Day Two at T4G, The (Unadjusted) Gospel.
John MacArthur spoke this morning on Mark 4 in a message he called The Theology of Sleep.
He surveyed the entire chapter, calling it The Magna Carta of Evangelism by the Lord Jesus Christ, but he landed most of the time in his exposition on the parable (unique to Mark’s gospel) in verses 26-29.
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Dr. MacArthur introduced his talk by sharing that he tends to sleep well. Wherever he goes all over the world, it just doesn’t seem to matter, he gets a good night’s sleep. I leaned over to my young friend Shane and said with a smile, I hate him. I don’t share that testimony much as I would like.
Pastor MacArthur went on to explain that he credits much of his non-insomnia experience to the theology of sleep he takes away from this pithy little story of Jesus. It’s another of Jesus’ kingdom parables. It begins with the familiar The kingdom of God is as or like. In this case he draws from the familiar realm of agriculture and the experience of the farmer in raising crops. Truth be told the farmer doesn’t do much. He does sow seed, hard work certainly, but beyond that, in this context, nothing more. He sleeps and rises, night and day, in the normal rhythms of life. As for the sprouting of the seed and its growth into a crop, the farmer is clueless – he knows not how. It just happens. From blade to ear then full grain in the ear, he remains out of the loop. The farmer waits around until the grain is ripe. Then he goes back to work, sickle in hand, for the time of harvest.
The point of the parable, particularly in light of our conference theme about the temptation to adjust the gospel by altering its content so as to somehow make our evangelism more effective in this postmodern age, is that in truth, like the farmer, we as sowers of the seed of the word of God have little to nothing more beyond that to do in terms of our contribution to someone coming to saving faith. That requires the power of God at work in the human heart. How that works we know not how. To use Jesus’ words in John 3 regarding spiritual birth. It’s like the wind. It blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8). So it borders on the ludicrous to think our methods and manipulation of the gospel will ultimately make the difference in a lost person’s life. Our job is to humbly, obediently, diligently, and confidently (four points the speaker further lifted from Mark 4) sow the seed of the gospel (unadjusted) and get ready to harvest if God gives the increase.
I don’t think Dr. MacArthur meant to belittle bridge-building ministries and relational connections in the evangelism effort. But his point was well taken. If anyone gets saved, the gospel and its power (Rom. 1:16-17) have to penetrate the human heart and turn it from stone to flesh. We simply act as the means of delivering the message at some point in the whole transaction. How are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14).
Paul put it this way in 1 Cor. 3:6 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
So church, let us engage lost people whenever we can by sowing the seed of the gospel.
Keep your sickle at hand in case God gives a harvest.
In the meantime, get some sleep.