The Parable of the Soils: How Do You Hear?, Part 2 (Matthew Sermon 60 of 151)
June 29, 2003 | Andrew Davis
The Powerful Sound of the Gospel
Turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 13 where we'll be continuing our study on the Parable of the Seed and the Soils. We are asking again, how do you hear? What is the most powerful sound in history? On August 27th, 1883 out in an island in the Pacific called Krakatoa, a volcano erupted with the most violent eruption that had ever been measured in modern history. Before the eruption, the elevation of the island was over 1400 feet high above the surface of the Pacific Ocean. But in that morning, that island was erased, to a depth of more than a thousand feet below the surface of the sea; that's 2,400 feet of mountain vaporized and thrown up into the air at an estimated height of 17 miles high. The sound from that volcano is reputed to be the loudest in the history of the human race heard over 1/13th the size of the Earth, a distance of over 3000 miles away in the Rodrigues islands. Can you imagine an event in California from which you could hear the sound here in North Carolina, 3000 miles away? That is probably the loudest sound in history, but is it the most powerful sound in history? The answer is “no”, for the most powerful sound in history is the simple proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just whispered next to a co-worker, a friend, or a neighbor, or even a total stranger on an airplane, it is the most powerful sound in history, the simple gospel whispered to a neighborhood.
You know the story of Elijah when he went into the cave at Mount Horeb to see the Lord. The Lord was going to come to him. The Lord did not come to him in an earthquake or in the powerful wind. Nor did he come in the fire, but in the gentle soothing voice, the still small voice of the Lord. When Elijah heard it, he covered his face. So also, must we be when we hear the simple proclamation of the Word of God, for the kingdom of heaven advances through the hearing of the word, that's all. So it is for all of you who hope in heaven today, whose sins have been forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. It is so because you heard with faith, the Word of God, the message of the kingdom. For the third straight week we're looking at this incredible parable of the seed and the soils. Jesus said in Verse 3, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like someone who went out to sow his seed, a farmer went out to sow his seed and as he was set scattering the seeds, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places because the soil was shallow, they sprang up quickly, but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered and died, because they had no root. Some fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop yielding 100 and 60, and 30 times what was sown.” Then Jesus challenged his hearers with these words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are you ready to hear the most powerful sound in the history of the world today? Is your heart ready to hear the Word of God? There is no more powerful sound than the Word of God. It can transform a family, it can transform an individual, it can transform a nation, it can transform a world. It can usher you from hell to heaven, that is the power of the Word of God. Are you ready to hear it today?
The Hard & the Rocky Soils
Last week, we looked at the first two soil types. The first soil was the beaten path,hard-packed soil, like concrete. When the word falls on that soil, it bounces. It makes no indentation at all, no impact on the heart whatsoever. This is the hardened soil. It's the heart of an unbeliever who through sin, through unbelief ,and through wickedness and rebellion is not ready to receive the Word. The devil comes and snatches away what was was sown in this person’s heart, the results of that ultimately unbelief is eternal condemnation in hell. The second soil type is the rocky soil, what we call the superficial, shallow, temporary, believer. In verse 20-21 it is the one who received the seed that fell on rocky places. The man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy, 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. This is the temporary believer. Is it really possible that there could be such a thing as a temporary believer? The answer is yes. Jesus says in the parallel version in Luke 8, “He believed for a while.” So there it is, Jesus has settled that question. What was the nature of his belief? Was it true “justifying belief”? We know that that would be impossible. You cannot lose your justification, so it's not that type of faith. There's a different kind of faith, a superficial one, an emotional one, one who has received the Word with joy. He's thrilled, he's excited, he tells all his friends that his life has changed and that he’s found everything that he’d been looking for. It's all here and he starts to get involved in the Christian life, to go to church. He's excited for a while until, all of a sudden, trouble or persecution comes because of the Word. Persecution means the world attacks. Maybe it's a family member, maybe a spouse, maybe it's just somebody who isn't as excited as he is about his new life and begins to oppose him. Maybe it's the government, maybe he’s thrown in jail, it's difficult, persecution. Or perhaps the trouble is because the Word creates a deep searching of his soul, and he begins to realize that certain patterns of his life are inconsistent with the kingdom, but he’s not willing to let them go. Trouble has come because of the Word. Either way he has no root system, no genuine connection to the vine and so he has no staying power, no ability to survive when the sun comes up and beats down and it gets tough to be a Christian. This plant, withers and dies because it has no root, this is the shallow temporary believer. There's no genuine understanding in the soul, there's no genuine brokenness over sin, and in the relationship with God, no lasting conversion and love for God. There's no root.
