How Do You Hear the Word?
By Dr. Joel Beeke
Heritage Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids
Bible Text: Mark 4:1-20
1 Again he began to teach by the seaside. A great multitude was gathered to him, so that he entered into a boat in the sea and sat down. All the multitude were on the land by the sea. 2 He taught them many things in parables, and told them in his teaching, 3 “Listen! Behold, the farmer went out to sow. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Others fell on the rocky ground, where it had little soil, and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of soil. 6 When the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 Others fell into the good ground and yielded fruit, growing up and increasing. Some produced thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times as much.” 9 He said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”10 When he was alone, those who were around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “To you is given the mystery of God’s Kingdom, but to those who are outside, all things are done in parables, 12 that ‘seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest perhaps they should turn again, and their sins should be forgiven them.’ ”13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How will you understand all of the parables? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 The ones by the road are the ones where the word is sown; and when they have heard, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 These in the same way are those who are sown on the rocky places, who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 They have no root in themselves, but are short-lived. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they stumble. 18 Others are those who are sown among the thorns. These are those who have heard the word, 19 and the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 Those which were sown on the good ground are those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit, some thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times.”Mark 4: 1-20
I’ve heard this sermon preached in different ways, some great and others not so good. It is easy for us as sinners to take a text like this and start reading ourselves into it. Looking for something to do to merit God’s favor comes naturally to us after the fall of Adam and the curse of sin. Instead of reading this text as what kind of soil am I, which can be done to some extent, but this kind of approach leads to doubt, worry, and despair. Instead, it’s best to not compare our soil to someone else’s soil, or our good works, our ability to reach for the golden ring of faith in order to assure ourselves that we have Jesus and have escaped God’s wrath for our sin. It’s best to see that Jesus is so generous with Himself that he gives to everyone, everyone gets grace and forgiveness, see the Seed as Himself, being planted into your heart and all hearts. As if God is dying and giving Himself to even the worst of places because of His everflowing love and mercy for all of His dear children. Let’s see what Joel does with this text. Will we get this wonderful Gospel promise or will we be pointed back to ourselves?
So we turn, then, in our series on Mark to Mark 4 and we look at verses 1 through 20 under the them “How Do You Hear the Word of God?” And we’ll look at three thoughts: why did Jesus speak in parables; second, who are the false kinds of hearers; and third, who is the true hearer? How do you hear the word of God, three questions, why did Jesus speak in parables; who are the unfruitful hearers; and who are the fruitful hearers.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
So in verses 1 and 2 which provides us with the setting of the parable of the sower, we’re told he specifically speaks in parables, so we want to look at that first. Then in verses 3 through 9, Jesus tells us the parable. Verses 10 through 13, he goes back to verses 1 and 2 and describes why he tells us things in parables. And then in verses 14 through 20, he interprets going back to verses 3 and 9 the parable he’s told. And so really there’s three things going on here, there’s the whole question of why he’s talking in parables, and then there’s the question of the first parable, what kind of hearer am I? Am I a false hearer, and he gives three kinds of false hearers, or am I a true hearer of the word of God, a good hearer, receiving the word in well-prepared soil? So those are the three points this morning.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
It appears that he is going to place the focus on ourselves. What kind of hearer am I, I could be damned or I could be a good soil that has received Jesus because I’m not bad like that other type of sinner who has rocks and thorns. Ah, do you see how when the focus is on us then we either despair or become proud hypocrites? We can certainly read it in the sense of the Law rightfully taught that we often can let things of the earth be our idol, yet without the Gospel in this text we are left with nothing but the Law. Let’s see if Joel gives us that Gospel, let’s see if He places a large focus that no matter how bad you are, Jesus died for you, that He gives Himself for you, and rose three days later for your justification. That through faith your sins are gone, swallowed no up into the earth, into the grave, never to accuse you again.
