Parabolic Flight
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Mark

Parabolic Flight

Mark 4:1 -- 34

Do you remember one particular teacher from high school? Usually when we do, it’s because he or she made us so miserable. But every now and then you come across an instructor who is memorable because their lessons made everything so clear. Not only the lessons were clear; our ability to remember them was great – because the lessons included those homey little stories that caused us to remember.

Jesus taught like that. As far as we know, he never went to the college professor style of lecture. He intended to be understood – by those who would listen.

1Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”

9Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

10When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,

and ever hearing but never understanding;

otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’£

13Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14The farmer sows the word. 15Some 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. 16Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20Others, 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.”

21He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

24“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

26He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

30Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

33With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Why parables?

Jesus taught so often in parables we have come to think that he invented them. It is not so; it is a very old teaching device. He was the master of the parable, however, for his message needed to fit into every human mind. Why parables?

  • Some of us just can’t understand heavenly things. We don’t “get it.” So Jesus uses earthly things, things we can understand, to help us understand.
  • Often, the intellectual approach leaves people cold. There is an emotional point to these parables; Jesus intends to rouse the hearer from apathy.
  • Parables are used so that everyone can understand – but no one is forced to understand. He stands at the door and knocks; even in his teaching.
  • For those who will not understand, the parable leaves a way out. God intends that by our own free will we should come to him. With a parable, you can hear, but not listen. So it is that those who will not understand will be judged by what they have refused to hear, not by the difficulty of hearing.
  • Finally, so that we might see the example. If our Lord chose the simple things as instructional aids, we can do the same.

The Parable of the Sower

This is a story that would have been very familiar to his hearers. Agriculture in those days was close to all; everyone would have seen such a sight. Our Lord points out three who do not receive the word:

Along the path

A little background is necessary. In those times agricultural fields would have been divided into sections just large enough that a man could sow seed on them by hand. Between such sections would be a path, just wide enough to walk on. As a man walked down this path, he would scatter the grain on both sides, thus sowing his crop. After many years, this path would be hard ground indeed – though its native makeup would be the same as the field.

  • Note that it is the path that is resistant. The sower swings his arms in a broad arc, distributing seed on both sides of the path. It is not possible to selectively leave out the path. The problem is the hardness of the path, not the seed or the sower. Have you ever had kids that just wouldn’t listen?
  • The seed, however, is actively taken away by the birds. If you reject the word of God, Satan will soon see to it that it’s not around to bother you any more.
Rocky places

We still, to this day, refer to some people as being “shallow.” The phrase comes from this passage. What’s interesting is that the ground here represents people, and there are those who are so shallow as to prohibit anything more than “flash in the pan” Christianity. Christ becomes one more fad, one more fashion.

I have a prize example of such. She used to work with me. She had found salvation in everything from EST to country-western dancing. One day she came in complaining that her latest live-in boyfriend had left her. She moaned on and on about how all she was looking for was someone who would be faithful to her. I asked her how likely Prince Charming was to enter the Silver Bullet Saloon. I pointed out to her how many men she had had; and therefore how many women they had had. From such she expected to find a faithful man? Wasn’t it obvious that faithful men went to church, not the bar? “Oh no, I tried that once.” When she had been there for about two weeks, she decided that it just couldn’t work. After all, it was so much easier to get a man in the bar.

On a personal note, such people are very frustrating for the Bible teacher, too.

Amidst the thorns

It often seems silly, but this is the problem with most would-be Christians. They fall victim to thorns.

  • There is the thorn of worry. This is a thorn that pierces with sting and bleeding. But consider: how many of you are convinced that a man could make sufficient money just with a cardboard sign and bucket? If our society provides that well, what justifies worry? How much more will God do for his children? This is a thorn that cuts deep, forcing our attention away from God.
  • There is the deceitfulness of wealth. Things look good; the money is coming in. Money is potent but not sovereign. Indeed, God will often arrange things so that those with money will be facing problems money can’t solve. It’s his way of bringing us home. This is a thorn which bleeds, but without the sting. That way we won’t notice ourselves bleeding to death.
  • Much of what we call worry is actually desire, the worst of all thorns. This is a thorn which festers, infects and brings the body into fever. Who among has not felt desire? When the next promotion, the new car, the new wife become our driving passion, God soon fades. He fades without pain, without bleeding – but with a fever that consumes us.

Notice one thing in all this: the seed fails not because of the Sower but because of the ground. It is the Sower’s wish that all might be saved.

Consider carefully what you hear

Why? Because what you hear is what you repeat, and what you repeat soon becomes what you are. You select the important things in your life; God will take your selection and use it as your measurement on judgment day. So often we are harsh with others and lax upon ourselves! God will be as lax with us as we are with others.

You are the light

Whatever you choose to listen to, becomes you. And you – the real you – are always on display. You think not? Try to deceive your children with your righteousness. If you are not genuine, it will show.

Therefore, consider carefully what you listen to. It’s going to show.

The kingdom, naturally

Often time we use our measuring stick in the wrong way. We take responsibility for that which belongs to God. When things don’t go the way we think that God would like, we blame ourselves. We act, in other words, like everything in the church was completely up to us.

It is not so. That’s the point of that parable; God gives the increase. We’re just responsible for what we hear; what we say; what we do.

Mustard seed

The example would have been clear to his hearers. Mustard is a very small seed – the smallest known to these people – but it produces the largest plant in the herb garden of the time. It is from our small beginnings that God will give the increase. In time, others will come to know the shade and shelter of that which God made great.

Keep it simple, stupid

I hope this lesson has been one of divine simplicity. Why is this simplicity important for God’s people? Why such a gift for the obvious?

  • If you genuinely understand something, you should be able to explain it simply. So our explanations of the faith should be simple – and deep.
  • God intends us for the simple life. Worry, wealth and desire are complicated; they require scheming and plotting. But the simple life in Christ requires only obedience.
  • If we live our lives in such simplicity, it will be known. We are lights to the world. What will they see in us?

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