1 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.” – Matthew 13:1-9 (ESV)
Today’s reading is the third of the five discourses given by Jesus throughout Matthew. To help us frame Matthew, it might help us to create some sub headings in the form of questions. The first 4 chapter’s of Matthew answer the reader’s question; “Who is this Jesus?”; He is descended from Abraham and David. He is the new and more perfect moses, he is the Son of God, he is the new Israel. The next most logical question is “What does he teach?” This is answered fully and authoritatively in the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. After that, Matthew anticipates the question authority; “He claims to speak for God, how do we know he’s not crazy?” This question is answered in the miracles that Jesus works throughout chapters 8 and 9, and so on and so forth, as we move through the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 13 deals with the topic of the Kingdom of God. Since this is the messiah of God, the one that Israel has waited for, the true king then shouldn’t we expect to see an unbounded reception of this Gospel of the Kingdom? But in fact, we do not, we see lots of division, and persecution taking place in chapters 11 and 12. This division provokes the question why; “Why is there so much division among the people of God if this indeed is the Gospel of the Kingdom?” It’s a good question to ask as we look at the state of the church in world today. But I also think it is a good question to turn inward; If this truly is the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of Freedom in God…why is there still so much division in my own heart?
If we were to look at our own hearts, do we not also find division and areas where we do not live as Christ? There are parts of us that have received the Gospel fully and those parts are bearing much fruit. But there are parts of our hearts that deny the Gospel, parts that are too concerned with the cares of this world, or not able to receive the Gospel. We have been justified, baptized, born again, and we covenanted, but we are not fully grown. In other words, are we now all perfect disciples?
Daily, I am confronted with a heart that hears but does not understand. It is a heart that is paved with the firmest concrete, a heart that is at times similar to a rocky quarry and at other times a heart overgrown with thorns. It is a heart that can bear contempt for my family, a heart that loves the comforts of this world, a heart that is prideful, a heart that lifts itself up by bringing others down, a heart that finds validation in what I know instead of who I am in Christ. My heart is divided and full of many different soils.
When we proclaim the Gospel in our churches and in the streets we will truly confront division. We will in fact find that the Gospel finds, more often than not, a very poor soil for the Gospel to be planted. But, we must never forget that we are never beyond the need of the Gospel. The Gospel must always come to bear fruit in our lives as well, lest we become people that proclaim the Gospel but don’t receive the Gospel. Consider the opening words of Richard Baxter in his classic work The Reformed Pastor;
“Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a savior, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing.”
I know that I have a divided heart. It is to this heart that my preaching begins. But this truth of my divided heart does not bring me despair but hope. I know that the Gospel is about Jesus loving me as I am and not as I should be because of who he is and what he has done. I know that Jesus stands with me in my badness and I also know that Jesus gently invites me to confront these fruitless soils of my heart because he wants to bring about fruitfulness in my life. And I know that as long as I trust Him he will provide all that I need to become more and more like him. And I believe the same is true for us all.
Are you proclaiming the Gospel to your own heart today?