Last time, we began looking at one of Jesus’ most familiar teachings – The Parable of the Sower. We saw that Jesus Himself (the Word of God) is the Seed which is continually being sown into men”s hearts. We looked at the first two of four responses to the hearing of the Word which Jesus outlined in this parable. The first response that Jesus mentioned was the Seed that fell by the wayside, allowing the enemy of our souls to snatch it away. This is the case where the hearer of the Word doesn’t even recognize the truth of Jesus’ Gospel.
The second response that Jesus outlined was the Seed which fell on hard ground and perished before it was able to take root. This is the case where the hearer receives the Word and accepts the truth of the Gospel, but does not take any action to nurture it through regular study of God’s revealed Word and fellowship with other believers.
Now we come to the third possible reaction to the hearing of the Gospel that Jesus teaches about.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.
Anyone who has ever tried to struggle through a thicket of thorny brambles or blackberries, understands the analogy Jesus is making here. He likens the cares, riches, and pleasures of life to a thicket of thorny bushes which prevents the Word He has sown into our hearts from prospering and bearing fruit.
This response to the hearing of the Gospel is perhaps the most common in our western society. Surveys repeatedly show that a large majority of Americans identify themselves as “Christians,” yet observing the fruit (or rather the lack thereof) in their “Christian” lives confirms that following Jesus is not their primary focus.
The means and path to salvation are clearly laid out.
…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Many people (including me) make a profession of faith. They may even (like me) believe in their hearts the Truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Few, however, make following Jesus their driving motivation. When Paul writes in Romans 10:9 the need to “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus” in order to obtain salvation, it requires much more than merely mouthing the words, “Jesus is Lord” out loud to some prayer counselor. It means that we truly need to make Jesus our Lord. It implies a conscious turning away from the previous life of sin to devote the new life entirely to following and serving the new Lord.
Consider what Paul has to say about the last days.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
1But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Jesus says that He would actually prefer outright rejection of the Gospel to half-hearted following.
14“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
Based on these scriptures, it seems plain that we are in the midst of the last days described by Paul to Timothy, and that the ostensible “Christian” church in the western world is half-hearted in its devotion to the Lord, as Jesus declares about the Laodicean church.
Jesus plainly calls out in his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, those aspects of life in this world which can stunt our growth in Him, and prevent us from bearing fruit for His kingdom.
Many people struggle with simply providing basic necessities for themselves and their families. In the midst of that struggle, it is easy to get bogged down in worry over how we will possibly survive. Jesus admonishes us to trust in Him, and make our relationship with Him and the work He has set before us the central focus of our lives.
31“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
For some, like myself, life isn’t a day-by-day struggle for survival, but we nevertheless feel compelled to improve the (imagined) security of our situation in life. When I was a young man working to provide for my wife and young sons, I visited the church of an old friend who had recently been saved. Although I had been a believer for some time, I had surely not made Jesus the Lord of my life – far from it. When the pastor gave the alter call that day, I went forward and confessed with my mouth the Lord Jesus – at least I mouthed the words. But I allowed the cares of life to choke out my fellowship with other believers, and with my Lord, practically as soon as I got back to my home town.
At the time, I was obsessed with finishing my college education before retiring from the Air Force, so that I could get a better-paying job once I left the service. In my zeal to accomplish this goal I had set for myself, I neglected the more important task to which God’s Word called me (although I was ignorant of it), to draw into intimate fellowship with my Savior, and to nurture my family in the ways of the Lord.
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them”:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
25Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
28But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Wealth in itself is not a bad thing. Those whom God blesses with great wealth have the opportunity to do great works with them in honor to God. God expects us to use the gifts He has provided, including earthly wealth, in worshiping Him through service to others.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
God does not despise earthly wealth. The Word is full of examples of great men of God who also possessed great earthly riches. But those who have been blessed by God with earthly wealth may be easily stumbled to become covetous of even greater wealth (regardless of the means through which it is acquired), or miserly – desiring to hoard the riches for themselves, in disobedience to God’s call for us to share our abundance with those in need.
