The Pastor spends weeks studying a text, digging out the truth, and crafting a sermon. Sunday morning finally comes and with boldness he proclaims the truth of the text to the congregants. Hundreds are in attendance.
However, the congregation gives mixed responses to the message. Some lean in as intent listeners and receive the truth of God’s word. Others sit with back straight and notebook open, while their poised pen outlines the text as the Pastor preaches it. Several stare blankly at the Pastor, never breaking eye-contact, but never really making full mental-contact. Still more nod, not in agreement but rather in exhaustion, only catching random illustrations as the tension or laughter of the other congregants stirs them from their task of sleep. Finally, an entire segment sits fully awake, but fully distracted with “to do” lists, lunch plans, and social media updates.
The sermon winds down, and the Pastor closes his Bible and prays for the people as one who must give account to God for their souls. The word of God has been proclaimed. God has spoken. He has called His people to holy living, to repentance, to faith, to joy, to hope, to worship; but somehow the effect the proclaimed word has on each of the congregants varies.
How come the same message has different effects on different people? The same truth fell on all of their ears. Why is there differing levels of response? Some would say that the difference in response is based upon the fact that different people get different truths from the passage. Almost as if the purpose of God’s message is contingent upon the desires and perceptions of the hearer.
In Mark 4, Jesus gives a completely different diagnosis. The issue is not that truth is irrelevant to certain listeners in attendance. Rather, Jesus explains the difference between the one who receives the word of God and flourishes in it and the one who “really didn’t get anything,” isn’t a breakdown in the message, but instead a breakdown in the heart of the listener. Using expressions like “full of thorns,” or “hard and stony ground,” Jesus diagnoses the lack of growth as a heart condition of the listener, not a relevancy problem of the text or a preaching problem of the minister.
So when the message is proclaimed, clearly from the text of scripture, not as man’s persuasion but as the authoritative, definitive, purely expressed word of the living God, the preacher has done his job. He has sown the seed of the word of God. Now the work is up to the congregants to receive it and allow the Holy Spirit to implant it. Their lives can be changed, but that change must start with the condition of their hearts.
Food For Thought: Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13. Why did Paul rejoice in God in this text?