Grace Bible Church, NY
May 28, 2008
True & False Conversion
The Parable of the Sower
Mark 4:3-9; Matthew 13:18-23
Pastor Harris touched on parables back in the beginning of March. In case you don’t remember, he spoke about how parables were both a mercy and a judgment upon those who would not hear: judgment, in that they would be kept in the darkness they loved, and mercy in that it would not increase their condemnation for the extra knowledge they would have gotten by hearing. This morning, I’ll be talking about the parable of the sower. The parable of the sower is a parable that illustrates the distinction of true believers from false believers. It’s an important distinction; one that is a matter of life and death, heaven and hell, so it’s vitally important that we understand where we stand before God.
The Parable of the Sower appears in the three Synoptic Gospels, in Mark 4, Matthew 13 and Luke 8. This morning we’ll be reading the parable from the account in Mark 4:3-9, and the interpretation from Matthew 13:18-23. Please open your bibles and read along. The thing to be looking for as we read the parable is not if the plant lived or died, but if it bears fruit.
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” 9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. In scripture, as I’ve been taught, there are some keywords you should pay attention to as you read, because they either are a pivot point in text, or are there to draw attention to something important. Pivot words like: therefore, likewise, for, if and so, and attention words like lo, look, listen, hearken, behold, and hear. In this verse we have two attention words back to back: Listen and Behold. “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. Sowing back then was usually done by having a bag with seed tied to your belt, then you’d grab a handful of seed and throw it. What you try to do is get a nice, even dispersion of seed. But it’s hardly a precise thing. But if you do it right (which is harder than it would seem), it kinda goes everywhere, especially if it’s windy.
4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Birds like seed. With hard waysides, often trodden down footpaths around the perimeter of the field, the seed doesn’t go into the soil, but just sits on top of the hard soil. The seed never gets a chance to germinate because you soon get a flock of birds munching away at the now “free birdseed.”
For those of you who’ve ever tried to start a lawn on hardpan, you understand the challenge that just sowing seed on the surface and hoping for the best will get you frustrated and out of seed in a hurry, not to mention you’ll be birds best friend. In the end, you won’t get any fruit from the sowing, just a bunch of satisfied birds.
5 Some [seed] fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. So here, you have shallow soil over a rocky ledge. Since the rain that has fallen can’t seep down into the ground, this soil is initially more moist in the Spring “ and so, you get quick germination and growth of the plant, so far so good….
6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. Luke 8:6 says the plant withered away “because it lacked moisture.” Here, the rock ledge is deep enough in the soil so the plow won’t hit it, but prevents the roots from reaching down to water and the shallow depth of the soil make it so that it never develops a decent root system, so when the weather gets hot, the plant quickly dries out. Piling on top of that, is since it is has grown rapidly, more and bigger leaves will require more water, and consume more nutrients than a more normal sized plant. So in the end, when water becomes scarce, the plant shrivels up and dies “ and produces no fruit.
7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Like anybody who has grown a garden, you have to contend with weeds. If you don’t take care of the weeds, your crops will be stunted, or die. Weeds a few undesirable things, they tend to have big leaves which steal the light from the plants you want to get it, and they use up nutrients in the soil that you want to go into your crop, and they use up space that the plants you want to grow need. So in the text here, the plant, though otherwise alright, was choked to the point where it yielded no fruit.
8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” If you get seed in good well plowed soil, and keep the weeds out, you sometimes can get the “bumper crop”. It may not look stellar at the beginning of the season, but it continues in it’s growth and bears much fruit. Unlike the stony ground plant, this one has the ability to reach water even when it gets hot, having a good root system. As a result, it sprouts much fruit. As for crop yields, an eight to one yield was considered an average yield, and a ten to one yield exceptional. So the 30, 60 or 100 fold yield is an astounding yield. As a slightly less astounding example, in my garden, about two years ago, even though it was a year where we really didn’t get very much rain at all, inexplicably, we had bucket loads of tomatoes. Every day it seemed like by daughter would be carrying in a dress full of tomatoes. Last year, we had cucumbers and broccoli coming out all over the place, to the point where fair amount of it wound up not being harvested and rotted on the ground. The point here is that, the seed was able to germinate, the roots had an opportunity to grow so it could endure the hot sun, the weeds were kept at bay, and as a result, yielded much fruit.
