25th March 2023
Read (Matthew 13v1-23)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
The Scriptures don't tell us everything that Jesus said or did but we have been given more than enough to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we might have life in His name (John 20v30-31). What we have in the Bible is sufficient and what we have in Christ's parables is a treasury of spiritual truth.
What is a parable? A parable is a story with a deeper meaning or as has often has been said a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus told a growing crowd about a sower who went out to sow (v3). I'm not from an agricultural background and you may not be either so lets make the image clear. Imagine a farm worker with a bag of seed heading into a field. The field is empty and so the farm worker's job is to scatter the seed with a view to harvesting a good crop at a later stage.
In Christ's story the sower was busy in his work but not all of the seed fell on good and fertile soil. Some seed fell on the path and soon the birds ate the seed for a free meal (v4). Some seed fell on rocky ground which had some soil but not too much. The seeds sprouted but because there wasn't enough soil the plant's roots were not strong and soon the plant was scorched and withered by the sun (v5-6). Some seed fell among the thorns which choked the life out of the young plants (v7). But some seed fell on good soil eventually producing crops of grain of various sizes (v8). With the story told, Jesus declared "He who has ears, let him hear." (v9)
But what are we to hear? Perhaps we are to learn something about farming? Perhaps this is a story about a careless worker? Perhaps the story is just a story with no life changing meaning? Thankfully the Lord explained everything we need to know about the parable of the sower.
In the parable the sower is someone who is scattering the Gospel seed far and wide. Some hear the Gospel, don't understand it and then Satan comes and snatches the good seed away - this is the seed that is scattered on the path (v19). Others hear the Gospel and receive it with joy, however the Gospel hasn't taken root in that individual's life and so when trouble comes such a person turns away from Christ - this is the seed scattered on rocky ground (v20-21).
Another person hears the Gospel but they are filled with the troubles and cares of life and so the Word has no impact - this is the seed scattered on thorny ground (v22). But thanks be to God, for some hear the Gospel, receive it and from a transformed heart and the working of the Holy Spirit an abundance of good fruit is produced - this is the seed sown on good soil (v23). Therefore the parable of the sower accurately describes the world in which we live and the church to which you belong.
I find both encouragement and challenge in the parable of the sower. As a preacher of the Gospel I want nothing more than everyone listening to repent and believe but tragically not everyone who hears will repent. I am often frustrated and brought low by the lack of response to the Word of God, but rather than being down in the dumps and feeling sorry for myself I should be driven to prayer. The scattering of the Word must be accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and the life of those listening. The work of salvation belongs to the Lord and so my challenge is to sow faithfully whilst understanding that only the Lord can make hard hearts soft. Brothers and sisters, be encouraged to keep on sowing and keep on praying. You may see little to no response but surely Christ will lose none of those for whom He died.
But why did Jesus choose to teach in this way? Would a straightforward sermon not have been better? The disciples wondered along similar lines asking Jesus “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v10). The Lord's response was to explain the dual purpose of the parables. For the Christian the parables serve to reveal more of God's kingdom giving them an abundant treasury of truth (v11-12a). This is God's special revelation. To His people He gives ears to hear and hearts to receive. For them the parables aren't simple stories but glimpses of kingdom realities.
However just as the parables are a blessing for the Christian they serve as God's judgement on an unbelieving world. The one who refuses Christ will lose everything (v12b). They refuse to see, they refuse to hear and they refuse to understand (v13). They are the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy "You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them." (Isaiah 6v9-10).
It is a terrible thought that God meets sinful humanity's rebellion by giving them exactly what they want. Paul explains this in Romans 1 where he speaks of sinful people suppressing the clear truth of God in their lives (Roman 1v18). They see God in creation but deny Him and their hearts grow dark (Romans 1v21). They make their own images and their own "gods" and in response God gives them exactly what they want (Romans 1v24,26). It is a terrible thing to be hard against the things of God, the seed may be scattered but it never takes root. The judgement of God has fallen on those who refuse to see.
The Christian response to this news must be humility. We were no better than our pagan neighbours but due to the extraordinary work of the Spirit we have been made alive in Christ - it is by grace that we have been saved! We are the blessed of God for we can now see and hear (v16). Indeed for those of us on this side of the cross we have seen and heard things which the prophets and other Old Testament believers longed to see (v17). The Parables aren't a mystery to us or a judgement upon us, instead they are the Lord's revelation of His kingdom which is received willingly by our new hearts.
Jesus said "He who has ears, let him hear." Child of God, by faith you hear and by faith you see. Glory be to God!
Q3 What do the Scriptures principally teach? The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.