Session #094 Sow How?
Scripture Matthew 13:1-9;18-23
Summary The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9;18-23 is very familiar to many and not difficult to understand. That said, therein lies the challenge. And that is exactly the point of the parable and what Jesus was trying to address. Henson presents this popular parable in three parts: SOW MUCH!, SOW WHAT? and SOW HOW? Listen once more with fresh ears and right hearts. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13:1 – 9, 18 – 23
We are currently in the section of Kingdom Parables, which tells us about the kingdom Operating System, or kOS. Parables help us understand the wisdom of the kingdom, explaining the kingdom to the people of the kingdom who had missed the King. Through parables, the Lord reveals the truth but also conceals them, such that only those whose heart is in the proper posture will understand it. There is the promise that for those who understand and move on it, they will receive more, and for those who do not move on the lesson, even what they have will be taken away. The point is that the kingdom is declared to everyone, but it is the problem of the condition of their hearts such that it remains hidden to them. The mysteries are all revealed in Christ as a kingdom Open Secret (kOS), and we have the privilege to receive this revelation and share it with others. These points are drawn from Matthew 13:10 – 17 and expounded previously in session #093, and this session explores the parable surrounding these verses.
Jesus first tells the parable to the crowd, then explains it to the disciples who are interested to know more. There is a time for proclamation to the crowds, like conferences and seminars, but there is also a time for the processing which has to be done in a smaller group that goes a lot deeper. More often than not, there is a disconnect between the proclamation and the processing.
This session focuses on the Parable of the Sower, which is ultimately about fruitfulness. We will explore the Sower, the Seed, and the Soil.
Sow Much – The Sower Sows in All Seasons
“Behold, a sower went out to sow.” Matthew 13:4
The sower is the one who goes out to proclaim the word, and sowers are expected to sow no matter what, no matter when, and to keep sowing. Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2) Paul is saying that contrary to common agricultural practice that waits for seasons to sow, in the kingdom, we are expected to sow no matter what.
We have so much information being sowed today through the digital world – conferences, podcasts, webinars, you name it. But against the “so much and so many”, we have to ask ourselves, what is being sowed?
Sow What? – The Seed is the Word of the Kingdom
We need to be careful what is the seed because what we sow will influence what comes out. Matthew 13:9 spells it out clearly – the seed is the “Word of the kingdom”. This is important to note, for we can take a Bible verse and use it to inspire and motivate, but it may not be declaring the kingdom. Every time that Paul preached, he was declaring the Word of the kingdom. Paul also reminds Timothy to hold fast to declaring the truth of the kingdom, “for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Today, we are spoilt for choice and can pick the church we want. While it is good that we want to be fed, we need to ask ourselves whether we are seeking to be fed the message of the kingdom, or if we are looking for messages about how we can live a good life and advance our own wellbeing. Is it about us, or is it about Jesus? With so much and so many churches and teachings out there, we need to ask what is being sown. If the right seed is being sown, then we have to ask the third question – Sow How?
If there is nothing wrong with the sower, and nothing wrong with the seed, then there has to be a kingdom outcome. If we are not seeing the kingdom outcome of fruitfulness, this is where we have to check the soil. The parable presents four different types of soil, indicative of the condition of our hearts.
The Roadside – Hardened Hearts
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. Matthew 13:19
In those days, the sower would have a path to walk along to sow into the soil, and as he steps on this path he presses down the soil and it gets hardened over time. Inadvertently as the sower scatters the seed, some will fall on this path. Similarly, some people have hardened hearts after being stepped on by troubles in their lives, and so the seed bounces off instead of being accepted. For many, living Christian is already difficult, let alone living kingdom, and we miss the entire thing and end up with religiosity, attending sermon after sermon but with nothing taking root. The seed drops on the ground and remains on the surface, and that is where the wicked one comes and snatches away the word, such that we get nothing out of whatever sermons and classes we are going for.
The Stony Places – Shallow Hearts
But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Matthew 13:20 – 21
The stony place has some earth where the seed can take root, but it lacks moisture and is dry. These are shallow hearts. They receive the seed with joy, but immediately they stumble. It is rocky and stony, so although the seed has started to sprout a little, the seed has no root and does not get deep into the heart. When the sun comes up – tribulation, difficult times and persecution because of the Word, they stumble away, and even today, we sometimes stumble away due to a little tribulation, whether it is because of the Word or not. The Lord is warning us that when we take the Word of the kingdom, it is not always going to be fun, for when we live the Word of the kingdom, it will be naïve to think that everyone will love us. There will be good things about living in the kingdom, but not everyone will love the things of the kingdom. It runs opposite to the things of the world. Do we have the depth to stand through? Will we endure tribulation because of the word? The persecution can come even from within the church community because many people do not really want to know the kingdom, they just want to be in the church. They will question and challenge the kingdom, saying to be less fanatical. If we do not have the roots of the kingdom, we can mean well but we will not be able to endure. Our roots need to go deep so that we can find the water to be refreshed in the Spirit.
The Thorns – Distracted Hearts
Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:22
When the seed falls on these hearts, there is some growth, but it is unfruitful, bearing “no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14), as the cares of this world and the pleasures of life distract them. We can go to church and see some growth and think we are fine, but we are deceived Christians – we know about the Christian concepts, but there is no fruit. Right from the start of Matthew, John the Baptist calls us to bear fruit worthy of repentance. It is not about growing a little bit, but bearing fruit to maturity. When we begin to take the Word of the kingdom, we can agree with it, but it does not mean that we will follow through, for living kingdom is at odds with living for the world. The kingdom calls for a certain sacrifice and focus, but we want the best of both worlds. Instead of living out the kingdom, we get distracted by the cares of the world that choke out the life of the kingdom. For Singaporeans, we understand the pressures of this life, living in it so much that we do not even realise the pace we are running at. The cares of this world that cause us to think we are too busy to live kingdom. The deceitfulness of riches draws us away from being lowly and last in the kingdom, thinking that wealth indicates blessing. The pleasures of life will also choke the kingdom life. In Timothy, Paul warns that people will be lovers of pleasure, and today we see how people are being taught to think about themselves first before we can care for others to the point of self-centredness. This third soil is not good, for there is some growth but no fruit to maturity.
