How Does the Kingdom of God Grow? Not Like You Think

Dr. Michael Kruger, Speaker

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 | July 5 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
July 5
How Does the Kingdom of God Grow? Not Like You Think | Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Dr. Michael Kruger, Speaker

Well, good morning, Christ Covenant. Great to be with you today. It’s good to be back and to actually see real faces in the congregation. The last couple of times I’ve preached the only thing that was in the congregation was a camera. So it’s great to have faces here. Although I can’t fully see your faces, I know you’re here and it’s a great honor to be back with you.

This morning, if you have your Bibles, Matthew chapter 13 is where we are. Matthew, chapter 13. As you’re turning there, just a little bit of a word on what we’re beginning today on July 5. Today marks a new series at Christ Covenant Church on parables. And we will be spending our next chunk of time in July and part of August looking at the parables of Jesus, and of course you know they’re spread throughout all the Gospels, but if you don’t remember, Matthew 13 is where many of them are combined all in one spot, at least parables pertaining to the growth of the kingdom of God, and that’s actually what our theme will be today, is how the kingdom of God grows.

And the very first parable we’ll be looking at, which is the one before me today, and before us, is the parable of the sower. So let’s listen now as we read from God’s Word. We’ll be looking at Matthew 13, verses 1 through 9, and then we’re going to skip. I know this sounds odd, we’re going to skip 10 through 17 because that’s sort of a little parenthesis, we’ll come back to that next week, and then we’re going to read on in 18 through 23, which is where Jesus interprets the parable of the sower for us. Let’s listen to this wonderful passage today.

“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.'”

And then skipping down to verse 18:

“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.'”

Let’s pray and ask God to bless this amazing passage for us today. Let’s pray.

Lord, we all know this parable. We’ve heard it many times in our lives. But Lord, give us fresh eyes today. Even as the parable itself says, Lord, give us ears to hear. We pray this all in Christ’s name. Amen.

So for many years now I’ve had a fairly regular and predictable fall routine. And my guess is that many of you have a very similar fall routine. Usually every early October, somewhere in the first week, I’ll get in my car and I’ll dutifully drive to Home Depot and buy a big bag of grass seed. Now I do that probably for the same reason you do it, which is by the end of the summer your lawn is looking rough. My lawn’s already starting to look rough. There’s patches of barren ground everywhere and much of the grass has died and it never turned out like I wanted it to and so I figure every October I should over seed so I lug this big grass seed bag to my car and I drive it home and I pour some in a bucket and then I walk around my yard. And as I do I dip my hand in the bucket of grass seed and I throw the seed. It flutters through the air and settles on the ground and I over seed my whole yard, it takes me a good church of the day, and then I wait. I imagine you would do the same. You’re thinking, well, how long’s it going to take for it to grow? And so days go by, nothing. Weeks go by, nothing, and finally after several weeks you start to see these little green shoots barely poke up through the soil and you realize some seeds have started to grow.

But then inevitably I’m frustrated, because I know I scattered that seed over my whole yard, but yet I notice as the seed starts to grow that not all the seed has grown. In fact, there’s little patches of it here that are doing really well and then there’s other parts of it here that never did anything, they just there on the ground, I can even still see the seed, they don’t grow. In other places I know planted seed the seed isn’t even there, and I’m frustrated every year, why is that every time I cast the seed, some grows and some doesn’t. Several years I thought, you know what? I’m probably buying the wrong grass seed brand. So if I just change brands, probably something wrong with the seed, so I change brands… Same problem.

And then some years I think to myself, well, maybe the problem is me. Maybe I’m not sowing it right. Maybe if I just flicked my wrist a little differently I’d have better success sowing and then after the fall’s over I’d have a great…. No, that’s not it either.

And I realized what you already know is true that what makes the seed grow or not grow is not actually the seed, and it’s not even the sower. It’s actually the soil. Where the seed lands makes all the difference. In fact, even as I looked at my yard I could see that the really hard soil, the bare patches, the seed would never grow there. And I could see the little pathways my kids walk in the yard, and that’s always hard. It never grows there. And then I could actually look out my window and see birds coming and taking and eating the seeds off my lawn.

