3 Days of Prayer and Fasting (2023/07)

Mark 4:1-29 (ESV)
41 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Day 1: Loving God
Jesus tells the Parable of the Growing Seed in verses 26-29. This parable tells us very clearly what our contribution to the Kingdom of God is. We “scatter seed” of the gospel. Then what? Then the farmer “sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” I love the contrast here between what the “seed” is doing and what the “man” is doing. The seed is busily “sprout[ing] and grow[ing],” but what is the man doing? He is “sleep[ing] and ris[ing]”! He is passing the time. He is resting. He is waiting. This verse highlights the farmer’s ignorance, “he know not how the seed grows. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Verse 28 emphasizes this point further, “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” The adverb “by itself” is a translation of the Greek word αὐτομάτη, from which we get the English word “automatic.” The seed grows automatically, of its own accord, quite apart from our doing. This verse highlights the farmer’s impotence, he has no power to make it grow. So, then, we are both ignorant and impotent in this process of the kingdom’s growth. Apart from the sowing of the gospel seed, God has intentionally cut us out from the process of the Kingdom of God growing, so that we are aware of our ignorance and impotence, so that God receives all the glory. This is consistent with how God works in other aspects of our lives as well. How did God save us? How did God make us alive together with Christ? Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That cannot be more emphatic. We have been saved, not by our own good works or righteousness, but by the grace, the undeserved favor of God. This was not our own doing, but the free gift of God. It was not a result of our works. And what is the purpose of God saving us in this manner? so that no one may boast.” Likewise, God grows and brings His Kingdom by itself,” apart from us, so that He receives all the glory!
It’s tempting to have a man-centered, triumphalistic approach to the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, Christians speak of building the Kingdom of God or bringing the Kingdom of God. But if we peruse the Scriptures and examine the verbs that are associated with the Kingdom of God, the vast majority of them have God as the subject, and we are the passive objects. Luke 12:32 tells us that God give[s]us the Kingdom, we do not claim it or take it. The Kingdom of God comes upon us,” it says in Matthew 12:28, we do not bring it. We can look for the Kingdom (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51) and seekit (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:21). We can “receive” the Kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17; Heb. 12:28) and “inherit” it (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21), but we do not build the Kingdom. We can “enter” the Kingdom (Matt. 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; 21:31; Mark 9:47; 10:23-25; Luke 18:24-25; Acts 14:22; 2 Pet. 1:11) when God brings it, but we do not bring the Kingdom. The one verb that speaks of our active contribution toward the Kingdom, unsurprisingly, is “proclaim/preach” (Matt. 9:35; 10:7; 24:14; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 60; 16:16; Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31. We proclaim and preach the Kingdom. In other words, we sow the seed of the gospel. That is our unique contribution to God’s Kingdom program. In this way, to quote the Theologian James Edwards once again, “The parable of the growing seed warns against wedding the coming of the kingdom to forecasts, projections, time tables, and strategies. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus sunders all attempts to capture him in categories, formulas, and agendas. So it is with the kingdom of God.” We are not the primary planners, strategists, builders, or executors of the Kingdom of God, God is. And Jesus compares our role to the humble and ordinary work of scattering seeds on the ground.
Do you work and serve the Lord while resting and trusting in Him, knowing that He is the one who gives the growth? Do you work and serve in a manner that brings attention and glory to God and not to yourself?
Recommended Song: “Good and Gracious King” by City Alight (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
  • Repent of areas of your life where you are clinging to control, and surrender those areas to your life.
  • Pray for the various responsibilities and ministries that have been entrusted to you, asking God to give the growth.
  • Ask God to embolden you to share the gospel with those around you.

