“The Word of the Kingdom” Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 October 18, 2009
SI: Matthew 13 is a collection of Jesus’ parables known as his kingdom parables.
Jesus told many other parables, but these are grouped together for a particular
reason. They are parables aimed at believers, to help us see more clearly
what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
In these parables Jesus explains what God’s kingdom is, and how you get in,
and how things work in the kingdom, and what the values are,
and what future of the kingdom is.
Jesus called these things the secrets, the mysteries of the kingdom.
He told his disciples that to the degree you understand the kingdom of God,
and make your decisions based upon it, you will be blessed.
Jesus says: Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.
The reason you will be blessed is because the kingdom of God is reality.
It’s the way things really are. And as you conform your life and expectations
to God’s reality, you will inevitably be blessed.
The first of the kingdom parables is the best known—
it’s found not just in Matthew, but also in Mark and Luke.
It’s often called the Parable of the Sower—and it’s about the Word of God.
And the power of the Word, and how we can tap into that power
for real change in our lives.
INTRO: A few years ago, we were up in the Smokies and we bought a CD
of famous Appalachian songs and one of them was Rocky Top.
I’ve always known the chorus of Rocky Top, and I’m sure you do too.
Rocky Top, you’ll always be, Home sweet home to me.
Good old Rocky Top, Rocky Top, Tennessee.
But I had never really listened to the verses.
They are quite funny. One of them goes like this:
Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top,
Dirt’s too rocky by far.
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar.
I’m sure that never goes on in Cullman. Maybe in Blount Co.!
Jesus’ first kingdom parable is about the corn and the dirt, the seed and the soil.
It was an image that was very familiar to the people of his day,
living in that agrarian society.
Jesus took a very common image, and used it to reveal, to his disciples
the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
What is the seed? Jesus says it’s the Word of the Kingdom.
What’s the Word of the Kingdom? It’s the Gospel.
It’s God’s word as it reveals our sin and the redemption of Jesus Christ.
Jesus says that like a seed, the Word of God has tremendous power of life.
Seed can transform a place that was once barren, so that it becomes full of fruit.
As Jesus says—30, 60, or 100 times what was sown.
This is one of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
The word of God can change people.
It can change families and nations—it can bring them into the kingdom,
so that they become followers of Jesus Christ.
And it can change you.
It can take your bitter grief and fill it with hope.
It can take your fear and turn it to courage.
It can take your unhappiness and turn it to contentment.
The Gospel can produce incredible fruit in your life.
All the virtues of the Christian life. Christ-likeness
As Paul put it in Romans—
the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
So let’s look at his parable and see what Jesus tells us about the Word,
and the effect it can have on the lives of those who believe.
So let’s look at this parable under three points:
1. The Word, like a seed, has the power to produce new life.
2. The Word, like a seed, can be ruined by the wrong soil.
3. The Word, like a seed, must be worked in deep to grow and bear fruit.
MP#1 The Word, like a seed, has the power to produce new life.
Seeds may look like little rocks or grains of sand—but out of a seed
comes a tree or a flower, or a vine or some other plant.
And the power of a seed is not limited to that one plant—
because then that plant produces more seeds, and more plants.
If you had enough time and the right conditions—
one apple seed could produce hundreds of apple orchards,
or one kernel of corn could produce thousands of acres of corn.
That’s the power of a seed to produce new life.
Jesus is saying that in our lives,
the power of God comes in through the Gospel and produces new life.
1 Peter 1:23 says:
“You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable
by the living and enduring Word of God.”
And just like a seed, that life takes root and grows and starts to produce things.
Ways of seeing yourself and the world and God that you didn’t have before.
New attitudes. New abilities. A tremendously expanded life.
One preacher explained it this way.
Plants have a form of life that enables them to sense moisture and light
but they can’t see objects.
Animals have a higher form of life that enables them to see objects,
but they can’t see the difference between instinct and cruelty.
People have a still higher form of life that enables them to see right and wrong,
and love and beauty and all sorts of things, but because of our fallen condition,
we are unable to see higher spiritual realities.
But when the Word of God comes into a person it moves him or her
to an even higher order of life that the Bible calls the new life,
or participation in the divine nature.
And when that happens you are able to see things you never saw before.
The love of God the Father.
The reality of heaven and hell.
Your own sinfulness and need for repentance.
Your infinite personal value in the eyes of God.
The righteousness of Christ.
The hope of the resurrection.
All these great realities that you were once blind to.
Now it’s not that people don’t know about these things—
about God and Jesus Christ and heaven and hell.
But before the Word brings life—these things don’t really matter to you.
They don’t make any difference.
So they don’t have any power to change you.
But when the Word of God comes into your life—
you start to see things differently.
There was an English minister named Bertram Hardy
who was born in a little village in Somerset.
