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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Matthew 13 - the Sower Parable

The Foolish, Extravagant Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)
I talked with someone from another church this week. His church was having VBS, and Tuesday night was “decision night.” The volunteer teachers were to strongly encourage the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to consider asking Jesus into their hearts so that they might be saved.
It troubled me. Not the desire to introduce young kids to Jesus – I am all for that. What I am opposed to is evangelism that sounds like fire insurance. Do you know if you died tonight, whether you would go to heaven or hell? How many times did Jesus take that approach? He was set on guiding people into the kingdom of Heaven. But rarely did he present it as crossing a line or making a step. For Jesus salvation was discipleship – living all the time as a God follower. Jesus did not set it in terms of Heaven or Hell so much as he invited people to faith and to life; those who rejected his invitation were blind or lost.
To force older elementary students into a contrived situation in which they opt for Heaven or Hell doesn’t feel right. More importantly, from my reading, such an approach is not Biblical. And this is true for adults as well as kids. Evangelism – bringing people to Jesus, helping them grow in faith, equipping them to do ministry in the world in His name – is crucial. Any life of faith that ignores evangelism is severely spiritually impoverished. But, reducing evangelism to hell avoidance is just as impoverished.
This summer we’ve spent time in Old Testament passages – Psalm 8, Genesis 22, and Zechariah 9. We’ve looked at life when life is spent following Christ. Last week, we stepped out of that series to hear the Mission Serve testimonies, which included a teenager announcing her decision to give her life to Him. It was thrilling because it’s clearly something God brought about.
Evangelism must be initiated by God, and it must be about God. Evangelism leading someone to a a fork in the road with one turn leading to flames and the other to eternal bliss. Evangelism is itself a road, a road where Jesus is walking with us.
I said last week I would put the sermon I had written down in essay form on my blog. I ended up not doing that. After learning about the high pressure approach at my friend’s church during VBS, I decided to preach last week’s message this morning. Next week, we’ll return to our OT series on the life of a God follower.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
What a fool, this farmer who is out, randomly planting, sowing seed just anywhere. At our house, my wife, a gardener, has various 50lb bags - manure, top soil, compost, mulch. At her command, I get my workout for the day by hauling these various chemical combinations around the yard, and dumping the proper amounts into holes she has told me to dig. Months later, I get rewarded – fresh beets and tomatoes on my salad; blackberry jam; fresh basil; homemade blueberry sauce over ice cream. Candy’s careful planning and endless attention, and a little of my labor, result in homegrown food at our house.
We wouldn’t have it if we just walked through the yard tossing seeds everywhere. Nothing would grow in the kids’ sandbox. Or if seeds feel on the paved driveway, they would be bird food, and nothing more. If something landed in my neighbor’s yard and happened to take root and grow, it would become my neighbor’s cucumber plant. A gardener randomly tossing seeds and hoping for the best - what a silly story Jesus has shared.
Jesus didn’t come to talk about farming or gardening. Jesus came, he said, “to seek out and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). To proclaim the good news of the kingdom of Heaven, available to us in Him; proclamation – this is why Jesus came (Mark 1:38).
So what, in his parable about a farmer who sows seed haphazardly, do we learn about Jesus’ purpose of spreading good news about salvation? The point is not farming. The point is planting. What is God planting?
It says in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The sower in Jesus’ story is God. Through the word, through Jesus, through the church, God is getting the message out to the world that all who confess faith in Christ have life and have it abundantly. All who walk the Jesus way and live the “with-God” life, have joy and are in the right. All who turn to Jesus and confess their sins are forgiven and are adopted as sons and daughters of God.
God gets this message out over and over so that the people will have multiple opportunities to respond in faith. He speaks through evangelists like Billy Graham. God spreads the word of salvation through popular books like The Purpose Driven Life. Through music and art the message is spread. Through unchurched people glancing at a Gideon-placed Bible in a hospital room, the gospel is proclaimed. Through celebrities like Super Bowl-winning football coach Tony Dungy expressing their faith, the message goes out. Through church members sharing their faith with neighbors, the word goes forth. Through God coming to earth in the form of a man, Jesus, salvation is made known. Through the Holy Spirit nudging people’s hearts, it spreads. The sower repeatedly spreads his seed everywhere because most people are not in good soil most of the time.
This parable of Jesus points to the generosity of God. God is the sower who goes out to sow and will continue going out, seeking the one lost lamb even when 99 are safe (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus will reach out to those excluded from worship like shepherds and leather workers. Rules makers say these folks have jobs that make them unclean. Jesus invites them.
Jesus befriends tax collectors and prostitutes. Religious leaders insist they are cut off from God because of their sins. Jesus welcomes them.
Jesus will heal the blind and the disfigured and the demon possessed. Scribes say God has cursed them with suffering because of past transgressions. Jesus brings compassion and frees them from their maladies so nothing will keep them from coming into a right relationship with God.
