Generous Sowing, Generous Hearing, Generous Blessing
by Jack Wald | March 18th, 2018

Mark 4:1-20

Why is it that some people respond to the invitation of Jesus to come and others do not? Why is it in a family that some of the children will grow up to follow Jesus but others will walk away?

One of the more disheartening experiences in my life was with a man I began a relationship with who was interested in following Jesus. After meeting just a couple times he prayed to give his life to Jesus. Over a period of three years we spent a lot of time together and I shared deeply and intimately with him about how I lived my life with Jesus. He was welcomed into the life of the church and was growing in his faith and then after three years the relationship broke and he walked away. Did he also walk away from Jesus? Only God knows who his children are and I pray that this man and his wife are still hanging on to Jesus, wherever they are.

When I was in university I was part of a group of 600+ followers of Jesus. We lived a life right out of the book of Acts. We shared what we had with each other. Every week there were new followers of Jesus at our meetings. It was an exciting time.

But then with the passage of time, after we had graduated from university, some of the leaders who had been so fervent in their following of Jesus lost their passion. Some leaders came out as being gay and moved away from the church, some drifted into a liberal theology that questioned the truths of the Bible, some became consumed with making money and lost their enthusiasm for Jesus, some had moral failures that led to divorce and drifted away from the church. Young men and women who were so enthusiastic about Jesus and his church drifted away for one reason or another.

I have suffered the disappointment of people falling away from Jesus so many times over the years that I do not become completely enthusiastic when a new person comes to faith in Jesus. What I want to see is that this new believer holds on to faith when following Jesus becomes inconvenient or difficult. And, when I see someone persevere through difficult times, it is an amazing miracle. I am in awe and that is when I celebrate.

How many of the people who were healed by Jesus, delivered from demons by Jesus, were miraculously fed by Jesus, persevered and held on to faith in Jesus to the end of their years on earth? A man who was paralyzed was lowered to Jesus through the roof of the house where Jesus was speaking. Jesus healed him and he walked out the door of the house and greeted with great joy his four friends who had carried him to the house. What happened to him in the years afterwards? Did he follow Jesus all the rest of the days of his life? I always assumed so, but if Jesus never experienced the heartbreak of having someone he spent time with walk away from him, why did he teach the Parable of the Sower?

The Parable of the Sower, found in Mark 4:1-20, is familiar to us. This is a parable about generosity. Let me explain:

In the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel Jesus has been healing people, confronting the religious establishment, calling the twelve to be his closest disciples. He has started his public ministry with a bang and the crowds are responding. There are so many people that Jesus has to get into a fishing boat and push off from shore to address this crowd. Jesus starts off by saying, “Listen!” “Listen!” and ends with, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

The first thing to notice in this parable is that the sower sows the seed generously. The seed is not sown one by one, carefully placed in just the right spot.

We had a garden when I was growing up. Before we planted the seeds, we prepared the ground. We placed horse manure from our horses on the garden and allowed that to sit for the winter months. Then in the spring we turned the soil over with a roto-tiller. We worked the soil and only after doing that did we carefully plant our seeds. When we planted vegetables, we had packets of seed, not to be wasted.

For carrots, we took the hoe and made a straight line and then placed the seed along the trough we had made with the hoe. We covered up the seed, lightly tamped it down and watered it gently. For squash or cucumbers, we made a little mound and placed two or three seeds in the mound. For beans, we made a row with the hoe and placed the seeds one by one, about six inches apart.

This is not the image of the sower in this parable. The sower takes a handful of seed and tosses it out in an arc, the seed falls almost indiscriminately. In the middle of the patch of ground where seed was being sown, there was a path where people walked through this plot of land. The ground was hard pressed down because of the repeated weight of people and animals walking over it. Some of the seed falls on this ground.

There were sections in the land where there was a layer of limestone just under the surface of the soil. The seed would sprout but quickly wither because the soil was not deep enough to allow the roots of the plant to develop. Some of the seed falls on this ground.

There were sections where the soil also contained roots of weeds and thorns. While the plant grew, so did the weeds and thorns and they would choke out the growth of the seed and it would not develop fruit.

In this parable, the seed is all the same. There is not good seed and bad seed. All the seed is good and capable of growing and bearing fruit. What makes the difference is not the seed, but the soil. The seed is sown and it is the receptivity of the soil that makes it beaten down, rocky, weed infested, or good soil.

The sower is not working the soil, carefully planting seeds in a neat row, three to a mound, six inches apart, making sure no seed is wasted. The sower casts his seed to one and all in the hope that some will respond.

