October 13, 2019
Conversations with Jesus – Luke 8
Turn to the person next to you and answer the question-where are you from? Not necessarily where you were you born-or where you’re living now-but where are you from? What’s home?
Who’s from somewhere on Long Island? Who’s from somewhere else? Now officially I’m from Wisconsin-I was born there and lived there until I was 12 but then my parents moved to IA-where I spent junior high, high school and college-and even most recently moved from there. So when I answer the question-where am I from-Iowa is my answer. Of course Monica is from IA too-and what’s interesting about being from a place like that is the confusion it generates. A lot of people think we’re from Ohio-no, we’re not from Cleveland or Akron. Or people will say-Iowa? Potato state, right? No-that’s Idaho-we’re not from there. We’re from Iowa-the corn state. In fact there’s a famous t-shirt you can get describing this confusion –Idawahio. Combines all 3 names into 1 state! So we don’t have the potatoes or the tires-we have the corn-rolling cornfields stretching to the horizon. And the reason I bring this up is because we’re going to read about a story that Jesus tells which is all about agriculture and seeds and soils. Maybe you come from an agricultural background-but back in Jesus’ day most of the people were farmers, it was an agrarian society. Seeds and soils were what they knew. And Jesus was an expert at taking the common everyday things and using them as brilliant connection points for explaining the gospel.
So open your Bibles to Luke 8-as we continue our series Conversations with Jesus. Last week in chapter 7 we looked at Jesus’ conversations with a sinful woman and a righteous Pharisee. What was so interesting is by the end of the chapter, the sinful woman is the one who walks away forgiven and saved-while the Pharisee is left stuck in his own judgmentalism. It’s fascinating how the tables were turned and the people we least expect are the ones transformed by Jesus. No one would have expected an adulterous prostitute to become a follower of Jesus! Likewise, no one would imagine that a person so religious-like the Pharisee-would end up being far away from Jesus. It just goes to show that our outward morality is no disguise for the inward state of our souls. Jesus isn’t looking for people with standout lives, He’s looking for people with surrendered hearts. And that truth really emerges when we come to chapter 8. Before Jesus tells this agricultural story-there’s a brief description of the people who are now following Him. And it’s a very interesting group-Luke 8:1-and remember that the 12 include ordinary fishermen and tradesmen, Levi’s in there-a former tax-collector who would have cheated people. The 12 have gone down in history as the famous 12 disciples-but back in their day these were by no means the 12 most strategic, advantageous choices for Jesus. They were a homegrown, grassroots, regular bunch of fellas. Not the guys you’d want to build a church or create a movement with. But then look who else joined in-v. 2. So here’s Jesus with some women who used to be possessed by demons and had former illnesses and infirmities. We’re talking about a group of ladies with some serious baggage and issues. Mary Magdalene had 7 demons-talk about a past! Would you want to spend time and travel around with someone like that who used to be possessed? Sure, you’d be glad she got healed-but wouldn’t you want to still keep your distance and be safe? I don’t know when those demons are returning-she’s a little scary! Should she really be hanging out with us, Jesus? You’d want to give yourself a little space from her-but Jesus is embracing a lot of people everyone else would rather avoid. He’s shattering all these pre-conceived notions the religious leaders had about Him. In fact, it was common understanding back then that rabbis and religious leaders wouldn’t have women as students or followers. They would only teach men. But here’s Jesus who’s often addressed as Rabbi-not only teaching women, but letting them come along and be His followers-v. 3a. She’s someone from the inner political workings of King Herod’s household who you might question-and then 3b.These are women who are committed to Jesus and serious about supporting His ministry out of their own finances. They’ve been transformed by Him and now they’re a part of what He’s doing-so this is a snapshot of Jesus’ followers. They’re a diverse group of disconnected people with all sorts of backgrounds and pasts-and yet there’s one thing they all have in common as His followers-and that’s what Jesus will explain as He tells this story.
