Summary: God must be sought by those whose soil is not nurturing the fruit of the Spirit.
Read Matthew 13.1-9. Pray.
A Greek philosopher wanted to illustrate to his students that they must not only have knowledge but also a life changed by the truths he gave them. He said, “Sheep do not vomit up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digest their food and outwardly produce wool and milk. Likewise, do not show theorems to the unlearned, but rather the actions produced by the theorems after they have been digested.”
You may have heard the phrase, “The proof is in the pudding,” which (when you think about it) does not seem to make much sense. In an article in the New York Times last year, William Safire explained that the actual saying is not “the proof is in the pudding,” but “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Pudding, apparently, was an old name for haggis and the test of whether it was safe or good was in the eating of it (or maybe letting the dog eat some).
“Seeing is believing” means basically the same thing. It is not what we say we know, but what we do with it that shows whether we know what we “know.”
We began the parables of Jesus last week by noting that the kingdom of God advances by hearing, unlike the world’s kingdoms, which advance by force. Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world. If it were, his servants would be fighting. Instead, he insists that we take care how we hear. God’s work – conversion, sanctification, evangelism – God’s kingdom moves forward by hearing.
But many, it seems, who hear do not hear. And that problem prompted Jesus to speak the parable of the sower. Both the crowds who followed and the religious leaders who persecuted, heard him speak, but they did not “hear.” They ate the grass, but did not inwardly digest the truth so as to outwardly produce the wool and milk of the sheep of the Lord’s pasture. So Jesus tells them a parable.
Before we consider the teaching itself, let me remind us of something we know, but it is good to remember. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 13.19 as he begins to interpret for his disciples: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart….”
This parable is about how we hear; but note well, please, that Jesus assumes that what we hear is the word of the kingdom. The sower may spread much seed and yet grow no crop if the seed is bad. The preacher may say much, and say nothing, if he does not spread God’s word. We can work hard at witnessing, but harvest nothing if we do not proclaim Christ. Not the traditions of the church or the doctrines of men, but the word of the kingdom.
Sowing the seeds of the gospel is hard work; diligence and determination are required. And we must not focus overly much on the reception our work receives, for, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11.4). In other words, ample deterrents press the farmer to stay indoors and squirrel away his seed.
Last week, Helen and Rebekah planted the first seeds of the new year. It takes a certain faith to find a break in the cold weather and heavy rains to put tiny, dry seeds in dark, cold dirt. It takes even greater faith when the next day a light snow rests on the row cover we put over the seeds. But we know our seeds, and peas and lettuce and spinach and radishes need as early start in March start as we can secure. The nature of our seeds demand we sow.
Do we know the power of the seeds we have in the word of the kingdom? Do we not have great seeds and greater reasons to sow the gospel? Can we not plant in faith and trust God to give the growth?
With that in mind, let’s look at what happens when the word of the kingdom is sown. The sower sows in faith; the seeds fall on four different soils. Each of the four soils is a test and warning for our souls. How are we listening to God? How careful are we hearing?
1. Beware of Listening with a Hard Heart (Matthew 13.3b-4)
I grew up farming. We planted thousands of acres and I drove our giant four-wheel drive Massey Ferguson tractor for thousands of hours, plowing, prepping, and planting fields. And every field had a tractor path around it. The same is true in our small garden in our backyard. In order to plant seeds, you must walk and stand somewhere, and wherever that is, the ground packs hard and becomes impenetrable. Like the dirt under a swing set, thousands of small impacts beat it hard.