Over the years I’ve heard a multitude of stories of difficulties people have gone through in life’s unpredictable journey. Some of these stories grip one’s very soul and about all the response one can come up with is just a groan. There are times when you wish you had something to say that would alleviate the grief—or help remove the black cloud of despair threatening to take a person down but appropriate words are hard to find. I have had some times of my own when the inky blackness just didn’t seem to want to pass. There are times when life’s catastrophes can beat us to a pulp—emotionally, physically, financially, and almost always spiritually. Life and the things it brings to us can be brutally harsh!
For the follower of Jesus, some questions often come to mind: “Where is God?” “Couldn’t God have spared me this? I’m his child!” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Am I not worth more to Him than this?” “I thought God was all-powerful!”
One thing is for sure, hard things coming into our lives will often drop us right to the ground. We then find ourselves having to take stock of where we are and what in our life is of any value. I remember hearing a comment from a lady a number of years ago when we were discussing the Great Tribulation described in the Book of Revelation. She said something that astounded me. She said, “I don’t know how I would handle living in such difficult times! How would I be able to make my huckleberry pies?” I thought she was joking but then saw she was serious! When we run into desperate times, trying to figure out how to bake a pie is likely the last thing we will be worried about!
Considering the examples in the Bible of characters who endured times of great difficulties, the example of Job probably tops them all. This man lost all ten of his children, his oxen, his sheep, his donkeys, his camels, dozens of servants, and his own health–to the point where he was sitting in ashes scraping the boils on his body with broken pieces of pottery. Then his wife comes and says to him, “Are you still hanging onto your integrity? Curse God and die!” You know what his answer was? He said, “You are talking like a foolish woman! Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Then the Scriptures tell us, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” In chapter 13: 15, Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.” There is one additional comment made by Job that I would like to include and it is found early in the book, right after he got the worst of the news about the attacks on him. In Job 1:20-22 the Scriptures record, “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.’ In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
This is a good time to take a look at another of Jesus’ parables, possibly one of the most commonly recognized: The “Parable of the Sower.”
Before getting into the details of this parable I would briefly like to look at a curious statement Jesus made in response to a question the disciples asked him. Here is how this interchange went:
“The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see, though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
I came across a quote by Matthew Henry, the great 17th century theologian. He made this comment about Jesus using parables for his teaching:
“A parable is a shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent but keeps it from the slothful. Note: There are mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, and without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; Christ’s incarnation, sanctification, intercession, our justification and sanctification by union with Christ, and indeed the whole work of redemption, from first to last, are mysteries, which could never have been discovered, but by divine revelation (1 Corinthians 15:51), were at this time discovered but in part to the disciples and will never be fully discovered till the veil shall be rent; but the mysteriousness of gospel truth should not discourage us from, but quicken us in our enquiries after it and searches into it.”
As Jesus’ parables were designed to give answers to the inquiring mind as well as the truths of the Kingdom being hidden from those that really didn’t want the truth, God’s word does the same even today. The Holy Spirit will always guide a seeking heart.
All of us belonging to the human race are taking the same journey. It begins at conception and ultimately leads to eternity. The road we take and how long we travel it is different for us all. Jesus told the Parable of the Sower to show us how God’s Word is received in different ways by us all. In this parable, He divided people into four categories. As we meditate on what Jesus said, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show each of us which category we fit in.
The seed sown here is the “Word of the Kingdom”. If it is the Word of the Kingdom, then it is the “Word of the KING.” This KING has a Word that is flawless, it is not exaggerated, it is not hyped up, it’s not from a narcissistic ruler who depends on subjects that lie to him about how great he is, like most of the leaders this world has ever had! This KING is GOD in person, and His Word is the law—not just for a select few, but for all.
The seed that is sown is the Gospel of the Good News of God’s complete forgiveness and restoration of the human race through the sacrifice made on the cross 2,000 years ago, and the subsequent resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. No other “god” could offer such a sacrifice—only the Creator Himself. This sacrifice has made it possible for every single human being on earth to choose whether to accept this free gift of salvation. There are those that do, and there are those that don’t.
