Summary: This message uses Jesus' Parable of the Sower to encourage believers to face the obstacles that hinder us from spiritual growth in our lives.
ALL RIGHT, EVERYONE! PAY ATTENTION! THIS IS SOMETHING YOU NEED TO HEAR!
Have I aroused your interest? Are you at least curious what I'm about to say that can justify such verbal arm-waving? Will you be upset (or at least disappointed) if I proceed to tell a story about some guy who has a farm down the road outside of town? I think you would be. Perhaps you would not be as quick to give me your attention the next time I called for it. You might think, "What does HE know about what's important?"
Well, that's exactly what Jesus did to a crowd that had gathered to Him one day by the lake of Galilee. He began a story with "Listen!" He ended it with "He who has hears to hear, let him hear"--in other words, "I have just told you something really important". In between, He said this:
"Behold, 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. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold" (Mark 4:3-8 ESV).
This is a story about some guy sowing some seed. Granted, it has some strange features; there's the guy's method of sowing, which we will discuss a little bit later on. Also, the seed in Jesus' story is unbelievably fruitful, yielding a crop of "thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold" when people in that time were happy with tenfold production. Still, I would imagine that many people were not interested enough to be bothered by such things; instead, they were indifferent.
They heard the words Jesus spoke and then started thinking about other things.
And yet, the Lord was saying something vitally important that concerns us all. He was talking about the kind of people that God's Word works in and the kind of people it doesn't work in. We know because we have the explanation in verses 14-20. So PAY ATTENTION--not because I say so, but because He said so.
"The sower sows the word" (v. 14). God's Word is not just sounds in the air (or words on a page). It is not mere information that sits in our memories and waits for us to make use of it. People misunderstand it if they treat it as a list of beliefs to check off while remaining unchanged. It has life, which is something we very much need to experience. Our bodies are not the only parts of us that become slaves to habit. Our thoughts and emotions do, too. As William James wrote, "All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits--practical, emotional and intellectual--systematically for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be" (Principles of Psychology). Too many of us know how easy it is to get stuck in the same arguments on the same subjects, struggling with the same emotional issues day after day. Much as we dislike our old patterns of life and wish to bring forth something new out of our hearts, we have found ourselves unable to. God's Word, however, has the power to act on a person's heart. It can stir up thoughts and feelings in a way they have not been stirred before. It can stir things up down in the deep recesses of one's being where things have not been stirred up before. It can bring change. It can bring that miraculous thing called growth.
However, and the more one thinks about it the more shocking this is, the power of God's Word will not operate in every heart it comes into contact with. Since God is almighty, we would expect that no human force could stand against it--or else we would expect that God, who knows all things, would ordain that only people who will respond to the Word rightly will get to hear it. After all, that's what farmers do with earthly seed; they prepare the field beforehand and then do their best to make sure the seed lands there. They do so because they know that seed won't yield a crop just anywhere, and they don't want to waste it. But, says Jesus, God is not like that. No matter who you are--no matter what God knows will happen to the Word that you hear--He wants you to hear it. However, there are conditions of the heart that will keep the life of God's Word from being productive inside.