Rootless joy perishes in affliction. So put down deep roots in the Word.
And these are the ones [seeds that are] sown upon the rocky [soil]:
καὶ οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐπὶ τὰ πετρώδη σπειρόμενοι,
the ones who, when they hear the word ,
οἳ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν τὸν λόγον
quickly receive it with joy ,
εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς λαμβάνουσιν αὐτόν ,
and they have no root in themselves
καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς
but are temporary;
ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιροί εἰσιν,
then, when affliction or persecution comes because of the word ,
εἶτα γενομένης θλίψεως ἢ διωγμοῦ διὰ τὸν λόγον
they quickly fall away .
εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζονται .
Introduction Mark 4:5-6 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth (βάθος) of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Exegesis Mark 4:16b Τὸν λόγον = the gospel, "the mystery of the kingdom of God" (4:11), which is "breaking into human history through the words and deeds of Jesus" (Strauss). Mark 4:16c Mετὰ χαρᾶς = with joy. Joy is good, right? Keep reading. Mark 4:17a Οὐκ ἔχουσιν ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς = Greek idiom for "they have a poor root system." They don't have the "root of fatness" (Rom 11:17), to quote Paul. The soil is shallow, and they can't get enough of that life-giving water. They're parched. Mark 4:17b "The grass withers and the flower fades ..." (Isa 40:8). Mark 4:17c In the parable itself, the sun rises and scorches the seedling ( 4:6 ) . In the explanation of the parable (4:17), it is affliction and persecution beating down on the parched plant. And it is διὰ τὸν λόγον = because/on account of the word. Jesus said, "in the world you will have θλῖψις" (John 16:33), and he said that we would face διωγμός "in the present age" (Mark 10:30). Mark 4:17d Εὐθὺς = quickly. Quickly it sprang up and quickly it falls away. Theology (1) The irony of the rocky soil is that it responds to the gospel with a joy that doesn't last. So there is a kind of joy in the gospel that doesn't produce endurance and, therefore, won't save anybody. What kind of joy is that? It must be precisely that kind of joy that cannot flower in affliction and persecution. Perhaps it's a joy in the trappings of Christianity—good community, good morals, good coffee, good music. At best it's a derivative joy, and at worst it's a farcical joy. Either way, it is superficial, and we are mercenaries to pursue it for its own sake. I don't think it's the out-and-out worldliness of the thorny soil. It's not the cares of the world or the deceitfulness of riches or the desires for other things (Mark 4:19), mainly. I think it's something more insidious —something closer to home. And it can kill. (2) The alternative to falling away, then, is nurturing a rooted joy. At Bethlehem, we call it "an education in serious joy." I think we could just as well call it "an education in rooted joy." The joy that leads to eternal life runs deeper than affliction or persecution. It is original rather than derivative, substantial rather than farcical, and deep rather than superficial. Edwards: "The purest and best joy is a solid joy." Lewis: "There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes." Spurgeon: "Cheerfulness is one thing, and frivolity another; he is a wise man who by a serious happiness of conversation steers between the dark rocks of moroseness and the quicksands of levity." (3) To take an example from the end of Romans 11, serious joy is confident that even our trials of temptation and sin will work out for our greater happiness. "For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all" (Rom 11:32). Paul is saying that we had to be shut up in disobedience before we could be shown mercy. Therefore, in some way, our sin will ultimately serve our experience of mercy. In other words, God doesn't let our sin go to waste. Even though my sin displeases God, my hope in Christ is that what I intended for evil, God will ultimately superintend for good. In this mysterious way, the mercy I receive because of my sin will be to "the praise of the glory of his grace" (Eph 1:6). To know and feel this reality is to be free from the burden of bygone sin. If this hope is rooted in the Word, then we will not wither in the scorching heat of a guilty conscience and the accusations hurled against us by the enemy. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “[Some mortals] say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” Application So what do we do? We put roots down deep into the Word that satisfy us and nourish our faith so that, in the moment of affliction, we do not wither but endure to eternal life. "How blessed is the man ... who is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither" (Psalm 1).