We are in the middle of our Fighting Temptation mini-series. So far, we’ve watched Jesus defeat the devil in a one-on-one temptation battle, learned some lessons from the champ, and contrasted the cost of fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting.
But maybe so far you have said, “Pastor, this has been nice. It sounds important. I should fight temptation. So…I’ll put it on the schedule for some time this summer.”
It’s like one of emails that goes to your junk mail. You peruse down the list and about 6 emails down is an email, written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that says, “URGENT” with a few exclamation points behind it!!!
And you blink quickly, move the mouse, and click away.
Is someone in trouble?
Is a friend trying to reconnect?
Am I late on a bill?
“Hello sir. Just a note that there is currently a deal for 10% off pictures frames down at Michaels. We wanted to let you know – because you shopped here…one time…for your wife. This deal is only available for a limited time. So, act now! It’s urgent.”
Until…I get very similar email the very next week.
Maybe, it’s not so urgent.
Do you feel that way about fighting temptation? As if it isn’t urgent?
Today Jesus himself is going to explain to us the urgency of fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Urgent Warning
We are studying Luke 13 today. Look at what verse 1 says, “Now there were some…who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
This is a bit strange, so a bit of background. Galilee was a country that was in the northern area of the Holy Land. Galileans were people who lived in Galilee. Apparently, some Galileans had been in the temple offering sacrifice (aka worshipping God) when the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (he’s going to become very important as we get closer to Good Friday) ordered that they be killed. It’d be similar to a church shooting. Which unfortunately, is not unheard of.
It wasn’t unheard of back then either! According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, Pilate did this about five different times during his reign. Each time it was violent. Each time it was awful. Each time it was a very disheartening event.
That’s why the people were talking to Jesus about it.
It was troubling.
Like some kind of awful current event (take your pick: shooting, bombing, kidnapping, rape, etc.), they were trying to make sense of what had happened.
The answer that was most popular?
These guys must have been terrible sinners.
They must have done something really, really, really bad.
I heard that they were running an illegal drug ring through the temple.
This was a punishment for them!
Jesus overhears it and, being true God, He offers a unique assessment that a sinful human being would never be able to offer:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v2-3)
First thing to understand about Jesus’ statement:
Sin is sin is sin. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) It teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) It teaches that “If you stumble at just one point, it’s as good as breaking all of God’s law.” (James 2:10) Sin is sin is sin. It’s all awful to God. Therefore, these Galileans killed in the temple were not worse sinners than any one else.
The slaughter in the temple wasn’t some kind of special judgment by God against a special breed of sinners.
But in case you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, okay. This wasn’t. It was done by Pilate. A sinful human being acting in a sinful, fallen world. But what about natural disasters? That’s the kind of stuff that only God can control. What about tornadoes down in Mississippi and flooding in the Midwest? Is that God’s judgment against them?”
Look at Jesus’ next words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (a natural disaster. Not a murder. Still horrific.) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.4-5)
The Galilean slaughter was not a special punishment.
The Implosion of the Siloam tower was not a special punishment either.
Stop looking at these horrific events for the sake of others.
Look at them for the sake of yourself.
As a warning.
A reminder that life is short.
As a wakeup call to repent! To get right with God. To stop sinning before God acts against you!
Here's the first truth God wants you to get through your head this morning: “Don’t view disaster as an indictment of others, but as a warning to yourself.”
Stop pointing at others.
Stop ignoring your own sins.
Stop thinking, “I love this sermon. Go get ‘em pastor! In particular, look at this guy right next to me. He needs to hear this.”
You need to hear this.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for 40 plus years.
You need to hear this.
Because if you don’t…
Jesus continues. From horrific current events to gardening:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.“ (v.6)
Ever had a fig before? They’re pretty tasty. This man must have really liked them. In fact, I picture him having a gigantic, fig tree farm with thousands and thousands of fig trees growing. It makes him a lot of money for fig jam, fig jelly, and fig Pop Tarts.
Every once in a while, he takes a break from the paperwork of owning a fig tree farm to go and walk through his product line. He marvels at the beautiful of the trees. He samples some of the figs as he goes. He whistles to himself as he is so happy for how well everything is growing.
There’s that one tree again.
(He remembers it from last year)
Not a lot of green.
Seems kinda sickly looking.
“The owner said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to Look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.’” (v.7a)
It isn’t producing. It isn’t doing what we planted it to do. A fig tree without figs on it is…worthless.
“Cut. It. Down!” (v.7b)
Friends. This is more than garden tip.
This story has a spiritual meaning.
God has brought you into his family.
To fight sin.
To bear fruit.
To bear the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And if God is walking through his rows of Spirit fruit trees…
And he walks past the section where you are planted…
And you aren’t bearing fruit?
Instead of love – hatred.
Instead of joy – complaint.
Instead of peace – grumbling.
Instead of fighting temptation – enjoying the sin that you’re doing.
What do you think the Father will say?
It’s the worst three words that God could ever say about you.
Cut. It. Down.
II. A Patient Promise
Thankfully for the fate of the fig tree this isn’t the end of the story. Because while the owner is the one who paid for him to be planted, he has another friend who cares for him.
The gardener is the one who has been watering this tree for three years.
He’s seen it struggle.
