Jesus is the sower and His words are the seed. How will we receive His words of life, and how can we cultivate them to a place of sustainable growth and spiritual breakthrough?
It is so good to be able to be together right now and share this moment. Lord, even before we begin this word, we just invite your presence to be near and with us. We want to cultivate an openness towards you and to the words that you have for us at such a critical time, we ask for breakthrough. In Jesus’ name.
Well, our text this morning is the passage Matthew 13. I just want to jump into it. I want to just sort of sit with the parable of the sower and this amazing teaching that Jesus gave us, and then draw life out of it. It says this in Matthew 13: “Later the same day, Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake.” Now, the lake was what we call in the scriptures, the sea of Galilee. It’s still what it’s known by today, but it really is a lake. It is the lake. It is a freshwater lake. Actually, it’s the largest freshwater body in Israel, and it’s shaped like a heart. I had a chance to see it more than a few times. It always brings to life the things that I read about in the scriptures. It’s something that we can keep in mind when we read this together.
It says, “a large crowd soon gathered around him.” So, he got into a boat and then he sat there, and he taught as the people stood on the shore, and he told many stories, Jesus did. Jesus was a storyteller, and he told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one.
Now, you and I, well I am not sure all of us would know this, but about a third of all of Jesus’ recorded teachings actually were in the form of parables. Let’s think about what a parable is. Yes, it’s a story of sorts. There’s no question about that. But literally parable, “para” means beside, “bola” to throw. So “parable” to throw alongside, placing things side by side to be able to gain for the purpose of comparison an understanding. The way I was taught was that a parable of Jesus was always to be thought of as an earthly story designed to illustrate a heavenly meaning. I think that still works really well. Parables utilize familiar things of Jesus’ day.
This is something worth noting. For those who listened to Jesus give the parables for the first time, it was actually just a one-step process because Jesus would refer to things that most all of them were familiar with. Sometimes in his parables, he would refer to things that they were literally able to look at in that moment. So they had less to decipher because they were familiar with the illustration that Jesus was using.
Now we today, as readers of the scriptures, are actually at a slight experiential disadvantage when it comes to appreciating many of the nuances of Jesus’ parables. Why? Because deciphering his parables is for us a two-step process. The first thing we need to attempt to do, which was something they didn’t have to try to work as hard with, is to understand and appreciate the illustration itself. Again, in that day it would have made complete sense, but for us, it’s not necessarily part of our everyday life and experience. So, we’re having to take an additional step to sort of set it into a context and then explain the setting.
Secondly, after that, we get to attempt to comprehend the heavenly principle that the parable is designed to illuminate or convey. So for us, because that two-step process, whereas for the listeners in Jesus’ day, it was more of a one-step process. I hope that makes sense.
I want to suggest that Jesus was, in addition to everything else that he was, and he was so many things, savior, redeemer, king, priest, messiah, also a master storyteller. He was really good at it. That’s the thing because his stories still live with such power and potency. Not just because of the word of God, but because they work as just stories, they draw us in. I think it’s good to remember that even though their primary purpose wasn’t to entertain, it nonetheless had a component of, If I can use it, and I mean this with humility, but there wasn’t an entertaining component to it in the sense that stories draw us in and illuminate our imagination. However, in Jesus’ case, the primary purpose of his parables was to awaken what we might call the spiritual imagination.
I want to look at what I think is the parable that is so connected to our breakthrough series. One of the reasons why that picture is behind me right now is because I want to look at the parable of the sower. Now let’s just read it together. Sometimes it’s also known as the parable of the soil, and you’ll see why, but let’s just read it through.
“Listen, Jesus said. A farmer went out to plant some seeds and he scattered them across this field. And some seeds fell on a footpath and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow, but the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Then still others these fell on fertile soil and they produced a crop that was 30, 60, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted. Anyone with ears to hear, Jesus says, should listen and understand what I am saying”.
And then verse 16, further down: “But blessed are your eyes,” Jesus says, “because they see and your ears because they hear. I tell you the truth, that many prophets and righteous people long to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And, they long to hear what you’re now hearing, but they didn’t hear it.”
Watch what Jesus does. He gives the interpretation, the meaning. It’s a clear one. We’re thankful for it because now we know exactly what he was trying to illustrate. He says, “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds.” The parable that I just shared with you, the parable that we’ve come to know as the Parable of the Sower. “The seed that fell on the footpath, that,” Jesus says, “represents those who hear the message about the kingdom.” He was the king sharing a message about what God was doing, the loving realm of God at work among us. He says, “Hear the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. And then what happens is the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.” That’s one type of seed.
“The seed on the rocky soil, that represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns, that represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.”
