“Sowing the Seed of the Gospel”
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 is not about farming. It is 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 verses18 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’sSpirit 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 are not 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 incommon: 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.”