Sermon title:  DO WE APPRECIATE THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23       

    Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, July 8, 2018

 

 

 

 

When Penni and I began dating

and I first met her parents

they were living in a small home near the water

in the Shangri-La section of Wareham.

 

They originally came from the Midwest—

from farm country

in southern Michigan near the Indiana state line.

 

They had owned a 13-acre farm there,

and Penni’s Dad had farmed 2 of those acres himself.

 

But when they moved to Wareham

he discovered that the soil on his new property was just sand.

 

He knew he could never grow

the crop of vegetables he wanted to grow

in such poor soil.

 

So, what did he do?

He imported a truckload of topsoil,

to make sure his garden would grow.

 

And the neighbors were amazed

that anyone could grow wonderful crop

because the soil in their yards

wouldn’t allow that.

 

That was several decades ago,

and Penni’s Dad is now with the Lord in Heaven.

 

But our Responsive Reading this morning

in Matthew Chapter 13[  OPEN  ]

called to mind that incident.

 

At this point in our journey through the Gospels

we’re beginning

to encounter the parables—

the stories Jesus told

to teach important lessons.

 

Matthew 13, Verse 1, says,

 

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house

and sat by the lake.

2 Such large crowds gathered around him

that he got into a boat and sat in it,

while all the people stood on the shore.

 

Wherever Jesus was, crowds would gather.

 

And this time he sat by a lake.

 

When the crowds gathered,

he sat in a boat that was in the water,

and he faced the crowds

who were standing on the shore.

Sound carries well over water,

so Jesus’ voice would easily reach his listeners.

 

Verse 3 says,

 

3 Then he told them many things in parables,

saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed.

 

As we continue reading,

we’ll see how Jesus explained

why he spoke in parables.

This particular story is known as “The Parable of the Sower.”

 

It’s a brief story,

recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

 

And beginning in the middle of Matthew 13, Verse 3,

it goes like this:

 

"A farmer went out to sow his seed.

 

4 As he was scattering the seed,

some fell along the path,

and the birds came and ate it up.

 

5 Some fell on rocky places,

where it did not have much soil.

It sprang up quickly,

because the soil was shallow.

6 But when the sun came up,

the plants were scorched,

and they withered because they had no root.

 

7 Other seed fell among thorns,

which grew up and choked the plants.

 

8 Still other seed fell on good soil,

where it produced a crop—

a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

 

9 He who has ears, let him hear."

 

The area where Jesus spoke

was a farming and fishing community,

so everyone would easily identify with

a story like this.

It made sense to them.

 

That is exactly what would happen,

if a farmer sowed seed—using the broadcast method--

and some of it fell onto

all those different types of soil.

 

But, what was Jesus’ point?

 

What was the message he was teaching—

using this story as an illustration?

 

Apparently, Jesus dismissed the crowds

without telling them.

 

The parallel account in the Gospel of Mark says,

at Mark 4:10,

When he was alone,

the Twelve and the others around him

asked him about the parables.

 

Matthew 13, Verse 10 says,

 

The disciples came to him and asked,

"Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

 

They wondered why

Jesus would tell such stories to the crowds

without explaining them.

 

Jesus told them why.

 

In Matthew chapter 13, beginning with Verse 11, it says,

 

11 He replied,

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven

has been given to you, but not to them.

 

12 Whoever has will be given more,

and he will have an abundance.

 

Whoever does not have,

even what he has will be taken from him.

 

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

"Though seeing, they do not see;

though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

 

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

"'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

 

15 For this people's heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

 

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts and turn,

and I would heal them.'

 

So, Jesus told them,

 

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven

has been given to you, but not to them.

 

He spoke to the crowds in parables,

because the knowledge of God’s secrets

was for the disciples, and not for the crowds.

 

That might sound unfair.

 

Why wouldn’t “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven”

be for everyone?

 

Well, it turns out that

 Jesus was doing a separating work.

 

And the use of parables

helped accomplish that separation—

the separation of people into two groups.

 

Those who were just casually interested

but really couldn’t care less

about their relationship with God—

those people would hear the parable

and then just go home,

without caring to find out what it meant.

