Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Be careful how you listen (4)

Productive soil

Receiving the Word with a noble and good heart

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5
  • Luke 8:11-15

Hymns/Songs:

  • “Lord of the Church”
  • “More about Jesus”
  • “Great is Thy faithfulness”
  • “Send forth the Gospel”

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

After three weeks of sermons on the first parable of Jesus, we may ask, “What is the parable about?  Is it about the sower?  Is it about the seed? Is it about the different soils?  Is one of these elements perhaps more important thsn the other?”

Matthew 13:37 says:

The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:37, NIV)

These words of our Lord follows another paragraph and is an explanation of that parable but in essence Jesus Christ is the Sower of the seed  in the Parable of the soils, even if He does it though his church.  But the fact that the one who sows the seed does not get much attention in the parable itself, indicates that we, as disciples and Church of the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned to preach his Gospel to reach the ends of the world, have to understand the sower of the Gospel is never important.  It is not about him, and he or she should not feel bad if his toil in the kingdom of God does not produce a crop as great as he or she expected.  In the end, any work in the Kingdom of God is God’s business; we plant, other water, but it is God who gives the growth.

But what is important, and we will come back to this point in two weeks, is that we must be careful how we listen:  the sowers of the seed of the Word have a responsibility, because how they listen will determine how they sow.

Is this parable about the seed?  One could say yes, but we have to qualify the answer, because it is not about the seed alone:  it is what the seed does when it is received.  Therefore the parable is not about the soil only either, because when Jesus explains the parable He makes much of who the people respond to the Gospel; the response of those who hear the Gospel is a matter of being included into the Kingdom of God or being excluded from the Kingdom of God.  What includes those who hear the Word of God as seed of the Gospel is not the fact that they showed initial signs of growth after receiving the Word.  It is not the green acres of wheat which gladden the heart of the farmer; it is what he reaps as a crop at the end of the season.

What includes those who hear the Word of God as the seed of the Gospel, is their commitment to be active as disciples of Christ in bearing fruit which contributes to the growth of Christ’s work on earth until the full umber of the elect is reached, upon which our Lord will come again.

Let’s take things one step at a time.

The Kingdom of God

Read through Mark, Matthew and Luke’s gospels and you will notice that the parables about the seed, the weeds, the mustard seed, the hidden treasure, and the net are all about the Kingdom of God.  The context of Mark 4 and Matthew 13 is “those who do the will of the Father, who are the family of our Lord.

In Matthew 13 Jesus declared:

Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:11, NIV)

The parables of Jesus are in essence nothing else as an explanation of something about the Kingdom of God, and how the Father planned from all eternity to take people from the kingdom of darkness and plant them into the Kingdom of light.

Simply put, what Jesus is doing is to tell about God’s grace: He loves people to the extent that He speaks to them to save them and make them heirs of his Kingdom in his Son.

In other words, as we sit here this morning, we need to understand that we are not naturally born into the Kingdom of God.  We are brought into the Kingdom of God when we respond to effectual call the Word of God by believing the message about Jesus Christ with a faithful heart in such a complete way that we become fruitful; in other words, we become instruments in the hands of Godl in the growth of the Kingdom so that it will grow to the glory of God.

So, we are either in the Kingdom or outside of the Kingdom of God.  What delivers us from the one to take us to the next is through faith in the Word of God.

Jesus Christ

There is a verse interesting verse inserted between the parable itself and the explanation of the parable.  Jesus said:

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16–17, NIV)

What the prophets foretold, and what many others like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, the parents of Samson and Samuel, any hundreds of others longed to see, is now happening in the sight of the apostles:  they actually see the Kingdom of God appearing in Jesus Christ.  They heard Him speak, they heard Him teaching them, they saw Him touch the leper, and the heard Him proclaim forgiveness of sin.

In other words, what the Old Testament looked forward to, is now being fulfilled in their sight.  Indeed, what was missing then is now present.  The Bible, both New and Old Testaments, are about Him.  Is it about how God would crush the head of the serpent.  Jesus is God’s Son who would wash away the sins in of the world.  He is the Lamb slain for the sin of the lost.  He is the Lion of Judah who would reign over his enemy.  He is God in flesh, as a man without sin, but never less God as He has been from all eternity.  He then, is the King of Kings and the Lord of lords.  In Him the Kingdom of God has come near.  He would bring the devision between those who believe and those who don’t believe.

He is the King of that kingdom.  And where He is King, there He must reign.  Those who don’t want Him to reign over their lives, their will, their desires, their plans, their money, their possessions will be trampled underfoot by the all-powerful King – King Jesus.

The Word of God

Jesus Christ is the Word of God.  John 1:1 says

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, NIV)

Hebrews 1 proclaims this:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, NIV)

What the prophets spoke about was recorded in the Old Testament.  What the apostles recorded about Jesus Christ is recorded in the Bible.  So, the Bible is the word of God about the Word of God – the Son, Jesus Christ.

