The Parable of the Soils - Mark's Perspective - Part 1

Mark 4:1-20

Tom Pennington  •  June 28, 2009
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The Apostle John said that if all the things that Jesus had done were written down, the world itself couldn't contain the books. What if I were to give you the assignment, as was given to Mark, to write a Gospel, that is an account, a record of the life of Jesus Christ? Where would you begin? Out of all that He did and all that He taught and all that He said, what would you pull together in your account of the life of Jesus Christ? It's really a daunting task. Isn't it? Mark is the shortest account of Jesus' life. If you're Mark, how do you sort through all that happened? How do you decide what's most important from that life of all lives? Obviously, Mark had the help of his mentor and the man behind the curtain, the Apostle Peter, but more importantly he had the aid of the Spirit of God in selecting those events from the life of Christ that were the most important for him to include.

Mark is only 16 chapters long. That makes it remarkable that Mark 11:1 - 16:13, is one week of Jesus' life. It's really not surprising when you think about it. It is after all the passion week. We expect that to be a focus. But Mark 3:20 - Mark 5:20, covers just one day in the life of Jesus Christ: one day from a three-and-a-half-year ministry. That means that 8 of Mark's 16 chapters cover just one week and a day of Jesus' earthly life and ministry. Half of his account: a week and a day. That must mean that Mark and Peter, and ultimately, the Holy Spirit all thought that the events of that one day are very, very important; and the teaching that Jesus gives on that one day must also be very important as well.

The first part of this chapter and the discourse that we'll study together is what is commonly called the Parable of the Sower, perhaps more appropriately called the Parable of the Soils. We looked at Matthew's account just a few months ago, but tonight we need to look at Mark's account. And there are some different nuances, and I think there're some things we can learn that perhaps we haven't seen before. Let me read it for you. Mark 4:1

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, "Listen to this! Behold the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.' [And He was saying,] "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Now before we look at the story itself, I want you to remember where this falls in Jesus' ministry. We're not going to go through this in detail, but you remember that Jesus' ministry was essentially a three-and-a-half-year ministry. In the winter of 29 A.D., you see it underlined there on the overhead, is when this first public rejection occurred, and His ministry in parables begins. It introduces the final campaign, the final ministry campaign in Galilee. So, this event occurs then, about two and a half years into Jesus' ministry, this day that we're studying, this long day. The cross is just a little over a year away. And, as you will see, His teaching on this occasion marks a significant change in His public ministry.

Let's look first, as we examine this account, at the setting of the parables that He teaches, the setting of the parables. Verses 1 and 2 give the specific setting, but I want us first to remember the larger setting, first in the book of Mark as a whole. Mark tells us a lot about Jesus' teaching. But he only gives us two of Jesus' sermons: Mark 4, the passage we begin tonight. It is in the middle of the first half of the book and Jesus' great Galilean ministry, and one other chapter, chapter 13, which is in the middle of the second part of the book. Both of those lengthy messages, those lengthy discourses, are placed strategically by Mark to explain, to fill out, and to give meaning to the surrounding narrative. Most of Mark is the story. It's telling the story of Jesus' life: what He did, that He taught. But these two chapters (4 and 13) are like anchors to that narrative: to fill it out, to explain it, to help us see what Jesus has really been about. This first one is no exception.

As the ministry of Jesus had unfolded, as we've seen it unfold together in these first three chapters, there were many incredibly different responses. On the one end were the disciples and His committed followers who fully embraced His claims and who hung on His every word, those disciples whom He walked by on the Sea of Galilee and said, "Follow Me," and they left everything to follow Him. On the other end of the spectrum of response were the religious leaders who had condemned Him, who had said that He was possessed by the devil, himself, and had already conspired at this point in Jesus' ministry to take His life. In between those two extremes, there were a variety of responses. Frankly, the same kind of responses we see today. If you took the Gospel of Mark, and laid out the responses on a continuum, and you started thinking of the people you know, you could find them in this list. In between those two extremes, you had everything ranging from skepticism about Christ, to a kind of superficial enthusiasm, to amazement, to curiosity.

