Many of us have a favorite hymn. One that has been a favorite of mine since I was a child is, I love to tell the story! Many others love that hymn as well. We sing it enthusiastically in our churches! Still, I wonder at times if we really mean it. Do we really love to tell the story of Jesus and his love?
What about outside the church building in a different context, do we really love to tell the story to our neighbor? To our unchurched friends, our family, our coworkers, or our fellow students? I suppose, if we are really honest about it, many of us would say, No, I guess telling the story about Jesus in public makes me a little uncomfortable at times.
I recently read a book entitled, The Embarrassed Believer, by Hugh Hewitt. The author writes, “Many Christians today can hardly make themselves say the ‘J’ word, pray in a restaurant, or invite a colleague to church. They cringe at anything that makes their commitment visible in this current secular environment. Every Sunday in the safety of the sanctuary, many believers sit and pray with sincerity and gusto, then vanish and go silent the next six days. The reason Ð America has become increasingly hostile to Christianity. The media elite mocks it, some vocal scientists disdain it, universities debunk it, and business typically ignores it. Public expression of faith is not only unfashionable, it is seen as slightly bizarre. No one likes to think people are looking at them, thinking they are bizarre. So they are discouraged into thinking that maybe their critics are right. ‘Why should we bother? It won’t make any difference anyway.’
“Others of us are afraid of sounding foolish. We remember Paul saying to the Corinthians that the Gospel sounds like foolishness to some people. So we keep it to ourselves and not saying a word for Christ.
“Finally, some of us have tried to tell the story of Jesus and feel like they have failed. The person wasn’t converted, or maybe they were even met negative results. They walk away from that experience feeling a little more gun shy about opening their mouth for Jesus the next time around.”
A host of other reasons exists as well why we do not love to tell that story at times.
For those of us who may be feeling a little discouraged or fearful about telling the story, Jesus has a good word for us today. He tells a parable. For us to better understand it, we need to understand the context under which Jesus told this parable.
In chapter one of his Gospel, Mark records that Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” In chapter three, Jesus chose the twelve, said he wanted them to be with him. He was getting them ready to tell the good news of the kingdom of God, which really was about himself.
Throughout the rest of chapter three, Jesus runs into rejection, conflict, ridicule, and confusion as people hear his claims. Some want to destroy him, and others accuse him of being possessed by the devil. Even his own family thinks he is a little out of his mind, so they come to take him home. In the background, the disciples are observing all this rejection. This evangelistic enterprise is not exactly off to a good start, and the disciples are probably wondering what they are themselves getting into. It is at this point that Jesus tells the story about the farmer who sowed the seed.
Some seed fell on a path, and the birds came and swallowed it up. Other seed fell upon rocky ground. It sprouted quickly, but the sun came out. Because its roots were so shallow, it was scorched and withered away, because its roots were so shallow. Some fell on among thorns, and the weeds and thorns choked it out. Others fell on good soil, and it bore fruit Ð thirty, sixty, a hundred fold.
Jesus stopped at this point and said, “Now he who has ears to hear, listen.” Do you suppose he was talking about the disciples at that point? A little while later they asked him to explain the parable to them.
Jesus told them, “The seed is the word of God: the good news about the kingdom of God, which has come to myself. The path, that is the people who are hard hearted. When the seed gets sowed upon them, when they hear it, but Satan comes down, swoops it up, and eats up that seed of the Gospel. Those that hear the word and receive it joyfully, that is the rocky ground. But they are shallow, and when difficulties come, they fall away. Then the thorny ground, that is the person who hears the word, but the cares of the world choke it out, and it never really grows. But then there is the good soil. Those folks hear it, accept it, and believe it. They bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold.”
Jesus is using a story to make a point: Keep your eye on the ending Ð the good soil, those that will receive it. A great harvest is waiting as we tell the story of Jesus and his love. All kinds of soils are out there. You will run into all kinds of hearers to that Gospel: negative and positive.
