8 After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
There was a larger group than the twelve following Jesus. Here we read of a number of women, some of them influential people, travelling with the group, at least on this preaching tour. It gives a picture of Jewish culture a little different from the one we expect. Here we have a number of financially and seemingly culturally independent women, travelling with Jesus and supporting his ministry. He was never accused of any impropriety by his enemies so whatever the travelling arrangements they were completely above reproach.
I don’t want to make too much of the comment but it does remind us that the Jewish (and later Christian) attitude towards women was elevated above those of other nations and groups. The woman of Proverbs 31 is well known as a business woman, and matriarch of her family; women are mentioned as those around the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion; they are the first to witness the resurrection; and some are heroes of the faith, such as Mary Magdalene, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, Ruth, Esther, Mary the mother of Jesus, Deborah, Hannah, Rachel, Eve, Rebekah, Rahab and Jael (my favourite) who pinned her enemy to the floor with a tent peg.
The financial support given by these women should not be underestimated. It is never an excuse for not living the Christian life in terms of reaching out in love and service and being involved in making disciple-making disciples, but the Bible speaks in many places about the issue of money and wealth and how we are to use it for kingdom purposes. Our resources are given to us on trust to be used for God’s work. God can grow his kingdom in any way he decides, but it seems he has decided to work through his people and their use of their resources, including their money, their gifts and talents, and their energy.
One of the most difficult tasks of the church leader is to raise money. No matter how delicately you do it there will always be those who are critical, yet it is a privilege and an honour to be asked to use our money for the kingdom. The Macedonian Christians “urgently pleaded” with Paul to let them give [2 Cor 8:4]. Further, it’s described as an litmus test of our love and devotion [1 Cor 8:8], and in investment [1 Cor 9:6-8].
Father, your Son gave up the riches of heaven for me. Make me open-hearted and open-handed in the service of the kingdom. Amen
4 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. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’
When he said this, he called out, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 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.”
11 ‘This is the meaning of the parable: the seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
This parable has been called “The Parable of The Sower”, but it should be called “The Parable of The Soils.” Have you ever wondered why someone gets converted and powers along for a while but then drops off the scene completely? This parable gives an explanation. It’s also an encouragement because Jesus is telling us to expect this sort of thing to happen – we aren’t necessarily failing as disciple-makers or as a church when people seem to fall away. It’s to be expected – lamented, but expected.
The context is that a large crowd is gathering and Jesus’ popularity is rising rapidly, but he is not going to be swept up in the hype. He knows what’s in people’s hearts. He sees beyond the acclaim, and knows that for many who seem to be on fire for God it’s not much more than a flash in the pan. There is a sifting process going on.
Firstly note that Jesus is not central to the parable, the word of God is. Jesus is the anonymous sower of the word. That fits with his methodology elsewhere where he says that he teaches only what the Father has given him to say [John 12:49].
Secondly, Jesus makes that cryptic comment in verse 10 about the secrets of the Kingdom of God, implying that reception of the word of God, belief in the gospel, is a work of God. Without the Spirit of God doing his work in us we will not accept the Word.
As we spread the good news we will see the gospel land on the “path people”. The word of God doesn’t seem to have any penetration at all. It just seems to bounce off, like the seed hitting a path. They are just not interested. They just don’t get it. Some are really anti the gospel and others just show no interest at all.
Then there are the “rocky people”, and their commitment is really rocky. They go off like a sky rocket and then fall to earth depleted. Jesus makes two points about the rocky soil. Firstly, there is no moisture to feed the seed. Is that a reference to the failure of the church to water the seed? We know it’s very important to follow up on new believers and to nurture the new growth, but at the same time we know that people can have “conversion experiences” to all sorts of things. The difference with a Christian conversion is that repentance and faith are central. Maybe such people get converted to Christianity without repentance or submission to the Spirit of God. It is a conversion but not a spiritual re-birth, which can only be produced by the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, the lack of roots means that when troubles hit these people desert the faith. The sufferings of life are the testing ground of genuine faith. Remember the parable of the builder who built his house on sand?
Father, give me a heart to keep talking the gospel to people and to trust you for the results. Amen
7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown…….. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
The thorns, Jesus says, are “life’s worries, riches and pleasures”. It is not so much the crises of life that causes the failure these people, but the everyday things that crowd out faith. How often have you heard people who say they are followers of Jesus claim to be too busy to go to church, for instance. Recent research found that those who stop going to church very quickly move away from orthodox Christian beliefs – within 12 months half of the beliefs they have are no longer orthodox. With those who have not been churching for 10 years only 30% of their beliefs are orthodox. [Source: ACS98]
Life is busy and full. There are all sorts of commitments: family, children’s sport and cultural activities, house and garden maintenance. There are also cares and anxieties: financial, relational, sickness, study, general busyness, the lure of wealth and security, the pursuit of material possessions, and on it goes. It is all too easy for Jesus and his people to fall off the agenda. This is particularly the case in this Covid age when the normal disciplines of faith that have helped to keep us focussed have disappeared. Since the restrictions on meeting together have eased, attendances have not returned to pre-Covid levels.
