Nov. 7, 2010
INTRODUCTION – As we have been walking through the gospel of Matthew together, we have noticed that Jesus’s disciples are slowly but surely upping their commitment and devotion to Him. But at the same time, the Pharisees and Scribes and many Jews are growing in their hostility, hatred and envy of Him, and in their passion to kill Him. Not unlike today in many ways.
The good news is – I see in our congregation and in the body of Christ in general – a growing passion to know Jesus Christ more intimately and to follow Him more fully. And yet in our society at large, there is a growing disdain for Christ and His followers, primarily because Jesus Christ does not whitewash our sin, nor our need for a spiritual overhaul.
This morning we are ready to jump into Ch. 13, which in many respects is the kingdom chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Mysteries of the kingdom of God in this chapter are revealed by 7 different parables that Jesus Christ told.
As was true then, so I want to affirm today – – the Kingdom of God is the only hope for society. Only King Jesus can rule with absolute impartiality, perfect justice, and not a hint of compromise, cynicism, or hardness towards those of us who have made a mess of our lives – somewhere along the way. Only King Jesus can forgive and cleanse us from our sins, and utterly transform us from the inside out. Only Jesus the Healer can bring about restoration, where the enemy has sought to bring about devastation.
Two main things I want to make sure we all understand before we leave today.
1. The purpose of parables or why Jesus chose at this point to lean on them so heavily.
2. The main message of the parable of the soils or sower
I. THE PURPOSE OF PARABLES – VS. 1-17 Jesus Christ had been teaching inside someone’s home very near the Sea of Galilee evidently , and after a while, He decided He needed a break from the action. So He walked to the sea and sat for a spell – probably communing with His Father, and allowing Him to refill His tank. Large crowds of people eventually found Him; and Jesus realized the only way to effectively address them was to get in a boat, and speak to them while they stood there on the beach.
He spoke to them about many things, but only through the medium of parables. This is the first time we see this term used in the gospels. The first of seven parables He presented is the parable of the sower or soils – vs. 3-9
Since we have already read this, and Jesus explains it later, I would like to talk to you about Jesus’s answer to the disciples’ question in vs. 10. By now the disciples had seen or heard Jesus teach the crowds many times, and they seem a little perplexed about why He would resort to the use of parables all of a sudden. So they kind of take Him aside, and ask Him point blank – “why do you speak to them in parables?”
I’ve heard people say that the reason Jesus spoke in parables is that people enjoy and lock in on stories and illustrations more than straight teaching of doctrine – so that’s why Jesus used them. But that’s not what Jesus says here in His reply.
Please note that before He answers their question, He assures His disciples that God has graciously chosen to reveal to them the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. And be revealed – they must be – because these truths are mysteries that only a transcendant God can enable us to understand. Jesus, and later the apostles, oft spoke of this reality of His sovereign revealing work, and of our inability to figure it out on our own – unless He opens our eyes and hearts supernaturally.
Remember that passage at the end of Matthew 11, where Jesus had just rebuked many of the cities He had ministered in because of their unbelief and unresponsiveness?? These arrogant men and women thought anything that needed to be known in the universe, they could figure out on their own. After all – they were adults; they had a decent level of education; they had achieved a level of success in the business world; they had brains…. But Jesus turned to His father and said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (now He doesn’t mean literally infants, but people who have with all their intelligence and accomplishments come to a place of humility and brokenness, and admitted their need for divine help, and thus responded to Him like a simple, innocent, needy child).
Back to the quote, “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Matthew 11:25-27
The apostle Paul had to drive this truth home to the proud Corinthians, whose city was full of culture and the accomplishment of man. Early in his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (I Cor. 2:12-14)
What disciples of Jesus know about Jesus and His wonderful kingdom, they know because He graciously and supernaturally revealed it to them.
But He has not chosen to reveal these things to the crowds, which included the Pharisees and Scribes and a horde of hard hearted Jews. So basically – He is drawing a line in the sand between His disciples and everyone else. The question is: Why? Well He goes on, stating a principle of the kingdom: “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…” Jesus called His disciples to follow Him and they responded in faith and obedience. When He asked them to do something they did it. When He explained something to them, they received the explanation. So Jesus says, because of their response, He is going to continue to reveal more and more of Himself, His ways and His Kingdom to them. Revelation always follows a repentant response. But for those who heard His overtures and teachings, and saw His miracles, and yet refused to follow Him and entrust their lives to Him, even what little understanding or faith they might have, it will be taken away from them.
Starting in vs. 13, Jesus states that He speaks to them in parables because they have no ears to hear His heart; and no eyes to embrace who He is. Many in these crowds have seen and heard plenty. But they have seen it and heard it through a lens or filter caked with unbelief, hardness of heart, cynicism, and a passion for their own rights and reputation.
Isaiah the prophet had prophesied that there would be a people who would keep on hearing the Messiah, but they would still not understand; and that they would keep on seeing His works, but they would not perceive the truths – His works demonstrated. In vs. 15, Jesus gives the reason for their lack of understanding and perception. And I want you to note the process involved here. Matthew, quoting again the prophet Isaiah says their hearts “became dull”. This is not something that happens all of a sudden. It is a gradual process that builds upon every inappropriate response to either Jesus’s words or His works, or both. You see – the living God gave them ears – designed to hear His life changing words, but these people over time have learned to drown out that troubling voice; He gave them eyes designed to delight in His many amazing works and deeds on the earth, but they have learned over time to ignore them and gloss over them, and explain them away.
