The Sower and the Seed: Fruitful Soil
8/15/2016 12:16:10 AM
Aug 7, 2016
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 8:4-15
[pic] The Olympics have begun in Brazil! Thousands of athletes from over 200 of nations have gathered together to compete for glory for themselves and for the nations they represent. What does it take to become an Olympic athlete? Can you just sign yourself up? If a couch potato like me decides they want to be an Olympic athlete, is that possible? Of course not! It takes years of training, dedication and competition to compete in the Olympics.
What does that training look like for an Olympian? As we all know, competitive athletes must train regularly. This training usually involves lifting weights or working out in a gym. It also means eating a specialized diet. It is a whole lifestyle, not just something you do for a few hours on the weekend!
[pic] But what does lifting weights have to do with running fast? There are no weights on the track! You don’t have to run with a barbell. Why do runners lift weights?
[pic] Or, why does our diet affect our ability to swim or dive? Why is it that what an athlete eats on Sunday affects how they compete on Friday? Swimmers aren’t eating right before they swim. It’s not part of the competition to see who can eat the most hotdogs, swim 10 laps the fastest and not throw up!
Now, obviously we understand why fitness and nutrition are important to athletes. They work out to be stronger all over. They eat well so their bodies produce the right amount of muscle, reduce fat and recover faster while training. Even though there are no weights on the track and no eating components to the competitions, these things are all related to how an athlete prepares to compete.
Paul uses athletic imagery to describe how to live as a Christian. Paul talks about training and running the race in a number of instances. Just as an athlete trains and prepares by doing things that don’t look like their competition or don’t immediately apply to their competition, there are things we must do as Christians if we are to be prepared and at our spiritual peak.
Similarly, just because a person eats well and works out it doesn’t mean he or she is an Olympic athlete. The people at the gym can’t claim to be Olympic sprinters just because they lift weights. A person who eats well cannot think of themselves as an Olympic swimmer just because they follow an Olympic swimmer’s nutrition plan. Just because we do certain things that Christians do doesn’t make us a Christian. Just because we go to church or read our Bibles or pray doesn’t mean we have saving faith, it doesn’t mean we are living a life of repentance.
Paul used athletic imagery to describe living a lifestyle of repentance, living as a Christian. Jesus used many images, including a number of images taken from farming. The parable we’ve been studying for the past 3 weeks is an example of such. Jesus taught the crowds in many parables, stories taken from everyday life used to illustrate spiritual principles. In this case, Jesus used the different kinds of soil and how seeds grow in them to illustrate how different people respond to the message of repentance.
To date, we’ve looked at the 3 kinds of soil that do not produce a crop. These are the hard path representing people whose hearts are hard, the shallow rocky soil representing people whose commitment is shallow and fall away when things get tough and the weedy soil representing people whose commitment is divided between repentance on the one hand and the cares (both positive and negative) of this life.
Now let’s turn once again to Luke 8. We began with Luke then read the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark. Now we are back to Luke again. We will be reading from Luke 8:4-15.
What It Says
What does this passage say? For those of you who’ve been here the past few weeks, please don’t shut off your minds thinking “I’ve heard this before.” Instead, take note of how Luke presents this story differently from Matthew and Mark. There are a number of subtle differences that help shed light on the meaning behind the parable.
Notice that Luke includes just a short quotation from Isaiah 9. In Luke 8:10 the quotation from Isaiah 9 is shorter than those in Matthew and Mark. Why? Likely because Luke’s intended audience was non-Jewish. They would not have known their OT as well as Mark’s and especially Matthew’s audiences. So Luke shortened the reference to Isaiah. Mark includes the verse is Isaiah about the people repenting and being forgiven. Matthew included an even longer passage from Isaiah concluding with the same verse as Mark that the people might turn or repent and be healed.
However, look at verse 12 in Luke explaining the seed that falls on the hard path. The devil comes and takes away the seed, just as in Matthew and Mark. But Luke includes an extra explanation here, “so that they may not believe and be saved.” This explanation of what happens to the hard hearted people is the same result as what happens to the hard hearted people in Isaiah quoted by Matthew and Mark! Luke has included the information but contextualized it for his readers who would not have known about Isaiah!
This also sheds light on our understanding of the passage. It shows that there is a parallel meaning between turning and being forgiven on the one hand and believing and being saved on the other. To believe and be saved is equivalent to repenting and being forgiven.
