Intro – D. L. Moody was the visiting pastor in a church one day where many people habitually left before the end of the sermon. When he got up to preach he announced, “I am going to speak to two classes of people this morning; first to the sinners and then to the saints.” He addressed the “sinners” for awhile, and then said they were free to go. Amazingly, everyone stayed to the end. At least once, they heard the Word. Our text is asking a question – have you heard the Word? Paul says in II Cor 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” This passage helps do that – the key being how we hear – used 7 times in these verses. V. 4, “And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable.” Most of Jesus’ listeners were superficial. He tells a parable for 2 reasons – to invite them in if they will; to weed them out if they won’t. This parable cuts through the façade and challenges people to hear with a soft heart. The question is, Have we heard the Word – and if not, why not?
A parable is a physical picture of a spiritual truth. Parables are very useful. But they can mislead rather than clarify if not interpreted correctly. So I want to share with you 4 principles for interpreting parables to help in your study.
Principle 1 – A parable illustrates one central truth. Sometimes people look for meaning in every branch of a parable tree! We call this making a parable “stand on all fours.” For example, suppose I say, “Jim Kennedy runs like a gazelle.” What do I mean? Someone might say, “You mean Jim runs fast; he runs on all fours; and he runs with his tail sticking out in back!” You’ve made an analogy stand “on all fours” – missing my intent. My analogy has one meaning “Jim runs very fast!” Someone may say, “Wait. I’ve seen Jim run. He’s more like a turtle.” So -- he runs with a shell on his back? With his head tucked between his shoulders? On all fours? Of course, not. You mean he runs slowly. Perhaps that’s more truthful. I don’t know. I haven’t actually seen him run! But you get the point. A parable is teaches one central truth.
Principle 2 – Look for an interpretation by the presenter. Jesus often interprets His own parable – like here; we’d be foolish to bypass His help!
Principle 3 – Look at the context. This is always a valid principle of interpretation. But when we see what is happening before and after a parable, and who the audience is and what the incident would have meant to that audience, it will dramatically increase our chances of getting it right.
Principle 4 – Compare with other Scripture. Are we consistent with other Scripture? Some symbols, like fire, sheep and water are used often. Compare other usages. Jesus’ example of the vine in John 15 is greatly clarified against the background of Israel being called the vine in the OT. Multiple gospels.
So, what of this parable? The word “hear” is used repeatedly. It divides into four parts. Each part has seed and each has soil. So, what does each represent? Jesus defines seed for us in v. 11, “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” The seed is God’s Word being shared. No wonder “hearing” is important. The sower in v. 5 refers to Jesus. He’s the one dispensing the Word of God. By application this could be anyone sharing the gospel.
So what about the soil? V. 12 helps, “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Here we see that soil stands for people’s hearts – further clarified in v. 15.
So, seed is the same in all 4 parts. But soil differs. Jesus is teaching the effect of the Word, which is constant, depends on the condition of the heart which differs and drives how one hears. 4 types of hearts are identified. Some reject His words outright. Others are wildly enthusiastic until it becomes demanding. Others go along until something new catches their fancy. Only a few truly “get the message.” The key is how the heart hears the Word. Thus, v. 8, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He is looking for open, receptive hearts. That will determine their eternal destiny. Matt 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The Word is unchanging. But its reception depends on the type of heart. Each of us here this morning falls into one of these categories. So, what kind of soil are you? Let’s look at the first today.
I.Wayside Soil – (The Rejecter)
V. 5, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.” A 1st century farmer would tie a seed bag around his waist and walk his field, casting seed as he went. Every seed bore the potential for life. Its fate depended on the soil. Whether life springs up depends on the soil (heart).
The fate of the first seed is in v. 12, “12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Walkways were packed hard from continued use. Seed that fell on that soil would never sprout. Birds would swoop down and devour it as it lay on the hard soil. So it is when the Word lands on a hard heart. Satan easily steals it away. The Word cannot penetrate. It’s rejected.
