Grace For The Journey
We are studying our way, verse-by-verse, through the Book of Luke, believing this is the best way to learn the Word of God. I believe the most important thing we do in private and corporate worship is to hear the Word of God. In fact, our passage this morning is about this topic: hearing the Word of God. Before I read the passage I want you to see how many times the word “hear,” or “hearing,” or “hearing the Word” is used in this passage. It is first mentioned in verse 8, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then it is mentioned in verses 12, 13, 14, and 15 where we read about four different kinds of people who “hear” the Word. The word “hear” or “heard” occurs once in each of those four verses. In verse 18 is mentioned again, “Therefore take heed how you hear.” And it is mentioned another time in the last verse of our passage, verse 21, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”It is obvious that these verses are about hearing the Word of God. I want to encourage each of us to be especially careful as we study God Word to hear the Word. I want to encourage you to hear as if your life depended upon it. Why? This passage teaches that our lives really do depend upon our hearing and living by the Word.
Few of us are unfamiliar with the Verizon commercial promoting the vast wireless coverage of their cell phone signal. Nearly all of us have seen the ads with the guy walking around with his phone, seeming to enjoy testing the wide-reaching signal, repeatedly asking the guy he is talking to, “Can you hear me now? Most of us know what it is like to talk on a cell phone and hit what carriers refer to as a “Dead Zone.” A dead zone is a spot where the signal fails. You are talking to someone and you begin to get the impression that the guy on the other end is no longer on the other end. You ask, “Are you there?” Silence. So you call back and figure out when you lost each other and you start over. It is really not fun when that happens like four or five times while you are talking!
If you will allow the metaphor, God is continually talking to us in His Word. His Word is preached, taught, explained, read, and heard. There is never a problem on God’s end of the line. The signal is always clear. The coverage is perfect. The problem is on our end of the line. The problem is that when God’s Word goes out, people do not always hear it as they should. We have created “Dead Zones,” that cause us to lose the signal of God’s Word. And at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, the consequence of these dead zones is death itself. The Good News this morning is that if we will listen, God’s Word will correct us and grant to us life and save us from death. But we must have “ears to hear,” we must listen as though our lives depended upon it.
Our passage begins with Luke’s telling us that Jesus is going through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. Not only are the twelve disciples with Him, but also certain women and “many others who provided for Him from their substance.” (Verse 3). Luke mentions women more than any other Gospel writer and he demonstrates that Jesus’ ministry reaches all kinds of people: male and female, rich and poor, powerless, and powerful.
Luke seems anxious to get on with what happens next. In verse 4 and following, we read about our Lord’s teaching to “a great multitude.” Verse 4 says people “had come to Him from every city.” There is this huge crowd, perhaps thousands of people, including the 12, the group within the group, and many others.
- Some had come because they wanted to follow Christ.
- Some had come because they had heard about his healings, the miracles, the teachings, and they were curious.
- There were no doubt many who had gathered because someone else dragged them along.
A large crowd is not by itself evidence that everyone in the crowed agrees with Jesus. The parable Jesus teaches next demonstrates this. A large crowd is no certain indicator that everyone is on-board with what Jesus is teaching.
- Some are present because they want to follow Christ.
- Some are here because they are curious.
- Some are here because a spouse or a friend insisted that they come.
- But not everyone present is on the same page.
Jesus tells this parable in verses 5-8, an earthly story that illustrates a heavenly truth. He says there is a certain sower, and the sower sows some seed, and some of it falls on the wayside and is trampled down and the birds of the air devour it. That is simply enough to understand. Anyone who has ever sowed seed knows that some of the seed never makes it into the soil. Especially if the soil is hard, the seed just bounces off it and the birds come and eat it. Then he says some of the seed falls on rock and so as soon as the seed springs up it withers away because there is no moisture. Again, pretty easy to understand. Then the sower sows some seed and it falls among the thorns. As the seed grows so do the thorns grow and the thorns choke out the seed. But some of the seed falls among good ground and the seed springs up and yields a crop a hundredfold. That makes sense, too. There was good ground, good soil. Jesus completes His teaching in verse 8 with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Now that is it. That is all he says to the crowd. He does not explain it to the crowd. He just tells them this parable. And the assumption is that those who have ears to hear will hear. That is, they will get it. They will understand that Jesus is not teaching merely about gardening or about crop production. They will understand that Jesus is teaching something far more significant.
Perhaps the disciples thought they understood what Jesus was teaching, but they ask Him, because He is standing right there, and they want to be sure. Verses 9-10 tell us, “Then His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘What does this parable mean?’ And He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’” In essence, Jesus says, “I will share with you what these parables mean because you are the twelve and I have chosen you and you will be blessed with the secrets of the kingdom of God. But I am speaking in parables in order that the true believers will stand out from the unbelievers.”