God is generous in sowing his seed.

My family was on the island of Zanzibar the year before Annie and I moved to Morocco. The old town of Zanzibar has narrow twisting streets, open to the sky but a bewildering maze that makes it easy to get lost, as I did several times. One day when we were out walking, I turned a corner and looked up, and there it was. About 6 or 7 meters above the ground there was a mango tree growing out of the wall. It was a most unlikely place to see a mango tree, and yet this mango tree was growing out of this crack in the wall and it was bearing fruit.

Some of the most unlikely people become Christians after hearing the Gospel – and some of those unlikely people are us. God is a generous sower and he can even sow seed in a concrete wall.

God is generous in sowing. God is shameless in his pursuit of us in sowing his seed. We say no, we ignore him, we pursue pleasure, we pursue other gods, and God continually, relentlessly pursues us until we finally respond to the seed and say, “Yes.”

In retrospect, I see that God spoke to me many times in my life before I decided to follow him. In particular I remember thoughts of God because of what I saw in nature. I remember two different Sunday School teachers who shared the Gospel with me. I remember a trip to Florida when I was 13 years old where God spoke to me in a church one night. Over and over, God spoke to me. In Pennsylvania, in Florida, in New Jersey, in Massachusetts, in Germany. But it was not until I was 20 years old that I finally responded to his pursuit of me.

If you have not yet decided to follow Jesus, if you have not yet given your life to God, there is no escape. This may be the first time you have heard God’s word, and maybe it is the 100th time. But you can be sure this won’t be the last time. God will keep sowing his seed.

If you walk away from Jesus, God will keep sowing his seed. God will pursue you to the last days of your life, sowing seed in the hope that you will return to him. God will not give up on you until you respond. There is nowhere you can go where God will not cast a seed in the hope you will be good soil and open your heart to him.

The Parable of the Sower teaches us about God’s generosity in sowing seed. Secondly, it teaches us to be generous in our hearing.

This is a parable about listening, hearing. Jesus begins teaching this parable by saying to the crowd, “Listen!” Pay attention. And then after he tells them the parable, he says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

The seed is all good. Each seed is capable of developing into a plant that will bear fruit. Why do some bear fruit and others not? What makes the difference is the response of the person to the seed. The person who listens generously is the one who is good soil and bears much fruit.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

There have been varying responses to Jesus’ ministry in the opening of Mark’s gospel. In the preceding chapter of Mark there are three accounts and three responses to the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus goes into a synagogue and is tested by the Pharisees. There is a man there with a shriveled hand and they want to see if Jesus will heal him on the Sabbath and thereby break the law which prohibits working on the Sabbath. Jesus, in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, heals the man’s arm. The Pharisees then begin to plot with the Herodians to see how they might kill Jesus.

That is one response to the ministry of Jesus.

The crowds swarm around Jesus, those with diseases pushing forward to be healed. Feed me, touch me, heal me. Feed me, touch me, heal me. Show me a miracle.

That is a second response to the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus’ own family had a third response to Jesus. The crowds pressed in on Jesus and his disciples so that the Scripture says they could not even eat. His own family said that he was out of his mind and came to rescue him. If they could get him home, perhaps they could talk some sense to him.

That is a third response to the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus has not been saying different things to different groups. He has been consistent in his teaching and healing ministry. But there are three different responses thus far in his ministry. Anger and plotting to kill him, “Hey Jesus, give us another miracle. Take care of my need.” and “He’s out of his mind, let’s take him home and nurse him back to health.”

Why such different responses to Jesus? Jesus teaches this parable to answer that question. It is how people hear what Jesus says that determines their response.

When Jesus is alone with his disciples, he helps them to understand what he is saying in this parable.

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

The hearts of the Pharisees were so hardened that they could not hear the teachings of Jesus. Their minds were fixed on what they believed to be true. There was no possibility they could be wrong, no openness to Jesus. They were in a position of power as the religious leaders of the Jews and viewed Jesus as a threat. And so they plotted to kill him.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

The crowds came to Jesus to see a miracle. There was tremendous excitement and enthusiasm. People being healed of disease, withered arms being restored, the blind being given sight. Why this was better than a circus. Think about it. There was not a lot of entertainment in the Palestine of Jesus’ time. No cable TV, no DVDs, no digital music. So when Jesus came around and started healing people, this was the most exciting thing to have happened in a long time. There was so much excitement, but did these people stay with Jesus? The crowds came to Jesus, but in the end, he was followed by just a few. The crowds deserted him.

