Gamechanger: Living Word
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2018, as part of their "Jesus the Gamechanger" series. Click here to download it.
We are continuing a series in the gospel of Luke, entitled Jesus the Gamechanger. In this talk, we are going to look at 2 stories which Jesus told (often referred to as parables or stories with a meaning). The parable of the Sower which we start with is one of the best known of Jesus stories and appears in 3 gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus then tells a shorter story about a lamp which, we will see, helps the understanding of part of his message in the parable of the Sower.
Why are these stories gamechangers? 3 reasons:
- Because they are stories of how God’s Kingdom (the ruling of Jesus through people’s lives) increases. They were gamechangers for the people of that day because they show how the understanding of the Kingdom was totally the opposite of what the people expected. The Jews of that time expected a military kingdom, not the sort of kingdom where we love our enemies and do good to those that hurt us. They expected a kingdom of power rather than a kingdom of love. We want to see people saved and brought into that Kingdom and experience the gracious rule of Jesus now. Danger today for some Christians (e.g. in US) is to expect a political movement to bring the Kingdom of God. They won’t – it is not how the Kingdom grows.
- Because the stories are optimistic and “full of faith” – my prayer is that we will be optimistic and full of faith for this next season of Woodside’s history as a church. This involves working towards planting another site whilst continuing with 2 services here.
- Because the stories are realistic – they show life as it really is – they are optimistic not triumphalistic – want you to be realistic about the progress of God’s Kingdom as well as optimistic!
THE SCRIPTURE – LUKE 8:4-18
4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.
18 “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”
The Parable of the Sower
Jesus was on a tour of the towns and villages of Galilee and crowds were following him. Many people had gathered from many of those towns. In Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, Jesus was sitting by the sea to teach (in a boat because of the crowds) – inlets of Lake Galilee could be like mini amphitheatres. He probably saw a man scattering seed – certainly a picture that all in that countryside would be familiar with.
In those days, fields would be criss-crossed by paths, for people travelling and gleaning. Some seed fell on the path and birds of the air took them away. Rocks just under the surface in places. Some sown in rocky places – they had no root. The man was sowing before the rain, so as the rains came thorny plants already in the field would grow up - couldn’t see them before.
The disciples asked Jesus later for an explanation, but first there was a difficult bit to understand. It says that Jesus spoke in parables so that others would not understand. Surely these parables were to help people understand? Yes, often Jesus did use stories for that reason.
However, many people by this time:
- Amazed at the miracles.
- Fascinated by the teaching
- Unwilling to change their lives or their worldview about the kingdom. So, Jesus started to teach in mysterious parables which people could only understand if they were willing to follow him. Jesus taught powerful stories to change people’s worldview – whole way of looking at life – yet also needing a worldview change in order to fully understand these stories.
Some, like the religious leaders refused to understand or receive Jesus’ teaching. Those who genuinely followed were given an explanation. As you follow, you learn more.
What is the parable teaching then?
As the message of the Christian gospel is shared around the world:
- For some, no response, the seed that fell on the path - before it penetrated birds took it away - it is spiritual warfare because the devil does it.
- For others, an emotional response - seen it so many times, people who rush to respond to the gospel, yet difficulties then arise either from our past, in our circumstances, or issues to face, or opposition and persecution. Enthusiasm disappears as quickly (immediately) as it appeared originally. In this church’s history many like this.
- For others, a preoccupied response – there are seeds of weeds and thorns in the ground already. As the seed grows, the weeds do too and so you get a good stalk of wheat but no ears of corn. This means we receive the message okay but then:
- so busy,
- so materialistic,
- start earning more money,
- so much happening,
- all those family obligations.
Our lives are literally preoccupied. Jesus describes it as “cares”, “riches” and “pleasures”. There is nothing wrong with “riches” and “pleasures” in themselves but they can divert us from the work of the Kingdom.
The key is good ground – those who believe the Word of God is the most important thing in the world and we need to bring our lives in line with the kingdom. They are people who understand (according to Matthew) or persevere (keep on going) according to Luke. The harvest here is amazing. Normally the harvest would be 10-15 times what is sown. Here, it's 100 times (Matthew 30, 60, 100). Is it unrealistic then? “It seems best, then, to treat the yields in the parable as extraordinary, but not as fantastic. The yield is not typical of Palestinian agriculture, but neither is it beyond one's wildest imaginings.”
