SERMON TITLE: Unexpected Salvation
TEXT: Mark 4:1-20 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — is that God loves you and I love you too.
Last year, we began a journey through the gospel of Mark and we made it through the first three chapters. All of the sermons are available on our website — gatewayepc.org —and on our app. So if you weren’t with us last year, please go catch up on what you missed as we’re starting right where we left off and don’t have time for me to recap the first three chapters unless you want me to preach until tomorrow morning.
I will say — though — even if you weren’t with us, each of these sermons should be easy enough to understand on their own — and what we’re going to see — is that each of these stories has an unexpected aspect to them — thus the title for this series. And I’m glad you’re all here as I believe God is going to speak to all of us — maybe even in some unexpected ways — through this gospel. So let’s turn to it.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Mark chapter 4. We’ll be looking at verses 1-20.
And if you’re a guest with us, something I like to do is let you ask questions. So if you have a question about the sermon, you can text it in to the number printed on the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Mark 4. Beginning in verse 1.
“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. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 "Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 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. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." 9 And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that "'they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'" 13 And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 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. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And 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. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word,19 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. 20 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."” (Mark 4:1-20 ESV)
We find ourselves in a time of relentless — political divisiveness — that seems as if it will never end. Now this sermon isn’t about politics, but one thing I find interesting is how people talk about various politicians. Without naming names, it’s quite common to hear someone say, “Oh I can’t believe you voted for that person, don’t you know this about them?” And being that every politician is an imperfect human being, they all have those “Don’t you know this about them” things that are usually quite controversial.
Now here’s my observation about all of this: We’re quite remarkable at being unforgiving of the candidates we’d never vote for and very forgiving of the candidates we’re fond of. Their candidate can do no good and our candidate is the next great hope for America. We all have access to the same information — we live in a day and age where you can Google just about anything, so it’s not a matter of some people having access to information that others don’t have — it’s a matter of people hearing the same information — the same stories about the same candidates — and yet the responses to the information are vastly different. From full blown support to full blown hatred.
And there’s something similar going on in the story we’re looking at today. Why do people respond so differently to Jesus? As you read through the gospel stories — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — you’ll find accounts where Jesus teaches something — or He does something — and there’s not a unified response.
Some people are moved by His teaching and become His disciple — a follower who wants to learn more from Him.
Yet others — who hear Jesus teach the exact same thing — hate Him — some even want to kill Him right there on the spot.
Some people see Jesus perform a miracle and realize that He must be God.
While others treat Him like the ultimate rabbit’s foot — they think “If I can hang around Jesus long enough — I’ll never have to worry about being sick or hungry ever again
While even others see Jesus do the same miracle and they plot His death.
And even today — when people hear about Jesus — the things He taught or the things He did — there’s not a uniformed response to Him. It’s common to see some people unimpressed by Jesus — while others are changed forever because of the impression He’s had on them. Some easily dismiss Jesus — while others can’t imagine living without Him.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in or what socio-economic background you’re coming from. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, young or old, educated or uneducated — there are some who encounter Jesus and respond favorably to Him and others who have the exact same encounter and yet they respond unfavorably to Him. And our story today gives us an insight as to why people respond so differently to Jesus.
So let’s begin back in verse one.
“Again he (that’s Jesus) 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 (this is the Sea of Galilee, which is really a big lake), and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:” (Mark 4:1-2 ESV)
We’ll pause right there. Now these first two verses set the stage for us and I don’t want us to miss Jesus’ goal here — He’s wanting to teach this large crowd. Three times we see the word “teach” in these two verses. And we see that Jesus is using a particular teaching method — He’s using parables.
So…what’s a parable?
A parable is a story from everyday life used to illustrate a moral or religious truth. A parable is a story from everyday life used to illustrate a moral or religious truth.
So Jesus is teaching the crowd a truth and He’s doing so by using an illustration that comes from everyday life — something that would be relatable to the people. And here’s the parable — here’s the story from everyday life that Jesus uses to illustrate the truth He’s teaching the crowd.
