Have you ever wondered why people respond so differently to God? For example, why would five kids in the same house with the same parents in the same church have five different reactions to God? One may grow up and be deeply in love with God and walk with humility. One may grow up and be okay with God on Christmas Eve and Easter but nothing more. One may grow up and walk completely against how they were raised. Who knows about the other two kids. How does that happen? Jesus explains why today in parable.
Some of you know my parents. Soon after High School, they gave their lives to Christ in Chambersburg Mennonite Church. They promised God that they would do whatever was asked of them to build His kingdom. They became the first Mennonite missionaries in Guatemala. Because of their work there, hundreds of churches were started. They came back to the States, my dad served as a pastor in Ohio, then a church planter in South Jersey, then as a Bishop. In all those years, my parents gave their lives to the advancement of the kingdom of God.
My parents had three sons, I’m the youngest. The three sons had ten children. Now those ten grandchildren are dating, getting married, and having babies. Why the history lesson? I share all this to ask this question. How has everyone in my family, after having Godly grandparents, responded to God? The response is all over the map. Some are walking with God. Some are okay with the idea of God but they aren’t passionately following after Him. Some don’t even really want to talk about God. How did that happen?
Before we jump into today’s parable, lets pray and ask God to give us ready hearts to understand what He is saying. Matthew 13 in the New International Version.
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 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. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 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. 22 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. 23 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.” NIV Matthew 13:1-23
This parable couldn’t be clearer for us because Jesus breaks it down. We know exactly what the point was. Again, as in many parables, Jesus is giving a parable that addresses our heart condition. And in this parable, Jesus explains why people respond so differently to the message of God’s kingdom. To help us walk through this and make it personal, I have a few questions for you to wrestle with today to help process what Jesus said.
Question 1: Do you know what the message of God’s kingdom is?
It’s about recognizing our sin, turning to God for forgiveness, and living new lives. Here is what we know. We live our lives, and we struggle – don’t we? We struggle with sin, guilt, shame, quiet addictions, fear and much more. We try to be good people and no matter how hard we try; we still fail at it. We try to be good people, but life moves against us, and we feel like we are always in a struggle. We need someone to save us. Someone to rescue us. We need someone to pull us out of the mess we are in. That’s the message of God’s kingdom. God sent Jesus to, to save you, to rescue you. Jesus came to do for you, what you can’t do.
Here is how the Bible puts it.
22 The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. 23 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, 24 God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. 25 God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public – to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus. MSG Romans 3:22-25
Do you see it? We have compiled a long and sorry list as sinners. God did it for us. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in. That’s the message of God’s kingdom.
To those of you who have been Christians for a long time, I want to tell you something. You need God today just as badly as the first day you met him. The problem many Christians’ face is they look back on their lives and think, I accepted Jesus a long time ago. I checked that box. Now that I did that, today, I need to be a mature disciple of Jesus and muscle through life on my strength. And here is where many of us get messed up. We forget, we need Jesus today as badly as the first day you met him. We forget or we struggle to pursue and love God with all of our strength like the first day we met Him. Why? Because we already checked that box.
Please hear me, you need to be saved and rescued today. If you don’t pursue Jesus, your heart will grow cold and hard. And as you attend church, you will know about God’s reckless love for you, but you will, maybe, come up with reasons why you can’t show love to those around you.
Please hear me, you need to be saved and rescued today. If you don’t pursue Jesus, you may come to weird conclusions like, I must do good things to get on God’s good side. Logically, that makes no sense. If the gift was already given to you, why are you trying to do good things in hopes to manipulate God into giving you the gift – that He already gave you? That’s weird.
Or another common thought, if anything goes wrong in my life today, that might be because God is making me pay for things I have done wrong. Again, logically, this makes no sense. If Jesus took the pain and suffering to give you the gift, why do you think God is judging you to make you pay for the gift – that Jesus already paid for? That’s weird.
Please hear me, it doesn’t work like that. The hammer, the judgement, the pain that was supposed to fall on you already fell. It fell on Jesus so that you would never have to face that.
The message of God’s kingdom is a radical one. It’s about fully embracing our sin and our inability to live well. It’s about fully embracing our need of God. It’s about fully embracing Jesus as our Savior. And it’s about fully embracing a completely new way of living.
And as great as that message is, when people hear that message of forgiveness and radical life change, people respond very differently don’t they?
Question 2: When you heard the message of life change, how did you respond? Was it confusing to you or maybe put another way, was it dull to you?
Do you know anyone who says that Christianity doesn’t make sense to them? Maybe it’s you. They may know the story of Jesus, they may know about sin and forgiveness, but it hasn’t impacted them to the point of life change. Maybe you attend church, hear the songs, hear the scriptures and you leave unchanged. Maybe you struggle to take the message of Jesus and make choices to live differently. Maybe, when you hear the message, it’s like a story but it doesn’t mean much to you.
Jesus explains why. Satan is stealing the message of God’s kingdom from your heart. You have an enemy who wants to steal hope for you. We know because scripture warns us.
Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack. CEV 1 Peter 5:8
One of the best ways your enemy can steal your hope in this life is to steal God’s message from you. The best thing you can do is pray. Pray and ask God to protect you. Pray, ‘In the Name of Jesus, please and through the power of the Holy Spirit, please don’t allow Satan to steal your message from me. I pray that the message of God’s kingdom will deeply impact me.’
Question 3: When you heard the message of life change, did it inspire you but overtime, it didn’t last?
This is common. We have seen so many people visit MRC over the 20 plus years and rave about what it meant to them. With passion they shared how inspired they were. With joy they shared how they felt God’s presence. With humility they came and wondered what they could do to serve at MRC. And most of them were baptized.