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” The “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”, this is another of the attention getters. With so much attention drawn to this parable, we would be wise to listen to Jesus’s interpretation that follows shortly.
So as a fruitage summary: The wayside, no fruit, the stony ground, no fruit, the choked by thorns, no fruit, but the good ground, much fruit.
For a first sermon to a large group, I decided to play it safe, and instead of picking something I would have to interpret myself, I chose a parable that Jesus interpreted for us. I’ll be reading the interpretation primarily from Matthew Chapter 13, verses 18-23. But we’ll be referencing part of the account in Mark 4:13-14 as we start, so you may want to keep your finger there for a bit. As we listened for the mentions of fruit in the parable, we would do well to pay attention to mentions of understanding in the interpretation.
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Mk 4:13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? This verse explains all the attention words that He used in the beginning and end of the parable. In short, it says that understanding this parable is key to discerning the meaning of Jesus’s other parables.
Mk 4:14 The sower sows the word. The sower is one who proclaims the good news of the gospel. It is an apt description of witnessing or preaching, especially in an outdoor area. I’ve found that, when witnessing, it’s often times only as things progress in the witnessing encounter where you realize the person you are actually witnessing to is not the one you are directly speaking with, but someone off to the side. So, like the seed goes everywhere, so does the message.
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. In this case, the soil never received the seed, that is: the listener never makes a profession of faith. Of anyone, this person is the least likely to find their way to a church, and as such is most in need of having somebody share their faith with them.
20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Here, there appears to be understanding, it’s just wrong understanding. This is one of the two spiritual “soils” that are in the worst of situations. The seed snatched away by birds hearer is unsaved, but has no imaginations that they are. These two, the stony ground and the one choked by thorns, are in serious danger because they think they are safe, and are not. As such, they will not seek the remedy for their predicament, nor will they often listen to somebody warning them of the danger they are in.
For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
The tribulations and persecutions mentioned here are not just the normal difficulties of life, but specifically for being associated with Jesus: that is, being persecuted for the Word’s sake. A first sign of trouble for the stony ground “convert” is that they, as it says in this passage, receive the word with joy. From all of the Christians I’ve personally spoken with that I’m quite sure are saved, the first emotions tend to more along the lines of fear, guilt, dread and sorrow. Fear of Hell, guilt for conviction of sin, sorrow for offending a Holy God. But isn’t there joy in the gospel? Of course, but until one understands the bad news, the good news is meaningless.
The response of Joy may be the natural response to “Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life”, or “you’ve got a God shaped vacuum in your heart that only Jesus can fill” or “Ask Jeeesus into your heart.” These phrases are common enough and dangerous enough that they need to be thoroughly killed, and put down like a rabid dog. Compare any of these with what Jesus preached in Mark 1:15 and you’ll see how puny and false they are compared to: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.” So let’s take them, one by one:
1.”Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life.” All prosperity preaching falls into this category. Let’s see if it’s true: Look at the apostle Paul as an example of the wonderful plan that they talk of. Do keep in mind we have to look at this from the unsaved persons perspective. Ok: In 2nd Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul says he was “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” All of the apostles, save John, church history attests that they were killed for their faith, as were countless other martyrs from then until now. From the unsaved person’s point of view, this hardly sounds like a wonderful plan.
2.”You’ve got a God shaped hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill.” If only this were true, then evangelism would be a snap and everybody would become Christians. Man may have a (little g) god shaped vacuum, but man will take anything he can find, call it god, and use that to fill it. Man has a God given conscience that correctly accuses him of wrong (maybe that’s the hole they speak of?), but man will find a god, or failing to find a god, make a god for himself that he can placate so he can make his conscience shut up so he can do whatever sinful thing he desires.
