“Emmanuel’s Seed” – Matthew 13:1-23

October 25th, 2015

Matthew 13:1-23 (See also: Mk 4:3-20; Lk 8:5-15; 10:23-25)

“Emmanuel’s Seed”

 

Service Orientation: Real Christians are fruitful Christians.  Fruitful Christians come from fertile hearts.  Guard your heart.

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. — Luke 8:18

                                                                                                                                           

What is a Parable?

  • It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
  • The parable always makes truth concrete. There are very few people who can grasp and understand abstract ideas; most people think in pictures.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 64)
  • A parable is an extended metaphor to express a moral or spiritual truth. It can be a proverb, riddle, complex story, or extended comparison.  The purpose for using them was to get people to think.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 259)
  • In the parables of Jesus not every detail has a meaning. In fact, to try to force meaning into each of the details produces strange and sometimes even demonstrably false doctrines.  Parables are merely real-life stories from which one or possibly a few basic truths can be drawn.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 230)
  • (1) The parables test the heart of the listener. They act as a spiritual examination, prompting a response from the listener that will indicate whether the person’s heart is open to Jesus’ message or is hardened. . . (2) The parables give instruction to those who are responsive.  They teach Jesus’ disciples about the nature of the kingdom of heaven, clarifying its mysteries, which thus shows how the kingdom operates in this world in a very different way from that expected by the religious leaders and the crowds.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 478-9)

 

Fruit

  • The spiritual fruit of attitude is described by Paul in Galatians: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23). The genuine believer also bears fruit of behavior, which Paul refers to as “the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11).  Fruit is the spiritual reality that God produces in the lives of His children.  The Spirit-filled life of the believer “is constantly bearing fruit (Col 1:6).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 361)
  • There is only one evidence of hearing the Word rightly. That evidence is to bear “a crop” (v. 8).

The crop here spoken of is the fruit of the Spirit.  Repentance towards God, faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, holiness of life and character, prayerfulness, humility, love, spiritual mindedness–these are the only satisfactory proofs that the seed of God’s Word is doing its proper work in our souls.  Without such proofs our religion is vain, however noble our claims:  it is no better than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  Christ has said, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (Jn 15:16).  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 105)

  • The only sure evidence of a genuine reception of the Word of God in a person’s life is spiritual fruit. Although we are not saved by our good works, the total absence of them indicates that we have never been truly saved.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 235)

 

Background Information:

  • Matthew 13 is the third of the six major collections of teaching by Jesus in the Gospel. We have already studied two, those in chapters 5-7 and 10.  The others are in chapters 18, 23, and 24-25.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 231)
  • Almost nothing is said about the sower. We know nothing about his personality or whether he was an old hand at his task.  We know nothing about his method.  The Lord evidently wanted to keep the sower in the background.  As someone has said, a child can drop a seed as effectively as the most experienced farmer.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 244-5)
  • In reality, this is not the parable of the Sower as much as it is the parable of the Soil, because the soil is the key variable in the story. The sower and the seed never change.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 177)
  • (v. 1) At the beginning of his ministry, we find him teaching in the synagogues; but now we find him teaching on the seashore. The change is very significant.  It was not that the door of the synagogue was as yet finally shut to him, but it was closing.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 63)
  • (v. 3) Our Lord’s lack of interpretation regarding the “sower,” which I think is intentional, allows for an expanded application. The “sower” could include or does include God, his Son, and any and all gospel workers.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 364)
  • (v. 4) In Palestine, the fields were in long narrow strips; and the ground between the strips was always a right of way.  It was used as a common path; and therefore it was beaten as hard as a pavement by the feet of countless passers-by.  That is what Jesus means by the wayside.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 68)
  • (v. 5) The stony ground was not ground filled with stones; it was what was common in Palestine, a thin skin of earth on top of an underlying shelf or limestone rock. The earth might be only a very few inches deep before the rock was reached.  On such ground, the seed would certainly germinate; and it would germinate quickly, because the ground grew speedily warm with the heat of the sun.  but there was no depth of earth; and, when it sent down its roots in search of nourishment and moisture, it would meet only the rock, and would be starved to death and quite unable to withstand the heat of the sun.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 68)
  • (v. 5) Most of the land in Palestine is rocky. The soil is filled with rocks of all sizes.  Such soil traps the moisture so that plants can grow quickly, but the sun takes the moisture out so rapidly that a young plant withers.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 257)
  • (v. 7) The thorny ground was deceptive. When the sower was sowing, the ground would look clean enough.  It is easy to make a garden look clean by simply turning it over; but in the ground still lay the fibrous roots of the couch grass and the ground elder and all the perennial pests, ready to spring to life again.  Every gardener knows that the weeds grow with a speed and a strength that few good seeds can equal.  The result was that the good seed and the dormant weeds grew together; but the weeds were so strong that they throttled the life out of the seed.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 68-9)
  • (v. 11) The Greek word in verse 11, which I have translated secrets (as the Revised Standard Version also does), is musteria. This means literally mysteries, which is, in fact, how the Authorized Version renders it. . . . In NT times, it was the technical name for something which was unintelligible to the outsider but crystal clear to anyone who had been initiated.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 75)
  • (v. 11) “Mysteries” (NIV – secrets) are divine plans or decrees, often passed on in veiled language, known only to the elect, and usually relating to eschatological events. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 307)
  • (v. 11) That God would bring in his kingdom was no secret. All Jews looked forward to it. “The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the Kingdom which is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen by Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men” (Ladd, Presence, 225, emphasis his).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 307)
  • (v. 21) Falls away is from skandalizō, which means to cause to stumble or fall and is the term from which we get scandalize. It is sometimes translated with the idea of causing offense–as in the Authorized Version of this verse.  All of those meanings are appropriate here, because the superficial Christian is scandalized, offended, stumbles, and falls away when his faith is put to the test (cf. Jn 8:31; 1 Jn 2:19).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 359)
  • The parable tells us nothing about the comparative acreage of the path and the rocky and thorny soils on the one hand, and of the fertile soil on the other. It is not meant to teach the proportion of success to failure, but to exhibit the fact that the reception of the word depends on men’s dispositions.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 208-9)
  • One lesson of the parable is, Scatter the seed everywhere, on the most unlikely places. (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 202-3)

 

The question to be answered is . . . How can we guard our hearts to create fertile soil suitable for God’s Word to be fruitful in our lives?

 

Answer:  Allow God to break up your hard heart, plow up your shallow heart and clean out your contaminated heart so the life of the Word can be uninhibitedly productive in you.  Then you can begin to enjoy the life that is truly life (1 Tm 6:19).

