Summary: If the gospel is good news why doesn’t everyone respond with joy? Jesus says he tells parables to filter out those who can't understand.
Do you see what I see?
When you look at this picture, I wonder what you see? A young lady in silhouette, or a cartoon man playing the saxophone? There’s only one picture, but people see different things. By the end of Mark 3, the disciples must be wondering the same thing about Jesus. How is it that people have such different reactions to him? Some people, including Jesus’ own family, thought he’d gone mad. The religious leaders said Jesus was a monster, that he was Satan or at least on Satan's side. The disciples saw Jesus differently though. He was the one they'd chosen to follow, even if they couldn't understand everything he said or did just yet. To them Jesus wasn’t mad or a monster, but their master. But they must have wondered, why doesn't everyone see this? Why doesn’t everyone follow him?
It's a question we might still ask today. Why are there so many different reactions to Jesus? You might know that the word gospel means good news. The news that Jesus came to restore us to full relationship with God, isn’t just good, it’s great! It’s the best news in the world! But if that’s the case, why doesn’t everyone respond with joy? Why is it that people still reject the gospel?
Jesus addresses this question at the start of chapter 4 in Mark. As the crowds gather by the seaside, Jesus climbed into a boat & began to teach them many things in parables. He doesn’t share the secrets of the universe. He doesn’t give us the director’s commentary on God’s plans for the world. Instead, Jesus tells a little story about a man sowing some seed. It’s something the crowds would’ve been very familiar with. Before giant fields and massive machinery, farmers had to walk up and down the fields, scattering seed to be planted. It's not like planting tomatoes in the garden, where you do it one by one. You'd try to be careful, but of course you can't control where each seed lands, let alone foresee what the soil is like where it falls.
Secrets of the Kingdom
It doesn’t take much to work out Jesus isn’t giving a lesson in first century farming. But if Mark had stopped at verse 9, I wonder if you’d have worked the parable out? The disciples couldn’t. They come to Jesus in verse 10 and ask, ‘Why all the parables?’ ‘What do they mean?’ ‘Why can't you just tell us what you want to say?’
Jesus’ answer isn’t what we might expect.
11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that
‘They may indeed look, but not perceive,
And may indeed listen, but not understand;
So that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”
Jesus admits the parables aren’t just nice stories. They’re lessons about the Kingdom of God. But this good news is a secret. If you're on the inside, you'll get it. If you're on the outside, you won’t! Jesus says that’s why he’s teaching in parables, to keep the secret.
The key is in what Jesus means by secret. It’s not a secret we’re to keep to ourselves. The seed in the parable represents the gospel. It’s mean to be sown, meant to be shared everywhere. Christianity isn’t a mystery religion, or a cult where only a few get told the hidden message. Nor is the gospel isn’t some riddle that you have to solve yourself. In fact, it’s not something we can work out for ourselves. God reveals it to those who choose to follow him. But to those who don’t, the gospel will remain a mystery. It will appear as foolishness or weakness. The parables won’t be anything more than nice stories for these people.
This first parable illustrates that. Jesus uses the four soils to explain why people respond so differently to the gospel.
On the Path…
In the parable the first seed fell on the path and didn’t even have a chance to get started before Satan snatched it away. This is like those who hear the gospel but it goes in one ear and out the other. These are people we share the gospel with who never seem to hear what we’re saying. Who never respond with more than a 'that's good for you.' Or who automatically object to anything to do with God.
We need to remember that some people are like this because that’s how the world conditions us to respond. We’re constantly told that church is an outdated relic. That Christianity is no more than a fable. That God is either absent or a tyrant. The same thing happens when the gospel is reduced to a series of rules, just instructions on how to live. All these are things that don’t make Christianity sound like good news at all.