Bible Passage: Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Pastor: Pastor Schlicht
Sermon Date: July 16, 2017
In this world there’s only one way to greatness: you need to be heard. Whatever message you promote, whatever medium you prefer, the key is being heard. And you can see this demonstrated everywhere, from rising stars on youtube to political pundits, from advertising campaigns to the grade school playground, and just about everywhere in between. In this world’s kingdom, if you want to advance, you need an audience. You need to be heard. But in chapter 10 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we come across a different idea. He writes in verse 17, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” Faith comes from hearing. In other words, in God’s kingdom the way to advance is by hearing, not being heard. You don’t need an audience, you need to be an audience of the Word. As Christians, on this side of heaven, we live in both kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. And that leads to some tension. It’s why people often ask, “Why do Christians act so differently from each other? If they hear the same message then why are some so loving, and others so angry? And that’s a fair question. If we preach the same Word, then how does one Christian’s life overflow with the fruits of the Spirit, while the Word seems to make no difference whatsoever with others? Well, faith comes from hearing. The difference lies in how we hear. The hearing of God’s Word is what leads not only to our salvation, but directly to its production of spiritual fruit in our lives. So it stands to reason that we should consider carefully, how we hear the Word.
Did you know that about two-thousand years ago, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was teaching his disciples how to consider their hearing as well? He taught them through parables and the first parable he taught them that day was the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. This parable, from Matthew 13, is just a simple straight forward story about seed falling on different types of ground, but Jesus teaches profound truths about hearing through this simple story. So this morning, I’m going to walk through the parable and then I want to finish by talking about the seed itself which is sown. May God bless our contemplation of the comparison between the different types of ground in this parable and how we hear the Word that is planted in us.
Jesus begins the parable in verse three, “…a sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it. The picture of the sower here is one that would have been well-known to those in Galilee. In fact, I bet that many in Capernaum had seen this on a daily basis and some may have very well been sowers in the crowd that day. The sowers would walk over the fields and broadcast the seeds on the ground. Some of the seeds would then fall on the hardened path within the field. And this first type of ground, as Jesus said, was so hard that the seed couldn’t sink in and would be immediately devoured by hungry birds. Some people are hard. Hard like the path, hard towards God, hard towards the things of God, hard toward his Word. Chances are you know people like this. When you hear them talk, you sense that for them, Christ is a waste of time. God and his Word are a waste of time. They don’t understand it and much less want to understand it. They have become so hard, that when the seed of the Word lays on their heart, it cannot penetrate the surface. Jesus said, the Evil One comes and snatches it away before it can even get started.
And I’m not talking about the Charles Dawkins and Sam Harris’s of the world. I’m not referring to the Bill Mayer’s. These leaders of the New Atheism with their antitheist rhetoric are not whom I would consider hardened paths, but rather some of the birds, some of very tools of the Devil uses to strip away the Word from hearts. Who I am talking about are the people who enjoy watching Bill Mayer, who laugh with the comedians who cannot believe that in 2017 some people still cling to transcendence. The saddest part is, that these people laugh at a God they do not know. As Matthew says, they hear the word but do not understand it. (Mt 13:19) They harden their heart to a message they haven’t even had a chance to taste. They pull away from a salvation they don’t understand, and the only one who laughs in the end is the Evil One. It is sad to even speak of and yet we shouldn’t pass them by quickly or stop praying for them, because notice, that in Jesus’ parable, the sower didn’t mind that some seed was thrown their way.
The second type of ground is described in verse 5, Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil. Immediately the seed sprang up, because the soil was not deep. But when the sun rose, the seed was scorched. Because it had no root, it withered away. The second type of ground is the rocky soil, and by this we mean to say that it fell on a shallow layer of soil that covered large rocks underground, something commonly found in Palestine. And in this shallow soil, the plants would have nowhere to grow but up. They put all their energy into the stem and flower, but with no deep roots to gather moisture, they could not withstand the heat of the scorching sun. Jesus explains this second type of ground in verse 20, The seed that was sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he is not deeply rooted and does not endure. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. Very different from the first group of people, these people not only accept the Word, but they receive it with joy. And that joy is appropriate. Why shouldn’t they rejoice in the message of salvation? So where do they go wrong? Well, again, they hear the Word, but they don’t quite get it. Their joy is conceived on the basis of the outward and external benefits which they hope that faith will bring. It is a joy that has not counted the true cost of discipleship and the sacrifices that faith brings. It is a joy that for the shallow earthly benefit of faith, and does not grasp the eternal significance and benefit of the Word, which is grown in the deep root of faith.