 

Those who really cared

about their relationship with God

wouldn’t just go home

without understanding the parable.

 

The parallel account in Luke 8:9 says,

 

“His disciples asked him what this parable meant.”

 

Others just shrugged it off.

“Cute story!” they may have said to themselves,

and then went home.

 

Mark 4:10 says,

When he was alone,

the Twelve and the others around him

asked him about the parables.

 

So, they cared enough

to want to know what Jesus had to say.

 

That’s fair, isn’t it?

 

Anyone who really cared to know

could have hung around, or come back,

to ask Jesus what the parable meant.

 

At John 6:37,

Jesus says,

 “I will never turn away

anyone who comes to me.”

 

Anyone who wanted to know what he meant

could come to Jesus and ask.

 

Jesus would not turn him away.

----------------------------

 

But, then, in Matthew 13, Verse 12,

Jesus said something else

that may have seemed unfair.

 

He said,

 

12 Whoever has will be given more,

and he will have an abundance.

Whoever does not have,

even what he has will be taken from him.

 

That may sound unfair at first,

until you realize that Jesus was still

talking about the same thing.

 

Whoever has an interest in the Kingdom of God

will be given more information.

Whoever does not have a sincere interest

will lose even whatever momentary, passing interest

he may have had.

 

Those who had a real, sincere interest

came to Jesus for an explanation,

and received even more.

 

Those who did not have an interest

in what they heard

would just go home and forget about

what Jesus said.

Even what they had would be taken from them.

 

================

And then Jesus quoted the Old Testament

where it was foretold

that the Jewish people, as a whole,

would not receive the Gospel—

although many individuals did.

 

Beginning in Matthew 13:13, he said,

 

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

"Though seeing, they do not see;

though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

 

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

"'You will be ever hearing

but never understanding;

you will be ever seeing

but never perceiving.

 

15 For this people's heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

 

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts and turn,

and I would heal them.'

 

We know what it’s like when our hand becomes calloused.

The calloused part is hardened

and loses its sense of touch.

It can’t feel things, like it used to.

 

As Isaiah foretold,

the people Jesus preached to had calloused hearts.

They closed their eyes

and closed their ears

to the Messiah’s message.

 

And so they would not turn around in repentance

to be forgiven and healed.

 

--------------------------------------------------

 

In Matthew 13:16, our Lord next went on

to tell his disciples

what a blessing they had

because their ears and hearts were open

to receive Jesus’ message.

 

He said in Matthew 13, beginning at Verse 16,

 

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see,

and your ears because they hear.

 

17 For I tell you the truth,

many prophets and righteous men

longed to see what you see but did not see it,

and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

 

Prophets and righteous men down through the centuries

would have loved to see the coming of the Messiah

and to hear his preaching.

 

But the time was not yet ripe. 

 

Now, Jesus was finally there,

and his disciples were blessed

to receive the benefits.

 

And now, Jesus went on to answer their question,

and to explain the meaning of the Parable of the Sower.

 

Beginning with Matthew 13, Verse 18, he said,

 

18 "Listen then

to what the parable of the sower means:

 

19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom

and does not understand it,

the evil one comes and snatches away

what was sown in his heart.

This is the seed sown along the path.

 

The parallel passages in Mark and Luke

identify “the evil one” as Satan the devil.                Mark 4:15, Luke 8:12 

 

In the parable itself, the birds came and ate up the seed.

 

How does Satan snatch away

the message of the kingdom

from such a person’s heart?

 

Maybe he has someone tell them,

“The Bible’s full of contradictions,” or

“Science has disproved the Bible,”

or some other false message

to counteract the truth of the Gospel.

 

Maybe he reminds the person

of a particular sin they enjoy doing

that they would have to give up

if they followed Christ.

 

In any case,

it’s just as if the birds came

and ate up whatever that person learned about Christ.

 

Jesus went on in Verse 20 to explain,

 

20 The one who received the seed

that fell on rocky places

is the man who hears the word

and at once receives it with joy.

21 But since he has no root,

he lasts only a short time.

When trouble or persecution comes

because of the word,

he quickly falls away.