3.The last, and perhaps the most dangerous, because it is often used to “seal the deal” as it were is: “Ask Jeeesus into your heart.” Let me ask you this: what on Earth does that even mean? What Bible verse can I find where it says that? I’ll answer that: There are none, nil, zilch, nada, niente, zippo; not one verse. Besides which: If I ask Jesus into my heart, how do I know if He came into my heart? What does it mean if He didn’t? What do I do then? Why not invite him into my esophagus? One of the problems with inviting Jesus into your heart, outside of the fact that it’s entirely unbiblical, is that it requires no real response in the listener, no change of mind, no repentance. As such, they won’t have any assurance of salvation (and rightfully so), having no evidence to go by. Compared this with if the listener is told to repent and believe the Good News. If they do not understand, it at least begs the questions of what repentance is, what to repent from and why, what is the good news, or at the very least a… wha? instead of a false conversion.
Another symptom of the stony ground hearer is that their l ife does not show evidence of regeneration. On the outside, they may be saying and doing some of the right things, but on the inside little has changed, and eventually it will show itself.
Stony ground hearers, like the plant, may also show really fast growth, as it’s still just novelty and the fascination hasn’t quite worn off yet. John Lennon was an example of this. After he became a Christian, he was seen saying “Praise Jesus” all the time and similar such things, but that didn’t last long. They’ll wear Jesus T-shirts every day, they’ll get the biggest bible they can find, but the problem here, is that their lives will never bear the fruit that goes with their profession. They will still cling to their favorite sins, and will bristle at gentle admonition. “You can’t tell me what to do” or “You can’t judge me”, instead of a humble admission of guilt, followed by repentance. All leaves, but no fruit.
So, the rocky soil hearers do not endure because they don’t esteem the gift of salvation. Not having proper understanding of their sin, they don’t think that Jesus Christ is worth all the trouble they run into, or because their lives don’t improve as they were promised, and they’re not bad people anyway. So having not understood the gospel, they believe they have a had a bad bill of goods sold to them, and it’ll be all the more difficult to have them listen to the true gospel, because for them, they’ve been there done that, got the t-shirt, and for them, it was a total bust.
22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (Lk 8:14 and bring no fruit to maturity.) Here, the problem is that without proper understanding, this hearer also does not properly esteem the gift of salvation. The world and it’s pleasures are worth more than the gift of God because they have no idea who they are and who God is by way of comparison. These people come in a few flavors, two common ones are these:
One who has “gone along with the program”: These people are often ones that have grown up in a church. They go along with the program, go to youth group, maybe in the choir, get confirmed, and are generally seen as good kids, but they never get it. And when they leave for college, or just leave the nest, their faith goes out the door. I can personally attest to this, as growing up, this was me.
Long-time “seekers”: Another case which I think happens frequently, is a seeker, who maybe has never made a profession of faith (or perhaps only spuriously, as part of a membership class where they basically just have to nod their head a few times at some leading questions) and who has been around long enough, or is associated with long time members, people wrongly just assume they’re christians too, when nothing could be further from the truth. These are particularly dangerous when a solid testimony is not a requirement for membership. Then what happens is, in a squishier church, they can work their way up in church leadership and you get the expected results of an unregenerate making critical doctrinal decisions in a church.
In either of these cases, and there are others, if you ask them about their beliefs, you’ll get the usual, “yeah, I believe in Jesus and He paid for my sins”, but if you press them a bit, you can ask them about how that affects their daily life, and you’ll probably find out that their “beliefs” affect their lifestyle very little, if at all. One study that Barna Research did found that at least among evangelical teens, their behaviors differed very little from those that did not claim a faith.
23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Lk 8:15 having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.) Here, this is the first of them that truly understands the message, and as such bears much fruit. Having heard and believed the bad news of sin, righteousness and judgment to come, they have understood the good news of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. Having repented and trusted the savior, nothing will pull this believer away from Christ, because he didn’t come to Jesus for an easy life, he came so that his sins could be forgiven, and there’s no way you’d be able to convince him to forsake the Savior, whether it be trials, tribulations, persecutions, if they truly believe the promise of God. Belief and trust here isn’t a one time thing, but continuous. It’s not that they believed once, but they continue to believe. It’s not that they repented once, but they continue to repent.