The story still raises some questions. Why on earth was the Sower not more careful? He could see the path and probably knew where the rocks were. Why wasn’t he more careful with his seed? It wouldn’t have been normal for those listening. “We conclude that the sowing procedure envisaged is not typical. Just as the yield is extravagant, so is the sowing practice. There is an unusual generosity, almost a joyous abandon about this sower's technique: he is not eking out a living, but sowing seed of extraordinary fecundity. He feels no need to apportion carefully his supply of seed grain; he will soon have almost more than he knows what to do with!”
This happens whenever we hear the Word of God – whether believers or not. Many of us have heard the Word of God many times – the parable of the Sower is being enacted now! Which response?
What does this mean for church planting across the world, for sharing the gospel, for making disciples and for extending the Kingdom of Jesus?
- You cannot repeal the parable of the sower. It will always be like that – people will react in these different ways so don’t be disappointed when they do! Jesus said that’s what the Kingdom is like! So be realistic about planting new churches or new sites and preaching the gospel.
- As you sow seeds of truth about Jesus – the Word of God – you are guaranteed fruitfulness. Some will fall on good ground – and will produce fruit – some will be very fruitful – 100 fold. What is fruit? Godly changed lives that grow in grace, win more disciples and have a good effect of their transformed lives as a good influence in society. So be optimistic!
- “Jesus sows generously, assured of an extravagant fruitfulness, no matter how much of the field receives the sowing in vain.” So what should we do? Sow lots of seed! You may have a few friends who are interested – so yes build relationships with them and see how they develop but meet new people too. Even those who are going through the discipleship and training process, you don’t always know which ones will prove to be good ground. Some may get offended, some may get too busy, some may buckle under persecution. So sow lots of seed, make disciples of as many as are willing.
- What is the main difference between category 1 of seed – on the path – and category 4 - good ground? Patience and perseverance. Discipleship means keeping going even if progress seems slow.
- So, spell out the cost of following Jesus as well as the joys at the beginning. That’s what Jesus did – see Matt 10:38 “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me”.
- Discipleship does not start when people have made a decision to follow Jesus and have been around for a while. It starts when you first build a relationship with them. Discipleship is a journey and at some point on the journey, people are born again and baptised. We need to persevere on that journey. This helps understanding.
- Discipleship continues through to fruitfulness – continuing to grow in understanding and putting it into practice.
What sort of soil are you? Probably not the path or you wouldn’t be here. How do you react to trial and persecution? Will the truth of this parable be a gamechanger for you? Have you misunderstood the Kingdom, expecting the Christian life to be one victory after another and everything going well without tough times or tough choices?
THE STORY ABOUT THE LAMP
This story gives a response to the difficult bit in the parable of the Sower. Jesus said you don’t put a lamp under a bowl (you only do that with oil lamps to deny oxygen and put it out!). You don’t hide it under the bed. No, you want a light, welcoming house to attract people in. That’s what we want to do both in the East and West sites of Woodside in the future.
Those already in the house should be living attractive lives of godliness and love, bearing witness to the One who has saved us. Verse 17 is very important, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” Jesus is saying that all secrets eventually come out. This applies positively and negatively. It is actually God’s purpose that the secrets or mysteries of the Kingdom of God, which he refers to in the parable of the Sower, should not be for a privileged few but be broadly accessible. This is the story of the Book of Acts and Paul’s writing in particular. He wants all to know the mystery of the Kingdom, that Christ is now reigning, that all nations are to come to Him and be joined together in one body, that the Kingdom of God is demonstrated not through some outward manifestation or political action but by the lives of godly followers of Jesus. This fits in with Jesus’ own remarks, that we are to be salt and light in society. So, even though it is to the disciples that were given the secrets of the Kingdom of God – that was in order that we would make it known to all and spread the Word of God very widely like the Sower in the story here.
We need to apply this parable in two ways:
- How do WE listen to the Word of God? What sort of soil are WE?
- Are we sowing the Word of God liberally and being like light attracting people into the house?
These are good questions for Woodside in its next phase as we work towards planting a new site in the West and continuing to grow in the East.
John Nolland. “ Word Biblical Commentary” Luke 1-9:20.
 John Nolland. “ Word Biblical Commentary” Luke 1-9:20.
 John Nolland. “ Word Biblical Commentary” Luke 1-9:20.