After John the Baptist was arrested, Mark tells us that Herod liked to listen to him. There was some spiritual interest in Herod. But when Herod met Jesus, what happened? When Jesus was arrested, Pilate sent him to Herod who wanted to be entertained with a miracle. In the words of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Herod sings:
So You are the Christ
You’re the great Jesus Christ
Prove to me that You’re divine
Change my water into wine

Prove to me that You’re no fool
Walk across my swimming pool

There are some people who want to be entertained, want to be made to feel good, but when difficulty comes, they fade away.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Jesus’ family is clearly struggling with how to view Jesus. They know him better than anyone and yet are clearly confused by his ministry. In a small town everyone knows everyone’s business and the people in Jesus’ town were upset when Jesus announced to them that he was the Messiah.

Neighbors came up to Mary and her children and asked, “Who does he think he is?” Perhaps the neighbors were critical of Jesus for abandoning the family business and going off as an itinerant rabbi. The family of Jesus were suffering because of what Jesus was doing.

We are each given the same seed, the same invitation to come, but do we hear the invitation? Do we keep on hearing the invitation?

Jesus’ invitation is not the only one we receive. The world is also inviting us. Our lives are packed full of the world’s invitation to come and seek what the world has to offer. Buy me and find happiness. Try me and find pleasure. Follow me and find fame and fortune. In the midst of all this noise, do we continue to hear the invitation of Jesus to come to him?

How are you hearing the invitation of Jesus?

If your heart was hardened and you were like the hard ground of the path, you would probably not be here this morning. People like this have a mind that is preset. When they hear the words of Jesus, they hear them through a filter that screens out the truth. They have a number of presuppositions that prevent them from hearing the truth.

The hardened heart says, “There is no supernatural world. All we know and experience is what exists in this world.”

The hardened heart says, “Jesus was a good teacher but his teachings have been distorted and twisted and people have made him into someone he never thought himself to be.”

The hardened heart says, “Belief in God, religion, is for those who are not enlightened. Just as primitive people worshiped the sun because they did not understand astronomy and physics, so do people today worship God because they do not understand the origins of the universe.”

The hardened heart says, “There are many religions. There are many truths and we have no right to say one truth is more true than another truth.”

These and other presuppositions screen out the truth of Jesus so his teachings cannot be heard.

If you are like the thin layer of soil that lies on a layer of rock, you might be here today. This is, after all, the Easter season. It is an exciting period of church life. Next Sunday we will be waving palm branches with lots of singing and then we will move into the events of Holy Week.

Some churches with more resources than we have generate even more excitement. Imagine a church with a ten-piece band with guitars and keyboard and saxophone and trumpets or perhaps a 100 person choir with a mini-orchestra accompanying it. And maybe a drama group that puts on Easter and Christmas pageants. In churches like this, it is easy to come because of the excitement, the entertainment.

Following Jesus can be exciting, until you hear words of Jesus like these from Luke 14:25–27

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

When following Jesus is no longer exciting and begins to be demanding, well, maybe it’s time to do something other than follow Jesus. When following Jesus means you have to worship with people who do not worship like you like to worship, then it’s time to do something else. When someone in church offends you, then it is time to stay home from church. When following Jesus means you have to sacrifice things you like to do, then it is time to pull away from Jesus. This is the seed sown on the rocky soil.

Perhaps you are like the soil that has the roots of weeds and thorns that grow up with the seed and choke out the life of the plant so it bears no fruit. You hear the word, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

This is where most of us struggle. Being a Christian is not easy and faith does not come without struggle.

There are many worries that keep us from bearing fruit: pressure of schedules, financial worries, fears about our health or the health of those we love, and on and on. We look at those around us and see what they have and want it for ourselves. It is easy to spend your life in pursuit of wealth and possessions.

We may fear being ridiculed for our faith and so decide it’s not worth it. We may get tired of resisting temptation and walk away from Jesus. We may value a relationship with someone more than Jesus.

My father’s brother was in the US Army in WWII. He drove a truck in New Guinea, in the Pacific theater of the war. He met some missionaries and became very religious during the war. He and his Christian friends talked about coming back to New Guinea after the war to work with the missionaries. He was with the occupying forces in Japan after the war and he befriended many of the Japanese there. He was gifted in building relationships.

But after the war, he returned to his wife and she told him he had to choose between Jesus or her and by the time I knew him, he didn’t go to church. He left his Christian faith because of the weeds and thorns that grew up around him.