This second type of ground is such an interesting comparison to me, because the sun is what, in the end, kills these plants. But usually the sun is not a bad thing for a plant. It is a necessary thing, right? So, a plant that is rooted deeply needs the sun to grow. Therefore just as a plant grows stronger and produces more fruit in the light of the sun, so also the trials and persecutions that God allows to happen in the Christian’s life will strengthen our faith and help us to produce more fruits of the Spirit. I can think of some specific Christians who have had to go through great trials and some horrible things have happened to them. Yet despite their position or the consequences, I am incredibly humbled, when they say that they thank God for that pain they underwent, because of where they are in their faith now because of it. A shallow believer, when afflictions come for the sake of truth, they feel offended, as if something strange is happening to them. When troubles come they assume that God has abandoned them and so they abandon him. Everyone who has a shallow hearing of the Word, or literally as Matthew writes “no root in themselves,” no inner root of faith, falls away. Hardship and persecution beat down on them and the weak roots of their faith wither and die. But again, notice the sower still didn’t mind that some of his seeds fell on shallow soil.
The third type of ground is described tersely by Jesus in verse 7, Other seed fell among thorns. The thorns grew up and choked it. And his explanation is, “The seed that was sown among the thorns is the one who hears the word, but the worry of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it produces no fruit.” This is a soil with thorns, basically weeds. Weeds that are “the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth.” I can understand the deceitfulness of wealth, that certainly sounds like a weed doesn’t it? To use another verse with planting terminology, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” So I get that, but how can Jesus say that the worries of this world choke out faith? You and I have cares and concerns in this world that are legitimate and even God-given, such as our families. We’re carting the kids here and there for this and that. They need braces. They’ve got to go to school. Church too. Theirs practices, camps, sleep-overs, etc. And you need time for yourself too, not to mention your marriage or relationship, of course there’s work, and then maybe some sliver of a social life! We have all these legitimate things to do and not enough time to do them.
And yet when we compare this reality to that third type of ground in the parable, Jesus is clearly telling us that even the legitimate cares in our lives can interfere with the growth of our relationship with him. The faith is there, it’s alive and rooted in the soil, but it just doesn’t produce any fruit because it is being choked out by the cares of this world. How can you produce the fruit of faith when you are just trying to keep the plant alive? How can you exude peace and love when you are stressed out and stretched thin? There’s no easy answer here and I don’t think there is supposed to be. Each of us has to take a hard look at our lives and ask ourselves what would it take to hear the Word of God with an undivided heart? Maybe it means saying “No” to something that we are doing so that we can say “Yes” to hearing the Word more. Maybe it means saying “No” to something our kids want to do, maybe it means simply setting aside time to pray once in a while instead watching that T.V. show. Because we can say, “This isn’t fair; I can’t drop anything!” But at the end of the day there is one thing needful and if the cares of this world close out that one thing, they turn into thorns and will choke out the fruit of your faith.
You know, reading this parable it is pretty painful when you look at the soil in your own heart. When look at mine, I find thorns that I struggle to let go of, I see shallow areas where I wonder “Why does the Lord let these things happen to me?” I even see parts of my heart that are trodden down by my sin and hardened against hearing the Word. What does your heart look like? Have some thorns crept in lately? Have you been finding time to really hear and grow in the Word or are there areas of your heart soil that look more like a gravel pit, than a garden? The truth is that despite our best intentions, no sower in their right mind would plant seed in our hearts. And yet notice, that the sower didn’t mind that some seed fell on us, as well.
The opening lines of John’s gospel are “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. God is the Word, not just that brought creation into existence, but also the incarnate Word which came to earth to teach us how to hear. Jesus didn’t come to build a kingdom that would not demand to be heard. No, Jesus came to build his kingdom simply by planting the Word. He planted a simple message in us, a tiny seed in the shallow, rocky soil of human hearts. A crazy message that an almighty God would triumph by dying. And in so doing, the greatest in his kingdom becomes those who serve others, that the lowly will be exalted and the proud brought low. That the way up is down and the way down is up. That in hearing, not being heard, will his people become great. It is a small seed, but infinitely powerful. And this is the Word that was planted in you. And through faith in this powerful Word, even your rocks can be broken and your thorns pulled out. Even the hardest heart can break before the altar of a forgiving God.
Just think what a seed does to soil, it transforms it; it redirects all its energy and nutrients into supporting a beautiful living plant that bears fruit. This is our story as well, we were dead in sin, until the Word was planted in us. At your baptism, just as we saw today with little Sadie, you were planted by this powerful Word and it truly has the potential to transform your life now and give you life eternal. This Word is Christ living in you to will and to work toward his good purpose. You are planted by the Word! And it is Christ in you that will plow the soil of your heart and nurture a great harvest, even a hundredfold what has been sown. The gospel seed of sins forgiven has that kind of power and potential. What does it mean that the sower cast his seed on us? It means that Jesus has eternally high hopes for each one of us, that we would bear abundant fruit to his Gospel’s glory and join him someday in life everlasting. “Consider carefully, therefore, how you hear (Luke 8:18),” and rejoice because you are planted by the Word.