UNDERSTAND WITH HEART, TAKE ROOT AND OVERCOME
(Kingdom Parables, Part 1)
Matthew 13:1-23, Key Verse: 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.”
In the last passage, Matthew 12:22-50, Jesus defended his work and gave the Pharisees warnings when they did not gather with him. Yet he also encouraged them to make their hearts good so that they can bear good fruit—fruit that will last. By the way, do we want to bear much fruit? I believe everyone want to bear fruit. What kind of fruit would you like to bear?
In today’s passage Jesus uses a parable to teach the last passage’s lesson on making a tree good so as to bear good fruit. It teaches not only how to bear much fruit but also what makes us not become fruitful! According to Mark 4:13, this is the foundation of understanding all other parables about the kingdom of heaven. May God bless us to understand this parable with our hearts so that we can bear much fruit, experiencing the kingdom of heaven, in 2019. There are two parts.
I. Understand with Heart (1-17).
Look at verse 1-2. “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. Then he told them many things in parables…” Jesus was having Bible study in a house, but there were too many people to accommodate and hear the word of God. So Jesus went out and sat by the lake so that all who came could listen to the word of God. Still, such a large crowd of people came, so Jesus got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore, so that all of them could listen to him better. It seems that there is an important lesson here: Jesus wants all who came to him to hear, so that they can bear much fruit.
Then, Jesus began to teach them many things in parables. According to dictionary.com, a parable is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson indirectly through comparison, yet deeper. It is easier to remember, because it comes with a story. The more we meditate on it, the deeper we understand it, applying it in many aspects of our lives. Today’s passage is the first parable Jesus uses to illustrate how to bear much fruit in many ways.
What is the parable? Look at verses 3b-8. In this parable, the farmer was scattering the seed, which fell onto four different kinds of soils; path, rocky, thorny and good. Some, which fell on the path, was eaten by the birds; and some in the rocky soil, which sprang up quickly, but when the sun came up, the plants should have grown but withered because they didn’t have deep enough roots to water the plant in the heat. Other seeds fell among thorns that choked the plants so they didn’t to bear edible fruit; still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—at least 30 to 100 times.
Look at verse 9, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” What did Jesus mean? Everyone has ears, so they heard what Jesus said? What Jesus meant more than just hearing with their physical ears. Jesus meant not physical ears but spiritual ears, which enable the person to understand the deeper meaning of the parable. We hear a lot of things in this world, everyday and everywhere. Often we hear what we like to hear. What you hear reveals what you have in your heart as well. In other words, what is in your heart affects what you hear and see. Not many people hear what they do not like to hear. Let’s be honest to ourselves and ask a question: Could you understand the spiritual meaning of this parable if you heard it for the first time?
Could the disciples understand the deeper meaning of the parable? Look at verse 10. “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’” The disciples could not understand, so they asked a question. In Luke 8:9, the disciples directly asked Jesus to explain the meaning of the parable, but indirectly in this passage. Maybe the disciples would not like to admit that they also did not have spiritual ears like the crowd of people. Yet, unlike the crowd of people who did not care to understand, the disciples were eager to understand the meaning of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus knew the hearts of the disciples and gave them the meaning of it extensively.
Look at verse 11, “He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.’” What a great privilege the disciples had! The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has already been given to them! What kind of secrets of the kingdom of heaven do the disciples already have in their hearts? What are they? If we talked about them all, we would need many days and nights. Since we live in time and space, I would like to mention one fundamental secret they already had. They understood that they were saved only by the grace of God in Jesus. This secret changed their lives as a whole. They crossed over from eternal death to eternal life. They began to live as children of light and of love, instead of darkness and of hatred. Their hearts were not proud but humble enough to ask Jesus to explain the meaning of the parable, admitting they were not smart enough to understand it. They were ready to listen to Jesus and repent of their sins when the message convicted their hearts. But the crowd of people was indifferent to Jesus’ life-giving message, and the Pharisees wantonly refused to repent of their sins.
In addition, Jesus teaches them the spiritual principle of why he was giving them the secret of the kingdom of heaven more. Look at verse 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.” The first principle is that the one who has, will have more. It seems unfair from a socialist’s perspective. They would say that the one who has less should receive more. But in the real world, it does not work that way, whether we like it or not. The one who knows the secret of the kingdom of heaven will gain more secrets.
