THE TWO FACES OF GRACE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 26, 2014
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
— Matthew 13:44-46, ESV
Think of two ways to throw a party for a special occasion. You can have a spur-of-the-moment surprise party, or you can enjoy a party that has been meticulously planned and sorely anticipated? Which one would you prefer? I really don’t care, as long as I get invited to the party!
The kingdom of God is sometimes likened in Scripture to a great party or lavish banquet, and indeed it is on both counts. How did you enter in? Was it a sudden surprise to find yourself loved by God and saved by grace? Or, did God graciously put people in your life to teach you the Bible and share with you the gospel over a period of time before grace arrived? Either way, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
But grace has two faces. Sometimes it comes suddenly and surprisingly. Other times it arrives after a seemingly long pursuit. Either way, it is still grace, and no matter how grace arrives in your life, it changes your life completely. This is the message of the next two parables in Matthew 13, the parables of hidden treasure and the pearl of great price. Together they tell a tale of God’s amazing grace, in two faces, and reveal the face God is looking for in you.
The first parable is a story of discovered treasure. The ancient land of the middle east was a constant battlefield (not much has changed in two thousand years). When a man went to war or when a man anticipated war coming to him, the best thing he could do with his valuables was to bury them. Often the man would not survive the battle. Since he alone knew where the treasure was buried, the buried treasure became the hidden treasure in Jesus’ story. One day a common laborer comes to clear a field for his boss’ farm. The plow hits the ground in just the right spot, and, surprise, hidden treasure is discovered. Knowing that whatever is discovered on land belongs to the land owner, the employee shrewdly puts the treasure back in to the ground, makes a deal with his employer to purchase the land for himself, thus acquiring the greatest treasure he has ever known. This parable is not told to debate the relative morality of a business transaction. This parable tells a simple story. When you unexpectedly find what you’ve always wanted, you gladly give up everything else to get it.
The next parable makes a similar point in a slightly different way. Pearls were a new and valuable commodity in Jesus’ day. Since their discovery, many men have made it their ambition to collect them. None of them come cheap, but certainly some pearls are worth a greater price than others. A merchant makes it his business to make a living off of pearls. He wheels and deals, schemes and dreams, and trades for years to get a fine collection of valuable pearls. Yet he yearns for that perfect pearl. One day his search comes to an end. There it is, the pearl of greatest worth, the pearl that requires him to give up all other pearls in order to obtain it. Then, the most important transaction of his life is made. This parable is not told to give advice on trading pearls, stocks, or bonds. This parable is not about excusing the material desire for more. This parable tells a simple story. When you finally find what you’ve always wanted, you gladly give up everything else to get it.
Two Faces of Grace
When you unexpectedly find treasure what you’ve always wanted, you gladly give up everything else to get it. Or, when you finally find the pearl you’ve always wanted, you gladly give up everything else to get it. Either way, surprised or pursued, you gladly give up everything else to get it. These are the two faces of grace.
For some people, the gospel is like the hidden treasure. You're shoveling through life, doing the best you can to dig up what you want, and religion in general nor Christianity in particular have any appeal to you. Then, you hear a sound, the effectual call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It hits you like a ton of bricks. It convicts you deeply of your sin and indifference towards God. The Bible seems interesting and the church seems inviting and all of a sudden you believe, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The surprise party ushers you into the kingdom of God. You were not looking for God, but God had treasure in store for you. This face of grace is easy to see.
The other face of grace is a little more subtle and takes longer to see. You’re given a couple of pearls for parents, who bring you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Other pearls are strung, like a good church and Christian friends, Bible studies and youth camps, and a plethora of opportunities to hear the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then one day, repentance and faith comes, and years of prayers and planning come to fruition. Welcome to the kingdom of God. Just remember, you did not enter in because of parents or pastors or planning. You are in because the face of grace smiled upon you and brought you the faith that saves and admits you to the party.
The Apostle Paul saw both faces of grace. He was surprised on the Damascus Road and literally saw the face of grace that changed his life. On the other had, he had pursued God since childhood through the lesser pearls of theological education and legalistic righteousness, until finally he found God, or rather God found him, face to face with grace.