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Fruit

 

All along many were expecting Jesus to establish the throne of David in Israel, but Jesus continually directs them first to attend to their hearts.  Entrance to the kingdom occurs with the establishment of God’s righteousness in the heart of a believer, which results in becoming a disciple of Jesus.  This is a strikingly different manifestation of the kingdom than many had anticipated, even his disciples, so Jesus clarifies what the kingdom is really like at this point in God’s program of salvation history.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 472)

 

I-  Guard your heart:  The life inherent in God’s Word is fruitful only in the fertile soil of a good, noble, pure heart. (Mt 13:1-9, 18-23; see also: Dt 32:47; Jn 1:1-5; 5:39-40; 11:25; 14:6)

 

The life-giving force is in the seed, not in the soil, so how the soil responds to the seed indicates the impact of the life of the kingdom in a person’s heart.  This includes whether it is rejected outright by a hard heart, or is received in a shallow fashion but does not take full rootedness, or is choked out by competing priorities.  Only the person who receives the message deep into his or her heart has allowed the life-giving gospel of the kingdom to take root and produce fruit.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 502)

 

Do you have an open heart?  Are you receptive to God’s truth?  Have you allowed the teaching of the Bible to settle down into your life so that you have turned from sin, placed your whole faith in Jesus, and begun to produce the Holy Spirit’s fruit?  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 235)

 

The general truth conveyed is, that the doctrine of the Gospel, when it is scattered like seed, is not everywhere fruitful; because it does not always meet with a fertile and well cultivated soil.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 112-3)

 

The most faithful and dedicated Christian cannot create the word of the kingdom any more than a farmer or a scientist can create the simplest seed.  Just as only God creates seeds that reproduce themselves, only God creates the word of the gospel that brings the life of His Son to a believer.  The work of Christ’s witnesses is not to manufacture a message to create a synthetic seed, or to modify the seed given to them, but to sow God’s revelation by proclaiming it exactly as He has given it.  The power of new spiritual life is in the word, just as the power of plant life is in the seed.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 356)

 

It is important to recognize that the life is in the seed, not in the soil.  When the environment is suitable, the life in the seed will begin to germinate.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 480)

 

For instance, seed has the unique ability to contain life in seminal form while appearing to be dead in itself.  Take any dried-up seed and hold it in your hand.  It will not jump or squeak, wriggle or squirm.  It will just lie there until you let it slip and then it will stop where it drops.  But don’t be misled by this display of deadness, because the latent life within the husk has capabilities of reproduction and resources of power that defy comprehension.  (D. Stuart Briscoe, Patterns for Power, 28)

 

For years scholars have taken aim at the Word of God pointing out its “inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and contradictions” and many people think they have succeeded in robbing it of the authority wrongly placed upon it by segments of the church.  But the Word is like seed.

Both word and seed have remarkable survival capabilities.  Drop seed in a flood and it will float, leave it in ice and it will freeze, bury it in an Egyptian pyramid and it will stay in the dark.  But take it from the flood, the frost, and the pyramid and give it some encouragement and it will get on with the business of reproducing itself.  Both seed and the Word have stood the test of time and endured the onslaught of abuse without their latent powers being diminished.  (D. Stuart Briscoe, Patterns for Power, 29)

 

The Gospel is always a fruitful seed as to its power, but not as to its produce.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 114)

 

It is the best kind of seed in the world; we can sow nothing better than the inspired, infallible, inerrant, inimitable Word of God.  It is infinitely superior to the philosophies and the theories of man.  Like any other seed, the Word of God has life.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 245)

 

Because seed is imprinted with a genetic code, a supply of seed can turn into a field of flax or a barn full of barley.  Once the seed is sown, that imprinted law of life goes to work.  The Word of God is the same.  It carries within it the genetic code of eternal life and when it is planted in the right kind of soil, it germinates and produces life.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 245)

 

The same seed produces no crop, some crop, or much crop according to the soil’s character.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 305)

 

In each of the first three soil types in the parable of the sower, Jesus was talking about people who, in the final analysis, are unconverted.  They are not Christians who are simply struggling with carnality.  Rather, they are not Christians at all, for it is impossible to be converted and not bring forth some fruit.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 419)

 

It is not that a believer produces a hundred, sixty, or thirty times the amount of fruit than any unbeliever produces–because an unbeliever can produce no spiritual fruit at all.  Jesus simply used these figures to represent the great productivity He gives to the faithful proclamation of His Word.  That is the point of the entire parable: true believers produce fruit.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 362)

 

The result of the hearing of the gospel always and everywhere depends on the condition of heart of those to whom it is addressed.  The character of the hearer determines the effect of the word upon him.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 558-9)

 

Ia-  Hard heart (Mt 13:4, 19; see also: Ps 34;18; 51:17; Isa 29:9-16; 30:9-11; Jer 5:21; Ezek 12:2; Mk 4:4, 15; Lk 8:4, 12; Acts 7:51; 2 Tm 3:8)

 

Hardness is used frequently in Scripture as a metaphor for man’s fallen condition.  We are told that we have hearts that are recalcitrant, as if there were stones implanted in our chests (Job 41:24; Ezek 11:19; 36:26).  Obviously, stones are not capable of pumping blood through a living human person, but when this image is used biblically, it is with respect not to biological life but to spiritual life.  Our hearts are hard to the things of God.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 415-6)

 

What is it that makes the human heart hard?  There can be only one answer:  sin.  Sin hardens the heart, and the heart that is hardened sins even more broadly and deliberately.

This type of person is described in the first chapter of Romans.  The person begins by suppressing the truth about God that may be known from nature (vv. 18-20), plunges into the spiritual ignorance and degradation that inevitably follows (vv. 21-31), and at last comes not only to practice the sins of evil persons but to approve of them as well (v. 32).  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 232)

 

The seed that fell on the wayside symbolized those whose lives had become hardened–not by heredity or difficult circumstances, but self-hardened.  Their hearts had become a thoroughfare for evil things, and the good seed of the Word was snatched away before it could germinate.  The only hope was that God should drive the ploughshare of sorrow or trouble through it, and make new furrows for the seed.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 74)

 

Notice especially that the path has been made hard by external pressure.  It is not rock, but soil like the other parts of the field.  It represents the case of men whose insensibility to the word is caused by outward things having made a thoroughfare of their natures, and trodden them into incapacity to receive the message of Christ’s love.  The heavy baggage-wagons of commerce, the light cars of pleasure, merry dancers, and sad funeral processions, have all used that way, and each footfall has beaten the once loose soil a little firmer.  We are made insensitive to the gospel by the effect of innocent and necessary things, unless we take care to plough up the path along which they travel, and to keep our spirits susceptible by a distinct effort.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 203-4)

 

The words of the prophet were, Go, blind their minds, and harden their hearts, (Isa 6:10).  Matthew ascribes this to the hearers, that they may endure the blame of their own blindness and hardness; for the one cannot be separated from the other.  All who have been given over to a reprobate mind (Rom 1:28) do voluntarily, and from inward malice, blind and harden themselves.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 107-8)

 

There are hearers with shut minds.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 70)

 

Such human hardening followed by divine hardening was nothing new.  The Pharisees, scribes, and their followers were simply repeating the story of ancient Israel.  Then too Jehovah had tenderly and earnestly admonished the people to repent of their evil ways.  Then also, in many cases, this striving of the Spirit had been given the cold shoulder.  Punishment always followed.  See Isa 5:17; Jer 7:12-15, 25-34; 13:8-14; 29:19, 20; 35:16, 17.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 554)

 

Paul quotes it (Acts 28:26) to charge the Jews with obstinate malice, and says that they were blinded by the light of the Gospel, because they were bitter and rebellious against God.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 106)

 

Ib-  Shallow, superficial heart (Mt 13:5-6, 20-21; see also: Ezek 33:31-32; Mk 4:5-6, 16-17; Lk 8:5-6, 13; 2 Tim 4:3-10; 1 John 2:19)

 

It is a fact, unhappy but undeniable, that repentance nowadays rarely gets mentioned in evangelism, nurture, and pastoral care, even among evangelicals and Christian traditionalists.  The preoccupations of stirring congregational excitement, sustaining believers through crises, finding and honing gifts and skills, providing interest-based programs, and counseling people with relational problems, have displaced it.  As a result, the churches, themselves, orthodox and heterodox together, lack spiritual reality, and their members are all too often superficial people with no hunger for the deep things of God (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 144)

