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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Sowing the Seed of the Gospel
Text:Matthew 13:1-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2013
Added:2023-01-12
Updated:2023-01-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Light of the World Is Jesus
Have Thine Own Way  
I Love to Tell the Story
O Lord, My Inmost Heart and Thought

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


01/13/2013 
“Sowing the Seed of the Gospel”
Matthew 13:1-23
 
In the opening verses of this chapter we find Jesus in a “megachurch.” Verse 2 describes how “Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.”
 
With what we know about megachurches today we might expect Jesus to instruct his disciples to form a band“Peter, you can play the drums, and John you be in charge of the vocalists. Let’s do all we can to keep the people’s attention and make an emotional appeal for them to believe in me. Thomas, see what you can do about writing a script for some drama. After the music we will present a play so that no one loses interest and wanders off!”
 
But that’s not at all what Jesus did! Instead, he began to tell a story about a very common event. He said to the great crowd, “A farmer went out to sow his seed” (v. 3). In this chapter Jesus begins using parables. Parables are unique teaching tools that use everyday events to teach spiritual truths. As soon as Jesus said the words in verse 3, “A farmer went out to sow his seed”, a mental picture was formed in the mind of his listeners. But while his listeners had a mental picture of a farmer sowing seed, Jesus was really teaching them about the spread of the gospel.
 
In this parable the farmer isn’t just any farmer. The farmer sowing his seed is a picture of Christ sowing the seed of the gospel. By extension, it also is telling how the gospel continues to be sown in our day, by the witness of Christians around the world who are sowing the gospel by their words and by their lives. It also especially refers to the preaching of the gospel as “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)
  
The soil upon which the seed of the gospel falls teaches us volumes about the hearts of people. It’s not about farming. It’s about the spread of the gospel, it’s about human hearts and the building up of the kingdom of heaven. Because the parable is so much more than what it seems on the surface – it is far more than a farmer sowing seed – Jesus explained the parable to his disciples. In verses 18 and 19 he said: “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
           
There were many among that great multitude who did not understand. As we have seen before in our study of Matthew, many people came to see the miracles. They came to see what was going on with the carpenter’s son; he was something of a novelty. He could put down the Pharisees and scribes and do amazing feats of healing, and because of that, he was a real crowd magnet. But many of those who followed him never put their faith in Jesus. Their hearts remained hard. Many of those who heard him undoubtedly were among the crowd that called for his crucifixion.
 
What happened along the way? How is it possible that someone who hears the gospel from Jesus himself would not take it to heart, live it out in their life and be a dedicated, faithful follower of the Lamb? The key is in verse 19: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”
 
I don’t imagine there is anyone more interested in missions than the devil. He is interested in the foreign mission program of every Bible-believing church, and he is interested in the church plants that spring up in every nation. He knows that the seed – the gospel – has power to convert, so he is waiting to snatch that seed away. The seed that fell along the path, where the soil was hardened by the passing of many feet, never germinated. It never grew. Instead, in verse 4 Jesus tells how the birds came and snatched it up.  
 
Some of you feed birds. You know how quickly they come and snatch up the seed that you leave for them. In verse 19 Jesus teaches that the evil one has the same quickness as that hungry bird. He comes quickly to snatch away the seed of the gospel from the person who doesn’t understand it.
 
The second type of person that Jesus speaks about is the one described in verses 20 and 21: “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”
 
We’ve all known people who have no spiritual roots. They are sometimes called rootless Christians, but Jesus is teaching here that many never were Christians to begin with. If they were, they would have developed roots, “work(ing) out (their) salvation with fear and trembling,” as God’s Spirit worked in them “to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil. 2:12, 13)
 
Jesus had no illusions about his “megachurch.” After all, so many people had gathered to hear him that he had to teach them while sitting in a boat off of the shoreline. But he wasn’t tabulating how many had signed a commitment card, or said the sinner’s prayer, or “opened their heart to let him in.” Not at all! As the One who knows every heart, he knew that many of those who followed him would fall away when life got hard. He taught his disciples: “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, (they) quickly fall away.” 
 
