We preach our hearts out, wake up early for gospel breakfasts, spend hours discipling and training, and pray hard for conversions and gospel growth. What a great joy it is to see Jesus working in people’s lives and families transformed. However, at the same time, we see other people drifting away from the church, not walking close to God, not serving in ministry or making any kind of Christian impact. If they manage to get out of bed on a Sunday morning to connect with God’s people, it’s a burden and a pain. Once they seemed to be Christians, but now there is nothing distinguishing them from their non-Christian neighbours.
Jesus had the same problem. Many loved him. Some wanted to kill him.
Why these differing responses to the same message of God?
According to Jesus in Mark 4 there are four typical hearers of God’s word.
It is interesting to note that they all do hear! They might have had Christian parents who taught them the Bible, they might have attended Sunday school, they might attend church services, and they might even belong to a cell group. They all do hear the word.
1. Rejecting Ray
Jesus said in v15, “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.”
Ray hears the gospel, but he doesn’t respond, doesn’t believe and doesn’t trust. His love of sin, his pride and his rebellion cause him to reject the message of Jesus.
I’ve met many rejecting Ray’s and so have you. They’ve heard the gospel, they know the Bible, they went to Sunday School and can quote the verse. The excuses they make up are predictable: “You can’t believe the Bible; the Bible is for weaklings; the Bible has errors; I’m actually good enough for God.” They are even professors at theological seminaries.
The scary thing here is that there is someone else involved. V19 says “Satan comes and takes away the word”. A spiritual battle is waged whenever someone hears the Bible explained. When you reject Jesus you allow Satan to steal the captive-freeing word away. The warning in the Bible is that if you permanently reject Jesus, you’ll be permanently separated from him.
2. Superficial Sylvia
Jesus said in v16-17, “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
Sylvia makes a superficial and impulsive response to the message of Jesus. When the time of testing, trial or temptation comes she falls away – showing that her response was not true, not genuine, and not real. She trusts for a short while, makes a commitment, attends faithfully for a period, serves in the church, but when the difficult time comes she walks away from God. The Bible tells us that the time of testing will come, indeed must, come. But when it comes she say things like: “God doesn’t love me. God doesn’t care for me. Why is God hurting me?” The initial response was emotional and shallow; it had no deep roots anchored in Jesus
3. Preoccupied Pete
Jesus said in v18-19, “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Preoccupied Pete is preoccupied with other stuff. God gives us good gifts to enjoy, but Pete loves the gifts more than the Giver. Making money is a good thing, but loving money is bad. Children are gifts from God, but when life starts revolving around your children instead of Jesus – that’s bad. Comfort is a good thing. God doesn’t mind you sleeping on a mattress. But if life starts revolving around comfort and you start making decisions based on how your comfort levels will be influenced, rather than pleasing Jesus – that’s bad. God’s gifts can become idols that distract us from Jesus and cause us to walk away from God.
Preoccupied Pete is stuck. There are blatant sins he can’t get rid off. He’s immature and serving other things instead of Jesus. He loves his car more than Jesus. He cares too much about what people think, the size of his flat screen, and wearing fashionable clothes. Being fashionable is not a sin, but loving fashion and spending more on fashion than on Jesus, is.
Whenever there’s negative growth on the JSE he is distraught. Pete is always thinking about his net worth. He always arrives home late and hardly ever sees the children awake. He never earns enough and is never content. Do you know this guy? His sister, Patricia, is much the same.
The thorns start looking good, he’s enticed by them and they chock the word. The only solution is to get rid of the thorns: end the dodgy relationship, sell the motorbike, throw away the golf clubs, don’t take the promotion, be content with your car and home, disconnect the internet. Do some serious weeding, before the thorns destroy you.
4. Fruitful Fred
Lastly, Jesus said in v20, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
This guys makes the pastor’s hard work all worthwhile. Fruitful Fred hears the word, accepts the word and bears fruit. He continually repents of sin and trusts in Jesus. The fact that he bears fruit shows that the seed is growing, that his roots are deeply grounded in Jesus. Fred does not say, “I’m saved! Sit back do nothing!” He says, “I’m saved, rescued, freed and delivered; how can I honour God with my family; please God at college; glorify God with my work; impact my family; grow spiritually; love God’s people; serve my church; and influence my city for good?” When the tough times come, Fred perseveres. When thorns spring up, Fred deals with them.
What kind of a hearer are you?