Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sower: A Parable, and So Much More - Matthew 13:1-23

Setting the Scene
1 That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea.
2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach.
We open with Jesus taking a little daytrip to the beach.  It could be that He needed some time to be alone with God and His thoughts, as we see Him do elsewhere, but when the crowds showed up He chose to minister to them anyway - as we also see elsewhere.  Or, it could be that He wanted to preach to a large crowd, and knew that houses could only hold a small number of peole (usually 30-35 maximum, at this time).
Now, what about that boat?  We see elsewhere in Scripture that Jesus has to get on a boat just to create a little distance so the crowds don't crush him in their effort to be in the "front row."  Here's another cool thing - open water acts as a microphone.  If you've ever been on a really big lake, you know how well this works (I saw it in action this past summer at the Great Salt Lake).  So, getting out on the open water would have been a way for Jesus to ensure that the entire crowd could hear Him.
Okay, so we've got some ideas as to what Jesus is doing and why.  Let's look at the first parable itself, now.
This is a long passage with related information separated by large spans, so for organizational purposes, we'll look at: < 3 > < 4, 19 > < 5-6, 20-22 > < 7, 22 > and < 8, 23 > to join the parable and Jesus's explanations together, and then we'll come back to the part in the middle < 9-18 > for His discussion with the disciples.
Fair warning: We're going to skim the surface of some very controversial issues today - predestination, losing your salvation, the role of good works, what happens to those who don't comprehend the Gospel, and God hardening people's hearts.  Yeah...we've got our work cut out for us, eh? :-)
The Sower
3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow;"
A sower is a planter whose job it is to scatter seeds on the ground.  In this case, the seeds are the Gospel, and the sower is God (God as Jesus or God as the Holy Spirit, in different cases and depending on your view).
There's something fascinating here: God scatters the seed - extends the Gospel, His offer of forgiveness - to every single human being.  What determines whether or not the seed takes root is what kind of soil they are - that is, the state of their heart.  If God predestined certain people to follow Him and certain people to go to hell, why would He bother scattering the seed to everyone?  Just a thought.  No, the answer is that the choice to accept or reject His offer is all on us.  We'll revisit this when we get to verses 9-18.
By the Road and Eaten by Birds
4 and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.
Here we see some people who God reaches out to, but they don't understand His message.  Then, the devil encourages them to not bother wasting time thinking about something too "difficult" for them to understand.
Here's the thing: We know that every person, even those in far-off countries who have never heard the Gospel in their live, has access to God if they're willing to respond to His presence, and He promises to reveal Himself and His forgiveness to them if they just seek Him.  I've actually heard of this in action in some Muslim countries - people have no access to Bibles or missionaries or anything like that, but God speaks to them in a dream and they come to accept Jesus from that.  God really, truly is not limited by human access - He can call anyone to Him, anywhere.
So, it is clear that He hasn't made some vague philosophy that require years of contemplation to catch a glimpse of like some Eastern religions.  "Understanding" here does not mean mental capability.  Rather, it is meant in the sense we will see in verses 19-23, and in the sense of John 1:5, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." - a refusal to understand.  God reaches out to everyone, but some people refuse to accept that they're wrong about anything, and don't want to consider the possibility that their worldview is incorrect because that is guaranteed to cause some serious changes in their life.  When these people refuse to let the Word inflitrate their hearts, Satan capitalizes on the situation and encourages them not to consider what God is trying to reveal.  Simply, they had the opportunity, and they refused to take it.
(Remember the < birds = Satan and his demonic forces > thing; we'll see that in another parable!)
On the Rocks
5 Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.
6 But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
These people are fair-weather friends to God.  They want the happy part - forgiveness and blessings - but they're not willing to accept the persecution, the laying down your life (physically and in daily actions and interactions) for Christ.
Thomas a Kempis commented on this when He said, "Jesus hath many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross.  He hath many desirous of consolation, but few of tribulation.  Many love Jesus so long as no adversities befall them."
They sprouted plants - they were genuinely saved - but once they figured out that allowing God to transform you into becoming like His Son (the ultimate goal of salvation!) isn't easy, they decided it wasn't for them.  Yes, it is possible to lose your salvation by choosing to reject God - see Romans 11:17-24 and Hebrews 10:26-31.
It is NOT that your good works earn you salvation, it is that if you genuinely want forgiveness, that means you want to genuinely be like God - so if you refuse the ways He is using make you like Him (trials, tests, and tribulations), then clearly you don't really want to be like Him with all your heart.
In the Briar Patch

