Friday, 27 December 2013 17:06

The Parable Of The Sower

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Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” Dear friends, I’m suggesting this serves as a faithful fitting theme in connection with the parable of the sower. Are you familiar with this parable that Jesus told? You find it recorded in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. It is the parable where Jesus tells of the seed of God’s Word being spread and falling on four different soils and with four different responses.

“Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?”  We use that phrase sometimes when we test a sound system before a service or before a speech. We want to make sure it works well and so that the message of the speaker is clearly heard by all. In this case, with the “1,2,3,4“ I’m referring to the four types of soil that the seed of God’s Word falls into. In connection now with our theme, “Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” let us go through the parable under the following three points:

1.      the Teacher calling for this testing

2.      the Testing that is called for here

3.      the message of Jesus the Teacher

Thinking first of the Teacher who gives this parable and calls for really hearing His Word as opposed to not really hearing it, shouldn’t we just stop and be so amazed with this Teacher of the gospel? If you consider the facts, the day of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin God already then announced He had a salvation plan that He promised and would accomplish to bring full deliverance from the curse and guilt and bondage and punishment for sin. We know too that gospel is all about the promised Messiah as given finally in and with the God-sent, crucified, risen, and exalted Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord.  But now think of it how all through the Old Testament, again and again, besides working that salvation plan out, God would repeatedly send messengers and prophets, priests and kings, who would remind them of this one escape and divine remedy from all sin and evil. 

Over and over in the Bible you find the call to give ear to God’s Word and gospel plan.  And Jesus, as God come in the flesh, when He was here on earth continued that pleading with the people. Hear God’s Word. Listen to the message from the Scriptures when read and proclaimed to you!  Strikingly in Luke’s account of this parable in chapter 8:8 while telling and explaining it, we read Jesus just kept calling out: “He that has an ear to hear let him hear.” That Jesus begins His teaching with parables with the parable of the sower just emphasizes and reinforces, doesn’t it, the Lord’s earnest call to you and me, at any and every age in our life, to take care truly to listen to God’s Word. 

“Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” Without question Jesus is here urging: ‘Be sure to listen truly to the gospel teaching of God’s Word, hearing and receiving it all not as the word of men but as the Word of God, the only good news for fallen mankind.”  It may be helpful here to ask some questions about Jesus’ emphasis on really listening to God’s Word. What would be the reason for this emphasis also on Jesus’ part?

Isn’t it true, Jesus knows of our natural tendency not to listen to God’s Word? The sad reality is all people, since the Fall into sin, have by nature closed their ears to God. We naturally tune Him out so easily, and so often. Of ourselves, we don’t care to hear God’s Word and we would rather listen to everything else and everyone else but God! All the repeated calls to hear the Word of God truly is very humbling, if you think about it. How often must God call to you and to me for us to hear what He has to say to us? 

That question brings me to another truth we can and should learn from God’s repeated call truly to listen to His Word. Not only does this show our natural hardness of heart before God, but it so proves as well God’s graciousness and longsuffering towards us.  His repeated calling to us also now today with this, “Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” shows so much and clearly what a merciful God the Lord is. Oh, how it all brings out the LORD is not willing that any should perish but that all should truly hear and understand, believe and be saved, and live in a fruitful and God-honoring way as renewed, reconciled redeemed children of God! This was obviously also Jesus’ whole mindset and attitude in all of His teaching ministry even as He was giving His life a ransom for many.  Does this melt your heart too that God obviously so cares about us, you and me, and many others, also now today coming with His Word to us as given in the parable of the sower?

There is one more point to mention still in connection with Jesus the Teacher of this parable with its call truly to hear His Word. This call, and all the repeated calls of Scripture truly to listen to the message of God’s Word without question brings out surely how God’s Word is all important for us. If you and I have a message for someone that is not very important, then when we can’t get through to the person, we just decide to forget to tell him or her. At least that is often how it is. But if you have a message for someone that he or she just needs to hear, no matter what, then you persist in trying to reach that person, isn’t it true? If you can’t get them on the house phone, you will try the cell phone, and you will try voicemail, and texting, and email. And if you still don’t get through, you call the extended family or the work place because the message is so urgent and important that the person just has to get it!   

