You Should Take This Personally          Mark 4:14-20

How many times have you heard “Don’t take this personally, but…”? Or perhaps when your boss was giving you feedback you heard “You can’t take that personally.” How about “They aren’t saying no to you, they are saying no to <fill in the blank>.” As Christians, it’s true. When you talk to someone about your faith, your story, your testimony, or about Jesus, and they don’t accept what you say as truth, they aren’t rejecting you. They are rejecting your Message. In fact, if we know that person we are talking to, chances are we won’t reject them because they don’t listen to us. We’ll probably try again to talk to them about the Gospel when given an opportunity.

As sad as that it can be when someone doesn’t believe or accept the Gospel message, realize that most people need to hear the Gospel more than once, and usually many more times than just once, to accept Jesus. How many times did you hear the Gospel before it sank in?

Why does it take a few times to sink in? Doesn’t the verse go “My Word will not return to me void.” Some of your Bible translations use the word “empty” instead of the word “void.” Let’s look at that. Isaiah 55:8 -11. Make a note to read the whole chapter of Isaiah 55 this week. Use a Bible with commentary, if you have one. If you do not have a Bible with commentary, please let me know so we can get you one.

Read Isaiah 55:8-11.

The Lord has purpose for every single one of His Words. His Ways and Thoughts are higher than ours. His Word is always successful. Always. But we don’t know exactly how that happens each and every time. I’m sure directly and, much more than we even realize, indirectly. “His Ways and Thoughts are higher” than ours. It takes faith to believe this verse. And if we have that faith that His Word will not return to Him empty, then we will want every opportunity to talk about the Gospel of Jesus.

Many of us do that in different ways. It might be a conversation with someone we already know – that’s how most people come to know Jesus. Only 10% or so of people commit to following Jesus sitting in church listening to a message. For children, it’s their parents and siblings primarily. For teens, it’s their friends. Inviting someone who does not know Jesus to church is a wonderful thing to do, but know that we may be much more effective leading a person that we know to the saving knowledge of Jesus in a direct conversation with them outside of church. One reason we are in church weekly is to solidify what we know about Jesus and to know Him more as we study the Bible and pray during the week. Most of us are lifestyle evangelists – we think that by living as though we belong to Jesus that we share the Gospel. That’s effective. But what’s more directly effective is a conversation with someone we know. If we are living for Jesus, and that’s apparent to a stranger or a neighbor we really don’t know, is it your obligation to get to know that person for Jesus? Think about that this week as you read Isaiah 55.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why the Word doesn’t always sink in with unbelievers and believers. It’s in Mark 4. You are probably all familiar with the parable of the Sower. But to review, read Mark 4 until verse 9 to yourself right now.

Now here’s the part that you should take personally; it’s in Mark 4: 14-20. It’s easy to just think about all the people who hear the Gospel who are that hard path and rocky ground and thorny soil where Jesus the Sower sows the Gospel seeds. But how many times have you and I heard or read the Word and it’s gone seconds later? Or you and I start thinking of other things that are just the stuff that goes on in our day to day lives and we miss the importance of what we hear or read? Before we read the rest of Mark 4, let’s first set the stage with James 1:22-25.

Read James 1:22-25.

If we are to be doers of the Word and not just hearers – if we aren’t we are deceiving ourselves – let’s read Mark 4:10-20 with ourselves in mind.

Read Mark 10:10-20.

We first have to hear the Word in order to do what It says. And in hearing the Word, at times we are as hard-hearted as a trampled down path, at times we have rocky gravel driveway hearts, at times our hearts are weedy thorny patches of garden, and at times our hearts are that good soil that hears the Gospel and does what it says and produces fruitfulness at a substantial rate of return.

And we are not hearers then doers of the Word because of Satan, because our root system isn’t established when major troubles come or we suffer persecution, and because we worry about life’s day to day stuff and our primary goals are to obtain stuff or wealth first instead of seeking Jesus and His kingdom first. If Satan is behind all this, all the more important for us to have conversations about the Gospel to those we know and those we need to get to know.

John Piper says that Satan snatches the Word away from us immediately in a few different ways. He distracts us with other thoughts. How many times have we read the Bible on our own and minutes later we are already thinking about something else? We have short attention spans the way it is! Satan also causes our feelings to get in the way of what we hear. We read the Bible or hear something in a Sunday message or on a radio program, and we simply do not like what we hear. We get offended. See how the people in Jesus’ own town got offended at His Words in Mark 6:1-6 as an example. That could be because we have a differing world view on something – different from God’s view that He states in His Word in the Bible. All the more important for us to read and hear the Word so we know what God’s view is on certain topics in our daily lives. Satan also uses ignorance to snatch the Word away immediately from us and others who hear It. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 that the god (small “g”) of this world (Satan) blinds the minds of unbelievers (those who are perishing) to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel – it is veiled to them. They are blinded.

