“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
One event can have such a different effect on people. Low gas prices cause some to rejoice for it is cheaper to fill their gas tanks, and others to lament that lower oil prices have caused layoffs by their employer. The same is true in politics: They say something about our country and one person loves what they hear and another person dislikes what they hear. The same is true for pastors. I can preach the same sermon and in the car on the way home one person will say, “Pastor preached one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard” and in another car another person will say, “I didn’t understand what pastor’s sermon was about today at all!” They hear the same message but what a different outcome!
You might think that same thing when it comes to Christians. They hear the same message but person A is overwhelmed by the message and his life is transformed, fighting against pet sins, sharing his faith with others, and even giving 10% of his income to the church to expand the gospel work. Christian B hears the same message and continues to feed his addiction, wouldn’t think about inviting someone to church and opens up his wallet to see if there is a $5, or if he’s feeling especially generous that service, maybe even a $20 for the offering plate.
So, how frustrating for pastors is this? We’re tempted to wonder what we’re doing wrong? Why doesn’t the word work on them? It might even frustrate you, too! I know it does because you come to me and say, “Pastor, I don’t understand, I’ve been inviting them for a year and they don’t come to church. Why not?” What’s the difference between people? Or how about our children? You say, “We used the same devotions, prayers, and the younger one, Pastor! You have to do an exorcism or re-baptize them or something to get them back.” You know that person at Divine Peace that has gone through tough times in spite of hardships have it all together. But you, are still suffering over someone who died two years ago. Why are they so strong and I’m so weak? Couples “Their marriage seems to be all sunshine and lollipops but my marriage is hanging by a thread. Why does God’s Word work so well with them but not with my marriage?”
What is the reason for the difference? I can tell you this, dear friends, the problem is not with the Word of God—sometimes it’s powerful and other times not. The seed is the message of the kingdom – God’s Word. God’s word is always effective “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).
God’s Word never loses the ability to unleash God’s kingdom (power, forgiveness, transformation, peace) into your life. The Word is never different, but it’s the soil that is different! People hear this and people think this refers to different types of people. Not really. It means the different types of listening. One person could be multiple types of soil. You listen differently during life, week, or even during the hour of worship. Do you understand? Your heart soil can change. So, listen to the warning from Jesus who teaches us to
Listen Carefully with an Attentive Hearts!
- Not a hard heart
- Not a shallow heart
- Not a divided heart
Not a Hard Heart
Jesus warns against listening with a hard heart. Just what is a hard heard? Listen Carefully with an Attentive Heart!
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
The Greek word “understand” means not just “get what it says, grasp it,” but to “appreciate and enjoy what it says.” Earlier Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). If you hear those words with just your intellect it is going to fall flat. If you listen with just your mind and fail to perceive the emotion God produces in you then you’ll block God’s Word from getting past your head and into your heart.
For instance Israelites in the First Lesson could recite the Word of God, but did not apply to their lives. They refused to let it sink in. So, Jesus called them on it when he said, “You honor me with your lips” (that’s their heads) “but hearts are far from me.” Heed Jesus’ warning! If you just listen with your head intellectually, then you will have a hard, packed soil in your heart. Is that you?
For instance, when the pastor talks about sin, how do you hear that? The pastor talks about gossip, lust, adultery, pride, do you think, “Okay God doesn’t want me to sin in thoughts, words, and deeds,” and that’s it? Then you got it academically, but what happens if you let it sink into your heart? Then you’ll realize and appreciate that it means that there isn’t one of us here that is even close to being acceptable to God.
Let God’s Word sink past your brain and into your heart and listen carefully with your heart and God’s Word produces a healthy emotion called dread or guilt. How about pastor’s message of hell. Do you say, “Yay, I don’t wanna go there, do I?” Or do you hear about a place that is full of physical pain, emotional pain because you’re so sorrowful for what you’re all missing in heaven, and spiritual pain because you’re cut off forever from God’s love. Then you’re listening with just your head. Let it sink into your heart and you’ll appreciate that God’s Word tells you it is quite possible for you to spend an eternity there. The Bible says the path there is extremely wide. Heaven’s path is narrow and hard to find. Let God’s message of sin and hell sink in, listen carefully not just with your head, but with your heart and God’s Word produces a healthy emotion called fear. You’ll appreciate it because it will prepare your heart to joyfully hear the gospel of Jesus!
And now, on the flip side, do you listen to the message of forgiveness with just your head, or do you listen carefully with your attentive heart? You can listen to how Jesus left heaven, lived perfectly for you, died on the cross to pay the penalty of all your sins, died and rose again. Listen just with head and go through the mechanics of salvation, you might even come to church every Sunday but it was only because you think that is what good people are supposed to do or your parent’s tradition. But, if you let that message of Jesus sink through your head and into your heart you will be overwhelmed by the love of him, who before beginning of time, saw, knew, loved, and rescued you! Stop resisting the Holy Spirit who is planting the seed of God’s Word past your head and into your heart! Let Jesus’ love for you produce God’s emotion of peace, joy as you listen with an undivided heart and apply it to your life.
Not a Shallow Heart
The next example from Jesus is the exact opposite. Now Jesus talks about people who listen with pure emotion and no desire to grow in knowledge of what God’s Word says,
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
The hill country west of Austin is full of rocky ground. Dig through the first inch of dirt and you’ll run into slate. Scatter seed here and they will grow under surface, then they will wilt and die when the sun comes out. They just can’t take the heat. Many Christians hear the Gospel, receive it with joy, powerful, initial reaction to Christ, but never grow in the knowledge of God’s Word, never study it more deeply, don’t really know God’s plans or purposes, so when life gets hard they fall away.
