Fairmount Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church July 13, 2008
Scripture Lesson Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sermon “The Sower and His Seed” Benjamin P. Glaser
While I was growing up I worked at various farms in West Virginia and on my parents own humble garden doing odd jobs and I remember that when it came time to harvest in the Fall the farmers would go and save the seeds from their best crops, whether they be corn, barley, or tobacco, to plant in the spring. It would not make much sense for them to go and find the runts of the summer’s growth to replant. A planter who did that would be a hungry farmer come next fall and as any reputable farmer will tell you the best way to grow good crops is to use good seed. So it is with the Scripture lesson this morning from Matthew’s gospel. However we must be careful when coming to this particular text because it lends itself to be both a minefield for incorrect teaching and a gold mine for excellent words for the people of God. Many take this passage to mean that we are the seeds and that we must be careful where we lay down roots so as to keep ourselves away from the danger that thorns and rocky ground provide. However this seed has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ of which the Scripture both Older and New teach us. The soil in which the seed grows and it’s Sower shall be the focus of this sermon this morning
So it is here that we find ourselves this Lord’s Day at the side of the Sower watching as Christ teaches the disciples and those gathered by the sea through a parable in the middle of Matthew’s gospel. The first thing that we need to answer when coming to this passage is who the Sower is in the parable that is spreading the seeds and from where these seeds come. In the immediate context of the passage the Sower is Jesus Christ who has come to preach and teach the Gospel of his coming to the Jews, which is the seed that he speaks of the Sower spreading. However this is not the end. In explaining the passage Jesus is also telling the disciples that just as many will hear his message and the majority will fall away and desert him when the times get rough so to when the disciples themselves become the Sower, sowing the seeds that Christ gives them that the greater part they reach will in the ways described in the parable fall away. Nevertheless they should not be discouraged by this because there will be a remnant who will survive to maturity and through the disciples spreading of seeds by teaching and preaching the Gospel they will explode a hundredfold and thus the Kingdom of God will continue through the ages growing and increasing. We can see this most obviously at Pentecost in Acts 2 when through Peter’s preaching, through his sowing of the seed of the Gospel 3,000 were baptized and became believers in Christ Jesus. This is why Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 10 verses 12b-17, “…for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” We can easily place the word Sower in for preacher in Paul’s letter and it will have the same meaning. Preachers are given a special task to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all sinners. Charles Spurgeon, the great British parson of the 19th century preaching in a rapidly changing environment quite like ours wrote, “The preacher of the gospel is like the Sower. He does not make his seed; it is given to him by [Christ in His Word]. No man could create the smallest grain that ever grew upon the earth, much less the celestial seed of eternal life. The minister goes to his Master in secret, and asks him to teach him his gospel, and thus he fills his basket with the good seed of the kingdom. He then goes forth in his Master’s name and scatters precious truth. If he knew where the best soil was to be found, perhaps he might limit himself to that which had been prepared by the plough of conviction; but not knowing men’s hearts, it is his business to preach the gospel to every creature—to throw a handful on the hardened heart, and another on the mind which is overgrown with the cares and pleasures of the world. He has to leave the seed in the care of the Lord who gave it to him, for he is not responsible for the harvest, he is only accountable for the care and industry with which he does his work. If no single ear should ever make glad the reaper, the Sower will be rewarded by His Master if he had planted the right seed with careful hand. If it were not for this fact with what despairing agony should we utter the cry of Esaias, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”
For today’s Christian man or woman this is a very important thing for us to hear. Both Jesus and Paul are teaching us today through the gospel lesson and this passage in Romans that even though many will come to you with flashy new ideas about how people can be reached with the message of the gospel still the best and only way given to us by God to do so is through the preached word. I often hear my contemporaries at Pittsburgh Seminary tell stories about how this is a visual culture and how young people are only drawn by images and by cleverly devised modes of communication. However Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians chapter one verses 22-25, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.“ God has ordained this foolishness of preaching precisely because it is not the signs the Jews seek and not the wisdom of the Greek philosophers. In truth the preaching of the Word is the ONLY SOURCE OF JOY that can be found in this world. It isn’t in the whiz-bang methodologies of today, as that supposed joy is fleeting. As the disciples said to Jesus, “where can we go, Lord, you have the words of life”! We fail to trust in the message we have been given when we devise new ways to preach this message of salvation to the lost. The Sower must trust in the seed he has been given.
