The Process of Following Jesus
The Parable of the Sower was one of the first parables that Jesus spoke. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus would tell a story, and then He would sometimes reveal its meaning. Many times, he left the people to themselves to see if they would try to understand. The teachers of the Law had problems with the parables. But the people who were ready to listen to Jesus understood Him clearly. This parable is found in Matthew 13, Luke 8, and here in Mark 4. The parable is known as the parable of the soils. Traditionally, this parable has been interpreted to mean that there are different responses to the Gospel. As one reads through the parable, one will learn that everyone will get to hear the Gospel, but not everyone will understand and accept it. To put it another way, just planted and watered in the soil, it doesn’t mean that the plant is going to take root and grow. You still may not get a crop. When Jesus interprets each separate soil, he places the emphasis on how one hears the Gospel. So how one hears the Gospel is very important.
In other words, reaching people with the Gospel has to do with God reaching their hearts. There are some hearts, which we won’t be able to reach.
You see Jesus identifies four different environments (types of soil) where the seed is planted. He talks about the road, the rocks, the weeds, and the good soil. When you look at this parable, you might think that the different soils are individuals. For example, the road represents certain individuals. The rocks represent other people. The weeds represent a third group of people. The good soil represents just a select group of people.
The fact is that the soil represents you and your journey as a Christian. It can mean different individuals. At the same time, I think Jesus meant to challenge everyone who heard the parable. So some might know that they are the road, others might know that they are the rocks, or weeds, or the good soil. Jesus presents four challenges to personal balanced Christian growth.
You know this because Jesus challenges everyone with this word after He shared the parable:
“Then he said, “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.”” (Mark 4:9, CSB)
CHALLENGES TO BALANCED CHRISTIAN GROWTH1
The key to this parable is how one receives and acts on the “word of the kingdom”. The seed is the same. The soils are different. The soil is your heart.
You become a Christian when you turn your heart to Jesus.
You become a mature Christian when you let God teach your heart how to be like Jesus. You need to be transplanted into another soil.
You become a different Christian when you let God lead your heart to people He wants you to reach. You need to be transplanted into another soil.
You become an effective Christian when you let your heart be obedient to God and His plan to the world around you.
God wants to do a work in your heart. He wants to replant your heart in the right soil. It may take a few transplantings to let your heart grow. But God wants you to become a great Christian who does great work for Him. You need to turn your heart to His hand.
So let’s dig into the characteristics of the type of people whom we encounter with the Gospel.
The first group of people we try to reach will be DECEIVED (DIVERTED). Stage 1 – IMPROBABLE CHRISTIAN (“received by the wayside”)
“As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.” (Mark 4:4, CSB)
“Some are like the word sown on the path. When they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them.” (Mark 4:15, CSB)
The devil, Satan, will come and take away the word from their heart. It means that we will encounter spiritual warfare when we start to really engage in reaching out to other people. Satan prevents them from being saved. We know this because he is described this way:
“Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8–9, HCSB)
We have to resist him first in prayer. If we don’t spend time in prayer preparing for the work of reaching the lost, Satan is going to easily take the gospel out of their hearts. He can do that and he will. So we should not be surprised when we see that Satan is busy diverting people. Just as the birds come and eat the seeds, taking it away from the farmer, Satan takes people away before the Gospel can make an effort.
The second group of people will be the DISAPPOINTED. Stage 2 – IMMATURE CHRISTIAN (“stony places”) – “receives with joy and stumbles”
“Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly, since the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.” (Mark 4:5–6, CSB)
“And others are like seed sown on rocky ground. When they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. But they have no root; they are short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately fall away.” (Mark 4:16–17, CSB)
This person has the Gospel, and like electricity, is fascinated by the new experience. But this Christian does not know how to live the Christian life very well. He stumbles and fumbles and tries to figure it out. He is an immature Christian. Peter stumbled. He screwed up, and did not know everything about integrating the Gospel into his life. He made outrageous claims and then denied Jesus. What did Jesus do? He forgave Peter. Perhaps you have hit some rocky ground in your new-found Christian life. You don’t know everything there is to know about Jesus. Keep growing. Keep learning how to get integrated.
Perhaps you have some stony places in your life. Perhaps you are having a hard time and stumbling. Perhaps you know someone else that is stumbling and fumbling. Let’s stop right now and pray for that person.
The third group of people will be the DISTRACTED. Stage 3 – INDIFFERENT CHRISTIAN (“thorns”) – “hears and becomes unfruitful”
“Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit.” (Mark 4:7, CSB)
“Others are like seed sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18–19, CSB)
Some say that you will be one of three types of Christians. If you are type 1 or 2, then you are a bad Christian. But God says that you still are a Christian, just not a fruitful one. So it s not an either/or, but an all/every. These symbols in the parable are stages, not types.
As a result, everyone will be at a point before they accept the Gospel, that they are having a hard time understanding it. Everyone who accepts the Gospel will have to go through a time of growth, a spiritual learning curve. Every Christian will also get to a point where they will hear the Gospel and become indifferent to the world around them. They don’t care about the world around them. Indifference limits ministry and outreach. When you don’t care about the people around you. You won’t reach out. Your heart is literally in another world.