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9 where the Bible mentions those in Isaiah’s day who have turned their backs upon God and hardened their hearts. They are those who though seeing, do not really see and though hearing, do not really hear. That is, they have hardened their hearts to the Word of God. And Jesus says the same is true during His day. There are those who have hardened their hearts and are not really interested in what God has to say. They have made up their minds. They have chosen to do their own thing. They are not really interested in the Word of God. God speaks, but they do not really hear. It is like they are in a “dead zone.” But the true believers will hear, understand, and follow God in His Word. When Jesus teaches in parables, the teaching causes true believers to stand out from unbelievers. Then Jesus explains to the disciples in verses 11 through 15, “Now the parable is this: ‘The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.’”
There are four kinds of soil that represent four kinds of hearts or ways in which people respond to the Word of God. The first is what we may call . . .
- The Calloused Heart – Verse 12.
The seed that fell on the wayside is the seed that fell on hard ground, infertile soil. The birds came and ate the seed. This represents the ones who hear the Word, but the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. And that happens when a sower goes out to sow seed. When a preacher preaches the Gospel, when he scatters the seed of the Word of God, there will be some who will hear the Word, but their hearts are hard and so the seed just lies on top of their hearts, it never gets down deep. They are no sooner out the door and into the parking lot before Satan comes and takes away what little they have heard.
Now that is an alarming thought if you really think about it. Every time the Word of God goes forth like seed from a sower there is a spiritual battle that is occurring at the same time. Satan works against what is taking place right now from the pulpit or classroom. Too often our concerns lie with the sound, lighting, the heating or air, and so forth, but the greatest hindrance to hearing from God is Satan. He battles against us every time we gather together. He is at work, trying his level best to rob us from hearing the life-giving, life-changing Word of God. The Bible warns in Hebrews3:15, “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Secondly . . .
- The Counterfeit Heart – Verse 13.
Jesus says that the seed that falls among the rock represents those who “when they hear, receive the word with joy, but have no root, (so) they believe for a while but in time of temptation or trial, they fall away.” Initially, they look like true believers, but they are not. Their hearts are not changed eternally. Their faith is shallow. While they look like the real deal, they are but counterfeit Christians.
This helps us understand these cases where someone makes a profession of faith and before long they go off in a different faith life. They get baptized and they begin to lecture everyone else about how to be a Christian, but before long they fall away. You do not see them in church anymore. They have dropped out of Bible Study. They were merely a flash in the pan. They were a shooting star, they looked brilliant at first but fell at last. Adrian Rogers says, “If your faith is faulty at the finish, it was faulty at the first.” The Bible tells us why. They had merely made an emotional response. They received the word “with joy,” a great emotion, but it was not accompanied by a proper understanding of the Gospel and there was no root to their faith. When “time of temptation comes,” and that can also be translated “time of trials, or times of affliction,” when difficult days come, they just fall away. Why? Because they were never truly saved to begin with. Their response was based solely on emotion. They were happy so long as life was easy. So long as there was no difficulty, they were good with God. But the reality is, as the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “those who wish to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Or as Jesus teaches in John John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation.”
You run into this person at the gas station or at Wal-Mart and you say, “Hey, where have you been? We have missed you” and they say, “Oh, you know, I thought God loved me. Since I got baptized I broke my leg, lost my job, and lost my friends. Look, I tried it, but it didn’t do anything for me.” It is at times like these we must lovingly and compassionately listen, but also warn our friend that they may, in fact, not be saved. We must share the full Gospel message with them, so they understand that we do not become Christians in order “to get something out of it.” We become Christians because we are lost and undone and all of our righteousness before God is like filthy rags and we need our sin forgiven and our hearts made pure. The counterfeit heart.
Thirdly . . .
- The Carnal Heart – Verse 14.
I am using the word “carnal” here to represent the things of the flesh or of the world, worldy cares and concerns that are opposite to heavenly cares and concerns. Jesus said some of the seed sown fell among thorns and the thorns sprang up and choked it. In verse 14 Jesus explains that this seed represents “those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and (so) bring no fruit to maturity.” Like the counterfeit heart, this person is not a true believer. True believers bring fruit to maturity. True believers in the words of John the Baptist, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Jesus says these people of verse 14 do not bring fruit to maturity.
Why? Because after they have heard the Word, they go out and are “choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life.” Now, maybe at this point some of us are sitting up a little more in our seats because we say, “Well, I know I am not in the first category, the calloused heart, and I know I am not in the second category, but now wait a minute here, this third category; the carnal heart, the worldly heart. Is my faith “choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life?”
Many a pastor has heard these reasons why some members are not faithful in Bible Study and worship, “I have got to work more so that we take care of our financial situation. We are not really interested in being a fanatic, you know. The kids have got their ballgames every weekend and we have got to have time for self and our fun too. We have just purchased a home on the lake and we are going to go enjoy the good life for awhile. Jesus speaks of thorns that choke out the Word; He calls them “cares, riches, and pleasures of life.” The carnal heart.