You have to remember where this event fits into the immediate context as well. Matthew tells us exactly where it fits, because Matthew says, "that day." "That day" Jesus went out of the house and taught these things. It's the day we've been studying: the long day. It's probably around noon on the very long day that began with Jesus healing a demon-possessed man. Between that early morning event of healing the demon-possessed man and Mark 4:1, when He goes to teach, the people have wondered if Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the religious leaders sent from Jerusalem have completely rejected that and His claims. In fact, they'd committed the unpardonable sin: attributing a clear act of God to Satan. And that same morning, He has also been rejected by His own brothers. They had shown up just a short time before this and sought to take Him back to Nazareth by force.

Now if you're a thinking person, all of this should raise a question in your mind: if Jesus is all that He claimed to be, if He is in fact Israel's Messiah, if He is the Son of God, if He has authority as He claimed to forgive sins, then why didn't everyone eagerly accept Him? And especially, why didn't the most spiritually minded people in the nation, the leaders, and even His own brothers accept Him? Mark 4 provides the answers to those questions. It is the apologetic for why not everyone then and not everyone now accepts the claims of Jesus Christ. In fact, the way a person responds to Christ says nothing about Christ; it says everything about the person.

Notice how Mark begins. Verse 1 says, "He began to teach again by the sea." Jesus had begun His teaching ministry, you remember, in the synagogues, but the crowds had become so large that the synagogues couldn't contain them anymore. So, the best places to meet and teach them were in the large open areas around the Sea of Galilee. This has happened in a number of passages already. So, He goes again by the sea. Verse 1 continues, "And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land." Large crowds had gathered before.

That note has been made several times already, but now we're told it is a very large crowd. We know the twelve are there. We know there're other followers of Jesus. We expect that most of the people from that morning in the house are there. But Luke adds that a large crowd came together including those from various cities that were journeying to Him. So, a large crowd has come together.

You remember back in 3? Jesus had been so concerned about a crowd pressing on Him that He'd had His disciples prepare a boat. Look back at 3:7.

Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, … the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. [So, all the surrounding countries as well as all over Israel.] Verse 9, And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him.

Jesus made provision for that, but there's no evidence that He used the boat at that point. But here with this very great crowd, He does. He got into the boat, and it was taken out a short distance from the shore.

Just to give you a little feel of what that boat would have been like: it's amazing that in 1986, they found in the mud on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, the remains of an old boat. And after a number of archaeologists investigated, they discovered that it was, in fact, a boat from the first century. From that boat (which you can't tell a lot about, I have a picture of it, but it wouldn't be as helpful.) they have reconstructed from that a model, and I just thought you'd be interested to see it. This is what it would have looked like. There's another shot, and here's a shot sort of looking down into it so you can see how it was constructed. It was about twenty-seven feet long and about eight feet wide. It would've easily held thirteen men, which is apparently what it did on this occasion and often did in the ministry of Jesus.

So, the boat is taken out from shore and docked, anchored somewhere just out from shore; and Jesus assumed the position of teacher or Rabbi, and He sat down. Mark adds there that the whole crowd was on the land next to the sea.

It raises an interesting question for me, and that is, where did this event take place? There is a very likely spot. When you go to Israel, you learn that there're many spots we can't be sure of, but there are many that are certain. There are a few, I should say, that are certain, and there are several that are very, very likely. This is one of them. We know that it was near Capernaum. That's where He'd been teaching in a home that morning. And between Capernaum and Tabgha. You see the red circle there on the shore. There is a cove that is a very likely spot. It's just up above. This is just to give you an idea what the edge of the Sea of Galilee looks like there. It's very hilly. There's a shot looking out at the sea. But it's at the site of the Church of the Beatitudes. There on the distance, if you look right in the center, in the middle, you see the dome of a church. That's the Church of the Beatitudes. This is likely up the hill further. Near that church is the likely spot of the Sermon on the Mount. Huge crowds can gather there.

