January 14, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
The “You’re Invited” sermon series looks at four of Jesus’ parables about inviting. It’s all about the invitation we‘ve received from God and the invitation we give to others. Today’s parable is about “The Sower” (a farmer) and the significance of sowing his seed in various environments.
As Soils: The invitation requires a response. God’s truth, his teaching – the invitation of the gospel (seed) – requires a response – whether that refers to the “big truth” of his message, or the “little truth” of a daily choice to live for Jesus. When we encounter God’s truth, we can have any one of four responses. Consider how you’ll choose to respond to His invitation presented to you today.
- Hardness. Like the soil on the path that was flat and hard, so can be our hearts. Do we have a heart so hardened that God’s truth cannot penetrate it (like pride), or similarly, have we allowed fear or false pretense to keep us hardened?
- Weak Faith. The seed on the rocky soil sprouted first and looked healthy — only to fall away. When adversity comes, will our faith sustain us or will it wither in the heat of circumstance? We can love the good of Christianity, but forgetful of our roots under pressure. Jesus doesn’t want our faith to be weak, but strengthened in response to Him so we can bear fruit.
- Misplaced Priorities. The problem with the weedy soil is competition, thereby its fruitfulness is choked by all the rest. What temptations choke us: is it a busy schedule, a pursuit of accomplishment, riches and pleasures, or even a focus on the worries of life. Regardless, Jesus warns us to persevere, keeping our priority on Him, not on them.
- Fruitfulness. Finally, we see that the “good soil” represents those who receive God’s truth with a good and honest heart – who hold it fast — and persevere, It is in this environment where God’s Word (the seed) was intended to fall so that it may grow and produce fruit.
As Sowers: The response requires an invitation.
A secondary view of the story is in consideration of the sower. First, although the sowing of the seed can happen differently, someone still has to do it. Second, just as the sower did not know what type of ground his seed would fall, so it is with our invitation to others. To conclude, we are only responsible for the sowing, but we are not responsible for the results.
- What kind of soil am I? How might we enrich the ground of our hearts for solid growth?
- Conversely, how might we deplete the ground of our hearts? What kinds of truths do we perhaps harden ourselves against? What kind of “weeds” choke out the fruitfulness of the word in our lives? How can we work against that?
- What kind of sower am I? Who do I know that I can begin to “speak the word” to, so that they might have an invitation? What steps can I take to go about that?
- Who first spoke God’s Word to me and what condition was my heart? What kind of difference has that invitation made in my life?
Today I want to talk about invitation and response. Invitation and response. Kelley and I received a LOT of invitations when we were in Zimbabwe:
- We were invited to speak at a missionary conference
- We were invited to counsel some wonderful missionaries
- We were invited to tour some incredible ministries
- We were invited to tea several times
I was invited to feed an elephant at one point – not an elephant in a cage, mind you but a free-ranging elephant. We were on a half-day Safari when this elephant wanders up. The guide tells me “It’s a semi-tame elephant, and I could feed him.” So I started to. Imagine my surprise when the elephant took the hat off my head and put it in his mouth and then continued to eat! The only thing more surprising was when he gave the hat back to me. It was a little the worse for wear! It was obviously a gag, but there is video evidence of all this! I think Kelley will put it on our public Facebook page this week! Anyway, we received lots of invitations, and each invitation called for a response!
Today we are continuing in our series called “You’re Invited!” “Invite” is our word as a church for 2018. We all want to learn starting with me how to get better at inviting people to join us as we find life in Jesus. So we thought we would start the year off with a sermon series that looks at four of Jesus’ parables about inviting, about the invitation that we receive from God and the invitation that we give to others.
John Maiden started the series last week by looking at God’s invitation to us in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We learned there that God is always inviting the lost to come to him, both those who are lost in their sin and those who are lost in their self-righteousness. Today we are going to continue this series on invitation by looking at another one of Jesus’ well-known parables. Today we are going to look at the parable of the Soils or you may know it as the parable of the Sower. So let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Luke 8:4-15. This is a parable that relates to both aspects of the invitation. It relates to:
- How we should respond to God’s invitation
- The invitation that we should give to others
So today as we look at this parable, we’re going to do three things. We’re going to:
- Walk through the story of the parable just to make sure we understand what’s going on.
- Look at this parable from the perspective of the soils and see how we should respond to God’s invitation to us. That’s the way that most people look at the parable.