My salvation was like a surprise party. I wasn’t looking for God, I was just trying to get through college and hit a baseball. But God hit me, hard, with grace, and now I’m saved. My daughters have been attending worship since nine months before they were born. They have been prayed over and preached to for years. It seems as if they have eased into the kingdom of God, but only God and each individual can know for sure.
Would you like to know for sure that you are on the list, that you are admitted to the party, that you are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Well, the two parables and the two faces of grace are here to tell you that your face is the way you can know for sure that you are saved.
One Face of Faith
Biblically and theologically speaking, the proper response to grace is faith. But what does faith look like? How many faces does it wear? How can I know that faith, true saving faith, this product of grace, is really, truly in me? Look at the parables and look at what they have in common. They show us two faces of grace, but only one face of faith.
It is a face marked with glad and deliberate renunciation. The farmhand in the field gladly renounced, or gave up, all that he had in exchange for the unexpected treasure. The shrewd pearl merchant gave up every single pearl he had ever accumulated to obtain the one that made life worth living. So no matter how the grace of God appears in your life, the only proper response is a face of faith that gladly gives up everything else in exchange for the surpassing riches of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Renunciation is not a common word in Scripture, although it does appear in a couple of key texts in Luke 14:33, in the context of becoming a Christian, and Titus 2:12, in the context of living the Christian life. Perhaps Luke’s quotation of Christ is most revealing concerning this face of faith: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Jesus gave it all for you, that is grace. You must give up all for Jesus, that is faith.
The famous missionary martyr Jim Eliot put on the face of faith this way: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The farmhand knew that the treasure was worth more than everything else he owned. The pearl marching knew the value of the great pearl exceed the combine value of all the other pears. Do you believe, do you live in such a way, that Jesus Christ and His kingdom is worth more than anything and everything else you could ever have in this life?
If so, that’s the face of faith that God loves to see. It is a face that values Christ and Christ’s church more than making money or amassing material possessions. It is a face that puts God’s word over and above any other demand or desire. It is a face that looks for God in private devotion and public worship, joyfully renouncing the pursuit of lesser things for those scared moments with God. It is a face that gladly embraces the call of vocational ministry or career missionary service, when there would be many easier ways to live. It is a face that puts all other relationships under the importance of your primary relationship with Jesus Christ.
God puts treasure in the field and pearls on a string by His sovereign grace. Have you seen the face of God’s grace? Then what does God see when He looks into your face? I pray that it is ten face of saving faith, bestowed upon you by God’s amazing faces of grace.
LET’S TAKE OVER THE WORLD
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 19, 2014
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
— Matthew 13:31-35, ESV
Let’s take over the world, just me and you and a few others. Why not? I think we can make it a better place. Others have tried, and some are trying now, but if you ask me they are making a mess of it. So, let’s go, let’s take over the world.
Jesus has promised that we can do it; or, better stated, He can do it, and we get to be involved. The first two parables in Matthew 13 beg the question, “Are you in the kingdom of God?” The next two ask, “Is the kingdom of God in you?” If so, then you are part and parcel of the greatest, fastest growing, longest lasting, and most powerful movement in the history of mankind. It will not be stopped until Christ and Christians take over the world as we know it, and as we have yet to know it.
A “mustard seed” and “leaven” are things “hidden” that become visible, powerful, and create exponential growth. A mustard seed in the hand is hardly visible, then when planted in the ground becomes absolutely invisible, yet it can produce a tree ten-feet tall. A little leaven can hardly be seen, when weaved into dough it cannot be seen, yet it rises to fill a pan, an oven, or a hungry stomach. What is invisible becomes visible. What is hardly noticed rises to dominate space and time.
So it is with the kingdom of God. No one noticed it at first, and most people hardly notice it now. It has been ignored, maligned, persecuted, infiltrated with impostors, marginalized, and criticized for two millennium. But one day, the kingdom of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His followers, will take over this present and future world.
