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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The Sower, The Seed, and the Soil
Text:Luke 8:1-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* Call to Worship

* Votum & Salutation

* Song of Praise                    “Now with Joyful Exultation”                                    # 95 C


Service of Reconciliation and Renewal


   God’s Holy Law

   Assurance of Pardon 

   Song of Confession               “God, Be Merciful to Me”                              #  51 C: 1-5

   Congregational Prayer

   Offering:                                     Christian Schooling


Service of God’s Holy Word


* Song of Preparation:                     “Speak, O Lord”                                                # 172


   Scripture Reading:                             Luke 8:1-15


   Sermon:                         “The Sower, the Seed and the Soil”


   Prayer of Application 

* Hymn                             “Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast”                                # 173

* Benediction

* Doxology:                              “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”                                    # 566: 2


“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Magnify Jehovah’s name; praise the living God, your Maker; all that breathe, his praise proclaim”.


* Reverent Reflection

* Postlude

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Sower, the Seed, and the Soil

Luke 8: 1-15

January 5, 2020 Bethel URC


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have before us today one of the more well know parables ever told by Jesus. It is also one of the first major parables told by Jesus. The story of the wise and foolish builders (Luke 6:46-49) and the two debtors (Luke 7: 41-43) could technically be classified as parables, but this is the first of the longer and more complex parables told by Jesus.


The telling of this parable also marks a turning point in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Contrary to what some may think, Jesus did not tell parables in order to make the teachings of his kingdom easier to understand. (Now, it is true that many of the illustrations Jesus uses are easy to understand and simple enough for a child to grasp. Jesus speaks about farming and fishing and kings and servants and invitations to banquets, a pearl of great price and a treasure hidden in a field. All of those images are intriguing even to a child).


But the reason Jesus began to teach in parables was so that he might reveal the secrets of the knowledge of the kingdom of God to those who had faith to hear and understand and believe; and he taught in parables to conceal truth from those who did not believe – from those who listened only to find fault and bring accusation against him.


What that means is that in order for anyone of us to truly understand the teachings of the Bible and to really know who Jesus is and to embrace Him and accept Him by faith, we need someone to open our ears and eyes and hearts and minds to the Word. We need God, the Holy Spirit.


And that ties in directly with this parable that Jesus tells here, for the only way the Word of God can ever take root in our hearts and bear fruit in our lives is if God’s Holy Spirit is at work within us enabling us to hear and take to heart and apply what God’s Word proclaims. So with that in mind we consider the parable before us. Here the Lord teaches us the Parable of the Sower, the Seed, and the Soil. We’re going to consider each of those aspects of this parable in this order:

  1. The Seed that is Sown
  2. The Sower who Sows the Seed
  3. The Soil that Receives the Seed   


1) The Seed that is Sown

In Luke 8:11 Jesus reveals that the seed that is sown is the Word of God. To break that down to its simplest explanation, and to tie it in directly with the parable, the seed represents the teaching and preaching of the truth of the Bible (the entire counsel of the Word of God -- both Old Testament and New) which clearly proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that He is the only way of salvation. It is essentially the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Good News of salvation.


And in this parable the seed that is sown has the power of life in it. It has the power of life that, given the right circumstances, under the right growing conditions, when planted in the right soil, will sprout and grow and bring forth an abundant harvest.


This is the seed that John the Baptist and Jesus Christ have been sowing throughout Judea and the Judean wilderness to all the crowds who have come out to hear them. It is the Gospel that called the people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. It is the Gospel that has called the people to stop looking to Moses, to stop looking to the law (their own good works) for their righteousness, and to look to Jesus Christ and his righteousness to make them right before God.


Another important detail about this seed, the fact that some of the seed falls on bad soil and does not produce any crop at all is not the fault or the failing of the seed. Once we understand that the seed is the Word of God, we also understand and accept that fact that God’s Word cannot fail. And if we take this a step further and see that Jesus Christ Himself is the Word of God, that He is preaching Himself and offering Himself as the sacrifice for sins and as the way of salvation, then we see the impossibility of suggesting that there is a problem or a shortcoming with the seed.   


It is exactly as Isaiah put it in chapter 55: 10-11: As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


You see, either the Word, the seed, convicts and opens the hearts and minds of the hearer so that they receive it and respond in faith and are saved (and come to Christ again), or it closes and hardens the heart and condemns those who reject it and will not will not put their faith in Christ.


That is what we might call the spiritual mechanics behind the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. And as sobering as this is, I believe this is also a particular comfort and encouragement to us as Christian parents, and preachers and teachers -- and basically anyone who has had any part in the spiritual instruction of others, or has shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.  


It’s comforting to know that the results do not depend on us. I want all of you to hear that loudly and clearly today. The results do not depend upon us. Our calling is to simply be obedient to the task God has given to us. We are called to sow the seed and trust God for the results.