Hear therefore the parable of the sower. And what are we doing with that responsibility? Are we passing it on to others? Are we proclaiming it? Are we living it? Are we fruit-bearers? Are we good hearers of the word in the well-prepared soil of our hearts?How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
So Jesus proceeds then and he speaks about four kinds of hearers. Four kinds of hearers. Now what does that mean? Well, it means, first of all, as Jesus himself explains, that’s the wonderful thing about this parable, Jesus himself gives us the explanation. We don’t have to wonder what the truth is. He says the seed that is sown is the word of God. The sower is the one who declares the word, and that sower is ultimately, of course, Jesus himself, and through Jesus all his faithful servants who bring the word of God. But ultimately the sowing farmer is JesusHow Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
If Christ is not sowing the word, we have nothing. Without Christ working, we have nothing and we are nothing and we shall be nothing. He builds his church sovereignly, graciously, going forth, conquering, to conquer.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
We can see that he kept pushing the Law, are you evangelising, bearing good fruit, are you a good hearer of the Word? Well, this is all Law. It condemns you as a sinner because who can say that they have done all of this perfectly? The Law demands perfection, every 86,400 seconds of the day! Who can love God and neighbor perfectly all day everyday? This is some serious Law.
However, he is mixing in some good truth here. Jesus is sowing the seed. This second and third quote is accurate but it doesn’t take away the condemnation of the Law that he gave before. I think some hearers might dismiss the works righteousness as truth because it’s mixed in with truth. It takes a discerning listener who rightly understands the distinction between law and Gospel to tell where the falsehood is, and that is what I am trying to teach you. The statement that Christ is the one sowing the Word and without Him you have nothing isn’t a comfort after you have heard that the point of the story is that you have to be good soil so the seed doesn’t go to waste. The Gospel isn’t without God you are nothing, that’s only more Law and more condemnation. He gives us two more quotes let’s see where he takes us.
So here is hearer #1: soil by the wayside. Soil by the wayside, that is, the hard-packed soil of a foot-trod path. Jesus mentions this back in verse 4 and then again in verse 15 he interprets it and he says when the seed of the word lands on this soil, it just stays on the surface, it doesn’t penetrate. It’s a foot-worn path. And Satan comes along and snatches away the word and the word of God is not even understood, it doesn’t even penetrate the mind. It’s lost before it’s grasped. And so this is the kind of hearer who comes to church regularly and sits through the whole worship service and actually doesn’t even really grasp what the minister is saying or doesn’t want to grasp, and it doesn’t do anything to this hearer.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
You see, you can come to church every Sunday actually for your whole life and never understand the word of God, never grasp the Gospel, and once the benediction is pronounced at the end of the sermon, you can go out into the church parking lot, you can go home careless, spiritually lazy, indifferent, sidetracked by unedifying conversation, and never actually get a single thought to what you heard in church for an hour and a half. It’s unbelievable that we can be that hard, but that’s how hard we can be, and so on Monday morning you don’t even remember what was talked about the day before, and it’s possible to do the same thing with the Bible. You can read the Scriptures every day and never pray over that word in earnest, and never meditate upon it in your heart. You can just check off, “I’ve done my daily devotions,” but it never penetrates and you never bow before God and say, “I have offended God. I’m a lost sinner traveling to eternity. I need to be born again. It’s my thoughts, my actions, my desires, that are reprehensible in God’s sight.” No, the seed is snatched away and you go from year to year, decade to decade, all that seed snatched away from Satan every Sunday. Such a waste. Such a tragedy. My friend, is that you this morning? I hope not. I hope not. Do you meditate upon the word of God? Do you think back over the sermons you hear? When you read the Scriptures, do you pray over what you hear? Or is your heart like a holding tank where day after day and week after week the precious word of God is deposited only to be snatched away by Satan? Pray. Pray that you’ll never be hardened soil by the wayside. Such a tragedy that is.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
According to Joel in that first quote, if you don’t understand what the minister is saying you are damned to be the first soil. In his second quote he explains further that if you have ever forgotten what the sermon was about on Monday then you are damned. He takes this further, you can read your Bible everyday but if you don’t pray over the Scriptures, and if you don’t despair under the Law then you are damned.
His good news? Just pray about it. Yeah. So, after such a hammering of the Law, like a child who finds a sword and wants to swing it around without knowing proper form and technique, he starts damaging everything in his path leaving destruction all over the house because he was careless. He starts putting rules and regulations that are not biblical onto his hearers. Where in the Bible are we told the path to salvation is to never forget a single sermon, to pray the Scriptures, and to constantly confess that you are a lost condemned sinner, on your knees, after every time you read the Bible?
He’s added so much extra Law on top of God’s Law because He doesn’t seem to understand God’s holy Law. This is evident when his good news, if you are despairing, is to follow the Law, go and do the second commandment. This is no gospel at all.