This is all good to know, but now the question is, what do we do with it? How do we apply it? Well, the first question to ask is… What kind of dirt are you? The wayside, the stony ground, choked by thorns or good soil? Being truly a matter of life and death, heaven and hell, it behooves us to find out. The scripture says in 2nd Corinthians 13:5 that we should “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” This we can either have assurance that we are saved, or have the knowledge that something is wrong and do something about it (inasmuch as we actually do anything in regards to our salvation). For as long as we do not believe we have a problem, we will never seek the remedy. Scripture gives us a few ways in which we can examine ourselves.
One is: are you exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a good list here to work with: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Personally, for myself, I find it hard to be objective about these things, and so it may be useful to ask somebody else, like your spouse, your kids or your parents.
Another way is to look at the beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 verses 3 to 10 and ask ourselves, by that reckoning, are we blessed? Let’s look. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the exact opposite of self-sufficiency. This is humility in realizing that you are utterly and hopelessly lost without the saving grace of God. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Have you wept over your sin? Have your cried out to God pleading for forgiveness for offending Him? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” I can never remember what meek means, but a definition is: quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive. Are you voluntarily submissive to what God has said He wants you to do? If you are rightly rebuked, do you lash out, or do you humbly receive it and submit to it? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Do you thirst for righteousness, or do you think you have it on your own already, and have no need for more? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Because of how merciful the Lord has been to you, do you yourself extend mercy to others when they sin against you? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Do you strive for a pure heart, not focusing just on your outward actions, but striving for a clean thought life, knowing that God sees that too? “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This is explained a bit in Matthew 5:44 & 45 when Jesus speaks about loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you. Does this c haracterize you? And finally, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Have you experienced persecution for your faith?
John MacArthur’s Study bible in the back has a pretty good list of things which characterize genuine saving faith, I’ll just list them quickly. Love for God, Repentance from sin, Genuine Humility, Devotion to God’s Glory, Continual Prayer, Selfless Love, Separation from the world, Spiritual Growth, Obedient Living, Hunger for God’s Word and Transformation of Life.
Now I realize that between the three lists here, I’ve just rattled off a whole bunch of stuff here and the thing here is that probably nobody is going to get 100%, but the important thing here is that it’s not so much about position, but about direction. Are you growing in the faith? Are you more holy than you were a year ago? But if you want to distill everything down to a single question, it’d be: “would you consider yourself to be a good person, or an absolutely horrible disgusting wretch?” If you think you’re good, I would like to speak to you for a moment about what the Bible has to say:
Genesis 8:21, God says after the flood that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Romans 3:10-18 says: “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Not a pretty picture. But, you say, I’ve not done anything that bad, I haven’t killed anyone or anything like that. Well, maybe you haven’t, but allow me to ask you some questions that will reveal the standard that God uses to judge man:
How many lies do you think you have you told in your whole life? A recent poll found that the average man lies four times a day and the average woman lies three times a day. We’ll assume you are better than average and only lie two times a day, or 730 times a year. Multiplying that out for a thirty year old works out to 21,900 lies, or, let me paint a more visual picture, if you put each lie on a separate sheet of paper, it would work out to a pile over 7 feet tall. Taking into account the number of lies you’ve told, what would that make you? It would make you a liar, right? Revelation 21:8 says: “All liars will have their part in the lake of fire”. Have you ever stolen anything? This includes things like: cheating on your taxes, downloading illegal music or illegally copying software. If you have, that would make you a thief. Ever used God’s Holy name as a cuss word? That’s called blasphemy — taking God’s holy name and dragging it through the dirt. And it is very serious in God’s eyes. Exodus 20:7 says that the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Have you ever lusted after another person? Jesus said that who ever looks at a person to lust after them, has committed adultery with them in their heart. Have you ever looked with lust? 1st Corinthians 10:9-10 says, among other things, that no thief or adulterer will enter heaven.
