Soul Food #17

April 18, 2021 | Don Horban
References: Matthew 13:1-9, 12, 14-15 , 18-19Hebrews 4:12Luke 8:18
Topics: TruthThe HeartHearing

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Soul Food #17


Matthew 13:1-9 – “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."

Last week we launched into the first foundational point of this great parable. All growth begins with seed. There must be something to germinate. The reason people don’t devote enough energy to the seed of the Word is, like all growth, there is a time lag between sowing and harvesting. And something else, sowing isn’t nearly as exciting as harvesting. So sowing takes more thought and discipline than harvesting.

Yes, Bible study can sometimes feel boring. And yes, it can sometimes feel unfruitful when we don’t see the sprouts growth poking through the soil of our circumstances as quickly as we’d like. That’s why Jesus links sowing and harvesting particularly in the study of the power of the Word in our lives.

If you don’t develop faithfulness and maturity into sowing the Word into your life, you’ll sow something else. Something is going to be planted in your heart. The Holy Spirit, your creator God, will sow His will and way, or Hollywood and MTV will sow theirs. Jesus will rule your thoughts or your BlackBerry, or Twitter, or FaceBook will fill your mind. Sow the Word into your life.

But there’s so much more here. If last week’s point was number one, today we’ll pick up with point number two:


Matthew 13:3-4“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.”

Matthew 13:18-19“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.”

Jesus tells us the enemy will steal away the seed - the Word - from our lives if it is not received with understanding. But there’s a particular kind of understanding He has in mind. These people weren’t too stupid to grasp the meaning of the Word. The understanding problem was of a different kind.

In quoting the prophet Isaiah Jesus said their hearts had grown dull - Matthew 13:14-15 – “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.'“

This is exactly the same thought Jesus played out in His parable. He said people’s lives can become hard to God’s truth. Like a path that has been packed down by lots of traffic, people get busy with the thoughts of their minds and the dreams of their hearts. The seed of God’s Word is just one more thing bouncing off the surface of their lives.

Remember, Jesus isn’t dealing with atheists here. He’s talking about how people give their attention to His Word. He’s talking about the crowd who have exposure to the Word - the crowd that goes to church. He’s saying hearing God’s Word is going to be a fruitless experience for many people because, while their bodies are in church, they’ve already become distracted and cluttered in their affections and aspirations. People can become desensitized to spiritual truth. People can actually pride themselves that they are not easily moved spiritually. They can hear God’s truth in a detached manner.

And so, in the mind of Jesus, the first obstacle to overcome if I want to hear the Word of God unto fruitfulness, is lazy, indifferent, presumptuous listening. The seed is useless and vulnerable sitting on the surface of the hard soil. How else could Jesus make more clear the need for the Word to penetrate my heart, not just land on my ears. This takes incredible work - more work the longer I have followed Jesus and the more I already think I know His will and way.


Matthew 13:5-6“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.”

Matthew 13:20-21“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.”

Notice that Jesus uses the word “immediately” twice in describing these people. They receive the word with joy immediately (13:5, Mark 14:16 – “...receive it with joy). Then, Jesus says they “immediately fall away” (Matthew 13:21).

Here we have Jesus dealing with the problem of short-lived spiritual experience and commitment. Why do Christians backslide? Why don’t all our aspirations and goals materialize? Why don’t so many people end up as well as they start out? That’s the issue Jesus is dealing with in these verses.

You can picture the problem Jesus is addressing. The seed enters and begins to germinate. There is the emotional excitement that comes from that inner awareness of new life and spiritual transformation. But just as surely as the germination was rapid, it was also shallow. The roots went down into the soil, but only a short way. Then they hit solid rock.

And here’s the point. From the surface, this whole process was invisible. These rocks weren’t on the surface. They were under the surface. Nobody saw this going on. The leaves stayed green for a while, and then wilted and died.

And what Jesus means is this happens all the time in our hearts. Some kind of quick response was made to God through His Word. And everything felt pretty good. People rejoice that a sinner had come home. But there was disaster in the making. Things seemed fine for a while. The tiny shoots of growth seemed green and healthy. But all the while, spiritual drought and death were in the making.

Trials came. People poked fun. Old friends who didn’t like the look of the new life began to desert. And the new plant shriveled and died. But the problem wasn’t the persecution. This is a frequent misinterpretation of this part of the parable. The cause of the shriveled life wasn’t the trial or difficulty. Those things only manifested what was already going wrong in the life.