Here is how it works:
Jesus Christ Takes Over Your Soul
Contrary to the claims of false gospels and human nature, your soul cannot be saved by works. Works are things you can see, do, and boast about. Salvation first comes invisibly, then visibly, and then still, eternally.
You cannot see grace. It is invisible, yet irresistible when planted in the human heart. Once inside, it regenerates and begins to grow exponentially. It sprouts repentance and faith, grace gifts from God. It spreads through the mind, enabling a human being to understand and apply the gospel and the word of God. It captivates the heart, making it spiritually alive, and the desires and decrees of God become love and obedience in the man or woman of God. It transforms the will, God’s will becoming our will, and though a struggle ensues that lasts all throughout this lifetime, greater is the new nature wrought by a mustard seed of grace than the sinful nature that is in the world (ref. 1 John 4:4). As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (ref. Philippians 1:6).
Is the kingdom of God in you? The mustard seed and the leaven is like the kingdom of God. If it is in you, if Christ the King is savingly in your life, then you are growing. Grace cannot stand still. Faith without works is dead (ref. James 1:21). God’s work in salvation, a grace you cannot see, produces good works in the life of a true believer that you can see. Granted, growth is different in different believers, and the harvesting of the fruit of the Spirit varies, but if Jesus Christ has taken over your soul it should be plain to you and to others around you that you are in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is in you.
And if through invisible and irresistible grace Christ has captured your soul, then He has also assigned you a place and position in the visible expression of the kingdom of God, the New Testament church.
Jesus Christ Takes Over His Church
Contrary to the claims of other religions, the Christian church is the only place to visibly unite with the invisible kingdom of God. And since the church is related in that way to the kingdom of God, it is like the mustard seed and the leaven. It starts insignificantly, then becomes the biggest gathering of people the best expression of the body of Christ on earth. Set into motion by Christ Himself, the church cannot and will not be stopped until it spreads all over the world and eventually takes over by the presence and power of the Lord Jesus Christ (ref. Matthew 16:18).
We often consider all of the problems with the church, and admittedly there are many. But let us consider today the progress of the church. She was started by one man, the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Almost no one believed Him when He began His relatively brief, three-year itinerate ministry. He had only twelve apprentices, and one of them was a hypocrite intentionally chosen to further His purposes. He wound up being killed by a religious and government conspiracy, and when He died His followers, His early church, numbered about 120.
That was two thousand years ago, a drop of time in the eternal scheme of things. Today, in spite of our differences, divisions, and often detrimental behavior, the church is composed of about two billion visible members. I know not every one of them possesses saving grace, but what started out as one man claiming to be the Messiah has grown exponentially into, by far, the world’s largest religious faith. For two thousand years we have influenced governments for good, cared for human bodies in need, gathered for worship on every continent and in virtually every country, and together the communion of Christ proclaims the most important message in the world, the gospel, and will not stop until the end of the world, when Jesus Christ Himself will rule not only in the church, but in the whole wide world.
Are we in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom of God in us? Are we visibly Christ’s church, recognizing Him as our Head and ministering His grace and law through His word and Spirit? Then we are part of a people and a movement that cannot and will not be stopped, until Christ comes again to take over this entire world.
Jesus Christ Takes Over the World
Contrary to historic world powers, this world cannot be won by war. War is too big, too loud, too proud. Ancient empires, like Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, have tried and failed. World Wars have been fought but never completely won, for tyranny and poverty can never be absolutely annihilated by an army. Neither British or American imperialism, with all of its noble pursuits, nor Islamic or ISIS terrorism, with all of its bloodthirsty tactics, will ever achieve total dominance over the world as we know it. Man cannot take over the world.
But the Son of Man can, and the Lord Jesus Christ will. Furthermore, Christ will conquer by peace first, then one final war. Peace comes first, and peace first came as the Prince of Peace. He was alone in a manger, and thirty years later launched, alone, a seemingly insignificance pubic ministry, about the size of a mustard seed or grain of yeast. But at the end of the day, the day of the return of Christ, He and His people will take over the world. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is King, and the kingdoms of this world will become exclusively and totally His (ref. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 11:5).