- Go beyond that and look at the parable from the standpoint of the sower and see something about the invitation that we should give to others.
So that’s what we will do today. Here’s my heart: As we look at this parable, I want you to ask yourself two questions:
1. What kind of soil am I? What kind of reception have I given God’s word in my heart?
2. What kind of sower am I? Have I shared God’s truth with others? Or have I kept it to myself?
That’s what I want us to think about today. So let’s read through this parable in Luke 8:4-15. Luke starts the parable this way:
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“ ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
– Luke 8:4-15
We want to start today by just walking through:
We need to go over what Jesus is describing here, because as Americans we get the general gist of the parable, but some things might be kind of unclear. Why is this farmer planting seed on paths? Why is he planting on rocks? Doesn’t he know that’s not going to work? So let’s just look at the story together.
Jesus told the crowd that a sower, or a farmer, went out to sow his seed. That farmer would have had a bag of grain slung over his shoulder. He would reach into that bag, and with a certain rhythm, he would take a step and cast the seed. As in much of the world, they have a rainy season and a dry season in Israel. This sowing would be at the end of the dry season in the middle of winter after months without rain. The field that this farmer was sowing would have lain fallow, that is, there would have been no crop in it for several months.
So we have an open field with no crop in it. Now most of us are used to cars and paved roads and private property, so we don’t understand why this farmer would sow on a path. If you’ve lived in the third world where people don’t have cars, you know there’s only one thing to do with an open field – cut across it! When you’re on foot, the shortest distance between two points is probably right through someone’s property!
When we lived in Zimbabwe, there was no such thing as private property. People were always walking through your yard, through your garden, down your driveway. I remember the first night we spent in a Zimbabwean farm house. I staggered out of bed at 6:00 in the morning and stumbled into the kitchen to get some filtered water. I walk in there and turn this way to get a drink, and then I turn around. Here are 50 Shona kids outside my window staring at me In my underwear. I just kind of waved and went back to bed. No such thing as private property!
So this path probably wasn’t on the edge of a field. It was probably right through the middle of it. That’s why this farmer is throwing seed on the path. It seems wasteful to us, but it’s actually part of the field.
When you have a field that has not had rain for months and people walk on it, something happens: It gets hard and flat! That hard flat soil creates an ideal table for the birds, so they came and took that seed away before it had any chance to penetrate. Now it also happened that as he sowed he threw some seed on rock or rocky soil. Once again, we wonder “Why is this guy planting seed on rocks?”
But this isn’t just rock. It’s a big shelf of limestone covered with a thin layer of soil. This is a common condition in Israel. The reason the farmer doesn’t see the rock is because, unlike the way we do it, he probably hasn’t plowed yet. They normally plowed after they cast the seed. So after they sowed, the path will be plowed under and softened. It will be clearer when they plow where there is rock.
So this is soil on top of rock, but that rock would have an effect. Once the dry winter had ended and the rains came, those rocks with that thin layer of soil on top would be the first part of that field to heat up. The sprouts would spring out of the ground! Faster even than the sprouts in the healthy ground. So they looked really good. But that thin layer of soil could not sustain the plant to the point that it bore fruit. Eventually the plant would run out of moisture and nutrients, and it would just fade away. This soil was too weak.
The farmer would also throw some seed among soil with thistles. The thistles aren’t sprouted, but the seeds are resident in the ground there. Some of these weed seeds can live in the soil for decades. So when the farmer plowed that soil, it would stir up the weed seeds. They would get the light and moisture that they need to sprout, and they would just take off. Those thistles would take all the moisture and nutrients and sunlight from the crop and weaken it. That’s what happened here. The competing plants dominated the seed, and it could never fully bear a crop.
So there was hard soil and weak soil and weedy soil. But the farmer knew that wasn’t all there was in that field. He knew that if he planted the whole field, there would some soil in that field that was good – soil where the seed could penetrate and hold on and not be choked by weeds. He knew there would be a part of that field that would accomplish what it was designed for and grow that seed until it bore fruit. And it did. It was great seed, and it fell on good soil. So it bore 100 grains for every seed that was planted there. That soil accomplished its purpose.
That’s the parable of the Soils. Now what does this have to with us? What can we learn from this parable? Two things. The first is from the standpoint of the soils and it’s this:
As Soils: The invitation requires a response
The invitation of God’s word, the invitation of the gospel, the invitation of God’s truth of his teaching, requires a response. The invitation requires a response.
