Receiving the Word Deeply (Mark 4:16-17)

Today we continue our exploration of Jesus’ parable of the four soils.  The seed along the path heard the gospel, but failed to immediately respond, thus allowing Satan to snatch it away.  Now Jesus turns his attention to the seed “on rocky ground:”

16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)

Jesus contrasts a person’s initial emotional experience (“receive it with joy”) and later persecution.  What might this indicate regarding the basis of one’s faith? The problem here is one of rootedness—“they have no root,” Jesus tells us.  If you pardon the mixed metaphor, the lack of root points to an insecure foundation.  We might say two things:

  • Experience alone cannot sustain faith. When I think of this example, I think of the youth group kids who go away on a youth retreat or a missions trip, and return with a rekindled passion for serving others.   They speak of having a “heart for God” or being “on fire.”  And we rightly applaud them—after all, should we not throw gasoline on this fire?  The tragedy, of course, is that when someone young—or at least young in their faith—does not develop a deeply rooted faith, they lack the stability to persevere.  Instead they are condemned to chase after renewed experiences.  Tragedy doesn’t begin when someone loses their faith; it begins when they get bored with it.  When this happens, they are forced to chase after the next spiritual “high”—the latest worship CD, the latest Christian book, the latest Podcast, the latest religious project.  But without that root, their faith cannot stand the test of persecution.
  • Persecution uproots shallow faith.   Don’t neglect the fact that Jesus specifies that the persecution is “on account of the word.”  Mark was writing in a season when early Christians were experiencing rampant persecution.  They knew what it was like to look to their right and left and see faithful neighbors quickly backpedal when their faith put them at odds with the Romans.  What about us?  Savvy readers keep sending me articles that all cite a recent study from the Pew Research center.  The study reports that a growing number of people are more likely to define themselves as religiously “unaffiliated”—that is, “not religious” rather than Christian.  But this might be a good thing.  Why?  Because previously, people were more likely to define themselves as “Christian” because it was the socially acceptable thing to do.  They’d been raised in church, or their family held a membership at the local Baptist Church down the block or something.  But Christianity is no longer viewed as socially acceptable.  Thus many are abandoning their claims to Christianity in the face of social pressure.  Jesus was right.  When our faith is built on emotional experience or social acceptance, this shallow faith is quickly torn up by the winds of social change.

The alternative, of course, is to receive the Word DEEPLY.  To press oneself into the character of God so that our faith could run more deeply than the fleeting highs of religious experience, but rest on the secure character of God.

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