Groum Pale never imagined himself being a homeless street kid. The young boy found himself with no place to go, living on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with his sisters, after both his mother and father died of AIDS. Life on the streets of Addis Ababa can be extremely tough. Groum spent his days begging, and digging through dumpsters, to try and find food to help he and his sisters simply survive. Survival on the streets consists of more than finding food, you have to learn how to avoid the countless adults who are looking to take advantage of the desperate kids with no adult supervision.
Things began looking up for Groum and his sisters when he was nine years old. Some people from Hannah’s Hope Orphanage, a Christian home for streets kids in Addis Ababa, rescued them from the mean streets. The men and women of the orphanage gave the kids the medical treatment they needed, they gave them a place to call home, and they shared God’s love with Groum and his sisters. Groum said the love he received was unlike anything he had known. He said,
I lost a whole part of my childhood living on the streets because I saw horrible things. There, you learn how to be a fighter and to not trust anyone. I had to learn how to trust again. (Groum Pale)
It was remarkable how quickly things changed for Groum. Within a year he was excelling at school, he had become a follower of Jesus, and he was growing like crazy in his walk with the Lord. Someone at Hannah’s Hope had given him an iPod like device where he could listen to Bible stories, Groum listened every day, oftentimes multiple times a day. Other kids in the orphanage were listening as well. Eleven years later, Groum looked back on those days,
We loved listening to those wonderful Bible stories. We would listen hard and then, at night, as we fell asleep, we would try to repeat the stories to each other. I felt that the voice that came out of that little black box was actually God’s voice, and so, when I meditated and prayed, I could hear his words in my head. It encouraged me so much. Getting to know God’s Word changed my life. When my friends and I faced any difficulty we would recite out loud passages that we had heard and use them to encourage each other. (Groum Pale)
The Word of God is powerful isn’t it?! It’s transformative for those who have ears to hear, for those who are hungry to know the Lord, and Groum and his friends wanted to know the Lord.
Today, Groum is an adult whose life is totally changed. He now works with street kids in Addis Ababa and shares God’s Word with the kids in the same way God’s Word was shared with him when he was young. How does such a transformation happen in a person’s life? A seed was planted, it was watered and nurtured in soil that was receptive, and in time that tiny seed began to grow and grow. What has taken place in Groum’s life is a modern-day living example of the story Jesus told, the parable of the Sower. Let’s read it together beginning in Matthew 13:1-9.
1 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 He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9 NIVO)
If you were with us last week for our introduction to our study on the parables of Jesus then you will remember that Jesus began telling parables because the opposition to His message was growing stronger. There were those who had had enough of Jesus, and they were organizing so they could kill Him. At the same time there were others who had heard Jesus, they loved Jesus, and they hung on His every word. Jesus told parables both to conceal and to reveal the truths of the Kingdom of God. Those who would hear and wanted more than anything to understand the truths tucked into the stories of the King and His Kingdom were those “with ears to hear,” those who yearned to know Jesus and what He was teaching. Those who couldn’t make heads or tails of His parables were those who really couldn’t care less to know, along with those who were stiff-necked, hard-hearted, and adamantly opposed to Jesus. Nothing has changed from the day Jesus first taught the parable of the Sower to this very morning. In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explained the parable to His disciples. Read along with me.
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 his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 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. 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 unfruitful. 23 But 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 a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23 NIVO)
This is such an important parable that it is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels. It’s important for us to read all three because if we only read Matthew’s version we wouldn’t know the meaning of the “seed” the Sower was sowing. Mark tells us, in Mark 4,
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word.” (Mark 4:13-14 NIVO)
This is so important for us to understand because today we seem to be prone to take verses from the Bible or stories from the Bible and draw our own conclusions. People say, “Well, I think it means…” We need to press on, to go beyond what we think or would want Scripture to say, and to seek to understand what Jesus meant when He spoke. Mark tells us the “seed” is the Word of God.
The seed is the Word of God and the sower is Jesus Himself. Jesus scatters the seed of the Word of God. We learn from the parable that the seed is flung far and wide. The Sower, Jesus, doesn’t just sow the seed on the best soil, the soil that seems to have the most potential, or that looks most productive. No, the seed is scattered on all kinds of soil. It is interesting to notice that in three of the four types of soil in which the Sower sows his seed the ground is not conducive for productivity. It takes a certain type of soil for the seed to flourish and thrive. It reminds me of something James wrote in James 1:21.
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:21 NIVO)
The seed sown in hard soil, rocky soil, soil filled with thorns and thistles just won’t produce a harvest, but seed sown into fertile, good soil will thrive. For the Word of God to grow and transform a human life, even save sinners like you and me, we must humbly accept the word planted in us.
