Living in a pluralistic society, one of the interesting things to learn is what other people think of Jesus. For me, I cannot escape the conclusion that the testimony of history and Scripture shows Him to be nothing less than God Incarnate. Over the course of time, I would hope to show why I think that to be true—and why it is that truth is truth, regardless of individual acceptance.
However, not everyone thinks this way—and it' is fascinating to see how they react to Him. There are many who will respect at least portions of the Biblical narrative and the teaching of Jesus. They respect His use of parables and the methods and manner of how He taught and lived.
It seems odd that one can hold to part of what He taught while rejecting other parts of His teaching, but Mark 4 (link) shows that Jesus Himself expected this to be the case. We see in this parable that He speaks of those who hear His words and the four differing reactions to those words.
There are those who reject outright whatever the Word of God says. These people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some even come in Christian-looking T-shirts or stand behind pulpits and preach on Sundays. Others come in forms that a church-going person might readily identify, but it is the ones within our midst that are the danger. These are the wolves that should raise our concern, the ones within the fold. The ones outside? Keep your distance isn’t such a hard thing to do, there, is it?
This is certainly its own special challenge in the modern American world. Our national heritage is certainly more Bible-focused and Christ-acknowledging than our future is, even with all of the sinful behavior that happened under those banners. It is important, after all, to recognize that most abolitionists fought slavery on grounds of Biblical truth—it was not just those who sought to justify that evil that used the Bible. How do those who wish to follow the Word of God as their guide live among those who have no similar desire? Those who have decided to ignore the Word?
We should recognize that it is not the job of those who have never accepted the seed of the Word to bear fruit in keeping with that seed. Take a look back at this parable: The Sower sows the seed and the seed on good soil bears fruit. The seed on the road? Bears nothing. If there is no future adherence to the teaching and life of Christ, it is not the fault of the seedless. It is the fault of the unfruitful.
How so? We have allowed a few of the seedless into places of respect in the Christian community, but we also lean too close into allowing the other soil types to be our example and our leaders.
Take, for instance, the seed that falls into rocky soil. It springs up quickly but has no root. Yet what does it look like to begin with? It appears to be a glorious early riser. It has all the hallmarks of a good crop. The leaf sprouts, the plant grows. It has the inputs: sun and water and nutrients. Yet is there a crop?
No. The sun rises, the dry days hit, the storm blows—and the truth is laid forth. There is no root. Where there is no root, there is no real fruit. So we see Christian leaders that buckle to the first temptations or that entrench when challenged—we see anger and bitterness rather than Christlikeness.
We allow those to teach and influence us that are among the thorns: they have not weeded their own plots and gardens and are eventually dragged down by the prior issues that had troubled them. Be it the pursuit of material gain or political power, be it a proclivity towards one sensual sin or another, those weeds and thorns were not rooted out and those rise up to choke out the great potential.
Instead, we must learn to patiently await the rooted crop to rise. This is the crop that bears fruit and that fruit is what demonstrates the power of God. That fruit is what shows the grounded basis of the people who have received the Word. These should be our example.
And this should be us: those who take in the Word and who apply it throughout our lives. Not just in some areas and not woodenly, but wisely: the religious and civil festivals of the people of Israel are not commanded nor commended to us today; there are laws governing slavery not because it was right but because it was there—and honest examination of the whole culture of the world at the time shows that these laws were groundbreaking in requiring humane treatment of those most religions and cultures treated as worse than garbage.
Rather, we apply the Word properly: self-control guided by the Spirit of God. Love shown in truth. Kindness and gentleness coupled with a passion for righteousness in our own lives.
This is what we ought to be focused on and how we ought to seek those who would lead us as Christians, those who we allow to speak for us. And if the world sees us they will see one of two things: either that they want that seed to take root in their lives or that they would rather burn the field to the ground. Either way, our life counts for this, the glory of God.
Today’s Nerd Note: Mark is action-oriented, but this chapter is one where he focuses on the teaching of Jesus. It is also not a “parable of the Kingdom” describe either heaven or the earthly following of Christ. Rather, it is a focus on what the hearers of Jesus must become, an explanation of why some follow and some do not.
Mark’s detachment from the action to reflect the teaching is valuable for us to consider. This parable is important enough for him to do so.