The Thorny Soil
Now we're going to begin to look at the third type of soil, that is the double-minded man. In verse 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 un-fruitful.” This is the thorny soil. You've got soil that clearly can support life. It's not the hard-packed soil of the first type, and it's not even the shallow superficial light covering of top soil, represented by the second type. This soil apparently can support life and do very well, but it's very much like a garden overgrown with weeds. Nobody enjoys weeding a garden, but any true gardener knows it is indispensable to a healthy garden. You must weed the garden. Rudyard Kipling put it this way, “Our England is a garden and such gardens are not made by singing, ‘oh, how wonderful’ and sitting in the shade, while better men than we go out and start their working lives by grubbing weeds from garden paths with broken dinner knives.” If you want a good garden, you have to get out there and weed it. Get those broken dinner knives and start grubbing out the weeds and if you don't, you won't have a garden. William Shakespeare said, “Sweet flowers are slow, but weeds make haste.” Fruit and beautiful flowers take a long time, but weeds, they grow quickly. It is not enough for a gardener to love flowers, he must also hate weeds and so it is in the Christian life. Why the weeding? Because there's only so many nutrients in the soil, there's only so much moisture, there's only so much sunlight and if all of these other plants are towering over that little plant that is trying to grow, it cannot survive. Notice what it says in verse 7, “Other seeds fell among the thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” Strangled, drowned for lack of air. It's the same word. The seed is choked off from what it needs for life and fruitfulness. The available resources in the soil are getting sucked up by the aggressive thorns. They grow faster, and they dominate the soil, so that little plant has no chance to bear fruit.
In the parable what is it that chokes out the seed and makes it un-fruitful? Jesus tells us it is the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Let's start with the worries of life. What does this mean? It's a negative sense of fears and concerns over not having enough to survive, enough to live. Worries about your physical health. Will I be healthy, will I be alive? Will my family have enough to live on, will we have a roof over our heads, will we have clothes for our backs, food for our bellies? These are the basic concerns of life, physical life. These are the worries of this life connected in every way to the fact that we are created, dependent beings with these needs. We need to be filled three times a day. Have you noticed the phenomenon? It's called getting hungry. We are created dependent.We may say that we're not dependent. All we have to do is go down to the grocery store and get everything we need. Oh, how little we know of the agrarian life, how far we have been removed from our dependence on God. Farmers know that they need God in order to survive. The worries of this life is a farmer or anybody who says, "I don't even know if we'll be alive six months from now.” Paralyzed by that concerned, they can do nothing for the kingdom of heaven. Let's say God calls somebody to quit their job and go over seas as a tent maker, be a missionary in some unreached people group. What do you think is the first thing that's going to start crawling into their mind? Could it be the worries of this life? Could it be concern for family? What about my children? What about me? What about my wife and myself ? We never really liked that kind of food. Or we don't really know if we're going to survive. Will there be enough money? These are the worries of this life. And so the person may at that point, shrink back and may not be faithful in the end. That's the worries of this life. What will I eat, what will I drink what will I wear? Basic commodities. Then there's another one, the deceitfulness of wealth. With the worries of this life, we're talking about the basic commodities. What you need to survive, this goes beyond that, doesn't it? Will I have the things I've want? Will I have the things I crave? Will I have luxuries? The deceitfulness of wealth is a hungering after luxury. Wealth implies abundance, it says in 1 Timothy 6:10, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Wealth is deceitful, it's a con-artist that leads you away from the true path of service to God, little by little, dragging you away and enticing you. A businessman may wake up and find that his mind is only dominated and saturated with his business. He doesn't think at all about the kingdom of God or about Christ, but only how he can run and make money that day. He runs 60 hours a week to make his business everything that it can be, little knowing that he is way off the path. The deceitfulness of wealth. It's tricky, and in the end, this preoccupation with material prosperity leads to destruction. It becomes unfruitful. Jesus says that the thorns grow up and choke the plant making it unfruitful.
