Sunday, March 25, 2012

Luke 8:1-15 - Parable of the Sower

In just a few months from the launch of Jesus’ ministry, it was a booming success. People were streaming from every corner of the Holy Land. Anyone would have been thrilled with the response. By today’s standard, which measures success by size and the pastor’s drawing power, Jesus had reached the top. It was time for contracts, booking agents, marketing strategies. But Jesus was concerned with something much more important. People’s hearts. How many of them really understood? How many of them were serious thinkers rather than shallow observers? How many were casual onlookers and how many were devoted disciples? That is what moved the Lord in our passage today, and he taught using one of the best teaching tools available. He told a story.

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 8:1-15 to teach believers that believing faith births freedom and bears fruit.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about believing faith.
Pray and Read:  Luke 8:1-15

Sermon Points:
1.   Believing faith births freedom (Luke 8:1-3)
2.   Believing faith bears fruit (Luke 8: 4-15)
Contextual Notes:
After calling us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants (Luke 1-2) and to repent of our sin (Luke 3:1-20) through the sacrificial death (Luke 3:21-23a) of the true Son of God (Luke 3:23b-38), who has power to defeat the enemy (Luke 4:1-13), Luke unveils Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14-9:50), powerfully contrasting belief and unbelief in a series of events.

Unbelief at the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:14-30) contrasts with the faith of the Capernaum synagogue (Luke 4:31-44). After Jesus’ first disciples follow him in faith (Luke 5:1-11), the religious leaders’ unbelief is offended when Jesus forgives sin (Luke 5:12-26). Levi’s faith (Luke 5:27-32) counterbalances the Pharisees’ unbelieving anger when Jesus dines with sinners (Luke 5:33-39). Contrasted with the unbelieving Pharisees’ Sabbath rules (Luke 6:1-11), Jesus appoints twelve believing apostles (Luke 6:12-16).

In his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus explains the blessings of faith and the woes of unbelief (Luke 6:17-26), urging us to put our faith into practice by developing Christ-like love (Luke 6:27-36), Christ-like integrity (Luke 6:37-42), Christ-like character (Luke 6:43-45), and Christ-like stability (Luke 6:46-49).

Then Luke demonstrates the astonishing faith of a Gentile centurion (Luke 7:1-10) and the astonishing resurrection of a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17). Despite John the Baptizer’s doubt (Luke 7:18-35), Luke demonstrates believing faith through a sinful woman in the home of a faithless Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Unlike John, whose questioning comes from faith, the Pharisees’ doubts are a blunt denial of the clear evidence of who Jesus was and is.

Now Jesus begins another preaching tour of Galilee (Luke 8:1-3) and tells a parable of sowing seed to teach how faith and unbelief play a role in people’s reactions to the Word of God.

