I wasn’t planning on doing this, but I was trying to think about what to preach this week, and somewhere I heard the phrase about God separating the wheat from the tares or the chaff as some translations put it. I went there and looked and thought, no, there isn’t quite enough there for a sermon, besides, I don’t think there is anyone in this particular congregation that would be separated like chaff.
By the way, what is chaff or tares? Not many of us really know a whole lot about wheat, I certainly don’t. For us, today, a better illustration would be like husks from corn. God will separate people as one separates the husks from the corn. The corn is saved and the husks are thrown away.
And then I did another word search and came up with the sower, or farmer, and the seeds. And when I looked at that, I thought, yeah, that’s more like it. And then I looked at the chapter and thought, wait a minute, that’s the same chapter Dad preached on last week when he talked about why Jesus spoke in parables.
So, the Lord led me to look at that particular parable today. I’ve looked at it before a few years ago, and when I did, I examined it from The Gospel of Mark, but since Dad preached from Matthew last week, let’s piggyback off of that and look at Matthew Chapter 13.
As you’re turning there, there are a couple of other points I want to make regarding why Jesus spoke in parables. Dad did a great job last week, and I asked him for his sermon notes on it because I might be inclined to preach that someday. Allan Ross, an author and seminary teacher, said this, “Jesus, the King, was approaching a crisis in His presentation of Himself when it would be necessary to challenge peoples’ faith concerning His mission and indeed His identity. In view of this, He chose to use parables to begin to uncover the faith of true disciples, and to demonstrate judgment on those who refused to see and hear.”
And that’s what dad talked about. But here are a couple of other reasons just to mention them briefly. Many people wanted to understand the Kingdom of God, and Jesus used parables so that people could understand God and His ways and His love for us in a more dramatic way. Again, not everyone accepted it. Even some who understood what Jesus was saying didn’t necessarily accept what Jesus was saying. Especially when Jesus talked about judgment and he was aiming straight for them, and they––the Pharisees and teachers of the law––knew it.
Another reason was so that people could not only understand certain aspects of God’s love for us (and his judgment) but also so that people could remember them better. It’s easier to remember a story than it is a sermon. Just like it’s easier to remember a song.
I’m sure you’ve seen the meme: “My ability to remember song lyrics from the 80s far exceeds my ability to remember why I walked into the room.”
Parables are like that, easy to remember and easy to teach, to any age group. And speaking of teaching, let’s take a look at our scripture this week: Matthew 13:1-9.
Scripture: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no roots. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
So the question for you today is this, plain and simple, which soil are you?
Now, I think that it’s safe to assume since you’re all sitting here this morning, that you are not in the first category. You have heard the gospel, and you have not allowed Satan to come along and take it from you. But which one of the other soils are you? You could still be sitting in church today, and be any one of the other soils.
Let’s take a look at the second soil: Jesus said, “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no roots.” This means that even though the Word of God is received, it does not last. When trouble or persecution comes, some quickly fall away. How easy is it to shrink back and fall away from God out of fear and persecution?
I’ll bet you that some of you would have never thought The United States would be a place where we would someday see Christian principles face persecution.
Do you remember just a few years ago, a Christian went to the Supreme Court of the United States just because he said no. That’s it. He said no. He refused to participate in a gay marriage. The headline from Fox News said, “Christian Baker at Center of Supreme Court Case: We’ve Faced Death Threats and Harassment.”
If someone told you, back in your childhood, that this would be a news headline, you might think they were crazy. Not in the United States. And when they told you what the headline was about, you would have thought they were even crazier, right? Think back 30 years ago, just before gay rights had really started in the mainstream, and someone told you that 25 years later we’d be at this point in society. You would have thought they were crazy.
How easy would it have been for the baker, Jack Philips, to cave to the demands of the same-sex couple? Especially when they’ve threatened lawsuits? Think about it. If the baker had gone ahead and made the cake out of fear of a lawsuit, you and I, and the rest of the world would have never known. It would not have been a problem. It would not have been a national issue. He would not have had to go through what he went through. It would have been so easy, and I’m sure it was probably very tempting, to just say yes. But he stood his ground and firmly stood up for what he believed to be the Godly thing to do.
But as the headline suggests, not only was he dragged all the way to The Supreme Court of the United States, not only has he lost business and employees, not only has he become a household name—which he probably didn’t want—but he has had to deal with harassment and death threats. I’m sure it has challenged his faith. But has this shaken his faith? The real question is, would it shake yours?