And every year I do this, I always think of this parable. Every year I go through that routine, it’s like looking out of my own yard, I am reenacting the reality we all know, which is that that truth about my yard isn’t just a truth about my yard. It’s a truth about the way God’s kingdom grows. It is a spiritual picture of the way the Gospel spreads around the world.

And here’s the reality we’re going to see today: God’s kingdom is growing but it’s not received by all. And when it’s not received by some, the problem will not be the seed, the problem will not even be the sower. When it’s not received, the problem will be the soil

Now, if you’re going to understand what’s going on Matthew 13, before we dive into this fully, let’s take one step back here and get a larger picture of the context. If we had the time, we could read Matthew 1-12 to give ourselves a little bit of context of what’s going on here, but I’m just going to give it to you. Jesus has been talking a lot up to this point about the kingdom of God. Now in the Gospel of Matthew He uses the phrase kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God; these are, these are interchangeable terms, kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God are the same thing.

What is Jesus mean by this coming kingdom? Well, He doesn’t mean a physical kingdom. Jesus isn’t saying that a physical plot of land is going to have some sort of military rule. He’s not saying that we’re going to build walls and create some sort of city state. No, it’s not a location, it’s not a government operation, it’s not some castle with walls. The kingdom of God that Jesus is talking about is the spread of God’s rule and reign throughout the world. In other words, what Jesus is saying is that with the coming of the king, Me, the reign of God is going to spread throughout the world. As people receive the Gospel and submit their lives to Christ, submit their lives to me, says Jesus, then God’s reign and rule will spread throughout the world and Jesus has been talking about this, He’s been telling His disciples, it’s an amazing kingdom, it’s a powerful kingdom, it’s an unstoppable kingdom, it’s an incredible kingdom.

But there’s a problem. By this time in the Gospel of Matthew the disciples are scratching their heads, going, well, if this kingdom is so powerful and amazing, Jesus, then why is that so many people reject it? If this kingdom is so powerful and amazing, then why doesn’t it just sort of immediately take over the world? This kingdom is so mighty and unstoppable, then why does it seem like the world is still very wicked and evil and it hasn’t really changed that much at all?

I would imagine that as you think about that concern on the disciples’ minds, that’s also a concern on your mind and my mind. I would imagine sitting here this morning on July 5, 2020 and you look out at the world and you’ve been watching the news cycles, you’re probably thinking to yourself, wow, it doesn’t look like God’s kingdom is advancing at all. Doesn’t look like there’s much of any progress whatsoever in the world. It feels like the world’s a very dark and evil place. And there’s a side of us that wonders if God’s kingdom is so great, and this is exactly the question the disciples had, why doesn’t it come all at once? Why doesn’t God just conquer all His enemies and have one huge, big, apocalyptic event where all evil is wiped out and His kingdom just takes over the work in an instant. If you have that question today, that’s exactly the question the disciples had and that’s exactly the question Jesus is going to answer for the whole stretch of parables in Matthew 13.

He is going to tell us how the kingdom grows, and here’s the answer: The kingdom grows, but it doesn’t grow like you think it does. The kingdom doesn’t come all at once. It doesn’t come apocalyptically in one fell swoop. You know what the kingdom is like? The kingdom is like a little mustard seed. It starts off small and inconspicuous and it looks like it’s never going to amount to anything, yet gradually and slowly it grows, and this is the message of Matthew 13, is that the kingdom’s going to come slowly, gradually, even in imperceptibly in ways you can never see.

And in the parable before us today, this parable of the sower, Jesus is going to make one huge grand point, which is often the kingdom comes or doesn’t come because of the state of human hearts. The kingdom isn’t going to advance all at once. Why? Because not every heart receives it. So what you realize then is that the advance or non-advance of the kingdom actually is related to the state of human hearts.

So here’s what we’re going to do today. We’re going to unpack this parable of the sower, it’s one of Jesus’ most famous parables, and we’re going to ask the question, why is it that the kingdom grows or doesn’t grow in certain instances. And Jesus is going to give us two answers for why it doesn’t, and then one answer for why it does, and I’ve already given them to you: He’s going to say not because of the seed, and then secondly He’s going to say not because of the sower, and then thirdly He’s going to say but yes, because of the soil of men’s and women’s hearts.

Okay, let’s dive into that then. Let’s start with the first one, the negative here. Jesus says when it comes to whether the kingdom advances or doesn’t advance, make sure you don’t confuse yourself, it’s not because of the problem with the seed.

