Friday, July 14, 2017

Mt 13:1-23 Healing Diseased Hearts

KEY TEXT: Matthew 13:3-9 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."

KEY THOT: We have always been told in Bible Schools that Jesus spoke in parables to make his message easier to understand. But the contrary is the case: "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (vv.11-13). So Jesus taught parables to the crowds to hide the "secrets of the kingdom of heaven" from those whose hearts are hardened towards God. But he would interpret the hidden meanings to the disciples in private. 

In today's well-known parable of the sower, Jesus spoke about a sower who sowed seeds. The seeds fell on four different soil surfaces, producing four results. In his interpretation of this parable to the disciples (vv.18-23), Jesus explained what the parable means: the seeds are words of the Gospel of the kingdom and the soils are the different heart-conditions on which they fall. Depending on the heart-conditions, the response to the words of the kingdom is different:
  1. The Path (Hardened Heart): As the path has a hardened top-soil because of repeated pressing by people walking on it, it cannot receive the seed sown on it. The seed bounces off and never takes root. The path refers to hearts that have been hardened by sins. When such people hear the Gospel, the word cannot penetrate their hardened heart. The devil comes and removes whatever word that is spoken to them.
  2. The Rocks (Unyielded Heart): The rocky ground contains rocks embedded in the soil. Some part of the soil is soft for the roots to grow but where the rocks are, the roots are blocked. The word cannot grow deep. This represent those whose hearts are superficial: they receive God's word with joy, yet "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" (v.21). The rocks represent areas of the heart which remain unyielded and unhealed. We may call this people "half-hearted" because they are only half-healed. They are "sunshine" Christians--open to God's word as long as it promises abundant life and blessings; but once they hit persecution and troubles, they are off.
  3. The Thorns (Double-minded Heart): The thorns growing with the kingdom seedlings that are emerging choke the young plants and suffocated them. Jesus interprets the thorns as "cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" (v.22). The soil is good, but the thorns were not removed; they are allowed to co-exist with the seedlings. This is a double-minded heart that wants God but also Mammon (Money). You can't have it both ways. It is either we love God and hate Mammon or love Mammon and hate God: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). 
  4. The Good Soil (Obedient Heart): The fourth type of heart is one that are free from rocks and thorns: it allows the seed and its roots to penetrate deep because it obeys what it hears: "hears the word and understands it" (v.23). Luke explains more clearly in his Gospel: "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" (Luke 8:15). In other words, this soil represents believers who take God's word seriously to practice it with perseverance. They go from just believing it ("retain it") to obeying it ("persevering").
The point of this parable is not just to teach "double predestination": that 75% of people are predestined to hell while the other 25% are predestined for heaven. I think the more important message is how we can turn the hardened heart into obedient heart.

The heart is hardened because of sin. The Church needs to preach repentance in order to break the hardened heart: "Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow groundfor it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hosea 10:12). By preaching repentance, we break up the fallow ground.

Secondly, rocks in the unyielded heart represents incomplete sanctification: it says you can get saved without sanctification. But the truth is many of us come to faith in Christ with rocks strewn in our hearts. These rocks are our besetting sins, our chronic sicknesses and our demonic strongholds. The Church must proclaim the full gospel that includes "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8). The Gospel is not just message but ministry to the sinful, sick and demonized. Getting saved is great; but it is only when we are cleansed of sins, sickness and evil spirits will we be set free to become fruitful Christians.

Thirdly, the thorns in the double-minded heart represents a kind of prosperity gospel which promises believers you can have both God and Mammon. But the the end-result is the thorns of greed choking the Gospel seedlings, resulting in spiritual death of the believers who remain "churchgoers". We need to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom that includes self-dying and self-denying discipleship. We don't want to be so seeker-friendly that we avoid offending anyone by skipping the "hard sayings" of Jesus.

Our goal in ministry is to help heal everyone who comes into the kingdom with their diseased hearts--to receive healing and deliverance so more and more of God's word can take root and multiply. But if we preach the Gospel without healing the broken hearts through repentance from their sins, renunciation of demonic strongholds and renewal of their minds, we will labour in vain. We will have a congregation of pew-warmers not powerful warriors.

Abba-Father, what a privilege You have given to us, the Gospel that will heal and deliver those who are in sin and darkness. Help us apply it to people coming to faith in Christ. Amen.

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