So Jesus Christ – being far more astute than any lie detector test or skilled interrogator could ever be at assessing the state of one’s heart – as He saw the crowds time after time respond this way to Him and His words and deeds – He decided He would no longer “give what is holy to dogs, or throw His pearls before swine” to quote His admonition to the disciples in Matt. Ch. 7. There comes a point where the mercy of God runs out; and His justice takes over folks. May you never be on the wrong side of that point!
The sad reality to all of this – is that the healing of the soul – that only Jesus Christ can give – as we see at the end of vs. 15 – – never gets a chance to kick in for those who have hardened their hearts toward Him, and who have desensitized their ears towards His life giving voice. But for those who are willing to humble themselves, and receive His assessment of their lives, and look to Him to save and heal them – – there is blessing beyond blessing. Many prophets and righteous men and women, who lived before the time of Christ – knew this day would come, and longed to see it – – when men and women could actually gaze upon the long awaited Messiah and hear His soothing, healing voice.
Why did the Lord Jesus at this point in His ministry resort to the use of parables when addressing the crowds? Because the crowds had crossed a line of unresponsiveness and hard heartedness; and had tried His mercy and forbearance one too many times. They no longer deserved clear cut, easy to discern truth. And to make sure you get this, I want to show you a quick video clip that drives this sobering truth home in a way that I trust you will never forget. But I must warn you, if you are not focused, you will not get it, so please pay attention. (show the clip)
Well a proper response at this point, is a healthy degree of sobriety about how important it is to keep a tender responsive heart toward the Lord Jesus Christ. You should be asking at this point, if Jesus Christ alone can give eternal life; if Jesus Christ alone can heal my wounded soul – – and if by not responding appropriately to Him I can get to a point where He literally hides His life changing truth from me, how can I make sure that never happens? He answers that question only to the disciples by explaining the parable of the sower or I think more accurately the parable of the soils. (let’s read that explanation together – vs. 18-23).
Jesus Christ likens your heart and mine to that of the different soils that we might find on any given farm. When the farmer goes out and sows his seed,…… because of the winds, because of imperfect technology, because perhaps in part – the farmer sometimes is in a hurry, seeds fall in various kinds of soil, or in various kinds of situations surrounding the soil. Because the seeds are all the same, it is the condition of the soil that makes all the difference in what that seed produces (if anything).
Now before we examine each of these soils, let’s make sure we are clear about the sower and the seed. The sower is ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ, but who today primarily sows through His people or His disciples. The seed is the word or message of the kingdom of God. If you know your Bible, you know that Jesus Christ started out His ministry on the earth – exhorting the people to repent, for the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is at hand.” You also know that throughout His earthly ministry this was His primary message. And that even after He rose from the dead – when He spent those last hours with His disciples before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father – as we see in Acts 1:3, “appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
While Jesus certainly was not against education or civil governments, He ultimately gave no hope for mankind – apart from His kingdom, which alone was founded on truth and righteousness and justice, and which He promised would never end, but would only increase until He returned to the earth in all His glory and majesty.
This seed of the message of the kingdom of God has life and family and community and city and even nation transforming power; but it is a fragile seed – because of the many things that war against it and try to snuff it out. And that leads me to the description of the first soil as seen in vs. 19. This person hears the message of the kingdom, but does not understand it, and thus leaves a wide open door for the evil one to come and snatch it away. You might be thinking, well he can’t help that he didn’t understand it. But what have we learned so far about why people do not understand? That’s right; they do not understand because their hearts have become dull.
The second soil represents the person who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy, but because there is no strong conviction or belief at a foundational root level, when affliction or persecution comes, he falls away. This is why one of our major goals in discipleship should be helping disciples learn to handle affliction and persecution the way Jesus taught us to handle it.
The third soil represents the person who hears the word or the message of the kingdom, , but the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of riches chokes or snuffs out the word, and no fruit results. This person heard and probably agreed intellectually, but at the core of his being, he operated according to the kingdom of darkness; and his passions were for things, not for the creator, maker and giver of things.
The fourth or final soil represents the person who hears the word and understands it, which means he has the proper posture before God to receive revelation; and because his eyes and ears are truly opened, the truth of Christ and His kingdom rule his heart and his passions, and there are no competing interests. His life is characterized by both faithfulness and fruitfulness.
So how can you and I ensure that we will not only hear the word or message of the kingdom in all its forms, but will also understand it, and be grounded in it? 5 steps 1. Embrace humility and brokenness. Gladly admit, “In my flesh dwells no good thing.” Gladly admit, when it comes to being able to see and operate in the kingdom of God – I am completely dependent upon Christ to reveal His will and way and truth to me.
2. Study the value of affliction, adversity and persecution. Jesus, Peter and Paul have much to say about it. Paul said, “Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.”
3. If you tend to worry about finances and provision, and find yourself from time to time – coveting what others have, and buying into the lie that more things and money will satisfy and fulfill you, ask Christ to reveal the Father to you as Your Father and Provider, and to deliver you from idolatry and covetnousness.
4. Ask God to rid you of any hint of hardness of heart, cynicism, unbelief, doubt, etc.
5. Study the kingdom of God and cry out to God for more revelation re: it.
CONCLUSION – Communion