The Second Commandment.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
What does this mean?–Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.Luther’s Small Catechism; The Ten Commandments
The second commandment tells us that we aren’t to take the Lord’s name in vain. This means that we are both commanded to do something and not to do something. We are commanded to pray in this commandment. So, he is telling us that if we are concerned about being damned for eternity, then we should follow the Law. There isn’t any good news here.
But secondly, there is another kind of hearer, Jesus says, who is like soil on stony ground.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
Is this you? Maybe you fear, maybe you fear, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I have saving faith or temporary faith. The roots don’t go down very deep into me. I’m afraid of that. So maybe I just have temporary faith. Well, what is the difference between the two?” Well, it’s this, let me give you five quick points. Temporary versus abiding. Temporary faith only lasts a little while, maybe some months, rarely a year. Well, is it possible a couple of years? I suppose but it’s a temporary character. Saving faith is abiding. It deepens. It goes down into the soil. It develops a root system. 2. Temporary faith always folds up under persecution. It can’t handle persecution. It turns away. Saving faith is strengthened under trials and persecution. Strengthened. It leans on God all the more. 3. Temporary faith is known for its rapid growth because it doesn’t go down and its roots, it just goes up quickly. Saving faith usually is more gradual growth. The roots go down and the growth gradually grows up. 4. Temporary faith lacks humility, lacks true self-knowledge. Saving faith knows self-abhorrence, self-doubts, learns to trust the Lord and not myself. 5. Temporary faith ultimately ends in self, ends in my own experiences, ends in my own emotions, my own joy. Saving faith drives me to Christ, always to Christ, to find my all in him and to seek the glory of God.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
According to Joel, if you fear that you may not have saving faith you need to do some evaluating of yourself. Thats right, he points you back to yourself. He tells you that you cannot be sure until after a couple of years of being a Christian, that you also must suffer some sort of persecution, yet he doesnt define what that actually is, perhaps one has to be willing to be beheaded for their faith. His third point is rather odd to define, apparently you dont want to be too enthusiastic about your faith but not indifferent either. You also want to have self doubts, according to his fourth point, yet not too much doubt that you loose faith, no, you need to have just the right amount of doubt to know you are saved. His fifth point would be great if Joel would ever define who Christ is, instead he defines Christ as someone we need to seek, find, and glorify. Placing all of the work and effort on ourselves. If you’re taking notes at home we have a long list of things to do if we doubt that we are the good soil; this is all Law.
But then there’s a third kind of hearer, the thorn-infested soil.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
But the cares of this life then make us focus upon ourselves and we try to do it alone without Jesus, and we become concerned about ourselves perhaps or our own influence, our own prestige, our own popularity, and we care nothing about the life to come. It’s the cares of this life dominate the cares of the life to come and so we carry on just wrapped up in ourselves and the cares of this life and we don’t give thought and attention to things of eternity and it chokes the seed.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
Riches may promise happiness and fulfillment, or seem to, but they don’t give these gifts, and if they’re not rightly handled, they often give what they don’t promise: heartache and grief and distorted values. And then, too, riches can appear to be what they are not, they can appear to be be abiding and durable but they’re only temporary, and when centered upon, they choke out the seed of the word of God. And then there’s the lusts of the flesh. Now the word “lust” here actually does not mean just things like pornography, mental adultery, or physical adultery, or sinful passions, or sexual lust. It’s a broader term. It also includes any kind of coveting, any kind of desire for any other thing, even legitimate things in themselves that still destroy the root system of any semblance of spiritual life. And so the amazing thing about all three of these things is that inherently in themselves they are not necessarily bad but the problem with the thorny-grounded hearer is that he seeks to be a Christian without a deep and thorough work of real repentance and real faith and so he stays on the surface, he brings forth no fruit, and all these other things in life choke out the word of God.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
John Owen put it this way, “We need to be killing sin or sin will be killing us.” And that’s the problem with a thorn-infested soil, the person doesn’t kill sin. He let’s sin be there and sin chokes, the thorn bush chokes the good seed and then we don’t follow the advice of Evangelist which he gave Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” let nothing this side of the world to come, let nothing on this side of the world to come get within you and take over you. Now pray, pray that you will not be a thorny-grounded hearer.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
More Law. Are you concerned that you arent that good soil that Jesus loves? Well according to Joel just keep turning inward and see if you are good enough to be that soil. He says that if you have ever thought about your own popularity, your influence, and tried to do things on you own without Christ then you are not the good soil. If you have ever worried about paying your bills then you are not the good soil. If you have ever coveted then you are not the good soil. He then states to be a Christian you have to work repentance, faith, and bring forth good fruit, yet Joel, how can this be without the Gospel? The Gospel is what actually works repentant faith and brings forth good works, yet all your giving us is Law.
