The parable of the sower is an important parable to understand because Jesus explained to his disciples if you do not understand this parable, how you will understand any parables (Mark 4:13). Previously we have seen the first three seeds. Although they fall in different places and have different outcomes, ultimately, the result is the same. No farmer or gardener only plants seeds so that thorny plants can choke them. No person sows seed into the ground to feed the wildlife, although sadly, this has been my dismal attempt to garden. The farmer plants seeds for them to grow. He plants an apple tree to pick apples. The Ultimate end of the parable is there are only two different outcomes the seed that did not produce any fruit and the seed that did. The second seed is not greater than the first. Even though it grew, it did not bear fruit, which is the purpose of planting seeds. Understanding the three other seeds is helpful, Jesus expanded on them, and you can learn a lot about discipleship from them. However, I would like to spend time on the fourth seed. Today we will only be looking at one verse, Mark 4:20.
I. Hearing the Word goes deeper than our ears
“Are you even listening to me?” A spouse asks their husband or wife. The discussion continues, but both do not feel like they are being understood. They communicate in the same language. They use the same words. They share the same house and room. However, they feel a significant disconnect. This is not one story, but many, the number one issue that married couples face is communication. The truth is you can be a master of the English language, and you can even be great with words; however, this does not mean you can communicate. Cognitive response while hearing is more than hearing noises. While reading a book, you can know letters, words, punctuation marks but an aspect of reading which is often overlooked is the processing of these letters, words, marks, etc., into thought or argument. Both reading and hearing are not passive activities but active verbs in which the reader must read and the hearer must-hear. It takes more than merely auditable sounds bouncing off the inner ear canal but continues further to the mind. Hearing the Word, though, must go further still. It needs to move to the heart and the hands. This is the main purpose of the parable, the sown seed will be planted into various situations and possibly take root in the heart, but the heart is hard, shallow, or divided.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” Paul writes in Romans 10:17. We have said before that preaching is central to the church. It is central because it is the means of grace that Christ uses to communicate to his church the benefits of his mediation, which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation (Cf WLC 154). Interestingly the Westminster divines understood the active reading and hearing of the Word. They give us question 157, “How is the word of God to be read?” But also question 160, “What is required of those that hear the word preached?” We might stand up in a service when we sing or have our confession of faith. Then we sit down while the minister prays or preaches. However, sitting does not then make you passive in the worship service. When the minister prays, you pray with him, hence why we all say, “Amen.” We all agree with the prayer. When the minister preaches, the congregation hears. The Westminster Larger Catechism 160 gives a great example of active listening by those not preaching but hearing.
“It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”
Just as the minister does sermon preparation in the week, the congregation should do sermon preparation in the week. Hearing is a vital part of Christian life. Again, not merely listening to words that exit the preacher’s mouth but heart hearing.
We also need to note that the key to this parable has been the seed itself, the Word. Faith comes by hearing, as Paul points out but hearing the Word of Christ. We tend to have selective hearing. Our children will come running from other rooms when they hear the sound of a candy wrapper or the fridge opening. However, when asked to do something they do not want to do, their hearing diminishes. Paul instructs Timothy, a young pastor, to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:1). Paul also explains that as he preaches the Word, people will go out and find preaching that suits their ears. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
We do not hear any sermon or any message but a message founded on the Word. The wrong seed plants grow the wrong fruit. Many times, we surround ourselves with teachers to suit our passions. Even a church that claims to be biblical and preaches expositional sermons can scratch the itch of the hearers. Many churches around the world preach sermons from the Bible that are biblical. However, they might preach the same message from different texts. Every message comes to the same political issue or social issue. Every text comes back to the preacher’s ‘hobby horse.’ Even if you look at large church models, their preaching schedule can be set up throughout the year. They have their differently branded sermon series, financial, relationships, society, outreach, problems, vision/direction, or at the movies.
Now we do not claim to be perfect, but we understand that we are not perfect. We preach the whole counsel of God. I have been at Seven Springs for just over a year, and this year, we have preached through Ruth, Habakkuk, Colossians. We are making our way through Genesis, 1 Samuel, and Mark. Preaching through the Bible, I have had difficult passages no one would choose to preach about, the global flood in Genesis 6 or the sin of Sodom in Genesis 19. The question of God’s command to wipe out the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. Even sermons on genealogies and greetings. I do not seek to say this to boast, but I preach in my weakness because I know we preach the Word, which is strong. We need to ensure that we do not only let specific sermons scratch an itch behind our ears, but we should let the Word, the whole Word, dive deep into our hearts and plant deep roots that we might be able to produce whole counsel fruit.