This is a crop failure. And to me, this is a key insight into this whole text. “Unfruitful” means not Christian. They're not a Christian. What if I see certain tendencies, what if I'm somewhat like the shallow soil? What if I'm somewhat like the thorny soil? I'll talk to that in a moment, but the final verdict on this is unfruitful, end of story. Being unfruitful, I’d say, they're not Christian, because in order to be Christian, you must bear fruit and so prove yourself to be Christ’s disciples. In the end, there's no fruit at all because it's choked out. This is the double-minded man who’s thinking about Heaven and thinking also about Earth. The deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things, choke the man making him unfruitful. That's kind of broad, it's actually kind of uncomfortably broad. Desires for other things other than the Kingdom. This individual wants the Kingdom of Heaven, but he wants the kingdom of Earth more, so he’s choked out and made unfruitful. True Christians in the end are amazingly single-minded about the kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, when a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, sold 50% of what he owned to get it. Is that what it says? No. He sold everything he had that he might get that field.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of incredible value, he went and sold everything he had that he might buy that pearl. Single-minded. Paul says in Philippians 3, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” That's perfection in Heaven. Keep pressing, there's a single-mindedness here. “One thing I do.” In Psalm 27 it says, "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze at his beauty seeking Him in His temple.” David was utterly single-minded, he wanted God, he wanted the Son of Man. The true convert is single-minded, but the double-minded man says, “Two things, I seek: I want God and I want Mammon. I want to serve two masters, I want them both.” Jesus has already said it is impossible to serve two masters. In the end you will love the one and despise the other. You will make a choice in the end. It isn't just Paul that taught this kind of single-minded devotion to the kingdom. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 when he’s talking about not worrying. “Don’t worry about what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or what you shall wear, for your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. The pagans run after those things, but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of these things will be added to you as well.” What's “these things”? Something to eat. Something to drink, something to wear. Not luxuries. The necessities that your Father knows that you need. Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and God will add those things to you. The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:4 taught about being a single-minded soldier. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs because he wants to please his commanding officer. A civilian affair would be anything that your commanding officer has not told you to do. This good soldier wants to please his commanding officer, he is single-minded, but the seeds sown among the thorns represents a double-minded man. He wants the kingdom some, but he wants the world more and in the end, he is unfruitful.
The Good Soil
I hope you're yearning for the fourth soil. Verse 23 says, “ 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 100, 60 or 30 times what was sown.” Isn't it interesting that it all begins here in the fourth type of soil with the understanding? It starts in the mind, he receives the word and he understands it. He's not the path whose mind and heart are hardened by sin and rebellion so that the seed bounces. He's not the hardened path, nor is he the shallow soil, that takes it in, and has only had a simple, superficial emotional understanding of the message of the kingdom, nor is he the thorny soil. It's clear to him[the good soil] that the kingdom is worth everything he has to obtain it. He understands the message. Now naturally, we do not possess this kind of understanding. In Ephesians 4:18 it says, "They are darkened in their understanding, and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." That's us naturally. Naturally, we don't understand the message about the kingdom, naturally our hearts are hard. That's the way we all start. But God the Father has given us true understanding in order that He might save our souls. God the Son gives us true understanding, in order that He may save our souls. God the Spirit gives us true understanding, in order that He may save our souls. God, the father, lavishes wisdom and understanding on us in order that He might forgive our sins. It says in Ephesians 1:7-8, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” God the Father as well as God the Son gives us this understanding. 1 John 5:20 says, “We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true.”
Jesus comes and gives us understanding so we can know. God and the Holy Spirit have that same ministry as well. 1 Corinthians 2:12 says, "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." God the Father gives us understanding in order that He may save our souls, God the Son gives us understanding in order that He may save our souls, and God the Spirit also gives us understanding in order that He may save our souls. This is the work of the Triune God. If you have come to this understanding of the Word and of the message of the kingdom that it is worth everything you have to receive the forgiveness of sins and freedom on judgment day, then on that day the Judge will sit down there and say, "Not guilty over you. I know him, I know her. They're one of mine." You are covered in the righteousness of Christ, if you come to this kind of understanding of what Jesus did on the cross. He's not just a man up there, bloody on a wooden cross, no. That is your savior, He's your righteousness, He is your hope, and that empty tomb, isn't just an interesting religious oddity, but it is your hope of triumph over the grave. If you understand this then God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit has worked this into your mind. The good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it. In Luke 8:15, it says 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 good crop.
Now, where did you get a noble and good heart? Were you born with it? Ask your parents, they'll tell you the truth, you weren't born with a noble and good heart. It came to you as a gift from God, under the work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and by persevering, you produce a crop. Are you suspicious when salesman tell you that something is a 100% guaranteed or your money back? The more they talk, the more suspicious I get. If you need to talk that much about the guarantee, I worry. But let me give you a guarantee, based on the Word of God. If you are a Christian, you are guaranteed 100% to bear fruit for the kingdom. If you are born again, if you are a regenerate by the Spirit, if you are a true born again Christian, you will 100% guaranteed bear fruit for the kingdom.