In fact, Joel seems to think that the good news for those listening to his sermon who might be troubled by this hard lashing of the Law is to go and do more Law, go and do the second commandment, go and pray. What kind of good news is this? What comfort do we get from this, how do we see a merciful God in this message? I might not be good soil so I had better pray to God that I can be good soil. This is just a terrible misuse of the Law.
So there is the hardened heart, the impulsive shallow heart, the preoccupied strangled heart, but then there is also the well-prepared heart. Jesus says in verse 20, “these are they which are sown on good ground such as hear the word and receive it,” and Luke adds in his account, “and keep it,” and Mark says, “bring forth fruit.” So four things. A true hearer hears the word and understands it, that’s number 1. He receives it, number 2, he believes it, takes it to heart. 3. He keeps it. He strives to do it. And fourth, it brings forth fruit, fruit in different degrees, some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some hundredfold.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
So you see, the good soil does not just suddenly understand the Gospel by some effortless magic or some act of self-will, but the Holy Spirit comes in his sovereign grace and gives him to understand the Gospel, to grasp the Gospel, and the Gospel becomes a throbbing desire within the soul that I not only understand it, but the things I don’t understand about it, I want to run to Jesus for answers. I plead for understanding and light and when I’m confronted with a lack of clarity about the word, I don’t just resort to indifference and let Satan snatch away the word, but I cry out in times of persecution and trial for application. I truly understand that Jesus does everything for a sinner that does nothing. I truly understand that there is salvation offered to the greatest of sinners. I truly bow in repentance and faith by the grace of the Holy Spirit and I use the means to understand the word, to receive it, to keep it, to do it. So the true hearer is in the word. He has the Bible. He reads the Bible. He loves the Bible. He wants to listen to preaching. He wants to get more of the word. He wants to pray back the word to God. He wants to meditate on theHow Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
word. He wants to search out sin in his heart and repent of it. He wants to live by the word.
Joel tells us that the good soil are those who know they are good because they recieve the Gospel, keeps the gospel, strives to.. do the gospel? Not sure how one does a promise given by God, oh, wait, that’s right Joel’s gospel is the second commandment.. makes a bit more sense now. Seriously though, he keeps pointing you back to yourself. If you dont understand the Word then you need to Second commandment. You need to pray, you need to read the Bible, love the Bible, listen to preaching; All third commandment Law by the way.
Notice how much he points to himself and points you to yourself for comfort. Just, do, do do, never just rest in the pierced arms of Jesus. The sermon is almost over and we haven’t been given the Gospel. Joel may think that he has given it, maybe he doesnt think we need it, but it isnt here. Im only condemned by my own sins and doubt if I am the good soil. All of my thinking is now internal instead of external. The object of my comfort is to find it in my own efforts of Law keeping instead of in the One who kept the Law perfectly for me, so though I sin, I doubt, and I am sinful; I am forgiven because Christ loves me and calls me to daily repentant faith in His merits and not my own. The Spirit, through the Word, guides me into all truth, convicts me of sin, calls me to repentance, and gives me forgiveness through His grace. It is the Gospel that makes repentance possible, that makes us able and want to do the Law, in it’s proper third use, and yet this is not found in this sermon. Joel wraps up his sermon in the next few quotes.
Oh, there’s a work to be done. There’s a harvest to be reaped and God will use his word in you and through you, and direct all things in the end to serve the wise counsel of his holy will. Rest in that. Rest in the sovereign electing God and his all-wise will and his all-wiseHow Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
purposes. But even as you rest in that, ask yourself the question: how am I responding to the Gospel today? What kind of a soil am I today? How do I hear the word of God today? Do I do it with understanding? Do I receive it? Do I keep it? And do I bear fruit?
