The Sower

Kingdom Parables  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Different soils, few seeds accomplish their goal: fruit. Followers of Jesus have been given knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.


Welcome to FBC Creedmoor. I’m glad you are with us today. Today we are beginning a new series where we will be taking a look at a group of parables that Jesus told to teach His disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven. These are a series of Kingdom Parables that highlight different things about the Kingdom of God. Jesus used parables to communicate deep spiritual truths with simple and seemingly common stories from daily life. However, not everyone understood the deeper meanings of what Jesus was trying to say. So over the next several weeks we will be digging into these parables and discovering the deep spiritual truths that Jesus wanted His followers to know and understand through His telling of these stories.
If you have your Bible with you today, please turn with me to Matthew 13.
Matthew 13:1–23 CSB
1 On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying, “Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it. 8 Still other seed fell on good ground and produced fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown. 9 Let anyone who has ears listen.” 10 Then the disciples came up and asked him, “Why are you speaking to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. 12 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. 14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, but never understand; you will look and look, but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn back— and I would heal them. 16 “Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see but didn’t see them, to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them. 18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. 20 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 But he has no root and is short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does produce fruit and yields: some a hundred, some sixty, some thirty times what was sown.”
Let’s pray...
There are many different opinions about the meaning and interpretation of this parable. As I began to think about teaching on this passage, my first thought was that it would probably fall in line with some of the interpretations I had often heard over the years, but as I read through the passage several times, I was reminded of the different arguments that I had heard and that I had wondered about based on those interpretations. One of the things that kept coming up was the question of, “Which of these soils represents people who are saved?” Some people say that only the good soil represents people who are saved, because they produced good fruit, while others say that the soil with weeds and even the rocky soil represents saved people because the seed sprouted in them. Honestly, I didn’t want to try to go that direction because the more I looked at it, the more I was convinced that this parable wasn’t about who is saved and who isn’t, but about the importance of bearing fruit. But before we dive into that, I want to look at what Jesus said in response to His disciples’ question about why he was using parables to teach the people. But in order to do this let me give you a little background...
In the first twelve chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, whenever Jesus spoke, he spoke plainly about the Kingdom of heaven, and about God. If you read through Matthew chapters 5-7, what we commonly call “The Sermon on the Mount,” you can see that Jesus is speaking plainly about how people should live and about what pleases God. In chapters 8-12, Jesus goes around doing miracles, preaching and debating with the religious leaders of the time, and you can see that some of the people are beginning to resist His teaching more and more. This is the context in which Jesus begins to teach in parables. He makes a transition in the way he speaks to the crowds. In fact, if you look at Jesus’s teaching AFTER chapter 13 of Matthew, you’ll see that Jesus uses parables more often than teaching plainly after this transition. But in Chapter 13 is where He begins this transition, and His disciples want to know why?
Jesus tells them plainly
Matthew 13:11 CSB
11 He answered, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them.
Jesus had given the crowds many opportunities to hear the message He brought from God, and many in the crowd, probably most in the crowd, had decided they weren’t interested. Because of this, Jesus began to change the way He taught. The people had been given enough opportunity to decide whether they wanted to believe or not believe, and once they had made a choice to listen or not, Jesus began to teach in a way that benefited his followers.

The secrets of the kingdom of heaven are for those who belong to the kingdom of heaven.

Those who heard the words of Jesus, believed, and obeyed His teaching were the ones who were allowed to know and understand the secrets of the kingdom. Outsiders had already proven they had no interest in obeying and following Jesus’s teaching, so why should they be given access to these secrets? Jesus goes on to declare that this is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 6 where God speaks against the nation of Israel for refusing to listen to or obey Him during the days of Isaiah as well. In those days the Israelites had developed a habit of closing their eyes and ears to God’s messengers too, so God sent a prophet to confront them with the consequences of their sins.
You see, this is not a new pattern. It happened in the days of Isaiah, it happened in the days of Jesus, and it happens in our days too. God’s message is declared to the people, and they have a choice to listen and obey, or ignore and close their eyes and ears to the message. How we respond to God determines whether or not we will be able to hear and understand God’s word moving forward. The ability to understand God’s message, to grow deeper in a relationship with Him, and to have Him reveal things about Himself that He doesn’t reveal to everyone, is determined in part by whether or not you open your eyes and ears to hear, understand and obey Him in what He has already revealed to you.