Here is how the parable reads:
“…A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.”
The soil in this parable, in which the seed is scattered is the hearts of the children of men. People vary one from another, but it is into the soil of our hearts the seed is sown. This seed is incorruptible. It is the difference between the “gospel of men” and the “Gospel of God”. Men speak out of the foolishness of their hearts—it might even sound spiritual, but is it really the Word of God?
A man’s heart is like soil. It is capable of bearing much fruit but due to one thing or another, will either bear good fruit, bad fruit, or even lie fallow. It is a shame that less than one out of four of those who have been touched by God, do anything with the seed sown in their hearts. Why is that? We should recognize the answers in this parable.
The first category of soil representing men’s hearts is the soil by the “wayside”, or “highway” soil. Most of us can visualize a garden. Between the rows of plantings are the pathways that are walked on. These are areas that are not cultivated; they are not fertilized, nor are they cared for. They become the pathways to the real garden. Yet, when seed is scattered, some of the seed falls on these pathways.
What does this have to do with us? Here is how I see it. The “hearers” that are compared to the “pathway” are those that hear the word but don’t understand it. Hardened pathways are too hard to germinate seed. Because the ground is so hard, birds quickly come and eat the seed.
Many people go through the motions of “religion”, and so that is all they get–“religion”. I believe God hates religion, because religion is dead and it is destructive. Religion and God’s Word are not synonymous. People who follow through with the rituals of “church” are much like the hard ground that the seed happens to fall on. Rituals without real life from God are dead!
This ground is not cultivated, it is not cared for, nor is not expected to be a place where a seed will be able to germinate. Weeds of course will grow where nothing else does, which may give us q clue as to why so many people making the pretense of being “Christian” are no different than the fallen world. This is much worse. The Bible tells us that we are known by the fruits of our lives. We should examine ourselves carefully to see how people see us. In fact, we should ask the Lord to allow us to take a look at ourselves in His mirror!
Church life for many consists of going to see and to be seen. Church is a great place to make business contacts and build up a social life that will benefit us. A good teaching may very well be delivered but nothing sinks in to where it can germinate and begin to grow. The enemy of our souls is a thief and he is a killer. If he can steal the seed before it has a chance to do any good, that’s exactly what he will do.
How do we avoid being that “pathway” soil? We must humble ourselves and let His Word sink into our hearts. After receiving the Word, we need to meditate on it, pray about what we’ve heard, and let the Spirit of God begin to bring the growth, or change, needed. This way the thief can’t steal God’s Word from us as well as the growth, multiplication, and harvest that His Word is capable of bringing into His Kingdom.
Then there is the “stony” ground. These are the folks that hear some things which are pleasing to the ear and run with it. God’s Word does sound good if a person is really listening to what it says. God’s ways are like nothing else! The problem for some is that they don’t really count the cost, nor do they really check the Word of God out for themselves so that it can get rooted deeply within. Most of those claiming to be Christians are really quite lazy in their Christian walk. The Bible is pretty low on the priority list and so does little more than gather dust on the shelf. Many of our lives are pretty busy; in fact, maybe even hectic, but we can’t afford to leave God out, and just run to Him when we’re facing tragedy. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragic event to cause us to draw near to God because we then realize how badly we need Him.
It’s too easy to live our “Christian” lives from sermon to sermon. In many of our churches in our day, there is a limited amount of life received from the weekly sermon. In other words, the seed may be a bit like some of the genetically engineered seed that some of the large corporations like Monsanto manufacture. Much of this man-made seed will not reproduce much, if anything at all; neither is it healthy. Too many sermons in our day are the product of prewritten or prerecorded sermon materials put on the internet or in pulpit help type materials. They have not necessarily been birthed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but rather only by the mind of man. A clever sermon or well-crafted three point sermon may speak to a man’s intellect but only the Spirit of God can speak to his spirit.