Here’s what happened. Somewhere, amid all the excitement of new spiritual life, the Lord began to deal with something under the surface of the life. All the while the new convert was singing choruses and giving testimony, God was trying to reach a level of sacrifice way down deep - under the emotions.

And for whatever reason, while the emotions were stirred, this person’s will wasn’t totally dethroned. And the Holy Spirit will always go straight to the unyielded areas rather than the already yielded ones.

There are whole churches who teach people to just live by their feelings and impulses. There are whole churches who thrive on keeping people on the edge of their seats with emotional excitement. And there is nothing wrong with an emotional quality in our Christian walk. But sooner or later, God’s going to come to some area of my stubborn will that is as immovable and unbreakable as a rock.

Nobody else will know whether I have listened to the Lord or not. Nobody else will see how real Christ’s Lordship is under the surface of my life. But that one issue - that one part of life where I refuse to budge, will determine my future survival.

Jesus explains why in Matthew 13:12“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.”

Most of us understand that Jesus, through the inward work of the Holy Spirit, speaks to our lives and plants truth in our hearts. So “to the one who has, more will be given.” Fine. I think we all appreciate the way the Holy Spirit germinates fresh life in our hearts.

It’s the last part of that twelfth verse that’s a bit harder to swallow. Did you know that Jesus will actually take away previous benefit from His Word in your life when you cease to live in obedience to what He has revealed?

It’s not just that you won’t make any further progress. That seems fair enough. But He actually removes what has been gained in previous years of discipleship. You don’t stay at the same level. You can’t. The Word of God is living and active - Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two‑edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Underscore those words “living” and “active.” They’re full of great comfort and also holy terror. The Word of God reaches into lives in ways those lives don’t recognize. Thousands of careless Christians will go to church today and never realize that, because of their persistence in sin, or their lazy listening habits, or their proud assumption that they already know what’s being said, will never realize that they’ve been robbed during the service.

Just as surely as their purse could have been taken out of the choir room, the Holy Spirit, in an act of stern grace, reached into their hearts and removed previous levels of spiritual growth and apprehension.

People fail and fall in all sorts of ways spiritually. God is patient, merciful, helpful and forgiving with repentant sinners. But He is absolutely intolerant of the stubborn refusal to yield. Any area of persistent unwillingness to heed the Word, will shrivel the life of the seed and destroy the possibility of abiding fruit.

Let me wrap this difficult truth up with these thoughts. It’s not that God is loveless or in any way willing that any should perish. We all know that. And that’s not what I’m saying in this point. God does everything He fan to force us to see when something is seriously wrong spiritually. In fact, let me tell you one of the most important lessons I’m just on a learning curve with in my own life.

I’m learning that spiritual growth is seamless. By that I mean you can’t break it up into pieces and components. It can’t even be broken up into the usual chronological distinctions of past, present and future. Holy decisions in present open up my life in the future just as careless ones shut out future options and grace. It all moves ahead together or crumbles together.

So we’re studying how the habit of not hearing when truth confronts actually removes previously known truth. But perhaps that’s not the whole story either. I’m fascinated with the way Luke deals with this same parable - in fact, this very same thought about losing what was already possessed:

Luke 8:18 – “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away."

Did you catch the slight difference? It’s in the last phrase – “....even what he thinks he has will be taken away.” And now I have a bit of a handle on that idea that spiritual growth is always seamless. Luke shows it’s very easy to assume the possession of truth that isn’t truly possessed at all.

Then how can I tell - how can I measure where I’m at spiritually? Well, spiritual life can’t be had in pieces. It’s a seamless life. There are no perforated sections. It’s every area, or no area at all. And the areas in which I think I’m walking in maturity are revealed suspect if the Holy Spirit is ignored in another area.

Or, here’s the way God’s dealing with my own heart. Let me word the same truth like this - the parts of my walk with Jesus I think I have down pat are revealed genuine by how I respond to other areas yet unreached, but about which the Holy Spirit will speak next Wednesday, or next Sunday.

Past growth only stands validated by future sensitivity and obedience. Present spiritual depth is only authenticated by future spiritual attentiveness. No part of the Christian walk comes all by itself. The whole Christian walk is of one piece. It can’t be broken up into “obedient” and “disobedient,” “willing” and “unwilling.” Past spiritual growth never stays in your account as a credit.

And my final comment is that this is a loving action of God, not a cruel one. It’s the Spirit’s way of turning my heart away from a deadly spiritual coasting. It’s how God builds safety into my walk with Him. It’s how God pulls my life constantly into His next stage or growth, rather than resting on past ones. It’s how He takes you and me from being thirty folders to sixty folders, to one hundred folders.