And isn’t something of that now also reflected in God’s repeated callings to people to hear and listen to His Word? The word and message God has to bring us as found in all the Scriptures and revealed in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour of sinners and the only Saviour of sinners, is so urgent and all important! It is truly a matter of life and death for us: the way of wisdom as opposed to the way of folly; the way of usefulness as opposed to uselessness; the way to heaven as opposed to the way to hell; the way of deliverance rather than damnation! And even so, you see, God graciously repeatedly implores and insists you and I hear His Word. The Lord goes out of His way that we really do hear it! “Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” Will you listen, and are you listening now, to the Great Gospel Teacher who through His human ambassadors, weak sinful instruments in themselves, will yet again speak with you, the Word of the LORD?

 We have thought about the Teacher bringing this Word, and let us move next to the teaching Jesus here gives us. The parable of the sower, also because of Jesus’ added interpretation given with it, in all three gospel accounts is not difficult to interpret. The sower is God, the seed is His gospel word, and the four soils refer to four ways of hearing and responding to God’s Word. Jesus portrays for us here in this parable three wrong ways of listening to God’s Word. The three ways Jesus mentions are so real to life and so typical of us apart from God’s grace and if we are not very careful and prayerful about listening well. 

With Jesus’ teaching here, let us look more closely at the three wrong ways of listening and the one right way of listening. There is the wrong way of not really hearing because of your mind being preoccupied with so much else. The seed of God’s Word that falls on the wayside, which is snatched away before it barely hits the ground, represents the unresponsive hearer to God’s Word. It refers to the person who has mind and heart so totally on other things. Is that maybe how you respond to God’s Word from week to week?  You go to church, sometimes at least, because you were raised to do so but you don’t come to listen. Your ears are closed before the minister starts. Your mind is busy with so much else, and you just don’t think about really hearing God’s Word. 

Jesus warns us while you are not busy with God’s Word even as it is read or preached, the devil is busy making sure you keep preoccupied on all the others things of life. Like the birds that come and snatch up the seed that falls on hard surfaces, Satan has countless ways to keep us unresponsive to God’s Word. He can make you think it is all too difficult and confusing, and with your ongoing questions and doubts and today’s world philosophy that nothing is absolute and we can never know what is true for sure, even so, keep you uncommitted to what is clearly true always. Satan can also work making you mostly critical of the speaker or of the service in general with the result you always come with a more or less negative attitude and, as a result, you don’t really listen.  Or it might be you can fall into the trap of having something of this life as such an obsession for you that all you think about even when the sermon starts is that obsession, whatever it is. Whatever means the devil uses, you being uninterested anyway, Satan is a master to work on you further, so that as a listener you go on unresponsive to God’s Word and call.  Could this be your description? 

What should we do about this kind of unresponsive indifferent hearing and the constant danger of it in each and all of our lives?  We must pray and act decisively not so to listen to God’s Word.  Being forewarned let us be on the alert and by all means take care not to be an unresponsive wayside hearer of the gospel.  You are responsible to be a true listener, and with all the struggles to be that, you should be much in prayer that the Lord will open your ears to His Word, and that Satan and this world not have a dulling influence on you. Is it not helpful also to prepare ourselves to be all attention whenever God’s Word is read and taught and preached to us?  Why not wind down from the week’s activities on time Saturday nights, and take time Sunday morning, individually and as families, to have some moments in prayer and Scripture and song before coming to church to hear His Word? I guarantee you it will help you be not a calloused indifferent listener. Even what you decide to think about and do in the car on the way to church can make a difference whether you truly listen or not in church. 

“Testing, Testing:, testing:1,2,3,4?” The parable of the sower is not about four different types of people, but about four different tways of hearing God’s Word. And the Lord is saying here, you and I are responsible how we listen and one way not to listen is in a callous, careless, unresponsive way.  He that has ears to hear let him hear!  Even if you have been like the first type of hearer for so long, let today be the beginning of a change.  Pray God to make it so and make every effort yourself that it be so. Will you take this to heart, hearing this now? 