Past obedience to God determines future revelation from God.

Jesus goes on to declare that the disciples are blessed because their eyes see and their ears hear.
Matthew 13:16–17 CSB
16 “Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see but didn’t see them, to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.
Generations of men and women leading up to Jesus had longed to see God’s Messiah and hear God’s message of salvation. They had died and gone to the grave with faith in that future promise, but without having seen and heard what they longed to see and hear. In addition to that, the majority of people don’t see and hear because they CHOOSE not to see and hear, as Jesus just told his followers, so if you are one of the ones who HAS listened and obeyed, who has become a part of the kingdom of heaven, then there is a great blessing in that.

Seeing and hearing Christ in and of itself is a great blessing that most people don’t experience. It leads to God’s revelation of deeper mysteries about His kingdom.

Once Jesus answered His disciple’s question about the reason for parables, and after having explained to them how they are blessed because they have chosen to keep their eyes and ears open to His message, He goes on to explain to them one of these mysteries that others aren’t privileged to understand. He explains the parable of the sower and the seed and the soils.
At the beginning of this sermon I explained that there are different opinions among Christians about which soils represent people who are saved. Is it only those in the last group who produce fruit, or does it also include one or both soils were the seed spouted but it either died or was fruitless? I am not going to answer that question today. Honestly, I don’t think that’s the most important lesson in this parable. As I studied and prayed about this passage, I became convicted that...

The parable of the sower is concerned about soil that bears fruit, not seed that spouts.

Some people might argue that only the soil that bears fruit represents true believers, but honestly, that’s a scary proposition because American churches are filled with fruitless people, people who heard the Gospel and somehow responded positively to it, but it has done little to change their day-to-day reality. We could go through this passage and try to figure out if the seed that dried up when the hard times and fell away is saved, and if the seed that got choked out by the worries and temptations of this world is saved, but that’s like trying to figure out what is the lowest grade that I can get and still graduate. That’s not the kind of conversation that leads to excellence and being the most we can be for God. When I was a kid, my parents didn’t talk to me about doing the minimum to get by, and now that I’m a parent, I don’t encourage my kids to do “Just enough” to not fail. No, I encourage my daughters to work hard, be diligent, do their best, and excel in what they do.
There are passages in the Bible that talk about people who just barely make it into heaven by the skin of their teeth, and everything they built their lives on in this world gets burned up in the fire and turns out to be worthless leet’s read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 for an example.
1 Corinthians 3:10–15 NLT
10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. 12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
Wow! Saved but barely escaping through a wall of flame. When someone barely escapes through a wall of flame, they didn’t have time to go get their valuables, to grab what is important to them, and salvage what they need to live on. Every few months we get a call at church about a family that has lost everything in a fire and needs help, so we help them with some clothes and other basic needs to just help them get over the immediate need of barely escaping the flames. I would hate to go through that experience, and have to restart from nothing. As I’ve shared in other sermons, I sometimes think about what heaven is going to be like, It’s going to be a beautiful amazing place where God is in perfect fellowship with His children, but it is also a place where some people will have treasures, and others will just barely “have the clothes on their backs,” so to speak. So there ARE passages that talk about how some people will make it into heaven that have nothing or next to nothing to show for their lives. But we’ve spent enough time talking about that. That’s not the standard we’re shooting for. Christ calls us to be followers that produce much fruit.
Jesus emphasizes this throughout the Gospels. In Matthew 3 Jesus tells people to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and warns that a tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In Matthew 7 he tells us that we will be recognized by our fruit. In Matthew 21 Jesus tells the Jews that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to people who will produce fruit (that’s a scary precedent and word of warning for any people who are not producing fruit). In Luke 13 Jesus tells a parable of a fruit tree that has not produced fruit and is given just one more opportunity to produce fruit before it gets cut down. In John 15, He tells His disciples that even fruitful branches are pruned so that they will produce even more fruit. He also admonishes His followers to stay connected to Him as branches are connected to a vine so they can live and produce fruit.
So if the point of this parable is that we are to produce fruit, let’s look at what Jesus says about things that prevent fruit in this parable.

