June 28, 2010 David Balzer

Lk 8:1-21: Rules of Engagement

There’s all sorts of people out there. Smiths and Singhs and Spiropoulos’s.  Whole families. agers. Nursing home residents. Unemployed.  Workaholics. While collar. Blue collar. Renting. Over-mortgaged. Homeless. Or Comfortable.  All sorts of people. With all sorts of problems. All sorts of outlooks and attitudes.

But they have one thing in common. According to Jesus/ they’re all SOIL. And the seed of the good news is for THEM.

Soil is MADE for seed. The only way for soil to be USEFUL. To produce a harvest. For seed to be planted in it.

Soil. Is that what we see when we look at people on the train? Window-shopping in Westfield? Mowing their lawns and walking their dogs in our street?

Or do you see BUSY people? Preoccupied people. Worldly, content, materialistic people. People who aren’t interested in hearing our message?

But Jesus doesn’t see people like that. He sees them as SOIL, just waiting for the seed to be sown. Freshly tilled. Full of potential and promise. All ready to reap a harvest.

Look at how Luke sets up this section. Verses 1-3. Jesus’ CLOSE followers are there. Those who’ve LISTENED. And tagged along. And given up everything.

Not just the twelve. But women too. Following him everywhere. Even paying for the privilege. Out of their own pockets.

But look who ELSE is there. V4.

(Luke 8:4-5 NIV)  While A LARGE CROWD was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from TOWN AFTER TOWN, he told this parable: {5} “A farmer went out to sow his seed… and so on

A large crowd. All sorts of people. Different towns. Different situations. And problems.

Different types of SOIL. But each one just WAITING for the seed. Sure, you’ll get different RESPONSES to the seed. But you never know what sort of SOIL you’ve got. Until you sow the seed.

This story is Jesus’ “Rules of Engagement”. Like an army in a conflict. Their instructions. Operation Manual. How to engage the enemy. What approach to take. And what response to expect.

He’s telling a story about a farmer and soil and seeds. But the weird thing is/ he’s actually DOING what he’s DESCRIBING. As he TALKS to the people, HE’S the FARMER / scattering the seed onto different types of soil. And each soil will receive the seed differently.

Listen to the story. Verse 5. Some fell on the PATH. And it was so HARD the seed just sat on the top. People crushed it as they walked over it. Birds came and pecked it up.

And V6. Some landed on the ROCKY GROUND. It had SOME soil. But not much. And when the seed germinated there, the roots couldn’t grow down very far, and the plants shrivelled up.

And Verse 7. More fell on soil that LOOKED okay. But there were weeds there. And when the plants started to grow well, the weeds grew BETTER. And the plants got CHOKED by all the competition.

And finally verse 8. GOOD soil. Where the seed grew and produced a great crop. Made it all the way to harvest.

Jesus finishes. The end of v8. “If your ears are on, make sure you HEAR!”

My guess is there would have been one of those long silences. As Jesus let the words sink in. And people tried to work out what he was going on about. And thought, “Am I the ONLY one who doesn’t understand this? Will I look like an idiot if I ask a question?”

Have you ever done that?

You see, this is what the whole parable’s about. HEARING. It’s MORE than just receiving the words. Letting the words wash over you –like a shower. That’s not hearing.

Hearing means UNDERSTANDING. Words and meaning that sink in. Hit home.

And to UNDERSTAND takes EFFORT. And there are SOME who are prepared to do that. A whole crowd there. And SOME come up to him to find out what he’s on about. His disciples. His followers. Those who are going BEYOND just HEARING.

“What does it mean?”

And how does Jesus answer? V10.

(Luke 8:10 NIV)  He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU, but to OTHERS I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’

Two sorts of people. Some who HEAR and UNDERSTAND. And some who just HEAR.

And what makes the difference? Is it anything to do with the CLEVERNESS of the person? No, what does Jesus say? The knowledge has been GIVEN TO YOU.

You see, it’s GOD who opens eyes. Who switches the lights on. Who enables people to go beyond just HEARING. To hearing and UNDERSTANDING.

And that means we can’t tell what sort of soil someone is. Just by looking at them. What sort of clothes they wear. Or their qualifications. Or what suburb they live in. Or what their salary is.

And the flip-side of that. The good news. Is that God can open ANYONE’s eyes. No-one is too hard for him. No-one is too evil, or rich, or poor, or desperate, or complacent. Or too old, or too young.

That’s all irrelevant. It’s God who opens eyes.

The re of a Lamp (21-25)

But someone might say, “That’s not fair! How can God have a message, but then only pick SOME people to tell?”

Does that frustrate you? When people WHISPER right in front of you? They’ve got a secret. And they’re NOT going to tell YOU!

