Second Scripture Reading Matthew 13:1-9, 13-23 February 18, 2018
The Parable of the Sower
By Rev. Bill Jennings
Introduction: Today we are beginning a new series of sermons on Christ’s Work, concentrating on some of the Hard Sayings of Jesus in his Parables in Matthew. What is it that makes this a “Hard Saying of Jesus”?
As we read in the second Scripture reading, Matthew wrote the following:
“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed in their case the prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says,
“You will indeed hear but not understand and you will indeed see but never perceive,
for this peoples’ heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear,and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and ‘turn and I would heal them.’
Now, Mark, in his parallel passage (Mark 4.11-12) records Jesus as making the saying even harder saying, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that: “’they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
The difference between Matt. and Mark is that Matthew lays the blame on the spiritual dullness of the people on the people themselves: “..for they will indeed see but never perceive, for their eyes they have closed, lest (or unless) they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and ‘turn and I would heal them.’
Mark, on the other hand makes it sound like it was God’s purpose to promote the closing of their eyes and ears: “…for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
The Biblical evidence that God himself is behind the acceptance or rejection of His truth is found as far back as Deut. 29.2-4 (It is important to remember that Moses said these words after the children of Israel had completed their 40-year trek through the desert and were just across the Jordan River from the Promised Land):
“Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, ‘You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”
Nor was Isaiah the only prophet to hear about insensitive eyes and ears. Listen to hear what the Lord said to Jeremiah, in 5.20-21:
“Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, O foolish and
senseless people; who have eyes but see not, who have ears but hear not.”
And then, again in Ezekiel 12.1-2:
“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.”
So, in the biblical record we have both the Lord’s initiative in promoting spiritual dullness to the Kingdom of Heaven on the one hand, and on the other, it is the fault of those who receive the message. Which is right? Who is right, Mark or Matthew?
Is the Sovereign God of the Bible the cause of the spiritual blindness and deafness of human beings or is it the fault of those human beings? Logically, by human logic both cannot be true. That is one of the things that makes this a Hard Saying of Jesus. Who is the cause of insensitivity? God, or his People?
But the answer to that question is that Both are True! God is both Sovereign, and People are also responsible. And, if both are true, that is a mystery and it goes way beyond my human capacity to logically figure this out.
Now, allow me to introduce to two important figures of the Bible who have come to the same conclusion: that God’s “logic” doesn’t always agree with ours: King David and the Prophet Isaiah.
First David: In Psalm 139.1-6 David says this:
“O LORD you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
King David is not ashamed or intimidated to admit or even proclaim that when he considers the Sovereignty of God, it goes beyond his meager human limitations and inability of understanding it.
Now, let us hear Isaiah: In Isaiah 55.8-9, he says this:
[God is speaking] “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways
higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Like David, Isaiah was not perplexed or confused to admit and even proclaim that he worshiped a God whose ways and thoughts were far beyond his own limited powers of reasoning.
So, the message here, about the Sovereignty of God which may be beyond your understanding, do not be afraid of the fact that this Sovereign Lord’s way of doing things goes way beyond your own powers of human logic to understand. I, personally have no problem being in the company of King David and the Prophet Isaiah!
Now, the second lesson from this parable of the Sower is to shift our attention from God’s Sovereignty to our responsibility. As you can see Jesus mentioned three human organs that come into play, our eyes, our ears and our hearts. I would like to concentrate on the most important and complex of these organs, our hearts. We can live with our eyes and ears, but not without hearts!
In Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 6, he mentions that the critical human organ in the reception of the message is not the eyes, or ears, but the heart (v. 19). It is the heart of the people which has grown dull, and if there is going to be understanding, it will have to come from the heart.
Now, the human heart according to the Biblical world view, is a treacherous organ. Listen to what Jeremiah wrote:
[The LORD is speaking}: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it? I, the LORD search the heart and test the mind.”
And, later he writes, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jr. 29.11-13).
Just one example to show how the heart is important: What was the difference between the response of the Levite and Priest on the one hand, and the Samaritan, on the other, who passed the man near death on the Jericho Road? All three men saw the man with their eyes. What made the difference was the Samaritan, who had pity on the man. Where does pity come from? It comes from the heart, not the eyes!
How many people think they are seeking the Lord “with all their heart” but in the end, they did not even know what “all their heart” meant? The “Rich young Man” in Mk. 10 was like that. He ran up to Jesus with a confidence and enthusiasm, and affirmed that he had obeyed at least 5 of the commandments. He must have thought he was close to the Kingdom, but Jesus said there was just one thing lacking: he must give up his wealth, and the man went away, because he was rich. His heart was the problem! Jesus had said that “where your treasure is, there also is where your heart is.” He was a perfect example of the kind of soil Jesus describes in Matt. 13.22: “as for [that seed which] was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word and but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” In the parable of the soils, the seed is always good. What is questionable are the different soils – the different hearts who receive or not the good seed. If the Message of the Good News does not take root in your heart, nothing will happen!
This “Hard Saying” of Jesus is included in all four of the Gospels, and also the very last words of Paul in the Book of Acts. Since all of these great men of the NT wrote years after Jesus arose from the dead, they found that saying to be just as important in the life of the church as it was in the days of Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul in Israel and all the way to the ends of the earth, including Murphy, North Carolina.
How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the Sovereignty of God and our own Responsibility for our acts? How can we accept the fact that God is the Potter and we are the Clay that he is forming? As we sing the final hymn today, listen to the words of the hymn as you sing them. Maybe that will help.
“Have Thine own way Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay!
Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”
By Yielding and Surrendering, to His Will!