Jesus tells us that each of these soils represents a different response that we might have to God’s truth. We can think of this either big-picture, the way we respond to the gospel and whether we choose to give our lives to Jesus. Or we can think of it in a smaller way as relating to individual truths and the day to day teaching of God’s word. So it can be about big truth or little truth. Jesus gives four different responses here in these four soils. We won’t dive into these deeply, but we can have any one of these four responses any time we encounter God’s Truth:
1. Hardness. Like that soil on the path, our hearts can become so hardened that God’s truth doesn’t even penetrate. It never even gains purchase! Either because of misinformation we’ve heard or because we have fears or know what it might cost us, we can categorically dismiss the word we can harden ourselves so that we don’t even interact with God’s truth. That can happen with the gospel. I met a Christian lady last week who told me that at one point in her life she had hardened her heart to the gospel. She didn’t want even to hear it! But it can also happen to us, as Christians, with certain truths in God’s word. Maybe there are truths that run counter to our culture or to the way we want to live our lives. We can just pretend that those truths are not in our Bibles! We can harden ourselves to them. But Jesus says “Don’t do that! Don’t respond to God’s truth with hardness!”
2. Weak Faith. Like that rocky soil, we can respond with a faith that is so weak it can’t stand adversity. It withers when the heat is on! I think of some people who have an immediate, external, joyful response to Christianity. They were a cross necklace. They had a W.W.J.D bracelet. They’ve got the gear (not that I’m against cross necklaces! But they have the gear!) They love it when you talk about Jesus forgiving their sins. They love to talk about Jesus healing our bodies and our marriages. They love how Jesus can give meaning to their lives. But they wither when Jesus calls them to carry their cross. They don’t want to hear it when Scripture tells them that godliness will bring persecution. They have no category for God to be involved in something like sickness or difficulty, so when they face it they walk away from their faith. Jesus says “Don’t do that!” Don’t respond with a weak faith.
3. Misplaced Priorities. The problem with the weedy soil is competition. Jesus says God’s truth is sometimes choked out, its fruitfulness is ruined, by the riches, and pleasures, and even the worries of this life. Now note that these cares are not all evil. It’s not evil to care for your family, to want safety and good health, to want a vacation or a hobby that you enjoy. But when these things get in the driver’s seat and when they become our main priority, they can ruin the fruitfulness of God’s truth. The word becomes choked out by other priorities. Parents, can I speak a gentle word to you? Please be careful about how much busy-ness you allow into your family’s life. Please. We all know that there’s a legitimate time for you to work extra hours at your job,. We all know that there’s nothing wrong with your kids doing a few sports or extra-curricular activities. But please be careful! You are your child’s primary discipler. These things, good things, can slowly, subtly choke the spiritual life out of your family, if you’re not mindful of your family’s discipleship. Trust me: You don’t want to end up with a child who is a great high school soccer player but knows nothing of Jesus. Misplaced priorities can choke out the word. But again., Jesus says “Don’t let that happen.” So we can respond to the word with hardness with weak faith or with misplaced priorities. But there’s really only one correct response to God’s truth in our lives and that’s with
4. Fruitfulness. Look what Jesus says about the good soil:
But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
– Luke 8:15
Jesus tells his disciples that the good soil represents those who:
- Receive God’s truth with a good and honest heart
- Hold it fast
- Persevere to produce fruit.
Notice that each of these descriptions, is the solution to the problems in the other three soils:
- Rather than hardening themselves to God’s truth they receive it w/ a good heart.
- Rather than withering in adversity, they hold the word fast.
- Rather than allowing the word to be choked out, they persevere. They battle against competing priorities until the word becomes fruitful.
This is the only legitimate response to God’s truth. It’s what God wants! When we visited Zimbabwe, Kelley and I had the chance to re-connect and catch up on some of my students at the Theological college, some of the people that we had introduced to Christ. We found a few of them had fallen by the wayside and weren’t really serving the Lord. But many were bearing incredible fruit for God! They have followed Jesus through the most difficult of circumstances. They are serving him as Pastors, and elders, and godly church members. One dear lady said “I still have the paper that you gave me and my husband as you and Kelley met with us to really explain the gospel. And we’re still following Jesus.”
Do you know what that does to a Pastor’s heart? It gives me great joy! Because that’s the correct response to God’s Truth. Let me say “Perry Creek you give me great joy! I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with us in ten years!