In fact, it's interesting, when the Pope came to Israel in 2000, they prepared this very hillside for a hundred thousand Catholics to observe mass. It rained and not that many showed up, but there was space for a hundred thousand. And the cove that's just down the hill from this hillside on the lake itself is very possibly where Jesus taught these Kingdom Parables. Just down the hillside from this, that's where the Sermon on the Mount would have been), looking down now from that church, you see a cove. This is from the satellite. In the blue circle you see the Church of the Beatitudes, and then you see there's this strange little circle in the land that I have circled in red there. That is a cove. This is what it looks like from this angle.

Now, the modern road you see there in the photograph follows the ancient road of Jesus' time. So, this was a strategic place to teach a large crowd, and it's a kind of natural amphitheater. You could see how it's sort of, is suited to that. From almost anywhere in the cove, the audience could have seen Jesus. Here's looking at the cove from another direction. Several sources mention an acoustical study of this cove. This is from the waterline, looking back up the hill.

Several sources have done an acoustical study of this cove, or cited, I should say, done in the biblical Archaeologist. Todd Bolen points out that five to seven thousand people could fit just below the area, in the area below the road there. So, between the road and the cove, five to seven thousand people can fit. The entire area of the hillside can accommodate more than twice that.

The study suggests that if you get in a boat and go out about thirty-three feet from the shoreline, you get better carry of your voice than from the base of the slope itself. Basically, you see these people sitting up here, you can barely see the people on the shoreline; and yet they've tested this, and you can literally speak, and your voice can be heard without amplification all the way up to where these men are sitting on the rocks. It's an amazing thing because of the lay of the land, because of the sea and everything else. So, it's very likely the spot where this event occurred.

Verse 2 says, "And He was teaching them many things in parables." Mark only records the three of the main parables: the sower, the secret growth of the seed, and the mustard seed. Matthew includes seven, but it's possible those aren't the only ones He told. Look over in 33.

With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

So, we don't know how many He told. Matthew has seven. Mark only has three main parables.

Now understand what a parable is before we look at the parable itself. Basically, the word "parable" is a transliteration of the Greek word "parabole." It just comes right out of the Greek. It literally means "something thrown alongside". It's a comparison. It's an analogy. It's a picturesque way to present the truth. One commentator writes, "It is speech whose meaning does not lie on the surface but demands inquiry and insight." You really have to deal with these carefully. You have to think about them. You have to mull it over. You have to meditate on it. Especially if it's not explained by our Lord, but even if it is. These were not new with Jesus. Jesus didn't invent the parable.

The Greek word is used in the Septuagint (That's what that LXX stands for: the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.), and it's used to describe a variety of forms of illustration. The rabbis used parables, but James Edward is right when he writes, "But in quantity and excellence, Jesus' parables are without parallel in the ancient world." The Gospels record over sixty parables Jesus taught: Matthew and Luke, the most of them; Mark a little fewer; and John, interestingly enough, records no parables. The most common subject is the Kingdom of God, and we'll see that even in this parable.

Notice verse 2. "And He was teaching many things to them in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching." And that brings us to the first parable. In the first three Gospels, Matthew Mark, and Luke (they're the only ones that report this sermon) this parable appears first. It was undoubtedly the first one He told. But more than that, as we'll see, Jesus Himself said it was the most important of all of His parables because of the foundational truth it teaches; because it deals with how we respond to everything else Jesus teaches. So, let's look at it together: the Parable of the Soils.

