Are We There Yet?
3 – Substance
Mark 4:3-9, 14-20
May 17, 2020
I want to tell you another road trip story where I (at times) just wanted to get home and was asking “Are We There Yet?” It was the road trip that was our honeymoon. I know, this is going to sound like the start of a really bad joke, but let me explain. Shannon was moving from Indiana to Canada. The plan was to load up a Uhaul trailer pulled by my car the day after our wedding, then drive through the night and get to Niagara Falls sometime the next day where we would spend a few days, then begin the long trip across Canada to BC where I lived at the time.
The trip began with excitement. We were saying goodbye to family when Shannon’s dad checked the trailer wheels, and noticed some play in one of the wheels due to a bad bearing. They figured we would be fine to get to Niagara, but we should get it checked ASAP. We left on our way. 45 minutes in, on the Interstate, all the trailer lights died. We had to park in a truck stop parking lot for a few hours only to find out that Uhaul wouldn’t help us until the next day. So, I had to rig up my own fix, bending the wires just the right way, and wrapping it in electrical tape. It was a ‘Red Green” fix without the duct tape. It seemed to work, and we were back on our way (at 2 am).
Then, the cat started up. Shannon had a cat we were bringing with us. And he did not like being in the car in his carrier, and he let us know about it with the most torturous, deathly sounding noises. There was part of me that wanted to turn around, drop him off at her mom’s and let him remain an American cat. But I reminded myself of my marriage vows the day earlier, and the cat stayed. We pressed on though, got to Niagara Falls, and had a wonderful time. I did get the wheel bearing fixed (they said they tightened it), and got the wiring fixed. And we went on our way.
I learned two lessons that trip: 1) I learned that not every hotel I get for free with Petro Points is worth staying in. Learned that twice as I pulled up to two dives (Toronto and Winnipeg) that my wife said no to.
I also learned that in Lethbridge Alberta, after driving across the country, that my trailer didn’t get the bearing tightened in Ontario because there was no bearing there! (I am still not sure what they adjusted that day.) The nice guys at the shop rigged something up so I could get through the mountains safely and home. All that to say, as much fun as we had in Niagara, we were ready to be home. We were asking “Are We There Yet?”
The last couple weeks, I have looked at how we as the church feel the same right now. The current COVID situation has taken us on a journey. We are likely a bit disoriented and lost, and we are tired. We want to stop, park our vehicle and say “aint it good to be back home again?”
Yet in our minds, we know life will be different after all this, and the church is no
exception. The problem is that we don’t know what this ‘different’ will look like. And that is unsettling to all of us. Yet, no matter how different things are, some things never change. God’s desire for us, his mission for us carries on even in such a time as this.
As HMC, we believe God wants us to be “Generations Following Jesus Together”. The last couple weeks we have looked at how Generations Following Jesus Together begins to happen as we be the family / community, or “Gather” as we call it. We talked about the need for togetherness. We talked about how authentic community requires intentional participation, and that practical faith happens in community, together. “Gather” is important. We “Gather” ultimately to do something… We gather to “Grow”.
Generations Following Jesus Together begins to happen as we grow more mature spiritually – growing up in our love, obedience, and service to God; as we grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.
(plant the spiritual seed in good dirt)
Let me tell you a story from Scripture about planting. You can find it in Mark 4:3-20. Jesus here uses a common experience, gardening and growing crop to make a significant spiritual point.
“Scattered it across his field” – This phrase helps us understand the farming technique of the day. The farmer would often sow seed without plowing. Picture a guy standing there, throwing seed out, and where it lands, it lands, even on a footpath. Seeds don’t sink into the hard ground of a footpath and they can’t take root. The seeds then become fair game to the birds. One can’t plant on a hard footpath. Substance matters.
The audience would know this reference well. The shallow, rocky soil was common out there. Palestinian terrain was often rocky and uneven, covered by a thin layer of soil. In this kind of ground, the seeds can at least sink into the soil and take root. But roots are shallow because the ground is too rocky for the roots to go deep. Plants with shallow roots often don’t survive the elements (unless they are specific to that setting). You can’t plant in the rocky ground either. Substance matters.
Sometimes the soil is good, is deep enough, and plants can begin to grow well. But if the plant is in the same bed as something that takes over and kills anything else, eventually whatever you plant will be destroyed. The roots get strangled below the ground as well as the plant getting killed off above the ground. You can’t plant a garden with the blackberry bush! Substance matters.
Just south west of Israel was Egypt. And in Egypt they had some of the best land for growing around known as the fertile plains around the Nile. Even in famine times, they would have crop growth (which is why Egypt survived the famine in Genesis). Seeds that fell on the fertile soil with the right conditions sunk in and sprouted roots that went down deep. Plants grew up strong. Plant in the right soil! Substance matters.
In those days, yields of 5-15X were common and considered great. Jesus says that with things planted in the right soil, the yields will be much higher: 30, 60, and even 100X. Jesus obviously isn’t actually giving a farming lesson. He is speaking of personal spiritual growth and the right conditions, or the right substance for that growth to happen. He says “if you are hearing me, pay attention. Reflect on what I am telling you, figure out the lesson, and apply it!