Why is this important? Because today when we speak of believing we usually mean just an intellectual exercise. Belief, today, means what we think it true but it may not actually involve any commitment on our part. Belief today means believing facts. But belief in the ancient world involved commitment to those facts. In fact, the English words for belief and faith are used to translate different forms of the same Greek word in the NT. That is, depending on if the Greek word is a verb or a noun determines if it is translated as believe or faith in English!
Remember a while back I used the illustration of a person who is afraid of flying? A person who is afraid of flying may believe the physics of flight are accurate, they may believe commercial airplanes are kept in good working order and that the flight crews are well trained and competent. They may believe all the facts about the safety of flying, including statistics about flying being safer than driving, but they still refuse to get on board an aircraft! Belief or faith requires a personal commitment. The person who gets on the plane is the one exercising belief, not the person who stays in the airport terminal regardless of what facts that person believes to be true.
So, what we see in this parable, then, is that different people respond to the message of repentance in different ways. Not all believe and make a personal commitment. Others believe and commit for a while, like the shallow soil, but along the way as things get tough, whether from people outside us making it tough or just the difficulty of living a life of commitment to God, they fall away, their commitment and belief wither and die. Still others believe and make a commitment, but the things of this world like worry, wealth and desires for other things strangle their commitment. These things divide their focus. These people, like the soil filled with weeds, believe the facts about Jesus and at one point or on some level are committed to them, but their commitment is not whole hearted. They are not fruitful.
Finally, there is the good soil, which we will focus on today. How is the good soil described? These are the people who have “noble and good hearts.” Luke goes on to describe what these people do. They hear the word, retain it and by persevering produce a crop.
What does this mean? Let’s expand on it a bit so increase our understanding. Remember, the heart is not just the feelings! It’s not that these people have good feelings about the message of repentance. It’s not that they have noble feelings. No! The heart in Scripture represents the very center of a person’s being. The heart includes the mind, feelings, desires, preferences and imagination! So the good soil are people whose desires are good and noble. Their thoughts are good and noble. Yes, their feelings or emotions are good and noble. But so are their preferences and imaginations. Their life goals, their dreams are good and noble.
Now, most of us here today, if we are honest with ourselves, know that our hearts are not good and noble! We may have some good and noble thoughts, some good and noble desires, etc., but we know our hearts are not fully good and noble. That, it turns out, is exactly our problem! That is why we are alienated from God in the first place. That is why we need salvation in the first place! So what are we to do about this? How do we change or grow so that we do, in fact, have good and noble hearts? How do we change our thoughts, feelings, desires, preferences and imaginations?
Luke says that those with good and noble hearts hear the word, retain it and by persevering produce a crop. Let’s explore this a little more too. First, hear the word! Hear the message of repentance. Hear the message that we must turn back to God, turn away from all the other things we are heading toward. We must repent and trust Jesus to reconcile us to God. The hard path people do not hear this message. The message may be given to them, but they do not hear it in the sense of understand it, accepting it and letting it sprout in their character. To hear the word means to understand it and submit to it. This is very difficult because it goes against our very nature. We do not want to submit to anyone, including God. Submitting to him in repentance is very difficult, so many people do not do it! But the first sign of being good soil is to hear the message and respond to it, to accept it, understand it and respond to it.
The second characteristic of good soil, of having a good and noble heart, is to retain the word. What does this mean? It means to hold on to the message of repentance. It means not letting yourself let go of it when things get tough. It means not letting yourself be side-tracked from it. It means letting the message of repentance penetrate your character and put down roots inside who you are. To retain the word means to let it do its work inside you, changing your character, changing your heart, into the best you God intended you to be reflecting the character of Jesus in you.
The third characteristic of good soil is to persevere. Perseverance is tough! When people treat you differently because of your commitment to Jesus, it takes perseverance to continue. When you miss out on things because of your commitment to Jesus, it takes perseverance to continue. When it’s hard to get along with other Christians, it takes perseverance to continue in your commitment to Jesus. When it is hard to deal with the sin in your own life, your own brokenness and woundedness, it takes perseverance to retain the message of salvation. When you’re worried it takes perseverance to trust God, to turn to him and surrender your worries to him, trusting him to work things out. When you’re tempted by wealth, whether you have money or not, when you’re tempted to trust wealth to fulfil your needs and desires, it takes perseverance to continue to turn away from wealth and face God. It takes perseverance to continually be checking the trajectory of your life and adjusting it as necessary to maintain your course heading directly to God. That is, it takes perseverance to live a life of repentance, not just a moment of repentance.