Think about Jesus’ time. There were great crowds who received his message of forgiveness with joy. And Jesus was saying nice things—such as condemning their religious leaders who seemed to enjoy putting extra burdens on them. Jesus was feeding them, healing and helping them. They loved Jesus until Jesus started to take their faith-roots deeper into God’s Word. He told them that even if you’re a Christian you’re going to suffer, maybe even more than unbelievers. Jesus talked about deny yourself, taking up your crosses, you better be ready to do some tough things. So they left in droves so that by the time Jesus dies he doesn’t have 1000s of followers, maybe just a couple.
How about you? Are you a shallow listener? The Bible says go to church every Sunday and you say once in a while and I’ll be fine. Or maybe you’re one that says Bible class is beneath you. What more can a pastor teach me? Sounds like a rebellious 16 year old saying, “I know all I need to know.” Then your faith is really shallow – and when the heat of life comes along (riches taken from you, loved one, health, job, you’re going to fall away) because you don’t understand God’s grace (good and tough love), because you don’t have deep spiritual roots. You think God doesn’t love you. Do you need proof of your shallow roots? The proof is your greater love of those things you lost in the heat more than you loved Jesus. Why? You didn’t let the roots of your faith penetrate deeply into Christ’s grace and love. And fact is, your falling away will be your own fault. You listened with a shallow heart. Refusing to let God’s Word ground you safely in God’s promises. Sometimes we listen with a hard heart and sometimes with a shallow heart, but let Jesus’ love for you produce God’s emotion of peace, grace and joy as you listen with an undivided heart and apply it to your life.
Not a Divided Heart
Jesus warns us against another heart – the divided heart:
Jesus is talking about a Christian that does listen to the seed of God’s Word, but there is another seed in his heart, a seed that produces weeds. So he listens to God’s Word and hears what is necessary to be truly happy in his life, but then he listens to what the world says is necessary to be happy in this life…. Usually involving wealth and they’re butting against each other. It’s a divided heart.
Or a Christian listens to God’s Word about after life. Same person listens to a stupid book of a person who claims to die for 19 minutes and see heaven….the seed is producing thorns in conflict with God’s Word. Or a Christian faces the week with confidence – life is held in the hands of his Father in heaven, but the same Christian then reads his horoscope or seeks the advice of spiritists and mediums and two conflicting seeds are butting heads—a divided heart. Or they might devote a portion of their life to God….. don’t gossip, slander, lying and take it to heart. But, what God says about sexuality, well….that is ridiculous – conflicted, divided heart.
Is having a divided heart that big a problem? Can’t you have some fruit of faith and thorns of unbelief living side by side? You don’t really have to have a green thumb and know what will happen eventually. Will the beans, squash and tomatoes kill off all the weeds and take over the garden. Or will the weeds take over and won’t let the garden grow anymore? Eventually a Christian with a divided heart will eventually have the thorns and thistles choke off faith. Jesus warns against hard, shallow and divided hearts! When we listen with anything other than an undivided heart is it any wonder that we don’t experience the fullness of the kingdom in our lives? …don’t feel his presence, power, transformation, or peace of God as fully as we’d like?
But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it.
This person hears the word, loves, meditates, and applies it to their life. What are they like?
“This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God full of love, peace, grace abounding the lives of his people. If you don’t have this in your life, then what’s the problem? It is not that sometimes God’s Word is effective and sometimes it isn’t. The problem is that you and I don’t listen to it well. When we do that it doesn’t hurt God, it hurts us. It robs us of the fullness of the kingdom he wants to give us.
Powerful words of warning in this parable and if I would say “Amen” right now it would be a sin on my part.
You see, some of you are feeling very guilty for “not listening the way they should.” I’ve had a hard, shallow or divided heart. Is God going to give up on me?” Really? God isn’t going to give up on you. The comfort of God’s Word today is found in the foolishness of the sower! He’s so reckless isn’t he? Walking through the field, “Here’s a path or here’s some thistles, don’t throw seed there!” NO! The Sower throws recklessly because maybe, just maybe, the seed will sink in and produce a result. He doesn’t give up on you. He continues to throw the seed of his Word maybe, just maybe, this is the time it penetrates and produces fruits. Like he’s doing right now.
Oh, the reckless love of Christ! You see it most clearly on rocky soil called Golgatha. There Jesus takes every sin of not listening to God’s Word well. Jesus becomes dead, planted in the ground, and bust forth with resurrection of forgiveness through faith. Jesus saved you with his life and always listened to God’s Word well. Jesus spends every single weekend in the synagogues even though he knew it better, always listened well, perfectly. And you get to claim his obedience, he covers over your sin, so when God sees you through Jesus, he sees a person who listens well.
Words from politicians and pastors—they can speak the same word, but those words can have such different effects on people. Let me share a word of encouragement with you today that I pray will transform your life. Listen carefully to what I’m about to say.
If you are listening to God’s Word because you want to transform your marriage, end grudges, stop addictions, yes, you want God’s Word to transform you… but it’s not working, then be patient! That’s what seed does—it produces fruit in time.
Think of an acre of soil. How would you like to transform it? With 100 sticks of dynamite or with one little seed? The dynamite will act quickly, but I would argue only superficially by rearranging piles of soil. But, that’s what you’ll end up with—piles of soil. But, give me one seed and give it time and it will turn the whole acre into a garden of life. God’s Word doesn’t not always work like an explosion. Be patient! It works on hearts patiently, day after day. And Pray! It isn’t the soil’s job to remove weeds, but the job of the gardeners.
Pray that God would tend the soil of hearts and poor his seed into your heart and those you know and love. I can promise this: when God’s Word is poured into hearts a transformation takes place that is substantial. When hearts read, learn and inwardly digest God’s promises you will enjoy a level of peace and joy that most of humanity cannot know. Listen with an Undivided Heart and God promises his Word will have an effect on you that will last forever. Amen!