Notice in the verse, The soil was shallow. “When the sun came out, it scorched and withered quickly because it had no roots.” What does that mean? It means that Christianity requires a maturing process. It requires time to take root and allow those roots to go deep. God does not want a shallow relationship. As the Christian baker found out, Christianity will require a lot from us. We will need to have deep enough soil that will allow God’s word, and God himself, to become deeply rooted in us.
If the seed is God’s word, then to have God’s word go deep in us, requires two things: First, devotion to studying God’s word and letting it take root in our lives. Second, it requires testing of faith so that when the sun really does come out trying to scorch us—like the Christian baker, we will have already seen God’s goodness in our lives. We will have the faith and strength to stand against trials.
I have been surprised at how much more faith I have today than I did just a couple of years ago when I first started here. I can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense. It would seem that if you are prospering, your faith would be strengthened because you would be seeing God’s blessings all the time. But that’s not true. Going through trials is when your faith is strengthened because you’ve seen God’s protection and provision over your circumstances. That’s an example of the Kingdom mindset that Jesus talks about in his teachings and parables. It’s one thing to be taught it and believe it; but it’s another thing to go through it and be tested to the point that you either bow out or you brace yourself and find that after a while, you really believe.
This leads me to the next type of soil. It’s similar to the previous one. When Jesus was explaining the meaning of the parable to his disciples, he said in verse 22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
What does this mean and how is it different from the last one?
Enduring Word Bible Commentary puts it this way: We might say this ground is too fertile. The word of God grows there, but so does everything else. And everything else soon begins to crowd out the word of God.
Jesus used the phrase, ‘The worries of this life.’ You know, the worries of this life are sometimes just the simple, everyday, ordinary things.
Today, even, I’m the only one from my family here…again. I’m glad that my family is involved in things, but we live in a 24/7 world now. Everyone’s schedules are so full, that some activities now spill onto Sunday mornings too. And whatever happened to the 9-5 workweek? Many companies are 24/7. Where’s time for family? Where’s the time for church? When do we have time to think about putting God first in our lives when we can’t even seem to get a break in our own lives to begin with. It always seems there’s someone else making the schedule for us and we’re just trying to keep up.
Diana and Rose often work on Sundays, and when they’re not, Diana takes Evelyn to Pony Club. Rose mentioned that she will be working 13 days straight without a day off. I remember doing that when I worked for the newspaper, and you all know I have three jobs if you count this one. I drive a medical shuttle and I freelance for my local weekly newspaper. I am also volunteering at two non-profits in Dansville. I’ve said to a couple of people recently that I’m going to have to let go of some of those things so I don’t over-exhaust myself.
By the way, Diana and I are going away for a couple of weeks at the end of June and into July. That will be nice.
So the cares of life distract us from God. You would think it would lead us to God, but it distracts us from God. Maybe the cares of this world even rob us of our faith as I mentioned before. Sometimes it strengthens our faith, but for others, it robs us of our faith.
Then Jesus used the phrase: ‘the deceitfulness of wealth.’ Think about that phrase for just a moment. How does material wealth deceive us? By making promises it can’t keep. People are tempted to believe that money is the answer to our problems rather than God. Why? Because money is tangible. We can see it, we can place a physical value to it. We can see right where it can fit into our lives and take care of problems. But people with money have problems, too. Not all problems go away when you have money, they either turn into different problems or certain problems have nothing to do with money. Relationship problems for example.
Or, depending on how wealthy people spend their money, they may incur greater problems.
CNBC did a report a couple of years ago on lottery winners. This is what it said:
Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American. What’s more, studies have shown that winning the lottery does not necessarily make you happier or healthier.
“Evidence shows that most people who make it to the top one percent of income earners usually don’t stay at the top for very long,” writes The Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte.
Economist Jay L. Zagorsky agrees with the research. He writes for U.S. News and World Report: “Studies found that instead of getting people out of financial trouble, winning the lottery got people into more trouble since bankruptcy rates soared for lottery winners three to five years after winning.”
We think wealth can replace, or even be, God’s provisions for us. Like I said, it’s easier to chase after wealth because wealth is something tangible. God’s provision is not always foreseeable. It’s invisible. It’s based on faith.
Another example of why wealth is deceitful, for some, they believe their personal value as a human being lies in their finances. I have been guilty of that myself. Maybe that’s why God has kept me poor this long. He wants to keep reminding me that my value is not in my wealth or lack thereof. My value is not in what I am but in who I am. And I have to keep reminding myself that I am a child of God.
Lastly, Jesus added, and the desire for other things. This could be a myriad of things that have little or nothing to do with wealth. These are things of pleasure that may not be bad in and of themselves, but they become an idol. In other words, they’ll set God aside thinking He’s not worth their time. Afterall, it’s summer. Time to get to the cottage, get out the boat and get on the lake. And Sundays are for sleeping in.