The Good Soil – Circumcised Hearts
But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Matthew 13:23
He who hears the word and understands it bears fruit and produces a hundred-fold. A heart that is circumcised is a pliable and teachable one where God can write His Word onto, one that desires to dig deeper and is set on spiritual things. This heart has the right condition for the word to take root, to grow and to bear fruit.
Circumcised hearts also yield the right response, which is to hear the word and accept it. When Jesus spoke the parable, He said, “Hear this parable”, which mirrors the “shema” that calls Israel to hear. Jesus is asking if we are listening. The problem is that people are hearing, but not really hearing, and the promise is that if we hear correctly, more will be given. In Mark, it says to take heed what we hear. Sometimes we hear what we want to hear, so let us take heed of what we hear. In Luke, it says to take heed how we hear. Do we come to hear something, or to judge the speaker? Do we come postured to receive something from the Lord?
Hearing the Lord is the first response, but we need to progress to hearing with understanding. Many of us just leave it aside because we are busy and distracted, but Jesus wants to share the mysteries of the kingdom and wants us to ask if we do not understand. But even if we understand, it does not mean we accept it. We need to embrace the truth each time we encounter it, for the truth requires a response. Circumcised hearts will hear, understand, accept, and from this to keep the Word.
“Christians keep the Word so well that they don’t know where to find it.” Sometimes we can memorise the Word, but to keep the Word means to hold it close, having our hearts aligned, letting the Word be our kingdom reference. If we do not know the King, we cannot align with the kingdom. If we are not aligning with the kingdom, then who are we aligning with? If we are not holding fast to the word and measuring everything against it and by it, our heart is still not right. To keep the Word is to obey it. James 1:21 – 22 in the New International Version tells us to “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. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” We can listen and memorise the Word, but we struggle with obeying it for we want to live our own lives. We need to get practical, for the promise is that the more we use the word, the more we grow in the word. “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.” (Mark 4:24) Hearing and using the word is synonymous. It is not just listening to the word, but how we apply it. The learning curve may be steep, but the rate of return is exponential, bearing thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold. When we use the word, we begin to grow in the word. Growth is important, for if the seed is planted and growing, it points towards bearing fruit. If it is not bearing fruit, we need to check the soil and the seed again.
The Fruit of Maturity and the Fruit of Ministry
Bearing fruit comes in two ways. There is spiritual growth, maturing towards the likeness of Christ. Paul puts it as the fruit of the spirit. Are we more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, exhibiting the qualities in Galatians 5:22? Are we bearing fruits of righteousness or cutting corners? Are we responding to God’s discipline? Are we bearing fruits of holiness where we are living less sinful lives? Are we living lives set apart? Are we praising the Lord? This is spiritual growth.
Secondly, we will see the fruit of lives impacted by the good works of the kingdom as we move on our ministry assignments. Are we being faithful to serve the Lord in every good work? If we are not seeing these fruits, we need to check the soil and the seed. We have to look out for this fruit. The difficult times that come to us are allowed for the sake of fruitfulness. If life gives us manure, sometimes the Lord allows it so that we can mature. We bear through it, receive it, and the fruit that comes out from it is for the glory of the Lord. If it is the right fruit, it will lead to a harvest.
This harvest is not a onefold harvest, but supernaturally a thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold. Jesus wants the branches to bear fruit, but as we bear fruit, the Father prunes us so we can bear more fruit. He wants us to bear much fruit. Jesus wants us to bear fruit that remains – not fruit in our bank account, but fruit that lasts for eternity, the fruit of our lives. We are called to bear fruit with patience for it is going to come, and it is for an eternal harvest.
If we are a preacher, let us continue sowing. But after the “sow much and sow many”, we need to think about what we are sowing. We need to trust the seed, for the seed of the kingdom is fine. Our part is to preach it correctly and declare it well, then think about “sow how”.
We can think of what kind of soil we are, or we may compartmentalize and think about what aspects of our lives are which kind of soil. If our heart is hardened, hurt and stepped upon, Jesus has restored you at the cross. Let Him heal you and soften your heart. If your heart is shallow, with stones all over the place, let us remove the stones, removing what is stopping us. Commit so that we can grow. If you have a distracted heart, Jesus says not to care so much. It is a fine line between care and worries, and if we live the kingdom way, Jesus will take care of the cares of the world. Be careful of the deceitfulness of riches. If we do not seek the things of the kingdom, we will become distracted. Let us be focused on the things of the kingdom.
Ultimately, do we have a heart for the kingdom? With an understanding of the Archippus Awakening message, the hardened ones remain asleep, they do not understand or receive their kingdom assignments. The stony ones are awakened, springing up with joy but they do not go deep and do not align. Their faith is shallow, going for seminar after seminar but never moving on. Some move and get aligned, but they find the alignment is not easy and get caught up in the thorns of life. They grow but there is no fruit to maturity. The assigned ones go deep, grow up and bear fruit as they are aligned to the person of Christ, and assignment for the kingdom of Christ. They bear fruit to maturity and in ministry. If the sower is doing his part, and the seed is right, the soil is our domain. Our heart’s condition is our issue.
So how? After this message, which soil do we want to be?