The Word always brings trouble. We don’t hear that from many pastors of megachurches. Many of them say just the opposite: “When you have faith in Jesus all your problems will be over. You will have health and prosperity...” But Jesus doesn’t mince his words. He doesn’t say “If trouble or persecution comes because of the word,” but “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word.”  
 
It is similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37-39 about counting the cost of discipleship: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
    
When trouble and persecution comes to the true believer, it drives them closer to Christ. Through our relationship with Christ we find divine comfort and a peace that surpasses all understanding; we find that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18)
 
But many others who seem to have genuine faith wither away like a young tender plant in the noonday heat. They turn away from Christ and the seed of the gospel, bitter and disappointed that all the health and prosperity – the easy life they expected – never became a reality for them.
 
In verse 22 Jesus describes a third type of person: “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”
 
Those of you who are gardeners know how important it is to pull out the weeds. If the weeds aren’t removed early on, they will choke out the good plants. In the springtime there might be just a few weeds in the yard. But if you let them go without pulling them out by the roots, they steadily take over the entire yard.
          
Jesus tells us here that both worry and the deceitfulness of wealth have the same thing in common: Both are like those weeds. They start out gradually, and then as time goes by, they rapidly reproduce until they take up the whole yard. Or, in the analogy of this parable, a whole person’s life.
 
Verse 23 describes the fourth type of person. Jesus says: “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
 
Not every Christian produces the same amount. But every Christian must show their faith is real by what is produced in their life. In this parable Jesus refers to what is produced as a crop; in many other passages what is produced by a Christian is referred to as fruit, especially the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
 
Years ago, the question was sometimes asked, “If you were brought to trial for your faith in Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Every true Christian must show by their life that their profession of faith in Christ is genuine. There must be fruit, “a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
 
The Lord of the Harvest
 
Several applications spring from this parable. One is that we must faithfully sow the seed of the gospel even though the results are out of our control. As the Apostle Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:7). 
 
But often, because of the hardness of human hearts, God hides the message of the gospel. That probably comes as a surprise to a lot of people today, just as it must have surprised the disciples when they asked Jesus, in Matthew 13:10, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
 
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. …This is why I speak to them in parables:
 
“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
 Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
 and turn, and I would heal them.’
 
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” (11,13-15)
 
He is explaining to the disciples that he uses parables so that the truth is hidden from those with calloused hearts. Parables reveal the truth to believers but hide the truth from unbelievers. Matthew Henry points out that in this way the parables of Jesus are a lot like the pillar of cloud that led God’s people out of Egypt: It hindered the sight of the Egyptians; they could not see through the cloud cover, but it directed Israel in the path that it should take.
 
So too for us, the parables of Jesus direct us in the path we are to take in this life, but they are just foolish little stories to those whose eyes have not been opened to the gospel by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power.
 
We don’t know what the result of sowing the gospel will be. We don’t know whether the Holy Spirit will soften the heart or whether the heart will be hardened, remaining in darkness. But we do know that we are called to be faithful in sowing the seed. The Great Commission is given to us, as surely as it was given to the disciples when Jesus ascended into heaven.
 
As we go into all the earth – and into our neighborhoods – with the gospel, we can have great confidence that God’s word will do what Isaiah 55:11 says it will do: It will not return to him void but will always accomplish the purpose God has for it. As an example, when the apostles sowed the seed of the gospel in Pisidian Antioch, Luke observed in Acts 13:48: “When the Gentiles heard this” – the gospel – “they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” The word accomplished – and will always accomplish – its eternal purpose.
      
As we “sow the seed” of the gospel we cannot become discouraged when we don’t see immediate results. Nor do we need to change the message or the method of preaching to try to make the gospel more effective. In this passage three-quarters of the people who hear the gospel are not saved, and that’s with Jesus, the Son of God – the One who had worked all these amazing miracles – preaching the word.   
 
This side of heaven we cannot fully know the results of sowing the gospel. Perhaps a seed that is planted now will be nurtured and brought to bloom years from now. On the other hand, what is sown now may quickly bloom, but wither later. The results aren’t in our hands; they are in God’s hands. He is the Lord of the harvest. But he calls us to be fellow workers with him, obediently and diligently proclaiming the gospel, sowing the seed.
 
