Short Stories: The Three Soils

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil and it’s my privilege to be able to speak with you today about Jesus and the right now Kingdom that he came to establish for anyone who wants to be in it.

When Jody and I moved to Omaha 21 years ago now, we bought a house in north central Omaha that had a giant maple tree in the front yard.  We really loved it.  It was majestic and gave us shade and was so beautiful.

One thing that we didn’t really like though, was about every April or so when the leaves came out, so did the little helicopter maple seeds – and on a breezy day we would walk out of our front door and there would be dozens and hundreds of maple seeds fluttering their way all over our yard.   The kids loved to watch it and it really was interesting, but the deal was that they needed to be raked up.

Inevitably, however, we missed seeds – or they worked their way into the ground before we raked up the husks – and every spring – sometime in May or early June, we’d go out to mow one day and discover tiny maple trees beginning to grow all over our yard.

It’s amazing to think – that the tree in our yard was once a small seedling, like the ones we were mowing over.  To imagine that from one seed this tree grew and every year thousands and thousands more are falling.

I once heard someone say that there is the potential in one seed to be able to cover the earth with maple trees.  We could cover the universe – everywhere a tree could grow – from one seed.

I bring this up because we are studying parables during this series and today we are going to read the parable of the sower.  Which is a great one to preach on because not only does Jesus teach it, but he gives the explanation as well – so I’ll be turning to Matthew 13 and reading the parable in Verses 1-9 and the explanation of it in verses 18-23.

Usually we put the scripture up on slides but this parable is about listening and hearing what Jesus is teaching – so today you get to listen…

Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. 2 A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. 3 He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

And then Jesus Explanation

18 “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: 19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Okay – so this parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven.  What is the Kingdom of heaven?  It’s important to know because Jesus preached about it non-stop.  The Kingdom of Heaven is the place in the universe where what God wants done, gets done.  It is the place in the universe that joyfully prays, “Thy will be done.”  I think highly enough of you to trust your decision making, even if I don’t always understand them.  It’s the place where people have surrendered the running of the universe (as well as their personal universe) over to the only one qualified for the job.

This is the Kingdom of heaven.  And it right now as I speak – every place in the universe falls within the scope of the God’s Kingdom with two notable exceptions.  Evil Angels who rebelled – (yes Virginia there is a devil), and rebellious Human beings.

Jesus has come to throw open the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven for you and me and everyone you meet.  He has made it possible for us to fall back under the scope of God’s kingdom.

Now it’s important to know-  It is MORE than heaven.  It’s right now.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross in order to get you into heaven.  If that was all Jesus died for we would still worship him and thank him, but the Kingdom of Heaven is not some far distant place you get to when you die.  It includes heaven, but it’s much more.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to forgive your sins.  It includes that – thank God but it’s so much more.

Jesus died on the cross in order to make it possible for us to be folded back into his kingdom – back into alignment with the rest of the universe – back into the family of God.

What does it take to enter into God’s Kingdom?  Nothing less than unconditional surrender.

But what Jesus notices – as he walks along the lake – is that there are large crowds of people following him who aren’t really listening to the message.  They aren’t hearing what Jesus is saying, when it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven.  They aren’t picking up what Jesus is laying down.

And so as Jesus looks out over the crowd he is going to identify four types of hearers.  And what we have is a warning, really from Jesus.  He sees that, unless we understand what God is asking of us – the seed will not take root and grow.

We will start with the ideal, right?  The message that lands like a seed and gently begins to grow within the heart of a person who has heard the message.  23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Ideally, everyone who hears the message about Jesus will receive it into their heart and the kingdom of God then grows from within them, transforming them and changing them, so that, as Jesus says, it leads to a fruitful life.

An apple tree quite naturally and easily produces apples.  It doesn’t have to modify it’s behavior or make apples through grit teeth.  Right?  An apple tree naturally and easily produces apples.

And someone who understands the fundamentals of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, will naturally and easily begin to produce fruit – like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.

Now – the only way these things grow naturally and easily inside of us is if we truly understand the reality shift that comes as a result of faith in Jesus and life in His Kingdom.

Take love for instance.  It’s easier to love when you have been the recipient of God’s selfless love.  Joy?  Comes naturally and easily once we realize we are safe in God’s hands forever.  Peace?  Of course we are peaceful – if God’s with us, what shall we fear?

You know a tree by it’s fruit.  And the person safe in the right now Kingdom will produce fruit as it grows.

But Jesus is looking out at the vast crowd and he realizes that there are people following him who aren’t listening.  There are a lot of people there who aren’t really listening to Jesus – they have their own ideas about what Jesus can do for them and so they are missing the point.

And so Jesus tells this parable as a warning really.  Three warnings – three tests, perhaps, to find out if you are really picking up what Jesus is laying down.

The first type of person is the person with a hard heart.  19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.

This is the person who never lets the seed reach their heart.  There is a hardness.

This is the person who likes to think about Jesus – but they never let his words reach their heart.

the NY Times Best sellers list is filled with books by so called “Religious Experts” who write books saying things like – “Jesus was just some backwoods traveling preacher dude who got wrapped up in a political triangle that got out of control – and he was executed as a traitor but people used him to advance their own goals.

And it’s garbage time – it’s pablum.  But it sells.  Because there are people now like there were people then who want to think about Jesus without ever receiving his message. They hear him, but Jesus says, they are not hearing me.

It’s possible to intellectually assent to Jesus life and teaching without ever allowing the message to get into your heart.

In Jesus day – part of the crowd that was following Jesus were religious experts.  Religious experts are the least teachable people on earth.  They weren’t listening to Jesus they were critiquing him.  They were judging him and his message.