This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth when they were boasting and bragging about who was the superior preacher and who was converted under whose ministry. He wrote: (I Cor. 3:5-7): What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.


As we’re going to look at next, we merely sow the seed and it is God who grants the harvest.


2) The Sower who Sows the Seed

Secondly, let’s look at the sower who sows the seed. Although is not specified in the parable, the sower is Jesus. And throughout his ministry Jesus has been sowing the seed generously and liberally. As I said a moment ago, Jesus was sowing the seed in Judea, in the Judean wilderness. He was sowing the seed in Galilee, and Capernaum, in Tyre and Sidon.


Jesus was sowing the seed to Jew and Gentile alike. To men and women alike. To religious zealots as well as to tax collectors, and prostitutes and sinners. In fact, the opening verses of chapter 8 tell us as much. Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.


Everywhere Jesus went huge crowds gathered to hear what he had to say and to be healed of their sicknesses and diseases or to have evil demons cast out. In verse 2 we read of some of the early converts to Christ. Mary Magdalene (out of whom 7 demons had comet);Joanna, the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; and Susanna and many others. Some of these were women of means and they provided financial assistance to Jesus and the disciples in their ministry.


So already here we see that the ministry of Jesus was bearing fruit. The seed had been sown and it was already producing a wonderful harvest. It is in this context then, that Jesus tells this parable. He begins (vs 5) with the farmer who goes out to the field to sow the seed. Boys and girls, in those days he farmers didn’t have tractors to work the fields. All the planting and cultivating and harvesting was done by hand.


To sow the seed, to plant the seed, the farmer would have a bag of seed over one shoulder, and he would simply walk through his fields, and cast the seed this way and that by hand. An interesting detail that we see here, is that the farmer showed no concern as to where the seed was cast or where it fell. If this was truly about farming techniques, then a more frugal or careful farmer might argue that he should only sow his seed where that seed would have the best chance to take root. That he should only cast the seed on the soil that would be the most receptive to the seed.


But keep in mind, this may be a parable about farming, but it is a lesson on the kingdom of God and the way the Word of God is to go out. And in Christ’s kingdom, the Word, the Gospel is to be sown generously, indiscriminately, everywhere and to all – without regard for ethnicity or gender, or race or religion, or income, or occupation or even present spiritual state.


Even those who were demon possessed received the sowing of the seed. Even those who hated Jesus – and there were plenty of haters in the crowds who only came to listen to find fault, to find a reason to accuse Jesus. But even they received the sowing of the seed. It was sown wide and far, on all soils, so all who heard.      

This approach to preaching the Gospel is exactly what we confess in the Canons of Dort, the Second Head of doctrine, art. 5: It says Moreover, the promise of the Gospel is that whoever believes in Christ shall not perish but have eternal life.  This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.   


It is this doctrine, derived from this very parable and other passages as well, that gives us the confidence and boldness as well as the drive and desire to take the Gospel of salvation to our unbelieving friends and neighbors, to the community around us, and to all the nations, so that all people everywhere might hear the good news of salvation and believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.


Let me say a word or two about the sower. In Luke 8, the sower is Jesus as he sows the seed among the people of His day. But beyond that, taking a step away from this passage, the sower ultimately is God who is pleased to use us and others to sow the seed of life.


And while it is pastors and missionaries who are set apart by God in an official capacity and are ordained and called to this task by the church, pastors and missionaries and evangelists are not the only ones who sow the seed.


Every one of us here today, in some way, are farmers who sow the seed of the Gospel. It is especially true as we parents sow the seed of life in the hearts and souls of their own children. We raise them in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. Husbands and wives sow the seed of God’s Word in our marriages as each spouse exercises spiritual influence on the other.


It is not only wives who learn from their husbands and grow in godliness, but I believe that we husbands also can learn much from our wives, as they practice godliness in our households and as our wives have a relationship with the Lord. As iron sharpens iron, so husbands and wives ought to learn from each other and grow in godliness together.  


Beyond that, every one of us sows the seed of life each day we live in this world. We sow both by word and deed. Think of your field as your entire area of influence in your life. It includes everyone you come into contact with every day. No exceptions. And I’m not saying we have to stop and preach the Gospel to everyone we meet. But it does mean that whenever and wherever possible, we ought to show the love of Christ to everyone we meet.


And especially in circumstances where God gives us the opportunity, in relationships that we cultivate with neighbors and friends or relatives, that if the opportunity presents itself we speak to them openly and lovingly about the hope that we have in Christ. And we do so not with a goal of converting them to Christ and getting them to come to church. That’s wonderful if that happens.


But we do so for the simple reason that we love our lost neighbors and friends and family members, and we want them to know and possess the same comfort and hope and eternal life that we have. Again, remember the first point: we sow, but God grants the harvest. Sow the seed faithfully every day. And yes pray for the harvest. But remember to leave the rest to God. By faith, ENTRUST the rest to God.