We’re in verse three, where Jesus starts off by getting the crowd’s attention. He says…
““Listen! (“Here ye, here ye. Quiet down everyone, I’ve got something important to tell you.” If He had a microphone, this would be where He taps the mic and says, “Is this thing on?”) Behold, a sower went out to sow. (So a farmer went out to plant some seed.) 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. (So the seed had no chance of producing a crop because the birds came and ate it.) 5 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. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. (So this seed looked like it was producing a crop, but it didn’t. Why? It had no root.) 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. (More seed producing no crop for the farmer.) 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he (Jesus) said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:3-9 ESV)
So there’s the parable. And with it being a farming illustration, we’re going to have to submerge ourselves into a world that most of us don’t live in. Remember a parable is a story from everyday life used to illustrate a moral or religious truth. And — in Jesus’ day — a farming illustration fits nicely into the “everyday life” category. Yet even with some farmers among us — for most of us — this is a foreign world. A parable for us would have something to do with Facebook, or transporting our kids from activity to activity, or college football teams or something like that. But farming worked for Jesus, so we have to step into His “everyday” world in order to understand what He’s teaching the crowd.
And one thing that sticks out to me — probably to you as well — is that there seems to be a lot of seed that’s wasted, right? There’s got to be a better way of sowing seed when so much goes to waste.
And that’s the conclusion we’d come to if our only vision of farming is what we’ve seen in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries where technology makes everything precise. But in Jesus’ day, sowing resulted in some seed falling on ground that wouldn’t produce a crop — that’s how farming was done. And even in our day — with all of our advancements — there’s still waste. Not every seed produces a crop.
But for the farmer, it was worth the risk of having wasted seed in order to experience the fruitfulness of the seed that did land in good soil.
Now the other thing to notice is that there’s really only two kinds of soil. One soil produces a crop and three soils don’t. Some of the seed lands on the path and is devoured by birds. The picture in our minds should be of birds completely destroying the seed — like a fire devouring a forest.
Some seed lands on rocky ground and immediately shows some kind of life — but the life in the seed is dried out by the heat of the sun because there’s no root.
The seed among the thorns has the life choked out of it — causing it to not produce any crop. Three places where the seed lands — none producing a crop.
But then there’s seed that lands in good soil. And it produces an abundant harvest — a thirty, sixty, or hundredfold harvest. And Jesus is wanting His hearers — and us — to understand the enormity of the harvest produced by the good soil.
You see, Jesus is purposefully using some astounding numbers. The average farmer — in Jesus’ day — gained sevenfold for the seeds he planted — that was the norm — seven times the grain for every seed that landed in good soil. But Jesus wants His listeners to imagine a harvest where thirtyfold is the smallest return on investment — with some experiencing sixty — and imagine this — some even experiencing one hundred times the harvest per seed that lands in good soil.
So imagine how captivated His audience is as Jesus tells them this story. He’s teaching them a truth that He wants them to understand and He’s doing so by way of a parable — an illustration from everyday life to emphasize His point. So you can imagine — the crowd’s on the edge of their seats — just waiting to hear Jesus’ point.
And before we hear His explanation, something I don’t want us to skip over are Jesus’ words in verse nine: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” That’s awfully strange sounding isn’t it? He who has ears? Umm…I think that’s everybody, because if someone didn’t have ears, you’d heal them Jesus. So what does He mean?
Before He explains the parable, Jesus pauses to give His audience a warning. A warning we need to take seriously. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is a warning to the crowd that the point of His parable requires thought and action on their part. Jesus is basically telling them, “What I’ve been teaching you requires a response. Don’t be too quick to dismiss or ignore what I’ve just said. Listen carefully. Pay attention. Think about My words because your life depends on it.”
And then that’s it for the crowd — that’s all they get. The implication is that the parable is more than enough for them to understand what Jesus is teaching. And then there’s a brief interlude in the story.
“And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you (so to the disciples — Jesus says — to you) has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for (who? For those…) outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see (now look at Jesus’ words — they may see but not...) perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12 ESV)
“Whoa, whoa, whoa Jesus. Did you just say that You used a parable so that some people wouldn’t be able to perceive or understand the truth You were teaching — and not be forgiven?” Nah. Can’t be. Jesus wouldn’t say something so politically incorrect would He? He would never say that there are people who are insiders and some who are outsiders — He wouldn’t say something like that.
So obviously this is an unexpected statement by Jesus. And Christians — who all love Jesus — have landed in different places as to what He’s meaning with these words.
But here’s what’s agreed upon. Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah. Just after Isaiah answered God’s call of “Who will I send to these people” and — you may remember — Isaiah replies, “Here I am! Send me!” Well right after Isaiah’s response, God tells the prophet to go and preach to the Israelites who — at the time — were rebelling against God.