Verse 3 says, "Listen to this! 'Behold the sower went out to sow.'" In that area of the Sea of Galilee, there are farms today; there were farms then. It's possible our Lord looked out and pointed from that cove to a sower nearby or to a field nearby. In ancient Israel there were primarily four crops. There was barley, grown primarily in the south of Israel. There were grapes, grown in Judea and in the area surrounding Jerusalem. There were olives, and olives were grown all over the country. Here you see them beating. This is how you get olives out of a tree, you beat them out. And that brings a lot of text in the Old Testament to light where it talks about God doing that. And olives are grown everywhere in the country, but they're especially plentiful in Samaria, in the center hill country there in the middle of the country. And in Galilee you have wheat. The primary crop in the first century was wheat. Obviously, in Jesus story, He's probably talking about the wheat that was typically grown there in Galilee.

He said a "sower went out to sow." Farmers typically prepared their fields for planting in the late fall. By the way, there are a few records of farmers not preparing the soil first but just scattering the seed and then plowing the seed in, but that was rare. The most common (according to a number of resources that I found) were farmers preparing their fields for planting in the late fall. In October, November, he would till the soil by pulling a plow behind a couple of oxen. It would've been very much like this. This is an ancient plow. This will give you an idea of what it looked like. Don't picture this huge thing like you see out in the big fields today that turns over, you know, twelve inches of earth at a time. This would've gone about three to four inches deep, cutting a sort of trough. And then after he'd prepared the land, he would plant.

There were two common techniques for sowing the seed. One was by hand. You'd put a bag over you with seed. You'd attach it, hang it around your neck, hang it around your shoulder. If it was a small field, then you would sow it by hand. You would simply come along and sow the seed by hand. If it was a larger field, and you didn't have any other mechanisms, you would simply make some small holes in your bag just a little bigger than the size of seed; and then you would walk in some predetermined pattern, and the seed would come out at the rate you intended, at the rate you walked, scattering over the land. If you had a really large field, the other common technique was to attach those seed bags, larger seed bags, to a couple of oxen and then to lead those oxen across the field with again, with small holes piercing the bottom of those bags. And as you led the oxen in the pattern you had in mind, the seed would fall scattering across the land.

But you couldn't leave the seed sitting on the top of the ground for long. Why? Because the birds would come and eat them. Even today where seed are sown, birds are plentiful and looking for a free lunch. And so, someone had to come along behind the sower with a leafy branch or some other kind of implement and drag across the part of the field that had been sowed, just to move the dirt around to hide the seed from the birds and to give them enough earth to grow. On occasion, the farmer would come back and plow dirt up over the seed that he had sown. In hopes of good soil, in hopes of a good harvest, typically farmers in ancient Israel were generous with the seed; in fact, even lavish.

The point of this story isn't about the sower however, it's about the four different kinds of soils into which these wheat seed fall. In each case, the sower and the seed were the same. The yield was determined by the soil into which it fell. So, let's look at the soils. The first is the hard soil. Verse 4, "As he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up." In those days there weren't fences between the fields. They weren't quite so protective. Instead, there would be small paths that would separate the fields, and you would walk down those fields, and people would even cut through the fields as a major pathway to get from one place to another. In addition, in your own property, if it was large enough, your own field, you would sort of section it off and divide it up and create footpaths through your property, so that you could easily traverse it and get to all the places that you needed to get so you could tend the crops. So, there would be paths that you made that cut across your own property.

So, these roads or paths became exceptionally hard-packed from constant use, because, by intention, you would try to avoid the rest of the ground and walk only on those paths. And so, whatever foot traffic there was from both humans and animals, the domesticated animals, it was on those foot paths. It was on those paths; so, they became very hard-packed from constant use. As the farmer sowed the seed, it was common for some of the seed to land outside the area he had prepared, on one of those foot paths. Since it couldn't penetrate the ground, and it wasn't covered with earth, almost immediately, the birds would have swooped down and devoured those seeds. That's the hard soil.

The second kind of soil He describes is the rocky soil. Look at verse 5. "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil…." Now when you hear this description, don't picture a plot of ground with a lot of surface rocks. Any farmer worth his salt would have cleaned all of those surface rocks out of his field. He would have removed all of those. This is referring instead to a large outcropping of limestone bedrock beneath the surface of the soil, just a little deeper than a first century plow (like the one I showed you) would have cut. So, there you have a field; the hills and mountains often come right down to it. Underneath that, cutting into your field but out of the line of sight, would have been a large piece of bedrock. So, the earth on which the seed could fall and be planted was very shallow. The topsoil was there, but beneath that topsoil, beneath that thin layer, would have been limestone bedrock. This was a very common problem in Israel, still is.