3) The Soil that Receives the Seed   

Thirdly and finally we consider, the Soil that receives the seed. Let’s take a moment to review the four souls and what they represent in the parable. As we review these, prayerfully reflect on your own heart and mind as you receive the Word of God today.


The seed sown on the path/hard soil: the seed that was sown here was either trampled underfoot or birds came by and snatched it up the moment it was sown. Jesus said (vs 12) that is like those who hear the Word of God, but the devil comes along and takes away the Word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved.    


The seed sown on the rocky soil: the seed sown here came up, but then it withered because it had no moisture. Jesus said (vs 13) that is like those who receive the Word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away


The seed sown on the thorny soil: here the seed came up but thorns grew up as well and eventually the thorns choked out the plants. Jesus said (vs 14) that the seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.


Finally, The seed sown on the good soil: here the seed fell and it came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times what was sown. Jesus (vs 15) the seed on good soil represents those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. 


So what are we to do with this? Some suggest that this part of the parable is simply meant to be descriptive and not prescriptive. In others words, Jesus is not calling us to any particular action. Instead, he is merely describing how and why it is that people respond to the Gospel the way they do. After all, how can the soil change itself? Soil that is hard cannot and infertile cannot suddenly decide to become soft and fertile, right?   


But I think Jesus is prescribing something here. I think Jesus is calling us to action Remember, this is a parable and Jesus can assign meaning wherever he sees fit. I believe that verse 8 makes that clear. Jesus ends his parable with these words: Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” This parable is not only about preaching the Word, but it’s about how we listen and respond. 


And there is evidence from the surrounding passages that backs this up. In Luke 6 we find the parable of the wise and foolish builders. What’s the point of that parable? Jesus says the fool is the one who hears the Word of God but does not put it into practice. As a result, his faith crumbles in the face of trials. But the wise man is the one who hears the Word of God and does what it says. He is the one who will persevere in the midst of trials.


Then right here in chapter 8 we find the same teaching repeated. Chapter 8:17-18 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen.  And again in verse 21. After a comment was made about Jesus’s mothers and brothers he said: My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.


So that is definitely a point of emphasis that Jesus is making. How do you, how do I listen and respond to the Word of God? I think what Pastor Philip Ryken wrote is helpful. The parable of the soils searches our hearts. As Jesus talks about the different kinds of soils, and the different spiritual conditions they represent, we recognize that we are all in this parable somewhere.  And this should cause us to ask some serious questions. How am I responding to God’s Word? Is my heart like shallow ground, or am I deeply rooted in the grace of God?  (I am paraphrasing a bit) Are there things in my life that are distracting me from what God wants me to do or to be in my life?   


Let me also share with you a fascinating excerpt from what JC Ryle wrote in connection with this parable. When speaking about the way the devil snatches the seed that falls on the path he said that nowhere is Satan more active in doing this than in the church the preaches the Gospel.


See if this sounds at all familiar: From him come wandering thoughts and roving imaginations, -- listless minds and dull memories, -- sleepy eyes and fidgety nerves, weary ears and distracted attention. In all these things Satan has a great hand. People marvel how it is that they find sermons so dull, and remember them so badly! They forget the parable of the sower. They forget the devil.


JC Ryle goes on to discuss how we resemble each of the soils, and how it that any of the pains and pleasures of life, or the draw of earthly riches, or the business of work or family, or the chasing after all the thousands of things we have to do each day can actually turn our attention away from the Word of the Lord, and draw us further and further away from God.


And how do we know this? How can we tell? How can you tell what kind of a listener you are, or what kind of soil lies in your heart? Examine your life. Examine your actions. What do your words, your thoughts, your actions indicate about the spiritual condition of your heart?


I was also struck by an observation made about how we listen to sermons. Usually when people listen to a sermon they make some kind of evaluation. I thought that was a really good sermon Or perhaps they say it wasn’t very good at all. Either way, the sermon is what they want to assess.


But according to this parable, it’s actually God’s Word that evaluates us. The way we respond to the Word of God shows and reveals what’s in our hearts; what kind of soil we are. And it reminds us that good listening is just as important as good preaching.


And so as we stand at the beginning of a New Year, as this is the first Lord’s Day of 2020, let us strive to be good listeners, better listeners, and to analyze our own lives to see if what we are hearing on Sunday is bearing any fruit on Monday.


And if you fear that the seed is bouncing off your heart, and not penetrating the soil; if you fear that maybe God’s Holy Spirit is not enabling you to hear, then pray today for God give you a heart of faith to be open and receptive to the Gospel; to believe in Jesus Christ, to heave and obey the call of the Gospel!


Or if you fear that all your worries and anxieties or cares and concerns are choking out the seed or starving it of moisture, then come talk to me, or talk to someone who can help you address your anxieties and worries can help focus your heart and mind again on the rich promises of the Word of God.


And so let us take to heart what Jesus says here – he who has ears to hear let Him hear. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Pastor Keith Davis

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