Look at where this conversation gets started-v. 4-5a. And pause there because maybe if this was told today, Jesus might have said that the sower was a guy with a phone who sent out a group text message or posted something to see who would respond, maybe he put out a bulk email or got on Facebook or Snapchat to talk with everyone he knew-but back then the idea of sowing seeds is what made sense. So picture a guy with a satchel or bag across his shoulder full of seeds that he throws out and scatters as he walks through the fields.
And let’s be honest-the soil is the incredibly important part. Going back to the confusion about Iowa or Idaho-Iowa has soil perfectly suited to grow corn, while Idaho has the perfect soil for potatoes. There’s incredible productivity of those crops. I was researching the most concentrated amount of soil and productivity in the US and it’s found in California’s Central Valley. It accounts for only 1% of the farmland in the US but grows over 230 different crops and produces nearly 10% of the nations fruits and vegetables. The article said-Our Mediterranean climate is marked by mild winters and 300+ days of sunshine per year. According to the USDA, our area of California leads the nation in almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, grapes, kiwi, olives, peaches, pistachios, plums, pomegranates, and carrots. We even have a war over tangerines. Now I don’t know what this tangerine war is all about-or where that battle is taking place-but the soil in Central California would have had a much better productivity than the soil in Jesus’ parable-especially when you consider the first few soils-v. 5b-7. We’re not off to a good start here-3 sets of seeds have come to an untimely end. It’s a far cry from flourishing crops. But v. 8a-there’s the Central Valley! This fourth soil more than makes up for the other three by producing a crop of 100x what was sown. And Jesus ends it by saying-v. 8b. And this is the key theme of chapter 8-hearing what Jesus has to say. That’s the thread woven through these verses. But I love how He says it-He who has ears to hear-that basically if you don’t have ears-if you’re earless-then you don’t have to listen-you’re off the hook. But the problem is that I don’t see any earless people here today-and I doubt there were many earless people in Jesus’ day-so His point is well made. If you have ears-which all of us do-then Jesus is saying, you need listen to my words. He’s calling us to attention, Hear ye, hear ye!-issuing a very important proclamation; a message we all have to understand. Hearing isn’t an option but a necessity. Of course, as you’re reading this, maybe your first question is, How does it affect me? It’s a story about a bunch of different soils; we’re talking about dirt here so why should I be concerned about that? But this isn’t just a nice little story about a farmer-eventually he got some crops to grow-instead we have to move from the metaphor to the meaning-and that’s what the disciples asked.
Look at v. 9-10. And that’s an OT quotation from the book of Isaiah which prophesies about the sad fact that some people are hardened and blinded to the truth. Jesus is dividing people into 2 categories. There’s either the A-ha! people-I get it, I see it, I understand it-or there’s the Huh? people who say-I don’t get it, doesn’t make sense to me, whatever-I’ve got other things to worry about. And we’ve all known Huh? people? That no matter how much you try to talk to them or convince them to think about spiritual things or read their Bible or come to church they just keep saying whatever and brush it aside as irrelevant and don’t care. It’s a scary reality that Jesus is describing because He’s talking about lost people who won’t experience eternal life-and yet by the mere fact that you and I are here this morning-reading these verses and hearing this parable-we can be A-ha! people. Did you catch what He said-the secrets of the kingdom of God. That’s huge! People have longed to know about that-tons of books on spirituality and the afterlife have been published, shows on tv, videos on Youtube, articles online-all sorts of weird theories exist about what heaven’s like and how to get there-but Jesus is saying I’ve got the answers and here they are for you to understand and soak into your heart. And that to me really elevates this story of the soils. It’s not just a little tale about farming-it communicates the secrets of the kingdom of God. That I better listen up as Jesus is speaking! One quote said-Ears are for hearing, use them most when He who made the ear speaks. The Maker of our ears is speaking-so are we going to hear what He has to say-or brush it off? And that’s the problem with the first batch of soil.