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   In a short note, Luke summarizes Jesus’ teaching ministry in Galilee. He is traveling through the towns and villages (cf. Luke 4:43) proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 4:18-21). Did you know that Jesus traveled with more than just his disciples? Besides the Twelve whom he is training, Luke mentions some women who travel with him and help support his mission.
b.   Luke 8:2-3 – Women: Luke is the only one who mentions that there were women in Jesus’ traveling party and that women helped fund His work. It was common for women in early Judaism to give generously to support favorite rabbis (cf. 2 Kings 4:42). These women of Jesus, like many others, had “their own means,” or literally, “serving them from their possessions.” Luke puts forward women as model Christians. The teenage virgin Mary and Elizabeth are models of the power of walking in simple faith (Luke 1:26-56). Anna is a model of the power of worship (Luke 2:36-38). The widow of Nain is a model of the power of the resurrection. The sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50) is a model of the power of forgiveness to evoke love. The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-5) is a model of prayer. The poor widow (Luke 21:1-4) is a model of giving. In each case, an encounter with Christ brings liberation.
c.   First is Mary of Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. She had been healed greatly by the ministry of Jesus, and her woundedness did not make her “less than” others, but rather more qualified. Mary will be prominent as a witness to Jesus’ burial and resurrection (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1; Luke 24:10). Next was Joanna, the wife of a man named Chuza, the epitropos, or business manager[1] for Herod Antipas’ estate. He looked after the king’s financial interests. Joanna’s presence confirms that Jesus’ ministry is reaching the upper levels of society. She also was a witness to the Resurrection (Luke 24:10). Nothing more is known of Susanna (the “lily”), but for her name to be mentioned she must have been well-known to the early church. These served the Lord (diakoneo), ministered, served, cared for, did a service. The imperfect tense suggests continuous action, so they did it every day, freeing Jesus and his disciples so they could proclaim the gospel.
d.   APPLICATION: The first thing I want you to notice from these three verses is that everyone is important in the Lord’s work. The church is a body in which ever individual member is essential. Have you been giving of yourself to meet the needs of others? If you’d like to contribute more, here are a few reminders to help you. First, since God owns it all, His work deserves top priority when it comes to how we spend our resources. It has been said that if you want to know what a person’s (or a church’s) priorities are, look at the ledger of their checkbook and the pages of their calendar. If we were to view those two things about you, would they reveal a generous spirit? Second, consistent, generous giving is important if you want consistent, generous in a mission, a ministry or a church. Third, releasing our talents, time, and monies to meet the pressing needs outside our own circle is something a learned trait of unselfishness. The more we give, the more comfortable we feel giving. The more comfortable we feel, the more joy we have. The more joy we have, the more we give. Generosity is a habit.[2]
e.   APPLICATION: Notice how Mary, from one end of society, travels and works with Joanna, from the opposite end of society. They would be at the tomb together (Luke 24:10). Jesus brings together all classes and peoples. Notice how Jesus shatters the societal conception of the inferiority of women, raising them to the status of disciples which was unheard of in Judaism and to a place of spiritual equality. Jesus is the greatest liberator of women that the world has ever known. And women are not alone. Based on their faith in Christ, his followers have been rescuing people from slavery since at least the 4th Century on the north coast of Africa. They have been rescuing rejected babies left to die on hillsides since the first century. Christianity is a faith of freedom. Christ gives freedom to societies and the marginalized. He gives freedom to the individual, like Mary. He breaks spiritual bondages and brings true liberty to our souls. He breaks the power of sin and sets the captives free. Have you been liberated by Him? Is there a bondage in which you walk from which Christ has not freed you? Run to Jesus! His freedom is thorough and complete.
a.   A parable is a great teaching device. It takes something known to the audience and teaches something unknown to them. In one of his most famous parables, Jesus takes a farming metaphor used by the OT prophets (Isaiah 55:10-11; Jer 4:3; 31:27; Ezek 36:9; Hosea 2:23) to describe various responses to the Word of God (Luke 8:11). Traditionally called the parable of the sower, it may be more accurately called the parable of the soils, since the emphasis is on the soils’ reception to the seed of the Word and the crop produced. The parable puzzles Jesus’ disciples, so they want him to explain. Jesus first responds by noting the two-fold reason he tells parables. The first is to reveal the truth to those who have “ears to hear,” those who are willing to respond to God’s call (Luke 8:8). The second reason is just the opposite, to conceal the message from those who reject the Word because of the hardness of their hearts. Jesus concludes by explaining the meaning of the parable by the responses different individuals have for the “word of God,” which is Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom.
b.   Luke 8:5 – A farmer went out: Jesus uses a common image that the people would have easily recognized in a farming society. Sowing took place in the late fall or early winter, during the rainy season. A farmer walked along with a bag of seed over his shoulder, scattering the seed in the field, later plowing it into the soil. It seems the sowing was done more or less indiscriminately, expecting to come back later and plow it in. Luke focuses on the seed, drawing attention to the word of God itself. Some fell along the path: The paths along the edge or through the fields where people walk and crush the seed into the path and the birds devour it.
c.   Luke 8:6 – Some fell on rock: This would be bedrock covered by a thin layer of soil. Without enough soil, the plants cannot take in enough moisture to grow, and the sun would burn them up.
d.   Luke 8:7 – Other seed fell among thorns: Rather than go to the trouble to pull up thorny and thistly weeds by the root, farmers often simply cut or burned off the weed tops. The soil looked ready for seed, but the weed roots were still below the surface, and in time they would grow faster and stronger than the seed, choking the life out of it.