You may be here this morning and not want to be here. You may be here, but your mind and your heart are somewhere else. You’ve come because you are conditioned to come to worship, like Pavlov’s dog is conditioned to eat whenever the bell rings, but you’re not really participating in worship, you’re not really listening with ears to hear or a heart that is open to the Lord. You may have heard that today’s study is about the parable of the Sower and thought to yourself, “I already know that story. I could have gone and done something different this morning.” The Word can’t thrive and grow in those kinds of hearts, in that type of soil. On the other hand, maybe you’ve come here this morning and you are fully aware of your deep, deep need for the Lord: His grace, mercy, and guidance. You want to “humbly accept the word planted in you…” Oh, my friend, prepare yourself to watch God work. You are going to experience that tiny seed, a seemingly insignificant Word from God, begin to germinate and grow until a great harvest will finally be enjoyed by all. I share all of this with us before we dig into the details of the parable in hopes that all of us will ask God to give us ears to hear with a clarity and understanding that is impossible on our own.
The key to understanding the parable and the lesson for you and me is found in understanding the types of soil Jesus described to His disciples. The quality of seed is not in question. “The Word of God is powerful and effective…” writes the author of Hebrews. The Word is not faulty or failing. The transforming power of the Word is imprinted within it like the genetic code imprinted in each and every seed. A tiny apple seed or an acorn contains the complete genetic code that the seed needs to become an apple tree or a mighty oak tree. If the seed falls on dry, hard-packed soil then you’ll probably never enjoy an apple or the shade of the mighty oak tree. It’s not the failure of the seed, but it is the lack of the proper kind of soil to nurture the seed. And so it is with the Word of God. Let’s take a look at the four types of soil Jesus described.
The first type of soil is what Jesus called “the path.” Surrounding the fields in ancient Israel were footpaths where people walked to work their fields. The ground was not tilled and over the course of time the soil became compacted and as hard as concrete. Jesus makes it clear that our hearts can become hardened to the Word of God. Jesus says something really interesting about those with hearts like the soil on the path in Matthew 13:19. Read it with me.
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 his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19 NIVO)
The evil one, Satan, comes and snatches away the seed of the Word of God for the one who “does not understand it.” Now, that sounds so harsh doesn’t it? Who of us understands the Bible from cover-to-cover? A simple lack of understanding is not what Jesus had in mind. He used the Greek word for “understanding,” “suniemi,” which means, “to bring together, to join together in the mind.” The reason they didn’t understand was not because they were unable to bring things together, but because their hearts had become calloused. Just two verses later, in Matthew 13:15, Jesus said,
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Matthew 13:15 NIVO)
That’s a game changer! The seed that is snatched away by the evil one, doesn’t take root because the person has a calloused, hard heart. Their calloused, hard heart has deafened their ears and closed their eyes. They don’t want to know God and His truth.
In Acts 7, Stephen was speaking to the people about how God had worked throughout history leading up to the arrival of Jesus, God’s only Son and our Savior. The people didn’t want to hear it. Stephen responded,
51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51 NIVO)
Will we continue to resist the Spirit of God, the grace of God? Will we continue to harden our hearts toward God? If so, then there’s no room in our hearts for the transforming Word of God do to its work.
The second type of soil that Jesus described in the parable of the Sower is the seed that fell on “rocky places, where it did not have much soil.” Shallow soil is not conducive to putting down deep roots and a shallow faith is sure to wither over time. Dr. Warren Wiersbe wrote,
In many parts of the Holy Land you find a substratum of limestone covered with a thin layer of soil. The shoot can grow up, but the roots cannot go down, and the sun withers the rootless plant. The sun represents the testing that comes to all professing believers to prove their faith. Sun is good for plants if they have roots. Persecution can deepen the roots of a true Christian, but it only exposes the shallowness of the false Christian. (Wiersbe, Warren, Be Compassionate: A New Testament Study–Luke 1-13, 86)
Appearances are deceptive. Some people seem to be moved by the Gospel. They jump in with both feet. They start attending a Bible study. They are excited about their newfound faith. By all appearances, the seed of God’s Word has fallen on good soil and is growing by leaps and bounds. Jesus described what happens in the lives of those who seem to be His followers, but in the end are nowhere to be found. Look at Matthew 13:20-21 with me.
20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 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. (Matthew 13:20-21 NIVO)
“When trouble or persecution comes…” And they will come. They will come over and over again. The person who has a rocky heart is fond of Jesus, but not committed to Jesus. The person who has a rocky heart wants to praise God for the wonderful things that happen in his or her, but fails to see the hand of God equally at work in the difficult storms of life.