Look at v. 11-and specifically that means the gospel-the central message from the word of God that talks about salvation. The seed is what tells us about grace and forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. These are valuable seeds. They’re not just magic beans from a fairy tale that will grow into a beanstalk leading to a giant’s castle-these are the seeds that lead us to the kingdom of God. So back to the first batch-v. 12. A verse like that truly reveals the spiritual warfare that’s taking place behind the scenes-which we might not always see. The devil is like that big crow that comes down and plucks the seed up. The gospel is heard-but then just like that it’s snatched away so the person never bothers to respond or think about it again. So under the category of Huh? people I call this one Pt1:No Thoughts-all ignored. As soon as this person hears the gospel it goes in one ear and out the next. He forgets it, disregards it, ignores it, and turns to something else. That’s the devil’s plan-to snatch it up so there’s no further thoughts or reflection or discussion about it. That as soon as this person hears about spiritual things they change the conversation to talk about the weather or work or sports or kids. They’d rather joke around and have fun-not be so serious about all that spiritual stuff! This is the person who views the gospel as irrelevant or outdated or old-fashioned. Society and culture has moved one. They may respect spiritual people-but they themselves have no thoughts or reflections about it, no interest to interact with it. It’s like when most of us take our car in and talk to the mechanic. We hear things like-Your catalytic converter’s going bad, when was the last time you changed your rear differential fluid, you need new brake pads and shoes. When did my car start wearing shoes? But we have no idea-or ability to interact with that information. Let the mechanic take care of it. And we can do that with our cars-but not with the gospel. That’s something we all have to interact with. Having no thoughts and ignoring it isn’t an option. Maybe you know people like that or have coworkers like that-and unfortunately what’s the result-v. 12b-scary!
Now when we turn to the second batch of soil it sounds much more promising-v. 6a. So something was growing, you could see evidence of a sprouting plant-and look at how Jesus interprets it-v.13a. This is the person at church or Bible study who’s really excited and emotional. They’re full of interest and enthusiasm, maybe they went to a conference and came home all fired up, they’re getting involved and keep telling you how much they’ve been impacted by everything-they’re loving it! But as soon as there’s a cost, as soon as there’s a sacrifice or it affects their schedule and priorities or it challenges the way they’ve been living-then they’re not so excited, then they don’t seem to come around as much-and their interest begins to drift until you don’t see them anymore-and Jesus describes it-v.6/13b. What looked like faith for a while ended up being no faith at all. So Pt2:No Depth-all emotion. Have you known people like that? Their interest and involvement in Christ is only superficial or social. If their friends are on board or carrying them along-they’re there-but on their own they’re unable to stand for Christ or follow Him. They haven’t let the gospel penetrate their heart and bring a change-instead it only affected their emotions. Nothing went deep-it all stayed on the surface. It’s a hasty and unreal faith that eventually proved to be no faith at all-and the reason is because deep down they refused to surrender to Jesus. Maybe they wanted to try this Christian thing out, dabble in it, start going to church again or turn over a new leaf, but they refused to be broken and actually repent.
This is someone who wants to follow Christ on their terms-where everything is smooth sailing and being a Christian is fun and easy and it’s what all their friends are doing. But the moment trials and tribulations come, this is the person who says-Whoa-This isn’t what I signed up for. I’m outta here! They never develop those deep roots of perseverance and faith that anchor them to the truth of the gospel. And that’s something that’s revealed over time. This time of testing as it says in the verse doesn’t just happen in a moment-or within a short span. This time of testing can last for months or years-and so this is someone who never takes those steps of faith and grows during that testing-they never turn to the Lord and find their hope and strength in Him-but just continue to drift further and further away; relying on their strength and their ability. And eventually they drift so far away we realize they never really were a follower of Christ in the first place. That is someone who’s testimony may have initially sounded really sincere and earnest and full of excitement-look at their faith-but in the end it only turns out to be hollow and false. Have you known people like this? Maybe that’s where you’re at right now. And often it’s because deep down inside there’s fear-fear that truly trusting Christ is too scary, too radical or too life-changing-so that fear keeps people out of the Kingdom, it kept them from being saved. This is a sad soil-great joy that turns out to be nothing more than a smokescreen of unbelief. Someone who started out so promising, so fired up for the Lord- but as time went on they fizzled. That doesn’t have to be you or me. I’m reminded of our Colossians series from last winter that tells us how not to fizzle out-Col 2:16-17. Rooted and built up-and established in the faith -all that happens after you’ve received Christ. That’s what you’re called to do after the seed of the gospel has sunk into your soul. Depth is the key-and that was missing. Back to Pt2.