Let’s look down at our parable here again. What’s amazing about this parable, and what I love about this parable, and I’ve got to admit I drew the best straw here of the staff of pastors, sorry, Mike, sitting down in the pew here, you may not have gotten such a good straw, I got a good one here because Jesus actually interprets the parable for us. So I’m unlikely to go completely off the rails here because Jesus actually tells us what it means, so when you ask what is symbolically meant by the seed, Jesus answers the question. Look down in verse 19 of your passage: “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.” Jesus here makes it very clear that the seed represents the word of the kingdom.

Then a few verses later He repeats this just by using the word “word.” In verse 20, “he who hears the word.” Verses 22 and 23, He mentions again those who hear the word.

So what is this word of the kingdom that the seed represents? It is the message of the kingdom. And the message of the kingdom of God is simply this: The King has returned. This is Jesus’ world. He’s the rightful ruler of it and there’s rebels out there and the way the rebels relate to the King is they come and repent of their sins and trust in the Savior, the King has laid down His life for His people on the cross, if they trust in Him they can be forgiven of their sins and reunited to the rightful King, and then that kingdom will grow. That is the message of the kingdom which is essentially the message of the Gospel.

The message of the Gospel is the core here of the message of the kingdom. And the truth be told, not everybody receives it. Some people don’t receive that seed, that Word doesn’t always penetrate into their hearts.

And here’s the first point Jesus wants to make, is don’t think for a moment that the problem is with the seed. Or to put it differently, don’t think for a moment that the problem with why the kingdom does or doesn’t advance is the problem of the message. And let’s be honest for a moment, sometimes we can begin to think that the problem, or the explanation for why the kingdom doesn’t grow is that there’s something wrong with the message and it’s easy to see why we might begin to think that.

I mean, how many times have you shared the Gospel with your non-Christian friend or your coworker or your neighbor or your family member, who have you, and you present it as good news, but they take it as bad news. You say, look, there’s this wonderful message, and they say, well, it’s not wonderful to me. You say, look, Jesus has laid down His life for sinners and shed His blood, and they say, well, how barbaric, how weird. And you say look, here’s a message about how you can be saved, only through Christ. And they say, well, how narrow-minded and how overly dogmatic, and wow, how exclusive is this. And what you think is good news they take as bad news, and after a while we can begin to think maybe the problem is the message. Maybe the reason the kingdom isn’t advancing very well is because there’s something wrong with the seed. And then were tempted to do something remarkable, we’re tempted to think maybe I need to switch out my seed for a different brand.
Not that different than what I did at Home Depot, right? I went, like, well, this brand isn’t growing. I’ll buy this brand. And we think maybe I just need a different seed and we’re tempted to think that the way to advance the kingdom better is by changing the message. We begin to think, well, hold on a second. You know, the message is kind of offensive and it’s a problem, and you know what? I think I can help out here. I think I can sort of shave off the rough edges a little bit. I can help God out here, I can help, you know, hone His message little bit better than maybe the way we find it in the Bible. And maybe I can improve it, maybe I can modify it. Maybe I can make it more acceptable. Maybe, you now, maybe a person doesn’t really need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Maybe He’s not really the only way. Maybe if you’re just a sincere member of another religion that’s enough. Or maybe there’s not really a place like hell that people go to. Maybe that’s just symbolic. Or you know, maybe, you know, what God says about sexuality in the Bible isn’t really that important, it doesn’t matter that much. Maybe I can find a way to make the message better. And that can help the kingdom grow.

Of course you know, and the parable makes this plain, Jesus gives no indication here that there’s any problem with the seed. Nowhere in this parable is the seed pointed to as the reason the kingdom grows or doesn’t grow. In fact, you know this intuitively yourself, because you know that the reason someone receives the Gospel or doesn’t receive the Gospel is not because of the Gospel. Two people can be sitting in a pew right next to each other, hearing the same sermon with the same words from the same preacher on the same day at the same moment, and one can receive it and one will not, and it has nothing to do with the message, and it has to do with the heart of the listener.

And Jesus is saying, look, don’t mistake here for a moment that something’s wrong with the message, that it’s defective or broken. No, it’s good news. It’s right and it’s true and the world needs to hear it, even if they reject it. Don’t think for a moment the problem is with that message.