Charles Swindoll had lunch one day with an unsaved doctor friend. He drew a picture of a circle labeled God with the word “holy” written beneath it. On the other side was another circle labeled “man” with the word “unholy” written under it. Next he drew a bridge between God and man with a cross and the name “Christ” written on the horizontal bar of the cross. Simple gospel. But his friend remarked, “In a thousand years I could never believe that.” Swindoll asked, “Have you ever seen that before?” “No. Never in my life. Never. Never seen it and I’m not interested.” That is a hard heart. Many things can cause a hard, rejecting heart. I want to consider 5 this morning. Think carefully. Perhaps you are here. Perhaps you have come only to please someone or because your family always went. But you really have no interest. In fact, you really resent all of this at some level. Perhaps you have a hard heart.
A.Disregard for the Presenter – Some people reject the message because of the messenger. Maybe a pastor they don’t like. Too young or too old or too fat or too thin. Perhaps his socks don’t match his trousers. Or an acquaintance who is too simple, too pushy, too intense, too naive. You don’t like the messenger and so you reject the message. Satan – stealing the seed.
I started to play a CD once without noticing who was speaking. As he spoke I thought, “This guy is a hillbilly.” I was put off by his twang and rather old-fashioned style. After a few minutes I pulled the CD out only to find that the speaker was A. W. Tozer, one of the greatest devotional preachers of the 20th century and a man whose writings I have treasured. Suffice to say I went back to listen with a whole different mindset -- or heart-set. I listened differently.
Imagine telling Christ one day, “I rejected you bc the messenger wasn’t cool like me.” Surely that will not do. Presenters aren’t perfect; don’t let a flawed messenger turn you off. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
B.Hypocrisy of Believers – This is a favorite one. “Believers are hypocrites.” So many reject Jesus for that reason. But it won’t fly. Only a fool would allow someone else’s behavior to determine their belief. Would you refuse to believe your house is on fire because a hypocritical person told you?
Would you allow someone you disrespect manage your investment? So why allow them to determine your faith? Suppose you love golf. But you know the best wood in most guys’ bag is their pencil; they all cheat a little and then brag about it! So, do you quit golf – because of a few hypocrites? No. So why allow someone you disrespect to determine your eternal destiny! Are there hypocrites in the church? Of course, just like there are hypocrites in every area of life. But to reject Jesus bc some followers are flawed is foolish. One man asked a new friend if he was a Christian. He replied, “Certainly not. Christianity is a bunch of humbug. My father is a minister, but all I saw in the church were hypocrites.” The new friend replied, “Have you considered Rom 14:12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God”? Good question. You’re not going to answer for the hypocrites. You’re going to answer for you! It’s nonsense to judge Jesus by others. I was pulled over for speeding one time. I said, “But officer, people were passing me” which was true. Think I got off? Not on your life. I was responsible for me not the other guys. So with God, “each of us will give an account of himself to God” not the hypocrites.
C.Science Has Disproved the Bible – One of Satan’s greatest lies. The Science 101 prof has stolen your faith? Listen closely. There is no discrepancy between the Bible and scientific fact. None. There is discrepancy between the Bible and some scientific theories, but not scientific fact. All truth is God’s truth, whether it comes from science or the Bible. But Satan has confused science fact and theory causing many to discard Scripture.
Consider this. A major discrepancy pits the Bible against the scientific theory of evolution – considered as fact by many. The theory contends that all life evolved from a single organism that originated in some unknown fashion. “Survival of the fittest” has driven favorable characteristics to be bred into succeeding generations resulting in migration from one species to another. Left unsaid is that there has never been one single observed instance of such major migration? Nor is there any proven instance of such migration from the fossil or archaeological record. Micro-evolution within species – like breeding dogs, yes. But migration between species – no evidence whatsoever!
Furthermore, during the Cambrian period of archaeological history, hundreds of species suddenly show up in full bloom in the fossil record all at roughly the same time. There is no indication of movement from one species to another.