Moving to the second part of the Gospel lesson this morning in verses 18-23 we read as Christ’s explains the parable to the disciples away from the crowd. Beginning with the initial seeds that all fall in the road and are quickly eaten by the birds, Jesus makes clear in verse 19 that, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.” These first groups of people who hear God’s word according to Jesus are like roads that cannot support the life of a seed because they refuse to accept the Gospel at all. They come to church on Sunday’s completely disengaged from what is happening around them, Whether to please a spouse or to fulfill a social obligation they come and balance their checkbooks or read the newspaper. You would be amazed at the things I have seen people do during worship services in my short lifetime. Their hearts are hardened against the Gospel, they hear the word but consciously deny its veracity because they have no intention of receiving it, and they do not design their hearts to take delivery of it much like how asphalt is not designed to grow corn. We must when coming to hear the word preached open our hearts and allow the seed to take root. If we come to God’s house on the Lord’s Day with no intention to receive God’s Grace then we shall not be given any. We must come prepared, with our hearts plowed ready to receive God’s Word.
Secondly the seeds fall upon the rocky ground and Jesus explains thusly, “Then on whom the seed was sown in the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word immediately he falls away.” This next group of people hears the Word; they are prepared for the preached word to work in their lives. However like rocky ground they have no depth in their love for the Word. They seek a quick thrill and pleasure from their worship. Not intending on using what they hear only to be tickled by it they come bubbly and excitedly to the throne room but soon they are quickly running and hiding when they realize the power and the trials that come with following Christ and his Word. People like this want no part in the persecution that Jesus promised would come to those who follow him. They are similar to those who use illicit drugs using the church as a medicine in which to hide from the world not seeking the real power and safety of the Word of God and much like the rockets that send the Space Shuttle into space their vigor is soon spent and they come tumbling back to earth. They may on the outside show some sort of profession of faith in Christ but they in their heart are just as hard as the road in which the seed does not take root. They have no depth in their faith, only seeking from Christ the glory that has been promised and not the submission and the intense words of God’s message that we are all called to follow.
Then we come to the seeds that have fallen in the thickets, in with the thorn bushes. Jesus says, “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” This third type can be best described in Jesus’ talk with the Rich Young Ruler. They are people who trust in the Law, they believe the message of the Gospel but they refuse to go all the way with it. They go further than the ground, which is not suited for farming, or the rocky ground that is shallow because this time the seed takes root and it is a strong root. Yet when it comes time to truly profess a love for Christ and his Gospel they are drawn back into the wordly profession. Whether it be wealth like the Rich Young Ruler or the lust of Herod or any other type of sin they place the pleasures of this world above the pleasures of heaven’s glory and in doing so are choked and wrestled back to the depths away from Christ because they put the pleasures they seek ahead of the will and Word of God Almighty. The Word’s of eternal life have no meaning to them because they cannot see past the false and misleading pleasures of this age to the Glory that is to come for those who trust in Christ Jesus.
Last of all in the parable we read about the good seed that falls upon the good soil and springs up from the ground in bushels and is plentiful. Christ in his clarification says, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” This final ground is the ground of the elect. The people on whom God has chosen to bestow the righteousness of Christ so that his glory may be shown through them. What truly distinguishes this ground from the others is not its depth, for the crops that spring forth in the thorns have deep roots or its love for Christ, because the plants that come from rocky ground grow quickly but because unlike the others this ground yields a harvest that is full and bountiful, these crops produce fruit. Jesus speaking in the Gospel of John chapter 18, verses 1-8 says, “ I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” We then bear fruit, when we act in according to the word of God; when the temper of our minds and the tenor of our lives are conformable to the Gospel we have received, and we do as we are taught.
In closing we know that we can do nothing apart from Christ who does all things for us. We must be careful that when we come to worship in God’s house that we come ready to receive the seeds of life and the words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, having our minds and our hearts turned to Christ, we shall not come heavy laden for in Christ we have rest. Do not approach with your mind set upon earthly things but upon the saving words of Jesus Christ. The seeds have been sown, the Sower has given us his seed. How will it grow in your soil? Will you turn your heart away? Will you be superficial and shallow-minded in your faith not seeking the depth and richness of God’s Word, and His mercy and grace? Will you let the trivial nature of this life drag you away and strangle the life you have been given in Christ Jesus? Or will you be like the good soil that seeks the depth of God’s word, the safety of his love, and the protection that is in Christ Jesus? We must prepare our hearts, calling on all our brothers and sisters to trust in the Word and the Christ of the Word, to repent for being shallow and stony and to find true joy in the deep rooted soil that Christ has provided.
To God Alone be the Glory today and forevermore. Amen.