So first, as Soils, the invitation requires a response. But there’s another way that we as readers of Luke’s Gospel can view this parable. We can actually look at it not just from the standpoint of the soils, but also from the standpoint of the sower or the farmer. As Sowers, I would say this:
As Sowers: The response requires an invitation
As soils, this invitation requires a response. But as sowers, the response requires in invitation. Go home and think about that for a while. No actually, what I mean is this: Someone has to play the role of the sower! Someone has to scatter the seed of the gospel, so that people have a chance to respond. By the time that Luke wrote this parable down, Jesus himself was no longer the sower. He was no longer on earth to share the gospel. The responsibility of sowing had to fall to someone else. As the body of Christ and as those who have received the Great Commission, that someone else is us! Response requires an invitation.
Maybe you’re thinking. I could never do that! I can’t spread the Word. I’m not a Pastor. I don’t know all the right words to say. I would be embarrassed! I understand your hesitation. But think about it: The only reason you were able to respond to Christ is because someone who at some point in their life was just as afraid as you are overcame their hesitation and started spreading the word! They did that for you! Maybe it was a Sunday school teacher, maybe a parent, maybe a college roommate or a youth worker. There are a million ways it could happen
In the last two weeks, I have met people who came to Christ in many ways:
- I met a young man who became a Christian, because they teach the Bible in the public schools in Zimbabwe, and a teacher told him about the gospel.
- I met a missionary from Brazil who became a Christian through godly parents.
- I met someone else who came to Christ because of her Pastor.
- I met one dear Christian woman who said “Earlier in my life, I didn’t want to have anything to do with God. I was anti-Christian! Then one night in the middle of the night, four Christians came to our door to bring me and my husband the news that our 17 year old son had died in an accident. She said they could have made a phone call, but they drove from another part of the country through the middle of the night to tell us personally. They showed such kindness and compassion. She said “When I saw that, my heart changed like that and I said ‘If that’s what Christians do, I want to find out more about what it means to be one.’”
See the sowing of the seed can happen in many different ways, but someone has to do it and that’s us. Response requires an invitation.
Maybe we’re still hesitant. That’s understandable, but the passage gives us one very encouraging piece of information about sowing and it’s this. When it comes to sowing, the results – the response we receive to our sowing of the word – is not up to us. It’s not up to us! See sometimes we think that if we are going to speak the word to someone, we have to do it just right, with convincing arguments and perfect presentation and we have to figure out whether they are ready. Like “It’s all in the wrist. Like the way you throw that seed! That’s what makes it grow. And if you don’t do it just right, you’re going to fail, because it’s all up to you.”
That is exactly the opposite of what Jesus is saying here. Even Jesus got mixed results. This parable is written to explain that. If we read the book of Luke to this point, what we would find is this: In the beginning of the book, the Angels, the Shepherds and all the prophecies point to Jesus’ authenticity: Jesus is the real deal. But as Jesus preaches he gets mixed results. Many people accept his message, but some – including the religious leaders of Israel – don’t. Some walk away from him. We’re left with the question: If Jesus is the real thing, why doesn’t everyone accept him? Jesus tells the parable of the Sower to teach us “It’s not the seed. It’s the soil!”
It’s the same seed that falls on the path, and the rocks, and among the weeds, and in the good soil. The seed is the same. It’s the condition of the soil, of the heart, that makes the difference. It’s because of the heart that it produces fruit in one instance and not in others.
As sowers Jesus message to us is simple: We are responsible to sow the word. We are responsible to invite people to the life we’ve found in Christ, maybe by sharing the gospel, maybe by just inviting them to come and see at Church, or small groups. We are responsible to do that. But we’re not responsible for the results.
If we sow, some of our efforts will inevitably fall on hardened or rocky or weedy soil. That’s just the way it is. But like the farmer in the parable, we shouldn’t let that discourage us. Because we know that if we keep scattering seed, if we keep speaking a word about Christ, eventually that seed is going to find good soil:
- Soil that will receive the seed and hold on to it and persevere to produce fruit.
- Soil that God has prepared to come to life.
This passage encourages us to ask ourselves two questions:
- What kind of soil am I? Is my heart fruitful soil for the word of God? Or do I have areas where I am hardened or shallow or letting misplaced priorities creep in? What kind of soil am I?
- What kind of sower am I? Not am I perfect or do I have it all figured out, but am I looking in my life to invite people to join me as I find life in Christ?
We’re both soil and sower, as we receive God’s invitation and invite others.