The Kingdom of God is Built by Grace, But We’ve Been Called to Work!

Posted: January 29, 2013 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
Good morning! Go ahead and open up your Bible to Mark chapter four. If you don’t have one, we’re going to have the passage on our screen, so don’t panic. In fact, if you don’t own a Bible, we have some on our welcome table. Feel free to take one home with you as our gift to you.

Just to very quickly catch us up to speed, we’re about a year into the ministry of Jesus. We walked through His preparation period and now He’s traveling around the Galilean region, preaching His gospel of grace. We saw in a five-part series that Jesus’ message was this- “You can’t earn your own righteousness before God. But I can. Follow me.”

We saw the Pharisees, the religious elite of Jesus’ day, finally have enough of that nonsense and they began to plot His destruction. Things are set for a collision course on a Roman cross, but Jesus still has a couple years to shed light on the Kingdom of God.

As we’ve been following Jesus we’ve found that many of His messages appear to be doctrinal- others are applicational. And what I mean by that is that some of what He preached was meant to change the way we think, and other messages were explicitly designed to change the way we act. Sometimes the application is on the surface, other times we have to dig for it.

I’ve been trying harder and harder to become a pastor who can identify with the pain of my people. I want to be able to truly feel, to experience, to live through the kind of suffering that you endure, to be able to empathize with your misery…and so I’ve started listening to my own preaching, and let’s be honest- there’s a whole lot of know in there, and not a whole lot of do. And the last thing we want to become is a church who are hearers of the word and not doers of the word.

But I’m firmly convinced that you cannot separate orthopraxy from orthodoxy- in other words, you cannot divide proper living from proper knowing. Our theology drives our methodology. What we believe determines how we act. So even portions of Scripture that are designed to change the way we think are in actuality going to cause us to apply those truths to our lives as our very way of thinking is transformed.

But today there’s an undeniable mixture of the two, so listen carefully. We’re going to spend the next thirty minutes or so wrapping our minds around a huge and complex question- one that no doubt was also on the minds of the disciples as they were following Jesus. One that was no doubt on the minds of the Christians in Rome who were suffering for their faith. One that will hopefully change our lives forever- not just in how we think, but also in how we act.

‘Cause here’s the problem…Jesus has been spending months showing that the Kingdom of God wasn’t a Kingdom that one could simply work him or herself into. While it’s true the keeping God’s Law perfectly would allow one into this Kingdom, it’s equally true that no one is capable of doing that. We’ve all broken God’s law. So then how does one gain access into the Kingdom?

Mark shifts gears in chapter four and we’re going to spend the next several weeks looking at the dynamic between grace and works as we cover some of the Kingdom parables of Jesus. We’ll discover through this process that grace works- works doesn’t.

And here’s why it matters: we all know someone who isn’t in the Kingdom of God. We all know people who aren’t followers of Jesus. We know people who are perhaps looking. We know people who are curious. We know people who are wrestling with their faith and trying to make sense of Jesus. And we know people who simply have no interest in the Kingdom, no interest in the Church- for that matter there are people who are hostile and openly antagonistic towards Jesus and His followers.

So while the question “how does one become a part of the kingdom, this family of God?” may be simply answered with “by repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ,” a more haunting question that plagues followers of Christ is this: “what role do I have in bringing someone into the Kingdom of God?”

And in the secret depths of our hearts we find ourselves wondering, “Am I doing enough?” “Could I use a more persuasive argument to win people over?” “What if my mom, dad, husband, wife, son, daughter never comes to faith in Christ because I didn’t do my part?”

And that’s a huge weight to carry, right? Wondering of the damnation of another person’s soul is on your hands because you didn’t do enough? That kind of responsibility can cripple us!

The famous 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody chose not to have an altar call the night of the Great Chicago Fire because of the noise of the fire trucks, and so he told his congregation to go home and consider making a decision for Jesus the following night. He didn’t realize that hundreds of residents would eventually perish in the flames. He didn’t know 100,000 residents would be left homeless. He didn’t know that there wouldn’t be a meeting the next night. And it crippled him to wonder, “who might now perish in Hell because I didn’t give an altar call?”

The other end of the spectrum looks like this: God chose from eternity past whom He would save, and since God is sovereign those whom He chose will come to faith in Christ with or without my help. Therefore, missions is pointless, personal evangelism is pointless, and there’s no pressing concern to call people to faith in Christ- God will save His elect with or without my help- why trouble myself? In fact, I’m doing wrong in offering forgiveness to someone that God might not have chosen to forgive!

Two very diametrically opposing mentalities. Question is, which is right? Is either? Or is the truth in the middle? Are people going to Hell because we’re not working enough? Will people graciously be in Heaven regardless what we do? What is our role in building the Kingdom of God?