It begins small and grows slow, like a mustard seed or a little leaven. It provides shade from the heat of judgment and food for the soul, like trees and bread. It fills, first the soul, then the church, and ultimately the world. And only those who know the kingdom of God is in them can enjoy the blessings and benefits of the kingdom of God on earth. Are you in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom of God in you? Then come on, let’s take over the world, graciously and peacefully, one soul at a time.
TARE TODAY, GOLD TOMORROW
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 12, 2014
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds? ’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
— Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, ESV
Matthew is the Gospel of “the kingdom.” Forty-four percent of the appearances of the word “kingdom” in the Gospels appear in the first one (56 out of 127), and thirty-five percent of the uses of the word in the New Testament are found in Matthew (56 out of 158). Christ’s kingship and kingdom are presented in many ways, especially in the parables.
The second parable presented by Matthew in his Gospel (and found only in Matthew’s Gospel) touches on the same themes as the first parable (ref. Matthew 13:1-23). The King (Jesus Christ) is teaching about His kingdom (The kingdom of heaven, which is synonymous with the kingdom of God) and telling us who is in and who is out. Could anything be more important?
So, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Jesus Tells a Story
To an agrarian society Jesus told this agricultural story. The three-ringed audience of disciples, pretenders, and scoffers could all relate to the word picture created by the Master Storyteller. Since the fall of man, fruitful wheat and frustrating weeds have grown together in this world. They will continue to do so until the very end of time.
There are benefits to being wheat. There is only judgment for being a tare. First century residents of Israel would have known the tare as darnel, a wheat-looking weed that takes up space, bears no fruit, and is culled from the catch crop at harvest time, and burned for fuel.
In the light of day, a godly man sowed the good seed which became the wheat. Meanwhile, under the cover of darkness, an enemy sowed the tares. Two different men planted two different populations which in the end meet with two different destinies. The story is simple, perhaps too simple. Maybe that’s why the disciples had to ask Jesus to explain it in more detail.
Jesus Defines His Terms
I had a grade school teacher named Miss Kluball. She taught English, and she always kept a huge, unabridged dictionary on a table in her classroom. According to my teacher, success in life would depend on one’s use of the dictionary.
According to the Master Teacher, success in this life and the life to come depends upon one’s use of the Bible, God’s word. The Bible always defines itself. Occasionally a passage of Scripture contains its own glossary of terms, like this one. Look carefully at how Jesus Himself defined the different parts of this parable.
The good sower of the good seed is God. Jesus refers to Himself here as the Son of Man, a term He preferred to offer Himself as the Messiah come to earth, the incarnation of God Almighty. Jesus is the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Sower of the good seed.
The field is the whole wide world. It is not the kingdom, for the true kingdom only contains true wheat. The field is not the church, although every visible church is almost certain to have baptized tares tarrying along with the truly clean wheat. The field is the people of this planet, resting in the two hands of God, one for grace and the other for judgment.
The good seed is not the gospel and the word of God, as it was in the last parable. In this parable, the good seed represents people, people who have been transformed by the gospel and the word of God into children of God. In a fuller explanation Jesus might have pointed out that they too were tares at one time, but the bad seed became good, the outsiders became insiders, all because of sovereign grace and saving faith.
Tares, of course, represent humans, too. There are actually two kinds of tares and they represent two kinds of people. Both kinds resemble wheat, but both lack the good seed and the true substance. Yet one is poisonous and one is not. Hypocritical church members are poison on the inside of the church, and even the best preaching and most careful discipline cannot weed them out entirely. The non-poisonous darnel represents people outside the church who make no profession of faith in Jesus Christ. They are usually less danger for the church, for even the ones that persecute us serve only to make us stronger. But, along with false believers, non-believers put themselves in the greatest danger of all, the danger of God’s sure judgment.
The harvest is the end of time and the reapers are angels. There is no mention here of a secret rapture or a second chance. Jesus has come, and one fine final day Jesus will come again with angels as His assistants and judgement as His aim. The wheat and the two types of tares will be revealed and meet their separate rewards.
