Christ gives us a series of parables which give us insight into the effects of the preached word on those who hear it. He also calms a storm, prompting his disciples to seriously consider who he is.
The primary Parable of the Sower (as Jesus calls it in Matthew 13:18) is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. This other one, also called the Parable of the Growing Seed, is only in Mark. I like to think of it as a further elaboration on the sower’s seed sown on good ground, which “yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (Mark 4:8).
26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The job of sowing and harvesting, of spreading the word of God and eventually seeing the fruit of it, is a wiggly business. We have to “preach the word,” as Paul says (2 Tim 4:2). But in doing so, we cannot look for immediate results. In fact, it is hard to see the relationship between our work and its results at all. We “sleep by night and rise by day” and in the meantime something happens. We don’t know how, but growth comes naturally. As Jesus says, “the earth yields crops ‘by itself.'”
That last expression “by itself” is interesting. The dictionary form of the original word is automatos, which is kind of like automatic. It reminds me of an automat, the old vending machine, restaurant-like thingy, where the food just sat there waiting for someone to buy it. (Yes, I was a fan, but do not know of one anywhere in Indianapolis where I live. Not sure if they even exist at all in the USA anymore. Alas.)
Christ’s point, however, is important. Proclaiming the word of God, whether it is evangelism, teaching, a weekly Sunday service, or a private conversation, will yield results. Somehow, at some point. This happens without our looking at it constantly and trying to measure the growth.
Let this be an encouragement for all of us “sowers.” I want to see immediate results as much as the next guy, I suppose. Normally I don’t see any. You may not see quick returns on your word-sharing investment either. But don’t quit. Don’t give up. Quick returns are not what we signed up for. We signed up for continuous, consistent sowing and eventual reaping, when the time is right. That might not be when or where we we are looking for it, but it comes.
The Parable of the Sower is one of the best-known parables of Jesus and one of the most important. By it we can gauge our response to God’s word. Here it is,
3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
And here is the divinely inspired explanation of it according to Jesus himself.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The lesson is simple. The same word yields different results depending on the soil it lands in. We want to be like that good soil.
Some seed was devoured by birds. This person did not immediately understand the word and evil one snatched away what was sown in his heart. To counteract this possibility we have to be prepared to do a little work to make sure we are getting out of the word what God has put into it. A little thought, a little study, a little reflection and conversation with others can go a long way. We must make sure the evil one cannot devour the word once we have received it. If we are attentive, hold on to that word at all costs and do not ignore it, we will forever avoid the first pitfall.
Some seed sprang up immediately but had no depth. Initial enthusiasm is no guarantee of long-term success. What happens when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word? Are we prepared to endure the rejection and ridicule that come along with a deep and firmly rooted faith? Perhaps the main thing to know about difficulties is that we must expect them. We Christians need to expect trials as a result of our commitment to the word of God. Stand firm. Do not waver. Hold on tightly and never let go of Jesus and the walk with him that is continuously fueled by the word. If we can survive these most certain troubles, we will avoid the second pitfall.
There is one pitfall left and i may be the most insidious. The thorns, which represent the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, can choke out a well-informed and firmly-rooted faith. In this case a person may say,”Sure, I believe,” but the fruit of their faith is simply absent. Zoom in a little closer and we will likely find that this person’s faith is not their first priority. One care or another gets in the way. There is some status symbol, a relationship, a reputation among certain people who care little for the things of God, or of course, the next dollar. Any of these can stand in the way of wholehearted devotion to the word. Fruit gets choked out and never appears.
Put the word first and fruit will come naturally. Decide right now to not let anything or anyone stand in the way of it. Others may come along if they choose, but we must determine not to be distracted from our Number One Priority – which is our faith. No earthly thing compares.
Pay careful attention, stand firm under pressure and stay focused when distractions assault us. This is how we avoid the three main pitfalls and diligently prepare our soil. The fruit will now come if we are patient. We may be surprised at how much there eventually is. Some produce a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Christ has taught us about the reality and the danger of not responding positively and passionately to him. Please help us to respond with unswerving commitment.
Let your word find good soil as it falls upon our hearts. Let there be no corrupting or false influences in our faith. Please keep us from being distracted by the enticements of this world. Let us hold onto Jesus firmly, holding nothing back, remembering that he already gave everything for us.
Help us to make your kingdom the very center and goal of our lives. Cause us to continuously grow and bear fruit with perseverance as long as you allow us to live.
Jesus begins his ministry by calling people to repent, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He then went on to explain that kingdom, largely by using parables.
Matthew 1-13.mp3 (Dan Kane)