Four types of soil and their failures:

1. The Path represents a hard heart towards God - Failure to understand is often based on previous negative response to God.

Matthew 13:19 CSB
19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path.
Now, remember, this teaching wasn’t given in a vacuum, Jesus had just explained to His disciples that the people who listened but never understood and looked and never perceived had that inability because they had closed their eyes and shut their ears to God. They had grown callous to Him after making a habit of refusing to listen to Him. It’s not that God was making things too complicated for them, at least not at first. At first, God communicates with people in simple and easily understood ways: Worship God only, Do not murder, Do not steal, do not commit adultery, Honor your mother and your father, etc. He tells them things that they can relate to: Take care of the poor and the orphan and the widow and the alien. Honor the Lord’s day. Stand up for the oppressed. But people who are not willing to listen to God in the most basic issues of right and wrong won’t listen to Him when it comes to more complex and deep issues of morality and relationship to God.
In this case, the ground has become compact and hardened because of a refusal to be affected by God’s words. The enemy takes advantage of this and the seed of the Gospel has no chance. Satan and his minions come and steal the seed before it has any effect on the person. Interestingly, this is the only soil where Satan is acting out in the open.
Let me issue a warning here. If there is an area in your life where you are actively refusing to obey God even though you know what He wants from your life, you are creating a callous and hardening your heart towards God. You are opening yourself up to Satan having freedom to openly steal the word God tries to plant in your heart because you have closed your eyes and ears to God. God may want you to produce fruit, but the seed has no chance in your life until you soften your heart towards God and choose to listen to Him and obey Him.

Solution - Soften your heart towards God. Begin to listen to Him and obey what he has asked you to do but you have previously refused to do.

When you soften your heart and start to understand and obey what God is saying, it gives the word of God a chance to sprout, and eventually bear fruit, as long as you can avoid the next two kinds of soil...

The Rocky Soil represents a person with shallow faith - Failure to go deep makes this person’s faith vulnerable.

As Jesus described this kind of soil, he explained that some people may receive the seed, but then they choose not to deepen their knowledge and understanding of God. Their faith has shallow roots and it dies and doesn’t produce fruit.
There are many reasons why a person may not go deeper in their faith. One is that when the Gospel was presented to them it was basically presented as a gospel of “cheap grace.” Here is what the great German Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about cheap grace:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Cheap grace is when we tell people that God loves them and wants to forgive their sins and save them so they can go to heaven, but we don’t tell them that grace also has a cost. We focus on the concept that God has offered us this “free gift” called grace, but ignore the many passages that talk about the cost of following Jesus.
The solution to this soil is Discipleship.

Solution - Discipleship that begins from before someone is even a Christian and continues after they have become a follower of Jesus results in deep roots that can withstand hardship.

Nobody likes a “bait and switch.” Whether it’s a store that lures customers in with a promise of one product and replaces it with something much less desirable, or a vacation package that looks amazing online but is far from what was promised in reality, and everything in between, people don’t like surprises. The same thing is true for people with regard to Christ. If our pitch about following Jesus is that life is going to be trouble-free and easy if you just pray this prayer, they won’t be interested when you tell them that actually they are guaranteed suffering and persecution because of their association with Jesus.
Grace is costly. It costs God, because He gave His Son to die on the cross for us. It will also cost them. This grace will require them to lose their life for Christ, to carry their cross every day, and to allow God to transform them from who they are today to who God wants them to become. I think sometimes we are afraid that if we preach costly grace, grace that means you are committing your life to Christ and submitting it to Him in ways that may be hard and challenging, that people won’t be interested in our message. That may be true in some cases, but the result will also be that people who DO choose to follow Christ are much more deeply rooted and able to withstand the hardships that come from being a Christian. They will be the ones who are passionate about their faith, and who are active in sharing it with others who don’t yet know Christ. They will be the ones who can honestly tell others that even though grace is not cheap, it is worth it. But even the person who is Discipled must watch out for the next type of soil.

3. The Soil with Weeds represents someone who lets the worries and temptations dominate their lives. This is a failure to stay focused on God.

