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“Keeping on Sowing Despite Discouragement”

Matt.13:1-9,18-23 June 11 2017


Lately with the spring season, I’ve been meeting more farmers in their tractors along the roads. You’ve got to admire farmers at this time of year: they’re taking a huge risk, burying thousands of dollars’ worth of inputs in the ground. Sinking so much into the soil...And gambling that the weather is going to co-operate enough to produce a harvest. For those who are Christians, it must be an exercise in faith: trusting that God will bless their efforts and reward their industry with a good harvest.

      Jesus customarily taught the crowds using parables, word-pictures that told a story but also made a point. Parables worked on two levels: to those who were just curious or skeptical, parables masked or concealed their underlying meaning; while for people who believed, God used the stories drawn from everyday life to convey deeper meaning. As we begin this third of five ‘books’ into which Matthew collected Jesus’ teachings as a skilled editor might, we encounter one of Jesus’ most famous parables - the sower and the seed.

      It begins, Mt 13:3 - “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” The farmer ventured forth and took a risk. Now, when you see all the obstacles that are encountered, you might wonder why he bothered? 3 of the 4 situations Jesus describes end up producing no harvest; there are birds that eat up the seed, rocky places where the soil’s too thin, weedy patches that choke out the seed. Why not just stay in bed? Yet, still the farmer WENT OUT.

      Being a Christian involves risk. Witnessing, sharing your faith verbally to others, requires you to take a risk. Will you get laughed at or bullied for being identified with Christ?

      Being a church such as Living Water involves risk. Will people come Sunday by Sunday? Will we meet our budget? Will we have enough workers for our various programs? Discouragements come in ministry, too. But to do the Lord’s work, to accomplish His goals in a community, involves taking on some RISK. “A farmer went out to sow his seed.”

      Jerry Richardson played professional football in the days when it was all guts and no glory. He was a star wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts in 1961, but he couldn't make ends meet. He was trying to support a wife and three children on less than ten thousand dollars a year. He asked for a $250 annual raise and was turned down. That was when Jerry decided it was time to do something else. He and a college buddy bought a hamburger stand – the first Hardee's franchise. Now they faced twelve-hour days flipping burgers, scrubbing grills, and mopping floors. In addition to having to work harder, he was making even less money than before. However, he refused to give up. He focused on making his restaurant efficient, his employees friendly, his prices affordable. Eventually the business took off, and Richardson bought more franchises. Today, Richardson heads TW Services Inc., one of the largest food-service companies in the United States, with $3.7 billion a year in sales. Today, Jerry says, "I couldn't have gotten to where I am without working hard and taking risks."


A business enterprise involves risks: you would never have heard of Hardee’s restaurants unless Jerry and his buddy launched out and bought that first hamburger stand. Still, as a Christian, it can seem a little daunting to sow the seed of the Gospel. Recent provincial government measures concerning foster homes and conscience rights of physicians have not exactly been friendly towards our faith. So, why sow? Why should the farmer bother to venture out?

      Someone might say it’s a matter of obedience; we’re commanded to “make disciples” and teach others to obey what Jesus commanded – that’s the Great Commission (Mt 28:19f). Also Mark 16:15 “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’” And Luke 24:47 “and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

      But, let’s admit it: “Because someone told me to” is not a very inspirational reason to be doing something! Are there other reasons for evangelism, besides dogged obedience?

      As any farmer can tell you, unless you take the risk and plant a crop, you’re not going to have any harvest! V8 “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop...” There WAS a harvest in the end, BECAUSE the farmer sowed the seed.

      It should be woven into the fabric of Christians to be fruitful. Jesus was all about bearing fruit. Mt 7:17,19 “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit...Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And John 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Jesus is saying that bearing fruit is a necessary SIGN that we are in fact His – disciples prove they’re disciples by bearing fruit.

      So, why sow? We’re commanded to. You’ve got to sow if you want a harvest, yes. But maybe the best reason to sow is TO WITNESS THE WONDER OF WATCHING GOD WORK! The closing words of the parable emphasize the awesome size of the harvest. V8 “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop— a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” A HUNDREDFOLD – that’s a pretty great return on your investment! The ancient historian Herodotus wrote of yields in Babylonia amounting to 200-300 times what was sown, under irrigation. So it IS possible. A single ear of corn can have 800 kernels (in 16 rows) – that’s all from a single kernel. So, if you want to witness God’s miracles, you’ve got to be willing to sow His seed. The sovereign omnipotent Lord Almighty, Creator of the Universe, invites us to become His co-workers in bringing wonders about. The apostle Paul says we are “God’s fellow workers” (1Cor 3:9; 2Cor 6:1). And, 2Cor 5:20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” When you’re willing to partner with God, get ready to watch amazing things happen!


When sowing a crop either in the field or the garden, farmers are encouraged to make sure they’re sowing good seed, including steps such as a germination test, to make sure what you plant in the ground is actually going to grow and not just moulder and rot. So let’s pause and ask, “What sort of seed are we sowing?”

      What’s the seed being sown in Jesus’ parable? How does Jesus describe it? V19 “When anyone hears the message about THE KINGDOM and does not understand it...” Usually we talk about “sharing the gospel” or “the Good News”; how might “the message about the kingdom” be different? Is that more than just “What must I do to be saved?” “The message about the kingdom” sounds broader, more comprehensive, focusing not just on me getting reconciled to God, but beyond that what God is doing in society and the world; what’s ‘the big picture’?