There are ultimately going to be storms in life. What condition our spiritual life’s roots are and how deep they go, makes all the difference in how we will deal with the circumstance we have been put into. The words in the parable say this: “When tribulation and persecution arises, he is offended.” The circumstances of life becomes a stumbling block in his way which he can’t get over, and so he flies off and this is all his profession comes to. The storms come to test our sincerity.
Seed landing on rocky soil is a breeding ground for hypocrisy. It is easy to make all kinds of lofty claims and proclamations, especially when a person is depending on someone else’s walk with God to hold them up. If something happens to the human “anchor” that is being depended on, instead of the “Rock”, Jesus Christ, then there will likely be a great fall of the person that has not grown a set of roots of their own. First they will attack their own faith, and then those who hold to that same faith—as if it were someone else’s fault that they fell. Galatians 5:11 speaks of the “offense of the cross.”
In this parable we find persecution represented by the scorching sun. History shows that the same tribulation which drives some to apostasy and ruin, drives others to exceed in their walk with God, and the eternal glory that comes with it. Could this be an example of, “easy come, easy go?”
Then the parable speaks of the “thorny” ground. There are many things represented within the context of the thorny ground which could be covered in this section, but I would like go into some detail on only two. This is a description of seed that has grown deeper roots than in the earlier examples of this parable.
We all come to the Lord from different walks of life. The contrast in backgrounds between us all, when one considers culture, religion, nationality, education, and so many other ways, is vast. To say that most people in this world don’t understand most people from other cultures is an understatement, at best. God however understands and knows us all intimately. He is the only one that does! The Good News of the gospel of Christ is universal and crosses the barriers between all nationalities, cultures, and the billions of unique differences between individuals. This can be applied to God’s ability to reach anyone and everyone with the truths of this parable.
The cares of this world can be applied to the wealthy as well as the poor. There are those that are better off in every culture and every nation. There isn’t a person on earth that is immune to becoming so overtaken by the cares of this world, that they lose sight of the things that really matter. The Bible has much to say about wealth but none of it condemns wealth itself. What the Bible points out is that wealth is one of the things that tries to take over in our life as a thorn bush. As individuals we all have the choice as to how we set the priorities in our lives, we just don’t all do so.
The rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16 is an example we looked at previously. Why was it that Jesus asked this young man to sell all he had and give the money to the poor when He didn’t ask the same of Zaccheous the tax collector, Matthew (his disciple), also a tax collector, or even His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who was quite wealthy? For one thing, this proves that having material possessions or financial wealth is not a spiritual problem. However, when we are an admitted servant of His, declaring Him Lord of our life, not only are we His children, but everything having to do with our lives, our possessions, our bank accounts, our relationships, our careers—everything is put at His disposal. In the rich young ruler’s life, his wealth was a hindrance to the best God had for him. That’s why Jesus said what He did. The proof was in the man’s response.
It isn’t only “wealth” which chokes out the plant of good seed, but so much more. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we participate in, everything we watch—whether it is on television, at a movie theatre, or on our computer; these are all things that will either aid our walk with God or they’ll choke the Word of God out, even if it is a little bit at a time.
Here’s a question: Why is it that we humans have to have something disastrous happen before we are desperate enough to reach out and really get serious with God? I remember traveling to the San Fernando Valley of Southern California right after the big earthquake in Sylmar years ago. It was amazing how the churches were all full of people the first weekend after the quake. Starting the second weekend after the quake however, the attendance dropped off dramatically and soon people went right back to sleep as they had been. This has happened again and again. This is what happened with nearly every major hurricane or disaster that has hit the United States in the last few years, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, as well as several more devastating storms. The U.S. also experienced monstrous outbreaks of tornadoes which caused massive destruction in Joplin, Missouri and Moore/Newcastle, Oklahoma. These tornadoes were classified as E-5 on the storm scale. There have been many other major events, not to forget 9/11 and the twin towers in New York.