Furthermore, the theory of evolution violates two of the most basic physical principles upon which science itself is based. The first is the First Law of Thermodynamics or Conservation of Energy. This states that the natural universe consists of energy and matter governed by the formula discovered by Einstein, e=mc2 (energy = mass x the speed of light squared). This means that matter is just another form of energy, and scientists agree that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can change form. Wood can be turned into heat energy by burning, but no energy is created or lost in the process – just changed. This means that the natural universe is a closed system, and no observable principle of science can explain the beginning of anything. Yet, because the continued expansion of the universe is now proven, the scientific community is virtually unanimous in contending that the universe did have a beginning – the “Big Bang”. But no known, observable process or even valid hypothesis explains how such an event could have occurred. None. When it comes to Beginnings, you either believe in the Creator God of the Bible, or you believe in magic. Either way, you are out on a limb called “Faith!”
Then, there is the Second Law of Thermodymics which states that the total amount of entropy -- randomness, disorder, or waste in the universe is always increasing. Things left to their own devices run down, wear out, evolve from order to chaos – never vice versa. Drop a china bowl on the stone floor and it will break into pieces. Pick them up and drop them again and you get more pieces. Under no circumstances, no matter how many times you do it, will the bowl reassemble itself. That’s thermodymics. Disordered states arise spontaneously; ordered states do not. The theory of evolution, postulating upward development of life, violates these most basic principles.
We’ve been sold a bill of goods by the educated elite with an anti-God prejudice. They contend that scientific fact and biblical revelation are in conflict. They are not nor can they be. The Bible conflicts with some scientific theories. But those change so fast new books are required annually to keep up; the Bible has stood the test of time for 2,000 years. If you are rejecting Christ because of some supposed conflict with science, I urge you to keep investigating, keep looking. Don’t buy the lie. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Therefore, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
D.Love of Self – Most people reject Christ because they don’t want to be accountable. The thought is reprehensible. So we convince ourselves that if there even is a God, He will accept us as we are. We sure can’t buy those outdated biblical principles of morality. But that’s not new! Jesus noted, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Jesus said that to Nicodemus, one of the most righteous men of his time, but a man who was putting self ahead of God. Rejecters disagree with God about sin. “It can’t be sin if everybody does it!” They refuse the light because they don’t want it to be true. They’ll define sin, thank you!
A car blew past a stop sign at a busy intersection. A state trooper gave chase. After pulling the car over and asking for a license, the trooper asked, “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” The driver replied, “Yes, I saw the sign; the problem is I didn’t see you?” That is the problem of the rejecter. He refuses to see God. He’s hardened his heart in sin. He loves the darkness rather than the light? Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
E.God Has Hardened the Heart – You don’t hear this much, but the Bible teaches when we harden our hearts often enough, God eventually says, “Okay, if that’s what you want, let me help you out.” To the people of Noah’s time God warned, “My Spirit will not strive with man forever” (Gen 6:3). He is not willing that any should perish, but He will not delay forever.
Pharaoh hardened his heart multiple times refusing to let Israel go. Then the Lord began to harden it for him. Technically, while there is life there is hope. But we can reject Christ so often and adamantly that God says, “That’s it.” I John 4:16, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” Have we reached that point? Are we hearing what Jesus says?
In John Bunyan’s classic book Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is amazed to find at one point a sad man sitting in a dark room seated in an iron cage. The man says he was once interested in God, but never committed to Christ. Christian asks, "But how did you get in this condition?" "I allowed myself to be driven by my lust, and I sinned against the light of the Word of God and the goodness of God. I have provoked God to anger, and He has left me; I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent." Christian asks, "Is there no hope?" "No, none at all. Because I have despised His very person; I have despised His righteousness; I have counted His blood as an unholy thing. Therefore, I have shut myself out from all the promises, and nothing remains for me but judgment." This is a graphic picture of Heb 10:26-27: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” What a warning God gives us. Prov 14:12 warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, its end is the way of death.”
Conc -- We must prepare now for eternity. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Have you heard the Word? Paul says in II Cor 6:2, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Don’t put Him off. You don’t know when or if He will be back. Don’t let Satan steal the seed. If He’s calling it’s not too late. Remember the thieves crucified with Jesus? Someone has said, “On Golgotha, one man died in sin (the rejecter); one man died to sin (the one who accepted); and one Man died for sin (Jesus Christ who made it all possible). Are you the rejecter or the accepter? Have you heard the Word? Let’s pray.