The Bible’s old-school relevance

Mark 4:1-20
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Pearl Jam: old school musical awesomeness, or another way of describing a constipated oyster.

I introduced Pearl Jam to my students about a month ago — none of them had known who the band was beforehand.  I was certain that one of the best-selling acts of the 1990s, being most popular only 20 years ago, would be somewhat familiar to them, yet I had to painstakingly explain the grunge movement and their anti-sellout persona in contrast to the overproduced mainstream drivel today that many of my students are listening to.

To an 11-year-old, however, 20 years seems quite old and outdated, if not entirely irrelevant. But as many teachers recognize and students should understand, history helps you understand the present.  So why isn’t it the same for the Bible?

To much of Christianity’s adherents, there is something fascinating about the Bible that makes it fresh and relevant today, despite being written 2000 years ago.

Of course, this is not the general consensus. Many have dismissed the Bible as archaic, and translators of the text constantly modify and rephrase verses to create resonance with contemporary readers. Still, it feels like some of it is completely outdated. Context resolves just about all of these issues, but the poor attention span of this generation makes for an audience not willing to do the homework.

However, Jesus was an interesting dude for one particular reason: He told interesting stories.  He used language that was readily translatable to the society He addressed. Even more impressively, His parables still make sense today, and often times you can look at them at face value and figure them out, if you’re willing to actually think about them for longer than a Vine video. Anyone with the attention span of a gnat can pick up on what’s He’s saying.

For example, our food still comes out of the ground — at least it does for now. While our society isn’t agrarian by any means, we still have to sow seeds, the soil must provide nutrients, the sun must provide the essential energy, and the value of a seed is still based on what it produces. Despite the deep complexity of this process, it is readily observable to humans and directly applicable to our world, because we still eat food.

Jesus uses this metaphor in the parable of the sower. A seemingly careless farmer sows seed all over the place; many of the seeds soon meet a terrible fate, but some manage to produce fruit, making up for the other seeds’ poor outcome.

That was quite a brief summary — you should read it for yourself.

The backdrop

Jesus conveniently explains the parable to the disciples, pointing out what the fate of each seed implies. Once again, many good ministers have preached on it and many scholars have thoroughly explained the story.

But I’d like to present a different perspective. To me, this reality that many don’t understand the Bible (or don’t take the time to understand it) is heartbreaking.  We’re talking about the Word of God — cultures around the world readily cling to its concepts and feed upon it. Why is it so difficult for people to let it sink in? And if this is truly the Word of God Himself, why doesn’t it always “work” for people?

The parable does good work to explain this mystery, if you look closely. Jesus is pointing out the various ways people respond to the Bible, and what it requires for the Word to have an impact.

Good soil

Wisdom is nice, but if the Bible is merely academic to you, or you’re trying to have some sort of religious epiphany by reading a few verses, it will be a temporary experience or even disappoint you.  The Word must be planted in the type of soil that will make it thrive — you must be receptive and earnestly desire to know God better.  Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before it’s eaten up, not unlike a relative you don’t particularly like providing good-intentioned advice you ignore. Frankly, if you think the Bible is mythology, it’s likely you approached it as such, and it will remain meaningless to you.

Roots

Zeal is significant with any endeavor, but it should never be a substitute for depth and understanding. I’ve seen plenty of Christians (at least, by word) show up on the scene and proclaim their undying devotion to living for God, their intentions emblazoned upon a balloon of emotions rising to the heavens, yet once they reach the stratosphere it all inevitably bursts.

Anything that is planted in the ground must mature and develop, and this often takes time. The Word is worth your time and effort if you’re willing to let the roots sink in. Don’t neglect it.

Space

Idolatry seems like an old issue reserved for expired religions and Greek mythology, but it’s as prevalent as ever — how many of you would cry if you lost your phone? Likewise, even Christians defer the authority of the Word, instead consulting church fads and cultural ideologies, then seasoning their new creed with Bible verses for a little flavor.

When you make space in your heart for Jesus to be Lord of your life, there must be further preparations for that new life to actually thrive. Squelching the new creation in you with conflicting and/or malicious ideologies will only prohibit or distort development, and the Word will have little effect.

Fruit

The value of a crop or plant is based on what it produces. Sun, water, and proper nutrients from the soil all contribute to the quantity and quality of its fruit. If you’re reading your Bible on a regular basis or hearing your pastor’s prepared sermons each week, but you decide to lay dormant, stubbornly refusing the change a new life in Christ demands, naturally, nothing is going to happen.  In the Bible, Jesus fries a fig tree for not having any figs on it. If you have the Bible right in front of you, why aren’t you doing everything you can to produce fruit? Bottom line, the Word should produce produce. See what I did there?

Colossians 3:16-17

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

The Word of God is rich, baby!

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