April 7, 2019
Changed lives come from hearing the word of God and allowing it to affect us deeply.
I. Changed lives . . . . (Luke 8:1-3)
II. come from hearing the word of God . . . (Luke 8:4-10)
III. and allowing it to affect us deeply. (Luke 8:11-15)
I want to begin this morning two contemporary parables. The first is the parable of the oil leases. Once an oil company went out to explore some lease holdings. Some of the leases were in wetlands, and the environmentalists came and took them away before they could drill exploratory wells. Some of the leases proved to have limited reserves. The oil flowed for a while, but after a short time they began to run dry. Still other leases fell into unfortunate geologies, and though they flowed well, sulphur and other contaminants made the crude useless. But a few fell into rich reserves, where the quality was good, and the sale of that crude returned many times the original investment.
The second is the parable of the publishers. A first time author wrote a really good book, and sent it to publisher after publisher. But the first publisher had many manuscripts in hand, and the good book was trampled under the competition and never read. Another publisher read the book and liked it, but considered it too different, too risky and his concerns rose up and choked out the initial enthusiasm. Still another publisher read the book, liked it and assign an editor to it. But the editor made intolerable changes to the book, and so it withered and died. Than a publisher received the book with gladness and nurtured the story and the book was published to universal acclaim and became a New York Times bestseller and sold 0,000 copies and then a million in paperback.
These parables are similar to the one Jesus told in today’s text, except that Jesus used terms familiar to his hearers, the language of field and farm. His parable has come to be called the parable of the sower, though it really should be called the parable of the soils. The point Jesus was making is that changed lives come from hearing the word of God, and allowing it to affect us deeply.
Before we get to the parable, we’ll look at a little snapshot of some of these changed lives. Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
Each of those followers represents a changed life. These people were willing to give up what they had, to give up a settled existence, to give up comfort, to give up control over their schedules, to give up security, in order to follow Jesus.
It’s my observation that most people won’t live that way. There has to be a reason to give these things up, a motivation greater than their self interest, or people will just sit at home, and live within their schedules. Luke gives us a hint about that motivation when he reminds us that Jesus was “proclaiming and bringing the good news” of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not just telling them about it, he was bringing it, he was it. Jesus was the good news. Jesus was the king of a new kind of kingdom, and he’s the motivation for changed lives.
Luke gives a few fascinating details about the women whose lives had been changed by Jesus. He says some of them “had been healed of evil spirits and diseases.” Jesus had spoken the word and they had been healed or set free. The first is Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had come out. Jesus had vanquished the spiritual oppression under which she had lived, and so she became a faithful follower. She would be among the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Notice there that there is no hint of a romantic relationship between her and Jesus. Our twisted, DaVinci Code culture wants to see things in the text that are not and never have been there. Hers was just a radically changed life.
The next woman mentioned, Joanna, was the wife of Cuza, the manager or steward of Herod’s household. The implication is that Joanna was a woman of means, not a poor peasant, but from the ruling class. It would be interesting to know how Jesus had encounterd and changed her life. Notice though that Jesus went against the culture of his day by encouraging women to follow, and by ministering to them, caring about them, and bringing them good news. He saw them as equally in need of the message, equally valuable to God.
The final evidence that he had changed their lives is that these women were helping to support him out of their own means. Some of these women, like Joanna, were apparently well off, with money to use as they liked. And because Jesus had changed their lives, they supported his ministry. Now don’t think that Jesus was a slick operator in a polyester suit, cozying up to to wealthy women for financial gain. There is no record of Jesus ever asking for money. In fact, the one time he specifically asks someone to sell all that he has, he also tells him to give the proceeds to the poor. When Jesus needed money to pay a tax, he didn’t ask the crowd for it, he simply told Peter to catch a fish, and the coin was in its mouth. No, it’s because Jesus has changed their lives that these women contributed to the support of him and his simple ministry needs.
We want to keep these things in mind. Jesus is going to tell us about how people respond to his word. These women show us that people with changed lives respond by setting aside their own agendas and following Jesus, and also by giving of what they have for the work of his ministry. May it be so for us.
How do changed lives happen? Jesus tells a famous parable to show the transforming power of listening deeply to Him, of cultivating the Word of God in our lives. Luke 8:4-10 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 9And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”
Luke mentions that large crowds gathered from town after town. Jesus is reaching the peak of popularity, and now he begins to teach in parables, simple stories grounded in everyday life. The crowd would easily understand these stories, yet know they pointed to spiritual truth. So, here’s a farmer who goes to his field to sow his crop. But his field has four kinds of soil. It’s the parable of the soils, not the sower. The first soil is the hard or beaten track at the edge of his field. People walking along the path trample the seeds, and crows come and eat them. These seeds don’t even germinate. The second soil is a thin layer of dirt over solid rock. We don’t see this much around here, but in hilly Palestine farmers would know this well. The bedrock can be just under the surface for acre after acre. Seeds land in that thin soil, and germinate, spring up and grow. But only for a time. The roots find no water. The plant withers and dies.