What It Means
So if this is what the text says, what does it mean? What does it mean to be a fruitful Christian? What does it mean to be fruitful soil? If one strives to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the work of changing ones heart to be good and noble, what is the result?
Or, another way to look at this question of why it matters is, “If Jesus died on the cross for my sin, why do I have to do anything? Why does it matter what kind of soil I am? Didn’t Jesus do enough?”
We need to realize that being fruitful is a whole heart issue, not just a mind issue or feelings issue. When we allow the message of repentance to affect every aspect of who we are, including our goals, priorities and purpose in life, then we are radically changed. Our life changes. Our behaviour changes. We start loving people. We start serving people. We start putting God first in our life and then the needs of others above our own. Our life becomes dominated by being primarily concerned with the wellbeing of others, in particular their spiritual wellbeing.
This is the fruit of the Spirit. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us and on us. This is the result of living a life heading straight towards God. This is the result of living a life of repentance. Our character begins to reflect the character of Jesus. We become more loving, patient and kind. We have joy and peace. We are filled with goodness and we are faithful to God. We are gentle with others and self-controlled.
This is what it means to be holy- it means to be like God. And how do we know what God is like? We see God in Jesus. So becoming more like Jesus means becoming holy. And holiness, being like Jesus, is the purpose of salvation. Sometimes, many times, we think the purpose of salvation is to go to heaven when we die. We think the purpose of salvation is to escape the punishment we deserve for our sins. But that’s not the purpose of salvation at all! Those are the by-products of salvation, but the purpose of salvation. (In fact, those are very self-centred reasons for salvation!)
Paul repeatedly speaks of the purpose of salvation. In Romans 6:19 Paul says in part, “offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul says, in part, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life.” In Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” These are all examples of the fact that we are saved with a purpose- holiness! And that holiness, that transformation of our character to be more like Jesus, results in us doing good or “holy” works for God. This was God’s plan from the beginning! This is God’s purpose in saving us. He doesn’t save us because of our works. No, rather he saves us in order that we can (finally) do good works! And the goodness of those works are based on our character being like Jesus.
Many times over the past 50 years or so, maybe longer, people have used an evangelistic technique in which they ask people, “If you were to die tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven?” Or something similar. This question has the advantage of putting the listener in a position of making a definitive judgment of their spiritual state. It emphasizes the immediacy of the need to repent. It includes the gravity of the situation- that of life and death!
But there’s a problem with this question too. It puts it all in terms of making a momentary decision. What if, instead of posing the question this way, we posed it, “If you knew that in exactly 20 years you were going to die, what would you do between now and then to ensure that you go to heaven when you die?” This includes the life or death part of the question. It includes the definitive judgement of ones spiritual state. However, it opens up the discussion to include lifestyle, life goals, behaviour and a relationship with God. The problem with framing the question in terms of “right now” is that it encourages a decision “right now” but leaves unanswered the whole question of what to do in the years going forward. It encourages rocky soil. That is, it encourages a shallow commitment. When the actual work of being good soil becomes hard, when difficulty or persecution come along, the person is more likely to fall away. Framing the question in terms of “if you die tonight” leaves no opportunity for the person to grow deep roots. In fact, it may actually inoculate the person against the gospel in the future! 10 years down the road, they may say, “Oh, I had a conversion experience in the past. I’m saved.” Or “I had a conversion experience in the past. I’m done with that.”
Sadly, we tend to think of “having faith” as the same thing as “having made a decision at one time or another.” But this does not mean one is saved. Several centuries ago, in a different era, a very wise pastor, Thomas Watson, put it this way: He talked about 4 different kinds of faith. [Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 215] There is historical or factual faith. That is, a person may have faith that the Bible is true. They may believe the facts of the Bible. In order to be saved, in order to live a life of repentance, in order to commit yourself to Jesus, I suspect you probably have to believe the Bible is true. I can’t really imagine a way in which you could make such a commitment without believing the Bible is true. But while necessary, it is not sufficient to believe the Bible is true. Even the demons Jesus encountered knew the truth that Jesus is the Son of God! But that doesn’t mean they’re saved. Believing the Bible is true, having faith in the events of the Bible, is not saving faith. It does not mean you are good soil.
A second kind of faith is temporary faith. This is exactly what the parable today is talking about with both rocky soil and weedy soil. The rocky soil represents people who initially receive the message of repentance with joy, but later fall away. This is temporary faith. It lasts just for a time. Later the faith is either rejected, like people who fall away during times of difficulty, or it is just choked out, like people whose focus is divided. The weeds of this life choke their faith until it dies.