Let us pause and pray that God will help you stop being indifferent to the world around you.
The fourth group of people will be the DEVOTED. Stage 4 – INTEGRATED CHRISTIAN (“good ground”) – “hears, understands, and bears fruits and produces…”
“Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up, producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty, and a hundred times.”” (Mark 4:8, CSB)
The final stage is a never-ending stage of life. As you become fruitful, you can learn to be more fruitful – or more effective in the work that God has called you to do. This is the meaning of the phrase “some 100, 60, 30…”. Some people who have just reached this stage in one area of their life has become integrated. The can produce 30. But as they become more integrated and more effective Christians, they learn to be more efficient with what God has given them. For example, a teacher learns to disciple one person. But then he learns what it means to disciple 10, then 30, then 60 people – each in a more effective manner. The fruit of his work multiplies as he turns his heart over to God in this area. God chooses to help you become more efficient and effective in the gifts that He gives you.
Everyone goes through these stages – or at least this is the intention. The prophecy from Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted in Mark 4:12:
“so that they may indeed look, and yet not perceive; they may indeed listen, and yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back and be forgiven.”” (Mark 4:12, CSB)
The prophecy says that there are people who will go from closed to open hearts. It also says that people will go from hurting to healing hearts. Understanding, therefore, comes with the heart, not the head. As a result, one who hears and understands with the heart will go through each of these stages. Because the parable is about turning hearts.
PURPOSE DRIVEN PROCESS IN THE PARABLE OF THE SOILS2
One could look at this parable as a set of fields which are the hearts where the seed of the Word of God are planted. However, for application purposes, one could see this parable which shows the different levels of commitment. In this case, the parable can speak of the seed being planted at various levels of commitment to the hearer. So as an application for the church, one could say that the soils represent the various levels of commitment of the people who come to the church. You can read this parable as ways to describe a process whereby people in their own lives go from no commitment to Christ (the road), to the good field (a fully balanced commitment to Christ and His church). One could also view these soils as adjoining fields on a farm. They have boundaries with gates to cross over to the next field. In each of these case, crossing the gate moves you through the field.
|4:5-6||Field of Rocks||“having no root”||Discipleship||Growth|
|4:7||Field of Thorns||“no mature fruit”||Ministry||Service|
|4:8||Field of Harvest||“bear fruit”||Evangelism/Church Planting||Missions|
No gate to enter the road
For example, the first field is a road. To enter the road, there is no gate, no boundary. The road is open to anyone who wants to hear the Gospel. However, there is a danger by staying on this road. Satan can come and take you out of the road.
Gate of Connection
The only way to continue into God’s field is to enter through the gate that separates you from the first field is called CONNECTION. One who does not have fellowship or a connection with Christ and His church is truly not a Christian. So it is important that one crosses the gate into the first field, through the CONNECTION gate.
This leads you to the first field which has no roots. This is a Christian who has not grown or matured. In order to overcome this problem, one has to be discipled. The problem here is that there are “no roots.” So a Christian first learns to establish roots to cross the gate of GROWTH.
Gate of Growth
The gate of GROWTH leads you to the second field. This second field is the thorny field. In this field you have grown, but you have not yet produced “mature fruit.” So a Christian second learns to produce “mature fruit” in order to cross the gate of SERVICE (or MINISTRY).
Gate of Service
This gate leads you to the third field, which is the field of good fruit. Once you cross the service gate, you can enter the field to produce. The work you do here is to produce a fruit of harvest of souls. Here, you learn to share your faith and see people come to Christ.
Gate of Missions
You pick the harvest and go out the last gate, the gate of MISSIONS. When I pick up this fruit and take it with me, I have the fruit of MISSIONS – new believers. This is the field which produces enduring, lasting fruit. This fruit is not just new believers, but also new churches. This is part of the reason why the abundant crop is 30, 60, 100 times what was sown. That can only happen when the people of this group of people share their faith with many people and when this church produces new disciples by planting new churches. In this case, I don’t just plant new believers, I am also planting new churches. This is also the field which produces an abundance of crop 30, 60, 100 times what was sown.
So the process is for the individual who comes to this church. The process is for each seed (heart) to go from being deceived by Satan to being fully devoted to Christ and His church.
The process is for each person to go from being FULLY DECEIVED by Satan to being FULLY DEVOTED to Christ and His church.
1 Jim Erwin, “Matthew 13:18-23 Integrating the Gospel Into Your Life,” 7 May 2007, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2007/05/07/matthew-1318-23-integrating-the-gospel-into-your-life-2/, accessed on 16 November 2017.
2 Jim Erwin, “Luke 8:1-15 The Right Conditions for Balanced Christian Growth”, 27 January 2013, Internet, Patheos, Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2013/01/27/luke-81-15-the-right-conditions-for-balanced-christian-growth/, accessed on 16 November 2017.