“You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.
16Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
This admonishment doesn’t apply only to monetary wealth, but to every gift of God – most importantly, the saving knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7
6For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Jesus directs us not to treasure up for ourselves this greatest of His gifts, but to carry it out into the lost and hungry world. We’ll take a closer look at this when we study the next parable in Luke – Jesus’ admonition to not hide a lamp which has been lit.
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Unless we allow God’s Spirit to move within our hearts to share the Gospel with others, the Gospel He has sown within us will never grow to maturity and bear fruits for God’s kingdom.
Out of the fullness of His great love for us, God has provided great blessings in our temporary home here on the Earth. Certainly those to whom God has given wealth also have access to myriad pleasures which can be bought – good food and drink, travel to intriguing destinations, freedom in leisure, virtually unlimited entertainment options, enjoyable companionship, etc. There is nothing wrong with these things. After all, they have been provided to us as gifts from a loving God.
The danger is that we might be tempted to make the seeking after these pleasures our central pursuit, rather than seeking after God and enjoyment in His presence. There is no greater example of this abuse of God’s blessings than the obsession with sexual pleasure which pervades our society. Not only can the pursuit of sexual sin displace God as the focus of our lives – destroying any chance that the Word He has sown within us might bear any fruit – but it can also have the devastating effect of driving unbelievers further away from God.
Consider the all-too-common instances when a pastor, televangelist, or missionary has been caught up in a sexual scandal. It’s always the lead story on the news, and gives fodder to the sensationalist media for years afterward. Meanwhile, devoted believers committed to serving the Lord with their entire lives, press forward in the labor of God’s harvest without any notice whatsoever from men.
The worship and pursuit of sexual pleasure instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God as we have been commanded, although perhaps the most obvious and common of the pleasure seeking which can prevent the sown Word of God from growing in our hearts, is certainly not the only earthly pleasure which can draw us away from His Lordship. For some it is sports and physical fitness. For some, like myself, it is eating good food. For some it is maintaining our earthly possessions – particularly our homes or motor vehicles. For some, it is video games or other forms of multimedia entertainment. For some it is our work. For some it is our families. For some it is the fellowship in service with our brothers and sisters in Christ. None of these things are sinful per se, unless we make these earthly pleasures our primary focus instead of seeking after God Himself moment-by-moment.
Sadly, most often the Gospel seed falls on one of the three types of soil that Jesus has already listed. The result is that the Seed does not bear the fruit for which the Sower cast it forth. But on occasion, the Seed also falls on fertile ground where it can grow and produce fruit.
But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.”
In Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts Jesus says thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. The point is that God’s intent in sowing the Gospel seed within our hearts is so that we may share it with others, and that a few of those with whom we share it may come to salvation in Christ, by which the Seed sown within their hearts may bear even more fruit for the Kingdom of God. This has been happening in the Church since Jesus ascended, and within Jewish society since God’s calling of Abraham. It is this purpose for which we remain here on Earth despite our fervent desire to be with Him.
After hearing and believing the Gospel some 27 years before, God had finally tilled the hardened, thorn-ridden soil of my heart to the point where His Gospel could take root and thrive. Praise God that He didn’t just walk away when He first sowed His Seed on the hard ground of my heart, after the enemy had come and snatched it away. Nor did He give up after sowing His Word on my heart time and again when I allowed the thorns of this world to stifle its growth. He returned faithfully every sowing season to remind me of His Truth, until that day when my heart could finally accept the Word and allow it to thrive there.
Since that day, I have striven to live a life worthy of the calling of my God – not always very successfully – and I have tried to pass on the gift of the Gospel when I was given opportunity. It remains to be seen whether this Seed will bear any fruit of its own. I do very much look forward to the day when God will reveal to that street evangelist from Alexandria, and to my friend who invited me to his church years later, that the Seed they helped the Sower to plant finally found the fertile ground it needed to grow.