Jesus tells revealingly of another type of hearing. That is the hearing that you might call shallow superficial hearing. Here is where the Word falls on a very thin layer of soil with hard rock underneath so it has no opportunity really to take root and be rooted for growth and fruitfulness. This kind of hearing shows some interest and even appreciation for the Word, but it is never applied to self and doesn’t lead to personal conviction and repentance from sin and personal faith and devotion to the Lord. It is a hearing generally just focused more on a quick fix out of a problem you may have and usually it is more focused on religious activities for all kinds of superficial reasons. Being a superficial hearer without being rooted in God’s ways means not really grasping the gospel truth. Doctrine is generally scorned and sin is not seen as offensive guilty law-breaking before God. Salvation is not viewed as most necessary and all of grace. Obedience and commitment to the gospel and to Christ as Saviour and Lord and belonging to His church is neither understood nor sought for. Often too, when someone challenges you from God’s Word in a way that comes too close to home, you then get offended and find excuses to go elsewhere. Jesus mentions affliction and persecution for the Word’s sake, often then proving stony ground hearers as faithless hearers, hearers who have no Spirit-worked steadfastness or “stick-to-it-tiveness” in their faith life, and sooner or later fall away. The seed falling on stony ground that seems to show fruit but then doesn’t last long represents that hearing of the Word which is superficial and emotional at best. But there is no root, no heart conversion, no radical repentance, no true faith, no earnest prayer before God, especially not when you are alone.  It is all superficial. 

 “Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” Again, I need to stress here, the four soils Jesus speaks of in this parable do not represent four classes or characters of people, but rather they refer to four types of hearing. How do you hear? Are you aware of the danger of being only a superficial hearer?  Do you too want by all means not to give God’s Word only a shallow superficial hearing that really doesn’t result in any true and growing steadfast Christianity in your life? How do you listen - with indifference or with superficial hearing just?

Or, as Jesus goes on to teach, another way of wrong hearing is hearing only halfheartedly, letting other voices influence what you hear and interfere with the gospel message you hear? Surely this is what Jesus means with the seed that fell on the soil where it sprang up but the thorns sprang up too and sooner or later choked out the seed of God’s Word. This third category refers to people listening to God’s Word but listening to so much else as well. How easy to listen to God’s Word with only half an ear, allowing the pleasures and treasures of this world to ensnare us from persevering in the way of God’s Word.

“Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” This third way of listening is about a double-hearted hearing without having God’s Word as the ultimate authority and top priority for us in our lives. The result is listening attentively sometimes but not steadfastly all the time. The life of the Word and what looked like to be the life of faith is slowly but surely choked out and killed off by the attractions and distractions of this world and just the cares and busyness of life in this world. With this kind of hearing there is no crucifying power to the lusts of this world and the flesh in your faith, and all too little prioritizing of life around worship and God’s Word. There is so much of here and now, both from lawful matters and things unlawful and worldly, which draw away your strength in the Lord and sap the soul from love for God’s Word and a life of union and communion with the Lord and service to Him by means of the Word, time and again. With this type of listening you don’t prize Christ above all because your mind and heart is so taken up with so much else as well. If you can live in any sin at all, you are living with thorns and weeds choking out the gospel seed and way. As one put it: “There is not soil enough in the human heart for both the thorns and good seed of God’s word.” Every genuine Christian also knows this to be so very true too. As Jesus said, we cannot serve two masters, and sooner or later it comes out who our true Master is.  

With this all, do you see how revealing and relevant this call to hear, really to hear and keep hearing, God’s Word truly is? Do you see and hear Jesus’ love in giving this parable of the sower, calling for us by all means to be all ears to God’s Word and not to be listening with unresponsive careless hearing or superficial shallow hearing, and by no means either with worldly halfhearted hearing?  “Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?” He that has ears to hear let him hear! 

The call to hear, really to hear and listen to God’s Word as given to us - do you hear it, and reflect it, and model it? When true Christians and receptive hearers to God’s Word by God’s grace, don’t we all know of ourselves yet how we can so easily and naturally listen in one of the three wrong and unfruitful sinful ways rather than the only right way? But still what marks God’s true people is that then you desire and aim and pray for and work on being a faithful true listener to God’s Word. In John 10 Jesus states clearly: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” Is that true of you? And here let us think yet about that seed that falls on good soil. Jesus describes this category as those who hear the Word and receive it, and bring forth fruit, “some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.” 

