This week we will see two parallel themes. First, rejection of both Christ and of John the Baptist; then expansion – of Christ’s ministry by delegating his authority to his disciples.
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.
Your Son reminded us that sometimes the best we can expect out of this world is trouble.
His disciples often faced difficulty, opposition and persecution and they endured. Give us that same kind of strength.
From Christ’s instruction we learn that our worst enemies and betrayers might be those we would expect to be our closest friends. Those who should love us and those we love may respond with hatred and rejection. We thank you that Jesus experienced all of this first. We are certainly no greater than he is.
Help us, Father, to remain steadfast, to be faithful and to endure. We may desire happiness, comfort, approval and blessings, but they may not be ours at this time. Just as Jesus endured to the end and was glorified, help us to stand firm knowing that his story did not end at the cross and neither will ours.
If we experience no glory or honor in this world, may our lives still bring glory to him, for Christ is worthy.
Jesus said we “are of more value than many sparrow.” Sometimes we think of this in isolation as a statement of how valuable we are in God’s eyes. After all, if not even a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from our Father, then we can rest assured that God cares for us too.
There is nothing absolutely wrong with those thoughts. Our heavenly Father does care. He is attentive to the smallest detail of our tiniest trouble. The big troubles mean even more to him, we can be sure. But let’s read the verses surrounding the sparrows along with the verses we love.
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Overall, they seem to be about not fearing in the face of opposition. What if I am tempted to deny Christ? We need to fear God rather than any human opponent. We should want Jesus to acknowledge us and know that he will, as long as we acknowledge him first. Christ is telling us we need to have a public faith.
What Jesus is saying is something like this: “You are valuable to your Father and mine, he cares about your smallest concern, but how valuable are he and I to you? Would you remain faithful to me even if it costs you something? Will you fear those who can only kill the body, but not fear God more?”
Let’s remember that if we are “worth more than many sparrow,” then Jesus is worth something far greater still. He is worth our very lives and even those lives are something akin to the penny paid for sparrows by comparison. Our worth is derivative; it comes entirely from him. Christ’s worth is original and derived from any other source. He can share his worth with all of us and still have infinite value left in himself.
Christ’s beatitudes, those memorable opening words from his Sermon on the Mount, are among the most loved and best known verses in the Bible. People who never bother to read the Bible quote them. They appear in all kinds of contexts and sometimes entirely out of context. Here they are once more.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What strikes me about them today is their long-term outlook. Each one points to some activity or condition in the present and what we might call its long-term reward or payoff. That is, it gives us the “why” that makes each activity or condition worthwhile right now. Christ’s perspective is nothing short of eternal.
Some of them seem completely improbable. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are you when others revile you…” And yet we have on the authority of Jesus that in any of these situations we should count ourselves blessed.
These are the words of the one who brought blessing out of his cross. Jesus endured that, knowing that it was necessary to accomplish his objectives. I want to be able to look toward Jesus and look toward the end result of what he might be doing in my life in the same way. It’s a lot like Hebrews 12:1-2.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.