by Jeffrey Ries
Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of Mark are the summation of everything He wants to proclaim and everything He wants us to do: “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:14).
In Mark 4, Jesus teaches a large crowd in parables about the kingdom of God: the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9), the Parable of the Seed Growing (Mark 4:26-29), and The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32). Our first inclination might be to think that Jesus is trying to use the parables to convince His hearers concerning the Kingdom of God. But then He tells us in Mark 4:10-12 that he has a very different reason for doing so: “so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
Jesus is as good as his own parables. Just as the sower would not make a very efficient farmer (sowing without regard for the condition of the ground on which the seed falls), so too Jesus would not live up to the expectations of modern day evangelism efforts. Just as the Lord called Isaiah to preach to an unbelieving Israel who would not understand anything they heard or saw, so too Jesus teaches in parables to unbelieving crowds so that they would also not understand.
To modern wisdom concerning Christian outreach, Jesus’ approach seems every bit as futile as scattering seed over thorny or rocky ground. Yet all of the seed parables that concern the kingdom of God deliver an equally important message: Trust the Word of Christ! The sower doesn’t bother to worry about the condition of the ground because the power is in the seed, the Word. Jesus teaches in parables so that those who come to believe do so not through their own understanding, but through faith given by Christ via His Word.
We need not cultivate our proclamation of the Word in order to cater to a specific demographic or cultural climate. We faithfully proclaim His Word and the good news of His Gospel and trust that Christ’s Word will do as He promises. In short, Jesus doesn’t call us to be innovative with the Gospel; He calls us to trust in Him and proclaim His Word faithfully. No special training is needed beyond simply being in His Word ourselves, hearing it proclaimed to us, receiving its gifts, and learning from it in the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Right now the Church’s efforts in evangelism seem insignificant. Our temptation is to worry that the “same-old-same-old” sharing God’s Word is not effective by itself. But like the man who scatters the seed and then does nothing more than sleep and rise as it grows, we share the Gospel and rest in Christ as He does His work in the hearts of humanity, and then we rejoice in the harvest!
Jesus begins His ministry with the proclamation, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” So let us “Repent and believe the Gospel” and then pray, as He taught us, “Thy kingdom come.”