He’s weeded it.
He’s fertilized it.
He’s even gotten up at 5am to come out and sing Eric Clapton to it.
For three years, he’s put his heart and soul into getting that fig tree to bear figs.
And he isn’t ready to give up…not yet.
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (v.8)
Friends, you have a gardener, too.
You have someone who cared so deeply for your soul that when he saw your fruitless, sin-filled life, he came to earth and died on a tree to save you.
Jesus is an advocate on our behalf! The Bible says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” (1 Jn. 2:1) It says, “Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.” Romans 8:34) It says, “Jesus is our Great High Priest…that we approach God’s throne with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
Do you get it?
Jesus is pleading to the Father on your behalf, while pleading to you on behalf of Him!
And here’s the good news: It’s working.
How do I know?
Well, you’re here today.
You’re listening to this message.
You get to hear Jesus’ voice calling to you right now.
No matter how barren your branches are.
No matter how dead your spiritual life looks.
No matter how shriveled your attempts at fighting temptation have been.
God has been patient with you.
You have not been cut down.
And it isn’t as if the gardener said, “If it bears three times as much fruit next year in order to make up for the past three years of not bearing any at all, fine.”
He didn’t say, “I think that this tree will be worth the wait because it’s fruit will make some top-notch jam—better than the rest.”
He didn’t say, “As long as it produces 27 figs by this time next year, then we won’t cut it down.”
The fig tree doesn’t need to earn the right to be called a fig tree.
It simply needs to do what it was made to do.
And you don’t need to earn the right to bear fruit.
You simply do what God called you to do.
You won’t be cut down!
You’ll one day be transplanted from your life on this earth – to eternal life in heaven.
III. What Now?
With the urgency of death lingering and the promise of God’s grace patiently keeping us alive, WHAT NOW for this week? A few things:
It’s a phrase that appears twice, word for word in this section from Jesus. If Jesus thinks it is important enough to repeat, I think we should repeat it:
Unless you repent, then you too will perish. (v.3, 5)
Repent means to turn.
To do a 180.
To turn from sin to Savior.
To turn from falling to temptation to fighting temptation.
To turn from unbelief to faith in Jesus.
It’s like watching Pee Wee Football. And there’s that little running back, the one that looks like his pads are gonna swallow him up. It’s the end of the game and the team is up by 4 touchdowns, so the coach calls a play to give him the ball. After the quarterback hands it off, he turns, he runs…and goes in the exact opposite direction of his endzone.
And the coach is screaming, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And the crowd is shouting, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And his teammates are chasing after him to tackle him and stop him and turn him around!
That’s what God is doing with us here today.
When we sin, we go the wrong way.
Today, God calls out to you – repeatedly, persistently, patiently, lovingly – TURN AROUND!
Turn to Me.
Turn to salvation.
(2) Be Urgent about It
Because absolutely nothing in Jesus’ words today imply that you’ve got all the time in the world.
Nope. In fact, the point is that you don’t know how much time you have at all.
Before Pilate has you murdered.
Or a tower falls on top of you.
Or you get sick.
Or in a car accident.
Or have a stroke.
Our time is short.
Do not wait on repenting when you’re older.
Get urgent about fighting sin.
Fighting addiction? Seek help today.
Fighting greed? Give more money in the offering plate.
Fighting hatred? Ask God to soften your heart.
Fighting sexual temptation? Stop putting yourself in situations to sin.
If you’re fighting the temptation to continue to NOT follow Jesus – keep fighting against it!
Put your trust in your Savior.
Be urgent about fighting temptation because Jesus was urgent about fighting for you.
He came swiftly off his heavenly throne.
He suffered death.
He quickly and efficiently defeated it by rising from the dead.
(3) Be Patient about Others
Because it is so easy for us to be patient with ourselves, “C’mon guys. Greed is a hard thing. Give me time to get past this sin.”
But not so patient with others, “That dude was a jerk to me AND it’s the second time! God!?! Get him.”
But we can’t react like that. Not when God has every reason to cut us all down simultaneously right now, but he hasn’t.
Because God is patient with us, we are patient with others.
We forgive them.
We love them.
We kindly rebuke them…again and again and again and again.
We share the Gospel with them…even if it’s 8 years running.
There’s this one guy that I invite to Easter every year. I’ve invited him for seven years in a row – this year will be my eighth. Sometimes I invite with a text message. Sometimes with an email. Sometimes with a voice message. Sometimes it includes a graphic design. Sometimes it includes a Bible passage. Sometimes it includes a brief synopsis of the Gospel.
Every year? He doesn’t come.
I was thinking about not doing it this year.
About wiping my hands.
And shaking the dust off my feet.
I’ll guess I’ll invite him again.
Friends – be patient in your interactions with others.
Take advantage of the Easter season.
Share the Gospel.
Share the Gospel.
And after you’ve done that.
Share the Gospel some more.
Patiently planting while urgently fighting temptation! Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is like… and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. We’ve heard two – both centered around farming.
We’ve heard so far…
…The Kingdom of God is like a farmer sowing seed – it lands on a lot of different soil types and has a lot of different results; just as God’s Word falls on lots of different heart types and has a lot of different results.