Before we move on, we need to examine an aspect of this passage, which frankly bothers me deeply.
9Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10And 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.’ [Isaiah 6:9]
Here Jesus paraphrases the prophecy of Isaiah. In Isaiah 6, the prophet was shown a vision of God’s throne in Heaven. From the throne God spoke, calling Isaiah to go and prophesy to the southern kingdom of Judah.
8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
9And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
11Then I said, “Lord, how long?”
And He answered:
“Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,
12The LORD has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13But yet a tenth will be in it,
And will return and be for consuming,
As a terebinth tree or as an oak,
Whose stump remains when it is cut down.
So the holy seed shall be its stump.”
The immediate context of Isaiah’s prophecy was the imminent end of the kingdom of Judah. Recall that the northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by Assyria by the time Isaiah began his ministry, and that Judah would soon be carried into the Babylonian captivity for 70 years. God knew that Judah would not repent of their idolatry, so Judah was under God’s judgment. Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah would soon be destroyed and deserted, just as God proclaimed in answer to Isaiah’s question, “Lord, how long?”
Here in Luke 8:10, Jesus refers to this prophecy of impending doom, implying that a similar judgment awaited most of those to whom Jesus was preaching. This is somewhat troubling. We have many passages which indicate that those who hear Jesus words, and obey His call to repentance, may receive salvation in Him, by our own choice to call on His Name in faith.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
John 11:25-26 (Jesus speaking to Lazarus’ sister, Martha, before He raised Lazarus from the dead)
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Yet Jesus’ answer to His disciples’ questioning why He always taught in parables, seems to imply that God would dull the senses of some of those whom He taught, so that they would be unable to understand the meaning of His Word and come to saving faith – that is to say that God pre-ordains those who will be saved. This idea is quite disturbing to me personally, as I’m sure it is to many Christ followers who have loved ones who are not as yet saved.
As with the idea of free choice, there are many Bible passages like this one which seem to support of the idea of pre-election.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
64But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Jesus called those to whom He preached to believe in Him, even while He most certainly knew those who would believe His Gospel, and those who wouldn’t.
36“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
37But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
‘Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?’
39Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
40‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.'”
Even if we do have the power to choose life or death, it seems clear in scripture that everyone will come to some point in their lives, in the midst of sin after which they will no longer be able to come to saving faith.
2 Thessalonians 2:7-12
7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
How can we make sense of this logical dilemma? If God has foreordained those who will call upon the Name of Jesus for salvation, is there any point in our praying for our unsaved loved ones, or for witnessing the Gospel to the unsaved around us? For that matter, is there any point in seeking after God ourselves, if He has already determined that we will believe His Gospel and be saved?
If that were God’s will, why then would Jesus have given us the Great Commission even after declaring that He possesses “all authority” Himself?
18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
We take careful note here that Jesus commands us to “make disciples,” not converts! Are we to proclaim the Truth of God’s Word only to those already saved? Certainly not! God clearly uses human instrumentality to bring about the plan of salvation He determined before the foundation of the world. Indeed, it is possible we may be only pawns in a vast game which has an outcome already determined. Yet God surely commands us time and again in His Word to be about this business of His – the business of proclaiming the Truth to the lost. Consider, for example, Paul’s direction for the believer married to an unbeliever.
1 Corinthians 7:12-16
12But to the rest [those who are not single or married to a fellow believer] I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
In addition to Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples, He calls us to seek after Him daily, moment-by-moment, merely for the joy of being in His presence, not because we desire something from Him.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Nehemiah 8:10 (Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest exhorting the children of Israel after the reading of the Law)
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
In conclusion, I think it would be helpful to simply look once more at the entire explanation of the parable of the Sower given by Jesus.
11“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12Those 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. 13But 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. 14Now 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. 15But 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.