One of the obvious takes away of this first point today is simple, is that do we find ourselves changing the message when we tell people? Thinking that that’s the way to get the kingdom to grow, and that it’s that the problem is with the seed. We all face that temptation, that challenge. Let me encourage you this morning: Don’t back away from the truth of the message just because people receive it as bad news. It is good, great, glorious, wonderful, true news, even if people don’t receive it as such.

It might be encouraging also to know that you’re not alone in the temptation to alter the message. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Corinthians were living in a very astute, intellectual environment and the Corinthian church was very much worried that the philosophers in their midst weren’t receive the message and they were thinking about changing the message and Paul writes to them and says, “Don’t you realize that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing? Don’t change the message. The problem isn’t the message.”

In fact, Paul says elsewhere in Corinthians, he says this: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. My speech and my message were not implausible words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”

No, take encouragement this morning. The problem isn’t the message.

Okay, secondly this morning, so what else is not the problem? If the problem isn’t the message, the second reason the kingdom does or doesn’t advance is not because of the sower. It’s not because of the sower.

Okay, so if we realize the seed’s not the reason my lawn’s not growing, well, then, maybe the problem is the sower. Maybe we’re not very good casters of seed, right? As I said when I was thinking about my own lawn, maybe I just need to flick my wrist better, that seed can spread better. Maybe that’s the reason the kingdom doesn’t grow and so we come up with a second reason we think the kingdom does or doesn’t grow, and that is maybe we’re just bad evangelists.

Now, symbolically in this parable, the seed represents the Gospel message or the message of the kingdom, so what does the sower represent? Well, believe it or not, the sower represents you and me. The sower represents anybody who sows the seeds of the Gospel. The sower represents anybody who puts out the message of the kingdom. When you share the Gospel with your neighbor, you are the sower, and after a while, if the kingdom doesn’t grow, you might scratch your head and say, well, maybe I’m just not very good at this. Maybe I haven’t been trained well enough. Maybe I’m a bad evangelist. Maybe if I was just more articulate or more trained in philosophy or apologetics and the kingdom would grow, and we begin to think that the problem must be me.

But once again, when you look down at the parable, what do you notice? Jesus does not pin the growth or non-growth of the kingdom on the sower. It does not say that the problem is with the person who sows the seed.

Now, as soon as we say that, a few clarifications are in order. You need to hear these, these are important clarifications. To say that the advance or nonadvance of the kingdom is not dependent on the sower is not to suggest that some people are not more effective at evangelism than others. That’s not true. Of course some people are more effective at evangelism than others. It’s also not to suggest that training in evangelism doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. And there’s Sunday school classes and things we’re doing here at Christ Covenant to make us better communicators. It’s also not to suggest that we shouldn’t work to be more articulate and more careful and more clear in the way you present the Gospel. Of course they are true. All of those things are true, and yet Jesus does not identify the sower as the reason the kingdom doesn’t spread.

Why is that so important for us today? I’m convinced that this is one of the main reasons we don’t sow at all. One of the reasons we don’t share the Gospel, one of the reasons we don’t do evangelism, is because we think, you know what? I’m just, I’m just not very good at it. We think that the whole kingdom thing rests on how good we are at it. So we think, well, you know what? What if I get asked a question I can’t answer? What if I get in a conversation with a non-Christian friend and I get stumped? What if I fumble and bumble and make a mess of it? The answer is, of course, in this parable is that but God is still sovereign over that. God uses a sower even if they’re not very good at it. You don’t have to be the greatest sower to spread seed, you just need to spread the seed.

In other words, when we doubt our own abilities as a reason not to do evangelism, it’s actually a very man-centered view of evangelism. It actually makes it seem like all of the kingdom rests on how good I am at this, and again, we’re not suggesting that we can’t be better at it or train at it and so on, but Jesus comes and says, look, the problem is not with the sower. It’s a very man-centered way to think.