And the third soil is fairly similar-v. 7a-again something was growing at the start. It looked promising, it sounded genuine-but v. 7. The thorns and weeds wrapped around that little plant and choked the life right out of it. This past spring I was in that garden on the side of the house and the vines and weeds were growing everywhere, choking a lot of the plants. So I was pulling them out, trying to clean it up-and only realized after the fact that half of them didn’t have thorns-they were poison ivy. I scratched and itched for two weeks-and wanted to burn the yard down! But look at how Jesus is relating the thorns and weeds-v. 14. Have you ever thought of those things as weeds and thorns before? But so often they choke the truth of the gospel right out of us. Charles Spurgeon said-We know this kind of soil by personal acquaintance in our busy age. He said that 200 years ago-and I don’t think anything has changed since then-in fact we’re more busy. Materialism and money and marketing and the endless pursuit of pleasure is everywhere-always threatening to choke us. Jesus is describing someone who hears the gospel, it looks like it’s taking root, there’s something happening-but all the while there’s another voice speaking into that person’s ear-Look at all that great stuff out there, you should have it, you deserve it, your neighbors have it, everything you need to be happy is just within reach. And that person reaches and reaches. They expend all their energy and all their time and all their heart on what this world offers-but unfortunately the heart can’t be in two places at once-and eventually that person chooses the world over Jesus. So again what looked like faith at the beginning ends up being no faith at all. So this person is Pt3:No Desire-all distractions. No desire to embrace the truth of the gospel-they’re pulled away and choked by the lies of the world. This could be the person who works hard at his job, is well respected in the community, and becomes very fruitful in his career but ultimately has no spiritual fruit-that part’s choked right out of his life. Or this describes the person without much money but who always wishes he had more-and spends all his time thinking about how to get it. The issue isn’t the amount. Rich or poor or somewhere in-between, that doesn’t matter. The issue is our hearts-are you embracing the gospel and bearing fruit or are you embracing the world and letting your fruit get choked out and shriveled up? One author I read this week called it this soil the Infested Heart. I thought that was really convicting. Is my heart infested by the stuff of this world? Hughes, 299. Now a lot of us might say that we don’t have a love of riches or materialism-but what about the cares of life? Did you notice how Jesus included that? How many of us simply have hearts infested by our everyday schedules?
I remember when Monica and I were in the early years of being married-a friend of mine who was single was asking me about married life-and he said-Jim, is it like taking out the trash after dinner, and then talking to your wife about insurance and bills? I was like no! To him-married life was all about growing up and being an adult-but being consumed with the everyday cares of this world. And isn’t it so easy to let that happen? This is the person who’s so wrapped up in all the activities they’re doing, the schedule they keep, the social life they have, the places they go and all the social media posts to tell everyone about it, that there’s no place for the things of Christ. That they have no time or no margin in their life to pursue the fruit of godliness because they’re so busy or burned out from chasing the fruit of this world. It would be like an apple tree that tried so hard to use its energy to produce lemons-which it was never meant to do! What would be the point of an apple tree with no apples? And yet that’s the mistake so many of us make. God has created us to bear fruit for Him. That’s our purpose-and yet we’re so often thwarting that purpose by chasing after the wrong fruit-trying to produce lemons when He’s called us to produce apples. Remember John 15:1-2, 8. The person who tries to say they’re a follower of Christ but has no fruit to back it up is on shaky ground. Jesus isn’t intending to give anyone any assurance by this 3rd soil-how did He conclude-v. 14. They didn’t prove to be Jesus’ disciple because there wasn’t any fruit. So it’s the 4th soil that He’s calling us to become-v. 15.