So, the seed would have been sown. It would have been covered, and that thin layer of topsoil sitting just above the ledge of the limestone rock caused two effects. First of all, verse 5 says, "… and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil." The roots couldn't go down, so it spent it's energy going up. They would have sprung up quickly. If you'd gone out (as the farmers often did) to survey the new wheat growing just now above the top of the soil and watched it for the next few weeks, you would have been thrilled with that area of plants. In fact, if you'd looked at those plants at that stage, in the early days, those plants would have looked like they would've ultimately been the healthiest plants and would've produced the most wheat in the entire field because they sprung up more quickly. It was like a hothouse environment on that little ledge of topsoil above that limestone rock. The heat and the water would have caused them to grow very quickly, but the lack of earth produced another tragic effect for these seed.

Verse 6 says, "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away." This doesn't mean, by the way, that when the sun came up the next day after the seed was planted. The point is, eventually. When the rainy season in Israel began to subside, and the hot desert winds began to blow, the blazing summer sun began to beat down on the field, those plants that looked so healthy and so promising are scorched, and they literally burn up. Why? Because their root system couldn't support the stalk of the wheat, couldn't support the growth. They had no root. Luke tells us there was no moisture. Moisture couldn't get into the plant because it didn't have the proper root system to support it. So, there's the hard soil; there's the rocky soil.

The third kind of soil is in verse 7: the thorny soil. Verse 7 says, "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop." Typically, as the farmer prepared his field—you go out and you look at your field. You're getting ready there to plow it and prepare it for planting. You would have seen certain weeds and thorns growing, left over from the summer and the field lying dormant; and you would have gone and pulled those, cut them at ground level. And whatever remained, typically, the farmers would have burned off. So, there are no thorns on the surface. There's no weeds on the surface, but the roots remained.

And so, then the farmer would plow. The typical plow, as I showed you, was pulled behind a pair of oxen. The problem was the plow would only have penetrated maybe about four or five inches. You saw the plow. So, you did all of that, and you got the roots of the weeds and the thorns from those top four or five inches. But the problem is that soil would look good, you would've pulled out all the weeds and roots you could get to, but the weeds and thorns that are indigenous in Israel often went deeper than the plow would go. So, you'd sow your good seed on that soil that looked great, that you'd prepared. You sow the good seed out there (the wheat seed), and it'd end up among weed and thorn roots and weed and thorn seeds. And in just a few weeks, you're not just growing wheat. It's like Texas. You're growing a mixed crop of wheat and thorns and weeds. Both the wheat and the thorns begin to grow alongside each other just like in your yard, and (not wheat necessarily, but you get the idea) and they choked out the good plants. Because their roots grow more quickly, they steal all the moisture from the soil. They rob all the nutrients, and little is left for the wheat. It's gradually choked out. That's the thorny soil.

There's one more soil. It's the good soil. Look at verse 8. "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." Much of the seed that the farmer sowed would have fallen into soil that was properly prepared: soil with plenty of depth, uncluttered by thorns and other worthless plants. And it would yield a good crop. Different seed, different good seed based on a variety of circumstances in good soil would produce different yields. Some argue that in the first century the average yield was about eight to one, but it's also true that historically we can find examples of a hundredfold yield. So, this was actually possible in Christ's day. It would've been very unusual. Thirtyfold would've been great. Sixtyfold would've been wonderful. And a hundredfold would've been an extraordinary yield: unusual but not unheard of.