Let’s see what Jesus says about this in Mark four, beginning in verse one: If you recall, Jesus has just shockingly claimed that those who follow Him and do the will of God are His mothers, brothers, and sisters. So now leaving the house He was in, Jesus makes His way down to the sea of Galilee where He often taught, and…

4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Now put yourself into the shoes of Jesus’ followers. You’re in a huge crowd, Jesus is sitting on a boat so that His voice will carry over to the crowd, and then He begins to talk about farming. Farming. Perhaps odd to us, but there were no doubt many farmers present.

Instead of talking about the gospel, or the Kingdom of God, of the family of God, Jesus spins a fairly simple and straight forward little story about a guy who tosses seed onto a field. Some do well, some don’t- welcome to farming, right?

Thing is, when Jesus said “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” there were some in the crowd who realized “wait a minute…there’s more going on here than Jesus rambling about some farmer.”

See, when Jesus tagged this onto His parable, He issued an invitation for those who could actually receive this Word to do just that. He’s saying, “Hey! If you get this…than get it. If what I’m saying penetrates your mind, absorb it. Listen to it. Act on it. Be changed by it. I’m not just talking about farming simply because I feel like it. I’m going somewhere with this. Are you coming with me?”

And this gets some gears turning, ‘cause there’s a lot of people in the crowd who missed the point of the story. We’d expect that from the hardened Pharisees, but I’m talking about legit Christ followers, to include even some of the inner twelve. Even now if you’re not familiar with this passage, you might not know what Jesus is talking about.

Mark tells us when the crowds had left “and when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.”

Um, Jesus? Hi. Beautiful weather, huh? Yeeeaaahh. Um, remember earlier when you were talking about the seeds and the birds, and thorns and rocks? Um…I know that you said “he that has ears to hear, let him hear…” But, uh, we gotta be honest with you, Jesus. We didn’t really get that. Can you unconfuse us? Please?

And then Jesus drops a bombshell- one that is going to hit us with its fragments. We’re about to find out that any time God’s Word goes out, it accomplishes one of two things- it saves some…and it hardens others. “11 And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”’”

We could stay here for hours digging into this, but allow me to wade through the commentaries and philosophical discussion and jump right into the meat of this passage Jesus quotes from Isaiah. What Jesus is saying is this: Those of you following me? Yeah- what I’m teaching is going to make sense to you. But for those not following me, for those who are against me, they’re not going to get it. In fact, when they hear my word it’s going to further harden their already hardened heart against me. My parables are a gift for you- they’re a judgement against them.

And this is tough, right? I mean, it’s bad enough for Jesus to tell us a couple weeks ago that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit was an eternally unforgivable sin, but now Jesus tells us – “Hey- I’m not out to convince all of you! I’m talking to my people, those who are mine. These words aren’t even for you anymore- in fact, they’re only going to make you even less receptive to me!”

And this rubs some of us the wrong way…because we think too little of God and far too highly of ourselves. We like to think that God is engaged in a tug-’o-war contest with mankind and doesn’t have the power to win. We like to think of Jesus begging and pleading and trying His best to save people, only to fail miserably. We think that God’s greatest gift to mankind was freewill, and now He’s frantically pacing back and forth against the throne room of Heaven, desperately hoping that someone, anyone will respond to His work. We think that God doesn’t save all men because God isn’t capable of saving all men.

We couldn’t be any further from the truth. God can and does change the hearts of whomever He wishes. Yet clearly that wasn’t His will, which is why Jesus said “remain blind! Remain deaf- lest you actually get it and be converted.”

Now we have to remember, this follows a year of Jesus saying by both word and deed that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior. He’s been extending an open invitation to follow Him, to receive the words of life. And yet time after time, day after day, the majority of those around Jesus purposely and rebelliously reject His words, ignore His deeds, chalked it up to Satan- they did anything in their power to not have to listen to the truth and change their perspective on life. And so it’s not like these people would have gladly listened to the truth had Jesus spoken it plainly. They’d have hated it. They did hate it. They had their chance.

So now Jesus is judging their hardness of hearts by speaking in riddles, these parables that are for the disciples’ benefit. But we find that not even all of Jesus’ followers have drawn the connections with Jesus’ story, though. That’s why they asked Him about it.

“13 And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?’” Come on, guys. This is basic parables 101 here. If you don’t learn now how to think through these, you’re not going to get any of ‘em. Then Jesus interprets His parable so they can learn how to get it, so that they can indeed have ears to hear.

“14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 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.[a] 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.’”

Now we’re beginning to see how to Kingdom of God grows and what our role is within. And so quickly, let’s break this down. The sower sows the word. What’s the word? It’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Remember what Jesus said- the Law and the Prophets speak of Him. The word is the good news that the Messiah has come. Repent and believe.

So what does Jesus say about the sower? Nothing, other than they were putting out the Word. Nothing about their attire, their color, their gender, their location, their technique, or their level of education. And so the good news is this- there is nothing holding us back from sowing the seed, other than ourselves. After all, didn’t Jesus command us all to preach the Gospel to every person? So there’s nothing inherently special about the one speaking God’s Word. All we have to do is speak.

