“The Different Hearers of God’s Word”

(Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23 – Pentecost 8 – July 26, 2020)

Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23 – 3Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9He who has ears to hear, let him hear!…. 18Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ:

When a farmer plants a crop in a field, he sows seed with the intention that healthy plants will grow up and produce much fruit. Yet even good seed cannot take root and grow in a healthy way unless the soil condition is good. Therefore, a farmer needs to prepare the soil. He must plow up the hard ground and remove any rocks, weeds, or other impediments to growth.

Jesus is like the farmer. He came into the world sowing His Word like seed in a field. His intention is that by His Gospel, saving faith may be planted in human hearts, grow, and produce fruit. The Word of God itself is like good seed; it is powerful and effective. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes; faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 1:16; 10:17). Yet, the natural condition of human hearts is not like good soil. Sinners can resist the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word. So like a farmer plowing a field to break apart soil and remove the rocks and weeds, so the Law of God must first work to break up any impediments in our heart. Then Gospel can penetrate and plant faith, like a seed that grows into a healthy plant. Then, such a healthy faith that is rooted in His word will produce fruit to His glory.

Therefore here, Jesus leads us to examine our hearts to see if there are any impediments to His Word, faith, and its fruit. In His parable, He pictures “The Different Hearers of God’s Word” including 1) The hardened, 2) The shallow, 3) The distracted; and 4) The fruitful.

1) The hardened

Jesus says: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them” (vs. 3-4). When seed lands on hard soil, it cannot penetrate the surface and take root; so the birds come and eat it up. Later, Jesus applies this to human hearts: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (vs. 19).

As Jesus spreads His Gospel of salvation for sinners throughout the world, many people could not care less. A hard crust of indifference or pride surrounds their hearts, so that Jesus’ Word cannot penetrate and take root. They may hear it, but they do not understand it in the sense of taking it to heart and apply it to themselves by faith. Almost immediately, they let the devil steal it from them in his many ways, as pictured by birds coming to snatch up the seed.

Think of it in terms of how people respond to the Law and Gospel in God’s Word. When God’s Law tells us how we are to live according to His holy will, natural man in his sinful condition does not rightly understand and apply that Law. On the one hand, he may react with a spirit of rebellion, hardening himself against that divine Law and living however he pleases. On the other hand, he may react with a spirit of self-righteousness, convincing himself that by following that divine Law he can make himself holy and worthy of a place with God in heaven. But either way, he does not see his need for Jesus Christ, the Savior sinners.

Therefore, neither does he rightly understand or apply the Gospel. When the Savior invites every sinner to come to Him and rest their soul in the blood-bought forgiveness He won on the cross, natural man in his hard-hearted pride takes offense at the Gospel. He cannot see why he would need a crucified Savior to rescue him by blood sacrifice; could he be that bad as a sinner? And if he does claim to follow Christ, he turns the Gospel into something he wants to hear. He speaks of a social gospel or liberation theology that is all about making life better in this world. And he turns the true freedom of Christ’s Gospel into false liberty to live however he pleases.

So Jesus sows the seed of His Word, inviting every sinner to believe and be saved. Yet the hearts of many remain like hardened soil, shielding themselves from the truth of His salvation. As the apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4: But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

If it were not for the grace of God, that would be our plight as well. Left to our natural condition, our heart would be like hardened soil, unreceptive to His Word (1 Corinthians 2:14). In our pride and rebellion, we would not see our need for the Savior. So like a farmer who must take a plow to his field, God first applied the Word of His Law to break through that pride. He revealed our desperately sinful condition, and that we cannot do anything to save ourselves. Then He applied His Gospel like a seed penetrating deeply in our heart, softening it, bringing new life. He revealed His love as our Savior, who fulfilled the Law for us by His perfect life, who went to the cross to win our forgiveness, and who rose again to give us His free gift of eternal life. By the power of His Word, and the Holy Spirit working in that Word, God graciously brought us to repent, and believe and be saved. Our Savior made our hearts like good soil, where the plant of faith now grows under the sunshine of His saving grace.

2) The shallow

Now Jesus reminds us that we need to remain in His Word, so that our faith may continue to establish deep roots. Here He warns against a second kind of hearer of His Word, in terms of one whose faith is shallow rooted. He pictures it in terms of a farmer sowing seed: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (vs. 20-21).