“But the seed that fell on good soil, that represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of 30, 60, and even a hundred times as much as has been planted.” Now, as Jesus scanned the crowd, perhaps in a distance, he saw a sower. Maybe on the ledge or a little beyond where the hills had leveled out. Perhaps in the crowd standing and gathered before him. He saw a representation of each of the conditions that he described so that, in my mind’s eye, as Jesus is teaching by the sea of Galilee, perhaps a sower in the far distance, perhaps as Jesus sees the crowds of people, the gathered ones who had come to listen, he recognizes each of the conditions in the faces of those who are listening.
One thing is certain though, Jesus makes it pretty clear. He was the sower and his words were the seed. The parable really is more about the soil, the way people receive or reject his words of life. In fact, doesn’t Jesus describe four distinct groups? Maybe we could push a little further into them.
One, he says. is like the hardened soil. Hard on the outside, resistant. His message can’t penetrate. The seed can’t get through because the will is closed. I think we’ve all known people like that. Maybe at one time, we were like that. It’s possible that a person’s condition can change. That’s the hope of the gospel. That’s one of the reasons we pray for people. Some of you know how thankful we should be, that even though there was a time maybe in our life where we were hardened to the message of Jesus, people prayed for us. People consistently loved those people, and consistently tried to represent Him. Even in the midst of all the confusion and the chaos of our culture, His love broke through and our hearts changed.
When I think about the hardened soil, I can’t help but think about resistance. Think about the ground that has been walked on so much. I’m a backpacker, and a lot of times paths are just packed down by the sheer amount of use. They’re hard. That dirt is as hard as a rock, so heavily trod, and nothing grows on it. The seed can’t get through it. In fact, Jesus says what happens is the birds of the air just come in and snatch the seed away because it can’t get into the soil. Think of it this way. The breakthrough can’t come, because it never gets a start. The breakthrough can’t come because it never gets a start.
The other group that Jesus said is, in a way, the opposite. In the sense that they are, if you can think of it this way, they are soft on the outside, but hard on the inside. Whereas the first one was hard on the outside and nothing could get in. This group is maybe soft on the outside, but hard on the inside. It’s like good soil on a rocky ledge or on a platform. The seed just can’t go deep, and its initial growth can’t be sustained, right? Especially when the hot sun hits and starts beating down on it.
Jesus called those the difficulties and the disappointments of life that just wear it down. It wilts under the heat because it has no depth. The breakthrough can’t come because of a lack of depth. He put it this way, the initial receptivity cannot be sustained. That’s the sad part of what Jesus was saying. There’s an openness, there’s a willingness, there’s an initial excitement, a joyfulness even, but what happens is that receptivity is unsustainable. Boy, don’t we have difficulties and disappointments in life. I mean, we’ve had a ton of them this past year that we just have left behind us, and this new one that we’re in. That’s something that can wear down the goodness of God at work in our lives if we don’t give attention to it.
The third group that Jesus described is the soil that’s filled, he said, with weeds and thorns. It’s good soil, but it got corrupted by the bad. The seed may be started in there and there was a lot of potential, but the growth is choked away by what Jesus describes as the cares and the concerns of life. Wow, how relevant is what the Lord is teaching, from what he taught us to what we’re all living through right now?
Of course, there’s good soil. Good soil, the receptive ground that brings forth different amounts of breakthrough. That’s the only way to describe it. Some 30, some 60, some a hundredfold, and, Lord willing, I’m going to share even more. Just dig right in there about how growth works in our lives and 30, 60, and a hundredfold, and how God wants to work breakthrough into us at increasing dimensions.
I thought about that first soil, and how hard it was. It was just hard. What is it that God desires in us but a soft heart? I mean all of us, right? What the Lord needs us to give him is a soft heart. God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. When a heart is open and willing and not resisting, when there’s an openness to the Lord, God can do some amazing things. He can grow some amazing things. Breakthrough is inevitable. It really is.
By the way, I think I’ve found sometimes that often the quiet gift of pain, tragedy, and hardship is that in the loss. In loss? Yes. Maybe a lot of us have experienced some of that. Maybe some of us are still experiencing it. I know we’re still trying to work through things and we hope for recovery, but we’ve experienced a lot of loss over these past months.
I was thinking about that. How the difficulties, the pain, the loss of life, even the real setbacks in life, if we allow them to, they become the plowshare that opens up the ground. That’s what I found. Like the plowshare that breaks through the hardness of our hearts and creates humility or an openness. It’s what sometimes is called the gift of pain. I know the pain in life can make us get hard, even harder, but it also can be the tool that God uses to break us, a point of openness. That becomes the gift of life for us, because we are stripped away of a lot of the things that can hide our real selves, and in so doing, we become open to the Lord. We become open to finding our true selves as God sees us, as we were meant to be. As I think Calvin Miller called it, our real selves in the making. That’s what God wants. I think about it. The plowshare is the blade of the plow. It’s the blade of the plow. It’s what opens up the ground.