A third kind of faith Watson identified is miraculous faith. There are some who have faith to perform miracles but do not have saving faith. This one is perhaps the most shocking! There are some who will have performed miracles but will not be saved. How is this so?!? Jesus even said in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to me on that day [the Day of Judgement], ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive our demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Wow! Those are tough words to hear. There will be some who perform miracles but are not saved!
When you stop to think about it, this was true from the very beginning. Judas was one of the 12 disciples. Jesus sent them out and they did perform miracles and cast out demons and prophesied. Judas called Jesus lord. But in the end, Judas betrayed Jesus. In the end, Judas did not have saving faith, even though he committed 3 years of his life to Jesus, listened to Jesus, learned from him and even performed miracles in his name. There will be many more who think that the spectacular gifts they’ve received, or the time they spent doing stuff in Jesus’ name means they are going to be saved. But that’s not the case at all! You see miracles and spiritual gifts are not the measure of Christian maturity. The fruit of the Spirit are the true measure of Christian faith! What is God doing in your character? How much are you changing to be like Jesus?
James, in his letter, speaks of faith needing to show up in our works. James 2:14-20 speaks of this at length, including speaking of dead faith that doesn’t lead to change in the person.
Saving faith is a work of God in us in which he brings us to the point of humbly turning back to him in repentance. Then, we live a life of repentance, renouncing ourselves and submitting ourselves to God, allowing his Spirit to work in us what God wants. This is a lifestyle, not a momentary decision. This is a way of life. It is a whole heart thing, not just an idea thing or a feeling thing. It means being transformed and made holy.
What to Do
So what, then, are we to do? If even performing miracles is not proof of our salvation, what is? How are we to be good soil? How do we grow a noble and good heart? We need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by making use of the tools he has given us. In the parable, Jesus says the people who are good soil hear the word, retain it and persevere.
Some ways, then, to help learn to be good soil are to ensure that you hear the word, hear the message of repentance. Don’t be like the hard-hearted Israelites in the Isaiah passage Jesus quotes. Don’t just register the words. Understand the message of repentance. Read the Bible. This is where the message of repentance is most easily found. Listen to the Bible being explained. That is, listen to good preaching. Hear the word, understand it. Take it to heart! And remember that means your whole heart- not just your feelings.
Another way to learn to be good soil is to retain the word. That is, to hang on to the message of repentance even when it’s tough. This is hard to do. Some of the tools the Holy Spirit has given us include one another. When we build relationships with other Christians, it strengthens us. It helps us to retain the word. Other Christians can encourage us, teach us, equip us and warn us.
Prayer is another way to retain the word. Prayer helps us put down good spiritual roots. It orients us toward God. It teaches us to bring all things to him, not just our wants or needs, but our concerns, joys and praise too.
Perseverance is another way to grow into being good soil. Perseverance is difficult. This is where being part of a church community really helps. We need others to help us persevere. The lone Christian doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to perseverance. When we are in relationships with other Christians, they can pray for us. They can encourage us. They can help us. They can share times when they struggled too. They can remind us of God’s faithfulness and his promises. They can remind us of our need to be single-minded. Worshipping with others can be a great way to help us persevere. Worship, like prayer, orients our mind, turns our thoughts to God.
All of these things, though, going to church, praying, reading your Bible, listening to good preaching, are not sufficient in and of themselves. They are like working out and eating right to an Olympic athlete. They help you be better when it comes time to compete or to perform, but they do not make you an Olympic athlete in and of themselves. Working out and eating right are tools to equip you to be a more competitive, more successful Olympic athlete. Prayer, the Bible, church and preaching are all tools to equip you to be a more successful Christian, to be more fruitful. But they do not make you a Christian. They are not saving faith. They are not repentance.
So if you really want to be fruitful, if you really want to be good soil, make a practice of regularly repenting. Regularly come to God and humbly ask him to forgive your sins. Make it a regular practice to ask God to show you where you’ve gone off course. Ask him to show you your spiritual roots and how to make them deeper. Ask him to work in you to produce roots. Ask him to show you where your heart has been divided. Ask him to unify your heart to desire him and his authority over all other things. Ask him to help you persevere. Ask him to show you the weeds in your heart. And ruthlessly eradicate those weeds! Ask God to make you good soil and to produce fruit in you. Ask him to work repentance in your heart and to make you holy. In Luke 11, Jesus said, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10) Ask God for saving faith. Ask him for the message of repentance to penetrate your heart, put down roots, grow up and produce a tremendous crop. Amen.
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