“The Power of the Seed”      Mark 4:1-20                 February 4, 2007



We’re about to read one of the most famous passages in Scripture—

   the Parable of the Sower.

This is the only parable of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.


Usually, when this parable is preached, the question is asked:

   Which soil are you?

Are you the hard soil of the path,

   the shallow soil,

   the weedy soil,

   or the fertile soil?


That’s a powerful question.

   This parable can search you very deeply if you ask that question.

But I’d like us to go in a different direction this morning.

    We’re not going to focus as much on what Jesus says about the soils,

   but what he says about the seed.


What does this parable teach us about the Word of God? 

   What does this teach us about the power of the Gospel?

   How can we tap into that power for real change in our lives?


Credit where credit is due:  Excellent sermon on passage by Dr. Tim Keller.


INTRO:  There was an English minister named Bertram Hardy

   who was born in a little village in Somerset. 

When he was 8 years old he saw something that he never forgot—

   that was instrumental in his later call to the ministry.


There was a funeral in the village.

   The widow of the man who had died was weeping bitterly.

   And as 8 year old boys will do, he was staring at her,

   intrigued by her raw display of emotion. 


Then the minister began to read the Scripture—

   and as he read, she lifted up her head, and a change came over her.

   Her grief was softened and her face began to radiate hope.

Young Bert drank it all in—the words of Scripture and the change

   that came over this woman as the Word penetrated her.

And even as a little boy he began to realize the power of the Word

   to change people. 


I think that’s the secret of the Kingdom of God that

   Jesus said had been given to his disciples—the Gospel can change people.

It can change families, it can change tribes and nations—

   and closest to home, it can change you.


It can take your bitter grief and fill it with hope.

   It can take your fear and turn it to courage.

   It can take your unhappiness and turn it to contentment.

As Paul put it in Romans—

   the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.


And through this parable Jesus reveals to us an even deeper

   part of this secret—the power of the Word of God that changes us

   is like the power of a seed.


There is something about the Gospel that is seed-like.

   A seed little, its easily lost, crushed, brushed aside—

But if it gets in, and goes in deep, it has the power of life.

   It comes alive—it sprouts, takes root, grows, and produces fruit.

   And that fruit produces its own seeds, and there is multiplication.


Jesus doesn’t call the Word of God a sword or a fire—

   although the Bible uses those images in other passages.

The Word is a sword and a fire—and that is one way of changing people—

   by burning them and piercing them and cutting them. 


But in this parable—obviously important to the Holy Spirit for its repetition

   three times in the Gospels—the image is a seed.  Let’s focus on that.

Look at this parable under three points:


1.  The Word, like a seed, produces new life.

2.  The Word, like a seed, must be planted.

3.  The Word, like a seed, is weak and powerful.


MP#1  The Word of God, like a seed, produces new life

Seeds may look like little rocks or grains of sand—but out of a seed

   comes a tree or a flower, or a vine or some other plant.

And the power of a seed is not limited to that one plant—

   because then that plant produces more seeds, and more plants.

If you had enough time and the right conditions—

   one apple seed could produce hundreds of apple orchards,

   or one kernel of corn could produce thousands of acres of corn.

That’s the power of a seed to produce new life.


Jesus is saying that in our lives,

   the power of God comes in through the Gospel and produces new life.

Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 1:23:

   “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable

   by the living and enduring Word of God.” 

And just like a seed, that life takes root and grows and starts to produce things.

   Ways of seeing yourself and the world and God that you didn’t have before.

   New attitudes.  New abilities.  A tremendously expanded life.

One preacher explained it this way.


Plants have a form of life that enables them to sense moisture and light

   but they can’t see objects. 

Animals have a higher form of life that enables them to see objects,

   but they can’t see the difference between instinct and cruelty.

People have a still higher form of life that enables them to see right and wrong,

   and love and beauty and all sorts of things, but because of our fallen condition,

   we are unable to see higher spiritual realities.


But when the Word of God comes into a person it moves him or her

   to an even higher order of life that the Bible calls the new life,

   or participation in the divine nature.

And when that happens you are able to see things you never saw before.

   The love of God the Father. 

   The reality of heaven and hell.

   Your own sinfulness and need for repentance.

   Your infinite personal value in the eyes of God.

   The righteousness of Christ. 

   The hope of the resurrection. 

All these great realities that you were once blind to.

Now it’s not that people don’t know about these things—

   about God and Jesus Christ and heaven and hell.

But before the Word brings life—these things don’t really matter to you.

   They don’t make any difference. 

   So they don’t have any power to change you.

But when the Word of God comes into your life—

   you start to see things differently.

If you’ve failed badly.  If you are under intense criticism.  How do you respond?

   Is your knowledge of the love of God for you more real than the criticism?

Is your sight of the righteousness of Christ so vivid that you can say—

   In the big picture, my failure does not matter.  Doesn’t even count.