The furnace of fire is Hell, the grave, eternal death. The most common symbol of God’s judgment in Scripture is fire, and whether that fire is literal or symbolic, it will cause one to weep and wail and gnash their teeth as they descend into a godless eternity.
Finally, the righteous shining like the sun (ref. Daniel 12:3) are the children of God in the presence of God, in God’s Heaven, forever and ever and ever.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus Proclaims His Kingdom
With the parable of the wheat and the tares, Christ proclaims the gospel of the kingdom of God. He draws a definitive line, showing who is in and who is out. And, as long as this world is spinning and you are still breathing, you have the opportunity to find yourself either among the wheat or the tares.
Some of you know you are wheat. Like the golden color of a wheat field, you have a golden heart, wrought by the hand of God. You have been graced to hear the gospel, by grace you have believed the gospel, and standing in grace you bear fruit for the gospel, spreading gospel seed with your lips and your life. God begets wheat, and with wheat God begets more wheat, so the surest proof that you are wheat is that somewhere someway somehow some people have come into the kingdom of God because God used you. Rest assured, my brother and sister, you are golden, and all the glory goes to the God who planted you by His sovereign, electing grace.
Some of you are not sure whether you are wheat or tare. I do not wish to exploit your doubts, as I have witnessed other preachers do. Let me help you, by seeing if you identify with one of the two types of tares.
Are you poisonous? Are you here in the church to promote God’s agenda, or your own? Are you here in the church to glorify God or get attention? Are you adding love, truth, and unity to the body of Christ, or are you constantly disgruntled and divisive? If you are of the latter group, then you should have no doubt about who you are. You are a hypocrite, you are lost, you are a poisonous tare.
If you are not a hypocrite, but still uncertain about your fate, let me ask you some other questions. Is the gospel and the word of God truth, or fiction? Did Jesus really come to us through the virgin birth, live a perfectly sinless life, die on the old rugged cross, and rise again the third day, or is this the central myth of Scripture? Do you choose to believe the gospel, or do you choose to remain in unbelief? Have you or will your repent of sin and self-control of your life and live a changed, godly, Christ-centered life, or are you happy with doing basically what you please apart from God? Again, if you take the latter side, you are lost, separated from God, a lonely tare about to be plucked and placed in a godless grave forever and ever.
But an old soul offers some hope of redemption. In the words of the late, great saint Augustine, “Those who are tares today may be wheat tomorrow.” Remember, the wheat are transformed tares. People do change, and as long as there is time, there is time for change. Tare today, gold tomorrow, could be you.
But one day, tomorrow will come no more. The harvest will come. It will not be secret, for all eyes will see it. There will be no second chances after the second coming of Christ. Angels will be at His right hand and His left. All people will be gathered and assigned their place. The golden wheat will shine in the presence of God forever, the tares will be buried and forgotten in a tortuous grave. Do no tarry if you are a tare. Receive and believe the gospel today. “He who has ears, let him hear.”
THE POWER OF THE PARABLE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 5, 2014
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 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, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’ For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
— Matthew 13:1-23, ESV
Jesus preached many sermons in many ways, but His favorite way of preaching sermons was to use a parable. Matthew recorded about thirteen of Christ's parables in his Gospel, over half of which are found in chapter thirteen. Matthew's aim in writing was to present Jesus Christ as the King of kings and the King of the Kingdom of God. Parables are a powerful way of teaching us who is in Christ's kingdom and who is not included. There is power in this parable, and the power of this parable is the secret of salvation.
The Method of the Parable
Jesus is my kind of man in more ways than one. First of all, He is the God-man, which makes Him my Lord, my Savior, and my King. Furthermore, the man Jesus liked things that this man likes. He liked the sea, the beach, boats, and Bible study. Amen.
Christ's favorite method of Bible study, as revealed in this text and many others in the Gospels, was to tell a parable. A parable is a simple story that draws parallels to point out spiritual truth. It takes scenes from every day life and infuses them with profound, important, eternal truths.
