Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Part 1 - The Introduction
Part 2 - The Seed by the Road

Continuing the study on the parable of the soils, here is part 3.

Part 3 - The Soil On Rocky Ground — “Impulsive But No Persevering Faith”

In the public ministry of our Lord, he spend much time in the northern region of Israel teaching the masses and preaching the saving gospel of repentance & faith. A large crowd has gathered around him in the northern precincts of the Sea of Galilee and because of the enormity of the crowd he had to get into a boat and teach there. The people gathered on the sea shore and on the hillsides nearby. There very well may have been a man sowing seed in a field nearby as a practical real-life illustration of Jesus’ teaching.

Remarkably, Jesus brings all of his hearers into his story as they all stand listening to the “Word” as He sows it to them. Just as a sower scatters the seed, so in Jesus’ story, the seed is the going forth of the Word of God. Thus, none of Jesus’ hearers can escape. They all play a part in his story; they all are hearers.

Some of his hearers are those who have heard the Word as it was sown and yet it fell beside the road. That is, it did not sink deep into their hearts. And, just as birds would come and devour the seed that fell beside the road, so Satan has likewise come and snatched away the Word of God so that they do not understand what they have heard so as to believe and be saved. They heard the truth but it did not profit them because they did not mix it with faith.

The Explanation:
In His story, Jesus then speaks about the sower who cast his seed as he was sowing. Some of the seed fell on the road and was quickly devoured. But other seed fell on the rocky places where it did not have much soil (Mark 4:5). The seed came to the ground, went into the ground, and it even quickly sprang up but it did not have any depth of soil. But when the hot sun scorched, that every inhabitant of Israel would have known all too well, the seed that quickly sprouted was scorched and it withered away because it had no deep root (Mark 4:6). This kind of seed that was scattered down to the ground quickly sprouted up but yet because of the dry, rocky, unhealthy soil it only sprouted for a brief time since, when the sun rose, the little sprout was scorched, dried up, and immediately withered. In fact, this seed that was scattered fell in such a place that it had no moisture (Luke 8:6). And, of course, in a hot and dry climate such as Israel,everyone knew how important it was for the ground to receive moisture. But these seeds that went into the dry, cracked, rocky ground would not last long because it had no depth of good soil nor any necessary moisture.

Undoubtedly every hearer would have been nodding in agreement because they know the blazing-hot sun that scorches down in the afternoons in Israel. They knew this to be true. This was a real life, understandable, common story that Jesus told with which everyone could identify.

In the same setting and context, just a little later on, Jesus explains what He means by this particular part of the story. The sower who sows seed in Jesus’s story is akin to the Word of God as it is sent forth and heard by people. Some are those who are beside the road when the Word is sown and they hear and it takes no root in them and thus Satan takes the Word away.

But in a similar way, there are those on whom the seed was sown on the rocky places who hear the Word of God as it is preached. They hear the Word and immediately receive it with joy (Mark 4:16). They have, however, no firm root in themselves but they are only temporary. The joy is temporary, shallow, feeble, and unsubstantial. In fact, these people who hear the Word are those who immediately fall away when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word (Mark 4:17). Luke adds that these people who hear the Word that was sown are those who “believe for a while” and then fall away in times of temptation (Luke 7:13). Putting the accounts together, it becomes evident that the people in this “group” in Jesus’ story are those who hear the Word and they receive it and even respond well for a brief time. In fact, they even respond with joy and even with a temporary “believing”. In many ways, these people would give cause for rejoicing in any church or ministry because of the seeming effect the proclaimed gospel had on their hearts and lives.

A phrase seems to mark this particular group. They hear the Word, they seem to receive the Word. They appear to believe the Word. Yet they have no firm root “in themselves.” It appears that these people are isolated, not plugged in, attempting to be lone-rangers, and those who do not actively engage in the ministry of the Lord and of His Church for whatever reason. These people have no root “in themselves” (Matt 13:21; Mark 4:17). Danger looms on the horizon when those who follow God are left alone — “in themselves.”

