The main focus of Epiphany is seeing how Jesus’ words and actions proved Him to be the Son of God, and the Savior God promised to send in order to rescue sinners from hell. During this Epiphany we’ve been examining Jesus’ ministry in the book of Luke. Today we see and hear our Savior in Luke chapter 8.
I like to tell stories. As a teacher and a pastor I find that stories can be very effective at making a point or explaining a concept. Jesus felt the same way. The Bible records at least 40 different stories that Jesus told during the course of his ministry. Jesus used each of these stories to prove a point, or to explain a concept.
40 parables. That’s a lot, and that doesn’t even include all the little “example” stories that He used in every day communication. Like when the Pharisees were making a big stink about Jesus healing on the Day of Rest. Jesus told them,
“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11 NIV).Little story, point made.
For our sermon meditation today we examine Jesus’ parable about the “Sower and the Seed”. This parable is about the Word of God being spoken to sinners, and how different situations yield different results in the human soul.
Luke 8:4-15 (ESV)
4And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
9And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Here Jesus tells His disciples that His parables have a secondary purpose. They have a teaching function, and they also have a judgment function. Jesus says,
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (Luke 8:10 ESV).Jesus was quoting a section from Isaiah 6. In Isaiah, the people had rejected and mocked the LORD. So, He sent them a prophet, Isaiah, who they could not understand. He would speak wisely, but in a way the people wouldn’t understand. God was basically saying, “You rejected my word when you understood it, now you won’t even understand it. It will be within your grasp, but will remain a mystery to you.”
In the paragraph that comes right after our sermon reading, Jesus says…
“Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him” (Luke 8:18 NIV).To those who rejected Jesus as the Savior, parables would mean little. But to the disciples, who believed in and followed Jesus, He explained everything. As He does for us also, through Luke’s Gospel. Now, let's get to the parable.
We know the basic outline.
A farmer goes out to plant some grain. He throws it this way and that way in the tilled field, and there are four results. 1) Some is eaten by the birds. 2) Some spring up on the rocks, but die for lack of moisture. 3) Some spring up in the weedy patch of the field, but don’t grow enough to produce anything useful. And, 4) Some spring up in the tilled soil, where they have everything needed and they grow and produce a great harvest.
Jesus does us a favor here. When explaining the parable to His disciples, He says…
“…The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).It’s hard to get clearer than that.
It’s not quite so clear cut from there on, but it’s not hard to get our minds around this parable.
Each soil situation is a warning. Jesus is revealing attacking points that Satan will use to prevent the word of God from saving sinners and changing lives.
That’s why Jesus mentions Satan in his explanation of the seed that falls on the path. He says that the Devil comes along and takes away the word from people’s hearts so that they can’t believe and be saved.
Quick removal is the best way to avoid a really bad burn. Quick removal is also the best way to ensure a sinner doesn’t begin trusting Jesus for forgiveness. If the Devil can cause a person to MISUNDERSTAND, FORGET or DISREGARD the message of Jesus – there isn’t any way that person can come to believe in Jesus as the promised Savior.
Listen to that again. If the Devil can get a person to MISUNDERSTAND, FORGET or DISREGARD the message of Jesus - then Satan has won.
This is why spray painting “Jesus Saves” on the highway overpass isn’t converting thousands every day (that one is probably misunderstood, forgotten and disregarded).
I think DISREGARD is of particular importance to Christ followers today. We can communicate the message of Christ flawlessly. We can get all our teachings right, and explain them in unforgettable language. But, if our lives don’t match up with Christ’s teachings, what are unbelievers going to think? It’s easy to disregard the message of a person who talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.
This is just as much and indictment on my own life as any other Christian’s. Let’s make sure that we live lives which cannot be used to disregard the message of sin and grace.
The second situation Jesus relates in the parable of the Sower and the Seed is this: a person who comes to faith, but who stops trusting in Jesus because the word of God isn’t flowing into his life. A sprout needs water to live and grow. A follower of Christ needs the word to live and grow in faith.
Jesus told his followers,
“…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV).When I baptize a child into Christ’s family, I remind the parents that baptism is like planting the seed of faith. If that sprout isn’t watered, it will die. Jesus says, Baptize and then teach.
Scripture speaks of new converts to Christ as being “infants” in the faith. When Paul gives young pastor Timothy instructions about who should be elected overseers and deacons in the church, he specifically says, not new converts to Christ. They need to mature spiritually before they serve as overseers and deacons (1 Timothy 3:6).