At times, seed may land in soil where stones are hidden under the surface. Such places may offer a fertile and warm bed for seed to germinate and sprout quickly. But there is no room to establish deep roots or hold moisture. So under a hot sun, the plant quickly dies.

In a similar way, at first a person may receive Jesus’ Gospel with great enthusiasm. Maybe he finds joy in the truth that “God loves me so much, despite my sinfulness, that He gave His Son to die for me, that I may live forever.” He begins this new walk, feeling a spiritual high, on his way to heaven. He thinks his faith will free him from the troubles others have in life. But it is a shallow faith, rooted in favorable experiences and emotions, instead of God’s Word alone.

Then reality hits. He finds himself facing fiery trials and temptations. “Tribulation or persecution arises because of the word” (vs. 21). He sees that, just because of his faith in Christ, he experiences hardships others do not. He is ridiculed and rejected because of the Gospel. He cannot see why fellowship with Christ and fellowship with the world cannot go together. He cannot see how hardship and suffering can be part of a loving heavenly Father’s plan to shape His children for their good. He begins to stumble over the Word and compromise the truth. Under the hot sun of trial and temptation, his shallow-rooted faith begins to wither and die.

Jesus warns against receiving His Word in a shallow way that will not let it take deep root in our hearts. He does not want us to have a superficial faith that follows Him on our own terms, clinging to feelings and experiences. He does not want us to be satisfied with a weak faith that is ever influenced by the weather of changing times in this world. Rather, He wants us to take up the full armor of God against Satan and his influences in this world, by being firmly rooted in His Word. Then when the evil day comes with the heat of tribulation or persecution, our faith will stand like a healthy plant, deeply rooted in His unchanging Word (Ephesians 6:10-18).

3) The distracted

Now Jesus warns against a third kind of person, who is too distracted to hear His Word. Again, He pictures it in terms of a farmer sowing seed: “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (22).

It is a constant battle to keep weeds out of our soil, and thorns are some of the worst! Their roots take over and steal moisture, they block sunlight, and choke the life out of good plants. Spiritually speaking, this is what happens if we let ourselves become distracted by all the cares of life and deceitfulness of wealth, and the Word of God gets choked out of our hearts! Worry is a sign that we are not trusting God to care for us. Worry leads us into idolatry. We turn our trust away from God and seek satisfaction for our souls in the work of our hands. We turn our hearts to trust in money and the things it can buy. We turn our hearts to chasing worldly success and pleasures. We get tangled up in plans and priorities that leave no time for God’s Word.

Our loving Savior cannot bear to see anything separate us from Him. He cannot bear to see the faith He has sown in our heart become choked out by all the distracting thorns of life! He wants our faith to grow strong! He wants it to become like a healthy plant that bears much fruit.

4) The fruitful

So here, Jesus describes the condition He desires for us as we hear His Word, take it to heart, and apply it in our life by faith. In terms of a farmer sowing seed, He says: “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (vs. 23).

Again when a person receives God’s Word, God alone gets the credit for his heart being like good soil. By His grace, Jesus sowed His Gospel seed in our heart. By the Word, the Spirit worked saving faith in our hearts. And just as He began His good work in us, so He continues it. As His Law leads us to confess our sins, His Gospel strengthens our faith. He reassures us: “I have taken all your sins away to the cross – all the hardness of heart, all the superficiality, all the distractions; it is all forgiven. I give you My gift of salvation and eternal life.” We thrive and flourish as the plant of faith continues to grow under the sunshine of His grace. We thrive and flourish as we receive God’s grace in Word and Sacrament. He keeps our heart soil in good condition where the plant of faith yields much fruit – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown!

As our faith grows, God’s love for us in Christ produces in us “the fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). God’s love for us in Christ leads us to bear the fruit of good works, as we serve to His glory, and we serve our neighbor in love. All of this fruit grows out of thankfulness to God for His free gift of salvation and eternal life, and the freedom He gives as His beloved children in Christ!

As our faith grows, like any good plant it will also reproduce! Just as one grain of wheat produces heads full of seed, so we have the Gospel seed in abundance to sow among others. God’s love for us in Christ moves us to share His Gospel with family, friends, neighbors, and others! The Gospel we share has power to bring others to saving faith and eternal life. Also, as we share His Gospel with one another, it brings great encouragement among us as the family of God in Christ.

And at last, the faith He has sown in our hearts will produce fruit of heavenly praise! When we are gathered in the harvest, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we will laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising Him who saved us:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.