And intuitively I think we know this is true for lots of reasons. Some of the most notable conversions in the world from some of the most intellectually sophisticated people have not come from the fact that they met someone equally intellectually sophisticated, but often come from just meeting someone who humbly and faithfully shared the Gospel with them, even if it wasn’t that eloquent. A good example of this is Rosaria Butterfield. Right here at Christ Covenant Church, years ago, there was a co-sponsored event between RTS and Christ Covenant where we brought Rosaria Butterfield in. If you don’t know her story, for many years she was a professor of English Literature at Syracuse University. She was a radical scholar. She didn’t believe in Christianity. She was an atheist. She was a lesbian. She thought Christianity was crazy. Nowhere near the kingdom, and then she just met a local pastor who started to witness to her. And he wasn’t that intellectually sophisticated, he didn’t have a Ph.D. like she did. She could run intellectual circles around him theoretically, but yet he faithfully, clearly, just simply sowed the seed. And her story is a remarkable one because that sowing bore fruit and she was converted and she became a believer. Not because the sower was so magnificent, but because God is so great and God opens hearts, and that’s the message here, is don’t think for a moment that the reason the kingdom grows or doesn’t grow is because we’re just not good enough at evangelism.

I mean, think about it. Jesus took over the entire world and His first followers were mainly fishermen. Uneducated Galileans. If you could have pulled Jesus aside and scratched your head and say, Jesus, I know you’re trying to be nice here, but this is not the A team. Why’d you pick these guys? These aren’t going to get it done. You need, you need to get some intellectually sophisticated people in here, and Jesus is like that’s not the way the kingdom works. It does not hinge on the ability of the sower. You just simply need to sow.

I want to encourage you with that today. I want to encourage you that God can use you to advance His kingdom, even if you’re not that impressed with you. And that’s not a bad thing, to be unimpressed with yourself. But God can still use you in all your fumbling, bumbling, incomplete ways, God can use you to advance the kingdom if you just sow.

Now, of course, if it’s the seed and not the sower, then we come to it. Here’s the third point, and the point all of this has been driving to this morning in this parable, is what is the reason then? If the kingdom advances, or doesn’t advance, what is the ultimate cause of when you have something that bears fruit or doesn’t? And it’s not the seed, not the sower, but the soil. The soil of people’s hearts.

Symbolically here in the parable, there is no doubt that the soil is representative of the state of the human heart. And Jesus is getting ready to unpack this more fully, but what He’s indicating here is that the kingdom advances or doesn’t advance dependent on whether someone’s heart is receptive to is. This emphasizes a theme we start with, right? The theme we started with is the kingdom doesn’t advance all at once. It doesn’t advance in some big apocalyptic event. It advances slowly, gradually, through the way it’s received in the hearts of people. Now, of course, as soon as you say that, you might think to yourself, well, hold on a second. Are we saying that God’s kingdom is dependent on the response of the human heart and doesn’t that mean that God’s kingdom can be held up and blocked by human hearts? Doesn’t that sort of take away from the sovereignty of God? Not at all.

Here’s why – because God is sovereign over the human heart. One of the amazing things about this passage is yes, the growth or non-growth of the kingdom is dependent on the heart of the individual, but lurking in the background is the bigger theological truth, that God rules the human heart.

One of the things we’ll see before the take away here today is that if we find ourselves with hearts that are hard, the one thing we can do about is simply ask God, and cry out to mercy, that He would soften our hearts. He’s the One who holds the hearts of humans in His hand.

So if the issue is the human heart, and it is, here’s what Jesus is going to do in this last point. He’s going to say let me tell you about the kinds of hearts out there. And He’s going to mention three. Three kinds of hearts that don’t bear fruit. Or to put it another way, three kinds of bad soil.

Now as you look at these three kinds of bad soil, three kinds of hearts that don’t bear fruit, all three of these are people that in the end prove not to be Christians. These are not Christians, these are not believers. How do we know that? Because they never actually bear any fruit. These are people, though, that have problematic hearts and as we go through these three today, it’s important for us to stop and say, huh, does that sound like me? Might I have a heart like that?

So what are these three problematic hearts, or problematic soils? Here’s the three He’s going to mention: Hard hearts, fair-weather hearts, distracted hearts.

Let’s say a word about each of these. We’ll start with the first one, hard hearts. Here’s where Jesus describes the seed on the path. Look at verse 19 again:
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.”