Without good soil, the roots of the Word won’t go very far. The things of this world will choke out, or obstruct the desire for God in our lives.
Now let’s go to the good soil. Here’s what Jesus said when explaining it to his disciples: “23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.” I hope you are all in that category.
Let’s first take what Jesus said about hearing the word and accepting it. The soil can’t take all the credit for producing a bumper crop, can it? I’m not a farmer. Diana is the farmer in the family. She has done a lot of planting. She has a vegetable garden, and a couple of years ago she sold some of her vegetables at the farmer’s market across the street.
Now, I’ll bet you, she would know to never plant in any of the first places the farmer scattered his seeds. Today, when we plant, we don’t plant the way they did in Jesus’ time. We plant much more carefully and intentionally. In the story, the farmer wasn’t ignorant about which soil was good and which soil was bad. In that day and time, the farmers had a sack over one shoulder that hung down to the opposite waist, and they would scoop the seeds from the sack with their hands, walk about their fields and scatter it, allowing the seed to fall and land where it may in the process.
But to expect a crop, whether back then or today, the farmer has to pick a field, dig out the rocks, rip out the thornbushes, till the soil—and I’ll bet Diana won’t just scatter the seed, either. First, she’ll start the seeds indoors to let them sprout there. Then she’ll be very intentional on planting each individual seed in her garden, in so-many rows, so-many spaces apart from each other.
About five years ago, we had a drought. I remember the whole family taking two hours out of our evenings, each with a watering can in hand and filling them up several times a night from a 250-gallon plastic water tank, watering her garden. She took time and energy making sure the garden was well tilled, the soil was right, the garden was watered and the garden was protected from animals.
You see, we can gladly be willing to receive the word. But before we can produce a bumper crop, we still have to allow God to till our soil, dig out the rocks, and weed out the thorn bushes to let the seed take root. Then, over a period of time, as we allow The Holy Spirit to water it, it begins to grow.
In other words, God’s word works for us in ways that don’t sprout up and become mature overnight. Over time, over constant Bible study, going to church, receiving the word of God through a variety of other ways such as books, music, and listening to teachers on radio and tv (I know I criticize a lot of teachers and books, but we all know there are good ones out there too), being renewed and constantly watered by The Spirit—even in a season of drought we can find our spiritual life growing and producing.
There are a lot of references in the Bible about producing fruit and the type of fruit a Christian should produce. For example, the Fruit of the Spirit (meaning those who live by The Holy Spirit) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
There are a number of verses all throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament that use the phrases fruit of righteousness or harvest of righteousness. Here are a few, very briefly:
- Psalm 72:3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
- Isaiah 32:7 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
- Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
- James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
You’ll notice the common theme above: we will bear a harvest of peace. Don’t we all need a little more peace in our lives? When we plant a garden or a fruit tree, one tiny seed can produce an enormous amount. How many apples can one apple seed produce? How many ears of corn can one seed produce? How many tomatoes can one seed produce? An abundance, more than we know what to do with. We have an apple tree out back that produces so many apples, we just don’t know what to do with them all. Farmers produce so much that they can’t harvest it all. Now think about what this means spiritually.
In the beginning, I asked, what soil are you? As I close, I want to ask you one more question. You’ll notice Jesus closes this statement by saying we can produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown”
Are you producing a 30 fold crop of righteousness? If you are, are you content with that? Maybe it’s time to produce 60 fold or 100 fold of the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of righteousness in your life.
There’s only one way to increase the fruit of the Spirit in your lives and to produce a harvest of righteousness. Get closer to God. Though it takes time and effort to do so. I know, I said earlier that we don’t have time. But if you really want to increase your production of righteousness, or the fruit of the Spirit or the peace that comes with being close to God, then you will have to not find time, but make time. Spend alone time with Him, read His word, let it sink in. Pray and worship in your own home, in your car, wherever you happen to be, and let his Spirit come over you and change you. Maybe it’s on the way to work, maybe it’s getting up a few minutes earlier, maybe it’s changing the channel to a Christian station or just shutting it off and spending time in prayer.
And speaking of prayer, let’s pray:
Lord God, we ask that you would let your word sink into us. We accept your word, we make a decision today to be good soil. Today, if never before, we accept your word into our lives. We invite you to come, water our souls, pull out the weeds and the thorns that might be choking us—maybe we haven’t even realized that we have that kind of soil until now. Lord, we make a decision today to accept your word like never before, to make every effort to let it grow in our lives so that we may produce a harvest of righteousness in abundance. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen