The Sower – Luke Ch8v5to15

The Sower – Luke Ch8v5to15

(0:00 – 2:18)

We start a series this morning on the parables of Jesus, and I would love it if you would turn back with me to Luke’s gospel and chapter 8. Let’s look back at this parable that many consider to be a foundational parable. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell this parable first. It seems that there’s something of a priority, something of a foundation that this parable is laying to all the other parables to come.

Well, let’s begin in this way. What are parables? Or at least, what are parables like? What could we compare a parable to? Are they, here’s option one, are they like light switches? You know when you go into a dark room, it’s pitch black, and someone flicks on the light switch. Everything in the room lights up immediately, and anyone in the room can see exactly what’s going on.

Are parables like light switches? Does Jesus tell parables and everyone in the crowd can now see the meaning? That’s one view you hear of parables, isn’t it? They’re these brilliant illustrations. The trouble is when you read the gospels, you find that when Jesus tells the parables, some people in the crowd don’t get them. So here’s option two.

If the parables aren’t light switches, are they puzzles? Or maybe we should say, are they impossi-puzzles? Puzzles that are almost impossible to solve. Are they the opposite of light switches? Do parables hide the truth from people? Well, that doesn’t always work either. Because in our passage today, we discover that at least the disciples understand the meaning of the parable.

(2:21 – 2:43)

So they’re not light switches. Everyone can see the meaning. They’re not puzzles.

No one can figure them out. So what are they like? Well, here’s an illustration that I’ve nabbed from somebody that’s a very good one, I think. Parables are like stained glass windows, stained glass windows.

(2:44 – 3:16)

Here’s the thing about stained glass windows. They reward the curious. From the outside of the building, they don’t look very much.

In fact, stained glass windows are not designed for people outside the building. But if you make the effort to go in, suddenly it’s a whole different story. As the light shines in through the glass, the pattern comes alive.

(3:18 – 3:28)

And the text, which of course is facing those inside, becomes clear. From the inside, it’s clear. From the outside, it’s just a window.

(3:31 – 4:46)

It’s only the curious who see the glory of a stained glass window. And I think that’s what Jesus is telling us in the middle of our passage. If you look at the passage, you’ll notice it’s an interesting structure.

Jesus, first of all, tells the parable of the sower. At the end of the section, he then explains the parable of the sower. But in between, he sticks this thing in between in verses 8 and 9 and 10, where he explains how all parables work.

And it’s something like stained glass windows. He says to the disciples, verse 10, the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom have been given to you. You’ve come inside the cathedral.

You’re seeing all the secrets of the gospel and the kingdom from the inside. But to others, I speak in parables, Jesus says, so that those seeing, they may not see, and hearing, they may not hear. Tell them it’s just a window.

(4:47 – 5:00)

It’s just a story about a farmer and some soils. Now, Jesus there is quoting that seeing, not seeing, hearing, not hearing. He’s actually quoting from the prophet Isaiah.

(5:02 – 6:48)

And Isaiah was a prophet who preached in his own day to people who didn’t want to hear what he was preaching, by and large. And so what he said and what Jesus quotes is that when people refuse to listen to God, God sometimes then speaks in a way that reflects judgment. If people don’t want the truth, God will sometimes give them what they want.

And he will speak in ways that expose the hardness and the apathy of their hearts. Because parables make you work. They reward the curious.

You have to make the effort to go inside the building and see what’s going on. You have to ask, what was that parable about? And so there’s a sense in which the clarity of parables depends on you. It depends on the eagerness of your heart or the apathy of your heart, on whether you want to hear God’s truth or not.

If you do, you will. If you don’t, you won’t. Which is what this opening parable is all about.

Now, we mustn’t miss the context. Little bit of a side note here. The context of a parable often helps you with the meaning of it.

(6:49 – 9:05)

Parables are quite difficult, but the context is always helpful. The context often steers you on the right roads of what the parable is about and why the parable was told. Have a look back to verse 1 of chapter 8. Jesus here is in the middle of his Galilean ministry.

And we’re told in that verse that Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. And then on to verse 4, immediately before our parable, while a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told them this parable. So, Lucas stressing that Jesus is preaching God’s words and that his popularity is rising, the crowds are swelling at this point.

Maybe we would have been excited by this. We love a good crowd at church, don’t we? We love a well-attended event. We, if truth be told, often correlate numbers with success.

But Jesus says, hold on. Jesus provokes us to see through this parable that the crowd isn’t all that it seems to be. We’ve titled this series, Provocative.

And you might be wondering why we’ve given it that title. It’s because I’m convinced that somehow or another, I at least have developed a view of the parables that’s quite tame. It might be something to do with the countryside imagery, the normality of the stories.

(9:06 – 9:27)

It’s as if the imagery for the series should really be like the front cover of Farmer’s World or Gardener’s World. And yet, when you get inside these stories, there’s nothing mundane about them. These parables are often provocative.

(9:27 – 10:36)

Provocative. They prod our ways of thinking. They push us and challenge our expectations of Jesus and of being a disciple.

You think that everyone in this vast crowd, Jesus says, you think that everyone is really where they should be? Do you think that everyone gathered in church on a Sunday are all in the same place and in the right place? No, there are four different soils and only one of them is fruitful. And the provocative question is, which soil are you? And which soil will you continue to be? Will you persevere in to be? You see, the farmer goes out and he sows his seed. That’s how it begins, isn’t it? Even as Jesus was going from town to town.

(10:36 – 11:28)

Remember verse one. The farmer isn’t explicitly identified, but the context makes it plain. Jesus is the sower.

Preachers and evangelists today are only ever at most the mouthpiece of the real preacher. Jesus is always the sower of the seed. The seed, which in verse 11 is said to represent the word of God.

Jesus isn’t casting the words of men. He’s scattering divine words from the mouth of God himself. And it’s clear from what follows that this word is scattered far and wide.

(11:30 – 12:07)

The picture here is not what you sometimes see in some modern farming, where seed drills precisely plant the seeds in exact spots and even to a precise depth. That’s not the idea here. The farmer is hand casting seed with freedom and abandon.

This is what you call broadcasting. That’s where broadcasting comes from. Just a little thought here in just a line.

(12:09 – 13:05)

Is there sometimes a danger that we only do precision evangelism, where we identify just that right person, that right individual, those people that we think we might have a chance of reaching with the gospel, that community over there. That’s the community we can reach, not that one. Jesus is an indiscriminate sower, isn’t he? And as the seed is flung, some of it falls on the path, the path that travelers used to travel through the middle of the field.

And the birds loved this path. It was their favorite part of the field. Because when the seed fell there, it lay on the surface.

(13:07 – 13:29)

And so long as human feet didn’t trample it first, the birds could have their lunch. And Jesus says, this is like some hearers of my word, verse 12. These are the ones who hear, but the devil comes along and takes the word from their heart.

(13:33 – 16:33)

One commentator explains it like this. The factor here is spiritual opposition. A spiritual battle ensues whenever the word is preached.

Now, if you don’t know Jesus today, we’re really glad you’re here. But let me just explain a phenomenon that sometimes we experience as Christians. Sometimes we invite people who aren’t Christians to church or to some special kind of outreach event.

And this doesn’t always happen, but sometimes the person who gives the talk knocks it out of the park. And we think, as we’re listening to it, it is so clear, it’s so compelling that if we weren’t a Christian, we would become a good. As the clarity and the power of the gospel is held out, that Jesus lived a perfect life, and Jesus died on our behalf.

And rather than us facing the fear and just judgment of God, Jesus took it to restore our relationship with God. If we will just turn from our sin and believe in him, and as we’re sitting there, it’s utterly compelling. And we turn to our non-Christian companion at the end, and we’re expecting they’ll be in tears.

And the first thing out of their mouth is, that was a really good joke in the introduction. That was funny. Or some comment about what they’re thinking of having for lunch.

And we wonder, did they hear the same thing I heard? The answer is no. They didn’t hear the same thing you heard. They listened to the same audio, but it didn’t sink in.

And the devil, through one of a hundred different strategies, shifted their focus to anything except Jesus, and anything except the need for a right relationship with God. He snatched the seed away with a joke and a microwave meal. And this has such a serious consequence.

Look at it. So that they may not believe and be saved. This is the only soil where there is zero fruit.

(16:34 – 19:06)

And where it explicitly says, there is no salvation. Could I dare be provocative this morning and ask if this is you? Is this you every Sunday morning? A hard path that the gospel bounces off? Being in the crowd has no essential connection to being in the kingdom. Being under the sound of the gospel doesn’t mean you’re saved by the gospel.

Has Jesus just pinpointed you? This is why we as a church need to be passionately investing in prayer. Because when we do the stuff we do, when we scatter the seed from the pulpit, when we spread it in a ministry, when we cast it to our kids at home, when we toss the seed across the table in Starbucks, we’re not just up against the person in front of us and their objections to the gospel. We’re up against a spiritual enemy who is snatching the seed away in the moment that we speak it.

But the sower keeps sowing. And other seeds fell. It fell secondly on rocky ground.

Now, this is not some soil that has some rocks in it. Like my garden, there’s always annoyingly stones kicked up onto the grass and other places. But this is a sheet of rock that ran underneath the soil, hidden underneath.

And Jesus said that the seed went in, and because there was a little bit of soil, something came up. This is not like the path soil, where nothing comes up, where there’s no visible response. No, something starts to grow.

(19:07 – 19:54)

The trouble is, it is short-lived, because there is no root, because the rock underneath prevents the plant from getting any moisture. The plant above weathers as quickly as it came. The rocky soil, verse 13, are those who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root.

They gladly pray a prayer. They happily plunge into the baptism tank. They throw themselves into serving, and they’re probably the encouragement of the church.

(19:57 – 22:56)

This is the person you’re talking about when you speak to your friend from another church, and they say, what’s the news? What’s happening at Greenview? And you say, we’ve got this amazing guy. We’ve got this great girl. And they’ve come out of nowhere.

They’ve come out of the blue, and they’ve come to faith in Jesus. And their passion for Jesus, their witness, their life, is putting the rest of us pedestrians to shame. This is that person.

And they may be the same person that six months later, you have another conversation with your friend about, and they say, see that, remember that amazing guy? What’s he doing now? That girl, what trees is she now pulling up? And to the bafflement of you both, you are forced to say, actually, she’s not coming to church any longer, or any church. Thankfully, that doesn’t always happen, but it does happen. And this is that very happening.

Verse 13, they believe for a while, but in the time of testing, they fall away. I wonder what kind of testing it is. Maybe it’s the testing of temptation.

Jesus commands you not to do something that you’re tempted to do. And the question at that point is, three months in, four months in, whatever it is, will I stick with Jesus, or will I depart from Him at this point? Or maybe it’s the testing of opposition. I heard a story recently about a man who was a Jew by upbringing, and he came to faith in Jesus.

And when he became a Christian, he knew that his family would hate it. And so for six months, he never told them. And after six months, he thought, I need to do this.

And so he told his family. And his parents, as he expected, publicly disowned him. They literally went to the family and said, this person is no longer my son, our son.

How many of us would keep following Jesus if that happened to us? I hope we would. He did, although it was excruciatingly difficult. And in time, eventually, he restored his relationship with his parents.

(22:57 – 24:08)

But these are the sorts of tests that can cause people to wither away. We want the joy of knowing Jesus, but not the cost of following Jesus. That’s the rocky soil.

And I wonder if it speaks of you. I wonder if it speaks of me. Did you once follow Jesus closely, but then it got tough and you got out? I mean, that could be going on even if you’re sitting here this morning.

You may have checked out as a Christian, even though you’re putting on the face of one. Or maybe it’s the reason you’re not following Jesus, because you fear the costs that will come with it. The cost of giving up your selfish independence, losing your respectable place in the family and your friendship group in the world.

Jesus knows that response, and he calls for something different. But Jesus keeps on sowing. He keeps on broadcasting.

(24:10 – 25:02)

And as the seed is spread afar, some other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Now, in Palestinian farming, there are these massive thorny weeds. And the thing about these huge thorny weeds is the room they take.

They need so much space beneath the soil, and they fill so much room above the soil that they crowd out, they choke out the good harvest. And this is a picture, verse 13, of those who hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures. Now, notice, very important.

(25:03 – 27:32)

Jesus does not say that these are sinful worries or guilty pleasures. They might be. They also may not be.

The point Jesus is making is that these worries and pleasures and so on, they are the focus of the person’s life. Here is a person so fixated on life’s experiences and personal pursuits that it chokes out any room for God’s Word. If you ask them why they never read their Bible or go to church often or give God priority in what they do, they will tell you that they do not have the time or space.

Such a person, Jesus says, does not mature. Now, just by the by, they don’t mature. Some people have asked, is this third soil someone who is a believer, who just doesn’t go on to maturity, or is this describing someone who was never a believer? And a similar debate revolves around the rocky soil as well, soil two.

Is this someone who was never a Christian, or is it a Christian who’s lost their first flush of commitment? Just a couple of thoughts on this. The first and the fourth soil are absolutely clear, aren’t they? Absolutely clear. Soil one says they’re not saved.

Soil four says they’re fruitful, so clearly they’re saved. Soils two and three are more ambiguous. That’s obvious, isn’t it? Otherwise, the commentators wouldn’t be debating it.

I wonder if this is deliberately so. I wonder if Jesus is warning these disciples not to go down the road of soils two and three. Don’t let these things creep in with you, with the eventual result that you may well drift away completely.