I also happen to believe that God has spoken through a number of prophets over the last few years about major events to come. There have been times when God has stayed His hand and the disasters were avoided due to the prayers of many thousands of people. One example of this was in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, as well as in California and other locations at different times.
There are many who claim to be “Prophets” or “Watchmen” today. Not all of them are what they claim to be, or maybe think they are, but we need to be careful not to be too quick in our condemnation when something doesn’t happen just as we thought it was to happen. Sometimes God does postpone the judgment. Other times it is down the road a bit further. This happened with Nineveh in the Old Testament. Some of the Old Testament prophecies also are thousands of years old now and are just now about to be fulfilled right before our eyes.
Many people in our world today are so overcome with the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, as the parable says, that they have no idea that the world today is in great peril. Because this is not the purpose of this article I won’t go into the details of all that is happening today prophetically but I liken it to tightening a guitar string. One can only tighten the string so far before it will snap. This is the world situation today. Jesus told us about these days and said that we should “watch and pray”, so that we are not caught off guard. He intended us to know the time of day!
Our lives too often lack moderation. There is moderation needed in all things. Too much of anything keeps us from the things that are really important. We can spend endless hours of the day playing video games. The same happens with sports of all kinds. How about the hours of soap operas so many are hooked on? We can spend all our time on the world news and forget that our intimate relationship with God is more important. Once again—moderation…We lose sight of reality when we allow things to rule us, instead of us taking control and living a disciplined life.
The cares of this world can also be the difficult things we live through. For many, it’s difficult to conceive of the misery and horror others in the world are going through. How can one even imagine what it was like to live through a time like the Holocaust? How about the massacres in Ruanda? Then, there were the days of despots like Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin, and others. Hardly anyone knows about the hundreds of thousands that have died in Siberia over the past century.
History is full of the horrors of what people have done to one another. It is said that somewhere around 50 million people were purged during the Spanish Inquisition. Chairman Mao is said to have been responsible for somewhere between 50 and 90 million Chinese and other nationalities purged during his evil reign.
Today, people in many nations are experiencing some of the worst things human beings have ever had to go through, including in Syria. How many tens of thousands of people have died in the last three years or so, only God knows. It might be 150,000 or more by now. How does one face such things as a follower of Jesus? The same way God’s children always have. The Bible tells us, “Greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world.” The Apostle Paul said this in Romans 8:35-39:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We live in a fallen world which has been under a curse for 6,000 years. The Bible tells us that nature itself is groaning for the Sons of God to be revealed and to come out from under its curse. That day is real soon. But, until that day when Jesus returns bodily to take up the throne of this earth as KING, it is only going to get worse—dramatically worse. The Great Tribulation itself will be many times worse than any of us as humans can even imagine. That day is almost upon the world.
The fourth and final category Jesus spoke of in this parable is the good soil. There are those that pay attention to Jesus’ call for those that have an ear, to hear what the Spirit is saying. We all need to hear the words of the Spirit of God today. We are at the end of the age and all things are culminating. The return of Christ for His Church is imminent. Our job at this time first of all is to live in close communion with our God. Then it is to be busy at whatever God has put us doing. It is important for us to keep in mind that the Millennial Kingdom is going to start right at the end of the Great Tribulation. The Great Tribulation however is very, very near its own beginning now, which means that the call home by our Master and Messiah is even closer yet! Do we even realize how big the changes are that we are about to experience? Those of us who are ready for the Messiah are about to enter eternity. Those who are not, are going to be left behind to deal with the horrors of the tribulation.
What if the Lord were to call us home next week? What would be your last greatest act of obedience before going home? This parable tells us that not all produce the same amount of fruit from their soil. God does not expect us all to do the same. He just asks us to do the best with what we have been entrusted. His coming is so close now, none of us can afford to do anything less than our best. It really is going to matter when we stand in front of our Lord Jesus! There will be no good excuses for us withholding ourselves from Him in any way, shape, or form. We owe Him our very lives and our eternity to Him. Everything we claim as “ours” is really on loan from Him! He died for us, the least we can do, is live for Him!