 

When trouble or persecution comes (the scorching heat, 13:5-6), they decide not to believe the gospel or its promises and so fall away.  Satan can always use sorrow, trouble, and persecution to draw people away from God.  Ironically, those who let the message take root in good soil find that sorrow, trouble, and persecution bring them closer to God.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 264)

 

He has come to Christ for what he thought he would get in the way of personal benefit, but when confronted with the high cost of salvation, he will not pay the price.  He has built his religious house on the sand of emotional experience, and when the storms of affliction or persecution beat on his house, it crumbles and washes away (Mt 7:26-27).  He has the foliage of a religious experience, but he has no root in spiritual reality and therefore cannot produce spiritual fruit, which, as Jesus goes on to say (13:22-23), is the only reliable evidence of true conversion.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 358-9)

 

In many parts of the Holy Land you find a substratum of limestone covered with a thin layer of soil.  The shoot can grow up, but the roots cannot go down, and the sun withers the rootless plant.  The sun represents the testing that comes to all professing believers to prove their faith.  Sun is good for plants if they have roots.  Persecution can deepen the roots of a true Christian, but it only exposes the shallowness of the false Christian.  (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Compassionate: A New Testament Study–Luke 1-13, 86)

 

If it is the case that the intrusion of modernity is so eroding the soil of Christian thinking that the seeds of biblical cause large enough to explain not only the changing topography of evangelical faith but also the reduction in the capacity of evangelicals to think theologically.   This intrusion has been difficult for evangelicals to detect because they tend to consider it quite compatible with the truth of God; indeed, it is frequently identified with the entree of God himself through the outpouring of his Spirit on Our Time.

This, it has seemed to me, is why theology is dying in the Church.  The principle cause is not that we have depleted our store of good methods for constructing theology (although they may be in short supply); the problem is that, without a vision of God as Other, different from and standing over against the modern world, there is no compelling reason to think thoughts about the world that are not essentially modern.  In fact, there is no reason to think at all, let alone to think as Christians ought.

Without an audience of those who know the God who stands outside the flow of modernity, theology dies as surely as art dies in the absence of art lovers.  And the Church should be this audience.  It is true that theology has deep and necessary roots in the academy, but its fundamental connection is with the Church.  The question, therefore, is whether the Church has a mind for theology.  Without this mind, theology cannot take root where by nature and purpose it must take root.   There can be no theology worthy of that name that is not a theology for the Church, a theology in which the Church actively participates, in which it understands itself to be theology’s primary auditor.  The Church is the place where biblical knowledge must be learned, developed, and applied.   The Church is the context in which God and his Word should receive their most serious thought.    (David Wells; No Place for Truth, 291-2)

 

The true test of discipleship is not whether or not one received the gospel with joy at some datable moment in history.  The true test of discipleship is whether or not one picks up his cross and follows Jesus, not for one day or two weeks or three months or four years, but until Jesus calls him home.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 367)

 

No one is ever justified by a profession of faith.  Rather, we are brought into a justified relationship with Christ by the possession of faith.  We are not saved simply by responding to an altar call, signing a prayer card, or reciting a sinner’s prayer in the moment.  These kinds of techniques produce all kinds of examples of people who seem to demonstrate a positive response to the gospel, only to fall away in no time at all.  A superficial, surface profession of faith is no assurance of the reality of one’s faith.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 416-7)

 

Some people are at the mercy of every new craze.  They take a thing up quickly and just as quickly drop it.  They must always be in fashion.  They begin some new hobby or begin to acquire some new accomplishment with enthusiasm, but the thing becomes difficult and they abandon it, or the enthusiasm wanes and they lay it aside.  Some people’s lives are littered with things they began and never finished.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 70)

 

There are the hearers with minds like the shallow ground.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 70)

 

When the seed began to germinate, its roots could not penetrate the rock that was just below the surface, and the little plant would instead start to spring up above ground much faster than it normally would.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 346)

 

If a person’s profession of Christ does not involve a deep conviction of sin, a genuine sense of lostness, a strong desire for the Lord to cleanse and purify, a hungering and thirsting for righteousness and a love of His Word, along with a genuine willingness to suffer for His sake, there is no root to his spiritual life and it will be only a matter of time before his religious house falls.

It is encouraging, however, that the same persecution that makes the false believer wither will make the true believer stronger.  “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tm 3:12); but “after you have suffered for a little while,” Peter assures us, “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pt 5:10).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 359)

 

You do not know the despair that sometimes comes over men in my position when we face our congregations of people that are familiar to weariness with everything that we have to say, and because they are superficially so familiar with it, fancy that there is no need for them to give heed any more.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 216)

 

Their shallow hearts are attracted to the excitement of a place where much seems to be happening.  They hear the gospel and seem to fit in.  They even make a profession of faith.  But then some difficulty arises–the loss of a job, misunderstandings with other Christians, sickness, even a bad romance–and just as suddenly as they once seemed to embrace the faith, they fall away because they were never really born again.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 233)

 

Ic-  Divided or contaminated heart (Mt 13:7, 22; see also: 1 Kgs 18:21; Ps 73:1; 6:21, 24-34; Mk 4:7, 18-19; Lk 8:7, 14; 12:13-32; 16:13-31; 18:18-24; 21:34; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Tm 6:6-10; Heb 13:5-6; Jam 4:4; 1 Jn 2:16)

 

The third type of soil stands for a strangled heart–a heart strangled by things.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 234)

 

These people receive Christ into hearts that become crammed to capacity with anxieties over the political scene, the crime rate, the economy, social obligations, family issues–anything they can worry about.  Elbowing in next to these is the drive to get ahead and raise their standard of living; unmasked, it’s called materialism.  Also jockeying for attention are hobbies and interests that sometimes become obsessions.  What can be heard above this din?  God’s Word can’t and our lives can’t be fruitful without it.  (Charles R. Swindoll, The Continuation of Something Great, 38)

 

The main point here is simultaneousness of the two growths.  This man is, as James calls him, a “double-minded man.”  He is trying to grow both corn and thorn on the same soil.  He has some religion, but not enough to make thorough work of it.  He is endeavoring to ride on two horses at once.  Religion says “either–or;” he is trying “both–and.”  The human heart has only a limited amount of love and trust to give, and Christ must have it all.  It has enough for one–that is, for Him; but not enough for two,–that is, for Him and the world.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 207)

 

A person who comes to church but never becomes committed to serving, who is continually preoccupied with money, career, fashions, sports, and everything but the Lord’s work is a person with a weed-infested heart.  A person who claims to love Christ but who cannot remain faithful in marriage has a weedy heart.  The person who refuses to let go of his worldliness is a person in whom the seed of God’s saving gospel has not found root and is in danger of being choked out altogether.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 360-1)

 

The divided heart hears the Word, but there is no room for it because the cares and wealth of this world are too consuming.  This is a clear warning for Christians today, especially those who live in prosperity, which is to say a majority of people in the Western world.  We must watch out for the cares of this world lest they choke our hearts, for Jesus speaks of “the seduction of wealth” (v. 22).  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 178)

 

The thorns, Jesus explained, represented “life’s worries, riches and pleasures.”  This is a divided heart, infested by irreconcilable loyalties.  This heart makes gestures toward Christ, but “life’s worries” draw it back, leaving no room for authentic spiritual concern.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. One, 291)

 