I’ve known this gift. It was CS Lewis who called it, well who wrote about it in his book, The Problem of Pain. He said, “Pain insists upon being attended to.” I know a lot of us are familiar with this amazing quote. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but he shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Then reflecting on the second blessing that sometimes happens when we’re broken. Reflecting on that second kind of soil that Jesus referenced, the soil that lacked depth in contrast to the one that was hard and not open. I wonder how important it is to seek depth as a follower of Jesus, to not settle for a surface-level Christian life as it will most likely be unsustainable.
I think that’s worth me reminding all of you because I care about you spiritually. I want everybody to grow and have, not just a sustainable faith, but an overcoming faith. I want that for myself. I want that for the people I love. I want that for all of you. I really do. For that to happen, it’s important for us to remember that the goal of the Christian life is not to be lived on the shoal, in the shallows, but in the deep, like the Lord calls us into the deep. It’s not meant to be something lived out with just dabbling. If this is going to work right, we’re going to need to have a well-developed root system that allows us to draw nutrients when the water is scarce and the heat of life intense.
That’s huge. That’s why we are to really apply ourselves to following the ways of Jesus, and it takes seriously the things that he’s commanded us to do, but also reminded us to do, right? To spend time with his word, to engage in godly conversation, to build community, to learn how to pray in my mind, to meditate, to write things down, to reflect and think long thoughts, and to have a depth of good quality devotional writing. Also, train with those who’ve learned the ways of Jesus and learn how to glean what they’ve gained over years of practice.
In church, one of the best things we can ever do is engage generationally with those around us. I’m thinking generationally at a number of levels. One, just with people who are older than us, or who are at a different life stage than us. For those who are older with people who are younger. That is not always a perfect analogy or representation of how long someone’s been following Jesus, but it frequently is. It is possible that someone who is older has just begun to follow Jesus and someone who was younger has been doing it for a while, and certainly that that creates a different kind of relationship.
One of the things that Paul reminded Timothy of, and you can read about it in the book of Timothy, actually, both 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. e reminds me, be careful about underestimating your ability to impact people’s lives, just because you’re young.
There’s a consistent pattern of that. I’m not trying to say that the older among us can never be blessed by the younger among us. But, if we can think of it in a couple of different ways, there’s also the idea that we’ve been following the Lord for a while, and there’re others of us who may be following for just a little bit. Although that often is connected to age, it isn’t always. There is a value in learning the ways of Jesus by engaging people who are in a different place in their journey with the Lord and learning from them. That is a huge benefit of having a multi-generational church, in my mind.
I think, early on, I was a pastor of a church that was predominantly young because I was young in those days. It was hard to get people who were older to listen to the 25-year-old or 30-year-old pastor. I understood that. I was just learning life in some ways. But one of the things I’ve come to realize is, just from a generational standpoint, there is a huge value when you’re older of being around younger people because you stay alive, you stay sharp, you stay engaged, you stay open to change.
Remember change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Growth is optional. Change is inevitable. One of the best ways to keep growing and to be open is to be open to change, and when you’re older, is to mix with the younger. When you’re younger, one of the best ways to not make unnecessary mistakes, to learn, and to grow in wisdom is to listen and to interact with people who have gone ahead of us, who’ve lived some life, and who have something to offer us experientially. That’s just wisdom.
I will say this, I don’t get a chance to brag about our church. I want to always be careful about that. Too much, I don’t want to go overboard, but Cornerstone is an amazing community because it has the generations coming together. It’s not a monogenerational church. It’s a beautiful mix of different expressions, and it brings a lot of wealth and beauty into our experience as a community.
I think you add to the layers of multi-ethnicity that we have been given as a blessing. It’s just a remarkable place to grow as a follower of Jesus, and I’m proud and hopefully in the best way of saying it, to be able to have the opportunity to lead this season in my life.
But, speaking about a developed root system, when we have it, it allows us to draw nutrients. I mentioned that especially when the water is scarce and the heat of life is intense, those were some of the dynamics that Jesus was referring to. I mentioned Timothy earlier and the apostle Paul and in 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul actually instructed young Timothy. He says, ‘do your best to present yourself to God as one approved. A worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly, look at that, rightly diving the word of truth.’
What he’s saying is good habits produce a good harvest. When we talk about devotions, it has to do with putting in the time to stay close to God. As I alluded to earlier, deepening occurs out of intention and intention, when it’s acted upon out of the choice of our will, brings a kind of harvest. Now that can be good and bad. When it’s thrown in the direction of God, it has an amazing ability to produce a harvest. We’re talking about things like prayer, Bible reading, studying the scriptures, reflecting, journaling, godly communication, though not glamorous. Those are the things that are foundational to a healthy growing Christian life. That’s what brings the depth.