Jesus is describing a kind of heart here. If you ever tried to plant on a path, you know the reason it doesn’t work. Paths are hard. They’ve been walked on. They’ve been stomped on. The soil is tough. The seed cannot find a way to get in there. It bounces right off, which is why the birds can come and snatch it away, just like I see in my own yard at my house. And it says here that that is the person who does not understand the message. And by the way, when it says it doesn’t understand the message, it doesn’t mean they don’t intellectually understand the message, it means that it never gets inside them, it never penetrates the heart, it never makes an impact, it never touches their soul. It just bounces right off.

I think Jesus starts with the hard heart first because it’s the most common. What’s the most common reason people reject the Gospel? Because they hear the Gospel message and it bounces right off of them. They find it uninteresting, boring, irrelevant, offensive, problematic, ridiculous, what have you. Just bounces right off. In fact, you know this because you have people that you share the Gospel with and you struggle with this, you look at it and you’re like, why is it that I say all these things and it never seems to get in there? Jesus describes this person as the first type of person who rejects the kingdom. They have a hard heart.

Of course, it’s worth asking today, and it’s worth suggesting today, that there may be some who are even here today, in this sanctuary or even watching at home on video, who this describes your heart. In fact, even as you read it, you know it describes your heart. You’re like, I’m a person who the message bounces off of. I’m a person who won’t let it in. I’m a person that stands unaffected. I’m a person that finds it boring or ridiculous and you put everything at arm’s length. Jesus says that’s the first reason people reject the message, because they have that kind of hard heart.

What do you do with a hard heart like that? The only thing you can do is cry out to the Lord for mercy, Lord, soften my heart, give me ears to hear so I can see the truth of Your Word.

There’s another kind of heart here worth noting. Not just the hard heart, it’s what I’m calling a fair-weather heart. This is the second soil, the soil of the rocky ground. Look at verse 20: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.” Ah, this is interesting. The second kind of heart is different from the hard heart because it starts well. The hard heart doesn’t want anything to do with the Gospel; the second kind of heart, the fair-weather heart, actually seems initially to receive the Gospel. There is an apparent reception of the Gospel, a little bit seems to grow, and you might think this person starts off with some level of excitement and energy, and it seems that at first glance they may be a believer.

And by the way, there’s nothing working with starting out the Christian life with excitement and zeal and enthusiasm and all kinds of joy, but there’s a question. Will it last? The test of the true believer is not just having enthusiasm. The test of the true believer is not just being excited. The test of the true believer is perseverance over time.

Notice what happens at the end of verse 21. Verse 20: “The one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,” then verse 21, “Yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately falls away.”

Why does this second person not last? Because things get hard. The Christian life is not your best life now. The Christian life can be very difficult, filled with trials, filled with tribulations, filled with persecutions, filled with doubts. Then what? This describes the fair-weather heart. The fair-weather heart is one who likes to be with Jesus when all is going well, but doesn’t like to be with Jesus when things aren’t.

Judas had a fair-weather heart. Judas in the Bible was excited to be with Jesus at first. He was like, well, golly, this guy seems like the Messiah and I might be able to sit at His right or left hand and we’re talking about a new kingdom of God, and this is great and exciting. Then Jesus says, well, hold on a second. I’ve got a message for you. This is a kingdom where you have to take up your cross and follow Me. This is a kingdom about suffering and persecution and dying to yourself, and then suddenly Judas is like mmm, no, thank you, and on the way out the door, he takes his 30 pieces of silver and says I want nothing to do with that version of Christianity.

You know, we speak of fair-weather even in the terms of sports, right? You know what a fair-weather fan is. A fair-weather fan is a fan who hands around the team’s doing well, but when the team’s doing badly, they bail. I know this because for the last 30 years I’ve been a fan of Liverpool soccer. Now some of you may think what in the world is Liverpool soccer because everyone around here’s about football, American football, and basketball, but I’ve been a fan of Liverpool soccer since the 1980s, and last week, if you track this sort of thing, last week Liverpool won the English Premier ___ for the first time in 30 years. I’m dancing around my living room all myself, and thinking, well, lots of people over in England are excited. Well, what happened there? For 30 years there was a drought, and finally we won, and someone would look at me perhaps and think, oh, are you just excited now because they won? Are you a fair-weather fan? I can at least say no, in the case of Liverpool I’m not, I’ve been fan for 30 years, even when they weren’t doing great. I’m excited they’re winning now. I’m not a fair-weather fan.

