Prepare Our Hearts – September 25

A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.

Friday, September 25, 2020
Mark 4:14-20

The sower sows the word. 15 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. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 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 unfruitful. 20 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.”

During my senior year of college, in order to fulfill the general education requirements for graduation, I took a class entitled “Finite Mathematics.” By far the easiest math offering in the course catalog, Finite Mathematics was affectionately known as “math for non-math majors” and designed as a simple review of relatively basic high school math concepts. However, because of extreme laziness and apathy in high school I stopped taking math in 11th grade, not wanting to “waste my time” being challenged by concepts that I would never need in real life, like calculus. To no one’s surprise, like a muscle that lies dormant for an extended period wastes away in atrophy, after four years without any math instruction whatsoever, there was no such thing as basic or easy math. Even though I heard the course professor teaching in English, she may as well have been speaking a foreign language. While I was (fortunately) able to pass, Finite Mathematics became the bane of my final few months in college.

By teaching in parables, Jesus painted incredible word pictures that everyone could “hear”, and yet many in the audience, including the disciples, walked away with more questions than answers. While making clear that He expected more from His disciples than to have to spell out everything in detail, Jesus then proceeds to do exactly that.

Jesus begins by explaining that in the parable, the sower of the seed represents the one who spreads the Word of God. In the present this referred directly to Jesus, but it was encompassing of all who would share the message of the gospel through word or deed. Just as a sower scatters seed all through the field, the word of God was to be shared all the world over. Although every seed scattered contains the same potentiality it does not all produce the same result; the situation and location of the soil will determine success or failure for the crop. Similarly, the exact same gospel message can be received by different people and produce drastically different outcomes.

The first response to the gospel, if we can even call it that, is like the seed that falls on the hard path. These are those who “hear” the Word of God but make no effort to receive it and allow it to be immediately taken away by Satan. They simply have no interest in the Word. It does not, and can not sprout; it can have no root; there is simply nothing there. Think of attempting to speak with a distracted child, or teenager, or grown adult male who, like a brick wall, “hears” every bit of instruction with absolutely no intention of acting upon it. Try as you might, there is no getting through to an indifferent person who refuses to listen and respond. Jesus’ mention of Satan snatching away the seed is intended as an explanation, rather than an excuse, of what ultimately happens to the Word for these unresponsive individuals whose own apathy creates opportunity for the enemy.

The second response to the gospel starts off much better than the first, as the word is immediately received with joy and there is great initial hope and excitement. But just as the rocky ground prevents a plant from taking root and surviving any sort of adverse weather condition, these shallow individuals are quickly exposed through the storms and trials of life. They trust in the Giver as long as the gifts are plenty, but when the blessings start to slow and the hardships begin to flow they quickly turn to go. Remember that many of the same people that loudly proclaimed “Hosanna” on Sunday were shouting “Crucify Him!” on Friday. As Jesus, and Paul, and James, and really the rest of scripture, warns the church, in this world there will be trouble. Faith in Jesus is about trusting when we can not see and holding fast to the Word despite the present external circumstances. These individuals faith was only in the gifts, never the Giver, as their lack of perseverance most assuredly revealed.

The third response to the gospel is perhaps the most relatable and terrifying in our current cultural context. Some of the seed was sown in an area filled with thorns, which Jesus identifies as a detrimental preoccupation with the present, physical world. Their hearts are primarily concerned with the cares and anxieties of the world, the pursuit of wealth and prosperity, and the insatiable desire for anything and everything other than God. These dangerous thorns are indiscriminate and all-encompassing, entangling alike rich and poor, young and old, conservative and liberal, and everything in between. Each of them have allowed themselves to be entirely consumed by something less than Jesus. As Scripture makes abundantly clear, the term “Christian” is not a box to be checked, a label to be worn, or an accessory to be added on; it involves a complete and total transformation. Jesus warns repeatedly that being in proximity to the church and having familiarity with the Bible is not at all the same as receiving and living the gospel as the jarring lack of fruit reveals.

Finally, Jesus comes to the receptive and fertile soil. These are individuals who are not hard, nor shallow, nor tangled with cares, but whose hearts are ripe, whose faith is deep, and whose fruit is sweet. Their lives are walking billboard displays of faith, hope, love, joy, kindness, patience and all the rest. They walk and talk and look like Jesus. Even here in the good soil, not all seeds produce equal fruit, but they are all fruitful. To varying degrees the disciples of Jesus produce more disciples of Jesus, amazingly the seed does not just grow to maturity, but transforms from plant to sower.

Even at the conclusion of the explanation of the parable we may fail to be completely satisfied with Jesus’ answer. If people are nothing but soil, how can they be held responsible for their failure to believe? How can we determine which person belongs to which category? Is it possible for a path to become fertile, or for the thorns to be removed? Ultimately, Jesus wants His disciples to understand that the “secrets” of the Kingdom of God are not problems to be solved but beautiful mysteries to behold.

The Lord is powerful and sovereign over all of creation, He is the one who makes the way of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone possible, and He is also the one who does the miraculous work of regeneration and gives faith as a free gift. The truth is that without His intervening, our sin-stained hearts are nothing but a concrete jungle, but Jesus tears up the pavement, tills up the soil, and uproots the weeds. May we embrace His gift and hide it deep within our hearts as we marvel at what He has done for us.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, help us to never forget the beautiful mystery of the cross. We can take no credit in our status before You and can never repay Your unfathomable gift of grace. We ask that You would allow Your Word to take root in our hearts and grow deeper and richer each and every day. May You produce in us the fruit of the Spirit and empower us to become the laborers You desire that the world may know that You are God and there is no other. We ask this in Your most excellent name, Amen.