Jesus was a masterful storyteller. When you examine his teachings throughout the gospels, Jesus uses an allegorical tool known as a parable, which contains a moral or spiritual truth. To communicate this truth, Jesus tells a story with every day means that people would understand. One of these stories is found in all three of the synoptic gospels known as the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15). In this parable, there are three main characters: the sower, the seed, and the soil. Essentially, a sower goes out and begins to sow his seed, and the seed lands on four different soil types: a path, rocky soil, among the thorns, and upon good soil. Because of the type of soil, the seed reacts or take root in different ways. While the name of the parable would indicate that the parable is about the sower, the parable actually focuses on the soil, and would thus be better named the Parable of the Soil.
In the parable, the sower represents the person who shares the Gospel, the seed represents the Gospel message itself, and the soil represents the person who hears the Gospel message. In the first century, the sower would sow seed without first plowing the ground. Thus the seeds fell on various types of soil that had not been prepared to receive the seed, and the seed responded in different ways.
The seed that fell on a beaten down path couldn’t penetrate the soil and thus became food for the birds. This is the hardened atheist or person who won’t even listen to the Gospel message, and the moment it is shared the devil comes and devours it.
The seed that falls on rocky ground shows sign of growth until the sun comes out and scorches it. This is the person who initially receives the Gospel message with joy but never grows an adequate root system. It is the student at a church camp or a person who goes to a conference and experiences a spiritual high, but after a few weeks when that high has worn off they go back to how they were before. They never learned how to abide in God and his word.
The seed that falls among the thorn has a good root system and is showing signs of growth, but eventually, the thorns also grew and choked the life out of the plant that came from the seed. This person is the one who receives the Gospel message in faith. They grow in their faith and love of God, but eventually, they start to see and fall in love with the things of this world. While they once showed signs of growth and faithfulness, their love of this world ends up killing their love of God.
Finally, we have the seed that falls upon the good soil, takes root, and produces fruit. This is the faithful Christian, who by God’s grace, perseveres to the end and hears: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
The reason Jesus was such a good teacher, apart from being God the Son, was his ability to communicate truth in simple ways that allowed people to understand. As a pastor, this is my goal every Sunday: explain the truths of scripture in such a way that everyone will understand and grow in the knowledge and grace of God. As such, I too must come up with parables that translate the Gospel message into our modern context. In the parable just discussed, Jesus’ primary focus is on those who hear the Gospel. The same seed (the same message) is sowed on all of the different types of soil; however, the way in which the seed grows is changed based on the soil type, but the message doesn’t change.
In our culture today, the prosperity gospel has become popular, and to quote John Piper, “I hate the prosperity gospel.” In the atmosphere of the church today, there are many who either want to add or subtract from the Gospel and make it more appealing or palatable to people. However, this has been a problem throughout church history. Augustine of Hippo is attributed to saying, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” In light of this quote, I came up with my own parable to communicate this truth to our day and age:
The Gospel is like coffee. Some fall in love with its natural flavors and sweetness. Others find it bitter and undesirable. Still, others add to it to make it more palatable. Be a Christian, drink your coffee black.
If you know me, then you know that I love coffee. I love to roast it. I love to brew it. I love to drink it. I love to talk about it. I love to share a cup and talk about Jesus. I love coffee. So much so, that I had to build a coffee bar to hold all of my coffee paraphernalia because it took up half of our kitchen counters. So for me, coffee is a great way to communicate the Gospel because everyone has an opinion about coffee.
I have literally been drinking coffee for my whole life (alright, not my whole life but definitely since I was 3). My grandma used to fill up those little cups that held the coffee creamers with her coffee and give them to my brother and me. So I grew up drinking coffee that was sweetened with sugar and cream. In college, I moved on from the generic coffee pot and Keurig and bought a french press; however, I still added sugar and cream to my coffee. It wasn’t until seminary that I discovered the difference between specialty coffee (or correctly roasted coffee) and store-bought coffee. It was also at that time that I discovered Chemex (a pour over style coffee maker).
What I discovered was that store-bought coffee is purposefully over roasted to give it a consistent flavor, which tastes like bitter, burnt dirt. However, a few years ago I was introduced to correctly roasted coffee, sometimes referred to as specialty coffee. What I discovered was that when coffee is properly roasted, it takes on a unique flavor profile and the natural flavors of coffee, and different brewing methods draw out the flavors differently. Instead of drinking burnt dirt from the grocery store that I had to add sugar and cream in to, I was now drinking black coffee that was inherently sweet with natural flavors (such as Kenyan Nyeri Ichamara, which has cupping notes of peach blossom, orange zest, and black tea, or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe with cupping notes of lemon, honey, and a mild taste). Cupping notes are just the natural flavors that a coffee cherry and bean take one based on the region it grows. However, these flavors are typically roasted out by store-bought coffee because they only last up to nine months, and if grounded only 6 months, and most store-bought coffee is much older than that. Thus, to give it a consistent flavor they over roast their coffee making it taste pungent and like burnt dirt. Now that I discovered specialty coffee, I didn’t need to add artificial sweetener because coffee is sweet on its own. While I had been drinking coffee for over 20 years, I fell in love with coffee all over again in a new way. I now knew what coffee was supposed to taste like. Plus, the lighter coffee is roasted the more caffeine it has. So not only did I fall in love with the taste, I was more energized because of the lighter coffee also.
We have been sold a bag of lies by the store-bought coffee brands and Starbucks. They have trained us to think that their product is what coffee should taste like; however, it’s actually just a cup of burnt dirt. While the authentic taste of coffee is sweet. I hope you can see where I am going with this.
The Gospel is like coffee because just like coffee people either love it, hate it, or change it. There are people in the world who just hate the taste of coffee. No matter if its roasted right. No matter if they add cream and sugar. No matter what, they hate coffee. This is the hardened atheist or person who won’t even listen to the Gospel message, and the moment it is shared the devil comes and gives them tea.
Then there are people who don’t like the natural taste of coffee, and so they add to it cream and sugar to make it sweeter and more palatable. These are the people who find the teaching of the Gospel too hard, and so they decided to add to it, to make it easier, to make it more palatable. There are many different versions just as there are many different types of sweeteners and flavors of creamers. These are the prosperity preachers. These are the reconciling and liberal preachers. These are the people who try to make everyone into a coffee drinker by making it taste like something else.
Then there are the people who actually desire and prefer the bitter taste of over-roasted coffee. They don’t like the natural sweetness but prefer to taste of bitter, pungent coffee. These are the people who love to use the Gospel as a hammer. They only focus on the bad news and judgment of God without inserting the Good News. So they roast out the sweetness of the Gospel and are left with judgment and condemnation without grace.
Finally, there are those who love the Gospel just as it is in all of its natural sweetness and flavors. They don’t need to add to it or take from it. All they need is the right brewing process and multiple cups to share it with friends and strangers alike. For those who truly love coffee, you don’t have to change the flavor profile for you to enjoy its goodness. It’s good on its own. In the same way, for those who genuinely love God and love the Gospel, we don’t need to add to it to make it more palatable, or take from it and become bitter. The Gospel is the Good News on its own. It doesn’t need to be added to. It doesn’t need things taken out of it. We just share the natural sweetness of the Gospel in hopes that God will change the palate of their and fall in love with its sweetness.
A modern-day parable: The Gospel is like coffee…
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
p.s. Thank you to my wife, Shelby, who made the cover art for me.