In Hebrews it says…
“25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV).Some Christians think that once they learn the message of sins forgiven through Christ, they can step away from God’s word and other followers of Christ. This reveals a lack of understanding. Knowledge is NOT faith. To maintain faith in Christ, we must be continually watered with the word of God. When possible, we must surround ourselves with Christ followers who teach and confess the truth of God’s word without error. Otherwise, withering faith is inevitable. And we all know what happens after a plant withers - it dies.
The third situation Jesus talks about in the parable of the Sower and the Seed is the plant that grows surrounded by weeds.
There’s water here. The plant IS growing. But the weeds are stealing so much of the water away from the plant that it can never hope to grow strong enough to produce a crop.
I think this is probably the biggest problem Christ followers face in modern America. We are surrounded by distractions that steal our time with God. The pace of life fills our list of responsibilities. Our busy schedule leads to making bad choices. Bad choices further steal from our time with God. And if we aren’t diligent in setting our priorities right, God’s word simply can’t reach our hearts and minds in a rich flowing stream.
Like I said, the water is there. The Bible on the coffee table, the devotion book on the shelf, the church down the street. But the noise of work and events and every day responsibilities reduce the voice of God down to a mere whisper.
In His explanation, Jesus identifies THREE things that steal God’s living water from people. Cares (or worries), riches and pleasures.
Satan doesn’t mind if you’re poor. He can still use your worries about how you’re going to pay those bills to crowd out God’s word. If you’re rich, Satan says, I can work with that too. And if you’re not really concerned about money and stuff, then Satan can use the blessing of pleasure, in whatever form it takes, to fill the time that could have been used for feeding and strengthening faith.
In another one of Jesus’ parables He talks about a man who has a bumper crop and decides to store it all away and just live a life of ease. The problem is, the man dies the very next night.
Worries, riches and pleasures fill this world, but only a rich relationship with God through God’s Son ensures a full life after this one, in eternity.
The solution to a weed filled life, is pulling those weeds out. Christians, we gotta weed our gardens. We gotta take out some of the busyness, and make space for the important business of meeting with our Creator and Savior.
When we cultivate a rich relationship with God, our problems become opportunities. The apostle Paul wrote…
“…for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV).Paul said this because when he was feeling weak, that made him return to God. When he was weak that made him depend, not on himself, but on God who had taken his sins away through Christ’s cross and promised to provide everything else Paul could possibly need.
When we pull out the word-stealing weeds and make room for God, then the riches and pleasures which remain, change also. They become opportunities to thank and praise God.
The last situation that Jesus speak about in the parable of the Sower and the Seed is a Christ follower who grows mature and whose life is filled with the fruits of faith in Jesus - good words and actions.
This is the situation we all want to be in. But even though this last situation is the one we want to be in, Jesus still describes it as taking patience. That’s because growing a harvest from a single seed takes time. It takes water, light and time.
Few Christ followers would look at this parable and say, “The Good Soil, that’s my situation. I’m growing and mature and bursting with fruit.” When we examine our soil honestly, we find that we have rocks and weeds mixed in with the good soil. This shows us that after faith has taken root, we need Jesus more than ever. Only He can comfort us by telling us that we’re acceptable to God already through His own suffering and death on the cross. Only Jesus can say, “Don’t worry, I’ve already redeemed you to God, and I’m real good at removing rocks and weeds that remain in the lives of my people.”
Earlier, I told you that I like telling stories. One of my favorite gardening stories is about a named Samuel Coleridge.
Coleridge had some guests at his home and he had gotten into a conversation with a man who insisted that children should receive no formal religious instruction. Instead, they should be left free to choose their own religious faith upon reaching a suitable age.
Coleridge inwardly disagreed, but didn’t immediately argue the point. Instead, later in the evening he invited the man to see his sadly untended garden. Upon seeing the jumbled mess that Coleridge called his “garden”, the man exclaimed, “You call this a garden? There’s nothing here but weeds!”
“Well, you see,” Coleridge replied, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own production.”
At the end of telling His parable of the Sower and the Seed to the people, Jesus exclaimed,
“…He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 8:8).We’ve got ears, let’s listen to Jesus. Let’s not let the garden of our lives grow without directions. Let’s water our gardens with the word of God, weed them with care, and depend on our great God and Savior to bring forth fruit worthy of His Name.
Prayer: Father in heaven, you have planted the seed of faith in our hearts. We trust that your Son Jesus has take our sins away through his own suffering and death in our place. Continue to water this faith through your word. Help us to weed out the distractions that keep us from a vibrant and growing faith. When we sin and make bad decisions, remind us that our sins already stand forgiven through Jesus. Remove our rocks and weeds, and cause us to grow strong in the word, to your glory and our good. Amen.