read that, I am impressed by Jesus’ strength of voice. I am impressed by His ability to communicate with so many people over a considerable distance.

I understand that at the back of the shore there was probably an outcropping of rocks. Such a backdrop would have helped. Jesus’ voice would have bounced off the rocks, back to the people. But still, no microphone. With just His voice, Jesus was able to be heard. How amazing is that?

The crowd was on the beach. Jesus was in a boat a short distance out on the sea. Jesus taught the people in the crowd. He taught them many things in parables, including the parable for today.

“Listen,” He began. “A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path. Birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil. Immediately it sprang up, but since it had no depth of soil, when the sun rose, the plant was scorched. Since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it. The plant yielded no grain. Other seeds, though, fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

That is a nice story, is it not? But remember, a parable is not just a nice story. It has the purpose of teaching a spiritual lesson. A spiritual point is the purpose of it. So what is the lesson - what is the point - of this story? Remember that when we know the point - when we know any of the truths Jesus taught - it is our responsibility to obey it and apply it. But what is the spiritual point Jesus intended with the Parable of the Sower?

We know what it is because Jesus explained it. He did that when, a bit later, His disciples asked Him what He meant by the parable. Jesus was pleased they asked. He told them that by asking - and by receiving the answer - they were able to know the secret of the Kingdom of God. They could know because they wanted to know.

Here is the explanation Jesus gave.

The sower represents the one who sowed the word of God. That one was Jesus back then. The word of God He sowed had to do with salvation - with love, forgiveness, and living righteously. I suppose others can be included now - preachers and teachers - but at that time, Jesus was the main one teaching. The main one sowing God’s word.

The word of God was being spread everywhere to everyone who would listen.

Unfortunately, some of the seed fell along the path. As the parable has it, birds came and devoured it, meaning it never sprouted. It did not grow. But what is the spiritual teaching? It is that some people who hear the word of God are like paths, as in hard, beaten down paths that were common in Israel between fields. The paths were walkways between fields. Because they were so well-traveled, they consisted of very hard ground. Seed that fell on them had no chance to survive.

The spiritual meaning? Not birds. Rather, as Jesus explained, it is Satan who takes away the word of God from those who are spiritually hardened.

Why are some people hardened spiritually?

Maybe there is, for whatever reason, no interest in spiritual things. I understand many countries in western Europe have a lot of that. Beautiful cathedrals are little more than show. More modest or modern church buildings lack attendance. That is because spirituality is considered uncool or unimportant.

Speaking of seeing faith as unimportant, does anyone else watch Madam Secretary on TV? It’s on CBS. Madam Secretary’s husband is a religious expert. A Bible expert. He is portrayed as knowing just about everything there is to know about Christianity. But as I watch the episodes, it seems it is just knowledge that he has. At least there seem to be no times he or his family actually worship - in a church or anywhere else. That is of course fiction, but to me that represents spiritual hardness.

Having an unteachable spirit can cause spiritual hardness. So can pride, as in having the feeling we can somehow make it on our own and do not need God. So can immorality cause disinterest in religion.

Satan can use spiritual indifference against a person. When such a person hears the word of God, Satan is there, ready and able to take it away before it can sink in.

I assume none of us is susceptible to the first part of the Parable of the Sower. I assume we are interested in hearing and considering the word of God. Otherwise we would not be here.

But consider the second part of the parable. The seed that fell on rocky ground, which refers to a shelf of rock just under a thin layer of dirt. The dirt allows seed to germinate, but soon the roots hit the rock. That means little if any water is available. Without water, the sun withers the plant very easily.

The spiritual teaching? Some people hear the word of God and respond very quickly and very joyfully, but at the first sign of trouble - serious trouble such as tribulation or persecution, in the wording of Jesus’ explanation - their spirituality withers and dies.

You know, I used to think, early in my Christian life, that once a person accepts Jesus, the result should be good, carefree days from then on. That problems should be a thing of the past. That there should be pure happiness day in and day out.

That is not how things work, is it? In fact, accepting Jesus and responding to the word of God can both bring problems. Problems from those who do not care about Jesus and problems from Satan who might still be hoping we will be like hard paths.

If what I used to think is the thought of someone, when problems come, the problems can act like rock just below the surface, causing the word of God to wither.

And there are some who never intend to let the word of God grow much in the first place. Some who treat the Christian faith as a fun fad or a craze.

I remember hearing an interview a few years ago with a famous actor known for having a pretty wild lifestyle, who announced he had become a Christian.

I don’t remember his name, but in the interview he was asked some questions. Would his new faith cause him to take only wholesome acting roles from then on? “No,” he answered. Would his new faith cause his behaviors to be better? Would he stop carousing and settle down? “No,” he answered. Would he start using some of his money for charitable causes? “Wait,” he answered. “I’m not going to let my faith affect my life. I’m not going to carry it to an extreme.”

I hope I am not judging that actor. That is not my role. And I never followed his career after the interview, so I do not know what long-term effect his faith had. However, his words seemed to indicate the joy he felt at accepting Jesus - the joy he expressed when he made his faith known - was not very deep.

The warning in the parable is that such faith is like seed that falls on rocky ground. It is exciting at first, but the first hint of trouble causes the faith to die, just as shallow roots that cannot penetrate the rock cause the death of a plant.