This is the person who gets it-the A-Ha! people-Pt4:No Regrets-all joy. They hear the gospel, they hold it fast by faith-they’re saying-yes-this is what I believe even when the time of testing comes-and then they bear fruit with patience. Notice how this is something that takes place over time. It doesn’t mean this person instantly becomes an amazing, super-Christian who wows everyone with all their good deeds. Rather, it’s the person who faithfully, patiently, trusts God and stays the course. That’s who we’re called to be. To persevere, to grow, for the seeds of the gospel to take deep root in our hearts so that bearing fruit becomes the inevitable result-and the people in our life see it. And when that happens there’s no regrets for missing out on the cares of this life, instead there’s only joy at having lived a transformed life that bore fruit for Christ. If I go back to John 15:8-shortly after that Jesus says-John 15:11. Remember how joy was initially there in the 2nd soil-but it quickly evaporated. For the 4th soil joy becomes an ever-abiding, ever growing reality. Recently I’ve been reading this book-The Things of Earth, 27. Have you ever considered that before? That being passionate for God’s glory and being fruitful for Him isn’t at odds with finding your own happiness? Too often we think it is. I know I do. That the pleasures of this life are awesome-and bearing fruit for God is boring. But that’s not the case at all. The greatest, most permanent, most satisfying and fulfilling joy you can ever have is by hearing the gospel and letting it penetrate your heart so that you live a life of fruitfulness for God. You’re called to be an apple tree that produces a whole bunch of apples-not lemons! Back to Pt4.
And it all begins by hearing this story Jesus has to say, it begins by hearing the transforming power of the gospel. Remember how we began by saying that the followers of Jesus were a diverse group of disconnected people with all sorts of various backgrounds and pasts but had one thing in common? That thing in common was that they heard the gospel. These fishermen, these former tax-collectors, these women who were once possessed by demons and illness and shameful pasts had heard that in Jesus all their sin was forgiven and that by His grace they were transformed and made new. They had heard from Him that backgrounds don’t matter anymore-that what does matter is who you’ve become in Christ, that new creation. They had heard the good news of the gospel and it forever changed their lives. But look at the contrasting group that comes next-v. 19-21. Their backgrounds of thinking they were close to Jesus because of birth, because of who they were, didn’t matter. What mattered was hearing Him, hearing the word of God and then doing it-just like that 4th soil.
So I just want to simply ask this morning-is that you? Have you realized that your background or you past doesn’t matter-and what does matter is hearing the word of God-hearing the gospel? And I don’t mean hear it like the way we hear our spouses-U-huh, U-huh, U-huh-yup got it, will do. And your spouse says-now what did I say? And you respond-Yeah, I have no idea. It’s not hearing like that. We’re talking about A-Ha hearing. It’s hearing that internalizes and processes the gospel so you say, I get it! It’s hearing with your ears that results in believing with your heart which leads to bearing fruit with your hands. Hearing is worthless if it doesn’t result in bearing fruit -that’s what Jesus is laboring to say. That you and I need to be a people who hear what the gospel is telling us-that we are saved because of Jesus who has loved us and died for us-and that when believe it we’re transformed by it and go and bear that fruit He calls us to. Back to the California Central Valley. Is that you? Is your life producing a crop like that? Are you patiently growing into something glorious and fruitful for Christ? Is your heart Grade A topsoil where the seed of the gospel has gone deep? Or are you withering away with shallow roots? Are you being choked out by the cares of the world? You don’t have to be-let Jesus transform you life to this!