…The Kingdom of God is like a growing seed – the seed grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful, and persistent care; just as the seed of faith grows with repetitive, repeated, faithful and persistent use of God’s Word.
Today we are adding yet another farming parable to our list of Jesus’ parables and it’s going to teach us yet another facet of God’s kingdom. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story of the Mustard Seed
The parable is taken from Mark 4 which is the same chapter that the last two parables are from. So, it’s quite likely that Jesus tells it as a follow up to the other two parables that we mentioned before.
I love Jesus’ opening introduction to the parable in verse 30:
Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?”
You kind of get the impression that the disciples need some help.
They sat through two parables of Jesus – two teachings about the kingdom of God.
The first one they were confused about.
After the second one, didn’t seem to help much.
They must have been a lot of blank stares.
And now Jesus, the omniscient, Lord of heaven and earth, is trying to explain the divinely complete and eternally developed kingdom of God to these temporal, finite, and much simpler humans.
It’s kind of like trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t really know the area. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you’re trying to get them to church. You tell them:
Head south on Falls of Neuse until you get to Newton Rd. Turn left and then it’ll be the little brown church to the right.
Do you know where Ravenscroft is? The library? It’s in that general vicinity.
Scratching their heads.
Go to the Han Dee Hugo Station. Turn left. Go 2500 feet. Turn left into the Parking lot with the sign for Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
SIGH. Just take my GPS.
Jesus shares that frustration. Trying to teach the things of God to puny minded humans beings.
So he says…
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. (v.31)
If you wanted a BIG plant to grow in your garden, how big a seed would you need to plant?
The bigger the seed; the bigger the plant, right?
A sunflower seed.
A pumpkin seed.
An avocado pit.
They’re pretty big in the world of seeds; they must produce big plants. It makes sense.
What about a mustard seed?
Have you ever seen one of those? (Think of the Grey Poupon Mustard jar.) They are super tiny and barely visible if I held one up for you in the front of church.
In fact, it’s so tiny – that if I planted it – and if anything grew from it – I’d expect it to be a tiny, little grass sprout.
When planted, the seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. (v.32)
It’s bigger than a sunflower.
Bigger than a pumpkin plant.
Bigger than an avocado bush.
It’s basically a tree. About 6, 7, 8 foot high.
Big enough that birds land in its branch.
All of that happens from this little seed.
Such a small, insignificant seed leads to an incredibly significant plant!
II. False Expectations
What’s the point of Jesus’ story?
Is Jesus just a really big fan of mustard?
Should we all go to Food Lion and grab a yellow, squeezable bottle of French’s mustard to put in the offering plate next Sunday?
Remember – a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the kingdom of God.
Think about it…
What is God trying to teach us about His kingdom?
This past Monday at 9:30am I went to a local retirement home. It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 5 years now. I head to the home. I do an acapella, communion-less version of today’s service. I tell the people there about Jesus.
To be fair – when we first started, they put me on in the big living room area. And…I’m pretty loud. It wasn’t hard to get people’s attention. There was plenty of room. Usually we’d gather together about 20 some people to worship Jesus on a given Monday.
Recently they relocated me to a much smaller side room because some thought I was a bit of a distraction.
Recently the Lifestyle Coordinator that I worked with was replaced with a new coordinator.
Recently that side room has become a storage room of sorts - scrunching the chairs and causing us to lose space to Thanksgiving decorations.
This past Monday morning...there was one lady who joined me for worship.
It wasn’t the one who shouts “Amen.”
It wasn’t the one who sings along.
It wasn’t the one who nods at key points of the sermon.
It was the one who falls asleep about 3 minutes in.
I will not lie. I started to think:
What’s the point?
Why be here?
It isn’t anything BIG.
It isn’t anything SIGNIFICANT.
This can’t be the work of God because it isn’t BIG and SIGNIFCANT enough!
You ever thought like that? Have you ever thought…
Why am I attending this INSIGNIFICANT church service? It’s not even Christmas Eve. It’s some random service in October.
Why am I telling my kids this INSIGNIFCANT Bible story? They don’t even look like they’re listening.
Why am I making this INSIGNIFICANT invite to worship? My friend couldn’t care less.
Why am I prepping for this INSIGNIFCANT Sunday School class? There’ll be, what, 2 kids here?
Why would I have my child baptized? It’s an INSIGNIFICANT splash of water. What could it possibly do!
Friends, we are buying into a LIE.
Work in God’s Kingdom needs to SEEM SIGNIFICANT or it will BE INSIGNIFICANT.
The lie suddenly becomes:
Every time I share the message of Jesus; it needs to be greeted with SHOUTS of joy or it was worthless…
Each worship service needs strobe lights and smoke machines or it’s not really work in God’s kingdom.
Each Bible passage on Facebooks need to go viral or it will be utterly worthless.
Each time I teach kids, I need about 30 of them, lined up – like soldiers – listening to my words like the kids from Sound of Music or I might as well quit trying.
Careful. You’re listening to The Lie.
And it’s most dangerous when it comes to personally connecting with God.
Because we think:
I need to go to climb some mountain, in some freezing Antarctic culture and find a Sherpa on the very summit. That’s SIGNIFICANT and that’s connecting with God.
I need to go to some forest, deep in the jungle, to find a TEMPLE OF DOOM and an ancient artifact that will solve God for me. That’s SIGNIFICANT. That’s the way to God.
