Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Stony Soil

While reading through the Gospel of Mark recently, I was stunned by two parables Jesus told.

The Parable of the Seed (Mk. 4:26-29) reminded me that gospel ministry is entirely a work of God. It is a mysterious delight to watch God take my feeble efforts and produce something holy and supernatural.

The Parable of the Soils (Mk. 4:1-20) reminded me that there may be some in our very church who think they are saved when in reality they are not. This is one of the longest parables delivered by Jesus, and it is unique because it is more of a true "allegory," i.e. multiple elements of the story have a spiritual meaning. The seed represents the Word of God; the soils represent different hearts; the birds represent Satan. And as we discovered last Sunday in our second week of exposition in this passage, the sun represents the scorching heat of affliction. Together we discovered three lessons from the stony soil:
  1. Be careful of your emotions. Jesus says that stony-soiled people "immediately receive [the Word] with joy" (Mk. 4:16). They start so well but end tragically. They're truly excited about Jesus, but when suffering comes their way, they begin to feel "buyers remorse." In our emotion-driven culture, we must realize emotions can be very deceptive. They are not inherently evil, but they do tend to be tossed to and fro based on our current circumstances. They're certainly not a sturdy foundation for our faith! How do we overcome a fickle, emotion-driven faith? That brings us to our second point...
  2. Root yourself deeply in Christ. Notice that the reason the plant withers is because "it had no depth of soil...it had no root" (Mk. 4:5, 6). A plant cannot escape the sun. A plant cannot adjust the temperature of the sun. The only thing a plant can do is root itself deeply in the moist, nutrient-rich soil to endure the scorching heat of the sun. In the same way, if we are to endure intense suffering in life, we must root ourselves deeply in Christ (cf. Psalm 1:1-3). God will determine the intensity of our trials, and promises to give us grace to endure them. Just abide in Christ and depend on His Spirit, and you will be able to endure whatever God permits in your life.
  3. Let trials press you closer to God. Jesus explains that people fall away "when affliction or persecution arises because of the world" (Mk. 4:17). "Affliction" means a pressing or squeezing and is sometimes translated "tribulation" in our Bibles. "Persecution" means a driving or chasing away and pictures those who insult, threaten, or drive us out because of our Christian testimony. Such trials can dry us up if we have a counterfeit faith, or they can press us closer against the loving bosom of God if our faith is genuine. As Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me" (Matt. 5:10-12). Let the various trials of life press you closer to God.
Questions for thought and discussion:
  • Does your faith seem to be stronger or weaker in times of suffering?
  • Have you ever suffered because of your faith?
  • Read 1 Peter 4:14. Why does Peter say we are "blessed" to be hated or suffer for Christ?
  • Is fear of suffering preventing you from being a faithful witness to unbelievers around you? Are you showing a lack of courage? Read Paul's exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7-8.
  • What other trials are you facing right now? How can this parable be an encouragement to you?
 Sunday's sermon has been uploaded to our podcast site for free download.

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Photo credit: gwincowper

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