   Because I am united with the perfect Son of God.

Is that how you respond to failure and criticism—or do you fall apart?


Or let’s take the thing that struck young Bertram Hardy.

   In the face of death—the death of a loved one.

   Is your hope of the resurrection so vivid that it softens your grief?

Are you able to see that one day there will be a beautiful sunrise—

   and everyone who has fallen asleep in Christ will rise as He did—

   and all tears will be wiped away?

Or do you suffer from a hopeless grief?


Are you able to look at your money and say—

   this is not my security, its not my self worth.

This money is just a tool God has given me to use and enjoy

   during my brief time on earth to provide for my material needs,

   and the needs of others.  I don’t trust it or worry about it.

Or does your security and worth ride on your finances?


The Word of God produces new life. 

   It’s a seed.  It’s a little acorn that produces a massive oak tree.

   It’s grain that produces a field of wheat.

It can give you a new life that enables you to see and live by

   the great spiritual realities.

How do you tap into this power?

   That brings us to the second point.


MP#2  The Word of God, like a seed, must be planted.

You know that the only way for a seed to release its creative power

   is for it to be planted.  It has to go into the soil.

It’s the same way with the Word.

   If it’s not planted, nothing will come from it.


That’s the problem with the 3 soils that don’t produce any lasting growth.

   The three soils are three kinds of people. 

The first soil, the hard path the Gospel doesn’t go in at all. 

   They are people absolutely unwilling to question or doubt themselves.

   So the Gospel message of sin and salvation through Christ doesn’t appeal.


In the second soil, the Gospel goes in, but not deep enough.

There is some initial positive response to the Gospel—but then dies.

   These are people who say: Good, Jesus going to fulfill my agenda for happiness!

   And they have a list of things that they have to have to make life worthwhile.

For a time, the religious excitement carries them along.

   But when Jesus doesn’t produce and they suffer some losses, they fall away.

   Because they didn’t really want a Savior, they wanted a Blesser.


In the third soil, the Gospel goes in—goes in deep—real growth.

   But it goes in at the same level as other concerns—thorns.

It never takes priority in the person’s life, so there is never fruitful growth.

   Jesus calls these thorns worries, wealth and desires.

There are other things in person’s life that compete with Christ—

   other affections and loyalties--

In all three of these people, might say there is a depth problem with the seed.


The only way the living power of the Word can be released in your life—

   so that you can face troubles, criticism, grief, wealth, desires

   in a totally different way—is if the seed goes in deep.

In other words, it takes listening to, thinking about, reflecting on, and applying

   the Word of God to your life—over and over again.


Imagine you are in the garden, scatter some seeds—take rake and work them in.

   That’s what you have to do with the Word—has to be worked in.

So that what comes out of the soil—the words that come out of your mouth,

   the decisions you make, the things you do—are the outgrowth of that seed.


Now, what am I talking about?  I’m talking about knowing the Bible.

   But it’s more than that.  It’s not just bare knowledge of the Bible.

   It’s working the Gospel down deep into your heart.


There are Christians that you will sometimes meet who know the Bible.

   They can quote Bible verses at the drop of a hat.

But they use the Bible in one way—to get the rule right.  Make sure doing it right.

   And then, depending on their personality—

   they constantly aim it at themselves or other people.

If aim it at themselves, depressed and anxious Christians.

   If they aim it at other people, proud and self-righteous Christians.

   They know the Word, but it functions like a rule book.


For the seed of the Word to be planted in you, you do have to know the Bible.

   There has to be content in your brain.  There has to be knowledge.

   You should know 10 Commandments, Psalm 23, John 3:16, Romans 8:28.

   And about King David, Prophet Daniel, history of Israel, symbols of Revelation. 

   You should be growing in your knowledge.

But not to know the rules better—to have a deeper understanding of the Gospel. 


Jack Miller, Presbyterian minister, professor at Westminster Seminar

   had a very memorable way of expressing it:

The Gospel is that I am more wicked and sinful than I ever dared to admit.

   And in Christ I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared to hope.


My own preaching professor in seminary, Dr. Chapell used to say:

   Every passage of Scripture is about two things:

   Man needing salvation and God providing salvation.

   Also used to say:  Remember, God is the hero of every story.

And the great Puritan John Own said, The Scriptures teach me three things:

   Who I am.  Who Christ is.  And who I am in Christ. 

   That has to be planted deep.  Has to be worked in.


One reason why the church,

   and the weekly rhythm of church life Lord established so important.

It’s a way of working it in.  You hear the in the words, in the songs.

   You see it acted out in sacraments.  You see it put to use in lives of members,

   as you talk to them about struggles and victories and pray for each other.      Works Gospel in deeper and deeper.  Our sin.  His righteousness.  Our faith in him.

And it is all about Jesus.  That brings us to the last point.