The third soil has weeds and thorns. The seeds that fall here have fallen on good ground, but it’s contaminated. There is all this other stuff growing in it. When the seeds germinate, they are immediately in competition with weeds and thorns. Eventually they are overshadowed and choked off. Finally, some seed falls into good soil. With the proper depth of dirt, the proper level of moisture, and freedom from competition, this seed grows into fruitful plants. Yielding, Jesus says, a return of a hundred times more than what was sown. If you picture of a stalk of wheat and count the grains, you will find that a hundred is a pretty good approximation of what a single seed of wheat might yield.
The story Jesus tells, the parable itself, is simple, easy to understand. That’s typical. His parables are concrete and uncomplicated. But Jesus concludes the parable by crying out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words there is more here to understand than just the surface story. There is a deeper meaning, a point Jesus is trying to get across. The people in the crowd need to listen.
So the disciples ask “What does this mean?” But Jesus does not immediately answer. Rather he begins to talk about the purpose of the parables. He says “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God,” Jesus has spoken plainly to them about the kingdom. But “to others I speak in parables “so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand,’” a quote from Isaiah. Jesus is not speaking to these crowds as plainly as to the disciples. The parables are a screening device, to attract those with a true spiritual interest, and deflect those whose concerns were only political, economic or social.
The parables speak to our spiritual lives, to our hearts and not all people want to hear spiritual truth. Imagine for a moment that Jesus walked in on a strategy session of the Democrat or Republican National Committee, and told some little farm story. Would many of those people get the spiritual meaning? No. They’d scorn it. In a similar way many in Palestine, whose concerns were only social, political, or economic, would scorn the message. They are those who, though they can see, they can’t see the point, and though they can hear the words, they can’t listen with understanding. But to those with ears, those whose hearts are looking for spiritual truth, the parables do communicate, very effectively.
With that in mind, let’s focus on the explanation Jesus gives. Verses 11-15: Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14As for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
The key to the parable is “the seed is the word of God.” Don’t miss that or complicate it. This whole soils thing is about how our hearts respond to the Word of God, the Bible, and the message of Jesus, the good news. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount and the sermon in Luke 6 Jesus taught that the person who hears his words and obeys them is building a house on a firm foundation.
This word is sown into several types of soil and the soils represent the hearts of people who respond in different ways. In our remaining time we will study each of Jesus’ explanations, and apply them. There are four kinds of hearts. The hard heart, God’s word can’t penetrate; the shallow heart, God’s word finds no depth of response; the thorny heart, God’s word is choked out by the cares of life; and the good heart, God’s word goes deep and brings change.
Some of us may have a mixture of these soils, yet we can, to a large extent chose, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what kind of soil our hearts will be to God’s word, how we will respond and be changed by the good news Jesus brings.
Notice that the presumption of the parable is that the sower is sowing. The Word is sown for us to receive. It’s a simple and as challenging as opening a book and opening our ears. Verse 12, then: “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” What type of soil is this? A hard-beaten path. What type of person is this? A hardened person, a cynical person, or a worldly person. The word of God, the message of God falls upon their deaf ears, and there is no penetration of their hearts. They do not receive it at all.
Later, the Devil comes and takes the word away. He encourages people to forget. He gives them other things to think about. He distracts and distorts and casts the word of God into disrepute. It never penetrates their heart, they never believe, and they are never saved. The first application is simply to ask ourselves whether we have ever believed? Jesus makes it clear that he wants people to believe and be saved. He wants us to put confidence in him, confidence in His word so that we might be rescued. But you may be hard-hearted. The simple clear call of the Gospel, which you may have heard many times, does not penetrate to change your life. You point to the hypocrisy of believers or the supposed contradictions of the Bible, or the presumed evidence of science, or simply to your own desires and say no, it’s not good news to me.
Are you resisting the simple Gospel message, that all of us are sinful, having rebelled against the God of the universe? That nothing people can do will restore us to intimacy with God? That in love Jesus came and died, taking our punishment, so that by his free gift we can be forgiven of our sins, and restored to a right relationship? And finally, that we receive forgiveness and rescue by believing, putting confidence and trust in Jesus. If you have never accepted that Gospel message and received Jesus, then your need today is to get with God, to talk to him about your sin and your need, and to put your faith in Him.
But let’s say you are a believer. Does this hard soil apply to your life at all? Yes. It is still possible for you as a believer to hear things from the Word of God, and to remain hardened against those things. You might have a hard heart against self-sacrificial love, or against serving, or against forgiveness of others, or against recognizing and confessing your sin. The Word of God falls on your hardened heart, and bounces off. This will never change unless you cultivate the soil of your heart, break up the fallow ground and allow the Word of God to penetrate deeply by repeated and disciplined exposure and application.
The second kind of soil is rocky soil. Verse 13: “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” This an intriguing group. These are people who hear the word and receive it with joy. But they only believe for a while, then they fall away. The question I have to ask is, were they really saved? Jesus doesn’t say saved, but he does say they believed.
My reading of Scripture would lead me to say that someone who has been made new by God doesn’t change back. From God’s perspective, the redeemed are his redeemed, and he will never let them go. But from our perspective we know that the situation described by Jesus is real. Despite the best efforts of people like Billy Graham, many who hear the Good News with joy do not keep hold of it for the long term. They have initial enthusiasm, but no root, an emotional experience maybe, but no substantial attachment to Jesus. So when trouble, testing, or trial comes their way, they give up, and don’t rely on God by faith.