But Jesus says the gospel’s not like that at all. It’s not a SECRET that’s meant to be HIDDEN. But a secret that’s meant to be SHOUTED FROM THE ROOFTOPS.

Like a lamp. It’s meant to be SEEN. Look down to v16.

(Luke 8:16-17 NIV)  “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. {17} For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

The secret’s meant to be revealed. And then he puts the ball back in our court. Look at what he says next.

(Luke 8:18 NIV)  Therefore consider carefully how YOU LISTEN. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”

In other words, don’t look for excuses. “It’s too difficult! The secret’s too hard! God hasn’t opened my eyes! I’m not smart enough!”

Jesus says it’s there for everyone to see. Like a lamp on a stand. So LISTEN CAREFULLY!

Because if you don’t. If you keep making excuses. Keep putting off a decision. You’ll lose what you THINK you have. That’s judgment language.

It’s a warning to people who’ve HEARD, but not done anything about it. Judgment is coming. So LISTEN UP. Is that a message for YOU?

But back to the secret itself. The disciples want to know what the story MEANS. And because the message is designed to be understood, Jesus shows them. Just like a lamp that’s designed to be seen.

V11. He’s the farmer, who sows the word of God. PREACHING is what Jesus came to do. And the different reactions he gets from people are like the different soils.

Growing hard (12)

Verse 12. Some people are hard as nails. The message rolls off them like water off a duck’s back.

Growing hard to the gospel. My Grandmother was a lovely lady, but from what we could tell, she resisted Dad telling her the gospel until she died. She was convinced God would be impressed by her niceness. Her decency. There just seemed to be a brick wall there. She seemed to be rock hard to the gospel.

But there’s more going on than just human hardness. It’s a SPIRITUAL process. Look there in v12. It’s the DEVIL who comes and takes the word away, so they won’t believe and be saved.

1 Tim 2:4 tells us that “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”. But the devil wants the OPPOSITE – that NOONE will be saved. And he’ll do just about anything to stop people from understanding.

Growing shallow (16-17)

But there are others who seem to LOVE the message. Verse 13. The rocky soil. They accept it gladly. And they seem to be growing really well. But their doing it all on their own.

You see, for a while, a seed can put out roots and shoots from the food it’s got stored up inside. But after a while, The shoots have to reach the sun. And the roots have to reach water.

But when you’re growing in to rock, it’s hard for the roots to grow DEEP.

As long as life is easy, they’re fine. But as soon as any small bump comes along, they’re hit for a six. And they wither and die. Because they go searching for their energy reserves inside them. They think that the answer to all life’s problems is found in THEM. They’re basically good enough, and clever enough to do things on their own.

They didn’t put their roots deep into the soil. Into God, and the strength he gives.

Putting down deep roots is about growing to KNOW JESUS. To trust him. Letting him be the Lord of your decisions, and your actions, and your friends, and your job, and your marriage.

Trying to keep all of this rolling along in your own strength is like a plant trying to grow without roots. And you fall away. It’s a Christian who’s grown shallow. Don’t let that be you.

Growing unfruitful (18-19)

And the next type of soil. Verse 14. The seed starts to grow well. But pretty soon the stresses of modern life start to choke. The PRESSURE of that work line. The PRESSURE of meeting the mortgage payment each month. The PRESSURE of trying to be LIKED by everyone. The PRESSURE of keeping up appearances. Conforming to the materialistic expectations of your friends and neighbours.

The PRESSURE from the kids who ard you with questions and noise and demands as soon as you walk in the door. The PRESSURE from your wife, who’s expectations you never seem to be able to live up to. The PRESSURE from your husband who always needs to be reassured like a child, and who refuses to acknowledge that you’ve got a life too.

It’s pressure that could kill a plant. Choke the life out of it.

But notice what happens to this plant. It DOESN’T die. It doesn’t shrivel up, or fall away. All the pressures make it UNFRUITFUL. It doesn’t MATURE.

It’s like a sick peach tree that doesn’t produce any fruit year after year. It’s not pruned. It’s not fertilised, or cared for. It SURVIVES, but it’s a SECOND-BEST TYPE OF EXISTENCE.

Is that what your Christian life seems like at the moment?

What things are CHOKING your Christian life? What things have you put BEFORE Jesus? They might not even be BAD things. Like work, or family, or sport.

That’s what it was for Ben Johnson. He was an elite-level sailor. But someone challenged him about whether anything was standing between him and Jesus. And he decided SAILING was. So he gave it up.

Don’t be a Christian who’s choked into being unfruitful. Don’t let that be you. Put your ears on!

So what’s the secret to keeping your Christian garden weeded? How can you keep the thorns at bay so you can be fruitful? Where do you buy THE SPIRITUAL ROUNDUP?

Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe it’s not the WEEDS that’re the problem, but the way you ALLOW them to AFFECT you. Because the weeds are always going to be there. Life will ALWAYS have the same pressures to deal with.

The funny thing is, it’s these SAME WEEDS that SOME Christians seem to cope fine with. The same sorts of pressures that can choke some people, don’t affect others.

So the question becomes, how can you DEAL with the weeds, and STILL be FRUITFUL?

Growing fruitful (20)

And that’s the fourth type of soil. They don’t have problems with weeds choking them. Or shallow soil stopping deep roots. And they PRODUCE FRUIT. They live life RICHLY. In a close, deep relationship with Jesus. The sorts of people who followed Jesus at the start of the chapter. Who got to know Jesus, and what he wanted. And who grew their roots deep into him. That’s a fruitful plant.

What’s the secret? Well, look at what it says in v15. Hear the word, and RETAIN it. That’s the first step.

Soak yourself in God’s word. Read it. Listen to it. Concentrate when people are explaining it.

Do you look forward to spending time in God’s Word by yourself? Or is it a drag? Do you rush it? Watch the clock? Or are you leisurely about it? When friends hang out, they don’t watch the clock. They enjoy wasting time. Is that what’s it’s like with God?

That’s how to RETAIN it.

And make it a priority. It’s Home Group night, and you’re exhausted. You’d rather stay home and zonk in front of the tele. But go to Home Group instead. Because RETAINING God’s Word is important.

And when you spend an hour driving in the car. What do you do with the time? Listen to rubbish radio, or listen to a sermon on tape?

Or music. There’s plenty of Christian music around these days. And some of it’s not too bad. And lots of it’s great for hearing God’s Word. Songs straight from Scripture. That’s how to RETAIN it.

But that’s not all. Good soil Hears the word. Retains it. And then PERSEVERES. Sticks at it. Doesn’t give up. Keeps plugging away.

Anyone can do that when things are going well. Even the weedy soil. They grow well as long as there’s no weeds.

And the rocky soil grows well. Until persecution comes.

But good soil KEEPS GOING. Even when there IS persecution, and distractions. Because they’ve RETAINED the Word. They’re whole orientation, and desire, and focus is on WHO GOD IS. AND WHAT HE WANTS.

That’s how to persevere. Is that YOU?

And what comes next? What’s the result of persevering? V15 again. You PRODUCE A CROP. Righteousness in your life. Others you’ve introduced to Jesus. Others who’ve been encouraged and guided and d. Because you’ve stuck at it.

Down in v21 Jesus puts it like this. His family are those who HEAR God’s Word. And PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.

Just Do IT! That’s the way to produce a crop. Hear it and do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t research it. Don’t discuss it. Don’t form a committee to debate it.

Let me finish with a story about some people who’ve just recently HEARD God’s Word. Accepted it gladly. And are seeking to put it into practice.

It’s a press release from New Tribes Mission.

CARACAS, Venezuela (July 1, 2003): God’s Spirit has moved in the hearts of the Maco people ten months after missionaries began teaching them. A new church has been born with more than 50 converts.

A somber mood prevailed among the group for several days as they listened to Bible lessons on Christ’s betrayal, trial and crucifixion. But their sadness gave way to bright smiles and rejoicing when they heard of the resurrection.

At the end of the teaching, the missionaries, Dave and Marie Jank, invited the Macos to give some feedback on what they’d heard. “We simply wanted to know what they’d thought – be it good, bad or indifferent.”

For an hour and a half a steady stream of people, men and women, young and old, spoke of how they were giving their sin to Jesus Christ, the one who died to pay for it all.

Kaya, the village chief testified, “The things that we are talking about today are not words that the missionaries have told us, they are words that God’s Spirit has spoken into our hearts

Ba’aliyu, a young married man, immediately stood up. He recalled the stories of Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Isaac. Then he talked about the significance of John the Baptist referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God. He finished by simply stating that he is now trusting in Jesus who paid the penalty for his sin.

Mala referred to the account of the bronze serpent that Moses made and placed up on a pole. He said, “Just like the people of Israel were able to look at that serpent and be saved from the snakes, in that same way I am looking at the Redeemer.”

Davey and Marie wrote, “We look forward to seeing God begin to bring into a growing and thriving relationship with Himself those who have trusted in Him.”

God is answering the prayers of His people for the Macos to trust in Christ. He’s opened their eyes. Given them the secret of the kingdom. They’ve heard and understood the wonderful news. Good soil that’s growing a healthy plant.

People all over Doonside. And in your street. And in your family. And your workplace. They’re soil, just waiting for the seed of God’s Word.

Will you give them the opportunity to hear? And to understand?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

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