Mark 4:1-20 “The Sower- Are You Sowing The Word?”

Posted on December 9, 2008. Filed under: The Gospel of Mark |

Mark 4:1-20 “The Sower- Are You Sowing The Word?” Sunday 14 November 1999 AM





I. The Seed Is The Word

II. Sow Liberally

III. Are You Faithfully Sowing?


Thesis: The Sower is to faithfully sow the word, even on soil that does not look to be fertile soil for the Lord is in charge of the harvest.


Introduction: In our study of Mark’s Gospel we are going verse by verse, story by story seeking to understand who Jesus is and what is the Gospel as well as what should be our response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are entering a part of the Gospel that is a favorite to many people- the parables. This parable of the soils is one of my favorite parables; it is rich in meaning, multifaceted and challenging. We will therefore spend 4-5 sermons on this deep story, seeking to mine its riches and indeed, do what Christ challenges the original hearers to do, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

            How many of you have been farmers or ever tried to raise a vegetable garden of some kind? I tried gardening once, and failed miserably. I got cantaloupes the size of a good tomato, a handful of radishes, a few small turnips (if you can’t even raise a decent turnip…) very few squash, and that’s about it. I made all kinds of mistakes- the ground was good, but the garden got no morning sun, only the hot afternoon sun, and my hose wasn’t long enough to reach the garden so watering it was kind of a problem, I planted things too close together, and I did not tend it as faithfully as I should have. Though I learned from that first garden, I never gardened again because I realized I just did not have time and then we moved and never had room for another garden.

            When we lived in Washington we saw wheat fields that stretched for miles. In Okla. I have seen wheat and corn fields that have an orderly square appearance. To watch a modern farmer plow his field with a tractor is fascinating. But imagine a small farmer in biblical times, sowing his small, rock strewn field by hand, reaching into his seed bag carried over his shoulder, pulling out a handful of seed and casting his seed.

            Here in this parable Jesus is telling us many things but this morning we will concentrate on the sower and the act of sowing. Jesus tells us that the seed is the word in vs. 14. The sower then is one who casts the gospel message, the word of God, out among the world. This morning we shall see that the Word is to be sowed liberally and faithfully by the sowers. Are you sowing the word? Are you sowing the gospel?


I. The Seed Is The Word, The Whole Gospel.

            In vs14 Jesus says that the sower sows the word. The word is the word of God, the Greek word is logon, referring to the words of Christ which are considered as the very words of God, the broader word of God encompassing the whole Bible, the revelation of God in written form. The Law and the Gospel is another way of saying it. All scripture is God breathed Paul says in 2Tim3:16 “and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness”.

            From Genesis to Rev. we have God’s revelation of himself, His character, His law, our sinful fallen nature, God’s plan for redemption by grace through faith in Christ’s perfect life and atoning, sacrificial death, the power of the resurrection, how to live the Christian life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the church as the body of Christ, our hope for resurrection and the second coming of Christ. The complete Word of God, the seed we are to scatter abroad. The seed is the message about Christ, the story of redemption, the Good News.

            In our day there is actually a controversy about the word of God on several levels. There is a controversy about the authority of God’s word and the relevancy of God’s word. Southern Baptists are splitting over this issue. There is controversy over the nature and extent of the word, the Gospel that is to be sown. I want to address this aspect briefly, for I believe we all here are agreed upon the authority of God’s word. It is the definition of the gospel, the extent of the word that is to be proclaimed that is disagreed with here and in countless congregations across the land. What is the Word that is to be sown from the pulpit and from the individual disciple who ought to be witnessing? If we are to sow the Word we ought to know the word which we are to sow.

            First of all there are those who believe that the word which is to be sown should be limited essentially to the “simple Gospel”, that is the basic plan of salvation. We see this in the common belief that the Sunday morning sermon should always be, or at least most of the time be, a simple evangelistic message directed at the lost people who might be in church that day. This widespread practice in Baptist churches has been in place for 50-75 yrs. and is what most of us grew up with. The presupposition of this practice is that the Sunday service is primarily the main outreach event of the church’s weekly calendar; that the church is to bring the sinners in to hear the gospel instead of going out to cast the gospel where the sinners are. Even in most of our witness training courses the witnessing plans used are usually just a very simple plan of salvation that includes only 6-7 Bible verses.

