It’s time for a change, a big change, says Jesus in the book of Matthew. The major change of His ministry. A major change in the entire Bible.
A change that impacts world history and impacts you and impacts me 21 centuries later.
As we begin to look at this big event, let’s acknowledge our dependence on God as we ask Him to teach us!
Heavenly Father, Thank you for the opportunity to look into your Book. Please be our teacher. Open our eyes. Help us to act upon what we learn. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.
2 And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
3 Then He spoke many things to them in PARABLES?
Don’t know about you, but I’ve had a great deal of difficulty with the whole idea of parables. To be a good teacher means you teach clearly so your students understand what you are trying to say.
But parables are deliberately not clear and are designed specifically so that your audience doesn’t get the point unless you explain it.
So Jesus is the greatest teacher in the history of the world and He deliberately now at this point in His ministry starts to use parables. That is great teaching?
To understand what is going on let’s back up to see the big picture.
All the way through the Old Testament God promised over and over that the Messiah or anointed messenger would come to planet earth to deliver God’s people.
That Messiah or Christ (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek) is born in the early chapters of Matthew.
His name is Jesus.
In Matthew chapters 5-7 Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, the longest single speech of His life in which He tells us the principles of His kingdom. He wants man to have “ real blessedness, real happiness, real joy, real gladness, genuine divine reward”. That sermon tells how to get it.
Matthew chapters 8-10 give us Jesus’ credentials. He demonstrates His power over all disease, demons and nature. And who but God can have that kind of staggering power?
But He is not Mr. Popular. The religious establishment doesn’t like Him.
Jesus responds in Matthew 11 by denouncing the spiritual waywardness of His own nation but closes with an invitation to repent.
The tension escalates by the time you get to Matthew 12:14
Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Jesus’ fate is sealed. The clock is ticking. His days are numbered.
Look at that! He is God in the flesh clearly stating what kingdom life should be like. He gives credentials that no one disputes. And the response: REJECTION! The religious leaders plan to kill Him.
You know what? That’s it. Jesus has had enough. He has shown great love for the Jews. He has been patient. He has been clear. He offered indisputable evidence. The response has been overwhelmingly negative.
Right here at the start of Matthew 13 it’s time for a change, the big change of His ministry. Israel, you don’t want king Jesus so you are not getting the kingdom at this time.
For thousands of years God’s plan had been to work through a country called Israel to reach the world. Now the plan is scrapped for a while. It’s time for a change.
Right in front of us in Matthew 13 the curtain slowly starts to rise on something never seen before. The curtain slowly starts to rise on the church age.
The church is not mentioned in the Old Testament. But with the king on planet earth and His message being rejected its time to explain some of the foundational thinking that will control the church age, the age in which you and I live today.
In Matthew 13 Jesus starts to give key principles which will guide the next 2000 plus years.
Think about that for a minute. Daniel is the big Old Testament prophetic book of what will happen between 605 BC in Daniel chapter 1 and the 2nd coming of Christ. But to a spiritual titan like Daniel the church age is not mentioned.
Instead, in Matthew 13 a bunch of fishermen and no names get the privilege and honor of hearing what no one in history had ever heard before.
In Matthew 16 Jesus gives this new creation a name: “the church”. In Acts 2 the church is officially launched. Throughout the New Testament we are given instruction what churches will be like and do.
And all that teaching for the church age starts right here.
The major difference between the Old and New Testaments is right here. God worked through a country in the Old Testament. The country of Israel was supposed to be God’s light to the world, God’s springboard to mankind.
Israel, you are now benched, sidelined, put in the penalty box, put on the shelf for a while. In the meantime God will work through a new worldwide organization called “the church”.
And Christ followers attend church today instead of a Jewish synagogue because of what is launched in Matthew 13.
Grace is wonderful and powerful and something we should crave. But grace is not available forever.
Clearly in Matthew 13 God’s patience has run out. Israel has been offered and offered and offered grace. Israel has for the most part rejected grace. Therefore, grace is now withdrawn.
Did you catch that? Warning! We, too, can reject God’s message to us once too often. And we, too, can be set aside and have grace withdrawn.
Say “Yes” to God while you have the opportunity.
And only now does Jesus’ decision to switch to parables make sense.
His audience has had enough truth offered to them. They have rejected it. So, He’s not going to give them any more. A terrifying thought. But it is reality.
His own loyal followers do get an explanation of the parables. Nonbelievers do not.
So what are the foundational truths He gives them in Matthew 13?
Right now we are just going to look at the four soils. But read the whole chapter on your own and you’ll find more foundational truths for us today.
Let’s examines these four soils in detail:
- Soil #1 Matthew13:3b,4
“Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”
When I was a pastor on a regular basis church members would ask me to witness to their spouse, friends, neighbors.
If possible my response would be, “Do it yourself. You’ve been in discipleship group, did a great job, learned the verses, role played sharing your faith countless times. It’s time for you to jump into the deep water and witness by yourself”.
I made them a deal: I would pray, they would share their faith, and afterwards we’d debrief together.
