One of the challenges in preaching on this text is the sheer familiarity with it for so many. And yet, we all know that is easy to hear the words someone says without paying attention to what they are actually saying. Perhaps your wife has made the comment on a number of occasions, “Did you hear what I just told you?” And the answer quite honestly, guys, is, “No we didn’t.” Children rolling their eyes as their mothers tell them, “How many times do I have to tell you? If I told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times!” So we hear, but often we don’t really hear.
Of all the ways we could describe these words of Jesus, this is clearly one of those “hearing” texts of Scripture. Jesus uses the occasion to explain that although there is one Word of God, there are many different ways that people hear His Word and respond to it.
The way he does this though, is by means of a parable. Jesus likens a farmer sowing seed to God going through out the world and sowing the message of Jesus. The “seed” is the Gospel message that Jesus is Savior. And some of the seed, Jesus says, falls on a beaten-down path so that it never penetrates the ground and, as a result, the birds come and eat it up. Some falls on shallow soils with the result that it springs up quickly. But then it becomes scorched by the sun because it never developed a significant root. Other seed falls in an area where it does grow up, however, the weeds that are all around it steal its nutrients so that it never matures into the plant it could be. And finally, other seed falls on good soil with the result that it is able to mature and bear fruit.
And the point of comparison? Every person in this world falls into one of these four categories. How do we know that? Because God is very generous with his seed. He sends out his saving message into all the world. He wants all people to be saved. And so, he is generous with his seed, and in his generosity, he ends out believers such as you and me to scatter that seed to the four corners of the earth.
Some people (and I would say the majority of them) are like the seed that falls on the hardened path. They hear the message, but they don’t really hear the message. They don’t take the time to digest it and figure it out. And so, before it has the chance to take root in their heart, the devil comes and snatches God’s Word away. And people say, “Well, nothing happened.” Well, no. You didn’t do anything with what God gave you. And didn’t consider it long enough to combine it with faith.
Other people’s response to the Gospel is like the seed that fell on rocky places. They hear it. They believe it. They get really into it. At least, at first. But when they realize that being a Christian in a sinful world is not all smiles and laughs—when their friends begin to chide them for their newly acquired belief—and when they are left with the opportunity to pick up their cross and follow Jesus, then they just as soon fall away. It’s a great travesty.
So is the outcome of the seed that falls among the weeds. This person hears the Gospel, understands the Gospel, and truly believes the Gospel. But instead of maturing into all that God wants him or her to be, the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth”, choke their faith and keep it stunted. That’s a lot of American Christianity today. The person never reaches their full Christian potential. It’s not that they deny Jesus in their life. It’s that they remain lukewarm Christians. The material thorns of the world keep them stunted.
So, we do well to pause here for a moment to consider first a warning and then a comfort. Christ warns us that the see of the Word faces great opposition from sin, Satan, and the unbelieving world. Newborn faith can be choked and scorched. The Gospel promise can be snatched away from an apathetic heart. So where are you in all of this? Where am I? Why do you believe? And perhaps the question then is, “How does anyone believe?” Was it that my heart was already full of good soil so that the seed of God’s Word germinated and grew?
Many people think that. They think that they are somehow naturally good. “I guess I’m just better than the other person, and that’s why I believe.” But nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible reminds us that no one begins life in this world as better before God than any other. We are all born dead in our sins. Thus, the question: Why do you believe?
It certainly speaks to the kindness and generosity of God, does it not? That I who was born in sin and who continues to sin should be called a child of God? Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us! He saw me before the world began. He took me aside and washed me in the waters of baptism. He adopted me has his child through faith. He put the seed of the Word, the Gospel, and planted it in my heart. And by His Holy Spirit, he continues to make that seed grow.
There is no word to describe the reason that God has blessed the believer in such a way other than the word “grace”—God’s undeserved love for sinners. We didn’t decide to believe in him. God threw out his seed. It came into contact with our heart, and that same seed (as Isiah so poetically states) all by itself accomplished the purpose for which God sent it. It produced a Christian. It is continuing to produce a mature Christian. All for the glory of God.
Because at the end of the day, God’s goal for you and me is that we become mature Christians. What does that mean? Well, in one sense, it means that false messages of the world will not succeed in choking out our faith. In another sense it means that we are mature enough in our faith to share it with others. As Jesus says, the mature believer “produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown” (v. 23).
Many of our elderly believers are living examples of what Jesus says here. By the grace of God, the seed matured in your own hearts, and because you passed on the message of Jesus to others, you now have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews—a whole clan of men, women, boys, and girls who confess the name of Jesus.
Think of the dandelion and the way a child blows on it so that the seeds scatter to who knows how many yards in the neighborhood. This is the task of the church! This is the Great Commission! We are to go out into the world so that God can make disciples of more and more people. How? By scattering the seed. What seed? The words of Jesus? Where? Wherever we happen to find ourselves. To what end? To the building of God’s kingdom.
Now with this I close.
You will never be a plant that produces such a harvest if you don’t continually draw power from the Word yourself. You cannot remain a Christian if you do not nourish your faith through the hearing and learning of God’s Word. And so, whereas one of the ways we can be generous with God’s Word is by sharing that Word with others, another way is by sharing it with ourselves and being generous in the way we make use of it.
Loved ones, let’s read our Bible at home. So easily we get distracted by the rushed pace of life. We deceive ourselves into thinking that wealth is more important than worship and that me and my priorities are more important than prayerful meditation. And yet, who would ever turn a deaf ear to Jesus if he were standing there talking to them? Who, in their right mind, would ever shut his or her Bible and smother the seed that so desperately wants to grow? “He who has ears, let me hear”, says Jesus.
It’s a great challenge, I admit. But it’s a challenge that we can overcome by remembering to us the Word of God. Because his sed is powerful. He’s strong and powerful and mighty to save as the prophet Zephaniah says (3:17). And to the measure that you make use of the Gospel’s power in your life, to that degree will it cause you to grow. Amen.