Mark 4:1-20 “The Fruitfulness of Good Soil”
Mark 4:1-20 “The Fruitfulness of Good Soil”
Sunday AM November 28, 1999
Introduction: Tonight we shall finish up this parable of the soils when we study the seed that is sown in the thorny soil. This morning we are looking at “The Fruitfulness of Good Soil” since this has a bit more of a theme that fits with Thanksgiving.
Soil, dirt, the earth, the ground- Gen.2:7 “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” 3:19 “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” We are frail creatures of dust, we run with feet of —-. (clay). Yet modern science says we are 98% water, with only 2 % dust! Water plus dust = mud!
Different soils are good for different purposes. The volcanic soil of central Washington state is deep and rich in nutrients producing glorious wheat fields, vineyards, fruit trees, vegetables, berries- some of the best farm land in America. Other soil is better for cotton, some soil is swampy and good for rice. Here in the D/FW area we have mesquite beginning and magnolias fading, cactus begins and heads west from here.
Who is responsible for the types of soil? Who determines the soil composition? Who prepares the soil, changes it, plows it up and adds fertilizer? Who weeds it and tends it? What types of fruit are borne by the soil? Who harvests it? In our study this morning we will see some answers to these questions. The main point is this: Our responsibility is to listen to the Word of God as it is preached, taught, or read, and examine our lives for our readiness to believe it and put into action, thus bearing true spiritual fruit that gives glory to God. If we examine our lives and realize we have little fruit, then we better be repenting and taking steps to increase the harvest! God expects fruitfulness from his people.
I. Who Makes the Soil Good?
In this parable the soil is basically a given, the hard ground was there at the beginning, the stony, shallow soil was already there, the thorns were there too, as was the good soil. But who is responsible for the types of soil? The main point of the parable is to make the listeners examine their hearts to see what kind of soil they are. Action is called for, discernment is required, a heart response is necessary.
So the question of where do the soils come from is in the background and is not answered here. But in the rest of scripture we find the answer. As I explain this, keep in mind that this is a mystery, we cannot fathom the intentions of God, and his ways are not our ways, his thoughts higher than our thoughts. Keep in mind that there are two sides to this coin and I will discuss our responsibilities next.
The soil types are basically God’s area of responsibility, he makes some soil hard packed, other ground is shallow and rocky, he allows thorns to grow in some soils, and he makes some soil very fertile while other soil provides a basic harvest. Here we must realize that God is sovereign, and he makes some people have hard hearts, others he makes shallow, still others he makes with a heart that gets easily choked by the things of this world. But God also makes many with a heart that responds and bears fruit for the kingdom. You and I cannot look at somebody and see what is in their heart, we cannot tell what kind of soil lies in their hearts. We can judge fruit, however, but the heart, that is God’s domain.
Many people today do not like the doctrine of God’s sovereignty; many believe that man’s will is supreme. Most do not like to discuss such things as the doctrine of election, predestination. But these doctrines are found not just here and there, but through and through the scriptures. These doctrines are ignored at our peril!
God is in control, God has a plan for each of us that will be accomplished, and god’s plans are good, wise, loving, and merciful. We must realize that the God who determines our soil is a God of love! Look at Isaiah 64:8-12. The Lord is our Father, he is the potter we are the clay. Isa29:16…. Paul quotes these vss in Romans 9. The idea is that God fashions us, designs us as He sees fit, and we cannot question his wisdom and sovereignty. But notice it is as a Father that he does this, there is love here.
Compare Rom 9:21-23 with 2Tim2:20-21.
We practically see this when in a family of 2 or more kids, raised in the same environment, sometimes the children have radically different responses to the gospel. We see this practically in our prayer life as well, when we pray for a lost loved one or friend, we ask God to send His Holy Spirit to convict them, change them, draw them to himself, to save them, to cause them to be born again. We pray this way because we know God wants to save, is glorified in saving lost souls, and that even some of the hardest hearts ever known are sometimes softened by a sovereign God. God is charge of the soils, and He can change the soil from steel reinforced concrete to deep rich fertile soil, whenever he desires. This is a mystery to me- but just look at Saul whom God turned into a Paul!
Here we just have to trust in God’s love, wisdom, and timing. Our job is to pray for the lost, share the gospel with them, and minister to them. We trust in God to change the soil. Hendriksen writes (1975, p.160) “Let everyone do his best to produce much fruit… always remembering however that even though the parable emphasizes that the result of the hearing of the gospel depends on the condition of the hearts of those to whom it is addressed, so that human responsibility is stressed, in the final analysis every good thought, disposition, deed, character has its source in God and His sovereign grace.”
II. Our Responsibility- Hear and Accept the Word.
While it is God’s responsibility to manage the soils, the responsibility of those who hear the gospel is always to respond and accept the gospel. In the situation that Jesus was immediately facing, he was challenging his hearers to listen and to seek understanding. Even the 12 disciples were challenged! But it was the disciples who came to Jesus with their questions.