(27:33 – 28:24)

I just wonder if there’s this deliberate ambiguity. The other thought is that we may not be asking the entirely right question when we try to work out whether soils two or three are saved or not. Because the point of the parable is not to give us an exposition of the condition of unsaved people, but rather to tell you to be the fourth soil.

That’s the point of the parable, isn’t it? It’s not to get into theological knots over the destiny of two of the soils. What we should be engaging our attention to is are we hearing the Word of God fruitfully ourselves? Not being that short-term Christian. Not being that person who says, you know, I was keen in my 20s.

(28:24 – 29:16)

It mattered in my 20s. Well, why doesn’t it matter in your 30s, your 40s, your 50s? Is Jesus less important? Is the gospel less true? Then what are you doing? It’s provocative, isn’t it? All my life is filled up with so much stuff. I don’t have space.

I don’t really have space at the moment for God and his concerns. Dear friend, if your life is too full for Christ, then your life is too full. Peter says, quoting from Isaiah 40, that the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

(29:18 – 31:15)

All that stuff that’s filling your space, that bucket list you’re ticking off, all those things you’re stressing about, staying awake at night worrying about, will one day be withered like the flowers in the vase that’s been there for a fortnight? That’s what it’s going to be. And yet the Word of the Lord endures forever. If the Word of the Lord endures forever, then why is there no space for the Word of the Lord? I could speak to the community.

If we are going to become all that God intends for us to become, if we’re going to see some sort of breakthrough in the lives of those we witness to, then there will be a direct correlation to the fact that this community has let the Word of God dominate its life and its thinking and its heart. A church distracted by the world is never going to reach the world. A church that is dominated by the Word will reach the world.

The sower keeps sowing. Jesus, He keeps broadcasting. And some of the seed lands finally and thankfully on good soil, where it came up and yielded a crop 100 times what was sown.

A normal yield for farmers was 30 times what was sown. An amazing yield was 60. An incredible, almost miraculous yield was 100.

(31:17 – 32:15)

This last soil is the miraculous yield when God’s Word truly plants itself in someone’s life. It represents, verse 15, those with a noble and good heart who hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Notice here that hearing happens with your heart, not really with your ears.

Your ears just take in the sounds. It’s your heart that hears or rejects the Word. Jesus says there are some people, and the Word of God plants itself in their soft, receptive hearts, and they retain the Word.

They hold on to the Word. And I’ve never really noticed this in this parable. There’s a big stress on, they persevere.

(32:15 – 32:35)

They go on. They continue with the Word. See, this is helpful.

Darl Bock, in his commentary, he makes the point, Jesus isn’t describing here how you respond to a one-off sermon. That’s usually how I read this parable, right? This is like a sermon. This is how we’re responding.

(32:35 – 34:37)

He says that’s not the way to read this. He says what Jesus is describing is the pattern of a person’s life. It’s the pattern of your response.

It’s not about whether three weeks ago you were particularly tired after, well, maybe last week after watching Eurovision and wasting your time with Andy Hunter watching Eurovision. As he was telling me, he said he came to… Actually, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but he said, I’m coming to church to cleanse my soul this morning having watched Eurovision. But this is not that.

This is not about a one-off response. What is the pattern of your whole life? Is it one where the Word is welcomed into your heart? Is it one where you’re holding on and you’re persevering with it through every trial and every temptation, which certainly begins on a Sunday morning, but it doesn’t end on a Sunday morning. This is about whether you’re still responding on a Monday and a Thursday, and maybe especially on a Friday and a Saturday night, right? This is about taking the gospel seriously all the time so that our life is fruitful.

And it’s wonderful, isn’t it, that as Jesus describes He holds out something attractive. You know, in the other tellings of this parable, Mark and Matthew, they tell us that there was a fruit of 30, 60, and 100 times. There’s levels of fruitfulness in Christians.

Notice that Luke doesn’t record that bit. He just says when the Word goes in, it’s 100 times. I think what Luke is stressing is that it’s 100 times worth it to listen to the Lord Jesus.

(34:39 – 35:50)

You will live an abundantly fruitful life if you make the right decision to Jesus’ Word as He produces that fruit of inner contentment, the fruit of godly character, the fruit of a life filled with hope, the fruit of a life filled with the abundance of Jesus-like deeds. Be like the guy in Psalm 1 who is described as blessed. Why? Because he meditated on the Word of God.

And how is he described? Like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. People will say today that folk who love the Bible are at best weird and at worst bigoted. But the Bible says that the Word of God lives forever.

(35:50 – 36:18)

And those in whom the living Word works will bear a fruit that lasts into eternity. That’s a very different take on God’s Word, isn’t it? And it’s a very appealing one. So how are you hearing the Word of God?