      When John the Baptist proclaimed to King Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” – was he in some way speaking about the kingdom? About God’s rights and justice in a situation, and holding us to account? That kind of got John into hot water!

      What was Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost? Ac 2:38,40 “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’...With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” Does this go a little further than the 4 Spiritual Laws with its “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? (Not that such summaries are a bad place to start!)

      What are you sowing? How do you package it? How can you personalize it, broaden it, so it starts to include how God has been working in your life? What miracles of transformation have you seen God bring about, in your life or others? Part of our uncomfortableness with so-called “sharing the gospel” may be it seems canned or artificial, trite, not part of us. How can we adapt it to our own words, point to examples of God’s grace we’ve experienced personally? How have you seen God at work? How is His Lordship, His dominion, expanding in your circles? That’s much bigger than just reciting John 3:16 (true and central though that is). Jesus said to one would-be candidate for discipleship, Lk 9:60 “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”


This parable is sometimes called “the parable of the soils” because the common factor in all cases is the seed; it’s just the condition of the soil that varies and determines the harvest. Let’s review them briefly.

      First there’s the seed sown by the path, eaten up by birds. Jesus explains, v19 “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” We might call this category the ABSCONDED, the consumed – evil forces snatch away the message before it really has a chance to penetrate.

      Second, the seed that fell on rocky places, where the soil was thin; at first everything seemed fine – it sprang up quickly (probably the soil was a tad warmer). V6 “But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” Jesus explains this is the person who initially receives the word with joy; V21 “But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time.When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” We could call this the ANEMIC, the conflicted.

      Third, the seed that fell among the thorns, which choked the plants. Jesus explains that for this person, V22 “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” We could call this the ANXIOUS, there’s competition, contamination due to other factors vying for one’s attention and devotion.

      Each of these inferior ‘soils’ represents an impediment, something that gets in the way of the seed sprouting and flourishing and bearing fruit. Now, a natural tendency is to try in our minds to associate the 3 types with various groups of people, someone other than us. We’d like to picture ourselves in the best light and of course put ourselves in the last category, producing the bountiful crop. After all, we are in church, aren’t we?

      But – not so fast! These same 3 factors can be negative influences impeding spiritual growth in our OWN life, at various seasons, depending even on the month or the day. Consider how each might apply to you.

      The birds eating the seed that fell along the path. Paths are hard, worn, beaten. When I get “beat up” from other people, or just plain exhausted from working long hours or extra burdens from people’s demands, it’s hard to be very receptive to divine truth. I don’t feel like picking up my Bible to read it just then. Much easier to flip on the TV or stereo or tablet and just veg. So, I give opportunity for Satan to come and steal away the word God would have had to nourish my soul. 1Jn 5:19 “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Beware Satan’s tactics trying to get you feeling “beat up” and resistant to Biblical truth. Pray for God to give you a soft and receptive heart. Turn off the TV or internet and allow God to speak to you, primed by Scripture.

      Sometimes we’re the thin-soil spots. In Palestine, shelves of limestone would come close to the surface, creating pockets of soil that weren’t deep and were susceptible to drying up quickly. Are you cultivating a deep, rich, devotional life every day with God? Or are your devotional habits wearing a little thin? How many good deep theologically-oriented books have you dug into lately? Spiritually speaking, are you two miles wide but only half an inch deep? Jesus said of this person, V21 “But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Meet with God daily, treasure up His promises, keep on being refilled with His Spirit so when critics attack you or troubles arise, you have some depth, a reservoir of relationship with your Maker and Friend, to draw on.

      And, all too often in North American society for sure, we can be the seed that fell among thorns: V22 NLT “All too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” We need to repent of our greed, our preoccupation with material “stuff”, the latest tech toys, how padded our investment portfolio is getting. Those things ALL get in the way of nurturing the Holy Spirit’s life in us. Myron Augsburger comments that this sort of person is “the cluttered”: what’s threatening to crowd God out of your range of interest and appeal? Can you identify and abandon your idols? James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” You can’t have it both ways.


A parable is different from an allegory in that an allegory has various sub-points each referring to an additional meaning, whereas a parable usually just has one main point. Don’t forget parables started out not in written from but as oral events, a story verbally told, not meant for detailed analysis: instead, it’s as if there’s a “punch line”, one main point. For the parable of the sower, that might be that you need to get out there and GET SOWING – despite the birds and the rocks and the choking weeds, SOME HARVEST WILL HAPPEN. But take the risk; start sharing “the message about the kingdom” with others – and not everybody, but SOME will respond. Assume a risk; take the plunge. In the process, you will witness GOD AT WORK – and experience His wonderful grace yourself.

      As a Mississippi riverboat passed another vessel, the captain of the riverboat grabbed the first passenger he saw and said, "Look, look, over there on the other boat.Look at its captain." The passenger was somewhat bewildered and asked, "Why do you want me to look at that captain? What makes him so special?"

      Then the captain told him the story of how he had collided one night with another boat. His own vessel was tipping and in the process he was thrown overboard. The captain of the other vessel saw his desperate plight and maneuvered close enough that he was able to dive into the water and save his life. After telling the story, the once-saved captain then turned to the bystander and said, "Ever since that day, I want to point out my rescuer to others."

      Likewise, as those who have been saved, secured, and loved by Jesus, we should want to tell others of Him! Keep sowing, keep planting, whatever type of soil you encounter. Let’s pray.