I need to spend hours in a laboratory, dissecting, experimenting, and divulging in order to unlock the secret God particle. That would be SIGNIFICANT and that would be the way to Him.
I need to give thousands of dollars to some charity to get my name on one of their plaques to ensure that God might like me. That’s SIGNIFICANT and maybe then God would pay attention to me!
We envision these grandiose ideals on how to connect with God, when God has simply, clearly made himself absolutely accessible through something seemingly insignificant.
Friends, if this what you believe -
That’s God’s Kingdom only shows up in the SEEMINGLY SIGNIFICANT.
In the BIG Seed.
In the FLASHING LIGHTS seed.
In the ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE seed…
You are in danger of missing it altogether.
III. The Unexpected Reality
Like many of the people at Jesus’ time…
They expected the Savior to be look like someone SIGNIFICANT.
Like a king coming from a beautiful palace.
Like some soldier with a giant sword.
Like a general with a myriad of soldiers behind him.
Like an activist enacting visibly massive political upheaval.
But that’s not what they saw in Jesus.
Instead of a beautiful palace, he came from a feeding trough in some dilapidated barn.
Instead of a giant sword, he swung a carpenter’s hammer.
Instead of a myriad of soldiers, he had 12 disciples – 4 fishermen, an accountant, a political activist, a betrayer and 5 guys whose jobs were so insignificant they aren’t even written down in Scripture.
Instead of massive visual political upheaval, thee enacted invisible personal, spiritual change.
Even in his death – He seemed insignificant!
He didn’t die fighting a dragon.
He wasn’t fending off some super villain.
He didn’t go in some epic explosion.
He hung on a cross.
Where many common criminals hung before.
Where many common criminals hung after.
Jesus’ LIFE seem insignificant, but there is no LIFE more eternally important.
Because with his death he removed all of your sins.
With his blood he removed all of your guilt.
With his resurrection he declared heaven to be yours!
It might look common.
It might seem insignificant.
It might seem like a mustard seed of a teaching.
But belief in Jesus leads to a mustard plant like growth into the Kingdom of God itself.
If Jesus’ LIFE seemed insignificant, but there is no life more eternally important…
Jesus WORK might seem insignificant, but there is no WORK more eternally important.
That insignificant looking church service, can reinvigorate and replenish your faith in the Savior.
That insignificant looking Bible story – can fill your kids with trust in their Savior.
That insignificant invite to worship, might be one of a series of calls from God to bring that person to His kingdom.
That insignificant looking Sunday School class, could strengthen the faith of a future SS teacher who will continue to multiply God’s kingdom long after your gone.
Those insignificant looking drops of water, wash away sin and bring you into God’s eternal kingdom.
That insignificant looking, off-key acapella worship service in that stuffy, back storage room with only one person in attendance…might strengthen that person’s faith just enough to bring them home to heaven.
Like an insignificant looking mustard seed, God’s kingdom grows into the most eternally significant.
IV. What Now?
1. Do the Seemingly Insignificant
Work on memorizing Scripture.
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” with your kids.
Bring your kids to worship – even when they don’t want to.
Bring yourself to worship – even when it’s not a celebration Sunday.
Tell a coworker about Jesus – even if it’s not some incredible doctrinal statement.
Do the seemingly insignificant work this week and you will be doing the eternal important work of God’s kingdom.
And it’s not just personal…
When you’re leaving today, look behind across the parking lot. There’s an incredible new ministry center out there with an incredible ability to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
To be fair – it looks SIGNIFICANT.
But the work surrounding it – hasn’t always been…
Phone calls on hold to subcontractors.
Emails typed to potential parents.
Fixing the little tiny door latch for the cabinet in the janitor’s closet.
On its own, the work seemed insignificant.
Keep doing the insignificant when that opens.
Spend an extra minute talking to a parent about their life.
Add a dollar to the offering plate.
Paint a wall in the Fellowship Hall.
Do the Seemingly Insignificant work of God’s kingdom because there is nothing of more eternal significance.
2. Remember the Eternal Significance
Segue with me.
To something that isn’t a parable.
Segue with me.
To something that is a glimpse into the future.
Segue with me.
To the reality of heaven itself – the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10, 13, 14)
Look at that multitude.
Look at those people.
It’s eternally significant.
If you look closely enough you might see…
There’s that person that you shared that seemingly insignificant Bible verse with.
There’s your neighbor that you shared a seemingly insignificant church invitation with.
There’s your child that you shared a seemingly insignificant 5-minute Bible story with.
You can't say for sure, so we must keep sharing God's Word. It's important!
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…
The work can look insignificant, but there is no work of more eternal significance.
Last week we started a new series called “The Kingdom of God is like…” It’s a series in which Jesus himself, the expert in the Kingdom of God, teaches us all about God’s kingdom through parables. A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
Last week’s parable taught there are many different reactions to the Gospel message. Some instantly reject it. Some quickly grow faith and quickly lose faith. Some have faith for a long time, but then worries and wealth choke out their faith. Some believe, grow, and reproduce – planting Gospel seeds in the hearts of others.
If you were listening last week, maybe you started thinking…
How do I make sure that every soil is like the good soil?
