Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Matthew 13:1-23 What God's Word can do
Matthew 13 of follows chapter 12! Novel idea! It says in 13:1 On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3 Then He told them many things in parables, saying: "Consider the sower who went out to sow.
Here are seven stories Jesus told in Matthew 13. Verse 1 tells us that Jesus gave these parables on "that same day." What same day? Go back and read Matthew 12 and you'll see that it happened on the same day that the Jewish leaders accused Christ of working miracles by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:22-32). Jesus then pronounced judgment on that wicked and adulterous generation (vv. 33-37).
After the public controversy with the Pharisees in Matthew 12 when they accused Jesus of doing his miracles by the power of the devil, one logical question would be, "If you are who you say you are, why doesn't everyone believe? And why did the religious leaders reject your message?" That question rings across the centuries in many different ways. Why does a wife believe and her husband reject? Why does one brother become a missionary and the other a pornographer? Why do two children raised in the same family end up with completely different values? How is it that the same Word of God produces such differing results in the human heart?
Most messages on this parable discuss it from the standpoint of the four soils. I want to look at it in terms of what it teaches us about sharing the gospel today. We have been through an interesting time. Some have responded to the gospel in recent weeks. How do we understand that one church had 100 responses to the gospel and another only a few?
1) No Matter What the Word of God is our overarching duty
Matthew 13: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom
Jesus said the seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:11). It's the only thing that has the power to change the human heart.
Some churches are programme driven. They hope that by putting on enough programmes they can attract people to the gospel. Programmes are not wrong in themselves, but sometimes it's possible to mistake busyness for godliness and activity for spirituality. The only thing that produces lasting growth is the Word of God. Preaching and programs without the Word may produce quick growth but it won't last. We need Word-centred ministry—and that must start from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Preachers who preach about everything under the sun except what God has actually said rob their congregations of the one thing they desperately need.
I've been around long enough to see the trends come and go. Here's a short list:
Sunday School campaigns Sharing services Church growth movement Evangelism Explosion
Charismatic renewal Contemporary worship Seeker-friendly churches
Purpose-Driven churches traditional worship Cell group movement churches The Emerging Church Movement. I have heard of everything that people do to win people to Christ: Jesus All About Life.. etc etc, but when it comes down to it, its only so far as someone actually shares the WORD of God at these functions that anything actually of an eternal nature will ever occur. Does Jesus All About Life actually bring people into contact with the Word of God? That will be the question we must ask ourselves next week as the campaign goes on TV. Never substitute a trend or a fad or the hottest new thing for the simple, systematic teaching of God's Word. Without the Word, our churches may grow but they will not produce fruit that lasts.
2) No Matter What the Word of God produces differing and unpredictable results in the hearers.
This is the central teaching of the parable. Remember that there is nothing wrong with the seed. The same seed that the birds eat is the same seed that produces a good crop. And it's the same seed that produces a plant that withers away or gets choked by the thorns. Good ministry can't be defined solely in terms of its visible results.
A Closed Mind.
A Cloudy Mind,
A Cluttered Mind
A Committed Mind.
Stories to help people understand truth. Stories with a point. Stories to conceal truth as well.
If you seek to understand God's Word, it can change your heart.
Matthew 13:9 Anyone who has ears should listen!" there is something to get in the story and not everyone will get it!
The ability to understand the Word of God is not a function of the intellect, it's a function of the will. . 9 Anyone who has ears should listen!" there is something to get in the story and not everyone will get it!
If you choose to understand it, it takes root in your heart, and you are changed .
The story of the Smalls, convicts and the first Methodist church in Australia.
I heard about one man who in his early years did evangelism among one particular tribal group and saw hundreds if not thousands come to Christ. Then he was transferred to a primarily Muslim area of Nigeria where he labored for years with only a handful of converts. What happened? Had he suddenly become ineffective? The answer is no. He still preached the same Good News but the field was much harder because of the hold the Muslim religion had on its followers.