And as a young pastor I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. We are winning. God is building His kingdom.’ Then a couple months later, people would ask me, ‘Where is so-in-so?’ I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’ Only to see them at Farmer’s Fair later that year. Now, with years behind me, when someone is super happy about their first visit, I quietly think, ‘I am super happy for your experience, but we will see what happens.’
How does that happen? How could so much passion and joy be stolen so quickly?
Jesus explains why. The God message is inspiring. When you hear it, it will feel right. The problem is when you leave church, you quickly discover, life is hard. Very hard. And when you try to live out the God message, you will face challenge after challenge. You will feel the world push against you. In the middle of the challenges or storms, you will wonder, is it worth it? Is the God message worth it, does it even work?
Chances are, you may fall away from God. Fall away from the community in church. Fall away from the Bible, all of it. God’s message that once inspired you is now an afterthought. You may report, ‘Oh, I tried church, but it didn’t work.’ You may think, ‘I have gone to church for years and it hasn’t really changed me – so the God stuff doesn’t really work.’
If this has been your experience, I want you to know something. Inviting Jesus into your life to save you isn’t something you try, it’s something you surrender your life to, even when you must walk through the storms of your life. Important to understand this so here is an analogy. I have a friend who is a small engine mechanic. If something is wrong with the engine, I go to him to fix it. Imagine in I stood in his garage, and you drove by and I waived and said, I’m a mechanic. You would think, no you’re not, you are a pastor. I think a lot of people stand in churches and say, I’m a Christian. Just because you are in a garage or in a church, it doesn’t mean you are a mechanic or a Christian. What would I have to do to be a mechanic? I would have to surrender to the process. I would get my hands dirty and be involved in fixing the engine. I might go to school to learn. I should be an apprentice. Please hear me. Jesus isn’t something you try. It’s something you surrender to.
Years ago, I met a man on my front porch. He and his wife attended MRC and he wanted to divorce his wife. He shared with me how disappointing the church had been because he tried it and it didn’t fix his marriage. I asked a few questions. Have you changed your life to pray and read scripture? No. Have you changed your life by surrendering your heart to Jesus? No. Have you done anything for your wife to love her and care for her? No. I was so frustrated because he couldn’t see how God loved and forgave him and how it was his role to do that same for his wife.
Please hear me, the God message of salvation can transform you, but you must make choices to allow it to transform you. It’s called surrender.
It’s important to understand that the God message isn’t an insurance policy to avoid pain and struggle. It’s not about doing good things to earn points to avoid pain and struggle. The God message is about surrendering your life to Jesus and walking with Jesus through the storms of life. And when the storms come, because there will be many, have faith and persevere through each storm. Here’s why. It’s in the middle of the storm where God can shape and mold you the most. It’s in the middle of the storm, you learn the most about yourself and God.
Question 4: When you heard the message of life change, did it inspire you, but today you live in fear of tomorrow?
This is probably where most Christians are today. We may have grown up with God. We may have had a God experience. We may have walked through the best discipleships and have lots of knowledge. But as we live life, we experience the fear of what could go wrong. We fear tomorrow. We fear not having money. We fear not having our health. And because we are so mature, we think about, we focus on, the worst-case scenario. Living there leaves us living a life of dread. Where is it wise to think through the worst-case scenario, it’s not wise to live there.
We have real questions. Real questions like, will my marriage work? What should I do with my life? Am I enough to make it in life? Will I have kids? Will my kids be healthy? Will I keep my health? Will I lose my job? Will we lose our health insurance? Can we pay for cars or for college? All these questions are real, and you will wrestle with them at some point. But when you ask these questions more than focusing on God’s message, fear and concern will steal your courage. You will begin to wonder, ‘Will God come through for me?’ And before you know it, it will choke out your love and passion for God. You may continue to attend church, but you may turn away from God and His love for you to take matters into your own hands. And your fear, the worry, the stress of life will grow.
The best thing to do is to hear that God message again, engage it, and allow God to love you again. The love God died to give you is as real for you today as it was when you first heard it. When was the last time you stopped in life and rested and enjoyed God’s love for you? Here is what we know. When you surrender to God’s love for you, it will begin to remove your fear.
Listen to how the Bible puts it.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. NIV 1 John 4:18
Question 5: When you heard the message of life change, did it inspire you and change you forever?
Did you hear God’s message, and did it so radically impact you so much so, you made choices to live differently? Do you continue to read the Bible and pray to learn and grow and continue to make changes to follow God? Has the God message changed how life out being single, being married, raising kids? Has it changed your habits, priorities, the words that come out, the attitudes about life, how you see life? Do you fully engage God’s kingdom at a local church?
Jesus said, ‘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.’
What does it mean to produce a crop yielding more than what was sown? It’s really simple. When God’s message hits a good heart, that heart is immediately kingdom focused. That means they understand God’s message. They have the character to push through problems and persecution. They have the courage to push through the worries, the fear, the anxiety of life and money. They are kingdom focused. They are able to surrender their lives to Jesus. The love that God gave them, is the same love they give those around them – even if it costs them.
If you want help with this, practically, this fall, here at MRC, if you want to go deeper with God, we invite you into our discipleship. It’s based on the book called ‘Emotionally Healthy Discipleship.’
I want to close today and ask you, if you were in the crowd listening to Jesus’ talk, how would you respond? What is the condition of your heart? Does giving your life to Jesus seem dull to you? Does giving your life to Jesus seem awesome but overtime, not so much? Does giving your life to Jesus make sense but because of all the things that could go wrong, you’re not sure if God will come through for you? Or are you the one who gives your life to Jesus, and you couldn’t do more to advance His kingdom?
Where are you today?