Why do scandals rock the church? Why does Christianity seem to struggle to stay relevant? Why do church members seem so apathetic?
The state of 21st century Christianity does not surprise the Lord, Who not only foresaw it, but planned for it, and foretold it to us so that we would understand it and be able to function within it. That’s why Christ gave us the Kingdom parables in Matthew 13.
The Kingdom parables present the spread, rapid growth of, and far-reaching impact of Christianity, but they also chronicle the struggles that would accompany the growth of the faith. To paint the picture of this growth, and the growing pains that would come with it, He gave us the parables.
As with anything regarding the Christian faith, we must first begin with examining ourselves. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that before we try to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, we should first remove the beam from our own.
In 1 Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul instructed each man to examine himself to see whether he were observing the Lord’s supper properly and for the right reasons, adding that if we judge ourselves, we should not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:28, 31).
The premise is that instead of being preoccupied with what everyone else is doing, we should be focusing on what we’re doing, and examining our own hearts and motivations. Only through that exercise can we find the sin from which we need repentance, and align ourselves with the Lord’s will.
Thus, it’s fitting that the Lord began His series of Kingdom parables with the Parable of the Sower, for the Parable of the Sower is a warning to pay attention to how we receive the Gospel, and whether we have truly allowed the Gospel to take root in our hearts.
In the Parable of the Sower, as recorded in Matthew 13, Jesus told of a man who went forth to sow seed in his field. As he sowed, some of the seed fell by the wayside, and the birds (fowl of the air) came and devoured them up. Some fell on stony places, and sprung up quickly, but withered when the sun came up because they had no root.
Some fell among thorns, which choked the seed out before it could grow. Still, others fell on the good ground, spring up, grew, and bore fruit.
The trick to understanding this parable, and all parables, is to understand the imagery, and where we fit in the story. In Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8, Jesus gives us the key to interpret the Parable of the Sower. For a full look at the Kingdom Parable Decoder Ring, click here.
In interpreting this parable, Jesus tells us that the sower is the Son of Man. The seed is the word of God (the Gospel). The field is the world. And by necessary inference, we understand that the different types of ground are the different people who hear the Gospel.
The seed sown by the wayside that is devoured by the birds is the seed that is intercepted by Satan’s messengers. As we will learn in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, where the Gospel is being spread, Satan will send his messengers to disrupt things. That’s also a lesson learned from the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.
Basically, the seed (the word, the Gospel) is sown, but before the hearers can let it take root, Satan (the birds) steals it away so that it doesn’t convert the soul.
The seed sown on the stony ground are those who gladly receive the Gospel, and show a great amount of enthusiasm early after professing faith, but they never allow the faith to truly take root in their heart. They possess a surface-level faith only, and it never really attains any depth in their heart.
The rising of the sun in this parable symbolizes trial, tribulation and persecution that arise as part of the Christian life, and when that happens, the surface-level believer withers, because he lacks the deep-rooted faith needed to endure.
The seed sown among the thorns are those who hear the word, but are so preoccupied with the cares of the world, that the Gospel never takes root in their lives. These are those that are too busy, have other priorities, and seem to always be overwhelmed with responsibility. Because of their busyness, they miss out on the Gospel.
But when the seed is sown on the good ground, the ground that is prepared to receive the Gospel, it bears fruit. These are people who have opened their hearts to the Gospel, are ready to receive it, and allow it to take root in their hearts and their lives. These are the ones who have a great impact on the Kingdom.
In demonstrating the results of the sowing, Jesus has warned us to look within ourselves to see if we have allowed the Gospel to take root. Have we truly listened to it? Have we truly believed in it?
As He explains in His parables, there’s nothing wrong with the seed. The same seed that produced nothing among the stones or the thorns is the same seed that produced much fruit in the good ground. The issue isn’t with the seed, it’s with the soil.
Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and it has the power to convert the soul. The effectiveness of the Gospel has more to do with the hearer than it does with the message itself.
Furthermore, we find that the sower sowed the seed throughout the field, to the good ground and to the bad. He sowed the seed indiscriminately.
Likewise, Christ sowed the Gospel to everyone, to those who would hear, and those who would not. He sowed it to the believer and the one who would not believe. He spread the Gospel indiscriminately.
With that, we understand that the responsibility for how we receive the Gospel falls completely upon us, and if we leave this world without having believed the Gospel, then we “are without excuse” (Romans 1).
Therefore, before we examine the big picture surrounding the Christian faith, we must first examine the small one of our hearts. We must begin with a self-assessment. This is what Christ was teaching us in the Parable of the Sower.
So, before we continue further into our studies into the Kingdom Parables, ask yourself….
“When and How did I hear the Word?”
“How did I receive it?”
“Have I allowed the Gospel to take root in my life?”
Or, as Peter wrote, we need to make our “calling and election sure.”
So, heed the Lord’s warning. Assess your Spirituality. Believe the Gospel and let it take root. And watch how the Lord works wonders in your life.