The hazard represented by the thorns is one which is a prominent feature of Jesus’ teaching and which will be exemplified in the story of the young man who turned back from following Jesus because he had “many possessions” (19:16-22); true disciples, by contrast, have “left everything” (19:27; cf. 4:20, 22; 9:9).  The echo of 6:25-34 (cf. Also Lk 21:34) in the word “worries” reminds us of the priorities set out in the discourse on discipleship.  A concern with possessions betrays a focus on “this world” which is in tension with commitment to the kingdom of heaven; cf. 6:19-21, 24 on where the heart should be.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 521)

 

There is this point too:  Riches do not choke a person all at once.  It is a gradual process.  Like the weeds in Christ’s parable, riches grow up gradually.  Slowly, slowly, they strangle the budding of spiritual life within.  Beware of that if you either have great possessions or are on your way to acquiring them.  Above all, beware if you are saying, “I need to provide for myself now.  I’ll think about spiritual things when I am older.”  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 234)

 

Purity of heart is to will one thing.  —Soren Kierkegaard

 

What is it that keeps men from hearing?  Being busy with other things is one hindrance.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 215)

 

Thorns rob the sprouts of nutrition, water, light, and space.  Thus, when the thorns grew up, the good seed was choked out and could not grow to maturity and yield a crop.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 257)

 

It is not “this world,” but “the care of this world,” not “riches,” but “the deceitfulness of riches,” that choke the word.  These two seem opposites, but they are really the same thing on two opposite sides.  The man who is burdened with the cares of poverty, and the man who is deceived by the false promises of wealth, are really the same man.  The one is the other turned inside out.  We make the world our god, whether we worship it by saying, “I am desolate without thee,” or by fancying that we are secure with it.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 208)

 

It is characteristic of modern life that it becomes increasingly crowded and increasingly fast.  We become too busy to pray; we become so preoccupied with many things that we forget to study the word of God; we can become so involved in committees and good works and charitable services that we leave ourselves no time for him from whom all love and service come.  Our work can take such a hold that we are too tired to think of anything else.  It is not the things which are obviously bad which are dangerous.  It is the things which are good for the “second best is always the worst enemy of the best.”  It is not even that we deliberately banish prayer and the Bible and the Church from our lives; it can be that we often think of them and intend to make time for them, but somehow in our crowded lives never get round to it.  We must be careful to see that Christ is not pushed into the sidelines of life.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 71)

 

As with the second soil, this type of heart has enough potential for productivity that the life in the seed begins to develop.  But the competition from the thorns is too much, and the young seedling is choked out.  The message of the gospel is not able to transform the person into a true disciple because of his or her own life.  Jesus has already warned about such worrying in the SM (cf. 6:25-34), but the worry here tragically chokes out the life of the seed.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 480)

 

Id-  Good, noble, pure heart (Mt 13:8, 23; see also: Ps ch 1; 73:1; Prv 3:5-6; Mt 5:8; 7:20; Mk 4:8, 20; Lk 6:43-49; 8:8, 15; Jn 1:14-18; 15:1-8; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 5:22-26; Eph 2:8-10; 4:13-32; Col 1:10; Heb 4:15; 7:26-28; 9:14; ch 11; bk of James; 1 Pt 1:19; 2:22; 2 Pt 1:5-9; 1 Jn 3:5)

 

The good hearer, who is neither hard nor shallow nor self-indulgent, welcomes the word immediately so it cannot be snatched away by Satan, welcomes it deeply so it is not withered by persecution, and welcomes it exclusively so other concerns do not strangle it.  Then he bears fruit!  He is not just a “hearer of the word” but a “doer” of the word (Jam 1:23).  He bears fruit, a harvest of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22, 23), as well as a harvest of humility, prayerfulness, heavenly-mindedness.  He lives a life of consistent obedience to the commands of Christ, a steadfast commitment to the will of God in Heaven on earth.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 370)

 

In the fourth soil, the fruit represents the outworking of the life of the seed (cf. 1 Jn 3:9), with special reference to the production of the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22-23) and the outworking of the Spirit in his gifts in the believer’s life (1 Cor 12).  This results in the creation of the fruit of Spirit-produced righteousness and good works (e.g., Col 1:10) and, indeed, new converts won through the believer’s testimony (e.g., Rom 1:13).  The fruit produced is the outward evidence of the reality of the inward life of the kingdom.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 481)

 

II-  Guard your heart:  God eventually gives you what you desire(Mt 13:10-15; see also: Ps 37:4; Prv 1:2-6; 9:9; Jer 5:21; Ez 12:2; Mt 6:19-23; 25:24-30; Lk 11:34-36; Acts 7:51; 1 Cor 2:10-14; 2 Tm 3:7; 4:3-10)

 

The other side of that is that the parable conceals truth from those who are either too lazy to think or too blinded by prejudice to see.  It puts the responsibility fairly and squarely on the individual.  It reveals truth to those who desire it; it conceals truth from those who do not wish to see the truth.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 65)

 

Luke 8:18 lays down the universal law that the man who has will get more; and that the man who has not will lose what he has.  If a man is physically fit and keeps himself so his body will be ready for ever greater efforts; if he lets himself go flabby he will lose even the abilities he has.  The more a student learns the more he can learn; but if he refuses to go on learning then he will lose the knowledge he has.  This is just another way of saying that there is no standing still in life.  All the time we are either going forward or going back.  The seeker will always find; but the man who stops seeking will lose even what he has.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible:  The Gospel of Luke, 101-2)

 

Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables:  Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  In essence Jesus was saying that the condition of one’s heart determines whether there is any receptivity to the truth.  Many people, especially the religious leaders, had heard straightforward teaching from Jesus that they rejected, and thus ultimately the truth would be taken away from them.  Those who receive truth and act upon it will receive more.  But those who reject truth will ultimately lose the little they have.  The parables were full of truth, but for truth-rejecting people, they became increasingly inscrutable.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. One, 287)

 

The soils themselves are basically the same–dirt that, given the right conditions, could support the growth of crops.  Although every human heart is naturally sinful and hostile toward God (Rom 8:7; Eph 2:15-16), every human heart is also capable of being redeemed.  There is no such thing as a naturally unredeemable heart.  If a person is not saved it is because he does not want to be saved.  “The one who comes to Me,” Jesus says categorically, “I will certainly not cast out” (Jn 6:37).  Every person could receive the seed of the gospel and participate in its life if he believed.  The differences in the soils, and in the hearts to which they correspond, are not in their composition but in their condition.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 356)

 

The crowd must make a decision, and the parables force the issue.  God knows those who will harden their heart against Jesus’ message, so the parables are used to harden sovereignly the person’s heart to the point where eventually he or she will be unable to respond (13:15).  God also knows those who will respond to the message of the gospel, so the parables elicit a positive response to come to Jesus, become his disciple, and ask for explanation (cf. 13:10).  Thus, both sayings balance God’s divine sovereignty with each individual human’s responsibility.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 477-8)

 

This type of person hears because he wants to hear.  He reflects on what he hears, for he has faith in the speaker.  So he reaches a measure of true understanding.  He puts the message into practice and bears fruit:  conversion, faith, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 562)

 

Once you have started on the road of spiritual enlightenment, the blessings multiply, but those who do not accept the “message of the kingdom” will lose everything (v. 19).  Luke, aware of the paradox of losing what you do not have, has rather pedantically explained it as losing what they “seem to” have (Lk 8:18), but proverbs thrive on paradox.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 512)

 

Christianity can be understood only from the inside.  It is only after personal encounter with Jesus Christ that people can understand.  To criticize from outside is to criticize in ignorance.  It is only those who are prepared to become disciples who can enter into the most precious things of the Christian faith.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 77)

 

At first sight, this seems nothing less than cruel; but so far from being cruel, it simply states a truth which is an inescapable law of life.