Shall I turn it around? If you are not bearing fruit for the kingdom, you are not a Christian. It’s important then to find out what this fruit is. What is this fruit bearing that is guaranteed? Jesus said, "I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from you, apart from me, you can do nothing. And then in verse 8, John 15:8, Jesus said a vital thing. “This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be my disciples.” What does that tell you? If you bear no fruit, you are cut off of the vine, thrown away and burned. Jesus says in that image, you're not a Christian. You must, therefore bear fruit.
From this parable I get two insights. First of all, fruitfulness is guaranteed. Second of all, the level of fruitfulness varies from Christian to Christian. All of the seeds sown in the good soil, produces a crop. Some 100 some 60 or some 30, but in every case, there's some fruit. I mentioned in part one of this sermon that in the ancient Near East, a good yield on a seed was eight to one; if you could get eight seeds back for every one seed planted that was a bumper crop. Jesus is talking about 100, 60 or 30 times what was sown. I did some research on soybean farms and the best I could find out is that for American soybean farmers a good crop is 30-fold. 30 times what was sown. Jesus is saying that's a minimum. The secondary lesson is that not every Christian's equally fruitful. Some are more fruitful than others. Now what is fruit? Evangelicals have too easily focused just on conversions that we would be soul winners, and we're going to go out and win other people to Christ. That is most definitely fruit, but I think fruit is far broader and deeper and wider than that.
John McArthur gives us a helpful categorization of fruit. There are two types, first, attitude fruit and the second, action fruit. Attitude fruit, and then action fruit. What would attitude fruit be? It's an internal attitude or disposition of the heart. Fruit of the Spirit would be a good indication of these: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness faithfulness, and self-control. These things are produced by the Holy Spirit, and it is good fruit when God sees them. Look at the commands— To love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength, with all of your mind. This is good fruit. To love your neighbor as yourself. As God produces this in you, this is attitude fruit, heart fruit, internal fruit. For example, a love for God's word, a yearning to know what it says, a love for God's kingdom and its progress; a love for God's people and their health and their fruitfulness. A yearning after righteousness, not just for yourself but for your brothers and sisters in Christ, a deep desire that you would be in the presence of God, that you would be able to see him face-to-face. That's the one thing you want more than anything. A yearning to glorify God and all that you do. A yearning to reveal His nature in the way that you eat and sleep and go to work and have your family life. A yearning for holiness, this is internal heart attitude and God accepts it as fruit. So also the negative side, just like we said earlier, if you want a good garden, it's not enough to love the flowers you've got to hate the weeds and so it is also that we have to hate certain things. We have to love what God loves and we have to hate what God hates. A hatred for evil, a war against sin, a desire for total perfection and holiness, grief over sin as intrinsically evil. Not just because you might get caught or it might get expensive or embarrassing, but because it's evil. A hatred for sin as sin and as evil. God accepts us as good fruit, so these and many other heart attitudes are considered “good fruit” produced by the seed of the Word.
Then there's action fruit. It's what you do with your body. It's how you go out and live, how you actually move through the world. The way you spend your time, any action that you take. Action for the glory of God and for the spread of His kingdom, that's action fruit, any prayer that you pray. Any cup of cold water given to one of these little ones because he is my disciple. You'll never lose your reward. Any time you go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father as unseen for His kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, that God sees, and you'll never lose your reward. Any time that you act courageously as a witness. When we feel the fear to witness and go anyway, God is greatly honored. Fruit therefore is the disciples you make, the people you lead to Christ and then train up in the faith. Fruit is using your spiritual gifts. If your gift is encouraging, it is to encourage. If your gift is teaching, and you teach, that is fruit. If it is giving and you give generously, and in a spirit-filled manner, this brings great glory to God, this is fruit. Fruit is a happy, holy and godly marriage where husbands love their wives as Christ the Church and where wives gladly submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Fruit is a godly well-ordered home, where the children are brought up in the training and nurture of the Lord and where the children for their part put their own sin to death and submit gladly to their parents, this brings great glory to God.