They are the spadework if you can put it that way, that secures spiritual success. The critical components of the deeper life in Christ. A Life that is capable of sustaining a faith that is vibrant because inevitably our faith will be tested because life is going to test us. We’ve all been tested in these past months, and we’re still being tested. So our faith actually has an opportunity to grow in times like these.
But now I want to just shift back over one more time. We talked about the first two soils that Jesus alluded to. Now the third one. The third one is actually good soil. It’s just overwhelmed and suffocated by the thorns, by the cares and the anxieties of life. The divided life undermines good intentions. I can’t overemphasize the value of fixing our eyes and aligning our priorities and attitudes with the truth of the gospel. Fixing our eyes, staying focused on Jesus, aligning our priorities, putting first things first, and then aligning our attitudes with what we know to be true.
That’s key to breakthrough, right? The things that I just said are keys to breakthrough. Fix our eyes, stay focused on Jesus, align our priorities. Put what Jesus said first things first, and then align our attitudes with what we know to be true. That means I begin to act into what, out of my choice and out of my will, out of what he has told me, is the most valuable and meaningful. I align my attitude in that direction. It produces an amazing harvest.
That’s why I think I just want to sit one more time with, on that last part, thinking about Philippians 4. It’s a passage that I don’t think we can highlight too much in times like these, especially when we’re talking about breakthrough. Philippians 4 says don’t worry about anything. I think this would be a great spot to tie into right now and to bring this teaching to a bit of a close. I do have something I want to share on the backside, but I want to read this through.
Don’t worry, talking about attitudes and fixing on the right things. Don’t worry about anything. This is from the NLT. Instead, pray about everything. I love that. Don’t worry about anything, but instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Those are both important. I love how both of these things have two sides. You will experience God’s peace. Yes, you will. That is what will happen, which exceeds anything we can understand. Do you know what his peace will do? It will guard your hearts, the apostle says, and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. It’s what I mentioned earlier. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable. We have a lot of voices flying around right now. Everybody’s saying something, but I don’t know if it actually helps us to be listening to all these things. I really don’t. Fix your thoughts on what is true, what is honorable, and what is right. But also what is pure, lovely, and admirable, not on the negativity. There’s so much negativity right now. It just wants to overwhelm us. I’m not talking about being naive, but I am saying let’s not be negative. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. That’s where my mind needs to be going the majority of the time. Okay.
Keep putting into practice, the apostle says, all the things that you’ve learned and received from me, everything you’ve heard from me, and you’ve watched me do. Again, look and see that the idea of pattern and models and the value of interactions and generational crossing over. Learning from one another, getting encouraged, inspired, and blessed by one another.
Remember, he then says, the God of peace will be with you. God’s reality will dwell with you in an unshakable way. When we apply these principles, we will be a people who overcome. We will be a people who have breakthrough as a way of life. That will be the rule, not the exception. It’s what I have wanted for all of us. I would say, come on, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s be open to all the things that God wants to sow, the good things he wants to sow in us, the breakthrough he wants to bring.
I have one more little piece to this. As you know, this is the time I usually remind everybody about giving. You can give in a couple of different ways. Send it in, like many of you do, in a more traditional way to our offices. You can do it directly online through our amazing website, if I may say, and you can get through the app, which is what my wife and I do. I always say, when I get a chance before you ever give, give the Lord your heart. I actually think those two things are connected because what we sow, we reap. Remember you can never out-give God. Honor him with the first fruits. You’ll never be disappointed. He can do more with the 90 than we can do with a hundred. That’s a fact.
Lord, I just ask that you bless what we are now about to enter into and what we have been able to enjoy together and speak to our hearts. We’re not done yet. So we welcome your presence for this final piece. This final little piece is in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Lord is so good, and His kindness towards us is boundless. I know the Lord desires to work His breakthrough in our lives. I came back to the idea of what we plant into the ground. If it’s given the proper nourishment, it’s going to produce life. It’s the law of the kingdom. The law of the kingdom of Jesus is that when we plant good seed in good soil, it’s going to have a breakthrough. It’s just a question of, not if, but only how much. What’s the impact going to be in our lives, through our lives, around our lives?
It doesn’t mean that we don’t struggle. A lot of times, the birthing of life is a struggle, but it’s okay. Again, I go back to that opening. We talked about how the Lord often uses the pain of life, the loss of life, to open us up to the Lord in fresh new ways. Blessed are those who come to him with an openness of heart. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right for they will be filled. God, give us a hunger.
We just want to say that we honor you. We love you. We recognize that you are so good and you are so God, and we want to sow good. And we want to sow God. I want to be like the sower, scattering the good seed of Jesus wherever we go. Life flows. Don’t forget you are greatly loved. My prayer is that the Lord will keep you and me, spirit, soul, and body. In Jesus’ name.