What happens next is a conversation in private between Jesus and His disciples that I am not going to unpack or try to explain today – it is a whole message in itself. But the summary is that they tell Jesus that they don’t understand what He is saying, and they wondered why He was choosing to speak in parables rather than bluntly and completely clearly. Some of it had to do with the hardness of the hearts of people and that they would not accept what Jesus would say if He were to put it clearly, but more about that another day.
Jesus then begins to explain it, which is where we pick up in Vs 14.
We don’t know who the farmer is. Maybe a foreshadow to the apostles who would carry on the message of Jesus. Maybe it is a reference to Christ Himself. The farmer isn’t actually the main character or focus here. What we do know is that the farmer takes the seed of faith, the truth of Jesus Christ, the revelation of God to the hearts of those who don’t have it with the purpose of that seed planting, sprouting, and growing spiritual crops in their hearts. Hearts are the soil.
The hard soil / footpath is a reference those who had hard hearts to the message. In those days it would have been the Pharisees and Scribes. It is a reference to those who heard the message but would immediately say a determined no to what is shared. And when that happens, Satan comes, like the birds, to snatch away the seeds of faith because he wants to snatch away the opportunity for spiritual growth. Some of his preferred tools are temptation (Mk 1:12-13), and blinding people to truth (2 Cor 4:4). Substance matters.
The rocky, uneven soil is like those who hear about Jesus, and are very excited to believe it, but aren’t strong enough or ready in their heart to stick with it when the going gets tough. They are fickle. Maybe there is something sitting beneath the surface in their hearts (like sin for example) that doesn’t allow for the roots to go deep.
When He talks about “falling away”, it is the same term used in Greek for when the disciples deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was arrested.
The application here is that life will be difficult, sometimes even as a result of faith in Jesus. If the heart is weak and not willing to be fully committed to the truth you know, live, and believe, then heart is like rocky soil where any spiritual growth is superficial. The roots are surface. Any “heat from the sun” (pressure, persecution ) will cause it to wilt and die. Jesus says all this knowing that in a matter of a few years, the church would be born and endure persecution for faith. Substance matters.
The thorny soil represents a divided heart. It represents someone who wants Jesus sincerely, but also wants everything else. It represents someone who wants to serve Jesus, but also wants to serve wealth, possessions, position, influence, affluence, etc…
This is something Jesus dealt with this in His time as evidenced by the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-25). This young man comes to Jesus, eager to follow Him and be in His crowd. Yet Jesus tells the young man something shocking and hard: sell everything you have so that you can follow me. The man hangs his head in sadness and goes away. Jesus here is highlighting a principle mentioned elsewhere in Scripture (Matt 6:24) that we can not serve two masters. We will love one and hate the other.
The application is that unless Jesus is the #1 spot in your life, and if you aren’t willing to commit to Him at the expense of anything else that would seek to take the #1 spot, your heart soil is divided. It is like a garden with thorny vines; like a flower garden with a blackberry bush. The vines and the thorns strangle, they hold, and they kill off vegetation. Substance matters.
Those whose hearts are open to the Truth, ready to commit themselves for the long haul, let Him be #1 are like a garden with rich, fertile, good soil. They are not just surface deep.
Jesus mentions a couple things that need to happen to cultivate good soil; they need to: hear and accept so they can bear. And when the small seed of faith (tiny like a mustard seed) is planted in that soil, there is a huge crop that comes as a result. Not just the expected good 5-15X yield, but something bigger than can be imagined.
Substance matters. The soil needs to be cultivated, prepared, and mixed with the right nutrients for growth. When our hearts are open to Christ, when we cultivate our hearts, take out the rocky things that stop us from growing deep, take out the thorns that would seek to kill out future growth, we see a huge spiritual harvest in our lives. We see growth in our faith. We see growth in our relationship with God. We see others come to a faith relationship with Christ as well because we drop spiritual seeds from our lives (like any plant that self – reproduces).
How do we cultivate the heart soil? How do we have substance so that there can be that kind of spiritual growth? It has to start in our mind, our spiritual heart. We have to want to put in nutrients and special soils into the mix: Intentional daily prayer, worship, knowing God’s Word, walking with others who will encourage growth and keep accountable, dealing with the weeds, the thorns, the rocks, taking responsibility for our own spiritual growth.
(plant the spiritual seed in good dirt)
1) It is a normal part of the community life. It is natural. (Acts 2:42) What do we see in this verse? We see that as the community got together, that spiritual growth was a normal, natural, and expected part of the community life. They devoted themselves together to the Apostles’ teaching. They devoted themselves together to prayer. They devoted themselves together in the taking of the Lord’s Supper.
2) It is needed if we are to be healthy. (Heb 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2). We need more than spiritual baby food: milk. We need solid healthy spiritual food. Just like we would expect our children to grow out of just drinking milk so that they can be strong, healthy, and full of life, God designed us to do the same spiritually. To stick with the milk, to not crave more and want more is to not grow up to be healthy, to be full of spiritual life, vibrant, strong. It denies us the opportunity to be who God designed us to be.