Hear therefore the parable of the sower and see in this parable your need for Jesus, your need for the Holy Spirit, your need for the Gospel. Behold, a sower went out to sow.How Do You Hear the Word? By Dr. Joel Beeke
According to Joel, if your the good soil then you can rest in God, yet even while you rest in God, doubt. He places you back onto your own works, your own worth and merit, if you are indeed the good soil. If not, then do the second and third commandment. The ending quote almost sounds like Joel is trying to give us some gospel comfort. See your need for God and the Gospel is no comfort, especially when you spent your entire sermon pointing us to doubt in our worthiness, to doubt if we are the good soil that Jesus loves, that He can grow in. When you say that the way to God is to merit grace through the second and third commandment is to tell us that we need to do just that. You say, see your need for God and the Gospel now go pray and read the Word. This is not the gospel, this is Law, You gave us no comfort of forgiveness for our sins, you wrapped up your sermon with doubt, confusion, and Law. We cannot even begin to do the Law until we have been justified. Until we hear the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins in Christ, with His righteousness imputed into us, that we have a merciful and loving God, until we hear this Gospel we are trying to place ourselves over Christ’s merits, profaning Christ, and trying to be our own mediator to the Father. Which is impossible because the natural man cannot fulfill the first table of the Law, it is impossible without repentant faith.
44] For the Law requires of us our works and our perfection. But the Gospel freely offers, for Christ’s sake, to us, who have been vanquished by sin and death, reconciliation which is received not by works, but by faith alone. This faith brings to God not confidence in one’s own merits, but only confidence in the promise, or 45] the mercy promised in Christ. This special faith, therefore, by which an individual believes that for Christ’s sake his sins are remitted him, and that for Christ’s sake God is reconciled and propitious, obtains remission of sins and justifies us. And because in repentance, i.e. in terrors, it comforts and encourages hearts, it regenerates us and brings the Holy Ghost that then we may be able to fulfil God’s Law, namely, to love God, truly to fear God, truly to be confident that God hears prayer, and to obey God in all afflictions; it mortifies concupiscence etc. 46] Thus, because faith, which freely receives the remission of sins, sets Christ, the Mediator and Propitiator, against God’s wrath, it does not present our merits or our love [which would be tossed aside like a little feather by a hurricane]. This faith is the true knowledge of Christ, and avails itself of the benefits of Christ, and regenerates hearts, and precedes the fulfilling of the Law.Defense of the Augsburg Confession; of Justification
Who among us haven’t stumbled, staggered in our faith, not felt it as strong today as yesterday, has cares of this world, covets what others have, sees the unrighteous have all they want and wonder why we suffer? These aren’t necessarily types of soil of who is saved and who isn’t saved, it’s something we all struggle with because we are all sinners. We have been paved road, and we might be good soil today, rocky soil tomorrow, and good soil a few days later. Verse 12 tells us what we need to know about this parable. The point is to give repentant faith. We need repentant faith daily. We daily drown that Old Adam in us in the waters of our baptism and live according to the Spirit. Repentance is daily because we are different types of soil every day and many types of soil during the day.
Jesus is the sower who sows everywhere. He sows on your worst days, He sows on your better days, he sows everywhere because He gives you all, He loves all. He makes His daily bread fall on those whom hates Him and those who love Him. He is a God of love and mercy. He lived your good deeds of perfect obedience, He died your punishment and suffered your wrath. He rose from the grave, not to punish you, but to give you His love. To give you His perfect Righteousness that you don’t deserve, that you didn’t earn, that you can’t pray hard enough for; it’s a gift given to you.
He forgives you all of the times that you have sinned, all of those times you will sin, He has you as His own because he bought you with His own body and blood. He paid for you in perfect active and passive obedience to the Law and under the wrath of God. You are His not on your own merits but because He loves you. You cannot earn this, you cannot merit it, it is yours by the gift of faith that He sows in you. Jesus gives faith everyday, being reckless with His seed, just giving it everywhere because to Him, even the worst sinners, are precious and worth dying for. You, are worth His death and ressurection, not by your own merit, but because He loves you that much.
I’m sorry that Joel was unable to give us that message today. It is sad when a pastor withholds the Gospel and that is the point of this post. To get you to see that even though something looks Christian, even though what someone says sounds Christian, it’s best to check with Scripture, to rightly distinquish between Law and Gospel and always see that the whole point of Scripture is to give you Jesus (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). And though Joel tried to preach repentance he failed to give us the forgiveness of our sins in the Crucified God in the flesh, and thus didn’t give us what Jesus commands faithful pastors to do:
46 He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.Luke 24: 46-47
1 Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already.1 John 4: 1-3
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and may the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you. With your sins forgiven, go in peace.