We are entering a new section as we move through the Gospel of Matthew this is call the Parabolic discourse and is a section filled with Jesus parables about the Kingdom of God. Tonight will be the first of these parables and will set up the tone of what is to come.
Matthew 13:1-23 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Sower
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 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.’[a]
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 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 their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Jesus highlights something that we are engaged with deeply as a society today; the fact that life is not fair. In fact, economists hold the principle spoken about here that Matthew addresses that “he who has will be given more until there is an abundance, and who he does not have even the small he has will be taken away and given to the one with most.” They call this the “Matthew Principle” or the “Pareto Distribution Principle” we sometime hear it as the 80-20 effect or that 80% of the wealth always seems to be in 20% of the population; or 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.
So, is Jesus advocating inequality? How, in a sense, do we navigate the fact that inequality cannot be a good thing; and yet it is the very thing that Jesus is highlighting here in terms of how things are, and more importantly how His kingdom works.
Well, to understand this passage we must go into what is being highlighted. Many pastors and preacher will highlight the fact that due to this message being about soils; that is what must be highlighted. So, we are the soils, it is our job to move from hard soil to soft receptive soil. The problem is that this is not the focus nor is it how Jesus explains the parable, it places too much emphasis on our ability; on a moral imperative to be good and receptive.
I mean let me ask you a stupid question; can soil change itself? No! so if the parable is not about the soil what is the emphasis? Well, to answer this let us look firstly, at…
1. The true enemies of the message
If we look at the descriptions that Jesus gives we do get four soils; the path, the rocky soil, the thorny soil and finally the good soil. When we see what damages the message, what robs the seed of its efficacy. It was not the soil nor the seed, it was rather the things imposed upon the soil.
For instance, the pathway was stolen away by birds; which Jesus describes as the evil one (a reference to Satan) robing the message from the life of the one who hears it. the next issue is the stones, which Jesus says is trouble and persecution. The thorns are the worries of this life and the concerns of wealth.
These are the true enemies of the message of the gospel; Satan deceives and confuses the message in the hearts of people. Robbing it of any efficacy. Trouble and persecution come and dissuade people from continuing on in the faith and life get in the way of people believing the message of salvation.
It is not the soil but the things acting upon the soil that are the enemies of the message. This is important to get, because often we get so concern about how we share the message of the gospel with people, and so concerned that we are not getting it right. Or we get angry at people because they are not getting it; we blame ourselves or the hearer, but, this misses the point.
So, let’s look at;
2. The true power of the message
The power lies in the fact that Jesus says that when matured the seed produces much more (100, 60 or 30 times that which was sown). In other words, we must not be dismayed at the lack of effectiveness when we share the gospel with others, because even if just a tiny portion of it really takes root, that tiny portion produces many times more crop than was sown.
This comes down to the fact that when people are brought into the gospel of Jesus Christ, when they believe they are not added like a catch of fish, they are mobilised like a new employee. The church is not about numbers, the gospel is not about getting converts. It is all about people being grafted into the work of God and being used by God to preach the gospel. Which is inviting sinners into His grace.
This church is the fundamental mission of God; known as the “Missio Dei” the work of God; what He has been doing since the fall of man. God has been calling people out, sharing His grace through the preaching of the gospel (Gal 3:8) and blessing them so that they would be a blessing to all people.
We see this in the call of Abraham and all other call since. You sit here as a believer tonight not for your sake; God has made the beauty of His free gift of salvation to you not so that you can have a better life, but so that you can be used by Him to continue the work of preaching the gospel.
As Paul so passionately makes plain in
Romans 10:14-15, 17 (ESV)
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[a] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”… 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
We are blessed with faith by hearing the preaching of the gospel; the wonderful news that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and everyone who believes will be saved. It is this message that becomes the message that we go out into the world with.
Which leads me to point 3;
3. The true abundance of the Matthew Principle.
Going back to this issue of the “Matthew principle” that everyone who has will be given more and anyone who doesn’t have even that which he has will taken away and given to the one who has.
This seems unfair to say, but when you analyse the passage and see what Jesus is talking about it is so true! You see the context of why Jesus says this; is the disciples ask why he speaks in parables, and Jesus responds; “it is to you the mysteries of the Kingdom have been given.”
In other words, you haven’t earned this; this is nothing special about you except the fact that you have been given the mystery. Now this applies so beautifully to the whole of the parable. Because see again the enemies of the message; that being Satan, persecution, and the cares of this life.
Let me ask you a question; do Christians suffer at the had of Satan? Do Christians suffer under persecution? Do Christians struggle with the cares of this world? Absolutely! The only difference, the only thing that makes Christians endure is that they have been given the mystery of the kingdom! They have received, by faith, the gospel!
What is the true difference between us who believe and the world? Do we not struggle with temptation and sin? Do we not feel buffeted with life? Of course we do, the difference; we know that our God is for us and not against us; and we know this not because we are better, not because we are wiser or stronger. We know because the gospel is that the work is done! Christ has paid it all; we are accepted; there is now no condemnation; we are more than conquerors, we are children of the most high! Why; Because we are good? Absolutely not! We have all these things because Christ has covered our sins, he has defeated our sin, he has bore our consequence.
The beauty of the gospel is that it is news not advice; it is the declaration that your guilt is dealt with; your sins are paid for; your hope is secure and your enmity with God is done! You don’t have to earn God’s love; in Christ you have it all!
You know what helps me endure the spiritual attacks, the temptation of sin, the cares of this life? It is not my philosophy or my calm disposition; it is the fact that in Christ (because of the cross) I know (because it does not depend on me, but on Him) that God is for me!
As the great hymn, written by Horatio Spafford after the tragic death of his daughters during a transatlantic voyage, goes;
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul
And so this becomes our message to other! This becomes the seed that we share with all who would hear! Many people say they wish they had the words to share with their friends; they wish that they had a deeper understanding so that they could answer the questions their friends have about faith and God. But church that is missing the message! We are saved not by good answers, the power is not in our knowledge; it is in the gospel!
You see we don’t believe that the power is in the gospel; because we are not convinced that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation! But it is!
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word! The word is the gospel that God came into the world to save sinners; of which I am chief!
If you get that you have been given the mystery of the kingdom! And you will produce a crop if you share that same hope!