A person may receive the seed, and they may even deepen their faith a bit, but eventually they take their eyes off God and let the distractions and worries of the world dominate their lives. They also fail to be fruitful. Again, the times that Jesus speaks about fruitfulness, he doesn’t talk about it as a one-time event. It is a lifestyle and a behavior that continues throughout the rest of our lives. Jesus talked about how people that produce fruit are pruned by God so that we become even more fruitful.
Some of you know that Shannon and I love being able to eat the food that we grow in our garden. At the different homes we’ve lived in, we not only planted seasonal gardens with plants that had to be replaced every year, we also planted fruit trees. At one point we knew someone who was an arborist. His job was to prune trees and care for them so that they would be healthy and produce more fruit. He gave us some tips on how to prune our fruit trees so that it would grow in the shape and direction we wanted it to grow, and so that it would produce more and better fruit each year. We bought our home a few minutes away from here last June, and part of what we’ve been doing is planting and getting ready to plant over a dozen fruit trees and bushes. It takes effort and active planning in order to keep a fruit tree in the best shape possible.
In the same way, it takes effort and you have to do things on purpose in order to keep God as the focus of your life. There are too many worries and temptations out in the world to keep track of. The deceitfulness of wealth is one of the most powerful temptations we come across in our lives. Its deceitful because we can so easily excuse chasing after it. We tell ourselves things like:
“If only I had a little more, then I could give more to the church, and help others more than I can today.”
“If I had that money I could stop worrying about these other issues in my life.”
“If I had a lot more money, I could do a lot more good.”
“If I had a newer or bigger or better _____ I could ______.”
Our plans might not be sinful, but the way that wealth and our desire for wealth works its way in our hearts often distracts us from keeping God at the center of our lives. Before you know it, you look back and see what your energy and time and attention has been spent on in the past weeks, months, years, or decades, and you realize that getting ahead, or surviving, or making ends meet has been your greatest focus, not God’s kingdom.

Solution - Actively practice trusting in God. When worries or temptations for wealth raise their heads, remind yourself that God is in control, and God will take care of your needs.

Are you worried about finances, health issues, relational issues, or career opportunities? Are there big decisions or outside pressures that are causing worry in your life? Remind yourself that God is in control. His opinion about you matters more than the opinion of other people. He has the power and ability to provide, to heal, to restore relationships, to promote and humble, and to transform lives. We can’t change others, we can’t control circumstances (most of the time), and so worrying will do nothing but distract us. Instead, make a point of taking those issues before God in prayer and laying them at His feet. Allow Him to carry that burden for you, and rest in His provision.
Have you been struggling with a temptation toward greed, or has an opportunity been taking up a lot of your concentration lately? Sometimes, God DOES give us opportunities that we should take, but we should pray about them and seek God for a sense of peace and confirmation about what to do, and then take action based on what God impresses on us. Then stop letting it consume your time and attention, and return to continuing to focus on living for God and doing what He wants you to do.

The Good Ground represents someone who has heard and understood God’s words and has let them produce fruit in them and through them. They failed to give up/fail.

In other words, some SUCCEED in accomplishing the goal set out by God. Some receive the seed, and they deepen their roots, they stay focused on God and they are obedient to Him. They fail to give up even when hardship and persecution come, they fail to give up and be distracted by the temporary temptations and worries of the world. Instead, they succeed in producing fruit.
So, in the future, when you come across this parable, don’t get caught up in wondering which of these four represent people who are saved or not saved, but remember that the point of this parable is that we are to produce 100, 60, and 30 times the amount of what was sown. That is an amazing return for the effort.
This is the goal we should all be shooting for. We shouldn’t be looking at what is the minimum amount we can do to be saved and get into heaven. We shouldn’t be trying to straddle the fence between God’s kingdom and this world. We are called to aim high, to seek to be connected to Christ, to endure the suffering and persecution and hardship that this world may throw at us, and to endure until the end because the reward we will receive in heaven is worth it. We are called to produce much fruit. And the way to produce fruit is to open our eyes and ears to God when He speaks and obey Him, to disciple and be discipled so that we know the dear cost of the free grace God gives us and what that grace requires of us, and to remain focused on a God who is in control and who provides all we need.
I’d like to end with Bonhoeffer’s quote on costly grace.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Let’s pray...
Hebrews 13:20–21 CSB
20 Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 equip you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
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