I heard about a pastor of a small church in North Dakota who felt that his ministry had been totally ineffective. There didn’t seem to be any converts. He had sowed the seed for decades, but the results seemed so meager. But after his death, one of the sons of the congregation became a missionary to Africa, and through his work thousands came to know the Lord Jesus Christ by saving faith.
 
Rather than becoming discouraged, every pastor – and every Christian – must take to heart the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58 – “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
 
Secondly, we should not be surprised at those who fall away. In every church there are those who come before the elders and come before the congregation with a wonderful profession of faith. Their lives seem so vibrant and full of the Lord’s blessing; they seem to have a hunger and thirst for his word. But then, sometime later – sometimes a short time later, other times decades later – they drop out of church. They don’t maintain fellowship with other believers. They don’t return phone calls.  
 
And we are so surprised. Yet Jesus is telling us that this will happen with many people. The seed on rocky soil points to people without deep biblical roots. And seed among weeds represents those who are choked by the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Those people and their professions of faith will not last; they have no roots.
 
The Puritans were less shocked than we are at such people. They called them “temporaries.”  They expected that some who made such vibrant professions would fall away, because that is the clear teaching of Jesus, in this passage and many others. 
 
Even Demas, who worked with Paul and saw firsthand the power of God in the ministry to the Gentiles, fell away. In Colossians 4:14 we read: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.” In Philemon 1:23-24 we read: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.” Then we come to 2 Timothy 4:10: “…for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica…” 
 
A third application: Seeing the dangers of a shallow profession, and a life that is choked by weeds, we must guard ourselves against all that seeks to choke our faith. Just as weeds come in all sorts of varieties and forms, from crab crass to thistles and thorns, so do temptations. Worry can crop up in any number of areas: Health. Money. Relationships.  
 
The deceitfulness of wealth, even when you don’t have it, can become a temptation because you begin to think that if you did have it, then all your other anxieties would be soothed away and all your problems solved by money. And then, of course, there is always physical, immoral temptation, that snares so many.
 
According to one source there are more than 8,000 varieties of weeds. While that is true of the physical realm, what about the spiritual? There are certainly far more than 8,000 temptations set before Christians. How crucial to guard our heart, to guard the essence of our being. As Proverbs 4:23 declares: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
____
 
Although Jesus was in a little boat he was yet also, in a manner of speaking, in a megachurch of sorts. The crowds were enormous. But he didn’t give the feel-good message so often heard in the megachurches of our culture. As always, he spoke the truth in love and gives disciples of every era a serious warning, and a reminder that our salvation is all of his grace.  
 
Recognizing his grace, may we carefully guard our hearts. And then may we live lives of obedient gratitude to God for giving us eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to respond to the spiritual truths of the farmer who sowed his seed. Amen.
  
 
Sermon outline:
 
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart…” – Matthew 13:18-19
 
“Sowing the Seed of the Gospel”
Matthew 13:1-23
 
I. Such large crowds followed Jesus that He had to teach from a boat (1-2). He taught in parables, using common
    events to teach spiritual truths (3)
      
 
 
 
II. In this parable, the Sower is Christ (3) and those who preach and witness about Him; the seed is the
     gospel (18-23), and the soil indicates human hearts:
      1) Hard soil: the heart (the person) who does not understand (18-19)
 
 
 
      2) Rocky soil: the person who has no roots (20-21)
 
 
 
      3) Thorny soil: the person choked by worry or wealth (22)
 
 
 
      4) Good soil: the person who hears and believes, as evidenced by their life (23)
 
 
 
III. Applications:
      1) We must faithfully sow the seed of the gospel even though the results are out of our 
           control (13-17, 28:18-20; Acts 1:8, 13:48)
 
 
 
      2) We should not be surprised at those who fall away (20-22)
 
 
 
      3) We must guard our hearts against all that seeks to choke our faith (19-22; Proverbs 4:23)
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Ted Gray

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