Going off on a tangent for a minute – early in my Christian life I quit attending a church and one of the reasons was that the pastor was always telling us to bring our friends to church so he could lead them to Christ.
What a great way to keep a church weak – be a spectator to the pastor’s evangelism. Leaving that church was a highlight of my Christian life.
I joined another church where the pastor got it that his job was to train us to evangelize. And no surprise that church grew by leaps and bounds.
Enough of that tangent.
So how did the people from the church I was pastoring do when they witnessed?
There were two predictable responses.
Two predictable responses:
Response #1 – The person was wide eyed and excited. Yes, they sweated when they shared the plan of salvation. Yeah, they got a little tongue tied but caught themselves and finished well. And the unsaved person was interested and had a few questions.
Breakthrough! The believers from my church had shared their faith! It was their first time! They knew they had crossed a line they had never crossed before. They were thrilled at the opportunity and hooked on evangelism. They wanted to do it again. And they knew they could do it again.
What about response #2? People from this group came back with their tails between their legs. No smile on their faces. I had to pull it out of them. Were they prayed up before witnessing? Yes. Sins confessed? Yes. Did they go through the plan of salvation? Yes. Any regrets for anything they said? No.
So why were they down? Always the same reason: the unsaved person had zero interest, slammed the conversation shut. Didn’t want anything to do with Christ, the Bible, or salvation. And the person from my church felt like a failure.
Therefore, the people from my church were convinced they had failed. Surely they had done something to turn the unsaved person off – but they couldn’t figure out what it was.
And they were greatly resistant to witness again…..which means they didn’t understand the verses we just read in Matthew 13.
Look at the verses again.
3b “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”
So we have a guy sowing seed. And we have the seed. And we have the ground.
The sower is Jesus :37 (and us as we sow in obedience to Him). The seed is the Word :19. The ground is the human heart :19.
This seed does not take root, does not grow.
So what did this sower in Matthew do wrong? If this sower got such a negative response from the soil, surely he made a mistake, right?
Read it again.
“Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”
Well, no. the sower made no mistake. And the people from my church getting a negative response also made no mistake. It’s not the sower’s fault the ground is hard. It’s not the Christian’s fault that some hearts are hard. It is sad, depressing, sobering, discouraging, and a big downer that some hearts can be so unresponsive, indifferent, hardhearted. It shakes us that some hearts can have zero guilt about sin, zero desire to repent, zero sensitivity to sin.
But the message here is –it’s not our fault. The message here is that throughout the church age this kind of heart is going to exist. Do not be surprised. This kind of response will happen to you. You have not failed.
I remember coming home from a witnessing opportunity and going in the bathroom and crying and crying at the thought of that person going to hell. And weep we should.
But it’s really important to realize what we are responsible for and what we are not responsible for.
It is our responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus.
It is not our responsibility if our listener slams the door shut.
We are not the cause of the hard heart.
We did our job. Don’t be a quitter.
Fortunately all the soil is not that hard.
Soil #2 Matthew 13:5, 6
What is the response here?
5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.
6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.
These people are instantly excited to hear the Good News. They feel happy. It’s an emotional response to the Gospel. When you look at this response, think fireworks. Fireworks take off like a rocket, dazzle for a while, but are gone in 60 seconds. Gone without a trace…..
just like soil #2.
There was no true repentance here, all external with nothing inside. They built their house on sand. It didn’t last.
Right away overly emotional, wildly excited new “converts” come to mind. A huge, noisy profession of faith with all the stability of fireworks. And today they have nothing to do with Jesus because God didn’t give them the life of ease they expected.
All growth up, no growth down, No counting the cost. No roots. No salvation.
But it’s really important to realize what we are responsible for and to realize what we are not responsible for.
It is our responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus. It is not our responsibility if our listener is like fireworks.
You are not the cause of his heart problem.
You did your job.
Don’t be a quitter.
The message here is that throughout the church age this kind of heart is going to exist. Do not be surprised. Expect it. This kind of response will happen to you.
You have not failed. Move on.
It’s time for the next response:
Soil #3 Matthew 13:7
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.
Oh, no! This person didn’t get it that salvation is transformation, not addition.
In the back of my closet are some gifts I was given. Are they part of my life? Yes! And there they sit collecting dust just like some people think they can take Jesus into their lives and let Him sit in a corner and collect dust. They thought they could add Jesus to a cluttered life.
No, salvation is transformation. Real salvation means there is now an undisputed new manager of your life who is not choked by career, house, family, job, prestige, etc.
1 John 2:15, 16
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.
This is soil #3. Allowing Jesus to be smothered by stuff that will never last. So did this sower mess up? NO! Is the seed defective? NO!
The message is that throughout the church age this kind of heart is going to exist. Do not be surprised. This kind of response will happen to you. You have not failed.
It’s important to realize what we are responsible for and what we are not responsible for. It is our responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus. It is not our responsibility if your listener lives such a cluttered life that he suffocates Jesus. You are not the cause of the hard heart. You did your job. Don’t be a quitter.
