Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sowing the Seed

The scene of a farmer with a seed bag slung over his shoulder, walking up and down the furrows of his field broadcasting his seed, would have been a familiar one to all who heard this parable. They may have even been able to see this very sight off in the distance as Christ spoke. The point is this: the figures which Christ used in the parable were recognizable. Jesus was taking the known and laying it next to the unknown so that those who had ears to hear might learn the mystery of the kingdom.

Mark 4:14-20:

The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive [it], and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred

The Seed

“The sower soweth the word.” The word of God is the seed. Luke is just as explicit about that in his account of this parable. Luke 8:11, “The seed is the word of God.” This is foundational! This is critical! The only thing we have worth sharing; worth sowing in this world, is the seed of God’s Word. This means it is important for us to understand that we do not manufacture our own seed; we simply and exclusively use the seed which God has provided. The power of new spiritual life is in the Word, just as the power of plant life is in the seed. Remember what Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).

It is the truth of the Gospel that saves and that truth alone.

A few years back I heard a religious story done on the NPR program Morning Edition. The story was about “a new kind of Sunday school, where families from a range of religions gather to teach virtues to their young children.” I am all for Sunday school, and I believe virtues are wonderful. I am not, however, all that crazy about the teaching of the “Sunday school” featured in NPR’s piece. Read this excerpt from Barbara Hagerty's story:

Layli [the teacher] calls the children to the dining room table. In front of each child sits a little lamp shade.

“Remember how we talked about how religions are a lot like lamp shades?” she asks the group. “They may look different, they may be different colors or sit in different rooms, but they all have the light of God inside of them.”

The kids glue symbols of various religions onto the shades — a Christian cross, a Buddhist wheel, a star and crescent for Islam. Then Layli calls out, “Come to the light!” And the children, one by one, place their decorated lamp shades on a light bulb. (Emphasis mine)

That sounds charitable and peaceable, but it is actually damnable. It is a counterfeit gospel. Jesus Christ is the only Light of the world; not one light of many, and His light cannot be distorted or altered with any lamp-shade of man’s religion. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3? Nicodemus was using the lamp shade of Judaism, but Christ said “You must be born again.” In order for Nicodemus, or anyone else, to be born again the Son of man had to be lifted up on the cross; that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Whosoever believes in him should not perish but will have everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Christ said (John 3:18), “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The only light worth coming to is the One True Light Jesus Christ, and whoever comes to Him will never be cast out.

The Sower

The seed is the Word of God, in particular the good news of salvation by grace through faith. The sower is any believer who broadcasts the Gospel seed. That seed may be sown by any number of methods: preaching a sermon, teaching a lesson, conversation over coffee (or whatever you drink), or sharing your salvation testimony. It may be communicated in an email, a letter (Anyone write those anymore?), in the break room at work, walking down the school hallway, at a friend’s house, or over the dining room table after supper. The seed should be sown everywhere and all the time. This doesn’t mean always “witnessing.”

This does mean that the Gospel must be proclaimed from your lips and with your life. In other words, the seed should be sown…

  1. Purposefully – our evangelism should be intentional and not only accidental. Sowing seed is every believer’s responsibility and privilege. It is a way of life and not only a church program. (Mark 16:15; 2 Timothy 4:5)
  2. Passionately – Christ wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41; 13:34); displaying His tender heart for the people who, for the most part, rejected him. The is a good reason why Psalm 126:5-6 is so well worn, because it displays the very heart of Christ – “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves [with him].”
  3. Patiently – No seed which is planted bears fruit overnight. James illustrated the Christian virtue of patience with a farmer in 5:7, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”
  4. Perspectively – (Yes I created an adverb for this post.) The Christian’s responsibility is to sow the pure seed of the gospel. We are not in charge of making it rain, making it take root, or making it grow. We are only accountable for sowing the seed. As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
  5. Prayerfully – Christ taught us how to pray in this area. He said, “The harvest truly [is] great, but the labourers [are] few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). As we pray for lost souls our prayers should be focused on God’s people, starting with me, being busy in the field.

Each Christian has the blessed responsibility to sow the seed of the Word. We are not responsible for producing the seed, the soil, or the fruit. We are only accountable for faithfully sowing the seed as far and as wide and as often as possible.

The Sowing

Mark 4:26-29:

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The parable of the growing seed is unique to Mark’s gospel, and it supplements Mark 4:14-20. The parable in verses 26-29 reminds us that we are to sow, sow some more, and continue sowing! This is the sole responsibility, authority, and privilege of the Lord’s churches! We are to be groups of Gospel seed sowers; scattering the gospel seed anywhere and everywhere; regardless of the soil’s condition. According to this parable we have no power, ability, or even awareness of whether or not the seed will grow, or, for that matter, how the seed grows. We are simply called to ceaselessly sow the seed. Our ignorance of how it works and our inability to make it work requires that we exhibit patience and trust in God, as well as His seed.

Farming requires faith, patience, and hard work. (I know this from observation, not experience.) A farmer has zero control over the environment. He can prepare the ground, plant the seed, and cultivate the field, but he can no more make the seed grow than he can make the rain fall. He can only do what he can do when he can do it and patiently trust God with the rest. That is why the following passages are a couple of my favorites.

Galatians 6:8-9

“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

We are able to not grow weary in well doing because we know that God has the power and the secret of life. I love what commentator John Philips wrote in his commentary on this passage:

The biologist can dissect the seed and expose and name its various parts. The geneticist can go even deeper into the structure of things and define the seed’s genetic code. He can clone and produce identical plants. He can breed and produce hybrid plants. But if no life is there it is all in vain. The most zealous believer can no more convert a soul than he could create a star.

Conversion is a miracle, as is all life. It is certainly no commonplace occurrence, and it is not something which should be taken for granted. Life is a miracle and it is owed to God. He has seen fit to use His churches to sow the life giving message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again. May we purposefully, passionately, patiently, perspectively, and prayerfully sowing the seed!

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