In every sphere of life, more is given to people who have, and what they have is taken away from those who have not.  In the world of scholarship, the students who labor to amass knowledge are capable of acquiring more knowledge.  It is to these students that the research, the advanced courses and the deeper things are given; and that is so because by their diligence and faithful study they have made themselves fit to receive them.  On the other hand, the students who are lazy and refuse to work inevitably lose even the knowledge which they have.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 78)

 

Every temptation we conquer makes us more able to conquer the next, and every temptation to which we fall makes us less able to withstand the next attack.  Every good thing we do, every act of self-discipline and of service, makes us better able for the next; and every time we fail to use such an opportunity, we make ourselves less able to seize the next when it comes.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 78-9)

 

Neither Isaiah’s nor Jesus’ audiences were denied the opportunity to turn and receive healing (forgiveness).  Instead, refusing to listen would mean inability to perceive and understand anything Jesus had to say.  The Pharisees had already accused Jesus of being in league with Satan (12:24).  Such an accusation revealed their stubborn blindness and their refusal to believe.  Jesus used these words from Isaiah to refer directly to the Pharisees’ accusation.  The verbs are singular, meaning that they would not be forgiven of their sin of blasphemy.  No matter how much they saw of Jesus’ miracles or heard of his teaching, they never would be able to understand because they had deliberately chosen to reject.  So Jesus was saying that this hardness was, in effect, divine judgment.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 262)

 

Before salvation, the person who receives Christ had the same basic nature as those who reject Him.  He is not necessarily any less sinful or more perceptive than they.  A person who is saved may have lived a life of debauchery and utter wickedness, whereas many who do not believe are humanly moral and respectable.  A person who is saved may have little education and a low IQ, whereas many who do not believe are highly intelligent and trained.

The only barrier to salvation is unbelief, and anyone who is willing to accept Jesus Christ on His terms is good soil.  He hears the word of the gospel because God honors his humility and opens his spiritual ears, and he understands the gospel because God honors his faith and opens his spiritual mind and heart.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 361)

 

One person may hear the parable and immediately harden his or her heart against the truth it teaches and turn away from Jesus.  Each time he hears and rejects the truth of a parable, his heart is further hardened.  Another person will hear the parable and immediately respond to its truth, turn to Jesus, become his disciple, and learn from him.  Each time that she hears and responds positively to the truth of a parable, her heart increases in Christlikeness.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 495)

 

That person is the fool who hates wisdom and instruction (Prv 1:7) and who says there is no God (Ps 14:1).  He is self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and often self-righteous.  On such a person the gospel has no effect, because it is veiled to determined unbelievers, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 357)

 

The mysteries are not that God will establish his kingdom, which was a well-known prophetic hope within Israel, but that it has arrived in a form different from what was anticipated.  This is a secret now being revealed in veiled speech to God’s chosen, Jesus’ disciples.  So, on the one hand, the parables reveal to the disciples how the kingdom of God will operate in this world before its final, powerful manifestation (which Jesus will reveal in chs. 24-25).  On the other hand, the truth that is revealed to the disciples is concealed from the crowd because of their spiritual unresponsiveness (see 13:12-13).  The initial understanding of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven that the disciples now have, as given by God through Jesus, will be enlarged upon, so that they will have full understanding.  But whatever understanding the crowd has, even that will be taken away.  In other words, not only do the parables not reveal truth to the crowd; they even take away what the crowd already has.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 477)

 

(13:16-17).  Jesus’ disciples, on the contrary, are spiritually alive, with spiritual eyes and ears that see and hear the reality of the kingdom of heaven (13:16).  The significance of the catchphrase that concluded the parable of the soils (13:9) is now revealed.  Jesus’ parables are designed to test the spiritual “ears” or life of his audience.  The spiritually alive disciples will seek further understanding from Jesus, causing their life and understanding to be enhanced.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 478)

 

The quotation from Isaiah 6:9 in v. 10–“though seeing …not understand”–shows that Jesus’ teaching is in accord with the consistent principle in Scripture that those who fail to respond to a saving word from God will find that they are not only under judgment for rejecting what they have heard but that they are unable to understand further truth (cf. Jn 3:17-19 with Jn 9:39-41, which contains words similar to Isa 6:9; Ex 8:32, regarding Pharaoh, with Ex 9:12 and Rom 9:17-18; and see Acts 28:26-27, another quotation from the Isaiah passage; Mt 7:6; Lk 20:1-8; Rv 22:11).  For such, the very parable that reveals truth to some hides it from them.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, 906)

 

God does not force anyone to accept the message of the kingdom, so the crowd’s response to the parables is dictated by the nature of their heart.  It a person in the crowd has no spiritual ears, his or her heart will be increasingly hardened and will turn away from Jesus and the healing that comes with the kingdom of heaven (13:15).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 478)

 

The distinction between divine and human causation which we find so necessary seems to have been less clear to the biblical writers.  Nothing that happens can happen without God, and the same effect may thus be attributed both to human (or demonic) will and to the divine purpose.  So the LXX version of Isa 6:10, which attributes the people’s unreceptiveness to their own self-hardening, is not in direct contradiction to the Hebrew, which attributes it to the divinely intended effect of Isaiah’s proclamation; they are two sides of the same coin.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 508)

 

Isaiah spoke as he did because the people were already unable to grasp his message, and Jesus likewise speaks in parables because of the crowd’s incapacity to hear with understanding.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 515)

 

Fruitless, taking up space, and causing the soil around it to deteriorate:  A classic description of the average person who hangs around a church unconverted. Who comes Sunday by Sunday by Sunday without any fruit in their lives at all.   They are fruitless, they take up space and their impact is to deteriorate the soil around them.  So while it was forbidden (by Jewish law) to destroy a fruit bearing tree, it was clearly within the line of duty to chop down a barren or an empty tree.  (Alistair Begg message Mercy and Judgment, Part 1)

 

The same law has much–not all, but much–to do in making men’s characters.  For it operates in its most intense fashion, and with results most blessed or most disastrous, in the inner life.  The great example that I would adduce is conscience.  Use it, obey it, listen for its voice, never thwart it, and it grows and grows and grows, and becomes more and more sensitive, more and more educated, more and more sovereign in its decision.  Neglect it, still more, go in its teeth, and it dwindles and dwindles and dwindles; and I suppose it is possible–though one would fain hope that it is a very exceptional case–for a man, by long-continued indifference to the voice within that says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not,” to come at last to never hearing it at all, or to its never speaking at all.  It is “seared as with a hot iron,” says one of the Apostles; and in seared flesh there is no feeling any more.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 223)

 

If you want to lose your convictions grasp them loosely–do not act upon them, do not take them for guides of your life–and they will soon relieve you of their unwelcome presence.  If you wish mind and knowledge to grow, grip with a grip of iron what you do know, and let it dominate you, as it ought.  He that truly has his learning will learn more and pile by slow degrees stone upon stone, until the building is complete.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 225)

 

If you will make that truth your own by loyal faith and honest obedience, if you will grapple it to your heart, then you will learn more and more.  Whatever tiny corner of the great whole you have grasped, hold on by that and draw it into yourselves, and you will by degrees get the entire, glorious, golden web to wrap round you.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 227)

 

Those verses from Isa 6:9-10 perfectly describe the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day.  Isaiah wrote during a time of sweeping judgment on Judah.  He had just pronounced a series of curses on the people for their drunkenness, debauchery, immorality, dishonesty, injustice, and hypocrisy.  While Isaiah was preaching his message of doom, King Uzziah died (6:1) and the nation was plunged into some of its darkest days.  They were on the verge of captivity by Babylon as part of God’s judgment; yet they refused to turn to Him for mercy and help.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 352)

 

When Jesus finished explaining the parables to His disciples and asked, “Have you understood all these things?” they could honestly answer, “Yes” (Mt 13:51).  It was not that they were smarter than the unbelieving Jews.  The scribes and Pharisees were highly educated and had studied the Scripture diligently since their youth.  But their eyes were blinded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching because of their unbelief.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 353)

 

Even for believers there must be divine illumination, and that is promised to every Christian who searches God’s Word and relies on the Holy Spirit within him (see 1 Cor 2:9-16; 1 Jn 2:20, 27).  As Christians, we not only have God’s completed revelation in Scripture but the very author of that Scripture living within us–to explain, interpret, and apply its truths.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 354)

 

Let us, therefore, attend to this connection, that all whom God does not enlighten with the Spirit of adoption are men of unsound mind; and that, while they are more and more blinded by the word of God, the blame rests wholly on themselves, because this blindness is voluntary.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 108)

 

If Jesus simply wished to hide the truth from the outsiders, he need never have spoken to them.  His concern for missions (9:35-38; 10:1-10; 28:16-20) excludes that idea.  So he must preach without casting his pearls before pigs (7:6).  He does so in parables; i.e., in such a way as to harden and reject those who are hard of heart and to enlighten–often with further explanation–his disciples.  His disciples, it must be remembered, are not just the Twelve but those who were following him and who, it is hoped, go on to do the will of the Father (12:50) and do not end up blaspheming the Spirit (12:30-32) or being ensnared by evil more thoroughly than before (12:43-45).  Thus the parables spoken to the crowds do not simply convey information, nor mask it, but challenge the hearers.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 309-10)

 

In these verses we are unashamedly presented with the tension, often given in Scripture, between divine sovereignty regarding election and human responsibility regarding rejection.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 357)

 

If the saving message of God has been freely offered to all who have come in contact with Christ (the “whoever” of 12:50), and if the gospel has been scattered like seed as Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom, then the Parable of the Sower is perfectly positioned in Matthew’s Gospel to explain why only a few people respond and enter, while many others do not.  Although neither the parable nor its interpretation explain why people respond the way they do, the parable as explained by Jesus does “identify the source of the problem [which is bad soil]–human hardness, shallowness, and self-indulgence.”  It is like Rom 1:24, 26, 28, where three times we are told “God gave them up”–that is, God gave them over to their sin.  He let them do what they wanted to do.  As C.S. Lewis memorably put it, “There are only two kinds of people in the end:  those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says… ‘Thy will be done.’  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 357-8)

 

III-  Guard your heart:  You are blessed if you see, hear and obey the Word (Jesus: the truth).  (Mt 13:16-17; see also: Ps ch 1; 32:9; 119:130; Prv 4:5-9, 23; Lk 11:28; 24:45; Acts 17:11; 1 Cor 2:12-14; Eph 1:7-8; 1 Thes 2:13; Heb 4:2; 1 Pt 1:22-25; 1 Jn 5:20)

 

We are responsible for the nature of the soil, else His warning were vain, “Take heed, therefore, how ye hear.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 211)

 

While Moses had been listening to God, his brother Aaron, high priest of all the people, had been listening to the people.  The input the two received was decidedly different.  When Moses listened, he received God’s revelation of the law of righteousness.  When Aaron listened, he heard complaints, wishes, and demands.  Moses brought with him uncompromised standards of heaven; Aaron caved in to the whims of men.  It was all in the listening.  (Gordon MacDonald; Ordering Your Private World, 130)

 

The real lesson of the parable is not grasped unless its clear implication is understood.  On the basis of Lk 8:8, 18 (cf. Mt 13:9; Mk 4:9), that lesson is, “Examine yourself to discover to which group you belong.  If you belong to any one of the first three groups, be converted!  Not, of course, by power residing in yourself but by God’s sovereign grace!  Even if you should belong to the fourth group, ask yourself the question, ‘Am I sufficiently fruitful?’” The parable is therefore really An Exhortation to Self-examination, leading either to Basic Conversion or else to further Sanctification.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Luke, 429)

 

“If someone says to me, “I don’t get anything out of reading Scripture,” my knee-jerk response is, “I will show you how to read it so that you can get something out of it.”   The operative word is “get”.   I will help you be a better consumer.  By this time the process is so far advanced that it is nearly irreversible.  We have agreed, my parishioners and I, to treat the Bible as something useful for what they can use out of it.  I, a pastor shaped by their expectations, help them to do it.   At some point I cross over the line and am doing it myself—looking for an arresting text for a sermon, looking for the psychologically right reading in a hospital room, looking for evidence of the truth of the Trinity.  The verb looking has taken over.  I am no longer listening to a voice, not listening to the God to whom I will give a response in obedience and faith, becoming the person he is calling into existence.  I am looking for something that I can use to do a better job, for which people will give me a raise if I do it conspicuously well enough.” (Eugene Peterson;  Working the Angles, 99)

 

To those who are considering His claims or have made a perfunctory decision for Him, Jesus gives an appeal to think about the kind of soil that represents their heart.  If it is hard packed and beaten down by continual neglect of God, or perhaps even by conscious opposition, He calls that person to allow His Spirit to break up the ground and make it receptive to His Word.  If the soil of his heart is shallow and superficial, He calls that person to allow the Spirit to remove the rocky resistance that lies beneath the surface of his seeming acceptance of the gospel and give him true faith.  If the soil of his heart is infested with the weedy cares and concerns of the world, He asks that person to allow the Spirit to cleanse him of his worldliness and to receive Him with no reservations or competing loyalties.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 363)

 

Sometimes people’s lives can represent several different types of soil at once.  A person may react like good soil to God’s teaching regarding one part of life, but be “thorny” in another area.  Believers are called to be like “good soil” all the time in all areas of life.  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 204)

 

How can the type of soil in someone’s heart be identified?  By the fruit produced.  Just like a person putting literal seeds in literal dirt, at first it’s hard to tell what kind of seeds were planted and how fertile is the soil.  But in time, it becomes evident.  There’s no faking this.  Time will show what kind of seeds you have been sowing.  If you want God’s good and productive fruit in your life, read, study, and memorize God’s Word.  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 203)

 

The first duty of love–is to listen.  —Paul Tillich

 

Seek first to understand and then to be understood.  Most people do not listen with the intent to understand:  they listen with the intent to reply.  They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.  —Stephen R. Covey

 

There are productive soils and there are problem soils.  Problem soils are found in the hearts of those who are wayward, weak, or worldly.  Productive soil is found in the hearts of those who are willing.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 246)

 

The life of a Christian is the result of the growth in him of a supernatural seed.  He bears fruit, yet the fruit comes not from him, but from the seed sown.  “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”  Fruitfulness is the aim of the sower, and the test of the reception of the seed.  If there is no fruit, manifestly there has been no real understanding of the word.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 210)

 

The great Husbandman does not demand uniform fertility.  He is glad when He gets an hundredfold, but He accepts sixty, and does not refuse thirty, only He arranges them in descending order, as if He would fain have the highest rate from all the plants, and, not without disappointment, gradually stretches His merciful allowance to take in even the lowest.  He will accept the scantiest fruitage, and will lovingly “purge” the branch “that it may bring forth more fruit.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 210)

 

Many of us would have been saved all kinds of heartbreak if we had simply stopped to listen to the voice of a wise friend or to the voice of God.  Such people understand.  They have thought the thing out and know what this means for them, and are prepared to accept it.  They translate their hearing into action.  They produce the good fruit of the good seed.  The real hearers are those who listen, who understand and who obey.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 72)

 

IIIa- Seek and beg God for understanding.  (Dt 4:29; Ps 32:9; Prv 1:1-7; 2:1-8; 3:5-6; 4:7; 9:9-10; Isa 55:8-11; Jer 29:13; Mt 6:22-23; 7:7; Lk 11:34-36; 24:44-45; Jn 8:31-32; Acts 7:51; Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 1:18-25; 2:9-16; 4:3-6;  Eph 1:7-8; Col 2:2-3; Heb 4:12; 2 Pt 1:5-9; 1 Jn 5:20)

 

One of the key factors in our degree of fruitfulness is our use of the means of grace.  Every time we willfully miss worship on Sunday mornings, we miss out on the grace that God extends to His worshipers, and it costs us in terms of productivity.  Every time we squander an opportunity to be nurtured by the grace of God through prayer, through Bible study, through fellowship, or through the sacraments, there are eternal consequences.  There will be that much less fruit in our lives.

It should be our desire and delight as believers to be as fruitful as possible.  We come together for fellowship, for worship, for instruction in truth and righteousness, to the end that we might be productive and fruitful, pleasing and glorifying our God.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 425)

 

This ground needs to be broken up.  Most often, the plowing that is needed is some pain or stress or trial to soften the hardness of men’s lives to the seed of God’s truth.  This is how grace came to many of us.  Difficulties made us quit our spirit-dulling busyness, and then the Word of God fell powerfully into the broken ground of our lives.  Hard hearts need to be plowed by sorrow and disappointment so God’s Word can take root.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. One, 289)

 

 

The organic material that has been broken down to give the soil its richness is called “humus.”  Our word humble is related to it, meaning “to be brought low.”  That is the process God uses to makes us receptive to His word.  He allows us to be brought low.  Sometimes He Himself is the one who brings us there.

Humility, said Confucius, is the foundation of all virtues. (Ken Gire; The Reflective Life, 54)

 

Before spring becomes beautiful, it is ugly, nothing but mud and muck.  I love the fact that the word humus—the decayed vegetable matter that feeds plants—comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility.  It helps me understand that the humiliating events of life, the events that leave “mud on my face” or that “make my name mud” may create the fertile soil in which something new can grow.  —Parker J. Palmer

 

He can scatter the seed committed to his charge, but he cannot command it to grow:  he may offer the word of truth to a people, but he cannot make them receive it and bear fruit.  To give life is God’s solemn prerogative:  “The Spirit gives life” (Jn 6:63).  God alone can “make things grow” (1 Cor 3:7).  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 104)

 

Give advice; if people don’t listen, let adversity teach them.  —Ethiopian Proverb

 

Jesus takes the pride of believing when he reminds us that faith is a gift.  It’s God who saves us and God who opens our eyes to see.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 262)

 

Therefore I speak to them in parables,

1 because seeing they see not and hearing they hear not, nor understand.

2 And it is fulfilled to them the prophecy of Isaiah which says,

3 “Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand.

4 and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive.

5 For this people’s heart is become dull

6 and the ears are dull of hearing

7 and their eyes they have closed,

7′ lest they should perceive with the eyes

6′ and hear with the ear

5′ and understand with the heart, and should turn again and I should heal them.”

4′ But blessed are your eyes, for they see.

3′ and your ears, for they hear.

2′ For truly I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men

1′ desired to see what you see, and did not see, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 306)

 

IIIb-  Carefully listen (Prv 3:13; Isa 66:2; Mk 4:24; 8:17; Lk 8:18; 9:45; 18:34; 24:45; Jn 12:16, 40; 13:7-12; 20:9; Acts 17:11; 1 Cor 1:18-25; 1 Thes 2:13)

 

The parable is not for just anyone to hear, but rather is for those with spiritual ears who have the ability to hear the spiritual message embedded in the parable.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 476)

 

I wonder if it is just a coincidence that the word listen has the exact same letters as the word silent.

 

IIIc-  Obey the Word (see: Mt 7:24-27; 21:28-31; 28:19-20; Lk 6:48-49; 10:37; 11:2, 28; Heb 4:6; Jam 1:22-25;  2:14-26; 3:11-18; 1 Pt 1:22-25)

 

If you obey only when you understand or agree with what is being asked, you are not obeying, you are only agreeing or affirming what is being commanded.  When you really obey, you do what you are told whether you agree or understand.  —Tim Keller

 

It is easy to think we are “spiritual” because we listen to one preacher after another, take notes, mark our Bibles, but never really practice what we learn.  We are only fooling ourselves.  (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Compassionate: A New Testament Study–Luke 1-13, 88)

 

The Bible is, first and foremost, a love letter.  The words in that letter are like seeds that fall into the soil of our heart.  With enough skill, we can precisely measure the seeds, weigh them, and study them.  No amount of skill, though, can bring the seeds to life.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

This is true of any word from God that lands in our heart—whether it’s a word  voiced through the Scriptures or through nature or through the circumstances of our lives.  Each and every word that comes to us will lie dormant in the soil unless the Spirit gives it life.

And there it will wait… quiet and still… for the rain.  (Ken Gire; The Reflective Life, 71)

 

The “word of God” is correctly “heard” when it is obeyed.  It is the will of God, the policy of God’s dominion, calling for more than casual assent.  Although this section does not further specify the content of the word of God, it creates urgency for knowing what God’s word, will, and plan are as revealed in Jesus’ reign.  Faithfulness and even salvation (v. 12) and kinship with the Messiah are at stake in hearing and doing this word.  (David L. Tiede, Augsburg Commentary on the NT: Luke, 169-70)

 

Obedience is the key to being part of God’s family.  Knowledge is not enough–the religious leaders had that and still missed Jesus.  Following is not enough–the crowd did that but still didn’t understand who Jesus was.  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 207)

 

The principle in hearing God’s Word, then, is “Use it or lose it,” or more exactly, “Do it or lose it!”  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. One, 287)

 

Hours of praying and reading the Bible will not bring disobedient Christians as close to the Lord as doing his truth brings even the simplest believer.  Elsewhere Luke shows the place family must take in the life of one who desires to be Jesus’ disciple (14:25-26).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, 910)

 

 

*   Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must forgive?  Then do it!

*   Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must confess a wrongdoing?  Do it!

*   Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must apologize?  So do it!

*  Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must speak the truth regardless of the consequences?  Then do it!

*   Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must discontinue a certain practice?  Do it!

*   Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must make a gift?  Do it!

*  Has God’s Word impressed on you that you must bear witness to an acquaintance?  Do it today if you can!

