Sermon on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Text: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 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. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
There are many times in our life when we are told to listen. It might be a parent, telling us to listen to the instructions that they are giving. It might be a teacher who wants to make sure we got the directions correct. It might be a coach who wants to get our attention, because he wants to be sure you get the play right. It might be a boss, who does not want to have to explain things over again. They may say things like, “Listen up.” Usually, when we are told to listen up, that means something important is going to be told to us. This morning, our Savior says, in essence, “Listen up,” when we read verse 9, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” May we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, do just that. LET’S USE OUR EARS 1. To Listen Prayerfully, 2. To Listen Persistently, and 3. To Listen Attentively.
In our text for this morning, Jesus uses a figure of speech called a parable. The parable was Christ’s foremost figure of speech and teaching tool. By means of this figure of speech, Jesus would take everyday occurrences and use them to teach a spiritual truth. In this instance, he uses a farmer going out into his field to sow some seed. Though he uses the same seed, he gets different results. The reason for this is that, in spite of his best efforts and skills, not all of the seed ended up in a prime spot.
The first place that Jesus mentions is a path. “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” (Verse 4) Since the dirt on the path had been packed down by travelers, the seed couldn’t penetrate and so the birds came and ate the seed. Jesus explains what he means in verse 19, “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.” These are people who have hardened their hearts, so that when the message about Jesus is proclaimed to them, it falls on deaf ears.
We have seen many instances of this as Jesus dealt with the people of his day. They saw the miracles that Jesus did but could see nothing beyond the display of power. They heard the words, but refused to accept that he had the authority to speak as he did. They heard the words but refused to believe. It was these people, Jesus said, who were fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” Because they refused to believe, the devil came and took away what they heard.
We see the same thing happening in our world today when people hear the message about Jesus Christ. Many look at it as so much foolishness. All this talk about God and his Son is not what intelligent people can believe. The fact that someone had to die for sins, which really are not more than human flaws, is not something that they can ascribe to. As far as a resurrection from the dead, that is just ridiculous. Everyone knows that when you die, that is the end. Besides all of this, I want to be my own person and make up my own rules. I don’t want someone to tell me what I can and cannot do. They refuse to believe, and Satan comes and snatches away the word from them.
These words also serve as a warning for us. You might ask how that can be since we are believers? We need to remember that, even in the believer, there are remnants of a rock-hard heart. Recall the disciples on the way to Emmaus, as Jesus chided them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25) They had their moment of doubt. Believers are not above the problems of terrible soil conditions – sin, doubts, and unbelief itself trample our hearts and threaten to prevent the plant of faith from growing. May our prayer echo that of a father, who asked for Jesus’ help in healing his son, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
The second type of ground upon which the seed fell is described in verses 5&6, “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” A layer of rock lay just below the surface. Topsoil covers the rock and offers a warm and fertile place for the seed to germinate and sprout. However, since the growing plant cannot sink its roots deep into the soil, it is doomed when the heat of the sun blazes down on it.
Jesus explains this section: “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Verses 20&21) This is a person who is brought to faith and is overjoyed to hear the word. However, they never get beyond a superficial knowledge of God and his love. When the heat of persecution or peer pressure or disappointment or disillusionment gets turned up, they fall away. They stop hearing the Word and that fledgling faith dies.
Jesus’ warning again is clear. Plants of faith lacking roots will not survive. A shallow, short-lived reception of faith will not do in the long run. We need this warning, because there is a temptation for us to listen to God’s Word in a shallow way, not really letting it touch us down deep. We know all the facts, but they don’t affect our lives. May we, rather, with the help of the Holy Spirit, sink those roots down deep in the soil and become vibrant, fruitful plants. May we heed Peter’s encouragement to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
The third type of soil is mentioned in verse 7, “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” Any farmer or gardener knows that it is a constant battle to get out and keep out the weeds. Weeds drain strength from the good plants and can eventually choke them out. Jesus explains this picture in verse 22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” While these “weeds” may not actually kill the plant, they, at the very least, keep the plants from being as productive as they might be.
Jesus would also call on us to search the garden of our hearts for weeds, as well. He speaks of the “deceitfulness of wealth.” Wealth, in and of itself, is not bad. It is a blessing from God. The trouble arises when we put getting the things of this world ahead of our relationship with God. We think that no one is really hurt if we cheat just a little bit on things. We think that if we have this or that we will be really happy. We are willing to lay aside our principles if it means we can get ahead. Jesus asks two very searching questions about wealth in Mark 8, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36&37) What good is it to have everything in this world, but it interferes with my relationship with God? May we heed Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 6, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
Then, there is the thriving, fast spreading “worry thorn.” Like the deceitfulness of wealth, the worry thorn robs the faith plant of vital nutrients of God’s Word. The typical believer can be reading their Bible or listening to God’s Word yet have their mind on an ailment or a financial dilemma or a multitude of other worries. The thing about these worry thorns is that they seem to spread and multiply quickly. We worry about this, which leads us to worry about that, and so forth. We are distracted from the nutrition that God wants to give us in his Word. We get so bound up in these weeds, that we are unfruitful plants in God’s garden. May the Lord help us to daily go in and look for those weeds, and trusting in him, pull them out at the roots.
Finally, we get to the fourth type of soil, “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Verse 8) Here the soil produced a crop – some places better than others – but a crop was still there. Jesus explains in verse 23, “the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” The Word of God, planted in the heart of the believer, has produced a crop. This crop is the fruits of faith that flourish in the heart of the believer, as they live their lives in such a way as to thank God for all that he has done. In addition, the believer is like seed corn, in that he has seed that he can share with others. In this way, the crops multiply, as the Holy Spirit blesses the hearts of others with a saving faith.
As we look at this final type of ground, we must be careful to remember that we cannot take credit for this, at all. It is not as if we are, by nature, better ground than others are. We are, by nature, just as rock-hard as everyone else is. It is only when the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts by, first, breaking up the stony heart with his Law. Then, as the Word is planted in our hearts, the showers of the Gospel rain down upon us and faith is created and grows.
The parable that Jesus told is all about the hearing of his Word. As we hear this, we must all confess that we have not always heard God’s Word as we should or given it the proper attention in our lives. Other things crowd it out. We confess this sin to our God, as well as the host of other sins that we commit every day. We know that we are guilty. Yet, we also have the assurance that God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, has forgiven our sins. Jesus paid for all our sins by the perfect life he lived in our place, by the innocent suffering and death on the cross, and by his glorious resurrection. Because of his work, we have been forgiven of this sin. Now, may the Lord help us to listen to his Word with attentive ears. May the Lord help us to get rid of whatever might impede his Word from taking root in our hearts. May he help us to produce bountiful harvests, all which glorify him. To this end, may we heed Jesus’ words, when he says to all, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Amen.
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