We hear in the Bible of eyes being opened and recognizing Jesus: Luke 24:31 with Cleopas and Luke, very close followers of Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus after Jesus’s resurrection as well as Saul, who we now know as Paul, when his sight was restored “something like scales fell from his eyes” in Acts 9:18. This is most of Israel at the time of Jesus, especially the religious leaders of their time. Blinded. Some of your own testimonies may involve finally seeing things in a new way. The Gospel was no longer veiled to Luke and Cleopas and Paul and those who understood Jesus’ parables…and you and me.

But there’s more than just Satan immediately snatching away the truth from us. Jesus also addresses believers in this parable in three ways. Those who hear the Word, represented by the stony ground, do hear the Word and receive it with joy. The Amplified translation of the Bible says they “receive and accept and welcome” the Word “with joy” – however, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the Word, they stumble and fall away. The book of Proverbs is full of Solomon addressing what causes a young man to stumble. Stumbling here is linked to an underdeveloped root system. As trees grow their root systems grow. We can’t see their root system, just like we cannot see the 80% of an iceberg that is underwater. This is why discipling new believers, and all believers new to our church, is so important. We cannot take for granted that all believers have developed root systems in the Word. Discipling increases the chances of those root systems to develop properly over time. Romans 12:12, which is printed on our church prayer cards, says “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer.” That’s the formula for getting through tribulation: rejoice in times of trouble because we have hope, as Peter and James write in their books; be patient, as in Galatians 5:22-23 in describing the fruits of the Spirit, and be constant in prayer, as Paul says to “pray without ceasing” – or “pray continually” in some of your Bible translations – as stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. That patience in tribulation is founded in hope and takes prayer. That’s what takes our hearts from hard and rocky and stony and gravel-y toward that good fruitful soil. Just like new believers’ hearts have come from completely rock-hard hardened hearts, we may still have those stones and pieces of gravel in there yet. But rather than hardened hearts of all rock, our heart are now rocky, stony, gravel-y soil. Jesus gives us renewed hearts of good soil when we accept Him, but weeds and thorns and shards of rock and sometimes buried boulders can be found in there yet sometimes. That’s what Satan wants to remind us of.

Back to Mark 4. Verse 18 addresses the thorns of anxiety and materialism. These thorns and weeds can choke out the Word in our hearts. Matthew 6:33 says that we should seek His kingdom first then all the things we need will be added to us. If the cares of this world, acquiring stuff, and seeking wealth make their way in front of Jesus, what we hear of the Word will get choked out and not be fruitful. I Peter 5:17 and Psalm 55:22 tell us to cast our anxiety and burden on the Lord. He cares for us, and He will sustain us. But when we don’t do this because we forget or do not realize this, His Word gets choked out. Later on in the book of Mark, in Mark 10:17-31, Jesus addresses wealth and acquiring stuff, materialism. A young rich guy who had political clout in his career came to see Jesus. He must have been known by Mark, or God revealed to Mark who this guy was. Jesus knew what was keeping His Word from sinking in with this rich young man. This man didn’t realize that he needed Jesus as his Savior first of all, though, because he thought he was not a sinner. However, Jesus loved this man anyway. This is clearly stated here for a reason. Jesus loved this man enough to look into his heart and know what was keeping him from hearing the Word and doing what the Word said to do. Jesus asked him to give up seeking wealth in order that he would seek Jesus first. Jesus knew his wealth was deceiving him. But the man went away sad because of what Jesus asked him to do. But if this man had given up his wealth in order to seek Jesus first, Jesus would have given him whatever he needed anyway. I hope he finally did.

Mark 4: 20 from The Message paraphrase of the Bible reads: “But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams.”

So take this personally, you and I of hard heart, rocky soil, thorny ground, and good earth. From The Message, James 4:7: “So let God work His will in you. Yell a loud no to the devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and He’ll be there in no time.” Romans 12:12 from The Message: “Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.” Psalm 55:22 from The Message: “Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders – he’ll carry your load, He’ll help you out. He’ll never let good people topple into ruin.” And Matthew 6:33 from The Message: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

And as we take communion, let’s read together in Mark 14. Beginning at verse 22…