Fruit is a series of spiritual disciplines done in secret: fasting, prayers, scripture memorization, meditation, witnessing. Other things that you do that no one will ever know. Perhaps the one person you witness to and you never tell anyone about it. This is of great glory to God, and this is fruit. Fruit is also conquering besetting sin in the private battle ground of your heart. Saying, no, to yourself and to your lust and to your sins and triumphing by the power of the Spirit. For a former alcoholic to refuse to drink again and to take each temptation as an opportunity to do battle for God and overcome to him who overcomes the crown of victory is given. Or for a typically angry, irritable, complaining person to not do it this time, and to bring honor to God by being cheerful, when they don't want to. For a young man to keep his way pure and shield his eyes from anything that would cause him to lust, and for a young lady to choose to dress chastely and purely and not tempt her brothers into sin by what she wears. This is glorifying to God. It's for God's people to refuse to be polluted by this world that we live in. James says, “This is religion that our God and Father accepts as pure and faultless, to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.” This and many other things are fruit. Now can you see why I say if you have none of the above, you're not a Christian. You're not born-again, you're dead in your transgressions and sins because you have no fruit.
What of the variability of fruitfulness? Why the 100, 60 or 30 times? Because God has left it to us as he also works within us. It's a partnership, justification[salvation] is not a partnership. That's a gift. We just accept it, freely. But then, sanctification becomes co-laboring with God, and the more we labor, the more fruit comes. George Muller, who after he wrestled, and eventually came into faith in Christ, was a 100 fold or maybe 100,000 fold Christian. I was reading one biography about Muller and it listed some of the tangible measurements of his faithfulness. George Muller, opened seven day schools in England. The number of students over 64 years of his life in the day schools was 81,501 students. The amount of money he raised for the day schools over a 64-year total, £109,992, tens of millions of dollars in modern money. The number of Sunday schools that he started in Great Britain, 37, the number of students at the Sunday schools, 32,944 students taught the Word of God through George Muller. The number of Bibles that he gave out or circulated, 1.9 million. How many Bibles have you given or how many portions of scripture have you given? The amount of money raised for Bible circulation was £41,090. The number of missionaries that he personally supported financially was 115. The amount of money raised to aid them was £261,859, millions of dollars. The number of books and tracks that he gave out, 3.1 million. The total number of orphans that he cared for, that was what he was known for the best, over a 64-year total was 10,029 orphans. How would you like to have 10,000 kids? The amount of money raised for the orphanage, £988,000. The total amount of money raised and spent by George Muller in his lifetime, £1,498,000. That is hundreds of millions of dollars in modern money. The number of specific answers to prayer that he recorded and wrote down in a note book was over 50,000. The people he led to Christ through his lifetime and through his example is absolutely incalculable. Do you know why? Because all the people he led to Christ, would then go on and lead others to Christ and so on and so on. It's impossible to know all the things that came from his life. 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown.
What application can we take from the parable of The Seed and the Soils? First of all, self-assessment. Look inward. What kind of soil are you? Are you the hard-packed soil? Do you hear the Word and blow it off of no interest, no interest at all in the Word of God. Or are you the shallow soil, that hears and gets all excited, but nothing comes of it. Or the thorny soil, that hears and is choked out because of the worries in his life and deceitfulness of wealth. Or are you with a good and noble heart, through perseverance bearing good fruit for the kingdom? Consider carefully how you listen to the Word of God. What do you do when you hear a sermon? How do you get ready for it, ahead of time? You ask me where am I going next? And so, you get ready and you read ahead of time. Do you come into the sanctuary on Sunday morning ready to hear the Word, ready with like soft black rich soil, upturned in the heart. Ready to hear and receive the Word. How do you hear? After you hear, what do you do about it? How do you hear the word? James 1:22, said, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves and do what it says.”
Thirdly, yearn for fruit. Do you want to be like George Muller? Do you want to be a 100-fold Christian? Are you hungry and thirsty for maximum fruitfulness? Are you willing to pray constantly? Do you ask,”Lord help me to make the most of every opportunity today. Lord help me to make the most of this time. Help me to make the most of this time with this relative or friend. Help me to make the most of my Monday or my Tuesday. Oh, God, I want to live for your glory. Help me to make the most of my life. Lord, help me to dig deep into the Word, and not just superficially read it, but really dig in and understand it. Help me to put my flesh to death in my prayer time and really pray with passion for the lost." In the end, time and fruit will tell true Christianity.
When you witness, don't so quickly assure people of salvation because they pray the sinner's prayer. I have sadly seen many people pray the sinner's prayer and never once go to church and never once do anything different in their life whatsoever. Remember this parable when you preach the gospel. And remember that not everyone who prays that prayer is truly born again, but rather lay before them the marks of a truly godly, healthy life and say, “Yearn for these things. Search for them.” Time and perseverance in fruit bearing is the surest mark of saving faith.