e.   Luke 8:8 – Some fell on good soil: The soil was carefully cleared, prepared, tilled and made ready, so the seed took root in a bed which nourished a bumper crop. A hundred times more: The average grain yield in Israel at the time was a seven to fifteenfold increase. That had decreased from the days of Isaac who received a hundredfold return (Gen 26:12), so the yields mentioned here are extraordinary but not outlandish. He who has an ear: Ezekiel calls Israel a rebellious people who have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear (Ezek 12:2). Jesus is most likely referring to Isaiah 6:9 which he is getting ready to quote (cf. Ezek 3:27; Luke 14:35).
f.    Luke 8:9 – His disciples asked him: Watching miracles and hearing teaching doesn’t get someone in the kingdom any more than hearing about good food gives one a healthy body. We must eat the food to obtain a benefit, and we must believe in Jesus to see the truth in his teaching. Many saw but didn’t see and heard but didn’t hear, because they were unwilling to receive Him. The disciples were willing, so Jesus unveiled the meaning to them.
g.   Luke 8:10 – The secrets of the kingdom: The mysterion (secret/ mystery) here is the as yet unrevealed plan of God in establishing the Kingdom. Much different from the way the Greek cults used the word, Jesus uses the word here to refer to the End Time acts of God to be revealed to those being saved. The prophet Daniel spoke of the mystery (Aram raz/LXX mysterion) of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that Daniel reveals concerning the coming Kingdom of God that would crush all other kingdoms and endure forever (Daniel 2:18-19, 27-30, 47). Jesus is referring to God’s end time plan and the role that Jesus is playing in unfolding salvation history.
h.   Luke 8:10 - Seeing they may not see: Now let’s step back for a moment and look at this parable in its context. It follows a summary statement of Jesus’ preaching the good news (Luke 8:1) and healing those with evil spirits and infirmities (Luke 8:2). This parable focuses on the different responses to the ministries of Jesus, and Jesus’ use of the quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 focuses squarely on that response. Jesus here abbreviates Isaiah 6:9 (which Mark 4:12 quotes more fully). In its context in Isaiah, the passage speaks of the certainty of the coming judgment on Israel. Israel’s rebellion had reached the point that God would blind her eyes until his discipline was complete. In Isaiah’s day, the agent of judgment was the Assyrian army which would devastate Israel. Throughout the New Testament, Isaiah 6:9 is used to point to Israel’s rejection of the gospel. The text points to God’s blinding and deafening those who obstinately refuse to repent and believe.
i.    Luke 8:11-15 – The soils: In each of the Gospels, this parable stresses the different soils, symbolizing people’s hearts, and how they respond to the sown Word. The point? God’s Word does not evoke the same faith in everyone, not because the Word is defective, but because people have the liberty to respond to the Word as they choose. For some,
                     i.        Luke 8:12The hard heart. These people are unresponsive to God’s Word. Nothing penetrates the surface of their heart and convinces them of a need for a life-changing, personal relationship with God. These folks may attend church or hang around Christians, but because they are hardened to the truth, the Adversary easily picks off whatever morsels of the gospel in their minds. They remain unrepentant and unsaved. APPLICATION: Maybe your heart is hard. You have no intention of getting serious about spiritual things.
                  ii.        Luke 8:13The shallow heart. These people have superficial, impulsive hearts. People respond emotionally, impulsively, and superficially, and when “it doesn’t work” as they demand or persecution comes, they abandon the Word without ever really having received it. With no soil to support the plants and little moisture, this soils “falls away” in times of testing. They lack spiritual depth and stability.  They also remain unsaved. APPLICATION: Maybe your interest in Christ sprang up quickly but withered in the heat of temptation. Looking back you realize you wanted to appear Christian but you didn’t really commit yourself completely. Your heart is rocky soil.
                iii.        Luke 8:14The busy, crowded heart. These people receive Christ into hearts crammed to capacity with anxieties. They have social obligations, family issues, the economy, lots to worry about including their standard of living. People become so involved in the up and down events of their work-a-day worlds that they become distracted and gradually forget God’s salvation message. God’s word cannot and our lives cannot be fruitful in that environment. APPLICATION: Perhaps the worries of life have preoccupied you. A lack of contentment has strangled the peace. Striving with family, at work, you’ve lost sight of Christ. Your heart has become thorny ground.
                 iv.        Luke 8:15The productive, strong heart. Luke explains the nature of the good soil for his Greek audience. The “noble and good heart” is a Greek expression of someone with an honorable character. These are people who hear, receive, and respond to the seed planted within them. They are open to the truth about themselves. If they see sin in their lives, they’re willing to admit it and change. They hold fast to the Word. Scripture enters their brains and stays there long enough to soak into their will and down into their spirit. As a result, they bear fruit with perseverance. APPLICATION: There is also an important distinction here. The culture then and now would say “if you persevere you will become good.” Christ’s parable teaches that “if you are good you will persevere.” Doing something good cannot change our sin nature, but when Christ in grace has changed our hearts, that inner transformation will be displayed in the choices we make and the way we act. Are you open to the Lord’s word to work in you? Are you teachable? Imperfect, certainly, but honest before the Lord?
                   v.        Jesus’ point: The harvest depends on the heart. It’s so simple we miss it. It doesn’t depend on what we do or our abilities or talents. What matters is the condition of our hearts.
What is your heart condition? Jesus is coming back, but not in the same way as his first visit. This time he will put his mighty sickle to the fields and reap the harvest. The time for cultivating soil will be over. Prepare your heart now, so that when He comes, your life will deliver a fruitful harvest for eternity.

[1] Epitropos: Matt 20:8-foreman; Gal 4:2-child guardian; also a governor or procurator. Joanna (Heb. Yochani). Possibly the court official whose son was healed at Cana (John 4:46-54), though Edersheim says not likely, Life and Times, 3:22; 394-5.
[2] Chuck Swindoll, The Continuation of Something Great: Luke 7:1-10:37, 31-32.