For the lost man, he must become convinced of the urgency and import of the gospel, he must realize he is in danger of the judgment of God, in danger of hell’s flames. He must be convinced that Jesus is who he claims to be and that the scriptures are reliable. He must know that he cannot save himself, that he is a helpless sinner, at war with God and that Jesus has died to pay for the sinner’s sins. The lost man must listen to the gospel and believe in a resurrected Lord who demands that we repent of sin and trust in Him for salvation turning our whole life over to His authority and control. It is not a time to try to fix up your life, to get a little religion, to reform your morals a little bit, to cut back on sin. No, to hear the gospel and respond properly is a radical transformation called being born again. To bear true spiritual fruit we must begin at the foot of the cross of Christ, humbly confessing our utter sinfulness, casting our soul at the feet of Jesus for mercy.
Augustine wrote in the 5th century (ACCS, p.57) “Work diligently the soil while you may. Break up your fallow with the plough. Cast away the stones from your field and dig out the thorns. Be unwilling to have a hard heart, such as makes the Word of God of no effect. Be unwilling to have a thin layer of soil, in which the root of divine love can find no depth in which to enter. Be unwilling to choke the seed by the cares and lusts of this life, when it is being scattered for your good. When God is the sower and we are the ground, we are called to work to be good ground.”
Augustine is not here saying that you can work for your salvation! He preached salvation by grace alone, no! He is saying to take this parable seriously and examine the soil of your heart. Take action! Plow up your soil if you fear you are not yet saved, born again. Remove those stones, pull up those weeds! Seek the Lord; cry out to the saviour!
Does this parable speak to the already saved? To the Christian? Yes it does! Many a Christian is backslid, stuck in a rut, plateaued. Many believers are stuck in a comfort zone, retired on active duty. The Christian’s retirement is when we die and go to heaven. Many a Christian needs to heed this call to plow up our dormant soil. Many a believer has a lot of weeds choking the word of God. One of the biggest problems in the church across America today is that we are a shallow people.
Believer, do you long for the things of God? Do you want to be fruitful? Do you desire to get rid of the weeds of this world that make you unfruitful? Do you receive the Word with Joy? Do you listen to the Sunday School lessons and Sermons with an ear to hear? Or with a critical spirit? Have you heard it all before and listen tiredly, boredly, apathetically? The call from Jesus here is those who have ears to hear, listen up! Listen closely!
III. On Being Fruitful.
Jesus says that some soil will bear 30 some 60, and some 100 fold increase. Considering that a great harvest included a 10 fold increase, these are remarkable results indeed. Only with modern day agriculture, hybrid seed, fertilizer and pesticides do you get these kinds of harvests! Jesus was deliberately being extravagant here to show the amazing side of God’s grace. Look at Paul’s fruitfulness- from chief skeptic and persecutor deluxe to missionary, apologist and preacher, whose passion was winning souls for Christ. Throw the guy in jail and he looks at it as an opportunity to start a jail ministry. Put him on trial and he will witness boldly to kings and Caesar himself! Put him on a prison ship that is sinking in a storm and he leads the salvage operation in order to witness.
Yes there is a difference in degrees of fruitfulness. Some are called to faithfully teach the gospel in a preschool class or children’s class, others are called to witness in the work environment, others to the mission field, some become well known evangelists like Billy Graham.
What kind of fruit are we to bear? JC Ryle writes, (1857, p.49) “These are the people who really receive Christ’s truth into the bottom of their hearts, believe it implicitly and obey it thoroughly. In these the fruits of that truth will be seen- uniform, plain, and unmistakable results in heart and life. Sin will be truly hated, mourned over, resisted, and renounced. Christ will be truly loved, trusted in, followed, and obeyed. Holiness will show itself in all their conversation, in humility, spiritual-mindedness, patience, meekness, and love. There will be something that can be seen. The true work of the Holy Spirit cannot be hidden. There will always be some persons in this state of soul wherever the gospel is faithfully preached. Their numbers may very likely be few compared with the worldly people around them, … There will always be visible repentance, visible faith in Christ, and visible holiness of life. Without these things there is no saving religion. And now let us ask ourselves, What are we? Under which class of hearers ought we to be ranked? With what kind of hearts do we hear the Word? Never, never may we forget that there is only one infallible mark of being a right hearted hearer! That mark is to bear fruit. To be without fruit is to be on the way to hell!”
What kind of fruit is the Lord looking for in our lives? Gal.5:22-23 and Eph 2:10 show us some fruits we ought to have.Prov11:30 “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”
How can we be fruitful? What can we do to increase our fruitfulness?
1) Pursue Christ- worship, prayer, the Word,
2) Study- are you studying the Christian faith? Good books, radio preachers
3) Fellowship- encouragement, training, accountability, challenges,
4) Minister- serve the body humbly, love one another, find a need in the world and serve.
5) Witness- it is unthinkable for a Christian not to witness within their context.)Lay aside the things that slow us down- quit sin! Live righteously.