August 11th, 2019
Main idea: We must consider if we have truly heard and understood the gospel or if we have not really heard it at all.
“The stories Jesus told are insertions of powerful truth meant to shake people awake. They are smart bombs, full of explosive life to those who would embrace the power behind them. The way these stories upend life as we know it is spiritually discombobulating, but for those with the eyes to see and ears to hear, the parables give great comfort. They are snapshots of the blessed hope, visions of the now-dawning future. The way they turn life inside out shows us in fact how life was ill-fitting all along. The parables show us the glory of the Lord who was and is to come.” ~ Jared Wilson
I. The Parable of the Sower (13:1-9)
By this point in the gospel of Matthew there is increasing opposition toward Jesus, his message of the Kingdom, and his teaching about what it really means to be a disciple. Great crowds continue to gather around him, but Jesus wants to make sure they are following him for the right reasons.
With this great crowd gathered on the beach, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who went out to sow seeds. He is describing a practice that would have been familiar to most in the crowd (“broadcast farming”). As the seed is tossed out by hand, it lands in different places:
Some seeds fell “along the path” (13:4), and is immediately eaten by the birds with no chance to grow.
Some seeds fell “on rocky ground” (13:5-6), and though it immediately sprung up, it had no root and quickly withered in the sun.
Some seeds fell “among thorns” (13:7) which eventually “choke” out the seed as they compete for soil, water, and sunlight.
Some seeds fell “on good soil” (13:8), finding rich, fertile grounds for the seeds to take root and to produce a crop.
II. The Purpose of the Parables (13:10-17)
The disciples sense that the way Jesus is teaching is “cryptic” to some, including his puzzling statement in verse 9: (“He who has ears, let him hear.”) Jesus’ response to their question indicates that his parables have a mysterious way of simultaneously concealing and revealing.
Jesus warns here that there is a way to “see” without really seeing, and a way to “hear” without really hearing. To truly listen means to be focused, attentive, and fully engaged. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to show that for those who are already set against Jesus and his Kingdom, the parables serve to blind, deafen, and harden “dull” hearts.
1 Corinthians 1:18: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
So how do we actually get this understanding? How can we rightly see, rightly hear, and actually understand? There are two hints here that will be more fully developed as he explains the Parable of the Sower
1. It must be given (13:11a). This is all the grace of God; it cannot be earned or assumed.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The Holy Spirit takes our ears and our hearts which are tone-deaf to the things of God, and “tunes” them so that we might actually understand its meaning and significance.
2. It must come from recognizing the King and his Kingdom (13:11b)
The parables of Jesus are overwhelmingly focused on the Kingdom of God/Heaven, and are meant to describe what life looks like within this kingdom that came in surprising and unexpected ways. The “secrets” of the kingdom are not mysteries to crack with a special code, but ultimately are revealed in Jesus Christ.
III. Proper and Improper Hearing (13:18-23)
Having explained the purpose behind the parables, Jesus now turns to his disciples to explain the Parable of the Sower. In doing so, he is providing a map which invites us to consider our current response and to move toward the “good soil.”
In the parable, there are three improper ways to “hear,” none of which lead to true understanding.
1. The Careless Hearer (13:19): The way a “path” is forged is through people constantly walking on it. There is a warning of familiarity here; there is a way to “hear” the gospel over and over again but harden your heart against it.
"There is such a thing as being 'gospel-hardened': it is possible to sit under sermons till your heart becomes dead, and callous. ... never startled, never astonished. ... you come (to church) but yet the tear does not trickle down your cheek, your soul never seems to mount up to heaven on the wings of praise, nor deep mourning over sin. Your heart is iron…unless God himself shall be pleased to crack it in sunder with an earthquake, or with a heart-quake, there will never be room for the seed of heaven to lodge there." ~ Charles Spurgeon
2. The Superficial Hearer (13:20-21): What appears to be a genuine response to the gospel here is actually “hollow” and “empty,” as there is no root. Tribulations and persecutions quickly reveal that the hearer has allegiance elsewhere, and only followed when it was convenient.
3. The Distracted Hearer (13:22): Just as the thorns will choke out the seed, competing loves and values in our lives can prevent the gospel from taking root. If we have distracted and divided priorities that compete with Jesus, he will be left out.
The danger of the superficial & distracted hearer is that they initially seem to spring up in true faith, but they will not last. Jesus is warning that it is not the profession of faith that matters, but perseverance in faith.
4. The Right Hearer (13:23): The one who hears the word, understands the word, and bears fruit. This is the disciple who has been transformed from the inside out because the gospel has taken root in their heart and is now bearing fruit.
Ultimately, this parable should make us consider: Have I really heard Jesus? Have I rightly responded to the word of the kingdom? Is there evidence of fruit in my life?
In all of this we must remember that Jesus is the farmer and we are the soil. It is his work that brings about spiritual life from this seed. If we really “understand with our hearts,” then we will turn to him (13:15), allowing him to break up the rocky soil, crush all competing desires, and to transform our lives to bear fruit.