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The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon on Matthew 13: 1-23 by Pastor Bob Kuppler

Thankful Living: Good Soil; Receptive Hearts

Matthew 13:1-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” 10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says ‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,  and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. 18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.[b] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

As we continue in this season of growth, God’s Word will be used by the Holy Spirit will help us grow in what it means to be a child of God, and will show us how to live our lives as His own, dearly loved ones.

Today, and the next 2 weekends, the Holy Gospel is from Matthew 13, which contains a number of Jesus’ parables.   I love parables because they’re an excellent teaching tool; they make me think; I pray it’s the same for you, too. 

The word “parable” derives from a Greek word that means “to throw alongside” or “to place things side-by-side.”   Parables are helpful because they take what might be a hard concept to grasp, and lay it alongside something that’s easily relatable.    

When teaching, Jesus often used parables about farming and and fishing, trees, sheep and other things he saw has he walked along.  Sometimes the parable is simply a simile – the kingdom of heaven is like… .  Other times they are long, drawn out metaphors, like today’s. 

Today, Jesus tells why he uses parables to teach.   Please turn in your folder to the Gospel, so that you can follow along.  In verse10, right after telling the Parable of the Sower, Jesus’ disciples, who are obviously confused by His parable, but not wanting Jesus to know, ask Him: “ Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 

In verse 11 He answered them saying, “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Then in verse 13 Jesus continues, which I sum up this way: “because I want people to listen, to see, and to think.”

Jesus isn’t giving us a blueprint of the kingdom of heaven – or the kingdom of God – but instead invites his hearers along with his disciples, and he invites us to be part of it, giving us an idea of what it’s like, and then challenges us to be part of making it come about.  

Being included in God’s kingdom, and being part of the work of his kingdom, is our calling.  This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to the the Christians in Ephesus, saying “ … at one time you were dead in your trespasses and sins … but because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ … we are God’s workmanship – His works of art – created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, Jesus uses parables to teach us about His kingdom, and calls us to use our brains, our talents, our times, our resources, and our child-like faith to assist in bringing it about though our lives and living. 

Then, what about today’s Parable of the Sower?  First, there’s the setting.  Jesus was in the region of the Sea of Galilee, most likely near the town of Capernaum, where he spent considerable time, and where, on this particular day, in someone’s house, Jesus had a number of direct confrontational conversations with the Pharisees who were following him around trying to catch him in a mistake, and where he also he had healed a blind, deaf, and demon possessed man.  You can imagine the attention all of this was getting. 

Jesus then went outside and sat down by the lake where large crowds soon gathered around him, causing him to get into a boat and speak to the people while they stood on the shore.  Beginning at verse 3, … he told them many things in parables, saying: “A Sower went out to sow…”

7 years ago, Lois and I were out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee; it was surrounded by fields.  We could imagine Jesus speaking to the crowds from the boat, while at the same time seeing seed being sown by sowers behind them.  Jesus spoke to them about what they were familiar, because it was part of their daily lives.  

In His parables, Jesus always starts with something the people can understand and moves to something they don’t; something they can see,  and moves to something they can’t; something natural and moves to something supernatural; something physical and moves to what is spiritual; something common and moves to what is uncommon; something simple and moves to the profound.

And that’s exactly what He did here. They understood sowing, they did it all the time. They were farmers and very familiar with the experiences and the “do’s and don’t’s of sowing and reaping. What they didn’t understand was the spiritual truth. So Jesus simply began where they were and took them where they’ve never been.

It’s the image of a sower going out to sow seed, in which Jesus talks about where the seed falls and what happens to it, and what the results are.  They could identify with that; they knew that you don’t waste valuable seed by throwing it everywhere; sure, some might fall on the path or among weeds of shrubs – it was the cost of doing business –  but for the seed sown on good soil, they could expect a good return of say, grain that is 7 1/2 times what they had sown.  A ten-fold crop would have been very, very good. 

The farmer rejoices at a good crop, even is some seed is snatched away or burned up or choked out, but most will take root and produce a good crop.   Finally!  But 30, 60, a 100 fold? 

That’s unheard of; astonishing; miraculous.  And that’s the point of it all.  Jesus moves them from simple farming, to that which is profoundly spiritual and eternal – the kingdom of heaven.  Those who are good soil – those who hear the word and understand it – will produce a good crop – abundantly!   We have Jesus’ word on it.

Why?  It’s not because we’re such good soil in ourselves.  No, we must confess that apart from Christ we can do nothing. You see, the power is in the word itself; the power is right there in the seed; not in the one who scatters it.  Consider what you heard in the Old Testament reading today. The Lord God promises: “My word that goes out from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I send it.”

God’s word has power!  Think of how God created the entire world – simply with His Word – by saying so!   God’s Word creates and does what it says.  It produce results, very good results indeed! This is the Word that tells us of our Savior.

It is the word of Christ. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Jesus said in verse 8, he who has ears, let him hear.  The Incarnate Word is Christ Himself, alive and active, penetrating into our hearts and  minds of hearers to produce repentance and faith.

This is faith in Jesus Christ, Gods’ Son, Savior, whose death on our behalf, and then his glorious resurrection, has rescued us from sin and death and the devil, the evil – which is the weeds we’ll hear about next weekend.  What Christ won for us on the cross is delivered to us in the mighty and life-giving gospel, in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, and in His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.  God’s  Word – the Word of Christ who is the Word – works.

The Parable of the Sower is about you and me, sowing the seed that Jesus first planted in our hearts.  So, we’re called to be like the farmers in Galilee – sow the seed everywhere.  It can be very discouraging to be a Christian these days, can’t it.  The whole culture seems to be anti-Christian.  Christian’s are mocked; some are persecuted and martyred.   Congregations shrink in numbers, some close up.  It’s can be very discouraging, as we feel demoralized, deflated and defeated. What’s the use anymore? It’s easy to give in to the temptation to simply give up.

Have no fear, little flock. All is not lost. Sowing the seed is not useless. Christ is building his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We have His Word on it!! God will keep you in the faith. God will bring others to faith in Christ and keep them in the faith and in His Church. 

Continue to sow the seed. Sow the seed of God’s Word and your faith everywhere.  How?  Live as “holy” or set apart people with child-like faith, holding godly values in the face of worldly self-centeredness. Speak about these things to others.  Care for others, by responding in many different ways to needs of the hungry, the homeless, and the hurting, as those needs are made known to you and as you are able.  A former congregation member and friend of mine, is in His last days, yet every chance he gets, whether to at home or out, he tells someone about his trust in Christ.

In our worship, following the Holy Communion, we’re dismissed in the peace of Christ to go and to serve the Lord.  Martin Luther gave two reasons for coming to communion: first, to receive the gift of forgiveness, and second, to share it with others.  “Once we have the gift, Luther wrote, we are then to proclaim it, so that we may bring other persons to it as well.”

Christ has sent us to sow seed; leave results to Him.  We’re not alone in this. He is with us all the way.  And when it seems fruitless,   remember this Parable of the Sower. What we do is not wasteful or in vain. The Word works. There is no greater activity going on in the world today than sowing the Gospel seed. You need it. The people around us need it; people all over the world need it. And Jesus will bless it.

Pastor Bob Kuppler

St Matthew’s Evangelical Church

Wilmington, North Carolina