7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.
22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the decietfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
These thorns are anything that distract us from God to the point that we put them above God - these are idols - it may be wealth, or fame, or power, or security, or a romantic relationship, or a group of friends, or a lifelong dream.
Now, please note, as we've discussed before, that this is not talking about struggling with sin - that's "growing pains," it's to be expected and is evidence of trying to overcome your sinful nature and become like Christ.  Rather, if you ever get to the point that you say, "I know it's wrong, but I want it anyway," that is when you need to honestly be concerned for your soul.
This parable could certainly apply to people who won't accept the Gospel because they like their current lifestyles too much, but it also applies to Christians who refuse (not struggle to give up - refuse) the idols in their lives.  The latter seems closest since verse 22 mentions it becoming unfruitful.
Healthy Plants
8 And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty."
Finally!  The optimistic one! :-)
We see here that those who are true believers consider the Gospel and decide to accept it, are willing to act on it, and because they're willing to act on it, good results.
This good - the hundreds, sixties, and thirties bit - may be in the form of sharing the gospel with others, or discipling others, or ministering to others, or accomplishing work for God's kingdom in some other capacity.  It has absolutely nothing to do with numbers - it's just saying that when you strive to follow God, good will eventually come of it, even when you can't see it.
Those Aren't Exactly Uplifting Odds!
In this parable, there are three broad groups of people who ultimately reject Jesus, and one group that accepts Him and chooses to follow Him with all their heart.  That's not to say that exactly 25% of humans are saved; it's the point out how few there really are.  Jesus did say in Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."  You may have heard statistics of the number of "Christians" in the world that seems to contradict this, but remember, not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is, whether they're lying to you or to themselves.
So, I ask you today: Which type of soil are you?  Have you accepted God's forgiveness?  And have you stuck with it, or have you allowed difficulties or any idols in your life to pull you away?  Repent TODAY, and turn to God!  If you would like to learn how to accept Jesus as your Savior and as the Lord of your life, click here or click on the tab above titled, "How to Receive Salvation."  Is English not your first language?  Click here to learn the Gospel in other languages, as well!
More on the Parable, Besides the Parable
9 "He who has ears, let him hear."
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"
11 Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
12 "For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
13 "Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14 "In this case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCIEVE;
16 "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and you ears, because they hear.
17 "For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see wha you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."

The whole point is that those who genuinely want to understand what God has to say will be rewarded with understanding, and those who don't care or are offended by what God has to say will stop of their ears (psychologically, not physically).  I  love how the Amplified version of the Bible phrases Mark 4:24: "And He said to them, Be careful what you are hearing.  The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you - and more [besides] will be given to you who hear."  The disciples (remember, this isn't just the 12; disciples means His followers) are probing deeper because they want to understand - they're asking questions.  Because of their diligence, dedication, and hunger for the truth, Jesus is blessing them with understanding.  While there were surely some among the crowd that day who genuinely wanted to follow Jesus, it seems the vast majority of them were just there for the show - they had no interest in hearing talk of laying down their lives, difficulties, and tribulation.
A quick clarification: Verse 12 sounds horrible when taken out of context, but within the context of this passage, it's simply saying that those who have a little understanding of God's Word (presumably) through their own efforts will be given more by God, spiritually, but for those who don't bother learning what God has to say, He will ensure they have no udnerstanding at all.
We learn two lessons from this: (1) We need to be diligent to contemplate and study God's Word if we truly want to understand the riches it holds.  (2) We need to be willing to truly hear what He has to say, even if it's not something pleasant.
Finally, look at how beautiful verse 17 is!  God waited until 2000 years ago to reveal His Messiah; before then, many godly men like the prophets yearned to meet the Messiah in their lifetimes, but could not.  We should consider it an immense blessing that we were born into a time when God's ultimate plan for salvation is clear, and when we can have our own Bibles and not have to rely on a priesthood for the source of all communication with God.
Talk to Me!
What types of soils have you been at different points in your life?
Do you have anything you'd like to ad?
Is there anything I didn't make clear, or did today's post spark other questions?
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Representation of the Sower's Parable from Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church in Romania.  Photograph by Sulfababy.  Wikimedia Commons.  Public Domain.
Image Number Two: Two ravens standing guard at the Tower of London.  Photography by Cj005257.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.
Image Number Three: The rocky side of a mountain creek near Orosi, Costa Rica.  Photograph by Dirk van der Made.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.
Image Number Four: Rose Prickles.  Photograph by JJ Harrison.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.
Image Number Five: Traditional apple orchard in Eastwood, Essex.  Photograph by Graham Burnett.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.
Image Number Six: Image of a human ear showing vestigial muscles.  By Thomas Woolner.  Wikipedia Commons.  {{PD-1923}} Pubic domain in the United States.

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