We saw yesterday that genuine faith is produced by the Holy Spirit, but there are lots of encouragements in the Bible for us to do all we can to persevere in the faith [e.g. Heb 12:1; James 1:4]. The Spirit works in us to strengthen us to do God’s will. We also need to encourage each other to persevere [Heb 10:24-25].
The last soil is the good soil that produces a crop one hundred times what was sown [v 8] Notice that the people with a good and noble heart are those who persevere. What is the crop? The Bible talks about the fruit of righteousness in many places. There is the fruit of the Spirit, the character of the godly person: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (The word for “fruit” is singular in the original; the godly character is a job lot, we can’t pick and choose which particular fruit we’ll produce). Jesus says “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” [Luke 3:8].
Holy God, please work in me to be holy as you are holy, and give me a heart to encourage others to persevere in their faith. Amen
16 ‘No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put 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. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.’
You don’t light a lamp then cover it up. In preaching the good news Jesus is lighting a lamp that will light up the whole world. However, in the parable of the sower Jesus is preparing his disciples for the fact that, as they preach, not everyone will respond with enduring faith. That can be discouraging, especially as they believe that Jesus is the saviour of the world. Shouldn’t everyone bend the knee to the Son of God? He himself has pre-warned them of this seeming failure of the gospel, which is not a failure of the gospel at all but a failure of people to respond with faith. However, for those who do respond there is a mighty harvest that far outweighs the disappointments. They produce a hundred-fold.
The story is the same for us. Inviting people to church and enduring the knock-backs is hard. Speaking of our faith in Jesus and seeing people mentally turning their backs on us makes it so much more difficult to do it the next time. Yet the harvest is plentiful, says Jesus [Matthew 9:38]. Interesting research conducted in the past few years has shown that one in six Australians say they will come to church if they are invited. So, in general terms, for every 6 people we invite to church, one will come. We just need to invite heaps of people. Furthermore, 35% of Australians say they believe in the resurrection and another 35% say they are unsure [NCLS Community Survey 2018]. Our community is not as anti-Christian as we are led to believe.
The gospel will carry out its task. It has and will continue to light up the world. it will be brought out into the open.
Therefore we are to consider carefully how we listen to what Jesus says; we need take notice. Sure it is hard to spread the good news but there will be fruit. If we put Jesus’ words into practice we will be given more, and I take it that means more blessings. That’s the point of another parable of Jesus – the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. We can avoid getting involved in disciple-making but we thereby avoid the blessing. “Those who pay heed will receive further spiritual insight.” [I Howard Marshall The Gospel of Luke pg. 328]
Who are the people that you are praying for the opportunity to talk with about Jesus? The light is meant for sharing.
God of the good news, please give me the opportunity to share you this week and the courage to take it up. Amen
19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’
21 He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’
I find these some of the most confronting words in the Bible, especially if they are meant to be for me to follow as well. We are encouraged to be like Jesus, but what does it mean to be like him in his laser-like focus on God’s kingdom? Is Jesus going too far here in his seeming rejection of his family? Does he really want us to have the same attitude?
The Bible describes the church in family terms – we are brothers and sisters, we have been adopted into God’s family, we are God’s household. Does God mean us to take that figuratively or is it a reality? It’s not just here that Jesus says these things either. Check out Luke 14:26-27 and Matthew 19:29. Do we really see the Christian church as our family or is it just a way of showing a mild attachment, like people calling each other “bro”?
We need to be clear here - Jesus did not see his biological family as unimportant; he gave his mother into John’s care at the cross, for instance, and the Bible says that anyone who does not provide for their family has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever [1 Tim 5:8]. It’s all a question of our priority of allegiances.
Is the church family a real priority or is it an add-on to your life? Our biological family is not the bride of Christ - the church is [Eph 5:25-32].
It’s been said that the family has become the god of many Christians today. What do you think? What would it look like if it was true?
I knew a man whose family held an actual funeral for him after he became a Christian, and we’ve all heard of people whose lives were in danger because they’d been born again. If it comes to a clear choice like that between Christ and our family it’s so much easier to see the issue clearly. Our danger often seems to be more the creeping type of idolatry where allegiances and decisions are not so black and white. Single decisions to put our family before Christ are not the issue so much as them becoming a pattern of behaviour. Of course it’s not usually one or the other, is it? To love God and his people puts us in a much better place to love and care for our families. There is no better place to raise our family than in the church family, no better peer group for our kids to have, no better way to teach our kids that God and God’s people are our priority.
I’ve always had a weird sort of dream that kids’ Sunday sport would have to move to Saturdays because the Christian families said “no” to it. The gay community has changed our society and they make up only about 3% of it [2014 Aust census data], (not the ‘10%’ figure that we are often told, which is based on widely discredited research.) Christians make up a much higher percentage of our society than that. Maybe we don’t make a stand because we don’t value the Christian family.
As I write I’m concerned that if I give some specific examples it might offend some of my Christian brothers and sisters. We need to work these things out between us and God, because there are always exceptions to the rule. Each family is different. However we do need to come to grips with what the Bible says on this issue. What does Jesus mean in this passage? Is it a model for us to follow? That question would be worth talking about over the table at home or in your growth group this week. In what sense are you, my Christian brothers and sisters, really my brothers and sisters?
Loving Heavenly father help me to see clearly where you have slipped from first position in my heart. Help me to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Amen