I finally reached the New Testament in my 180-day read-through-the Bible. I have to tell you, reading straight through scripture at this pace is challenging, but I have found it to be refreshing. Here’s why.
I belong to a neighborhood book club that meets once a month to discuss a book we’ve all read. Since I’m a person who loves to check things off my list, I would often read the book early. The downside of that was that by the time our meeting day rolled around, I had often read several other books in the interim. I had trouble remembering storylines and characters. I’d have to really think hard, “Was that in this book, or the other book I read?” I’ve learned that it’s better to read the book club book in the week before we discuss it, so I can remember what I’ve read!
I’ve noticed this same principle operating in my Bible reading because I’m quick to forget things. Reading through scripture at a faster pace has helped me connect passages and see the “bigger picture” of God’s redemptive story as it weaves its way from one book to another. Often, one author quotes another author, and themes recur frequently. Since I’m often moving through whole books of the Bible in a few days, I can still recall what I read previously. I don’t recommend this to be the ONLY way we read scripture. We still need to take time to ponder, meditate, and in my case, write down what I’m learning. I haven’t written nearly as much this year (so far) because reading large chunks of scripture at a time takes more time, and it’s harder to “hone in” on one particular lesson. But I am glad I decided to do this. It’s made me hungrier to know God’s Word better, as one complete story that I need to be immersed in continually.
Today, I read Mark 1-7. In Mark 4, Jesus tells three different parables that are related because they all talk about sowing seeds. Each is a picture of the kingdom of God, particularly how it grows and expands.
In the first parable, Jesus presents four types of soil. The sower uses the same seed on each soil, but there are different results. The seed that fell beside the road was quickly snatched up by the birds. The seed that fell on rocky ground grew up quickly, but had no roots, and withered away. The seed that fell on thorny ground came up but was choked out by the thorns and yielded no crop. True, fruitful growth only came from the good soil, producing thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold.
Jesus explains that the seed is the Word of God. The birds represent Satan, and the roadside represents a person who hears the Word but doesn’t understand it; Satan quickly takes it out of their thoughts, and they move on, unchanged by the Word. The rocky places represent affliction or persecution which comes to a person who hears the Word and receives it but fails to develop roots. They immediately fall away from the truth they heard. The thorny soil represents the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of the world. This person hears the Word, but it is overcome by desires for other things, and never bears fruit in his/her life. It is only when a person hears the Word, understands it, and accepts it as truth, that real fruit occurs – fruit that bears witness that a person has truly been saved.
In the second parable, Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a man who sows seed on the soil, then goes to bed. He gets up the next day and finds that the seed has sprouted and grows little by little, until it’s matured and ready for the harvest. The mystery is that the man has no idea how the seed grows; he can only observe that it has grown. The same is true of salvation. Who can explain how the Spirit of God can open our eyes to see and understand and receive the truth about Jesus? Who understands the transformation that takes place in our hearts and minds as we accept the gospel and allow it to take root in our lives and bear fruit?
In the third parable, Jesus presents the kingdom of God as a tiny mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds. Yet, when it is sown into the good ground, it grows up and becomes a large plant, even a tree that the birds can nest. This reminds us that the smallest word of the gospel that we share with others can produce great results for the kingdom.
The one thing all three parables have in common is that the seed must be sown. Spiritual fruit, salvation, can never occur until we hear the Word of God, the Gospel, and receive it. It must take root to persevere and grow in order to bear fruit.
What are you doing with the seed of God’s Word? How are you managing the powerful, life-giving words of the gospel that were sown into your life?
How is the soil of your own heart? Do you understand God’s Word, or does it “go in one ear and out the other?” Does the truth you hear take root and produce fruit, or do you quickly fall away from following Jesus when things get hard? Are you pursuing the spiritual growth that God desires for you, or are you distracted by the worries, cares, or other things in the world?
What is the condition of the soils that surround you – the hearts of other people God has put in your life who need to have the gospel sown into their lives?
The gospel was never meant to be kept on a shelf in the garden sheds of our busy lives. May it take root in our own hearts to bear eternal fruit, and may we sow it generously into the lives of others so they too, will know the abundant, fruitful life that God desires for His children.