When he was 8 years old he saw something that he never forgot.
In fact, in later years he said it was this incident that was instrumental
in his call to the ministry.
There was a funeral in the village.
The widow of the man who had died was weeping bitterly.
And as 8 year old boys will do, Bertram was staring at her.
He was intrigued by her raw display of emotion and grief.
Then the minister opened the Book of Common Prayer
and began to read the funeral service.
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
And as he read the Scripture,
this widow lifted her head, and a change came over her.
Her grief was softened and her face began to radiate hope.
Young Bert drank it all in—the words of Scripture and the change
that came over this woman as the Word penetrated her.
And even as a little boy he began to realize the power of the Word of God
to change people.
If you’ve failed badly. If you are under intense criticism. How do you respond?
Is your knowledge of the love of God for you more real than the criticism?
Is your sight of the righteousness of Christ so vivid that you can say—
In the big picture, my failure does not matter. Doesn’t even count.
Because I am united with the perfect Son of God.
Is that how you respond to failure and criticism—or do you fall apart?
Or let’s take the thing that struck young Bertram Hardy.
In the face of death—the death of a loved one.
Is your hope of the resurrection so vivid that it softens your grief?
Are you able to see that one day there will be a beautiful sunrise—
and everyone who has fallen asleep in Christ will rise as He did—
and all tears will be wiped away?
Or do you suffer from a hopeless grief?
Are you able to look at your money and say—
this is not my security, its not my self worth.
This money is just a tool God has given me to use and enjoy
during my brief time on earth to provide for my material needs,
and the needs of others. I don’t trust it or worry about it.
Or does your security and worth ride on your finances?
The Word of God produces new life.
It can enable you to see and live by the great spiritual realities.
But Jesus warns us that this doesn’t always happen.
That brings us to the next point.
MP#2 The Word, like a seed, can be ruined by the wrong soil.
This is the sobering part of Jesus’ parable.
He says that the heart has to be right to receive the seed.
If it’s not, then the seed will not produce new life and fruit.
There’s nothing wrong with the seed. But there can be something wrong with soil.
Jesus says that there three hearts, three responses to the word
that don’t produce lasting growth.
He lays these out as a test. Wants you to look at each and examine yourself.
The first soil, the hard path, with the birds who eat the seed,
is the person who listens with intellect only.
This could be a skeptic or a critic who doubts and scoffs. But doesn’t have to be.
This doesn’t have to be a person opposed to Christianity.
It could be a person who comes to church regularly,
and has frequent contact with hymns, creeds, and sermons,
hears the Bible, even believes that it is true.
But there is never any personal penetration.
There is never a lively sense that this applies to him personally.
What about you? Have you come into personal contact with the Gospel?
Is Christianity theoretical for you or is it personal?
When you hear the Word, does it move you personally?
Are you thrilled or amazed or convicted?
If you’ve never had a sense of the truth grabbing you and piercing you—
then you’ve listened all your life with a hard heart—it’s only intellectual.
And you do not have the new life of Christ.
The second soil, the rocky soil, or the shallow soil is the person whose
listening is only emotional.
Some people get very excited about Jesus Christ. Move beyond theoretical.
They do feel like Jesus is for them. Do feel he’s opened their eyes.
But they have no root and can’t take the heat.
As soon as suffering and trouble comes—in other words—
as soon as they lose the things that are important to them—turn their back on God.
Jesus Christ is of little use if he doesn’t give them what they want.
What about you?
Do you want Jesus as your Savior or as your service provider?
Do you want him as your King or as your Sugar Daddy?
Are you willing to follow him as long as he answers your prayers and helps
you meet your goals? What happens to your faith when he says no to your goals?
There are many people, even in the church who think that their primary
problem is that they are sufferers, and Jesus can give them a solution.
But actually, their real problem is that they are sinners in need of a Savior.
So they have a personal experience with Jesus, maybe very emotional,
but it doesn’t lead to repentance.
Because all along they were trying to be their own God
and plan their own destiny instead of letting Jesus be their Savior and God.
The third soil, the soil full of weeds and thorns, is the person with a divided heart.
The scary thing about this person is that it’s hard to tell what they are.
They have a root, and they stick around—but there is no fruit.
They are controlled by the things of this world so that they try
to do two impossible things—worship Christ and the world at the same time.
These are people who know they are sinners in need of salvation.
Christianity is not theoretical to them. It has touched them personally.
Jesus is more to them than a Sugar Daddy—they know he’s Lord and Savior.
They know that they owe him their lives. Taken steps in that direction.
But they haven’t believe enough to give him total loyalty.
Jesus mentions two things in particular that divides their hearts,
cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.
That’s surprising. You think he would say immorality, or some other gross sin.
One can lead to the other, certainly. But it’s these things—busyness and money,
that are so easy to justify that keep us away from Christ.