Jesus further elaborates on what characterizes this type of group that hears His Word. These are only temporary. That is, these are passing, transitory, staying for only a brief time. These may be compared to people who come hear the Word of God as it is taught and preached for a season, for a period, for a prolonged period, perhaps, but then after a while they depart to isolation. Luke says that these people even “believe for a season” (Luke 8:13). There is a temporary belief, a shallow faith, a non-enduring and non-lasting trust.

Why is it that these depart after a season? Why do they leave the place where they can be fed from the Word of God? Why do they abandon the church of God where they can hear the Word of God? Jesus gives a number of possibilities.

First, affliction may drive them away. Because of tribulation that comes upon these particular people who hear the Word, they refuse to remain with the Lord (Matt 13:21; Mark 4:17). Perhaps this person believed in the Word as it fell upon their ears and heart yet because of hardship in life, they fell away from Christ. Maybe they assumed that faith in Jesus Christ might eliminate hardship, sickness, sorrow, and sadness. Could it be that this category of hearers find more affliction after believing than they did prior to believing? Maybe they found that hardship abounded. Maybe they could withstand the affliction no longer.

It is this group that forgets that comfort in the midst of affliction comes from finding continuous revival and strength in the Word of God (Ps 119:50). God never despises the affliction of the afflicted one (Ps 22:24). In fact, God sees the affliction of His people and he gives grace to those in need (Ps 31:7-9). These people fail to remember the words of Jesus Christ that “in this world you will have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So then, this group falls away and refuses to persevere in their faith in Christ because of affliction and hardship.

Second, persecution because of the Word may drive them away. It appears that this group of people believe for only a short time because when opposition comes upon them because of the Word of God, they refuse to stand strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Mark 4:17). Could it be that they love the approval of men more than the approval of God? And when others mock, jeer, make fun of, reject, slander, ignore, and treat cruely, this particular group of hearers of God’s Word do not stand for Truth. Rather, they give in and give up on their faith. Thus, they have a temporary faith because the trouble of persecution seems too tumultuous to bear.

Jesus said that the world hated him and so it would also hate those who are His (John 15:18). Those who are of the world are loved by the world. But those whom God has called out of the world are those who receive hatred from the world (John 15:19). There are those who believe what they hear from the lips of preachers till hardship comes, till they have to stand for Christ and face opposition and mockings. Paul says that all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).The early church was strengthened, confirmed, and characterized by persecution that came upon them because of the Word (cf. Acts 11:19). It may be that when a person hears the Word of God, he receives it, believes in it, rejoices in it but yet cannot stand the possibility of being rejected by family for believing in Jesus Christ. Or, perhaps, this person squirms at the potentiality of being excluded from the social group and being treated as an outcast. This person is a friend of the world and desires the approval of men more than the approval of God.

Third, temptations may lure them away. When a season of temptation knocks at the heart and mind of this person who hears the Word, the temptation to sin wins and the person then falls away from the Lord (Luke 8:13). This person does not resist when temptation knocks. He does not find the way of escape that God promises to provide in every single temptation (1 Cor 10:13). This person who has heard the Word and impulsively responded to the Word has, perhaps, not been on the watch for the wily schemes of Satan who looks to deceive. Sin crouches at the door and God’s people must be on the lookout for and always be ready to wage war against temptation (Gen 4:7).

Every Christian is able to “endure” the temptation with the strength, help, and enabling grace of the Lord (1 Cor 10:13). The Lord even knows how to rescue the godly from temptation (2 Pet 2:9). God cannot be tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). But when a person is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust (James 1:14). If deliberate, intentional, sin-killing action is not taken quickly, swiftly, and effectively when lust is conceived it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is accomplished brings forth death (James 1:15).

This person who heard the Word as it was sown believed for a time. He rejoiced for a time. He had a faith for a time. He remained for a time. He lingered around Christ and His Church for a season. But when the time of temptation to sin crashed into his Christian life, he fell prey to the temptation, gave in, gave up, and never returned to the Lord.

