Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Soils of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven – a life where the rule and reign of God is both seen and experienced, a Kingdom that we become a part of when we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ. We become citizens of heaven, and this world is not supposed to be ‘home’ any more. When Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is IN YOU!” (Luke 17:21), it’s not some New Age proclamation that we are all gods. He simply meant it’s not “there” or “there” where an earthly kingdom can be seen. It’s not kicking out the Romans and establishing a Jewish nation. That's not the Kingdom of Heaven. The rule and reign of Christ is now in our hearts.

Jesus told a number of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven explaining to his followers what characterizes the kingdom of Heaven, and, by implication, how they ought to seek to live as citizens of that kingdom. We are going to take five weeks to go through the parables in Matthew 13. Today we are looking at the Parable of the Sower.

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A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 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. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:3-9) 

This is what the parable of the sower means. It is about the kingdom of heaven. When someone hears the story of the Kingdom and cannot understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away whatever goodness and holiness had been sown in the heart. This is like the seeds sown beside the road. You know people who hear the word of God and receive it joyfully—but then, somehow, the word fails to take root in their hearts. It is temporary. As soon as there is trouble for those people, they trip: those people are the seeds strewn on the rocky soil. And you know people who hear the word, but it is choked inside them because they constantly worry and prefer the wealth and pleasures of the world: they prefer drunken dinner parties to prayer, power to piety, and riches to righteousness. Those people are like the seeds sown among thorns. The people who hear the word and receive it and grow in it—those are like the seeds sown on good soil. They produce a bumper crop, 30 or 60 or 100 times what was sown. (Matthew 13:18-23)
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It was likely the audience could look out on the hillside and see a sower going forth to sow. They could see a path which had been beaten across the field and the birds picking up the seeds right behind the sower. They could see the rocky ground,  the thorns and thistles, the good soil. While there is a lot to unpack here, I want to make only two points from this parable.

1. The Gospel is for everyone.


Considering the fields in Palestine, there was really no way to avoid ‘wasting’ seed. Jesus didn’t tell them to be more conservative with their planting. He just acknowledged not all the seeds are going to make it. But… sow. By all means. Paul wrote:

 And, even though no one (except Jesus) owns me, I have become a slave by my own free will to everyone in hopes that I would gather more believers. When around Jews, I emphasize my Jewishness in order to win them over. When around those who live strictly under the law, I live by its regulations—even though I have a different perspective on the law now—in order to win them over.  In the same way, I’ve made a life outside the law to gather those who live outside the law (although I personally abide by and live under the Anointed One’s law).  I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation.  I do it all for the gospel and for the hope that I may participate with everyone who is blessed by the proclamation of the good news. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

It’s not our job to decide who deserves the good news of the Gospel and who doesn’t. We are always evangelizing; we are always ambassadors for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. The Gospel takes root when it is planted deep in good soil.


 Hardness of heart: when truth has no impact on us. There is no sense of the terrible nature of sin, particularly our own.  There are at least three ways in which our responses can reflect a hardness of heart.

  • First, the hard-hearted don’t believe in sin. Good and evil are what we want them to be, and I am good. I don’t need a gospel of salvation. 
  • Second, the hard-hearted can hear the Gospel, believe that  sin offends a holy God, harms us, devastates the world around us  - and just not care because they want to live life by their own rules.   
  • Third, the hard-hearted hear and believe it’s true, but they only see the sinners all around them and fail to see the sinner within.
Brennan Manning wrote, “The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there. No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.” The gospel takes root in broken, humble people.

The Rocky Soil of Hardship and Trials: tough times uproot our faith. 

  1. Hardships – Life is Hard: sickness, poverty, ongoing sin, broken relationships, death of a loved one… When we face these times, we assume God doesn’t care, isn’t strong or isn’t real, and whatever we once believe uproots and dies. There is no depth to faith. There was not a true understanding of what Jesus saved us from – that is, the penalty of our sin, not the hardship of life. Disillusionment wins because truth did not put down roots. 
  1. Trials – Being A Christian Is Hard: Specific challenges to our faith.
  • Some of them are literal, physical persecution. (http://www.opendoorsusa.org; persecution.com). This happens around the world constantly.
  • Some of them are challenges to orthodoxy (what we believe as Christians): Does God exist? Is Jesus really God? Why would you trust the Bible? Do you really believe in Heaven and Hell?  
  • Some of them are challenges to orthopraxy (how we live as Christians): In our culture, the issues primarily involve sex, marriage and human life (they were different 30 years ago; they will be different 30 years from now. Don't focus on the issues as much as the principle). We can be attacked as hateful or bigoted because we believe that God designed all sex for marriage, that God’s design for marriage is between a man and a woman, and that when sex results in babies they are human beings with a right to life.  When we don’t agree, we can be villified very quickly. If you don’t know how to answer questions about Christian beliefs and practices with truth and compassion, we will do our best to help you here at church, but you need to invest in understanding life in the Kingdom. Buy books. Watch videos. Listen to podcasts. Find good websites. Come to the 11:15 classes. Know what the Bible says, why God thought it was important to say it, and why it’s true.  