Good ministry is like that. A man may see huge results in one church and then struggle for years in another church. One tribe is open to the gospel; another is resistant. One city welcomes missionaries; another opposes them. And so it goes around the world. And you can't know in advance how your ministry will be received. That's why Jesus told this story. Our job is sow the seed but as we sow, we need to be realistic and not starry-eyed dreamers. Some seed will fall on the hard path, some on the stony ground, some on thorny soil, and some will fall on good soil. But you can't know in advance where all the seeds will fall.
Good ministry of the Word produces differing results. That happens in every church and in every ministry. Jesus told this story so we won't be surprised and we won't be discouraged when things don't go the way we expected.
1 Corinthians 1:30a (HCSB) "But from Him you are in Christ Jesus…"
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see. John Newton
We were lost and God sovereignly "found" us; we were blind, but God made us see!
This wonder of God's sovereign choice to find us and make us see overwhelmed Isaac Watts when he wrote:
While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast,
Each of us cries with thankful tongue, "Lord, why was I a guest?
Why was I made to hear your voice, and enter while there's room?
When thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?" Isaac Watts (1725-1807)
Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables, but the mysteries are the things He tells those who are His in private. The mysteries were the truths that were hidden and had to be revealed.
2) No Matter What, early success does not necessarily indicate Success For the Word of God.
Often when we enter a new ministry, there is a sudden growth spurt. I remember being told that when a pastor goes to a new church, there is generally a quick rise in attendance followed by a plateau followed by a period of much slower growth. This makes sense because a new pastor brings new excitement, a fresh perspective, new ideas and an infusion of energy. It's not unusual for people to come to church to check out the new guy. So the first few months of a new ministry normally produce a bump in attendance. It's easy for a pastor to be misled by that bump. He can start to think, "Hey, this is easy." The ministry may be many things, but it is not easy.
But that's precisely what Jesus told us to expect. I find it fascinating that the longest portion of Jesus' explanation (vv. 19-21) deals with the seed that fell on stony ground. Remember, it sprang up quickly. Early success! Nothing better than that. We're going to have a bumper crop this year. But that seed sprang up quickly because it had no deep roots. When the sun beat down, the young plants withered and died.
So let us take the warning to heart. Wise farmers know that there is always a long period between planting and harvesting. The "early responders" won't always be around when harvest time comes. Don't be misled by early success. It's not always a guarantee of things to come. Think of it this way. Three of the four soils responded positively at first. But only one produced lasting fruit.
4) No MatterDon't despair because of early difficulty.
Three of the four soils failed to produce good fruit. Is Jesus suggesting that 75% of our efforts will be unproductive? No, but sometimes it can seem that way. Some churches are hard, others are easier. Some missionaries see amazing results. Others struggle for years with little to show for their efforts. Good soil can be hard to find. The flip side is that when you find it, it can produce amazing results. And some people will be thirty-fold, some sixty, and some a hundred-fold in what they produce for the Kingdom. God can do a lot with a little. That's the encouraging news from this parable. A few seeds sown in good soil can ultimately revolutionize a church, a town, a school, a family, a neighbourhood, or when God wills it so, an entire region.
5) No Matter What Your initial judgment of people will often be wrong.
This truth cuts both ways. You can't tell by looking what sort of heart a person has. That is, you can't infallibly know who will respond to the ministry of the Word and produce the good fruit Jesus talked about in this parable. As the seed is sown in many places, it will find its place in many hearts. You simply cannot tell in advance how people will respond over the long haul. Some people you "knew" would make good elders and deacons will fall away or be tripped up by the cares of this world. And sometimes the unlikeliest people will become mature believers. We have to give the Word time to do its work. Eventually the Word reveals the true condition of every heart.
6) No Matter What Sow widely because you don't know where the good soil is.
