Jesus came preaching and teaching: "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (1:15) The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught them as one with authority – not like the teachers of the law. We tend to think that this amazement was centered on the displays of miraculous power. But it wasn’t limited to that.

Jesus’ was devoted to the message he had to proclaim. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."

What is the message that Jesus preached? Why did it have such authority? Up to this point in Mark all we know is that it was a message about the Kingdom of God and it was a call to be changed – to repent and believe. It is good news, ad we would do well to ask, why is it good and why is it news? Keep all of this in mind as we hear the parables of Jesus. ...

Mark 4:1-34 - 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. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. "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. And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. But other seeds fell into the good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."And he said, "Whoever has ears to hear, hear this!"
Then when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given, but for those outside everything is in parables; that is to say ...
‘seeing they see but do not perceive,
and hearing they hear but do not understand;
For if they did, they would repent and be forgiven.’

And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. 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. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 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. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 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. 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."
He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, then hear this."
And he said to them, "Watch what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he sends for reapers, for the harvest has come."
And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

1 – The Sower, the Seed, the Soil

The parable of the sower and the seeds is maybe one of the most familiar. Have you heard this parable and been asked: Which soil are you? Have you heard the parable and been asked: "Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother?" Are we soils or are we the sower? We are not the seed – are we? Well maybe we are if you consider that the good soil yields a harvest. The emphasis seems to be on the crop rather than the soil.

But the seed is the word of God. True. And Jesus is teaching that we are the combination of seed and soil. We become what the seed sown in us is able to become. "Repent and Believe the Good News!" Repentance, or change, is stifled by the powers of this age we live in. If Satan doesn’t snatch the word out at soon it hits our hearts, then it is possible that we will never grow because the word never took root, and even if it does take root and we do grow and mature, it is always possible that thorn will strangle the word growing within us. We participate in the divine nature as we continually repent and believe the good news. When we accept the good news of God’s word we bear fruit, our life counts for something – an increase of hundredfold ...

2 – Hidden Lights/Watch what you hear!

Like the Twelve, we need to watch what we hear. The seed by itself is dormant. The soil by itself is just dirt. But combined, the mystery of God is unleashed. So it is with us. Jesus sows the word in parables because they are raw and unprocessed in spiritual power. They lodge in the heart of a person or a people and if the people will accept it, they germinate with wild force. But it is possible to reject the teaching of Jesus. The Scribes had done this. They claimed that Jesus had an evil spirit. Satan had snatched the word out of their heart. Jesus’ family had done this. They didn’t let the word take root. Their worries choked out what might have grown. We need to watch what we hear, we need to listen up because the capacity to close our minds and hearts to the truth is strong – ridiculous, sort of like lighting a lantern and covering it with a ice cooler – but we do it.

The teaching of Jesus sorts us out. It is watershed. Everyone can hear it and see it in action, but the way the respond is something else. ‘seeing they see but do not perceive,and hearing they hear but do not understand; For if they did, they would repent and be forgiven.’

3 – Waiting for the Harvest & the Wild Weed of the Kingdom

We get concerned about how to sort people out. We talk about membership and family. Who is in and who is out. To borrow from another parable or two: We are trying to corral the sheep and cut out the goats. We want to pluck the weeds and keep the wheat. But that’s not always good farming, nor is it good discipleship. There’s a lot of work to farming, but also a lot that you just cannot control. A farmer scatters seed and then the mystery of gardening just takes over. Whether he eats, sleeps, or stays awake watching the spouts that garden is going to grow automatically – or it may not. He cannot say it. He has to wait until harvest. [Arkansas is a big poultry state because most of the apple orchards were diseased one year – it just happens] But when it is harvest time – get to work! Send for the workers with their scythes and sickles because the plants are mature. But you cannot rush the process.

So it is with kingdom work. Think about that, we want to baptize say 100 people this year and then have them completely indoctrinated into the mysteries of God in a month. How long has it taken you to mature as a Christian? Are you still maturing? The growth of the kingdom is something we can hinder but when it grows it is automatic. And we are likely to get frustrated because we cannot see how little things matter. Like a mustard seed.

The mustard plant is a weed, not a majestic cedar tree. Though a little seed, when it grows it dominates and it takes over. Mustard would have been well known in Jesus’ day. Perhaps a better plant in the experience of some in the U.S. is kudzu. Kudzu is a plant brought to the southeastern U.S. from Japan in 1876. It was called the miracle vine because it prevented soil erosion and could feed animals. It was a very useful plant. But Kudzu grows and in that climate of the SE USA it grows very well, in some cases it grows a foot in one day. It now covers 7 million acres in the southeast and the people there say "love it or hate it, it grows on you." It has grown so rapidly and so heartily without any real effort from anyone that kudzu is now more than just a plant it is part of environment, part of the culture and way of life.

The Kingdom of God may not be visible or evident, but it grows and it grows wild. Some will welcome it and find it very beneficial, but others will despise it and try to eliminate it. But it grows. And it grows. And it grows. Producing a harvest thrityfold, sixtyfold, and hundred fold.

Listen! A sower went out to sow the seed ...
Listen! The light has been lifted up on the lampstand ...
Listen! The harvest is near ...

Do you have ears to hear? Then hear this!

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 3 July 2005

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