This could be true for you. You made a commitment some years back, but it didn’t stick. You drifted from it long ago and dried up. So you need to really believe, with head as well as heart, and with trust, daily dependence on Jesus.
Even if you are a committed believer, and have known his love and care, it is possible to be dry, to have withered roots. None of you would plant vegetables in Houston and not water them, because you know that by July they’d be dried up and gone. None of you would drive a car, and ignore the gas gauge, running on empty. None of you would go through a day without taking in liquids for your own health. Why then, do you think you can live your Christian life without the water of life? We drink of him or we run dry. If we depend on emotion or experience or intellect alone, we will run dry. If we depend on Jesus, he pours himself out for us. He is the water bringing life in our souls.
The third kind of soil is soil with thorns. Verse 14: “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” This kind of situation describes many, many believers. The world inhibits our growth. Look at the list Jesus gives, and see if these things don’t get to you occasionally. Life’s worries. Being a believer doesn’t mean freedom from the concerns of life. There are many in this room who have burdens and worries, concerns, difficult situations that call for wisdom, and areas where only God can help. For some it’s a work or business situation, for some its a health issue, for others its a relationship problem, or financial concerns. And the sad part is that these things, which should drive us to our knees, and drive us to dependence on Jesus, often consume us with worry instead.
Life’s riches can also choke us off. Possessions can be a thorough distraction from the Christian life. Even for mostly middle income people, there is a danger that our possessions will possess. The care and feeding of vehicles, costs us time and money. Our houses can become the focus of our lives; a better cell phone; a better supported hobby. These things can choke off the time and energy we really ought to put into following Jesus. We can also seek security in what we possess. We can be more dependent on our salary, or our savings, our retirement, than on God’s provision, which, in reality, sustains us.
Closely related to life’s riches are life’s pleasures. You may not be the true hedonist, surrounded with luxury or sinful self-indulgence. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t pre-occupied with pleasures. Maybe you have some hidden sin no one else sees that is choking your Christian life. Or maybe it’s something small, like the pleasure of a good meal, so that when you are offered the same old thing you become irritated. Maybe it’s the pleasure of being left alone, so we grow angry at every interruption. Maybe it’s the pleasure of watching a few favorite shows, or following a few favorite teams. These pleasures are not wrong in themselves, but they are not to become the focus of our lives.
So even believers can struggle with being the hard soil, hardened of heart. Or the rocky soil, dried up in the Christian life, Or the thorny soil, distracted by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures. But, praise God, we can also be good soil, fruitful hearers. Verse 15 “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” If we are good soil we embrace God’s word in our hearts with integrity, not fooling ourselves. People of integrity are the soil in which the word of God produces fruit. They receive the word of God, hearing it and listening with understanding. They retain the word, keep it at the forefront of their hearts and minds. And they persevere in the word, they live a life of dependence, and probably more significantly, live a life of obedience. It’s clear from a study of this section that when Jesus says they persevere or endure, he is talking about long term obedience to God’s word and God’s will.
It is that long obedience in the same direction that leads to fruitfulness. This means, for the kingdom as a whole, growth, because the fruitfulness of a seed means more seeds, more plants, more fruit. There is a growing edge to the kingdom which results from the integrity, and obedience of believers. But the fruit of the Spirit, and the other fruits of the Christian life are also implied, because these people are the ones who mature, and who grow up into healthy and godly believers. That’s who Jesus wants us to be: People of integrity. Fruitful people. People who allow his word to sink deep into our souls and control our consciences, our behavior, our very lives, 24/7/365.
That’s the point of the parable, that changed lives come from hearing the word of God and allowing it to affect us deeply. If we do so we won’t have hardened hearts and dried up lives. We won’t be consumed by the attractions of this world. Instead we will receive the word deeply into our lives. The mental image I’d like you to walk away with today is a very spring image. It’s you, sitting in a comfortable chair, in the shade of a tree, by a flowing stream, on a perfect sunny day, with a cool breeze. Open in your lap is a Bible. And you are prayerfully taking in it’s promises or studiously exploring its truths.
Now the first part of that, the spring sunshine part, may not happen very often. But the second part, where you take in the word of God deeply, can happen anywhere, from under a tree to your desk at work, to the front seat of your car, to your easy chair at home to your kitchen table. It’s you taking in the truths of Scripture and the promises of Scripture and the beauties of Scripture for your own soul and for fruitful living. Can you do that?
I love the way the ESV translates the end of the verse. The common translation is “by persevering, produce fruit.” But the ESV sees that it is more about our patience, our peaceful waiting than about our straining perseverance. As we’ve often said about the fruit of the Spirit, trees do not strain to produce fruit. It is the result of soil, sun and water in the right proportions. Jesus is saying that we can choose to cultivate the soil of our hearts, receive, continually, the word of God and in the light of His face and the water of His life produce his fruit. Isn’t that what you really want? Break up your unplowed heart. Humbly receive the word planted in you.