But it was going to be a difficult ministry. For the people — Isaiah was going to preach to — would hear his message from the Lord, but not understand it. They would see, but not perceive. Their disobedience had made their hearts dull towards God and His Word. So Isaiah was to pronounce God’s judgment to people who were rebelling against God’s love.
And remember, the point of our story is to help us understand why some people respond favorably to Jesus and why others don’t. And Jesus quotes Isaiah to help us understand why. He says that there are people whose hearts are so hardened, whose eyes are so blind, whose ears are so dull in hearing, whose hatred for God is so intense — that no truth will reach them. And that’s completely unexpected. And it shocks us. It angers us. It frightens us.
So Jesus explain yourself — cause we don’t like what You’re saying. And here’s His explanation. According to Jesus, this is why some people’s hearts are hardened towards God and why some people respond favorably to Him.
“And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. (Ok. So the seed in the parable is the Word of God — the gospel — the life giving message of what Jesus has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection — that’s the seed.) 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear (so these people hear the Word — and look at what happens...), Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. (Now there’s a lot of debate in the church when it comes to salvation — do people choose God or does God choose them? Well Jesus just said — very clearly — that some people — in the moment when they hear the gospel — they don’t even get a chance to respond — Satan takes the gospel message away from them before they can. And if this makes you uncomfortable — Luke’s recording of Jesus’ explanation is a couple of steps beyond uncomfortable.
“The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12 ESV)
I pray that this would be a sobering reminder that we’re in a spiritual war. We have an enemy. He is robbing people of eternal joy. We like to debate about whether people have a choice or not — while — in Jesus’ own words — Satan is out destroying lives for all eternity.) 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word (so these people hear the gospel as well and — when they hear the Word — these people…), immediately receive it with joy. (So these people are Christians right? Well — watch what happens to them.) 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the (what? So they do OK until they start experiencing difficulties in life because of the…) word, (And look at what happens.) immediately they fall away. (When trouble or difficulties come upon them because of their faith — they fall away. Again, there’s been much ink spilled over whether or not these people are really Christians. Maybe the debate’s worth it — I don’t know — but what’s not up for debate is the end result for them — what’s their end result? They’ve fallen away — implying they no longer follow the path that Jesus has paved that leads to an eternal reward — don’t miss where they’re headed.) 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word (Notice how Jesus is making sure we get this. All three of these groups hear the Word. So their response is not due to a lack of knowledge — or because they haven’t heard the gospel — but look at what happens to these people. They hear the Word…), 19 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 (what? The Word of God proves…) unfruitful (in their life. These people hear the Word of God. But for them, the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires — think lustful desires — for things other than God enter into them and choke out God’s Word in their life. And they produce no crop. The seed — the Word of God — produces nothing of eternal value in them. Three down. One to go...). 20 But those (seeds) 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.”” (Mark 4:13-20 ESV)
There are only two responses to the Word of God — either it produces eternal — lasting — fruit in your life or it doesn’t. And this is where Jesus’ words get very personal for us.
There are some people in this world — according to Jesus — who hear the Word of God and immediately Satan snatches the Word from them — he takes it away. They’re indifferent to the gospel message — it’s not that they haven’t heard it — it’s that they hear it and experience zero change. Maybe that’s you.
Then there are people who hear it and — almost impulsively — they respond — they get excited — it appears as if they’ve changed. But whatever they’ve experienced is only temporary because eventually they fall away — they don’t hold on to the hope and truth found in God’s Good News when difficulties arise in their life. Maybe that’s you.
Others hear the gospel — and these to me are the scariest for us here in the United States — because they hear the gospel but the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things choke the Word out of them. And the Word of God is fruitless in their life.
Let me tell you — as a pastor — I see this far more common in people I meet than I ever imagined before entering ministry. Now, God’s the Judge of a person’s heart — not me — but all I can say is that it’s way too common — and frightening of an occurrence — to see someone on fire for the Lord — only to have something happen in their life that snuffs out the fire.
Could be a desire for money.
Could be some kind of hobby that takes over their life.
Could be getting their kids to dance and gymnastics, to baseball and basketball.
Could be climbing the corporate ladder.
And — oh by the way — they still talk Christianese — but the reality is — there’s no spark — there’s no fire — there’s no joy or passion for Jesus in them anymore.