So the second principle is that the one who doesn’t have lose what they have. Dr. Jason heard from Missionary Anastasia that this is called Matthew’s principle in education, that those who have less advantageous background for their education in the beginning will have greater differences in the end. Those who do not know who Jesus is will not understand the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus also provided the reasons why he spoke the secrets of the kingdom of heaven in parables. Look at verse 13. “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Again, it is not physical eyes or ears but spiritual. The crowd of people, including the Pharisees, have seen the miracles Jesus performed, but they could not see Jesus as the Messiah but as their political opponent and plotted to kill him. Even though the crowds of people asked the question, “Is this the Son of David?” they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. So when the time came, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
What Jesus said was from Isaiah 6:9-10. The response of the people is fulfilling the prophecy, revealing the fundamental reason why they could not see and hear. Look at verse 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.” This is the message Isaiah gave to the people of Israel who turned away from God and had received God’s punishment. Even though God had sent his messengers again and again, giving them the message of repentance, they would not turn back to God because their hearts had become calloused. Likewise, even though Jesus’ message convicted the hearts of the Jews, when they did not repent of their sins, their hearts were hardened. Carlos said that his heart can be hardened when he has to sacrifice or deny himself. When people do not repent but justify their sins again and again, their hearts become harder than before. When they refuse the truth for a long time, their hearts become calloused. When their hearts are calloused, they cannot hear the word of Jesus. They could not understand the meaning of Jesus’ word even though they heard it. Even though the Pharisees saw the self-evident miracles that showed who Jesus is, they closed their eyes and twisted the facts with an evil intention, saying, “It is done by the prince of demons.”
It is interesting that Jesus said, “Understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” The word of God should be understood with one’s heart, though it may start with one’s head. In order to understand the word of God, however, we do not need high IQ but HQ. Yet, it is not blind faith but faith before seeing. It is not accepting the word of God without reasoning but meditating on it until our hearts are moved by it. When we understand Jesus’ words with our hearts, there are two things that happen. First, we will turn. It means turning from our sinful way of life through repentance. It is seeking God’s mercy with humility and prayer. Then God hears the prayer of the person and even of the nation.
Secondly, God’s healing comes. He heals the heart of the person from all wounds. A man of selfishness can become a man of sacrifice as Levi became Matthew. A man of ambition can become a man of vision as Saul became Paul. A man of bitter heart may become thankful with God’s sovereignty just as Joseph in the Old Testament. “By his wounds, you have been healed.” We are also healed when we survey the cross of Jesus. God not only heals a person but also even the land of the people. 1 Chronicles 7:14 says, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” May God forgive my sins and of this nation turning away from God, and heal our land from being sodomites to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
How blessed the disciples were to hear the life-giving word of God and to see the miracles performed by Jesus, the Messiah! Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the Promised Messiah but died before seeing him. They were eager to hear Jesus’ life-giving message but did not hear it.
How blessed we are also to hear Jesus’ life-giving word through deep Bible study with the help of the Holy Spirit! As we hear it, may God help us to understand with our hearts so that we may turn from our sins and be healed. Amen!
II. Take Root Deeper and Overcome Temptations (18-23).
Look at verses 18-19. “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.” Now Jesus is explaining the parable, giving another secret of the kingdom of heaven. The sower is Jesus Christ, and the seed is Jesus’ message about the kingdom. Just as the seed has life in it, the word of Jesus has life that can grow like a plant. The soil is one’s heart where the seeds can be sowed. There are four different kinds of soil which produce different results.
First, the path-like heart soil. The path is hardened soil. How does soil become hardened? When people walk on it over and over again, it becomes a path. Based on Jesus’ words, it is like a calloused heart, which makes a person not understand the word of God from and thus not repent when convicted; instead, they try to justify the wrong doings they do.
Even though the person hears, it does not go into his heart. Then, what happens? The evil one comes and snatches away Jesus’ word that was not planted in his heart. Someone always asks, how the Pharisees did not accept Jesus as their Messiah, when they had studied the Old Testament diligently? Here is the reason why. They study the Bible, but their hearts were not moved by God’s mercy, but they just collected head knowledge, using it for their advantage. In the same way, they did not understand the word of Jesus from their hearts but rejected it even though they were convicted by Jesus. Therefore, no word of Jesus remained in their hearts to grow and bear fruit.