And when we do we can expect to see various results.

For some people, it’s going to be like banging our heads against a brick wall. Zero receptivity. Doesn’t even come remotely close to cracking open their hearts. It’s too hard. No sooner have they heard the word that just as quickly, it’s gone.

Others are going to hear it and rejoice…because what they’ve heard has been distorted to them. They rejoice because what they’ve heard sounds great. The problem is, once they realize that following Jesus may comes with a lasting commitment, and not just a benefit, they fold their cards and quit. They like the idea of receiving blessings- give me my health, wealth, and prosperity! But actually dig deeper into this? Naw, man…that’s not for me. Face persecution? Not gonna happen.

Others hear it and respond favorably. Not go to hell? Sweet- sign me up. But…lose my popularity in the workplace? Ehhh. Give money to the poor? Take a pay cut to spend more time with my family? Give up my dreams of wealth and success? Take up my cross and die to self? Ahhhhh. I can’t do that. I’m sorry.

And it’d be a miserable state of affairs if the parable ended there…but it doesn’t. Jesus said there will be some who respond to the word, and bear fruit. Some 30 times the amount planted- some 60. Still others an amazing 100 times.

So we need to leave here with a couple thoughts in mind as we address the question of the role we play in expanding the Kingdom. We need to hold a couple truths in tension that will radically change the way we view missions and evangelism.

Truth number one is this: God is completely sovereign over salvation and saves whomever He wills. A common corrective/objection to this says “Well Richard, God gave us free will and saves those of us that choose to believe in Jesus.” Well, yes. God gave us the ability to act based upon our will, but the reality is that faith is a gift from God and apart from grace no one would want Jesus in the first place. Remember- God gets all credit for our salvation. That’s why it’s all of grace, so that no one can boast.

And so we can grab onto that truth, but if that’s all we do then yeah- it’s easy to become lazy, apathetic, and not do a thing to further the kingdom But there’s another Biblical truth that we need to grab, and that’s this: in His sovereignty, God has chosen to use human means to build His kingdom. What were Jesus’ marching orders before He went back to Heaven? “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every person.”

You getting this? God is sovereign, and God has given us a key role in building the Kingdom, because there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ. So what are we doing? Sitting on the gospel, or sowing seeds?

Here’s two more truths to balance: First is this- We do not have the ability to convict or convert others. They’re spiritually dead, remember? They find the Gospel foolish, they find us foolish. And sadly, most people you encounter are going to reject the Truth. And so we could hold on to that truth and use it to avoid conflict and opposition, but not in light of the second truth: the Gospel works. Grace works.

Paul tells us that the good news of Jesus is powerful, that the saving grace of God isn’t applied through the delivery of the message, through the eloquence of the speaker- the power is in the message itself, that God saves sinners.

2000 years ago, Jesus commissioned His Church to take the Gospel to all peoples, yet even today we have over 7,000 unreached people groups with almost 3 billion people who have no understanding of Jesus, no understanding of the Cross, and no understanding of forgiveness. And we have been called to reach them.

How do we know the Gospel works? Because some sixty years after Jesus ascended back into Heaven, He gave a John a vision of the future- a future that we’ve not yet reached. And this is what John saw and recorded for us in Revelation 7:9

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

The Gospel works. Grace works. We cannot build the Kingdom in our own strength, but through God all things are possible.

So we have a choice today.

As our band comes forward we need to ask ourselves, “what are we doing?”

What are we doing?

Are we sowing the word? Telling our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family that God promises forgiveness and a relationship to anyone willing to turn from their sin and turn towards God? Are we willing to become fools to build the Kingdom of God?

Or are we hiding behind God’s sovereignty? Are we crippled by our fear and anxiety? Are we holding onto our popularity? Students, are you refusing to let your faith be known because you don’t want to be made fun of? You might retain your image, but you won’t build the kingdom if you don’t share the good news with your friends.

What are we doing to sow the word outside of Crozet? Are we doing nothing, or something? See, Jesus didn’t make global missions optional. So we can go down the well, or we can hope the rope for the one who is. Maybe it’s time you really started to pray about whether or not God is calling you to go to Guatemala with us. Maybe your prayer should be whether or not God is calling you to sponsor someone else’s trip so that they can go.

I don’t know how the Holy Spirit is prompting you right now, but I know this- the Kingdom of God is build through grace, but we’ve been called to work. So let’s take a few moments before we sing our last worship song and just connect with God. Let’s ask Him to show us what He’d have us do. If you want someone to pray with you, Walt and I will be standing here in the front- you’re welcome to come up and share how we can pray with you.

Can you imagine what would happen if we all asked God for guidance in sharing His gospel, and if we all obeyed? Even now, why not pray that God will open up a door this week for you to share the Gospel with someone in your life?

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