How do I ensure that everyone I tell about Jesus believes in him?
Afterall, Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years.
There have been a lot of smart Christians.
Surely, someone must have come up with some kind of identifiable, outlinable process to growing faith in someone’s heart with 100% accuracy!
It’s kind of like HelloFresh. Have any of you tried it? They send you recipes for a meal, all of the ingredients for the meal, and the exact amount of each ingredient for the meal. It’s broken down in such a simple, step by step process that even people like me (who previously were only really good at making Pop Tarts) able to cook Chicken Cordon Bleu w/ braised Asparagus.
And it’s edible.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like that for sharing Jesus?
Something with 100%, all the time, positive results.
Today we are looking at a second parable from Mark 4. It shares with us the secret to planting seed in the kingdom of God. Before we do, that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How to Grow a Seed
The parable is from Mark 4:26. That’s the same chapter we were in last time. That means Jesus told it to his disciples shortly after telling them about the 4 different types of ways that the seed would grow.
Perhaps they were wondering the same thing we wondered earlier: Jesus, how can we ensure that all the plants grow!?! Give us some kind of a Ten Step Process.
Jesus gives them the answer.
With another parable:
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.
Sound familiar? That’s almost the exact same thing as the previous parable.
Only instead of a farmer sowing seed, it’s just a man sowing seed.
And instead of focusing on the various result, it’s focusing on the process involved with achieving the desired result:
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Focus in on what the man is up to. He is not always sowing.
Sometimes he’s sleeping.
Sometimes he’s awake.
Sometimes he’s eating a hearty sower breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and a bowl of hot grits with a slice of butter melting from the top down.
Sometimes he’s reading his copy of Farmer’s Digest magazine.
Sometimes he’s watching HGTV.
Sometimes he’s on Facebook marketplace looking for a good deal on a pair of coveralls.
To be fair, in the midst of this – he takes time to plant, time to water, time to weed, time to add fertilizer.
He absolutely tends to the plants.
But…for a long time, nothing seems to be growing!
Nothing seems to be happening.
It’s just a pile of dirt with a stick and the seed packet over the top of it – so he doesn’t forget where he planted.
After many days.
After many nights.
There is a plant.
And when he’s excitedly talking to his spouse that night he tells her:
It grew! And I don’t know how.
I don’t know if it was the watering.
Or the fertilizer.
Or playing my Weird Al hitlist on Pandora for it.
I don’t know exactly what happened to make it grow, but…it grew.
God made it grow.
Here’s the first key truth of the parable:
The secret to faith growing is that there’s no secret!
There’s no special phrase to say.
No special Kool Aid to drink.
No special pressure point you need to push to make faith grow.
Faith grows from using God’s Word.
It’s no secret.
It’s simple, everyday use of God’s Word.
That’s really important to remember.
Because sometimes, we get the sense that we need to concoct the perfect scenario to grow faith in someone’s heart.
The coffee needs to be bold.
The signage needs to be exquisite.
The ushers need to be on point.
The band needs to be well rehearsed.
The sermon needs to be energetic.
And the call to faith afterwards needs to be dramatic and it needs to happen in about 3 minutes or less -- or faith will fade.
And we should probably add a smoke machine and fireworks just to help their faith grow.
Don’t get me wrong. Those things are fine. (Some of those things are fine) They might even be good. We want to do our best for God.
But what those things don’t create faith.
God’s Word creates faith.
Because remember – God’s Word is the seed.
The seed contains all the power within it to grow!
When it didn’t grow in last week’s parable, the problem was never the seed. It was the soil.
When faith doesn’t grow in someone’s heart, the problem isn’t God’s Word – it’s the heart.
Therefore - the secret to the growing faith is faithful use of God’s Word.
It’s reading a passage from the Bible to your kids.
It’s typing a few words from the sermon on Facebook.
It’s telling a friend that Jesus is their Savior.
It’s texting your cousin a message from the Psalms.
It’s inviting your friend to join us for worship for Pentecost 21.
The mysterious secret to growing faith is found in the common, everyday use of God’s Word.
And while that might seem common…
It is far from it.
Because constant reminder of God’s forgiveness melts the disgusting guilt of sin away.
The simple melody of Jesus Loves Me may chase away the devil himself.
The ums and the ahs of a mediocre sermon – becomes the powerful, booming, authoritative voice of God himself declaring YOU. To. Be. His Child.
Keep planting God’s word in common, everyday ways and God’s Word will work to grow faith.
II. The Sprout Timeline
Next question: How long you need to do it?
I remember Miracle Gro. Do any of you? Its claim was that you toss one little thing of Miracle Grow into your watering can and it would immediately and efficiently cause your plants to grow. All it took was one application and soon you would be on your way to a prize-winning pumpkin!’
How long does it take to grow faith? Check out verse 27 again: Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Notice there’s no time frame on how long he cares for the seed.
37 some odd years trying to get something to grow in that soil?
It’s indefinite, because the answer is indefinite.
Faith growing might take a day.
37 some odd years.
I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
There have been people like Rebecca. We met. I got them into Bible Basics. I shared the Gospel. It took 1, maybe 2 plantings and faith grew.