Mark says, "they grew up and increased." It pictures steady, constant growth of these plants after they were sown. And the seeds were sown, and they began to grow, and the yield varied according to the nutrients in the soil. While it wasn't a miracle, it was the result of the blessing of God. If you were to turn, and we won't go there, but if you were to turn to Genesis 26:12, Isaac's field yielded like this, and it was attributed to God's blessing.

So, that's the story, and that's all Jesus said about this remarkable story to the crowd. It's remarkable when you think about it. Isn't it? That's all He told them: what I have just shared with you. But, although Jesus didn't explain the story to the crowd, there were clues. It's clear that the emphasis, in this passage and in this story, is on hearing. I don't mean letting the words Jesus spoke bounce off of your eardrums. I don't mean the eardrums sending the signal of those sound waves from your ears through electrical current to your brain and translating them into information. I mean really hearing. You see this. Jesus begins in verse 3 by saying "Listen." The Greek word is literally "hear." Hear! In verses 15, 16, 18, and 20, the responses are all about when the Word is heard. In verse 24, Jesus says, "Take care what you listen to." We'll talk about that when we get there.

But the statement I want you to notice is the one that comes at the end of the passage I read to you tonight: verse 9. It comes at the end of the story. Jesus said this to the whole crowd at the end of the story. This was Jesus' conclusion. He didn't tell them what He told His disciples later. He didn't explain all that this meant. This was Jesus' conclusion to this great parable. "And He was saying, [verse 9 says,] 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'" He who has ears to hear, let him hear. This is repeated down in verse 23. This may have been the most common saying of our Lord while He was upon the earth. Eight times during His earthly ministry the Gospels quote Jesus using this or a similar expression.

Where does it come from? It probably grows out of the Old Testament. Jeremiah 5:29 (should be 21): "Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear." God chastised the people of Israel in Jeremiah's day as having ears but not really hearing. They heard what Jeremiah said, but it never went any further than the mechanical mechanism of their eardrums that carried the current to their brain. It's as far as it went. Ezekiel 12:2: "Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house." There we get a little glimpse of what Jesus is saying. The reason they don't really hear isn't because the message isn't clear. The reason they don't hear isn't because it doesn't have enough stories and illustrations. The reason they don't really hear is because they have a rebellious heart. That gives us our first hint.

You see when Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," it was an invitation. It was a call or invitation to deeply consider and weigh all the implications of what He taught. You know what Jesus was saying? He was saying stop being like the people of Jeremiah's time. Stop being like the people of Ezekiel's time. Get over your rebellion and humble your heart before God to listen. Listen to God; listen to His Word. Don't be rebellious any more. Listen. Jesus leaves His hearers in this first parable, the parable He calls His most important, the most important to be understood. All the crowd heard in His conclusion was this statement: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

It means that Jesus wants us to discern what He means and to apply it, but tragically the implication of this statement is not everybody who heard Him that day, not all of the very great crowd that gathered in that little cove near Capernaum really heard. Why? Because many of them had rebellious hearts that wanted to hear only themselves. A superficial listening, a rebellious listening, will cause you to miss His point, and the seed of the truth will be gone forever. That's why not everyone embraced Jesus as Lord. That's why people didn't respond to Him. It wasn't Him. It wasn't the messenger. It wasn't the message. It was their rebellious hearts. They had ears to hear, but they would not hear because they didn't want to do what God said. They didn't want to listen. They didn't want God's way.

Wow, there's some interesting reminders for us. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." First of all, for all unbelievers. That's really the most of the crowd Jesus was talking to that day. It means this seemingly simple story required their attention. It required their careful contemplation. There was much more here, Jesus said, than it seems on the surface: you better really listen. And how they listened, this is the key, how they listened provided evidence of the state of their heart. Sinners never sit in judgment on the Word of God; it always sits in judgment of them.

When the Word of God is taught and people listen, and people who have not come to God by faith hear the Word of God taught, they think they're sitting in judgment: well, that was not really very interesting, that was really not very good, I don't know if I believe that, ehh, I don't know, I wonder if Paul was …, you know, that's first century stuff, that doesn't sound modern and up to date, that's not for our times, and on and on it goes. Listen, they're not passing judgment on the Word of God. The Word of God is passing judgment on them. They don't have ears to hear. Why? Because they have a rebellious heart that will not submit itself to the Word of God.

