Responding to the Gospel: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

Focus Passage: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 (NIV)

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

 

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In one of His most famous parables, Jesus teaches the crowd about different types of hearts and different ways people can accept Jesus’ message by comparing it to various types of soil that a plant could grow in. In this parable, Jesus describes four types of soil, and in many ways, these four types of soil represent the different ways we can apply Jesus’ message, and these four types of soil can also represent the different ways other people can apply God’s message when it is shared with them.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this parable, and there is very little difference in how each gospel describes Jesus’ words. Looking at Mark’s gospel, we learn about soil that is on a path, soil that is rocky, soil that is thorny, and soil that is good for growth. Left on our own, we might come up with all sorts of ideas for what these types of soil represent, but Jesus shares the meaning with the disciples, and these four gospel writers all include Jesus’ explanation: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (v. 15-20)

Mark describes Jesus’ explanation that there will be people who hear the gospel message, but who fall away. If these people immediately dismiss it, they are like the seed that landed on the path – Satan quickly causes them to dismiss it. The gospel message looks stupid to this group of people, so why should they even try it out.

If those who hear the gospel message receive it with joy, some might be pulled away because of pressure from the world. These people are like the seed that fell among the rocks, because the seed wasn’t able to grow with strong roots. Because following Jesus’ teachings can be difficult and counter cultural, this group of people determines that the cost of following is too high and they give up from external pressures to conform.

There are also people who hear the gospel message, and who let it take root and grow, but their own minds cause them to doubt, stumble, and struggle. These people are like the seed that fell among thorns, and the thorns choke the gospel out of them. Because Christians also face internal pressure as we grow our faith and trust in God, this group of people gives up because their minds, hearts, and desires are focused on other things and these other things do not line up with placing God first.

But there are those who successfully navigate the challenges of Satan, the culture of the world, and the pressure of the mind, and these people are like the seed that landed on good soil. Each seed that landed on good soil produced a great harvest, but each seed was still not equal.

This parable prompts me to be aware of the challenges and pressure that will come my way when hearing the gospel message and it helps me understand what others may experience when their faith is challenged. This parable pushes me to be more resolved in my commitment to God, because it shares that this is the only way to mature and be a spiritual success.

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Growing Your Spirituality: John 3:1-22

Focus Passage: John 3:1-22 (NCV)

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees and an important Jewish leader. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus said, “But if a person is already old, how can he be born again? He cannot enter his mother’s womb again. So how can a person be born a second time?”

But Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born from water and the Spirit, you cannot enter God’s kingdom. Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit. Don’t be surprised when I tell you, ‘You must all be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit.”

Nicodemus asked, “How can this happen?”

10 Jesus said, “You are an important teacher in Israel, and you don’t understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we talk about what we know, and we tell about what we have seen, but you don’t accept what we tell you. 12 I have told you about things here on earth, and you do not believe me. So you will not believe me if I tell you about things of heaven. 13 The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. 15 So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.

16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. 18 People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. 19 They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things. 20 All who do evil hate the light and will not come to the light, because it will show all the evil things they do. 21 But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God.”

22 After this, Jesus and his followers went into the area of Judea, where he stayed with his followers and baptized people.

Read John 3:1-22 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During a late night secret meeting, a Pharisee, named Nicodemus, found Jesus because he wanted to have a conversation with Him. Perhaps Nicodemus had some questions of his own, or maybe he had been chosen by a group of Pharisees to go and find out what Jesus was all about. We don’t know which, but what we do know is that because this meeting happened at night, Nicodemus wanted this meeting to be kept confidential.

In their short discussion, Jesus makes an incredibly simple but profound comparison that emphasizes an important spiritual truth. Early on in the conversation, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit.” (v. 6)

When stated out loud or in writing, it sounds so simple, but think about it for a minute or two and it will become profound. Our parents gave us human life, but only God can give us spiritual life.

In the holistic and dualistic world we live in, we are tempted to think that we have complete control over our spiritual lives. If we go to certain places, say certain phrases, rest in certain ways, or do certain things, we are tempted to believe this will automatically make us more spiritual.

But according to Jesus, that idea is flawed because only the Spirit (i.e. The Holy Spirit) can give/grow a person’s spiritual life. This means that any control we have is minimal when compared with the Holy Spirit’s role. If we do have any control, it is in seeking out ways to meet and work with the Holy Spirit. The rest is entirely up to Him.

The rituals, habits, and actions that we often associate with spirituality are not necessarily all bad – but if any of it directs a person anywhere but towards Jesus, then it is a distraction and not truly a way of growing your spirituality. The Holy Spirit grows one’s spiritual life, and the Holy Spirit’s role is to point people towards Jesus.

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A Secret Truth in Jesus’ Famous Prayer: Mark 14:32-42

Focus Passage: Mark 14:32-42 (GNT)

32 They came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, 34 and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch.”

35 He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if possible, he might not have to go through that time of suffering. 36 “Father,” he prayed, “my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

37 Then he returned and found the three disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Weren’t you able to stay awake for even one hour?” 38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 He went away once more and prayed, saying the same words. 40 Then he came back to the disciples and found them asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to say to him.

41 When he came back the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come! Look, the Son of Man is now being handed over to the power of sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!”