Well, how about some good news?
OK ….. what we have been waiting for.
Soil #4 the good soil. Matthew 13:8
But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
The proof of salvation is fruit. “Every good tree bears visible, good fruit”. This soil bears an incredible amount. A staggering amount. It is the real deal.
This soil represents hearts with genuine brokenness over sin. This soil truly repents. This soil truly is focused on being transformed into Christlikeness.
And the message to us is – to us in the church age – there is good soil out there- somewhere. Go for it.
The message also is we don’t all yield the same amount of fruit.
So there you have the parable of the four soils
And these four soils should remind every believer of some really big things we should stop to thank God for.
- Be thankful God is building His church.
In the few verses we looked at Jesus is starting, just starting to launch something the world had never seen before: the church. 21 centuries later He is still working in and through the church. We are a part of what He launches here.
Quite frankly these verses have been absolutely key to my joy and stability at times. Often there is so much negative news, frightening news, and I ask myself, “What on earth is God doing today?”
And the answer is – God is continuing to do today what he started in Matthew 13. He is building His church. Jesus said He would build His church. That is His program for today.
How exactly is He building His church this year? He doesn’t tell us, but we can be sure He is being faithful to His own church building commitment. And He uses all sorts of wars and natural disasters and national upheavals among many other events in His efforts.
- Thank God your work for Him is not wasted. Think of all the time and money and sweat and energy that people spend on lost causes! But if you’ve invested your efforts to build God’s church you are with the only program God has for today. You might not have seen the results you wanted to see but you have not wasted your time. You serve God and your autobiography will not be called “Chronicles of Wasted Time”.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Have you memorized that verse? You should!
That is not to say working for God is easy. The word “labor” means working to the point of exhaustion. We are talking tough work.
But your work for Christ is for a guaranteed winning cause. God’s winning cause. You can give thanks that none of your witnessing is a waste. None of the time you spent in Bible studies with the unsaved was a waste. None of your service for your church was a waste. If God is building His church be 100% confident He will honor all the help you give Him in His building efforts. You aren’t going to have regrets. You didn’t waste your time in a losing cause.
You have chosen wisely.
Maybe we ought to stop to examine exactly how we are investing our time. The church is God’s only program for today. God has not budged one inch from what He started in Matthew 13. Not one inch. So why pour excessive time into politics or other causes that don’t have God’s hand on them?
Instead put our time in what He does have His hand on – His church!
- Thank God that you are not to blame for the response of the hardheads, the flash in the pans, the worldly choked people who make no movement towards Christ.
As a baby Christian I was taught in the Bible study I attended that “A successful witness is sharing Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God”. That is excellent teaching.
When I share the plan of salvation I am doing what is expected of me. That is all I can do. The rest is up to God.
Each week in our Bible study we would repeat that with the hope that it would sink in because it is true and needed. And all those people at the church I came from who beat themselves up because the unsaved person was not receptive didn’t get that.
What would heaven be like if it were your fault that others didn’t come to Christ? There would be no joy. It would be endless mental torture that others were in hell because we didn’t witness clearly or lovingly or prayerfully. It’s our fault. How horrible!
NO! It’s not our cleverness, our charm, our clarity that brings people to salvation.
Ephesians 2:8, 9.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast
You might have memorized that verse. Look at it again. You become a believer by faith. Only by faith. But where does your faith come from? Even your faith is from God.
Salvation is of God. How much credit do I get for my salvation? None. But each person is responsible for his own response to Christ.
Yes, we grieve at the poor choices others make, but their rejection of our Gospel presentation rests on them. Not us.
It is important to realize what you are responsible for. But it is also important to realize what you are not responsible for. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin. It is the Holy Spirit who brings people to repentance and salvation
So when we are done sharing the Gospel we can toss the person into God’s lap with the prayer that God will do the rest. Mission accomplished. Mission accomplished well.
We are being told here that throughout all church history there will be soils 1, 2, 3. Expect them. Be prepared. Witness to them. Pray for them.
Maybe in the future God will eventually soften their hearts.
In the meantime, don’t let their disappointing decision drag you down.
- Thank God that some of the people we share Christ with will turn out to be soil #4. I’ve been told the average crop yield is seven fold so some of the returns in this parable are staggering. Look at that yield!
Some of the people you lead to Christ might have way more fruitful ministries than you do. And to be part of that process is certainly worthy of thanks to God.
Jesus is telling us that THERE IS GOOD SOIL OUT THERE.
GO AFTER IT!
Throughout the entire church age there will be good soil out there somewhere, someplace, eager and waiting to hear the good news. Go for it.
Are we being told here that ¼ of the people we witness to will turn out to be soil #4? Let’s not be that rigid. But we are being told that this good soil will exist throughout the church age.
Let’s go find it!
God program for today is the church. And as Jesus starts with the very beginning of His roll out of the church in Matthew 13 He is telling us our sharing our faith is foundational to the future of His church.
Let’s make sure it is center stage in our Christian walk!