II. Accepting the Word goes deeper than our minds
We have already spoken about this, so I will not spend a lot of time on this point. However, we do need to show that true hearing does influence the heart. This shows the permeating effect of true hearing is not an intellectual task, nor an emotional task, for the second seed “received it with joy” (Mark 4:17). The Word must move further than hearing and understanding but accepting. John the Baptist explains,
“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:31–33).
Accepting the Word is not picking and choosing what the Word of God is, but accepting truth as truth. There is a fundamental distinction that needs to be made. We do not accept the Word because we are told to, or because the preacher said to, but because it is true. IN today’s world, truth is relative. Truth is what you feel to be true. However, truth is truth. Two things can be true at the same time, e.g., your favorite cereal and mine. However, some truths cannot co-exist. They cancel each other out. For example, when Jesus explains that he is the only way to God the Father. There cannot be another way. This is an exclusive truth. That is, accepting the Word goes deeper than hearing and understanding but a foundational reality shift that says the Word is truth. The second seed falls away because of the tribulation and persecution that arises on account of the Word. Now believers might have questions and even challenging questions that are hard for us to wrap our heads around. However, I believe the Bible is big enough to answer those questions. We need to trust every word that comes from the mouth of God. This is Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 2:13,
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
III. Bearing fruit goes further than ourselves
The main difference in all the seeds is their fruit. Jesus will curse a fig tree because it did not bear any fruit (Mark 11:12-14). Now some people will cry out that fruit or seeking fruit is legalism. We need to recognize that others, and even ourselves, are quick to place a label on something. Our works do not save us. We can point to passages of the Bible that explain this great truth, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is not that for by works or merit you have been saved, but by grace. There is a difference between saying you must do good works to be saved. Compared to saying, the saved do-good works. One depends on the action for salvation; the other depends on salvation for the action.
We also need to explain that legalism is real. Legalism general adds to the Bible with requirements blurring the line of clear commands and passages with various interpretations. Ultimately legalism says unless you do this, you are not saved. Antinominalism, which is “anti-law,” takes away from the Bible. They seek to remove any form of instruction. They preach grace but not true grace. I would say they preach a half gospel and, therefore, a false gospel. They understand the grace that brings salvation but does not believe God can use that grace to work in us through sanctification. We need to be aware that we preach the whole counsel of God, no more and no less.
The call of the true Christian is to bear fruit. This sometimes can be given to us in numbers, nickels, and noise. However, the fruit in the Christian’s life is found in ‘word-fruit.’ The seed is the Word, and therefore an apple seed produces apples. The heart bears gospel fruit, according to the Word. One passage that helps us understand this is John 15:1-10. Jesus explains the branches that do not bear fruit will be thrown into the fire, but the branches that do bear fruit will be pruned to bear more fruit. The branches by themselves do not bear fruit but only those that are attached to the vine. The keyword in this passage is abide, the one who abides with Jesus and his words abide in us (John 15:7a). We know John 3:16, and we need to continue reading because John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Obedience is the fruit of the seed of grace sown into the hearts of those who hear and accept the Word of God. We need to be hearers and doers of the Word, or else we are deceiving ourselves (Jam 1:22). Ephesians 2:8-9 shows this, verse ten does not alter the verses before but shows the result of the grace that everyone has been saved. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Jesus explains that the gospel seed bears fruit. This fruit varies from 30, 60, or 100 times. One apple seed will produce one tree. One apple tree, on average, will produce 300 apples per season. If there are about five seeds per apple, that one seed would produce 1,500 per season. However, the following season the 1,500 seeds grow 300 apples with five seeds each. Over 2 million seeds. This is simple math, and regarding this parable, we understand that not every seed will bear fruit. However, we need to stop and praise God that we are all bad seeds through Adam, with no hope of bearing good fruit. But by the grace of God, he takes a dead seed and brings life from it through the Holy Spirit. The hope of the gospel in this parable is that you and I, if we hear the Word and accept the Word, can bear fruit. We pray every day that we would bear fruit in our lives and see fruit in the lives of others.
The church grows through hearing, sinners hearing the glorious gospel of salvation found in Jesus Christ. One seed, planted, watered, growing, increasing, and yielding fruit. One seed does not underestimate the power of one seed. I could point to many great examples in church history of one seed, Apostle Paul, Luther, Calvin, Martin Llyod-Jones. However, let’s think about the person who planted the seed for you. They might not be known to others; they might not have libraries or colleges named after them. However, they planted the seed of the gospel. Think of Ms. Orie, who sows every week, Mr. Dayton as he teaches the young men of tomorrow. Mr. Sidney teaches us and has sown many a seed over his long tenure of teaching the Bible. The parents or grandparents who open the Bible and pray with their children or grandchildren. I think of Ms. Nancy, who had the seed planted in her, and centuries later, the tree still bears fruit. How are you sowing seeds? Who are you praying that the seed might take root and bear fruit? One seed.