 

IIId- Don’t resist God’s breaking up, plowing, fertilizing and weeding the soil of your heart (discipline).  (Prv 1:7; 3:11-12; 5:23; 6:23; 10:17; 12:1; 13:18, 24; 15:5, 10, 32; 19:18; 23:23; 29:17; Jn 15:1-8; Rom 5:3-4;  Phil 1:6;  2 Tm 3:16-17; Heb 12:1-11; Jam 1:1-4, 12; 2 Pt 3:9; Heb 12:1-11)

 

If your heart does not leap at God’s grace in Christ, what you need is more grace.  Nothing else can save you from your own deadness.  Therefore, fear your own hardness of heart more than anything else.  Beware of rigidity, ingratitude, a demanding spirit.  Beware of an unmelted heart that is never satisfied.  Beware of a mind that looks for excuses not to believe.  Beware of the impulse that always finds a reason to delay response.  Beware of thinking how the sermon applies to someone else.  God watches how you hear his word.  (Raymond C. Ortland; Preaching the Word: Isaiah, 83)

 

Each of us ought to endeavor to tear the thorns out of his heart, if we do not choose that the word of God should be choked; for there is not one of us whose heart is not filled with a vast quantity, and, as I may say, a thick forest, of thorns.  And, indeed, we perceive how few there are that reach maturity; for there is scarcely one individual out of ten that labors, I do not say to root out, but even to cut down the thorns.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 116)

 

Worship Point:  Worship the God of the Universe who seeks to bring good fruit into the lives of His creation through His Son Jesus Who alone possess good, noble, pure soil.  (Eph 2:8-10; Col 1:10)

 

The fruit of the Spirit simply is the inner character of Jesus himself that is brought about in us through the process of Christian spiritual formation.  It is the outcome of spiritual formation.  It is “Christ formed in us.”  It is called “fruit” because, like the fruit of trees or vines, it is an outgrowth of what we have become, not the result of a special effort to bear fruit.  And we have become “fruitful” in this way because we have received the presence of Christ’s Spirit through the process of spiritual formation, and now that Spirit, interacting with us, fills us with love, joy, peace… (Dallas Willard; The Great Omission, 115)

 

It is objected that it is impossible to find any one who is pure and free from thorns?  It is easy to reply, that Christ does not now speak of the perfection of faith, but only points out those in whom the word of God yields fruit.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 117)

 

Listen and remember:  by nature we are all “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3).  So, what kind of a gift does a child of wrath get to open on Christmas?  Any gift?  What do those who have been naughty get in their stockings?  Nothing.  Not even black coal.  Who of us deserves to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven?  Who of us deserves to open the gift of the gospel of grace?

And yet the gift has been given–“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  For this reason the fact that we can hear the parables and understand them should lead us to doxology.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 361)

 

Gospel Application:  We are not capable of or responsible for producing fruit.  We are responsible for providing God with soft, fertile, weed-free hearts in which the seed of God’s Word can flourish and be productive.  This is accomplished by looking to Jesus (The Word, The Ultimate good soil) Who alone possesses a soft, fertile, weed-free heart.

 

The Bible is the written word, but Jesus Christ is the living word who gives it life.  The Bible, as it were, is the husk and Jesus is the kernel.  “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life,” Jesus told a group of unbelieving Jewish leaders in Jerusalem; “and it is these that bear witness of Me” (Jn 5:39).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 356)

 

If you have come to Christ, if you have heard His voice and embraced Him as your Savior, you did so not in the flesh, not because you were “good soil” in and of yourself, but because God in His mercy and grace was pleased to change your heart and give you the faith by which you believed.  The good soil is the heart that has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  When the Spirit does this work, the heart hears the Word of God so that it takes root and brings forth fruit.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 424)

 

I don’t know about you, but I cannot simply muster up more love.  I can’t manufacture patience just by gritting my teeth and determining to be more patient.  We are not strong or good enough, and it doesn’t work that way.  None of us can “do goodness” on our own, much less all the other elements that make up the fruit of the Spirit.

But despite our inability to change ourselves in this way, to simply become more peaceful or joyful, we expend a great deal of effort trying.  We focus on what God wants us to do and forget the kind of people He wants us to be.

Instead of mustering up more willpower, let’s focus our energies and time on asking for help from the One who has the power to change us.  Let’s take the time to ask God to put the fruit of His Spirit into our lives.  And let’s spend time with the One we want to be more like.  (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, 148)

 

Any desire of the heart for Christ, any secret brokenness, any godly sorrow over indwelling sin, any feeble going out of self and leaning on Jesus, is the gracious work of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and must not be undervalued or unacknowledged.  A truly humble view of self, is one of the most precious fruits of the Spirit:  it indicates more real fruitfulness, perhaps, than any other state of mind.  That ear of corn which is the most full of grain, hangs the lowest; that bough which is the most heavily laden with fruit, bends the nearest to the ground.  It is no unequivocal mark of great spiritual fruitfulness in a believer, when tenderness of conscience, contrition of spirit, low thoughts of self, and high thoughts of Jesus, mark the state of his soul.  “Who hath despised the day of small things?”–not Jesus.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 163)

 

The reason why so few believers “through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body,” is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul:  “Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good”; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure.  Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature,–a more thorough learning out of the truth,–that “in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing,”–a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God,–how much higher than they now are would be the attainments in holiness of many believers!  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 172)

 

Spiritual ChallengeTherefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (Mk 4:24; Lk 8:18; 1 Cor 1:18-25)

 

The good ground stands for the good heart.  The good hearer does three things.  First, he listens attentively.  Second, he keeps what he hears in his mind and heart and thinks over it until he discovers its meaning for himself.  Third, he acts upon it.  He translates what he has heard into terms of action.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible:  The Gospel of Luke, 99)

 

 

Quotes to Note:

Like the sower, the preacher must be diligent.  He must spare no pains; he must use every possible means to make his work prosper; he must patiently sow by every stream (Isa 32:20), and sow in hope.  He must “be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tm 4:2), undeterred by difficulties and discouragements; “whoever watches the wind will not plant” (Eccl 11:4).  No doubt his success does not entirely depend on his labor and diligence, but without labor and diligence success will not be obtained.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 103-4)

 

The Lord is teaching His people that anyone who belongs to Him can and should be a witness for Him.  The responsibility of the one who sows the gospel in His name is not to produce the seed, the soil, or the fruit.  His only responsibility is to faithfully spread the seed as far and wide as he is able.  When they fall on good soil, the seeds that a little child throws here and there as he follows his father through the field will produce fruitful plants just as genuine and productive as those the experienced father plants.  And the untrained Christian who faithfully scatters his few seeds will produce a greater harvest than the most learned and experienced believer who never bothers to sow at all.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 362-3)

 

It has been said that all great teaching begins from the here and now in order to get to the there and then.  If we want to teach people about things which they do not understand, we must begin from things which they do understand.  The parable begins with material which everyone understands because it is within everyone’s experience, and from that it leads on to things which those listening do not understand, and opens their eyes to things which they have failed to see.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 64)

 

When we sow the seed, we must not look for quick results.  There is never any haste in nature’s growth.  It takes a long, long time before an acorn becomes an oak; and it may take a long, long time before the seed germinates in the heart of an individual.  But often a word dropped into someone’s heart in childhood lies dormant until some day it awakens and its memory brings resistance to some great temptation or even preserves that person’s soul from death.  We live in an age which looks for quick results; but in the sowing of the seed we must sow in patience and in hope, and sometimes must leave the harvest to the years.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 74)

 

The nineteenth-century critic and essayist Walter Pater once said that you cannot tell people the truth; you can only put them into a position in which they can discover it for themselves.  Unless we discover truth for ourselves, it remains a second-hand and external thing; and further, unless we discover truth for ourselves, we will almost certainly forget it quickly.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 65)

 

 

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. — Matthew 13:16

 

Christ:

The Good Soil

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