Who is the most outcast, uncool, unpopular, unwanted person you can think of? Jesus loves him and goes to great extent to reach him.
Think of trampled soil on the path, or the rock-filled soil where nothing can take root, or the soil overgrown with weeds. Think of someone you know who would represent these types of soils, sure to undermine any planting effort. The sower, year after year, spread his seed in these bad places, and God over and over brings his love and offers His salvation to the unreceptive, the unconvinced, and even those who are downright hostile to him. This story of Jesus is about a sower who keeps spreading love; a father who treats his returning prodigal son like a prince. The story is about God who relentlessly pursues us.
Jesus follows up, explaining his parable to his disciples. From Matthew 13:
10Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, … (v.16) blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. 18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The sower, our extravagantly generous and recklessly loving God, pours his seed, the Word, on us that we might hear, and believe, and be saved. God reaches out to us, but that does not mean we receive Him and become disciples.
There is an enemy, Jesus says, who snatches away what was sown. Jesus calls him the evil one. Satan is real, as are his minions. He desires to be worshiped and he desires to hurt God. So he goes after God’s children – all who put their trust in Jesus. If Satan can sow discord into the lives of people who are trying to follow Jesus and thus throw them off track, he wins. Jesus represents the threat posed by Satan with seeds that fall on the trampled path.
There is also shallow faith, represented by seeds sown in rocky ground. I remember a guy I knew who went to an old fashioned revival. He received Christ. His wife, who had been going to church alone for years, was thrilled. Then, he lost his job. He abandoned his faith as quickly as he had claimed it. He had that teary-eyed “come-to-Jesus” experience, but there was no depth. He never examined the scriptures or developed a prayer life or served in ministry or worshiped in all seasons. He thought it was baptism water and good feelings. When hard times came, he fell away, as Jesus says in the parable. I have sadly known many with similar stories.
The path is the enemy; the rocky soil is unrooted, shallow faith. What about the thorns and weeds? Seeds that fall among thorns are like the word of God coming to a person who has a lot going on. He’s filled up at work; he’s concerned about his money; his personal life is exceedingly busy. God and faith and Jesus just make up one area of his life and not the most important area. He hears the Gospel and likes what it says. Who wouldn’t want the salvation God offers in Jesus? But, he’s not going to give anything up to live the life of a devoted Christ follower.
Our greatest passion must be for Jesus. The Bible says so. So do the great thinkers in the history of our faith. Our most complete devotion is to Jesus. In the parable, the weeds are the things in life that choke out a person who is trying to be a “part time” Christian.
In life we spend time in each of these bad soils.
We get tempted by Satan to chase after other pursuits and leave Jesus at home, and we only break out our faith once in a while. Temptation has threatened all who have turned to Jesus.
And, Most of us have had a time where our faith didn’t run very deep. Dig deep and you find other forces, not Jesus, motivating us; driving us. It seems like every year, I see deeper inside my own heart and find places I am holding on to, places I have not turned over to Jesus’ lordship.
Finally most of us get distracted by the cares of the world, the weeds and thorns. Business, the pursuit of success, materialism, - we relegate Jesus to the backburner. Church people who sing the songs and bow for the prayers are at times living in each of the soils where the word fails to produce true faith.
But in His mad crazy amazing love, God keeps sending His love and sending His truth and pouring the seed of His word into us. God never gives up; rather God continuously reaches for us.
All the while, God is pruning; cutting back the weeds. God is working the soil of our hearts, getting the rocks out, dealing with us at our deepest psychological, emotional, and spiritual levels. Finally, God is clearing out the clutter and setting up protection from the evil one.
Eventually, through our willingness and cooperation, and more through God’s tireless efforts, we become good soil. When the seeds of the Kingdom fall into a heart that is good soil, there is life change, transformation. Heaven comes yes, but more importantly, the person who is good soil begins living in the Kingdom as he begins follow Jesus. Jesus says, “This is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
You may have throw your hands in the air and said, “Life is too much! I am not perfect. I cannot be who God wants me to be. I give up on faith.” That’s OK. Our generous God is not giving up on you. In fact, God keeps working the soil and planting the seed, tending to your heart and offering you the bread of Heaven, the body of Christ. He keeps on keeping on in terms of reaching out to us in love.
Our response is to lay everything we have before Him – all the good, the bad, all experiences and thoughts, all our relationships, everything. We present it all as we present ourselves to Jesus. We let Him take it from there.
Come to the sower, the God who loves us abundantly. Come and bow before Him in faith. Receive forgiveness and stand as a child of God.
The parable and the subsequent explanation end in the same way – in the good soil, God produces fruit. The planting God is also a producing God. What will God produce in your life? Come to Him today to find out.

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