So it should be in the Christian life. We should be able to persevere even when it’s hard. That’s the test of a true believer.

Before we leave this heart, let me just make a comment to the young people listening to this message. If the test of a true believer is perseverance, when you’re young it’s hard sometimes because you haven’t had a lot of time to persevere. Some of you are going to be off to college soon. This is the test. It’s not enough to simply go to a Christian church or grow up in a Christian family or have Christian parents or go to a Christian school. The question is will you persevere when you leave? God is calling us away. Don’t be a fair-weather hearted question. Realize the true Christian perseveres even in the difficult times.

The last heart that Jesus mentions here, the last kind of soil, is what I call a distracted heart. And this is the soil among the thorns. Look at verse 22: “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.”

Now this one should hit home, too. As we look at our hearts and ask, well, do I have a hard heart? Or maybe I have a fair-weather heart. Ah, but this one stings a little, does it not? Especially as we live here in south Charlotte in the United States of America in a fairly affluent place and many of us are blessed by God financially to ask ourselves whether we have a distracted heart.

Now by the way, just simply being distracted doesn’t make one a non-Christian, but this parable describes someone who’s so distracted they prove that their affections for the world really trump any affections they might have seemed to have for Christ. In fact, they prove to have not actually been a believer at all, that ever bears fruit. They start off well, presumably, but then they realize that the world looks like a pretty wonderful place and their deceived by the riches in it.

Notice the language here, that the “cares of the world” pull them away. Boy, can’t we relate to that? The worries, the cares, the attractions, the lure of the world, to be a great derailer for people who seem be on the path of faith but then later prove not to be. And that is a great opportunity for us to reflect, even here at Christ Covenant, whether that describes us.

Three hearts that are problematic. The good news is, in verse 23, Jesus ends on an optimistic note here. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands and he bears fruit. Notice that at the end of the day, even though there’s three kinds of bad soils, at the end of the day there’s just two kinds of soils: There’s the soils that don’t bear fruit and there’s the soils that do. And that is the distinguishing mark of the believer.

Now as we look at these three soils, let me make a couple final applications here as we draw this to a close and think about our hearts.

First application, as we come to a close here, is simply this, and I’ve sort of touched on it but I want to say it again: We need to come to grips with the sobering reality, and this parable makes this plain, we need to come to grips with the sobering reality that some people think they’re Christians and they are not. That just needs to be said. Some people think they’re Christians, and they’re not. And that is particularly a problem in the United States and it’s particularly a problem in the Bible belt… Some think they’re believers and they really aren’t.

As I said already, don’t presume for a moment that you grew up in this church or grew up in a Covenant Day world or grew up in a Christian home that therefore your heart is where it needs to be. The first application this morning is very simple: It’s time for us to really seriously reflect on the status of our own heart. There’s nothing wrong with a little self-diagnosis. Nothing wrong about a little self-reflection and really asking the tough questions of the state of our heart. We do it far too little in the Christian life, and if there’s no more better opportunity than a parable like this to reflect on what of these soils is my own. Am I a fruit-bearing soil, or am I one of the three non-fruit-bearing soils?

The second application I’ll make here, as we come to a close on this, is a simple one, and that is even though there are so many things that Jesus talks about in this parable of fruit not being born, I want you to realize that this parable at the end of the day is actually hopeful. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but this is actually an optimistic parable, and what I mean by that is this – Jesus says yes, there’s many places where the seed doesn’t grow, I get that and I’m going to lay those out for you, but I also want you to know that sometimes the seed does grow.

And that is the encouragement I want to leave you with this morning. Sometimes the seed does grow and bear fruit. Why does that matter? Because I know you’re tired in your ministries, your weary sharing your faith, you’re wondering if it matters. It matters. Many will reject it, but some will receive it, and that is the optimism of the kingdom of God.

Don’t stop sowing. Amen.

Let’s pray together. Lord, we’re grateful for this parable in all its dimensions. Thank you for a chance to reflect on the state of our own hearts. Most of all, Lord, give us optimism today, that we would share the Gospel boldly, not because we’re great sharers or great evangelists, because we know You do promise to grow Your kingdom even though it grows slowly. We pray all this in Christ’s name. Amen.