Always perk up your ears when you hear a parable of Jesus Christ, especially this one. It is told in all three of the synoptic Gospels (ref. Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). It contains a key to Christ's Kingdom. The power of this parable is the secret of salvation.
The Message of the Parable
The parable itself is simple to grasp, especially if you lived in Galilee. Having been there myself, I can testify to the great diversity of the soil. In certain places you can stand on a hill and see roads and trails, fields with rocks too numerous to count, hillsides with thorns thicker than thieves, and in the distance some of the most fertile farmland you've ever laid eyes on.
Jesus capitalized on this condition to lay down His most popular parable, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” He sowed indiscriminately on the four types of soil and got four different outcomes. Those with ears to hear knew immediately that their lives were sunk into one of these four diverse fields of dirt.
The Mystery of the Parable
The mystery of the method of parables is that not everyone has spiritual ears. Most people miss the message. While everyone understands the simplicity of the story, not everyone gets the spiritual side. As Jesus said in verse 11, “you” get it but “them” don't.
The ability to hear and understand the word of God is a blessing, and a blessing is always a gift from God. The blessing that enables a person to hear and respond to Scripture is called faith (ref. vs. 11; Matthew 16:17; Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 1:1). Disciples have it in ever increasing abundance, while others do not; therefore, they will not understand.
Jesus spoke in the mystery of parables to explain “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (ref. vs. 11). Heaven is for people who hear the word of God and do the will of God (ref. Matthew 12:50). Frankly speaking, a few do, but most do not.
When Isaiah preached, when Jesus preached, when Matthew preached, when preachers preach today, some get it but most people don't. Those who get it want more. Those who don't, don’t even want what they hear. Those who love the Bible and the gospel love those who preach the Bible and the gospel. Those who don't, either ignore them or make trouble for them. It's a mystery, solved only by the meaning of this parable.
The Meaning of the Parable
The Gospel writers recorded many parables, but few contain an explanation in Jesus' own words. This one does, in all three of the Gospels into which it was written. Our Lord's teaching here is very simple and absolutely spiritual.
The sower is anyone who proclaims the gospel and the word of God (Isaiah, Jesus, Matthew, your pastor, any of you who teach or witness the gospel and the word of God). The seed, of course, is the “word,” the message of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the written word, the Bible, which bears witness to His name. The soil is mankind, to whom the Word and the word has come.
The soil, of course, takes on four varieties: the road, the rocky places, the thorns, and the good soil. Notice one and only one is given the designation “good,” and for good reasons.
People who hear the word of God and ignore it are lost.
People who hear the word of God and make a phony profession of faith fall away when they realize that discipline and difficulties are part and parcel of the Christian life. They, too, are lost.
People who hear the word of God and make a phony profession of faith fall away when they determine that what the world has to offer is better than being a follower of Jesus and a committed member of His church. They, for the third time, are lost.
The good soil is the good profession of faith that practices what is preached. The good soil bears fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of perseverance, the fruit of family and friends won to Jesus Christ, the fruit of salvation.
The power of this parable is that it reveals the secret of salvation.
We're all dirt. From dust we came, to dust we shall return. We have all sinned and suffered separation from God. Such sin has only one remedy, found in the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We're all different kinds of dirt. We're not only red and yellow, black and white, but we are also roads and rocks, thorns and good dirt. We all respond the to word of God and the gospel differently, and the lives we live show what kind of dirt we are. Making a profession of faith can be done without possessing faith. Those who truly possess faith practice faith. That’s the way it works, and the different kinds of dirt tell the story well.
We're all different kinds of dirt destined for a different place. Make no mistake about it, the first three kinds of dirt are digging a dangerous grave for eternal death. It does not matter if you are an Arminian who believes a person can lose their salvation, or if you are a Calvinist who believes that perseverance springs from the tulip's soil, all spiritually intelligent commentators agree that the top three soils are layers of lost people. Only the good soil gets the gospel and gains eternal life.
So, what kind of dirty person are you?
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org