They divide the heart and make the word unproductive in your life.
What about you? Is your faith in Jesus Christ being choked?
Would you say that you have given your heart to Christ,
and yet there is no progress, no fruit—in fact, if you were honest,
less interest and involvement in the work of his kingdom than once had?
There is nothing wrong with the Word of God. Jesus Christ has not changed.
The problem is the soil. Do you want your heart to be open to Jesus?
The soil doesn’t prepare itself—that’s the farmer’s job.
So if you see yourself in one of these soils, if you want Jesus and life and fruit—
Say: Lord Jesus, please take my heart—
Break up the hard—my doubts, my intellectualism.
Deepen the shallow soil—my own agenda for happiness, so I see my need.
Cleanse the thorny soil—those rival loves Work faith in my heart. Amen.
MP#3 The Word, like a seed, must be worked in deep to grow and bear fruit.
The only way the living power of the Word can be released in your life—
so that you can face troubles, criticism, grief, wealth, desires
in a totally different way—is if the seed goes in deep.
And that’s the fourth soil. The good soil.
In other words, it takes listening to, thinking about, reflecting on, and applying
the Word of God to your life—over and over again.
Imagine you are in the garden, scatter some seeds—take rake and work them in.
That’s what you have to do with the Word—has to be worked in.
So that what comes out of the soil—the words that come out of your mouth,
the decisions you make, the things you do—are the outgrowth of that seed.
But it’s more than bare knowledge of the Bible.
There are Christians that you will sometimes meet who know the Bible.
They can quote Bible verses at the drop of a hat.
But they use the Bible in one way—to get the rules right. Make sure doing it right.
And then, depending on their personality—
they constantly aim it at themselves or other people.
If aim it at themselves, depressed and anxious Christians.
If they aim it at other people, proud and self-righteous Christians.
They know the Word, but it functions like a rule book.
For the seed of the Word to be planted in you, you do have to know the Bible.
There has to be content in your brain. There has to be knowledge.
You should know 10 Commandments, Psalm 23, John 3:16, Romans 8:28.
And about King David, Prophet Daniel, history of Israel, symbols of Revelation.
You should be growing in your knowledge.
But not to know the rules better—to know Christ and the Gospel better.
And the great Puritan John Own said, The Scriptures teach me three things:
Who I am. Who Christ is. And who I am in Christ.
That has to be planted deep. Has to be worked in.
Jack Miller, Presbyterian minister, professor at Westminster Seminar
had a very memorable way of expressing it:
The Gospel is that I am more wicked and sinful than I ever dared to admit.
And in Christ I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared to hope.
My own preaching professor in seminary, Dr. Chapell used to say:
Every passage of Scripture is about two things:
Man needing salvation and God providing salvation.
Also used to say: Remember, God is the hero of every story.
In John 12, Jesus compares himself to a seed.
He’s talking about his death, and how his death will draw men to him.
“Unless a grain of wheat goes into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed,
but if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
That’s exactly what he did—he died for us. Died in our place. Buried for us.
Then he rose again to new life—and we are the fruit of his resurrection.
We are the 30, 60, and 100-fold of Jesus.
Real power to change and bear fruit in your life comes from contemplating
Christ’s redemption and working it in deep.
When his cross becomes vivid in your mind, you have power to change.
Wives, how do you submit your husband?
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
There’s the command. There’s the rule. That’s what you should do.
But where’s the power. It’s by focusing on the cross.
What did he want? He wanted the cup to pass from him.
But because of his determination to save you, submitted to heavenly Father.
That will give you power to overcome your pride and submit to husband.
Husbands, how do you love your wife?
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”
There’s the command. There’s the rule. That’s what you should do.
But where’s the power. It’s by focusing your mind on the cross.
How did he love you? By dying. By joyfully giving himself to death.
Focus on that to get power to overcome your selfishness and love wife.
How do you face criticism and not fall apart?
“Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no
threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
He was harshly criticized and insulted for me. Trusted God. I can too.
One reason why the church,
and the weekly rhythm of church life Lord established so important.
It’s a way of working it in. It’s all about Jesus. You hear about him in the songs.
You see his actions in the Lord’s Table. You see him in lives of members,
as you talk to them about struggles and victories and pray for each other. Works Gospel in deeper and deeper. Our sin. His righteousness. Our faith in him.
As it works in, it grows and bears fruit.
The seed and the soil. The corn and the dirt.
Jesus says: That’s the Kingdom of heaven.
Not flashing swords and blowing trumpets and the world turned upside down—
But now, in this age, it’s the working of God’s word into fertile hearts,
and the fruit of the new life and knowing Christ.
Commit yourself to it, Jesus says.
Hear me. Listen to me, and you will be blessed.