Secondly, the rocky ground-like soil. Look at verse 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.” This kind of person is the one who accepted Jesus’ word in his heart with joy. The word of Jesus moved his heart and they accepted it. It is like the seed was planted in their heart and sprouted quickly. Yet the newborn sprout has to go through a growing process. As sunshine is necessary for a plant to grow, so trouble or persecutions are necessary for a person to grow in Christ. They come when he or she wants to live according to the word of God. There is no exception to this. So the time of trouble or persecution is the time to take deeper root in the word of God, taking rocks out of our hearts. The rocks can be anything making us not to hold onto the word of Jesus. It may be the time to repent of our old way of life and live the new way in Jesus. It is the time to overcome troubles because Jesus’ word convicts our hearts and leads us to act. It is the time to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, strengthening our inner man as we deny ourselves in order to obey the word of Jesus. Eph 3:16-17 says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you being rooted and established in love.”
Third, the thorny soil. Look at verse 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.” There are two major thorns: the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. How? Worrying seems natural, and some people begin to worry when there is nothing to worry because they feel like they may have missed something to take care of. Maybe no one is free from worries of this life, but we must not be overcome by them and become anxious. Rather, we must overcome by trusting in the promise of God; otherwise, we will be unfruitful.
What is the deceitfulness of wealth? It is the desire for more money. Money is not evil, and we cannot live without earning money, unless we live on a self-sufficient farm all by ourselves. But the desire for more money will lead a person to evil. Therefore, we must overcome the desire for more money. Not many will admit that they live for money, but if a person lives according to more money, their actions speak louder. Some people will say that desiring more money seems like a normal life in this world. But we know that many who live for more money become unfruitful spiritually. How? Both these thorns of worries and money take the energy from one’s heart, and we lose strength to hold on to the word of Jesus. Moreover, they grow again even after we pull them out of our heart like weeds. Therefore, we need to constantly pull those thorns out of our hearts.
Fourth, the good soil. Look at verse 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.” After taking the rocks and thorns out of the soil, the soil becomes good. The soil of our hearts may be cultivated progressively. Once, we were a path-like people, and God broke our hearts through difficulties in order to soften it so that the word of Jesus could be planted. Then, we have to take rocks out of our hearts. What can be rocks in our hearts? It can be our old way of life, still-hard parts in our inner being, hindering us from taking deeper root in Christ. Even after becoming good soil, the thorns grow at the same time. Likewise, we have to overcome worries of all kinds and desires for more money. Just as we pull the weeds from our garden, so we have to pull the weeds from our hearts through understanding Jesus’ word with our hearts and obeying it in our lives. When we do so, Jesus guaranteed we will yield fruit at least 30 up to 100 times. What does it mean to bear fruit 30 to 100 times in life? It means bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit and becoming a blessing to many people.
There are exemplary people whose hearts God had to cultivate until they could live fruitful lives for God’s glory. Let me share an example. Though God had a plan to use Moses to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, he was too proud to be used by God, killing an Egyptian according to his own righteousness. When it was exposed to the king of Egypt, he had to run for his life and lived in Median as a shepherd until he lost all his pride and confidence in his education in Egypt as a prince. His path-like proud heart was softened through his wilderness training so that God could use him to speak God’s word only, not his own ideas or plans. Yet, on his way to Egypt, God was about to kill him until his wife had to circumcise her son, following the covenant promise between God and his people. And it was a constant battle for Moses to overcome worries by listening to God’s word and trusting in God’s promise and power, from the beginning when he had to face the complaining of hard labor from his own people, until he planted faith in the hearts of the fearful people in front of Red Sea, saying, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Finally, Moses brought 600,000 people of Israel out of Egypt and helped them go through the wilderness training for 40 years. The spiritual fruit he bore is humility. God even recognized him as the most humble man on earth. Thus, he became a blessing to 600,000 unruly people of Israel.
In today’s passage, we learned that fruitful life is determined by what kind of heart soil we have. As there are many exemplary men and women of God who bore much fruit, there are many ways God may work in our hearts in order to make it a good soil. When our hearts become like a path, he may soften it by breaking it. When our hearts have rocks, and our hearts respond to the word of God with joy but we have no strength to take deeper root through hardships and/or persecutions, the word of God may convict our hearts to take rocks out of our hearts and lives. Unless we continue to pull out the thorns through meditating the word of God, we cannot maintain our heart well to bear much fruit. May God help each one of us to bear at least one spiritual fruit, so that we can experience the kingdom of God in our hearts and be a blessing to others, at least 30 to 100 people in 2019. Amen!