In all these things, it is a matter of listening generously to the Word of God. It is not listening to any and every thing. There are many messages in the world, tempting us, urging us, seducing us to move away from our faith. It is not indiscriminate listening. It is selective listening. Listening to those things that will encourage us in our faith. When we listen to God generously, our heart seeks God above all other things. We become good soil that will bear fruit.

This parable teaches us to be generous in sowing, generous in listening, but the emphasis of this parable is God’s generosity in blessing.

20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

The parables of Jesus always contain a twist, something that made the listeners to his parables sit up and be surprised. This is where the twist in this parable comes.

A normal Palestinian harvest was seven and a half times what was sown. For each seed sowed, a farmer could expect to get back seven and a half seeds. A spectacular harvest would be ten times the seed sown.

Jesus says in this parable, that the seed sown in good soil, soil that listens and obeys the word of God, will yield a harvest of thirty (wow!), sixty (incredible!) Or even a hundred times what was sown (unbelievable!)

A harvest of 100 times what was sown is humanly impossible. Only God can possibly bring that kind of yield. Only God’s work in your life will bring that blessing.

But this is how God works. God can take five loaves and two fish and feed 5,000 men plus their families and have twelve baskets of leftovers.

God can take twelve country boys from Galilee and turn the world around.

What is it Paul says to the Corinthians? (1 Corinthians 1:26–29)
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,

Throughout church history, God has taken simple people, weak and wounded people, and accomplished great things.

This is the good news of this parable. When you listen to Jesus and seek to obey you will bear fruit. As you are living a life that is obedient to God, you are bearing fruit. God can take your life and make it abundantly fruitful.

I want to tell you this morning, as strongly as I can, that the harvest God is bringing from your life, if you have given yourself to him and are attempting to live an obedient life, is far greater than you can imagine. When you get to heaven, you will be stunned by the vast store of treasure you have built up in heaven.

I made one step of obedience when I left the US and came to Rabat to pastor RIC. When I reflect I am amazed at all the ways God has blessed that step of obedience. There are people God brought to Morocco because I came to Morocco and through those people many more people have been blessed. God has given me opportunities to encourage people who are blessing others. Being good soil, listening to the leading of Jesus, leads to blessing upon blessing upon blessing.

You may be sitting here in Rabat and wondering what on earth you are doing. Your bank account is not getting bigger. Your classmates and friends seem to be accomplishing more than you. But I tell you again, you are becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams.

Some of you came to Morocco to get a university education and are discovering that in addition to your university education, you are getting an education from your involvement with FCI, the university student ministry of our church. This is what happened to me in university. What I learned in university was important but far more important were the things I learned through my involvement with the student ministry at Park Street Church in Boston.

Some of you came for a work assignment and are discovering that Jesus has a much grander plan for your life than your career.

God wants to bless you generously. God is blessing you. His seed was sown and you listened generously. Your heart was changed and now he is blessing you. God is using you in the life of others. You will only see the smallest part of his blessing in this life, but God is blessing you abundantly, generously.

Next week on Palm Sunday, we will celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Crowds welcomed him, singing Hosannas! and Hallelujahs! They spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before him.

Less than a week later, Jesus was deserted, left alone to face his trial and crucifixion.

What kind of soil are you? Are you soil that will stay with Jesus and receive God’s generous-beyond-your-wildest-dreams blessing?

Both Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Judas showed the Temple guard where to find Jesus to arrest him. Both wept bitterly. Both deeply regretted what they had done. The difference is that Peter held on to Jesus in the midst of his failure and his shame. Judas did not.

It is not likely that you will move through the rest of your life without pain and sorrow. There are times when we fall and the thorns and weeds choke our life with Jesus. You will do things you will regret doing. You will fail in your following of Jesus. When you do, hold on to Jesus. Repent and return to Jesus. Be restored to Jesus as Peter was restored to Jesus. God can help you to be good soil once again.

If you have not responded to the seed God has been planting in your life, then this Easter season is a time to reflect and respond. It’s time to say yes to God.

If you are distracted by the worries and anxieties of life, then this is a good time to listen generously to the invitation to come to Jesus and find the peace and comfort he offers.

If you have moved away from Jesus for the sake of what the world can offer you, this is a good time to come back home.

This is a good time to take hope in the abundant, generous blessing of God in your life.

Listen well this week. Listen generously this week. Listen generously and know that you are building up treasure in heaven, a yield from the seed sown in you of thirty, sixty, even 100 times.