Read Mark 14:32-42 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

On the night of Jesus’ arrest, while Jesus was in the garden, what happens before Judas arrived is amazing in my mind. Looking at the timing of this event, it seems as though only Jesus really knew what was coming. The remaining eleven disciples don’t appear to act in a way that made this night significant like Jesus did.

If it were not for the upcoming arrest, we might not even have this night recorded. John’s gospel even hints at this being a regular place for Jesus and the disciples to go when they were in the area. (John 18:1-2)

But this night was different, and Jesus knew it. This night marked the next step towards the ultimate goal of the cross. But during the night before His death, Jesus faced what may have been His greatest challenge: Should Jesus choose to go through with the cross?

Jesus could take the group of disciples anywhere else, and Judas would not have been able to find them. The remaining disciples may not have even realized they had narrowly escaped death. But running away was not part of Jesus’ character.

That night Jesus prayed, “My Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.” (v. 36)

In this prayer, I see two clear things stated. First, Jesus shares His preference. Secondly Jesus shares His true desire. I wonder if this could be a model for us as well.

It is in this garden prayer where we can see a glimpse into how to pray – and how God answers prayer. While the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught the disciples earlier in His ministry gets lots of fame, it is in this garden prayer that we can really see the essence of prayer. What if we prayed our preferences to God, then submitted ourselves to His will and His timing. If we really think about our perspective when compared to God’s, He can see things a lot clearer than we can.

When Jesus prayed (and when we pray), God already knows what we need and what we want. God already knew Jesus was in anguish and that He was suffering. God knew that Jesus would make this request. But God also knew what was in Jesus’ heart – because it was in His heart as well. The whole Godhead designed this event to be an example of the love they had for you, me, and the rest of humanity. It is in this short, four sentence prayer where Jesus re-volunteers for the role of Savior-Messiah for humanity.

God does not appear to answer Jesus’ request to take the cup of suffering away. God does not appear to always answer our prayers favorably as well. However, when looking at this prayer from an eternity perspective, everything was on the line. God didn’t answer Jesus’ request because of His love for you and I. He wants us with Him for eternity. God answers prayers with an eternity perspective, and sometimes that even means saying “No” to His own Son!

Jesus deferred to God’s will and perspective in that moment, and because of that, we now have the opportunity to accept salvation as a gift. When we pray, perhaps we should be more intentional about submitting our will into God’s will – because He knows the path that will lead us, and as many people as possible, into eternal life with Him.

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Loving a Betrayer: Mark 14:17-21

Focus Passage: Mark 14:17-21 (NCV)

17 In the evening, Jesus went to that house with the twelve. 18 While they were all eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me—one of you eating with me now.”

19 The followers were very sad to hear this. Each one began to say to Jesus, “I am not the one, am I?”

20 Jesus answered, “It is one of the twelve—the one who dips his bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will die, just as the Scriptures say. But how terrible it will be for the person who hands the Son of Man over to be killed. It would be better for him if he had never been born.”

Read Mark 14:17-21 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During the last supper Jesus had with His disciples before the crucifixion, Jesus shares a statement that many of us would consider very insensitive and mean. Jesus didn’t have to share anything about the upcoming betrayal, but He chooses to do so, and while trying to keep the other 11 disciples from being surprised at what would happen that night, Jesus actually causes more confusion.

Mark tells us in his gospel that, “While they were all eating, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me—one of you eating with me now.’” (v. 18)

This surprises the disciples, and they all have doubts that it could be them. Mark describes their reaction by saying, “The followers were very sad to hear this. Each one began to say to Jesus, ‘I am not the one, am I?’” (v. 19)

It is only after this string of identical questions that Jesus responds, and in His response, we find something incredibly insensitive. Mark tells us that Jesus answered by saying, “It is one of the twelve—the one who dips his bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will die, just as the Scriptures say. But how terrible it will be for the person who hands the Son of Man over to be killed. It would be better for him if he had never been born.” (v. 20-21)

In a subtle but direct statement, Jesus says that it would have been better had Judas Iscariot never been born. That is a pretty mean thing to say. Even though it was predicted that one of Jesus’ followers would betray Him, had Judas Iscariot not been born, or if He had not been chosen as one of the twelve, one of the other disciples would have stepped in to fill that role.

Not only that, but Jesus had been talking about His upcoming death and resurrection for weeks – maybe even months – up to this point, and this truth hadn’t sunk in to the disciples minds. I wonder what would have happened if there was not a betrayer included among Jesus’ followers.

Before time began, everything was put in place to point to that specific weekend. If none of the disciples chose to betray Jesus, I wonder how Jesus’ arrest would have happened. Maybe a Pharisee spy would catch sight of Jesus and His followers leaving the city and go tell the leading priests. Or maybe someone else in the garden would see them and go and turn Jesus’ location in for a reward.

But knowing that Jesus’ betrayal was predicted and knowing that it would happen on that specific night, even though Jesus shares a mean statement, He still loved Judas Iscariot. Right up to the end, He gave Judas every opportunity to change his heart and mind. Jesus knew it was Judas, and instead of kicking Judas out of the disciples circle, He allowed him to stay and He chose to continue loving His betrayer.

This is an amazing picture of God that we don’t usually see. Jesus chose to love the one who betrayed Him, and while it may have been better if Judas Iscariot had never been born, God did bring him into this world, and Jesus chose to love and include Him. This emphasizes the truth that God and Jesus love sinners, including you and me, and even when we mess up, God still loves us.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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