1 Jesus began to teach beside the lake again. Such a large crowd gathered that he climbed into a boat there on the lake. He sat in the boat while the whole crowd was nearby on the shore. 2 He said many things to them in parables. While teaching them, he said, 3 “Listen to this! A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 When the sun came up, it scorched the plants; and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one.” 9 He said, “Whoever has ears to listen should pay attention!”
10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
13 “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The farmer scatters the word. 15 This is the meaning of the seed that fell on the path: When the word is scattered and people hear it, right away Satan comes and steals the word that was planted in them. 16 Here’s the meaning of the seed that fell on rocky ground: When people hear the word, they immediately receive it joyfully. 17 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 18 Others are like the seed scattered among the thorny plants. These are the ones who have heard the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the false appeal of wealth, and the desire for more things break in and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 20 The seed scattered on good soil are those who hear the word and embrace it. They bear fruit, in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case sixty to one, and in another case one hundred to one.”
Jesus often used stories about common objects or events to teach uncommon truths. Likely a farmer was hand-casting seed on a nearby hillside, in plain sight, as Jesus told this story. Verses 10-12 did not mean that Jesus intended parables to hide his message. He quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, which ironically described what was happening, not what God wanted. Hearers with closed minds, in Isaiah’s or Jesus' day, wouldn’t hear no matter how much they listened.
Lord God, you want me to know you. You reveal yourself in many ways, some of them subtle and quiet. Give me ears to listen, a spirit attentive to all you wish to convey to me. Amen.
* Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, general editors, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, USA, 1998, p. 223.
What if I told you that a big crowd might be one of the most dangerous obstacles to changing the world? It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to get the word out? Isn’t viral advertising the way things happen these days?
I’m convinced it isn’t.
There’s a story in the book of Mark where Jesus, early in his ministry, begins to be known by the locals. He’s been healing and teaching, and eventually the crowds surround him, forcing him to teach from a boat off the shores of Galilee.
Let’s pause the story for a second and jump into the future. According to Acts chapter 1, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there are 120 Christians. That’s it. Jesus’ 3 years of ministry, healing, teaching, and miracle-working led to a committed group of 120 people.
That’s not that big.
So how did a group of 120 people grow into the world’s largest religion? It turns out that if you want to change the world, the kinds of people you have in place are more important than the number of people you have in place.
So Jesus begins to teach the crowd a parable. And it’s a little insulting. He compares people to dirt. Some dirt is healthy, and can grow fruit. But most dirt isn’t useful for growth. Here’s how Jesus puts it. “As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn't deep. When the sun came up, it scorched the plants; and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing.”
Sometimes we read this passage about the state of the human heart. But I think it was a lot more practical than that. See, Jesus was weeding out the crowd. Again and again, he told stories that were hard to understand and potentially insulting. That’s not how you keep big crowds.
See, big crowds come for all sorts of stuff. They’ll come for the latest movie in theaters. They’ll come for a stand-up comic in town. They’ll come to hear their favorite band. But just because you have a crowd doesn’t mean you’re making a difference.
Jesus continued the parable. “Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one."
See, if you want to change the world, you don’t need a crowd. You need the right people. You need the people who are bought in. You need the people who will reproduce themselves. And not just once. The right people multiply dozens, or even hundreds of times over. That 120 became thousands and those thousands became millions. But it took time. And it took the right people.
John Wesley understood this as well. He once said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”
See, a small group of dedicated people will beat a distracted crowd hands down every time. Jesus didn’t want the crowds. He wanted a small group of people who were willing to go deep with him. And the same is even true at Resurrection. See, we might have a big church, but the biggest impact comes from 5% of our people. (I made that number up). But I’ve seen this again and again in faith communities—it’s the smallest group of people who make the biggest impact. It’s people who give of their time, energy, and finances. It’s the ushers and greeters, committee members, Sunday school teachers… the small but mighty few who make church possible.
And you can be that person. See, you don’t have to wonder what kind of soil you are. You get to choose the soil you are. There might be a big crowd, but Jesus invites you to be more than a crowd. He invites you to be an agent for change. Anyone can be in a crowd. You can be something more.
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