One more thought cannot be missed. Jesus said that those who hear the Word in this particular group are those who immediately receive the Word with joy! O imagine the outward appearance of genuine faith! These particular people who hear the Word as it goes forth rejoice in its truth. They seemingly enjoy the glory of the gospel. They live in the light of its splendor. At least, for a season. Never forget that true faith is a triumphant faith. A real faith is a remaining faith. A saving faith is a persevering faith. Faith that does not persevere is an invalid faith, an unsaving faith, a false faith, a dead faith.

Remember the words of our Lord in a different context in His ministry: “you will be hated by all because of my Name but the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13; Matt 24:13). The Apostle Paul told his protege Timothy to persevere in the things of the Word so as to ensure salvation for his own soul (1 Tim 4:16). A believer is one who “perseveres in tribulation” (Rom 12:12).

Consider the relevance of our Lord’s teaching! O beware of falling away! Dear hearer of the Word of God, don’t fall away from the Lord and from His Word! Have you once believed? Did you respond impulsively? Did you have a joy at first but have long since fallen away? Did the hardship of life drive you away from God because you might have had a faulty understanding of trials, tribulations, and hardships in this life. The journey to heaven is nothing less than battle, war, struggle, a fight. Eternal bliss happens in heaven. Eternal peace apart from all trouble dawns only at the moment of death for a believer. But till then, God says that hardship will face the believer.

Do you have a persevering faith? Are you persecuted for the Word? Do others reject you? Have others mocked you? Do you feel excluded from the social group you once hung around with? Do temptations drive you away from God? Do you constantly seem to fall prey to temptation? Do you fall into the temptation of wanting (=lusting) to get rich? Do you fall into the temptation of sexual lust? Do you fall into the temptation of comparing your spouse to other men or women that you see, hear about, read about, or view? Do you fall into the temptation of gossip? Do you fall into the temptation of complaining and thus expressing dissatisfaction with God and His Sovereign plan for your life at this time? Do you still believe? Do you stand strong? Do you remain, abide, persevere, continue with Christ? Believe, and keep on believing! Never stop believing!

If you once believed and have long since left, repent of your sin and come back to Jesus Christ. For only in Him can one find life, forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and expiation from all of sin’s penalty. Did you once respond impulsively to an altar call? Did you once pray a prayer? Did you ever ask Jesus “into your heart?” Did you ever walk the aisle and go to the front of the church to “get saved?” If so, hear the Word of the Lord. An impulsive faith saves no one. A short, temporary, non-enduring, shallow faith that falls away brings no salvation. None! If this is you, O reader, then fall before the cross of Jesus Christ in repentance. Cling to Him as the Rock of your salvation. Beg Him for His grace to save you and His strength to help you as you abide in Him. Truly everyone who is saved is someone who continues to believe, stand with, and persevere in his faith.

Cling to the strength of the Lord. Find rest in Him and in Him alone. No person who hears the Word can stand in his own strength. Every person will fail and fall miserably if left to his own human devices and feeble strength to persevere in the faith. No one would ever make it to the shores of heaven if it depended on us. But with the strength of the Lord, by the grace of God, with the enabling power of God the Spirit, every true Christian believes, remains, abides, and perseveres in faith till the end. That is why some have seen this as the biblical teaching of the perseverance of the saints. All true saints will persevere. Yet this is completely impossible without the preserving grace of God. And, of course, God promises to perfect, complete, and establish His people secure until the end (1 Pet 5:10; 1 Thess 3:13).

May God glorify His own Name to grant you an enduring faith. May God be pleased to sustain His people with a triumphant faith — for His own renown and His own glory! May God strengthen you, equip you, establish you, and guard you as you persevere in believing until the day you awake and see His own likeness and glory in heaven.

Tomorrow we will examine part 4: the soil among thorns — those people who are distracted with a lust for the present world.


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