The Thorns: Distractions and Temptations

  • Distractions: the glittery, shiny and beautiful things: friends, health, food, jobs, money, relationships, anything with a screen… Distractions are not things that are bad in and of themselves. They just begin to dominate our vision and take our eyes off of Christ.
  • Temptations: the desire to sin – to live outside of God’s design for our lives. It’s often very subtle – usually, we are tempted to take something good (see the list above) and make it an idol. We begin to serve them because of the comfort, pleasure or power they bring.  (Note: In Christianity, we sacrifice ourselves so that others can live. In idolatry, we sacrifice others so we can live).  


The Good Soil 

"But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, in AN HONEST AND GOOD HEART, having heard the word, KEEP it, and bring forth fruit WITH PATIENCE" (Luke 8:15, a parallel parable). This is where the Kingdom flourishes. This is what characterizes citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Honest and good-hearted people  are empowered by God with a goodness only God can bring, and as a result of their salvation live in a way that is inspirational and appealing. I don't mean Oprah Winfrey of Lifetime Network inspirational. I don’t mean you become one of the shiny happy people. The idea with this phrase is that God has made something good in you, and your life shows this. This isn’t a call to perfection. It’s a call to live genuinely in Christ and with others, letting others see what is happening in you. When Jesus brings beauty from the ashes of your life, that’s compelling.
  • Hear the Word (literally). Don’t overcomplicate this. It just means know the Word of God. Read it. Read about it. Pray about it. Study it, listen to teaching about it, discuss it with your friends… Hear it over and over again. I was reading about the Rule of 151 on a blog called A Purposeful Business: It takes 151 times for a message to be heard through conversation: "The first 50 times people don’t hear you; the second 50 times they don’t understand you; the third 50 times they don’t believe you; the 151st time that they finally hear, understand, and think, 'Well, there must be something to this.'” The Holy Spirit opens our eyes, but we have to keep looking. 
  • Understand it (synthesize it; find the preferred will of God. This is soaking it up, letting it rest in you, and nourishing it. This is being vulnerable, being honest with yourself, looking for the ways God’s truth needs to grow in you.
  • Keep It (Hold fast; take possession). This is putting down roots and saying, “I will not be moved.” This is where, in the midst of hardship, we say like David, “Yet will I praise Him.” This is clinging to the truth of God in a culture that offers a lot of loud and glittering half-truths: “Live for yourself; do what feels right; you’re perfect just the way you are; love is all you need; the most important things is that you are happy.”
  • Bring Forth Fruit patiently (literally, be “unswerved from deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings” - biblehub.com). Paul said he ran the race with patience.  This is about decision, focus, and commitment.
This is what life in the Kingdom of Heaven look like when the rule and reign of God is both seen and experienced. This is what we are called to when we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ. I want to offer an encouragement and a challenge in closing.

The challenge is to ask yourself what kind of soil you are. Is your heart hardened or broken? Are you driven to your knees in humility and repentance on an ongoing basis? If not, you’ve got to surrender your blindness and pride to Christ not just for your sake, but for the sake of those around you. Are the hardships of life uprooting you? Are the distractions and temptations of the world choking out the beauty of the gospel? If so, pray that God makes in you a soil that loves and nourishes truth, that let’s the hope of the gospel sink in deep, so that it bears the fruit of the gospel within you and around you.

 The encouragement is that you don’t have to feel like a superstar in the Kingdom of Heaven to honor God. There’s nothing flashy about the good soil. It’s a deliberate commitment to respond to God’s work in you by dedicating yourself to understanding and living out His design for you – with great patience.  That’s good soil that brings good fruit.

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