And — honestly — I don’t know what to call these people. Most of the time — I think — we still call them a Christian because we’re frightened by what we’re seeing in them. Because they were considered an All Star once upon a time — and if they can fall away — if this can happen to them — then what hope is there for me — we wonder.
But Jesus has been clear. Only the seed that lands in good soil will produce a crop. Only the person who hears, receives, and bears much fruit — is the one who endures to the end.
And the bottom line is this: Many people hear the gospel, but only a Christian responds to it with lifelong faith and repentance. Many people hear the gospel message, but only a Christian responds to it with faith and repentance that endures all their days.
A true disciple of Jesus hears the gospel. They receive it — that’s faith or believing. And they bear much fruit because of it.
Now I want to end by giving us some ways to respond to what we’ve heard.
First, a question. What kind of soil are you for the Word of God? What kind of soil are you? Are you like the path? The rocky ground? The thorns? Or the good soil? Only one produces fruit of the Word. Only one heart responds to God’s Word in a way that demonstrates a miracle has taken place. The heart that hears the Word, receives it, and bears much fruit. What evidence is there in your life that demonstrates an unexpected harvest — of 30, 60, or a hundred fold — is being produced from God’s Word being planted in your soul?
Now that one might’ve stung — so this second one I hope will be an encouragement. One thing that plagues many Christians is the thought of sharing their faith. Mainly because we’re worried about the results.
Will they be offended?
Will they think I’m silly?
Will I get fired?
Or probably the scariest response of all — what if they believe and then ask me what they’re supposed to do next?
Often times — though — a lack of results discourages us from sharing the gospel. Most Christian wants others to find joy in Jesus, but many of us are so scared about what the results will be — that we end up not sharing our faith with anyone.
So here’s the encouragement. If you believe in Jesus, you’re a farmer. And like the farmer in Jesus’ parable, you’re to let the seed fall wherever it may land. Some of it will land on the path. Some on rocky ground. Other seed will land in the thorns. But if you’re faithful in scattering the seed of God’s Word, some will land on good soil. If you’re faithful in scattering the seed of God’s Word — some of the seed will land on good soil.
You may not see the results you want to see, but have confidence — God is working and has promised to produce a harvest. There’s good soil out there for your evangelistic efforts to fall on — so scatter the seed.
Finally, there are numerous places in the Bible where Jesus is described as a seed. Sometimes it’s used to describe Him as an offspring — a child — a descendant of someone. But the Bible also gives the idea of an abundant harvest being produced because of the death of one seed.
And in Jesus we find the true seed of God. On the cross Jesus gave His life so that we might live. He died as the seed of God — buried in the ground — so that whoever believes in Him might receive the eternal life that only the death of the eternal seed of God could produce. And the death of Christ has produced — and is producing — a miraculous harvest. Not the sevenfold harvest that would’ve been an exceptional year — but the death of Jesus has resulted in millions upon millions upon millions of people finding true life, hope, joy, and peace in Him for the last two thousand years.
And an abundant harvest still waits to be discovered as God’s Word is proclaimed throughout our world today. A harvest that’s been made possible through the death of Christ — the seed of God.
You have heard the Word of God today. The seed is being scattered among you right now. Jesus so loves you that He gave His life for you, so that by hearing His Word — by receiving and responding to it — a miracle would occur in your heart — a miraculous harvest of your soul.
He who has ears to hear — Jesus says — let him hear My Word and respond. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, give us ears to hear Your Word, so we receive what You’ve said to us and respond to it. Remind us that Jesus is Your true seed — and through His death — a miraculous harvest of souls has been made possible. You’ve promised us that there’s good soil for Your Word to fall on — so help us to be faithful in scattering Your Word.
Father, remind us that we’re in a war — a spiritual war with souls at stake. I pray against our Enemy — Satan — and ask that he would be unable to snatch Your Word from anyone listening to my voice right now.
And Father for those who are flirting with the ways of the world — I pray that the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things would have no grip on their heart. Father, grip them firmly with Your loving hands and do not let them wander from You.
Finally — Holy Spirit — we ask that You would give life to us — and seal us — so we are found to be faithful followers of Jesus — good soil for the seed of Your Word. In His name we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: LOST THE FIRE OR WANT A FIRE FOR JESUS)
May you go producing an abundant harvest because of God’s Word planted in you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.