The farmer in this parable "broadcast" his seed. He carried it in a pouch slung around his neck and threw handfuls in every direction. He knows that a certain amount of the seed will fall on the beaten path where it cannot take root. What the farmer doesn't know—and can't know—is where the stones and thorns are just under the surface. And therefore he also doesn't know where the good soil is that produces lasting fruit. So it is in his own best interests to sow his seed as widely as possible. The same is true in evangelism. The best way to reach more people is to sow the seed of the Word in as many ways possible, using every avenue open to you, reaching out to every age and every interest group you can find.
7) No Matter What When you find good soil responsive to the Word of God, cultivate it.
It's easy to be sidetracked into a thousand things that don't really matter. When you find good soil, cultivate it. That's what Jesus did. Though he spoke to the masses, and though he had time for individuals, he gave the majority of his time to training the twelve. He found them, he called them, he trained them, and he allowed them to come alongside and be with him up close and personal. He poured himself into that small band of men knowing that after his departure they would become the leaders of the movement he had started. They were the good soil that would multiply 30 60 or a hundred-fold. That is the point of the parable. The Jewish leaders were not good soil. The scribes and Pharisees were the quick growers that would be crushed by the worries and cares of this life and the desires for other things.
I don't think we can improve on Jesus' plan for reaching the world.
He preached to the masses. He ministered to individuals. He poured himself into a small group of key followers.
He called an even smaller group to be his apostles. That small group of 12 men (which eventually became eleven after Judas defected) was the real focus of Jesus' earthly ministry. After he returned to heaven, they became the foundation for the church he was building (Ephesians 2:20).
Find a group of key men and women and pour yourself into them. Teach them. Pray with them. Listen to them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Challenge them. Encourage them. Call them at night. Send them a weekly email. Bring them into your confidence. Let them see your heart. There is only one thing wrong with this plan. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of energy and you have to be really committed to it. This isn't a quick-rewards program.
"I'd like to do that but I just don't have the time. I'm overwhelmed with too many things to do already." It is a sober statement of reality. He really didn't have the time. One of the other men in the room commented, "It must not be very important to you or you'd find the time to do it." He didn't argue and he wasn't offended. When I saw him a few months later, he said, "I want you to meet my men." And he introduced me to a group of 8 men, each one handpicked and prayed over. They were meeting weekly to read theology and pray together. And after some period of time, each man will pray about it and handpick his own men to repeat the process. The best ministry is always life on life. A passion for God is better caught than taught. 2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. When you find the good soil, cultivate it! Work with it so that eventually there will be a multiplied harvest for the Lord.
8) No Matter What Without prayer your ministry cannot be effective.
We do the sowing, the seed must do the work, but it needs a receptive heart to bring forth fruit. What does a farmer do with unproductive soil? He plows it up, throws out the rocks, pulls up the weeds, waters the ground, and plants it again. God farms the human heart like that. Jeremiah 4:3 says, "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns." Things don't have to stay the way they are today. Remember what God promised to disobedient Israel in Ezekiel 36:26, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
A new heart! A spiritual heart transplant!
That goes beyond the parable Jesus told and it takes us into a realm of enormous spiritual promise. The farmer cannot of himself transform rocky soil into good soil. If you've ever seen the hillsides of Galilee, you know that they are more rocks than soil. You could never get rid of all the rocks. But God can!
And this is why the final word belongs to the Lord and not to us. After all, we were all once like the seed sown by the path. But God in his mercy intervened. He removed the heart of stone and gave us a heart of flesh. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He gave us a brand-new heart.
We believe God can do things that are far beyond our expectations. He's done it before. He can do it again. And he's doing at this moment all over the world.
This parable teaches us both patience and hope. We need patience because some of the seeds we sow will never produce the fruit we hope for. But others will produce one hundred times more than we expect. And this is why we preach and pray and keep on sowing the Word. There is good soil out there even though it's not always easy to find.
If we keep on sowing the Word, we will reap a harvest in God's time, by his grace, for his glory. Amen.
With Thanks To Ray Pritchard Keep Believing Ministries