We see so many of these types of people in our modern-day churches in America. We preachers have done the people in the pews a great disservice by teaching all of the benefits of following Jesus and failing to teach the great cost of following Jesus. If we are truly following Jesus then we must know that Jesus’ life was filled with opposition and troubles of every kind. I’ve lost track of the people I’ve known who grew disappointed in Jesus because of the hardships of their life and as a result they walked away from Him.
The third type of soil Jesus described was the soil covered with thorns. Seed was scattered on soil that was already populated by weeds and thorns. When the seeds sprouted they didn’t last long because they were choked out by the thorns. In Matthew 13:22, Jesus unpacked what He was thinking about when He spoke about thorny soil. He said,
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 unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22 NIVO)
I’ve got to shoot straight with you. I’ve thought long and hard about this verse this week. There are so many things that concern me, that cause me anxiety, keep me up at night, and cause me to lose sleep. Alongside of the concerns, the cares of life, is the seductive, deceptive thought that if I only had more money my life would be better. Madison Avenue is brilliant in the way they seduce us, how they work to convince us that a better life awaits us…just around the corner. The allure of having more money, what I could do with more money, and the misguided thinking that more money would somehow make my life better seems to be always present. What is at first an interest can so easily turn into an obsession. Jesus said,
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matthew 6:24 NIVO)
Jesus went on to talk about how God provides the birds with the food they need, how He clothes the lilies of the field more beautifully than Solomon in all of his splendor, and if He will do that for them…He will most certainly take care of us. Then, Jesus said,
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33 NIVO)
The person with the thorny heart refuses to make seeking God their top priority in life. They are too busy pursuing other interests, other hobbies, and their own goals for life. As a result, the cares of this world and their fixation on getting more and more chokes God right out of their life.
The last soil Jesus described was the “good soil.” Unlike the hard-packed soil, the shallow, rocky soil, and the thorn infested soil, the good soil produced a bountiful crop of thirty, sixty, or even one hundred times what was sown. What kind of person is Jesus describing for His disciples? Take a look at Matthew 13:23 with me.
23 But 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 a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23 NIVO)
In Mark 4:20, we read that these people “hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop…” The first question each of us should ask is, “How can I have a heart that is good soil for the Word of God?” That’s a great question! I’ve shared with you the woes and joys of my garden. My skills are very, very limited, but I know that for a garden to be productive it has to be prepared. I had to till up the hard ground, pull out the grass and weeds, and prepare the soil for the planting of the seed. An unprepared garden is an unproductive garden and so it with our hearts. Preparing the soil for planting is only the beginning. Once the seed is sown there is a constant battle that takes place with the weeds, bugs, and critters that would seek to decimate my garden. And so it is with our hearts.
Rehoboam was the son of king Solomon and he took over the throne when his father died. It wasn’t a smooth transition of power by any means. There was opposition, but when the dust settled Rehoboam was king over Jerusalem. We read in 2 Chronicles 12:1,
1 After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the LORD. (2 Chronicles 12:1 NIVO)
Rehoboam abandoned the law of the LORD. Notice, it was after he was established and had become strong that he abandoned the Lord. There were some good things that Rehoboam did during his reign. We read that at one point he humbled himself before the Lord, but when the seventeen years had come to a close and Rehoboam’s life came to an end the Lord assessed his tenure as the leader of God’s people in Jerusalem. We don’t have to guess, it’s right there in 2 Chronicles 12:14. Read it with me.
14 He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD. (2 Chronicles 12:14 NIVO)
Rehoboam failed to “set his heart on seeking the LORD.” The true test of discipleship is not walking down the aisle, receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and being baptized. The true test is taking up our cross, laying our hands to the plow, and following Jesus until He takes us home. For those who will listen, yearn to learn, and follow Jesus regardless of the cost, He will produce fruit, unmistakable fruit, that will be a blessing not only to the disciple, but for everyone who crosses his or her path.
The question we must ask this morning is this: “What’s the condition of our heart this morning?” Is it hard as concrete, shallow and rocky so that the Word can’t take root, thorny and choking out the Word because our own agenda and concerns are choking out the Word, or is our heart good soil that hungers for more and more of God? If you are here this morning and your heart is in no condition for the seed of God’s Word to take root and produce a bountiful harvest then I’ve got good news for you. God has been scattering seed this morning and He wants you and me to plow up our hard hearts so the Word can take root. This is exactly what He told His people through the prophet Hosea. Read with me from Hosea 10:12.
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12 NIVO)
Oh my friend, God wants to sow the seed of His Word into your heart this morning. Won’t you confess the hardness, the shallowness, how divided your heart is and allow Him to do a work in your life this morning. Won’t you ask Jesus to come and give you a new heart, new ears to hear, new eyes to see, and a new passion to know and walk with Him?
Britton Christian Church
September 20, 2018
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23