The question is this. I don't want to assume anything. I sat in a church for eighteen years and heard messages like this one and never really heard. My question for you tonight is, maybe you've heard plenty of sermons, maybe you've read the whole Bible, maybe you've memorized hundreds of verses or whole books of the Bible, but my question to you is have you ever really once in your life listened to the Word of God? Have you listened to Jesus tonight? God will hold you accountable for how you listen to His Word. This "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," it's an invitation. It was an invitation to those people gathered on the hill that day. It's an invitation to you. Are you willing to turn from your own way and listen to God? Listen to His Son? There were those there that day who did. There were those who embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior. They were the good soil as we'll discover next week.

There's also a lesson for us here, for believers. For the same statement that Jesus makes occurs in a similar form in the Book of Revelation addressed primarily to Christians. Look at Revelation 2. So, maybe you really have listened to God. Maybe you really have submitted to His Son and His Word. You still need to keep on submitting. You still need to lay down your arms of rebellion every day and submit your will to His will in His Word. Look at 2:7. As he ends each of the letters to the seven churches, notice how he does it. Verse 7: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Verse 11: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Verse 17: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Every one of the seven letters ends with that statement addressed primarily to Christians.

So, what's the point for us? In this statement is a reminder that what has been said to us by God has a deeper and more profound meaning than can be grasped with a simple reading. It's an invitation for us to study it, to think about it, to meditate on it, to mine its riches.

You know, I think as Christians we can be so arrogant with the Bible. We can read our passage of the day, spend five minutes thinking on it, and believe we have plumbed the depths of the mind of God. What an insult to the Spirit of God. After each of these letters, John the Apostle writes, "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." It is an invitation to realize, a reminder that you better think, and you better contemplate, and you better study, because as A.W. Pink said, "No verse of Scripture will ever reveal itself to the lazy person."

There is also in this statement a warning for us as Christians. It's a warning that simply hearing is not enough. There are many who hear with their physical ears, many Christians who hear with their physical ears the Bible, who memorize verses, who can tell you what is going to go on in future prophecy, but who do not really have an ear to hear. There is still in their own heart a rebellion against the will and way of God. So that, when the Word of God crosses their lifestyle and what they want to do and their choices, they don't have an ear to hear. They don't really listen to God. They find excuses. They find a way around it. Well, let me tell you what that really means. Well I'm not sure that's what that says. But let me tell you, but God wants me—and on and on the list goes.

God expects us to seek to understand and to do His Word. Tonight, every time you hear the Word of God taught, tomorrow morning when you pick up God's Word to read it in your own time with Him, and every time you come to this book, remember this simple statement of our Lord: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Are you really listening to God?

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we confess to you that all too often Your Word, the words of our Lord, they're like a textbook: a textbook to be studied, to be memorized so we can pass the test, so that we can impress those around us. But Father, we confess to You that, all too often, we don't really listen. Forgive us, O God. I pray for the person here tonight, and Lord I'm (it burdens my heart) but I'm sure there are some who've grown up in a Christian home or been a part of this church or other churches for a long time, but who've never really listened to You. They've had, instead, rebellious hearts. O God, help them to see what a frightening thing it is not to listen to the living God. And tonight, may You open up their heart to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, the wonder of the Gospel, the glory of grace; and may they be willing to give up everything else to have Christ.

Father, I pray as well for those of us who are believers. Give us ears to really hear. Lord, may we humble our hearts before Your Word every time we study it, every time we read it, every time we hear it taught. O God, give us ears to hear. Don't let us be like Israel was in the Old Testament. Don't let us be like so many in that crowd that day who heard these parables. Instead, O God, help us to hear, to really listen to You in a way that we put into practice what You've said.

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.