Then, there are people like Eliza. We met. I, and the PL teachers, spent a year sharing Jesus with their kids. Then, the kids helped share Jesus with the parents. Then, there was another year of it. Then, a third year of it. Then a 4th year of it. Then, sometime around year 5 of it, I was able to get her into Bible Basics – Share faith, get her to church, wait another couple of months of that happening until finally: A plant of faith.
Do you understand the take home? It’s easy to get discouraged. Easy to think that faith is never going to grow. Easy to doubt that your attempts at sharing Jesus with your kid, your friend, your spouse will never work.
But the truth is:
The Timeline of faith growing is indefinite.
It’s different for different people.
You don’t stop sharing God’s Word with your spouse because I’ve been doing it for so long. It probably won’t work.
You don’t stop inviting your friend, because I’ve been doing it for so long...it probably won’t work.
You don’t stop telling your coworker about Jesus because I’ve been done that twice. If it hasn’t worked now, it won’t work ever.
If the person you want to share Jesus with is still alive, there’s still a chance for God’s Word to work.
If you think you should stop because they’ve kept telling you no, perhaps you’ve focusing too much on their reaction AND not enough on the powerful seed you have in your hand.
God’s powerful seed.
Share God’s Word.
III. The Rate of Faith Growth
One more thought.
Sometimes when someone comes to faith…
Sometimes when they confess their faith on a New Member Sunday…
I get super excited!
I think they are going to get so involved.
They’ll be here every weekend.
They’ll be fantastic givers.
They’ll be itching at every chance to get into God’s Word and do Bible Study.
That doesn’t happen.
And when that doesn’t happen, the temptation can be to say:
Fine then! Get out of this church.
Fine then! I’m taking your photo off the photo wall.
Fine then! Don’t expect me to keep after you; you’re on your own now!
But here’s the deal. Just as initial faith-growth is varied; so is maturing faith-growth. What I mean is that you the seed doesn’t get put into the ground and the next day you have an ear of corn stick straight out of the dirt. Nor do you get an apple popping out of an apple tree when it’s simply a twig on the ground.
There’s an order to growth. Check out verses 28-29:
All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
Again - the length of that growth can vary.
Oftentimes, it’s an issue with the soil.
It’s an issue with someone not getting into God’s Word.
But…when we are talking about other people -- Your job? It isn’t saying: “This thing isn’t growing as fast as I want. I’ll get out my garden hoe and dig it out of the ground.”
Your job is simply to tend to the plant with God’s Word.
It’s why you baptize your child, but then, you keep telling your kid about Jesus.
It’s why you bring your spouse to church once, but then you ask them to come again.
It’s why you get excited about the new believer getting connected to God's Word, but then you keep them connected to God’s Word.
But the endgame is the harvest.
It’s the end game of the apple lover. They plant the apple tree in order to taste that delicious bite of the first apple.
It’s the end game of the carrot lover. They plant the carrot plant in order to take a crunchy bite of that first carrot.
It’s the end game of the Brussels sprout lover. They plant the Brussels sprout bush in order to torture their children. No…because they want Brussels sprouts.
And that’s why God planted faith in you, he wants you to join him in heaven.
It’s why God grows faith through His Word he wants many in the harvest of heaven.
It’s why you will share your faith with those that you do, because you want them to share in the harvest of heaven.
Keep that in mind.
That’s the end game.
The Harvest of heaven. Amen.
Today we are starting a brand-new sermon series called “The Kingdom of God is Like…” It is all about the Kingdom of God. (Hence, the rainbow-ish, otherworldly colors in the logo) I’m excited because we are going to be learning about the kingdom of God from the foremost expert in the Kingdom of God.
No, I’m not talking about myself.
I’m not talking about some scholar at Duke.
I’m not even talking about flying in some professor from the Seminary.
I’m talking about Jesus.
Because when it comes to the Kingdom of God, there is no one better to learn from than the One who came from God’s Kingdom.
He’s the “of God” in Kingdom of God.
He’s the foremost expert becomes He is the One who developed the concepts behind it.
So, what we’ll be doing is looking at 10 parts of Scripture where Jesus himself tells about the Kingdom of God.
10 sections of Scripture.
10 glimpses into the Kingdom of God.
Now because the Kingdom of God is such an otherworldly thing, I want to introduce you to a concept that we’re going to become very familiar with over the next 10 weeks. It’s something called a “Parable.” A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
It’s kind of like Aesop’s fables. Have you heard any of those? The Gnat and the Bull. The Puffed-up Frog. I think the most famous is the Ant and the Grasshopper.
The ant works hard; the grasshopper is lazy.
The ant carries some food; the grasshopper takes a nap.
The ant carries 10 times his body weight, back and forth, all day; the grasshopper gets to level 12 on Minecraft.
But…when winter comes, the ant has plenty of food; the grasshopper is starving.
The lesson? Do work.
Jesus’ parables are similar to Aesop’s fables in that they both use earthly elements to tell the story.
But the parables of Jesus are a bit different from Aesop’s Fables in this:
Aesop’s fables teach an earthly lesson.
Jesus’ parables teach a heavenly lesson – a spiritual lesson – an eternal lesson.
Today we are looking at a parable from Mark 4. It teaches us that the Kingdom of God is like a Sower. How? And what does it mean for you? We’ll examine that in a moment, but first a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The story that Jesus told his disciples starts in Mark 4:3. Jesus is teaching to a very large crowd. Sometimes to deal with the large crowds, Jesus taught at the top of the hill and the crowds sat at the bottom, looking up to see him. But on this particular occasion he was next to a lake, so…what Jesus does is pretty genius. He gets into a boat and casts out to sea -- it’s a floating pulpit of sorts so that all could see and hear him.
Granted, of the people that came to listen to Jesus, they came for different reasons.
Some thought he was a phony. Others were intrigued.
Some wanted to see a magic show. Others had fully devoted themselves to him – their Savior.
From his floating pulpit surrounded by crowds of people with varying opinions of him, Jesus said this:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.”
Have you ever planted anything before? On a farm? In a garden?
If you’ve ever planted a lot of seed before, you know it can be time consuming. If you plant seed in a garden, you get on your hands and knees push the seed into the perfect part of the soil. But if you’ve had to get more seed into larger section of soil, you might use one of those little wheelie grass sower thingies. Know what I’m talking about? You fill it with seed, a propeller spins as you move, and it hurls out grass seed in all directions. Some of the seed that comes out will grow; other seeds will not.
Back at Jesus’ time, they didn’t have such incredible inventions as the little wheelie grass sower thingy. Instead, the one who needed to sow a lot of seed simply reach into a pouch and tossed the seed into the air.
The seed then landed in a lot of different places.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Maybe that path was concrete. Maybe it was gravel. Maybe it was just really, really hard from lots of travel. Regardless – when the seed fell on the hard ground – it didn’t stand a chance. The birds thought it was some kind of gourmet meal, descended onto the feast and ate up the seed.
And – well – seed doesn’t grow well inside the belly of a raven, so…
The seed didn’t grow.
Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. (v.6) Thus the seed had a better chance than the seed that fell on the sidewalk. At least, there was some dirt for the roots to move through. In fact, because of the little rocks that were in the soil – the soil held water fairly well and the seed grew quickly. The moisture was trapped in the first ½ inch of dirt. The soaked seed grew quickly.
It’s the same thing that happens in the “wrap a seed in a wet paper towel and place it in a plastic baggy” experiment from Kindergarten. At first, the seed does well.
But – eventually little Jimmy forgets to add water to the towel.
And – the roots can’t make their way past the plastic bag.
So…the little plant runs out of water and dies.
And little Jimmy throws a fit.
The same principle applies in real gardening.
The rocks allow the water to fast track the seed.
The seed grows quickly while it’s raining.
But then…the sun gets hot, there’s no water and…
The plant dies.
The seed didn’t grow.
Other seed fell among thorns. (v.7)
Have you ever noticed that weeds don’t need to be watered?
Nobody ever says, “Scuse me. I need to go water the weeds so that they don’t die.”
Nobody ever buys a bag of “Miracle Thistle Grow” at Home Depot.
Nobody ever says, “I’m taking this can of poison to my Rose Bush so that the poison ivy will grow a bit better.”
Nobody wants weeds in their gardens because they take over.
They grow too big.
They sap the soil of nutrients, soak up all the water and block the sun from starting photosynthesis in our little plant.
Unfortunately, the seed that’s surrounded by weeds has the same thing happen.
It grows – it just doesn’t have a lot of fruit.
Maybe, one little rotten tomato – that’s about it.
The seed didn’t work like it was supposed to.
Still other seed fell on good soil; it came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. (v.8)
Because sometimes, the seed works.
Sometimes the soil is soft enough.
Sometimes the roots can grow deep enough.
Sometimes the weeds are weeded enough and then...
The seed grows into a plant.
The plant grows into a mature plant.
The mature grows into a natural sower.
It plans seeds and produces a crop of thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was originally sown.
I’ll tell you what – it’s amazing when this happens.
For instance, last year – we planted carrots. They grew – ish.
They were crooked, brown, and ugly. I pulled most of them because I figured it wasn’t worth it.
But this year – low and behold – a few more had sprouted. Planted, not by me, but by the ugly, brown carrots I had previously planted.
It’s amazing when a plant grows so well that it doesn’t planting all on its own.
And that’s what happens with the seed on the good soil.
It does what it’s supposed to.
Jesus finishes the parables and says: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (v.9)
You’ve got ears.
I’ve got ears.
Let us hear us take to heart the parable.
II. The Truth about the Kingdom of God
But…what are we supposed to take to heart?
The challenges of farming?
That Jesus was a big Agricultural Enthusiast?
Remember: A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God. This is more than just an article for Better Homes and Gardens.
It’s talking about heaven.
It’s talking about the spiritual.
It’s talking about God’s kingdom.
To be fair, the disciples were confused, too.
They came to Jesus and asked him to explain it to them.
Thankfully – Mark wrote down Jesus’ explanation.
Let’s take it one seed at a time:
The farmer sows the word. (v.14) The seed is God’s message. The message that we are sinners. The message that we deserve God’s punishment. The message that we need a Savior. The message that we have a savior in Jesus. The message that Jesus died on the cross to take away all of our sins.
The farmer, then, is anyone who proclaims God’s Word.
a Preschool teacher.
A dad reading a dinnertime devotion.
A mom reading a bedtime Bible story.
A friend telling his coworker about what he believes.
The farmer is anyone who proclaims God’s Word. Because every time he speaks this message of Jesus – it’s as if that person is tossing seed onto the ground.
Think about that – every time you speak the message of Jesus, you are tossing seed onto the ground of someone’s hearts.
But what happens next?
(1) Hardened Rejection
(v.15) Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
You met someone like this?
They want nothing to do with Jesus.
They tell you do change your cross screensaver at work.
They love not believing there is a God so much that they won’t even consider the fact that God might exist.
They are hardened in sin.
They are hardened in unbelief.
They are hardened in absolute, complete rejection of Jesus.
I had this happen recently. I posted one of those ads on social media that invited people to church to hear about forgiveness in Jesus.
And someone commented: “You stupid bleepity, bleep. This is a bunch of bleepity, bleep.”
(2) Quick to Grow, Quick to Fade
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (v.16-17)
And these types of people get on fire for God’s Word!
They love the message of Jesus.
They fly through Bible Basics.
Get their kids baptized.
They sign up for all the ways to serve.
They help on all the work days at church.
They tell all of their friends about Jesus!
…one of their friends…
Tells them to: Shut up. I don’t care about Jesus. And I can’t believe you believe that foolishness.
I didn’t know people could treat us like that.
I don’t like this.
If that’s what it means to be a Christian, maybe…
I stop serving.
I stop going to group.
I get rid of all Christian themes on Social media.
And I stop attending church. Don’t want Pastor to put a picture of me doing Christian stuff on Social media.
Quick to Grow; Quick to Fade.
(3) Choked by Worry and Wealth Weeds
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (v.19)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
Not just for a short time; for a while.
They might even be a longtime member of a church.
They have given lots of money.
They have their name on a plaque!
The boss offers a new job.
The new job takes more hours at work.
The new hours get more money.
The more money buys new things.
The longtime Christian thinks – “Boss wants me to work this Sunday? It’s ok. I will. It’s only one Sunday. I need the money.”
One Sunday becomes two Sundays.
Becomes – a complete and utter lack of faith.
The weeds of worry and wealth; choke the plant.
The faith stops bearing fruit.
(4) Grown and Multiplying
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. (v.20)
This type of person hears the word and believes.
And grows in faith.
And keeps growing in faith.
And bears fruit.
And becomes a sower, too.
A good plant.
III. What Now?
(1) Garden Your Own Heart
The first question that always pops into my mine when I read this is: What kind of soil am I?
What kind of soil are you?
A heart full of hardened rejection?
A heart that was quick to believe and now is quickly falling away?
A heart that is slowly being choked by worries and wealth?
Or are you the good soil on which faith is growing? And bearing fruit? And being a super impressive, gorgeous plant?
Except – if you are trusting that you’ve got a faith growing heart…Isn’t the plant that’s growing the plant of faith in one’s ability to grow faith?
Here’s the deal.
No matter what kind of heart you have and what kind of faith plant is growing in your heart – the solution is the same:
Therefore – What Now Number 1:
Garden Your Heart with God’s Word.
God’s Word softens hearts. Ezekiel 11:19 says, “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
God’s Word removes obstacle rocks. Luke 3:5 says, “The rough ways will become smooth.”
God’s Word cuts weeds. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active; sharper than a double-edged sword.”
God’s Word causes faith to grow. Isaiah 55:9 says, “Like rain and snow that nourish the earth, so is God’s Word.”
In other words:
God’s Word softens our rejection.
God’s Word removes our doubts.
God’s Word grows deep roots.
God’s Word cuts down weeds.
God’s Word nourishes our faith plants so that they grow…
…and bear fruit.
…and become a sower.
(2) Expect Varied Results
I think this is the main point of Jesus’ parable -- When I plant seed (share God’s Word), what kind of response should I expect?
Because remember – Jesus is telling this is to the disciples. The disciples who – if you remember our ACTS Sermon series – planted all kinds of faith seed up and down the Middle Eastern coast as they shared God’s Word.
Some people believed.
Others? Threw stones at them until they were thought to be dead.
Jesus is preparing his disciples by telling them that the result will not always be great.
That their work will not always lead to a confession of faith.
That many times they share the Gospel will lead to nothing more than a Meh.
Think the same way.
Don’t expect awesome results all the time.
If you do, then, it’s so easy to get discouraged.
I know this as a pastor.
Honest truth – a lot of times people don’t follow through on Bible studies.
People don’t seem to listen to encouragements to get into God’s Word.
People don’t care much for the message of Jesus.
If I was expecting it to work all the time, then…I would have given up.
But Jesus tells us to expect various result.
Which means – it’s going exactly how he said it would.
And so…that leads to our final what now:
(3) Keep Sowing
Because just about the only thing that will ensure a plant never grows is if you never plant the seed.
And just about the only thing that will ensure a person never comes to faith is if you never tell them about Jesus.
Notice. Your job is simple.
It isn’t to convert a heart.
It isn’t to make faith grow.
It isn’t to make a faith blossom into a mature plant.
Your job is simply to plant the seed.
God’s job is to make it grow.
And God? He’s awesome at making faith grow.
The Kingdom of God is like a Sower.
Are you a part of the kingdom of God?