A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Monday, September 21, 2020
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 the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Having little children in our home serves as a frequent reminder that many common verbal expressions don’t immediately make sense when taken at face value. I often find myself explaining new words that either sound like another word or potentially have multiple meanings, such as this morning when our youngest tried to correct a song that used the phrase “seize the day” by confidently telling me, “That’s silly, its just ‘see.’ We don’t ‘sees’ the day, we see the day.” A few days ago during family devotions one of our girls drew a slip of paper from our prayer box which read, “Pray for people who are lost.” One of our girls became embarrassed and immediately offered up the explanation that although she had written the prayer-prompt, she had done so at her little sister’s request. Apparently she felt the need to apologize because she assumed that her sister was referencing the song “Lost in the Woods” from her new favorite movie Frozen 2 and she thought it a silly thing to pray for things that happen in cartoons. Of course, this turned into a little teachable moment as we were able to have a conversation about the idea that people who don’t know Jesus are indeed lost and, as Jesus explained at the house of the wee-little Zacchaeus, His mission was to search out and save them. Armed with this new information, we then spent some time praying for some of our beloved family and friends who are lost, not physically, but spiritually.
Of course becoming confused over the correct usage of words isn’t exclusively limited to young children. Consider for a moment the expectations we have when it comes to sermons. In some circles it has become popular to insist that preachers should simply “stick to the Word” in their preaching, meaning verse-by-verse exegetical preaching without exception. Others expect a more formally organized classic 3-point sermon, with bonus points given if all three points start with the same letter. Others expect a sermon filled with personal anecdotes and/or humorous stories. Others want a message that has clear and concise action steps that will help make them a better person/believer. And others insist that sermons must be more topical in nature geared towards tackling the current hot-button issue of the day. Of course, there are many, many other styles of teaching and preaching, and even a brief consideration of the life and ministry of Jesus shows that it is impossible to pin Him down to any one particular style or method of teaching.
Consider the wide variety of examples found throughout the four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. In chapter one of his gospel Mark records Jesus’ inaugural message as “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” with Jesus sounding more like a street-preaching doomsday prophet than a skilled expositor of the Word. In his gospel, Luke shares the candidating sermon Jesus preached in the synagogue of His hometown Nazareth, which consisted of little more than a reading of Isaiah 61 with the only commentary being, “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Matthew shares the longest recorded sermon of Jesus, which opened with proverb-like blessings and continued to lay out in detail the counter-cultural actions and attitudes characteristic of Kingdom living. Finally, John preserves probing questions from the private conversations Jesus had with individuals like the pharisee Nicodemus who stealthily approached Jesus under the cover of night and the socially-ostracized Samaritan woman who happened upon Jesus as she came to draw water from the well in the lonely heat of the day.
Ironically, if we judged Jesus the same way we judge our pastors and preachers today, we would be frequently disappointed by His messages. While Jesus never backed away from an opportunity to preach, as He does here in Mark 4 when teaching from a boat to the crowd on the shore, some of His messages left His audience, even the disciples, scratching their heads. In the parable of a sower who went out to sow, Jesus uses a simple illustration that everyone would have instantly pictured. A farmer, or sower, scattering seed in a field was a common image in an agrarian society like first Century Palestine. Scattering seed was a simple but necessary task for anyone who wanted to gather in a crop, and the same seed could produce both good and bad crops depending on the condition of the soil, the effects of the weather, and the presence of other plants already in the ground.
What was Jesus trying to say in His message? Obviously, Jesus wasn’t giving a how-to lesson on successfully planting a field or increasing the yield of your crops, and He seems to leave more out of the story than He includes. Mark doesn’t give us a complete picture of the reaction of the audience, but Jesus’ closing words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” indicate that the hearers should take the time to carefully ponder His message.
When we come to the Word, we must be prepared to hear and read things that are confusing and challenging. At times we can even be so familiar with a passage that we become numb to its true meaning. If the words of Jesus never cause us to question our own preconceptions, if they only confirm our ideologies, if we are never being taught, corrected, and reproved, then it is almost certain that we aren’t reading them correctly. May the Lord give each of us ears to hear His Word today.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You for speaking to us exactly the right words at exactly the right time. We admit that often when we come to Your Word we too often let our arrogance, anxieties, and assumptions crowd out our ability to listen to the truth. We ask that You would help us to focus our hearts and our minds upon Your Word for us today. We pray in Your excellent name, Amen.