MP#2  The Word of God, like a seed, is weak and powerful.

A seed is weak.  It’s small.  It can be crushed.  It can be eaten by a bird.

   But when it is buried.  When it is treated like something dead.

The power of life is released.  Tremendous changes occur.

   The Gospel is weak. 

   People can reject it.  Make fun of it.  Ignore it.  Crush it. 


Many times in church history Word, Scripture has been crushed.

   Times authorities have actually burned Bibles, made very scarce.

   Time teachers in the church false doctrine, unbelieving theology.

   Covered up the Gospel with legalistic traditions.

But when it is planted in a person, this weak thing releases its power.

   Lives are changed.  Nations are changed.

   You know what I mean.  You’ve seen it.


But let’s go a little deeper.  The seed is not just the spoken Word of God.

   Not just the Gospel message.  The seed is also Jesus himself, living Word.

3 out of 4 soils reject the seed.  Isn’t that what we’ve seen in Mark so far?


Pharisees and religious leaders were the hard soil—they rejected him.

Crowds were the shallow soil—they were excited about the blessings,

   miracles, and healings, but lost interest in Jesus and his message.

His family was the thorny soil—they were conflicted about him.

   He was their brother and son, but things he said and did embarrassed them.

Then there were the 12 and other disciples—they were the fertile soil.


Verse 12 is perplexing.  Seems like Jesus saying he told parables to deliberately

   keep people in the dark.  But look at the context and clear what Jesus meant.

He was using the parables as a filter to separate people.

   So that those who wanted him would be drawn to him.

   So they would come to him and say,  “Jesus, explain this to us.”

But those who just wanted his miracles, had no interest in knowing Jesus,

   wouldn’t bother to ask any questions.

So you see that what Jesus was interested in was people turning to him.


He is the seed.  He is the Word. 

   And how did Jesus appear?  In weakness.  Like a seed.

   And where do we see his weakness most?  In his Passion.

Look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

   And you see the Son of God groaning, sweating drops of blood,

   begging his disciples to stay near him and pray for him.

Because the prospect of the terrible suffering he was going to face—

   the wrath of God for our sins, was crushing him.


And then he prayed, Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.

   And the answer came back.  This is the only way.

So he went to the cross and then to the grave and was buried.

   Then he rose again in powerful new life.  And by faith we have that life.

In fact, in John 12, Jesus compares himself to a seed.

   “Unless a grain of wheat goes into the ground and dies it remains a

   single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds.”


Now, here’s what it means for you. 

The real power for change in our life comes by contemplating

   the weakness of Christ for you in the cross.

When his weakness for you becomes vivid in your mind,

   then there is the power of new life for change.


Husbands, how do you love your wife? 

“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

   There’s the command.  There’s the rule.  That’s what you should do.

   But where’s the power.  It’s by focusing your mind on Christ’s weakness.

How did he love you?  By dying.  By joyfully giving up what was precious to him. 

   Focus on that to get power to overcome your selfishness and love wife.


Wives, how do you submit your husband?

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

   There’s the command.  There’s the rule.  That’s what you should do.

   But where’s the power.  It’s by focusing your mind on Christ’s weakness.

What did he want?  He wanted the cup to pass from him. 

   But because of his determination to save you, submitted to heavenly Father.

That will give you power to overcome your pride and submit to husband.


How do you face criticism and not fall apart?

   “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 

   When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no

   threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

He was harshly criticized and insulted for me.  Trusted God.  I can too.

CONC:  Jesus, the Word of God, like a seed is weak and powerful.

   His weakness can be powerful in your life.


I had a daily reminder of the power of little seeds when I was a boy.

   In my old neighborhood in Tuscumbia there were many places

   where the sidewalks had been pushed up by huge old oak trees.

   Called them cracks, more like steps, 8 to 10 inches.


My sister and I loved riding bikes around block,

   navigating the cracks always a challenge.

Remember first time got breath knocked out of me.

   About Will’s age, lived 3 blocks from Deshler High School.

   Running to a football game, tripped over crack, chest hit root.

Remember rolling in persons yard unable to breath.


What started out as an acorn—something weak,

   something you could step on and crush, something a squirrel could eat—

That weak thing was buried, in a sense died, came to life,

   and a powerful new life appeared that could lift and crack concrete slabs.


What are the hard things in life, concrete slabs that need to be lifted and cracked?

   What are the attitudes, habits, fears, griefs that are holding you back?

   What needs to grow in their place?  What strong trees, what fruitful vines?

   Gentleness, patience, kindness, contentment.

There is this seed that you need to put under the slab.

   It’s the Word of God.  It’s the Gospel.  Your sin, Christ’s righteousness.

   Work it in, and then watch it grow.

It is Jesus himself.  Look to his weakness, his cross.

   And let the seed of his weakness give you the power of the new life.