So based upon God’s standard (and we only covered four of the ten commandments, there are another six commandments that I haven’t touched on), you are one or more of the following, a liar, a thief, a blasphemer and an adulterer at heart. So, you aren’t a good person, and frankly, neither am I, or anybody else under this roof. There is only one who is good, and that’s God, not you.
The Bible says that “it is appointed a man once to die, and then judgment”. So, imagine yourself in Earthly court, with (just using the lies for the moment) a docket file over 7 feet tall. There’s no point in a plea deal, because they have irrefutable proof of your guilt and just saying sorry won’t cut it, neither will anything good you’ve done be admissible, because they’re irrelevant to your crimes (consider a robber in court saying “you should let me go because I only robbed one bank, and I walked old ladies across the street every day. It would be ludicrous if the judge would let them go). So you’d be in quite a hole. Now imagine yourself in the courtroom of God, and he not only knows about the lies, but all of your sins, the ones that nobody else saw you do, and all the sins in your thought life. Surely, there’s no doubt of your guilt, as for each one, God being omnipresent, saw you do it.
Since God is just and righteous, He must punish sin, and because you’re guilty, this means you are in an big heap o trouble. The Bible makes it clear that the penalty for sin is an eternity (Matthew 25:41, Jude 7) in hell, a place of fire (Matthew 13:50), of darkness (Matthew 8:12), of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42), where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched (Mark 9:48). Sound bad enough yet? Consider this: have you ever burned the tip of your finger on the stove? Remember how bad that hurt? Isn’t it amazing how much pain can emanate from such a tiny part of the body? Remember how it was hard to think of much else? Now, think of an eternity of being engulfed in fire. As bad as that is, I don’t think that even really begins to describe the horrors of Hell.
For those that are unsaved, the horrors of hell should give you and idea of how seriously God takes sin and give you a tiny hint of the trouble you are in. For those of you that are saved, this should cause us to have compassion on the unsaved and motivate us to share our faith, by learning to preach, by speaking to somebody, by giving somebody a tract, by leaving behind a tract, by doing something! Can it be scary? Sure, but do something! Charles Spurgeon said: Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself, be sure of that. If we truly believe what the bible says, we must do something. Jesus told us to go out and proclaim the gospel, so do something.
As much as God hates sin, God is merciful and God has provided a way so that we don’t have to go to Hell as we thoroughly deserve to. For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. God provided the sacrifice for us in Jesus Christ, who was God manifested in the flesh, born of the virgin Mary, lived a perfect, sinless life, was crucified on the cross for our sins, and died, and rose again from the dead on the third day. God did this so that He could pour out His righteous wrath upon His Son, instead of us, so that on judgment day we could go free and not get the punishment we deserve. The million dollar question is: how do we obtain this forgiveness? The Bible makes it clear that we obtain it by grace from God through repentance and faith. Repentance towards God means to turn from your sin and forsake it, to agree that you’ve done wrong, to be sorry for it, not because of the consequences, but because you’ve offended a just and Holy God. And faith in that you believe God’s promise that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for your salvation — that you cannot add a thing to it because on your own, you merit nothing but an eternity of suffering in Hel l. That, my friends is the good news. That even though we broke God’s law, He paid the fine, all of it, so we could go free, that while we were yet sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us anyway.
All this being said, about ways to determine if you are saved or not, this isn’t a license to go on witch hunts in the church, or start a new inquisition, as it were, yelling Heathen! God will sort things out in the end. But that is not to say that we shouldn’t practice church discipline if we see a brother or sister in sin. But the take home message here is that we should examine ourselves, see if we’re in the faith, and if not, to repent and to trust the savior.
So, are you good soil, or one of the bad soils? If you’re a good soil, rejoice for what the Lord has done and do something. If you’re a bad soil, you don’t have to stay that way. Please talk to Myself, Ed, Pastor when he gets back, or somebody. Let us answer your questions and introduce you to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.