 

So, this person joyfully receives the Gospel message.

 

It looks like he’s becoming a Christian.

 

But then someone in the family

shows hostility toward the message.

 

Or, someone at work

ridicules people who believe in the Bible.

 

Or, some other opposition or persecution takes place.

 

And the person gives up on the faith.

 

In Verse 22, Jesus continues explaining the parable:

 

22 The one who received the seed

that fell among the thorns

is the man who hears the word,

but the worries of this life

and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it,

making it unfruitful.

 

This person, too, seems to be becoming a believer.

 

But he’s so focused on other things,

that he never makes any progress.

 

He lets his personal problems bog him down,

whether it be health issues,

or work-related issues,

or just all the busyness that comes along,

day after day.

 

Or, maybe he spends all his time

trying to make a buck

and to get ahead in this world.

The Gospel takes second place,

and may even find no place at all in his life.

 

What a contrast there is in Verse 23, where Jesus says,

 

23 But the one who received the seed

that fell on good soil

is the man who hears the word and understands it.

He produces a crop,

yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times

what was sown."

 

The person whose heart is like good soil

receives the Gospel message

and becomes a fruitful Christian.

 

He is like the fertile soil

that Penni’s Dad trucked in for his vegetable garden,

and that produced a good crop.

 

That Christian fruitage

includes the fruit of the Spirit

the Apostle Paul lists at Galatians 5:22 and 23:

“love,   joy,   peace,

patience,   kindness,   goodness,

faithfulness,   gentleness and   self-control.”

That Christian fruitage

can also include sharing the Gospel with others,

maybe even leading a hundred, sixty or thirty more people

to Christ.

 

In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4,[  OPEN  ]

Jesus immediately follows the parable of the sower

with a couple of other very brief illustrations

to show the good fruit

that is produced

when the Gospel message

reaches a good and receptive heart.

In Mark 4:21,

He said to them,

"Do you bring in a lamp

to put it under a bowl or a bed?

Instead, don't you put it on its stand?

 

The Christian who receives the word of the kingdom

and who bears fruit,

100, 60 or 30-fold,

is like a lamp lifted up onto a lampstand—

not hidden under a bowl

or under a bed.

 

It’s like the words of that familiar spiritual,

“This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine.

 

We let our light shine,

when we produce the fruit of the Spirit,

and when we share the Gospel with others.

===============================================

 

In Mark 4, at Verse 26, Jesus gives another brief parable.

 

Mark is the only one of the four Gospels

that recorded this particular parable,

beginning at Mark 4:26.

 

26 He also said,

"This is what the kingdom of God is like.

A man scatters seed on the ground.

 

27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up,

the seed sprouts and grows,

though he does not know how.

 

28 All by itself the soil produces grain—

first the stalk, then the head,

then the full kernel in the head.

 

29 As soon as the grain is ripe,

he puts the sickle to it,

because the harvest has come."

 

Jesus didn’t give the explanation of this parable.

 

Or, at least the Gospels don’t record that explanation.

 

Jesus said many things that didn’t get written down.

 

But, I think we can figure this one out.

 

It’s an illustration of the mysterious way

that the Holy Spirit

produces Christian growth and fruitage

in a receptive human heart.

 

It’s as Paul described when he wrote at 1st Corinthians 3:6,

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it,

but God made it grow.”

And that work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts

is truly miraculous.

 

============================================

 

 

The Old Testament prophesied

at Psalm 78, Verse 2,

that the Messiah would speak in parables

or illustrative stories.

It says there, at Psalm 78:2,

“I will open my mouth in parables.”

 

And our Lord Jesus did exactly that.

 

Because the parables required explanation,

they helped to separate sincere seekers of truth

from those who didn’t place much value

on what Jesus had to say. 

 

When the crowds of listeners were dismissed,

those with appreciative hearts

approached Jesus privately to learn more. 

 

We do the same thing today

when we prayerfully read the Bible,

and when we ask our Lord

to make himself known to us.

 

And we are always rewarded when we do that,

because Jesus says John 6:37,

“I will never turn away

anyone who comes to me.”