The seed that falls on good soil speaks of that hearing of God’s Word where you ask repeatedly for the Lord to make His gospel word truly take root in your life.  And you make every effort also that it does take root, feeding yourself again and again with all that may help you truly to understand God’s Word and really to live by it. The good soil hearers in this parable are not just the lucky elect, but they are the humbly diligent who realize, by God’s Spirit, how nothing can be as important as truly hearing God’s Word.  And they know they need God’s Spirit with them to understand and be gripped by God’s Word in a saving way. They are those who pray and work that they might be truly receptive hearers to God’s Word. All such, says Jesus, will bear fruit to God’s praise, fruits of repentance and faith and service in various ways and degrees. 

The call to hear God’s Word is a blessed call, because hearing it truly and increasingly, you will never be put to shame, while hearing it not, truly and increasingly you always only will be put to shame. “Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?”  This is a call to hear, really to hear God’s Word. Are you listening? Will you make yourself busy with it also in the coming months? How busy and preoccupied we can make ourselves with so much besides God’s Word also in the coming winter season! But what will be your priorities personally and as families?  Will you hear the call to hear and listen to God’s Word above all, as something you take most seriously, God helping you, day by day? Then with life’s busy schedule, you will be a person of prayer also because you will realize we can so easily and naturally hear with the first three types of hearing and we are of ourselves so slow and unwilling to hear with true hearing. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.   

The wonderful gospel truth that needs to be proclaimed here, and that Jesus surely would bring forward also with this parable, is that no one should lose heart looking to the Lord and calling to Him that we might be faithful and true good soil hearers of the Word. Jesus is the Great Surgeon for deaf ears and closed hearts and all through history, and still today, He can and does make His Word have saving, sanctifying, and fruit-bearing effect for all who call to Him. No matter how poor your hearing of God’s Word has been to date, it can change today!  God can plow up our naturally hard hearts through His law and gospel, and He can make the shallow heart deep, and the cluttered heart clean. He can make those dull of hearing to be really hearing!

Luke speaks of the gospel seed falling on good ground as that seed falling on “honest and good heart[s]”. We know the Bible teaches us we can only have such born again hearts from the Lord by the regenerating, renewing work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in our hearts and lives.  And this is what we may ask for and pray for not only for ourselves but for our children and children’s children and for all who come to church and for all around us too! Isn’t this something we should be praying for not only initially but continually in regards to ourselves and all others as well?

It is important here too that we do not wrongly conclude from the parable of the sower that about three quarters of the gospel seed in this world will just not be fruitful falling on sinful hearers who never become saved, and that God somehow even designed it that way. No, that is reading wrongly into this parable. Rather, in a setting of so much hardheartedness against the Word, Jesus urges and pleads for truly hearing God’s Word and living joyfully and fruitfully in the way of it. And the parable is told also from the divine perspective of the promise that one day, by God’s grace and power, there will be a harvest overabounding. The Bible foretells of a multitude of the redeemed in glory which no man can number! People who, each and everyone by God’s grace and Spirit received and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and endured in the way of God’s Word unto the end.  

This parable of the sower declares God is yet out to save sinners and to bless His gospel word in a saving and fruitful way. But when God works salvation in people’s lives, always He has us pay attention to His Word and to realize our great responsibility in this regard. Jesus’ parable of the sower with its urgent call to us truly to listen to His Word, and to believe it and obey it, and live accordingly, is something that God in Christ Jesus by His Spirit and gospel also can work and does work for as many as look to Him and call out to Him! Jesus is the Saviour of sinners Who only always perfectly listened to God’s Word, and yet suffered and died in the place of sinners who miserably fail in listening to His Word and learn to plead His mercy and grace. The heavenly Father welcomes all to come unto Him who will listen to the voice and words of His Son, the one and only Saviour of sinners.

“Testing, testing:1,2,3,4?”  Are you listening, truly an d steadfastly? Oh, that will result in so much blessing and fruitfulness to God’s praise and for your own benefit and the good of others, by God’s grace.  Jesus said so, and He cannot lie.  He that has an ear to hear let him hear! Amen.   

   Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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