This story was an encouragement to early Christians like Timothy, who were discouraged and wondering whether they should give up telling the story. Jesus is telling them, and us, to keep throwing the seed. Keep telling that story, because the great harvest is always a possibility as the good soil receives the seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This story in my own ministry encourages me, and as I pray each week for my congregation. All kinds of hearers exist. Some of them not ready; others are very ready to receive the good news. I learned four principles from this story that I keep with myself, and I will share with you this morning.
1. Jesus is counting on us to sow that seed. It is a privilege. People who need Jesus just as much as we need him surround us, and they are ready to receive him.
2. No one bats a thousand. Why is it, in the game of baseball, when a batter hits 300 Ð he hits the ball three times out of ten Ð we consider that a great season? Why would we not expect the same thing as we are sowing the seed? No one bats a thousand when they are telling the story of Jesus Christ. Don’t be surprised if you have some negative results.
3. The growth is not up to us. We do the sowing, but God does the growing. As Paul said to those Corinthians, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered, God brought about the growth.”
4. The seed is good and it is powerful. It is powerful enough to change a life and produce a great harvest in the lives of others around it. Listen to Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe.” Paul is speaking from experience. He heard the story from Ananias in the ninth chapter of Acts, and it changed his life. As he went about and shared the story with others, thousands received it, and the Church sprung up everywhere around Asia Minor.
What we are learning in this story, an encouraging word from Jesus, is this: Do not quit. Don’t be silent. Speak up and keep telling the story of Jesus and his love, because that seed is good! A lot of good soil is waiting for someone to share the Gospel. They are ready to receive it, and great will be the harvest.
I have a wonderful story, and a true story about a ten-year-old girl named Monica. She lived in Bogota, Columbia, and belonged to a Christian church that decided to get the seed of the Good News of Jesus out into their community. They chose the tool, Evangelism Explosion International, by Dr. James Kennedy for their training. As an experiment, they decided to let the children attend this training as well. Monica was very taken with this and she learned it well.
On her two-hour bus ride to attend the training with her mom and dad, Monica would sing choruses from scripture. One day a woman asked her where she learned these lyrics. Monica replied, “From the Bible,” and then she recited some more words from the Bible. The other passengers listened in, and she became quite a diversion on the bus on a daily basis.
One day she got up the courage to ask the woman sitting next to her, “If you were to die today, are you to that place in your spiritual life where you would know for certain you would go to heaven,” and “If God were to ask you, ÔWhy should l let you into my heaven?’, what would you tell him?”
The woman said, “Well, I say my rosary, I try to make good decisions, and I live a good life.” She hoped to qualify because her good deeds outweighed the bad. Monica politely told her that the only proper answer to God’s question, the Bible taught, was that God is perfect and requires perfection for someone to be in his presence.
“No one can be perfect,” the woman said.
Monica was prepared. She said, “Well, there is good news about that in the Bible too. Jesus was perfect; He died for our sins and paid for our salvation. If we believe and trust that, God will look at us through Jesus, and we will be considered perfect in God’s sight. So there is only one answer to the question. Nothing we have done or can do will get us into heaven. The only way we can get in is to tell God that Jesus paid our way.”
At first the woman seemed merely amused, as did the other passengers. “Such interesting ideas from a youngster!” Nevertheless, each day, as Monica sang and recited, asked and answered, more passengers listened closely. Finally, someone said he believed, he wanted to pray and trust Jesus alone for his salvation. A few days later another did the same. One day even the bus driver listened to Monica! He pulled to the side of the road, and he and the other ten passengers prayed to receive Jesus Christ. She invited the new converts to her home where her parents led them to weekly Bible study, even though her home is in a depressed and dangerous area where few outsiders venture.
Within a month, thirty new believers were in that group.
When Monica’s pastor heard their stories, he assigned an assistant to work with the group. Within a year, they had grown to 150 people and became a daughter church to Monica’s home congregation. Today it has grown to 350 people. The seed that little ten-year-old girl sowed on the bus that day and continued to sow, fell on good soil, and it yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, he who has ears to hear, listen: that seed is good and powerful! As you tell the story, remember, many people are ready to hear it, and the harvest will be great. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. That is our Good News.
As you go on your way, may Christ go with you;
may be go before you to show you the way,
behind you to encourage you,
beside you to befriend you,
above you to watch over,
and within you to give you his peace.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.