The word, the Bible, is therefore God’s word – He speaks to us: it is true, it is worthy to be received, it contains the promises of God (his word), it contains his will (word as in testament), it contains his standard of living (word – Commandments), and it contains his words of wrath upon them who rebel against him.  His word is the words of life, because Jesus is the bread of life and He gives eternal life.

It is this message which is sown like seed into the soil.

What we know up to this point is that the message of the Bible is about the Kingdom of God – how to get there and why one misses it through unbelief and disobedience.  One must believe in Him who is the Word of God, Jesus Christ to receive the Kingdom of God ; one must bow before Him so that He takes the reign of one’s life, because when God speaks He speaks through Jesus Christ who fulfilled the love and righteousness of God on the cross where He took the wrath of sinful mankind upon Him to be punished in our place.  He is the one who destroyed the devil, and He is the One who promised to come again to take to Him those who have been faithful to the end, and to strike those who rejected his word with eternal punishment.

The Word of God is aimed at our hearts

Jesus said:

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (Matthew 13:19, NIV)

The heart is known to be the seat of ones desire, love, emotions and will.  It is also well understood in our culture; that’s why we say, “we love with all our heart”, and the one you really love, has your heart.  When we really feel for someone in sorrow we say, “our heart goes out to them.”  Who has your heart, owns you.  Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

God aims at your heart when He speaks to you about his Son who brings you out of darkness into his marvellous light.  The message of the Word is not something we just hear externally, something we read before we fall asleep because the devil might come and pick us up and torment us with terrible nightmares if we don’t.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us.

He then writes about the way we read: not only on the surface, because

Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alon[e] with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible …

“If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament …

“And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way – and this has not been for so very long – it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.”

The first two types of soil read and held on to the Bible only externally and it made no change to the way they lived or what they thought. The Bible was merely and add on.  You read it some days and like some remedies, it makes you feel good some days – the problem is you forget about it once you feel better.  Jesus becomes less important, the Kingdom becomes less important, and one’s own will and way steps in and take over.  And when it is too late, one might try to get it all back again – but there is no fruit, only some sort of survival!

Or one receives the Word with a double mind: you try to get the best out of both the world and the kingdom.  There is the chase after what shines and twinkles; there is the chase after the pleasure of the world – time, money and energy are spent on passing delights of this world, and you in the end find this hollow emptiness in your heart which just cannot be fulfilled.  You give up because your spiritual life is choked to death:  “Man cannot serve two masters.  Either he will be devotes to the one and despise the other.

There was some sort of survival, but no fruit.  The harvester reveals only chaff and waste which is blown away by the wind.  Useless for the kingdom.  I hear the words of Jesus:

…my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit …” (John 15:1–2, NIV)

You see, the Lord is after your heart!

The last type of soil, the type that is productive, producing hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold, the Bible describes as:

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:15, NIV)

Luke uses this word pair “noble and good” to describe something of a person who like a soldier declares himself willing to serve whatever the cost.  This person heard God speak, he heard God speak about his Kingdom, and he heard God speak about his Son, Jesus Christ the King of that Kingdom who is his only hope of being saved.  This person knows that God is after his heart, and this person says, “Take my heart, take my life, take my will.  I will follow you and obey your commands like a soldier who has made up his mind about the dangers of the battlefield, and still wants to serve.”  This person gives up his former life,  and is being transferred from darkness to light.  He does not have worries about possible persecution, because he has already lost his life in Christ.  This person has turned his back on the pleasures of this world, because he found his delight in the Lord and has become addicted to the joy of serving Christ.  This person says, “Take my life, take my heart!”

Therefore this person steadfastly cling to the life-giving message about the King, the Kingdom, the Word and its promises, and he feeds on it like a baby craving after milk.

The word used in Luke 8:15 is “retain”: hold fast, hang on to (for dear life!), make it your own as if you possess it, master it.

Because he with a good and noble heart (faithful heart) clings to the truth of the Word and know how to handle it be mastering it through experience, he can “by perseverance” produce a crop.  By perseverance: it describes patience, endurance, steadfastness, fortitude: the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty.  This is so different from the previous two types of soil.  Paul writes,

“… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3–5, NIV)

Conclusion

Paul wrote to the Romans and spurred them on to press forward.  How would they be able to persevere?  Listen:

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4, NIV)

Exactly be hanging on to the Scriptures and all the promises of God in it.

My brother and sister, the Lord is speaking, He speaks about Christ; He speaks about Christ Who includes us in his Kingdom when we give our hearts, our lives, ourselves away, determined to be available like a stout soldier:  the crop is important:  the growth of the kingdom and rule of our Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ.

Are you like the good soil?  What else?  Nothing else pleases the Father.

Amen.

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