I assume many of us are not susceptible to the second part of the Parable of the Sower. Many of us have had many years of Christian faith. And while most of us have not faced much persecution, at least to the extent of other Christians around the world, we have all had problems of one kind or another.

However, as problems - as tribulation or persecution - continue, which they certainly will… I am thinking of what I see as kind of a growth of disinterest in Christian things in society, and of course all the radical Islamic movements around the world. As problems continue, we need to make sure they do not act like rock in our spiritual lives. Rock that can cause our faith to wither. In other words, we need to make sure we stay strong in our faith.

Which is a similar thought in the third part of the Parable of the Sower, which refers to seed that fell among thorns that grew up and choked out what had begun to grow, thorns referring, spiritually, to the problems of life that can take our spiritual joy away, choking out our spiritual energy. Problems that can smother us and kill our faith.

What are some examples of such problems? Jesus, in His explanation of the parable, mentions three. The cares of the world, the delight in riches, and the desire for other things.

Cares of the world. How about world affairs? The news is often so bad. That can be discouraging. How about health issues? Not feeling well, especially long-term, can be so tiring. How about financial concerns? If we have trouble making ends meet, our attention can be diverted away from spiritual things and toward how to make more money.

Of course, having enough money is important. The danger is the desire growing to the point of delighting in riches. To the point of money becoming more exciting than knowing, obeying, and applying the word of God.

Something else that comes to mind is becoming so busy there does not seem to be time to pray or read the Bible or worship. Other activities can take precedence over spiritual things.

The spiritual teaching - a teaching important for all people, including those of us whose faith was not taken by Satan early on and who have grown roots pretty deep - is to make sure that cares and the delight in riches and other things do not now choke out our faith.

Instead, let’s be like the good soil into which some of the seeds fell. Soil - listen to the wording - soil into which the seeds fell, that accepted the seeds, that allowed the seeds to grow and bear fruit. As Jesus worded it, the good soil represents those who hear the word of God, accept it, and bear spiritual fruit.

How much fruit? Maybe 30 times, maybe 60 times, maybe 100 times growth.

What kind of fruit was Jesus talking about in the parable?

I think part of it is that those with Christian faith who are fruitful are able to draw others to accepting Jesus as their Savior. That is a wonderful kind of fruit.

But another kind of fruit is what is listed later in the Bible as fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, and peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Of course, if we have the fruit of the Spirit, it is more likely we will be able to draw others to the Lord. But even if that does not happen, having the fruit of the Spirit will be pleasing to the Lord. It will also benefit us as the Lord’s followers.

And yes, the only way to have either kind of fruit is to let the word of God fall on us. To receive it. Not just hear it, but protect it from Satan. To make sure there is not any rock of spiritual hardness just under the surface. To keep cares and delights of money and other activities from choking our spiritual joy. To receive the word of God and let it grow.

* * * * *

That is the Parable of the Sower. To help us remember the spiritual lessons of the parable, let me suggest two words. That will be followed by a point of hope.

The two words - two theme words? “Roots” and “fruitfulness.”

Have we heard the importance of roots? The word of God must germinate in us - in our minds and our hearts. To be strong in our faith, the germination must result in roots that go deep. Deep enough to find spiritual water. Deep enough to keep us firmly grounded in both good times and difficult times. The point is to, with the help of God, be the proper kind of spiritual soil. The kind that can and will accept the word of God and let it grow.

The result being fruitfulness, which can be monitored by how we behave. Am I loving? Do I want what is best for everyone? Do I have joy and peace? Am I happy to be in a good relationship with God? Does that continue even on troubled days? Do I display patience? Am I kind and good to others? Is my faith becoming more deeply-rooted all the time? Does that keep me gentle? Does it afford me self-control in the face of so many negative temptations all around me? I all of that helping me share my faith with others?

Roots and fruitfulness. May those two theme words help us understand what Jesus teaches in the parable.

And then this for all who share the Christian faith with others. A point of hope.

Remember the comment made earlier about Jesus being the sower back then when He told the parable? Remember the additional comment that I suppose others - preachers and teachers - can be included now?

Let me expand that to all who share their Christian faith. Let me do that with a point of hope.

The sower in the parable - Jesus - spread the word of God as far as He could. He spread to anyone and everyone who was around to listen. That is what we are to do as well.

But here is the point of hope. Our concern is not to be about how successful we are. We are to leave that to those who hear - and to God. We are simply to do what we are supposed to do.

Here is the point of hope.

With Jesus, some were disinterested in the word of God He sowed. They ignored it. They allowed Satan to take the word of God away from them. Others listened and accepted the word of God, but lost interest in it pretty quickly. Others stayed around longer, but eventually allowed the cares of the world to choke out their faith.

All of which may happen with us, too. But Jesus continued to sow. The hope is that we can, too, knowing that some will receive the word of God we spread and grow deep roots and be fruitful.

What a hopeful thought. A thought that should keep us sowing God’s word.

Today’s closing song is the hymn Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated.

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love,
At the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice and let me sing
Always, only, for my King,
Always, only, for my King.

Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages for Thee;
Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold,
Not a mite would I withhold.

Take my love, My God I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Lord, help us to be like the good soil in Your parable. Help us to accept Your word, letting it grow in us so we can be fruitful.

And as we share Your word with others, keep us going, the result being that some others will be fruitful as well.

Thank You for Your teaching. Help us to obey it and apply it. Amen.

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