Fourthly . . .
- The Converted Heart – Verse 15.
Jesus says that the seed that fell on good ground “are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience, or perseverance.” This is the true believer. This is the one whose heart is changed. His is the converted heart. He or she is a Christian. You can tell this person is a Christian because they both hear and do the Word. They have a hunger for the Word and a desire to honor God. There is a change. There is the bearing of fruit.
Now it is both intriguing and encouraging to me that the emphasis in this parable is not on the sower, but on the seed. The fertility of the soil does not depend upon the giftedness of the sower. The issue is not the sower. It really matters little who the sower is. It really matters little who the preacher and teacher of the Word is. The power for life-change does not rest with the speaker, but with the seed. Jesus says, “the seed is the Word of God” (Verse 11). Do we really believe that? If we do, then the Word of God will dominate your worship time and it really will not matter who is sowing the seed.
Jesus continues His teaching about the Word of God in verses 16 through 18, “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” Jesus is stressing here the missional mandate of Christians. If we have received the light of God’s Word we will declare it to others. We will not hide it, but we will declare it that all may see the light as we have seen the light.
The emphasis is “take heed how you hear.” We are talking here about life and death. If you really have received the Word, then you understand the grace and riches of Christ and you will be given more understanding. If, however, you are a careless listener, even what you thought you understood will be taken away, like birds snatching up seed on the wayside.
Then to drive home the personal blessing of hearing the Word of God we have verses 19 to 21, “Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. And it was told Him by some, who said, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.’” Jesus teaches that intimacy with Him comes with hearing His Word. We are His family if we hear and heed the Word of God.
Let’s make specific application now by asking ourselves these three questions. First . . .
1) Am I Saved? (Do I Love The Word; Do I Have A Desire To Hear and Obey It?)
Not all who hear the word are actually saved. A crowd is no indicator that everyone in the crowd is actually saved. Jesus knew this. He did not flatter Himself that a large crowd gathered to hear the Word. He knew that much of the Word would fall upon infertile soil. Much of it would be tuned out. It is like the stewardess on the airplane going over the safety rules and hardly anyone is listening to her. Heads are buried in magazines, people are talking, and some are listening to music on their iPods. They have tuned her out. Many gather together in worship services, but not all hear the Word of God. Many have hardened their hearts or are in love with the world and have come to church merely because it seems like the right thing to do.
In his commentary on Luke, Kent Hughes writes about the crowd that came to hear Jesus, “It was an impressive scene. But, as we have come to expect, Jesus was not impressed. Today too, large crowds do not mean that God’s work is being done. Virtually any church in our country could be packed out every Sunday night if “worship” ended with a raffle for a luxury car; Mustang and Corvette Nights would always be well-attended, especially by the under thirty-five crowd; and Jaguar Nights would be standing room only, with the over-fifty group filling the front rows. People of the world love a gospel that is “good news” as they define it.”
We must ask ourselves whether we really love the Word of God. You can tell by talking to people whether they love the Word of God. One of the most saddening things in ministry is the discovery of so many church members who know virtually nothing of the Word of God. You talk to them about spiritual things and there is nothing there. They can talk to you about “church life.” They can tell you about how they used to teach the little boys or girls or how they loved the Wednesday night meals or what fun they had together when church was over and they went out to eat, and so forth. But the Word of God? Do they know it? Do they love it? Do they read it? Are they really saved? Are you saved? If so, you will love the Word of God. You will want to hear it and you will listen as if your life depended upon it.
In Southeast Asia there is was a leper colony. Some were unable to meet for worship and so they depended upon someone else to go and then come back and tell them the sermon. How much better would you listen to the Word of God if you knew you had to repeat the sermon to others who were unable to come? Do you really listen to the Word?
Question Two . . .
2) Do I Really Believe That “The Seed Is The Word Of God?”
That is the issue in verse 11. The seed is the Word of God. The issue is not the sower, the preacher, or the teacher. The seed is the Word of God because the Word of God is what changes lives. If we really believe that the seed is the Word of God, then it will be reflected in our worship. We will spend the greater balance of our time not on so many other things, but upon the exposition of God’s Word. It is not about social ministry and it is not about political activism, or even musical style or preference. The seed is the Word of God.
Question number three . . .
3) Am I Being Missional, Declaring To Others The Word I Have Heard?
How will anyone turn from darkness to light and receive forgiveness of sin if I am not letting my light shine in the community this week, or across our country, and to the continents? Am I being missional, declaring to others the Word I have heard? Thankfully, the fertility of the soil does not lie with our giftedness. We are all just people with a bag of seeds, sowing the seed of the Gospel.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”