            When you study the history of preaching what you find is that for hundreds of years prior to this century the sermons were far more in depth and preachers covered much more of the Bible. The broader scope of church history and Baptist history shows that today we have a minimalist approach to the gospel, a watered down gospel that lacks the teeth and the depth, the meat of the full gospel that had been preached for centuries.

            The effects of preaching a truncated, abbreviated and simplified gospel for three generations have proven devastating for the Church in general. You see the effects in church’s having hundreds, even thousands on the roll, but less than half showing up on any one Sunday. In most churches only 20% really participate in the ministry of the church through serving and giving. In essence the church of today has many members but few disciples and one major cause is having a weak understanding of the gospel.

            John MacArthur’s book Faith Works gives a very readable but quite thorough study of this subject theologically and historically. He writes:

            “What is the Gospel? Here we get practical… Twentieth century Christianity has tended to take a minimalist approach to the Gospel. Unfortunately, the legitimate desire to express the heart of the gospel clearly has given way to a less wholesome endeavor. It is a campaign to distill the essentials of the message to the barest possible terms. The glorious gospel of Christ- which Paul called the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, (Rom1:16) includes all the truth about Christ. But American evangelicalism tends to regard the gospel as a plan of salvation. We have reduced the message to a list of facts stated in the fewest possible words- and getting fewer all the time. You’ve probably seen these prepackaged plans of salvation: Six Steps to Peace with God; Five things God wants you to know; Four Spiritual Laws; Three Truths You Can’t live without; Two Issues you must settle; One Way To Heaven.

            “Christians today are often cautioned not to say too much to the lost. Certain spiritual issues are labeled taboo when speaking to the unconverted: God’s Law, Christ’s Lordship, turning from sin, surrender, obedience, judgment, and hell…. This, some believe, preserves the purity of the gospel. What it has actually done is emasculate the message of salvation. It has also populated the church with “converts” whose faith is counterfeit and whose hope hangs on a bogus promise. Numbly saying they “accept Christ as Savior” they brazenly reject His rightful claim as Lord.” (p.193-194)

            Dr. David Garland from Southern Seminary in Louisville writes on this passage, “How many would have the courage to deliver a deliberately obscure message, as Jesus did, and then wait in the church parlor for   worthy inquirers to come for an explanation? This text suggests however that we may fail to understand the truth of the gospel and rob it of some of its power if we think that everything must be kept simple and clear. It may lead us to reexamine what we are trying to do and how we are to go about making committed disciples. Jesus did not strive to make things easier for the crowds to comprehend or to make them feel more comfortable. His enigmatic teaching served to separate those who were curious from those who were serious, those who were seeking only a religious sideshow from those who were truly seeking after God. He was intent on eliciting genuine faith, and Mark’s Gospel insists that faith is born of the tension between the revealing and the veiling of the truth.” (p165)

            What I am not saying here is that we should never preach or witness using the “simple Gospel”. There is a need for traditional evangelistic messages that explain the simple gospel, the plan of salvation. What I am saying is that we must be more thorough in our presentation of the Word, in our sowing of the seed. We must very carefully present the whole counsel of God’s word from the pulpit and in our witnessing. There is a time for a brief gospel presentation when time is brief, but our witnessing these days must take a long term view that includes all the great doctrines of Scripture. In my witnessing encounters in recent years there is a huge difference in the questions I am being asked from the kinds of questions I was asked 30 yrs ago. Simple solutions are rarely accepted today.


II. Sow Liberally.

            In this parable some may find it strange that in a culture of scarcity we should see a farmer sowing seed in unprofitable areas such as a beaten down path, stony ground, and thorny ground. Should not the sower be more selective? Perhaps a real farmer would have been more careful and selective but perhaps Jesus wanted to show that in casting the Word we should sow liberally. The sower of the word is to sow everywhere he or she can cast.

            There have been times when I was led to witness to someone that I really did not want to witness to. I was stretched out of my comfort zone to witness to folks whom I thought were like the hardened path or stony ground. But we do not have the prerogative of choosing whom God wants us to cast the word to. We are to sow the word liberally, cast that gospel seed everywhere we can reach.

            In our small congregation you would think that we do not have a very diverse audience for our casting of the seed. But look around and think how many people you come into contact with on a weekly or monthly basis, how many folks this entire church comes into contact with on a daily basis. WE ought to be open to sowing the seed not just to everyone who comes through these doors as our visitors, but to all those we know out There!

            There are certainly many different ways of sowing the seed, inviting folks to church, to a men’s supper, to vbs, our annual cookout; but better is when we go out to them with the seed. The single biggest benefit to my being bi-vocational and working where I work is that I have a captive audience of over 400 souls whom I get to witness to and pray for. For too long most churches have relied on a “Y’all come” evangelism methodology that tries to bring the lost to the church so that they can hear the gospel from the pulpit. Hence the stress on simple gospel messages from the pulpit instead of meaty messages to grow and mature a congregation. “Y’all come” approaches certainly have some validity, but the New Testament method is primarily a “Let’s Go” approach.

            Some would say, well, I am not good at witnessing, that is not my calling. I would say that the Great Commission applies to all of us, not just to the pastor, not just to the youth minister, not just to the young. If you can talk about the price of eggs, the coming presidential election, the trade of Juan Gonzalez from the Rangers then you have the necessary social and verbal skills to witness. If you are not witnessing then you either lack biblical knowledge or witnessing skills (which if you have been a Christian longer than a few years shows the state of our churches training, preaching, etc.) or you lack desire which is sinful. Sow some seed! Sow it liberally! Cast the whole gospel as far and as wide as you can!


III. Are You Faithfully Sowing?

            Although I have already addressed some of this in my previous point there are some other issues to sowing faithfully that need addressing.

            First of all faithfulness in sowing means that we remain faithful to our Lord with an obedient lifestyle that gives glory to God alone. If we are not walking in the Spirit but are in the flesh, our sowing will be done in the flesh, for our glory and the wrong motives. We must sow in a godly, biblical manner, remaining faithful to the scriptures, to our Lord’s standards. This implies that good old American pragmatism may not always be the best approach. We can take on some of the world’s methods if we don’t watch it.

            Let me quote Dr Garland again, “This passage forces us to reflect on our goals and methods in proclaiming the kingdom of God. Are we trying to lead people to a deeper understanding of the truth of God and to deepen their commitment, or are we trying to pad our statistics? Many churches that have used mass marketing strategies and have tailored their worship services to attract customers are successful at least in beating Satan from devouring the seed before it even has a chance to germinate. People come to hear who otherwise would never darken the door of a church. But these churches may find that they, like churches following more traditional patterns, have assembled persons who run for the exits the first time there is the slightest cost   for their faith. Their growth in discipleship will be stunted by their desire for God to bless their craving for material securities and comforts more than their spiritual lives.”

            We must be faithful to the message, to the whole word, as we liberally cast the seed. The message of the whole gospel is offensive and we need to remember that. The scandal of the Word is that God is Holy and Sovereign while man is totally depraved and sinful, Jesus died a horrible bloody primitive death as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of an angry God; this God who is angry with us also loves us so much that he willingly gave his son for us as a sin offering. The scandal of the word is that we must repent and submit to Christ as Lord of our lives, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone not because of our works. This gospel is offensive to modern man- but to this gospel we must remain faithful.

            Dr Garland continues, “Scandal is a necessary part of encountering the divine and having faith, even though it presents an obstacle that may block the way to truth and alienate one from God. It creates a crisis that reveals the hidden desires of the heart. Being offended reveals one’s sin and it can lead one further away from God or back toward the God who always resists human aspirations. If one yearns for God, one can work through the offense and come closer to God. If the heart’s desires reign supreme, one will be alienated. We might ask ourselves what we find offensive about these parables and Jesus’ explanations for them and then try to examine why we are offended. Does our offense stem from the discovery that God’s ways are not our ways?” (p167).

            To remain faithful to sowing the word also mean keeping on task even when we go through the valley of fruitlessness. The sower sowed on a lot of ground that was unfruitful. The majority of the parable is about unfruitful soils. This whole gospel, this casting of the whole word of God out as seed, is not going to be accepted by all. Many will be hard hearted, many will wither under persecution, and many will cave in to the world. Ours is a calling to faithfulness and not necessarily to fruitfulness. Though we will have some fruit, the fruit may not be as plenteous or as rich as we desire. Nonetheless, we must remain faithful to the task of casting the seed. There are people in this world that I have witnessed to and prayed for for 30 yrs. This church longs for fruit, we long for a time of harvest, and we want to see a hundredfold increase. But the harvest is up to God. Our task is to be faithful.


Conclusion: Are you carrying a bag of whole seed? The seed of the whole word of God? Are you liberally casting out the word, spreading the gospel as far as you can reach? Are you sowing faithfully? Are you faithful to the Lord of the harvest? Are you faithful to the message? Are you persevering in the sowing?


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