Listen, at some point Jesus’ message has to move beyond theory and into your heart.  The light bulb has to come on.   Have you ever had a moment when this message hits you?  It dawns on you that Jesus is talking about you!  He’s talking TO you!  That he died FOR you because he loves YOU.  And he would have gone through all he went through even if YOU were the only one who believed and received him?

When you realized just how personal this message is, and just how needy you are, then the seed of the kingdom has taken root and you are now on your way.

The first soil is a warning to the person who wants to put Jesus under a microscope instead of in their heart.  The kingdom will not take root until you receive all of it, into all of you.

Secondly – Jesus warns us about a second type of personThe Shallow Soil.  The person who receives the good news with great joy!  They are over the moon!  And yet…  with some time, their excitement withers and they slip away…

20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

The crowds that follow Jesus – many of them are there because they are looking for Jesus to do something for them.

In the book of John chapter 6 we read a fascinating encounter when Jesus feeds five thousand people.  And then he gets in a boat and sails across the lake and the people race across to meet him there on the other side – and what do they want?  More bread!

Feed us Jesus – do that trick with the bread and the fish. Give us what we want Jesus.  They are all about Jesus, so long as he is treating them as they feel he should be treating them.

Huge crowds – and Jesus says – unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no place in the Kingdom.  What is Jesus saying?  It’s all of him.  And people begin to murmur and eventually turn away and desert him.

So many leave that Jesus turns to the disciples and asks – what about you?  You going to leave me too?  And the Simon Peter in one of his better moments says to Jesus – where are we going to go?  We believe that you are the Lord, the Holy one of God – and it’s your way, not ours.  We adjust to you.  We orbit you, not the other way around.

The seed planted in shallow soil represents those people who think they can bring Jesus into their world as a personal attendant, rather than an all-consuming savior.  They wanted a genie, not a king.

Now that sounds harsher than it needs to be.  Perhaps you are one of these people who once had faith that sprung up quickly – and then something tragic happened that you felt let down by God.

And if you are here today and that’s you I respect you – because what it means is that you are coming to listen – and maybe hear what Jesus says about life in His kingdom- maybe for the first time.

If you’ve experienced tragedy in your life, it’s totally natural to say – is this what I get for believing?  Is this what I get for in return?

But – life in the Kingdom of Heaven does not come with a promise of an escape of the tragic and painful moments that are part and parcel of life.   What is promised?  That in the Kingdom we are assured that He is with us every step of the way – that he will sustain us and strengthen us and that one day – maybe not even on this side of eternity – everything will make sense.

We mustn’t look at Jesus as a good luck charm.  We look at Jesus as the one who can see me through it. The Kingdom of Heaven lands in the heart of the one who says, Thy will be done in my life.

We don’t need a cosmic handyman who handles our punch list.  We need a king – a savior – and that’s exactly what we get.

We get a king who is brilliant and kind and has already proven his love to us by dying on the cross – and so we trust him even if the road we are traveling down requires us to travel through a dark valley.

The seed planted in the shallow soil is the heart that expects Jesus to do our bidding – the seed planted in the right soil is the heart that prays, thy will be done.

The first soil?  Never lets the seed reach the heart.  The Kingdom is a cerebral exercise only.

The Second?  Can’t stand the heat of real life – Because they try to bring Jesus into their kingdom.

Have you found yourself in the story yet?  If not the first or second type of soil, perhaps you will find yourself in the third.

The third soil – is the thorny soil.  It represents the person who receives the message and begins to live in the Kingdom of Heaven – however – they find themselves not growing. 

22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.

In other words, this person is in the Kingdom of Heaven and yet they are not fully surrendered to Jesus’ leadership.  They aren’t sure they can trust Jesus to provide for their daily bread and so they are unwilling to give any away, or overly occupied with making sure they have enough for themselves…

But it isn’t just money – although the dangers of money is a theme Jesus often lands on – it could be anything that you are unwilling to surrender to Jesus.

For instance – if I can get really blunt. You have turned over your life to God’s leadership and yet you haven’t turned over the way you use your sexuality to Him?  Yeah I’m a follower of Jesus but I’ll what I want when it comes to my sexuality, thank you.  Stay in your lane Jesus, this is my thing.

And yet, are you happy?  No.  There is a certain misery that comes from shooing Jesus away from those areas in your life you don’t him meddling in…  Because you aren’t going to grow – or change – until you are willing to be willing to give up whatever it is you are trying to keep Jesus away from.

Are you boxing Jesus out of something in your life?  Then all your doing is letting the thorns grow thicker and there will be no fruit for you.

Does it alarm you to realize just how often Jesus throws money into these stories as a warning to us?  Jesus continually talks about how money will keep us from happiness.

Not having too little money – it’s having too much!  We are about to get ready to launch another campaign – and I’m going to be asking you to be as generous as you can here at Journey.  And I’m saying that now because I don’t want you to think that the reason I chose this parable is because I’m trying to get your money.

It’s Jesus who sounds the alarm time and time again – that money will keep you from happiness.  And pick a parable and see if somehow the dangers of money and possessions doesn’t show up in the parable in some form or fashion.

And if the discussion about money makes you uncomfortable – the it’s probably an indicator that Jesus is onto something with you.  Because the person who understands the joy of life in the Kingdom is saying amen – not looking for the exit.

So here is Jesus – tons of people crowding him, but not hearing his message.  Jesus invites all of us to enter into the Kingdom and the invitation is to come and die.

So what do you do if you suspect one of these warning applies to you?

Go to the farmer!  You’re just the soil!  Go to the farmer and let him know – you suspect that your heart is in need of some attention.