Day 2: Loving One Another
Note how Jesus tells the parable in verses 3-9, then explains it in verses 13-20, which leaves verses 10-12 right in the middle. This is a literary device that people have coined the Markan Sandwich, because Mark uses it so frequently. The meat, the most important point, is in the middle, surrounded by two matching sandwich buns, which surround and bring attention to the meat. It says in verses 10-12, “And when [Jesus] was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”‘” To those who are around him with the twelve,” Jesus speaks plainly, and not in parables, because to them “has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” There are those whom God has sovereignly chosen to receive the secret of the kingdom of God, and to them Jesus speaks plainly and explains the meaning of the parables. But to those on the outside,” Jesus speaks in riddles, in parables, so that that they would see without perceiving and hear without understanding, because He doesn’t want them to “turn and be forgiven.” This is a pronouncement of God’s judgment. This quote is taken from Isaiah 6:9, when Prophet Isaiah is commissioned by God to go and preach repentance to the Israelites who will not listen, as a confirmation of God’s judgment.
But for us, as hearers of the word, how can we know what kind of soil we ourselves are. That’s not our prerogative to know, but what we can do is to heed the gospel, because it’s the gospel that draws the line in the sand. Note again the contrast between the very large crowd that “gathered about [Jesus]” in verse 1 with the much smaller, inner circle that remains in verse 10, “when [Jesus] was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.” Jesus was not giddy about the very large crowd gathering about him. He wasn’t trying to speak on subjects that will attract a crowd and appease them. No, he spoke in parables that confused them, in order to draw a distinction between the crowd and His disciples. Jesus is often seen whittling down the crowds throughout his ministry. Jesus rebukes the crowd following him in John 6:26, telling them that they are not actually seeking Him, but merely following Him because they “ate [their] fill of the loaves” when Jesus multiplied “five barley loaves and two fish” to feed the five thousand. And, then, He tells the crowd that He is the “bread that came down from” and that they need to eat his body and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, speaking of His atoning death on the cross. Jesus spoke this way intentionally, so that, it says in John 6:66-68, “after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is the inner circle who heed the word of Christ, and then there are outsiders who don’t.
The four different types of soil are differentiated by the varying levels of receptivity to the gospel. That’s why Jesus begins the parable in verse 3 with this command, listen!” That’s why the verb listenor hear,” is a recurring keyword in this passage. The word “hear” occurs ten times in this passage. When it comes to the first three kinds of soil, the verb “hear” is in the aorist tense, which in Greek is punctiliar, meaning it refers to something that happens at a particular point in time, it’s like a snapshot that captures an instant. But when it comes to the fourth soul, the good soil, the verb “hear” is in the present tense, which in Greek, indicates, ongoing action, like a video. Jesus is distinguishing those who “hear” in a casual, superficial way from those who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit (v. 20).
Will you heed the word of Christ? Will you remain with Jesus and believe in His Word, when the crowd has dispersed? When following Jesus is no longer popular? When tribulations and persecutions arise? Will you renounce the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things in order to follow Jesus? How can we help one another remain in/with Jesus?
Recommended Song: “We Are Listening” by Sojourn (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
  • Pray that God would encourage our church in the midst of heavy losses in our membership this year, and keep us focused on our mission.
  • Pray that we would be a church that pays attention to the word of God, and not to the lies, accusations, and temptations of this world.
  • Pray that we would be a church that perseveres in faith and obedient until the end.

Day 3: Sharing the Love of Christ with Others
What can we learn from this parable about the sower? First, there is no discussion of how to become a better sower. The harvest, the fruitfulness of the crop, does not depend on the intelligence or creativity or eloquence of the sower, but on the receptivity of the soil, and even more ultimately, on the sovereignty of the God who gives the growth. So we should not get insecure or worried when some seeds are plucked way by birds, or withered away by heat, or chocked out by thorns. That doesn’t mean that we should go back to the drawing board and genetically modify the seed so we can get a better yield. No, there is nothing wrong with the seed, and we should expect rejection and disappointment, because Jesus has told us that we will get these various responses to the proclamation of the gospel. The goal isn’t to become more successful sowers who get a higher percentage yield rate. No, the goal is to be faithful sowers, sowing the same seed, over and over again, year after year, generation after generation, regardless of the response. Lack of conversions is not failure in evangelism, that’s not up to us. Lack of gospel conversations is failure in evangelism. We only fail when we don’t share the gospel at all. So don’t be afraid of rejection, don’t be discouraged that some people fall away. That is bound to happen. Keep sowing. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
So we should be faithful sowers. And we should also be liberal sowers. An aspect of this parable that is often missed is that this farmer is downright indiscriminate in his sowing. What kind of a farmer sows precious seeds on paths where it will get trampled and plucked away by birds? And on rocky ground where there is barely any soil? And among thorns? No sensible farmer does that. But that reflects the lavish generosity of God. God sows gospel seeds even on soil that He knows will not produce any fruit, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9), in the hope that somewhere He will find fertile soil (thought He already knows in His sovereign will). And that’s what He commands us to do. It’s not our prerogative to know what kinds of soils people are. It’s not our place to presume who is receptive to the gospel or not. Our role is simply to scatter the seeds. At the cafe, on the plane, in your neighborhood, back at your parents’ house, wherever you go, scatter the seeds, trusting God to give the growth.
Recommended Song: “When I Think About the Lord” by Christ for the Nations Worship (Find it on our church’s Spotify playlist, “Trinity Hymnal,” at http://bit.do/trinityhymnal)
  • Pray that we would be faithful and liberal sowers of the seed of the gospel.
  • Pray that we would not shrink from proclaiming the uniqueness of Christ in our pluralistic society.
  • Pray that unbelievers in our midst would come to faith in Jesus and get baptized.

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