Summary: What about all the people who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ but who now seem to have little interest in the things of the Lord?
I've made my choice," wrote the basketball star. "I love Jesus Christ and I try to serve Him to the best of my ability. How about you?" No, those are not the words of David Robinson, A. C. Green or any other Christian currently playing in the NBA. That testimony is from a tract written thirty years ago by Bill Bradley, the former United States Senator who is now running for president. In a recent Breakpoint Commentary, Chuck Colson talked about how Bradley professed faith in Christ while he was a student at Princeton University. There he became very active in The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and by the time he was playing for the New York Knicks, he was a very outspoken Christian. But things have changed. In his 1996 memoirs, Bradley says he was put off by the exclusive truth claims of conservative Christianity and bothered by the uncharitable and racist attitudes displayed by some Christians. He now says he embraces all religions, from Buddhism to Islam, "so long as they seek inner peace."
Now, you will have to decide the political significance of Senator Bradley's change of heart, but he illustrates something which I find to be one of the most difficult questions we face in the church. What about all of the people who used to be active Christians? What about all the people who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ but who now seem to have little interest in the things of the Lord? And, it is not just that some folks are not as involved in church as they used to be. I know one gal who was very active in our Christian Fellowship at college, but who now is an outspoken lesbian who claims to be an atheist. Why does this happen? What is going on with these people? This is not just something which has happened in recent years. In the 1st Century church, there were those who had been part of the fellowship, who had turned against Christianity. In 1 Timothy 5:15, Paul speaks about some in the church who turned away from Christ to follow Satan. And, of course, there is Judas, one of the twelve men chosen by Jesus, who for three years appeared to be a loyal disciple but who in the end turned his back on Christ and betrayed the Lord to those who wanted Him killed. What is going on when someone appears to go from being a Christian to a non-Christian?
Friends, I think we find some answers to these tough questions in a story that Jesus told. For the next few weeks we are going to return to the Gospel of Matthew. We have been doing a sporadic study of this Book for a number of years, and we are now in Chapter 13:1-23. This is often called the parable of the sower, but really it is the story about different types of soil. Now a story about dirt may seem a little mundane, but I believe God has very important things to teach us through this text. Let's pray that we will listen as He speaks to us today.
The parable of the soils: Some people have tried to come up with a technical definition of the word parable. Really it is just a story which teaches a spiritual lesson. We find seven different parables in this chapter. In this one, which is found in Verses 3-9, Jesus tells about a farmer who was planting seed. Nancy's brothers have planting machinery that costs thousands and thousands of dollars, but this farmer just has a bag with seeds in it. As he scattered the seed, Verse 4 says that some of it fell on a footpath. Since this ground was very hard, the seed just sat on top, and Jesus says that the birds came and ate it up. In Verse 5, Jesus tells us that some of the seed fell on rocky places. The soil was not very deep, and though the plants sprouted very quickly, they were soon scorched by the sun and died because the roots were not deep enough. According to Verse 7, some of the seed fell among thorns. These seeds sprouted too, but Jesus says the weeds choked the plants by robbing them of nutrients. Yet, the farmer was not a failure. Matthew 13:8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop -- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Apparently in 1st Century Palestine, a yield of a hundred times was a very good yield and thirty times was a bit slim. Some of the good dirt was better than other good dirt. The point of this story is that we have one farmer who is doing his work. The seed he is planting is all the same. But, what determines whether or not there is a crop, or how good of a crop, is the type of soil in which the seed is planted. That really has not changed in 2000 years. Nancy's brothers' farm is in the Red River Valley because the black dirt there is some of the richest soil in the world. I don't think anyone would make a lot of money trying to grow sugar beets and wheat here. Some of you who have gardens spend a lot of time and energy enriching your soil, because you know that the better the soil, the better the results. But Jesus did not tell this story to help us with our gardening. He is illustrating an important spiritual truth which I think is very relevant for us today.