“Man-Church: Preachers”

 

Over the last few weeks a couple of people have asked me what preachers I listen to.  Therefore, because of this and because of the fact that I met with the leader of our men’s ministry yesterday to speak about resources I decided to write a short blog listing some of the preachers I listen to and whose ministries have been particularly popular among young men.  Whilst they are all very different what seems to link their styles is their passionate delivery, their understanding of contemporary culture and their unswerving belief in the authority of scripture.

  1. Eric Mason http://www.epiphanyfellowship.org/resources/sermon
  2. J D Greear http://www.summitrdu.com/messages/
  3. Dr Tony Evans http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/the-alternative/listen/
  4. Craig Groschel http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/archive/
  5. Matt Chandler http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/
  6. Tim Chaddick http://realityla.com/category/teachings/
  7. Matt Carter http://austinstone.org/resources/sermons
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“He Breaks the Power of Cancelled Sin & Sets the Prisoner Free” – Wesleyan Self-Examination

Although, we will never be entirely free from sin until Christ returns that does not mean that we should not seek after a growth in Gospel holiness and ruthlessly put to death the old nature.  For this reason I have uploaded the following devotion and whilst you might not agree with everything it is a useful tool in Christian discipleship.

“The questions have their origin in the spiritual accountability group started by Wesley when he was a student at Oxford — a group that detractors called “The Holy Club.” The first list appeared about 1729 or 1730 in the preface to Wesley’s second Oxford Diary. Similar questions appeared in his 1733 A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week. As late as 1781, Wesley published a list of questions like this in the Arminian Magazine.” [1]

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Do I pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  3. Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the tax collectors?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

[1] http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/selfexam.htm

What Must I do to be Saved? [Luke 10:25-42]

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Sermon Audio [why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Whilst we often concern ourselves with questions regarding our employment, happiness and appearance, the most fundamental question that can be asked is regarding our standing with God and our eternal destination.  Within this passage, Luke shows us in a masterly way that these can only be obtained by the Law or the Gospel.

 

Love Others [Luke 10:25-37]

25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”

28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed,[j] he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?”

37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Jesus, whilst having a private conversation with His disciples [Luke 10:23-24], is interrupted by a theologian who seeks to test Him publicly by asking Him the deed or deeds that need to be accomplished “to inherit eternal life.”[1]  Jesus replies by asking him his opinions upon the matter, at which point the lawyer responds by a popular summation of the Law – love God and love others.  Interestingly, Jesus concurs, something that He does on another similar occasion [Luke 18:18-21], thereby showing that a perfect fulfilment of Law obtains for man God’s favour and eternal life.  This lawyer, however, is not happy to leave it there, “wanting to justify himself” he goes on to ask Jesus “who is my neighbour?”  It is here that Jesus shares with him a parable, which shows that our neighbour is any person who finds themselves in need, regardless of their race, religion or enmity towards us.

APPLICATION: Despite the fact that many people see Christianity as a regressive force, no one can help but acknowledge that the intrinsic worth of the individual is exclusive to Christian ethics even if the Church has not always practised it.  However, in places and in times in which it has, even “undesirables” like convicts, the handicapped and the mentally insane were treated with a dignity that was almost totally lacking in the so-called bastions of civilisation like Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome.  This week why not look for ways in which we might be a better neighbour for those who are truly in need.  This could be through volunteering within the local school or a charity group for the disadvantaged, visiting people in prison or even offering help the sick or elderly people within our community.[2]

 

Love God [Luke 10:38-42]

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

Here, Luke to realise that the parable may be misunderstood and lead some towards a works-based-righteousness and therefore places another account into the text to compliment it.  Within this passage, Jesus goes to visit His dear friends Mary and Martha [John 11:5].  In this account, we find that while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching, Martha is “distracted with much serving,” so much so, that she begins to show contempt for Jesus.  Jesus responds firmly but lovingly, reminding her of the significance of His teaching over good works.  This does not mean that we are to create a false dichotomy between doctrine and deeds [James 2:17-22] like the lawyer did, but it does mean that deeds done without an understanding and love of doctrine can often lead to resentment towards Jesus and sometimes an abandonment of the faith.

APPLICATION: Historically, the Church placed its core doctrine in creeds.  Why not try and memorise either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed.  My wife and I merely read the Apostle’s Creed for a 30 day period after our evening meal and unintentionally memorised it, so it might be a lot easy than you think.

http://www.ccel.org/creeds/apostles.creed.html

http://www.ccel.org/creeds/nicene.creed.html

 

Love the Gospel

Whilst a fulfilment of the Law grants eternal life, man in his natural state, is unable to fulfil it and therefore needs somebody to fulfil the Law for him and through him.  This is the Gospel, that Christ did not need to fulfil the Law on His own behalf but fulfilled it on ours, took our sin and transmitted to us His righteousness [2 Corinthians 5:21].  Having done this He fills us with His Spirit which allows us to fulfil it for ourselves [Ezekiel 36:25-28, 2 Peter 1:3].  I am not saying that the regenerate believer will not still struggle with sin though [Romans 7:14-21] but by the power of the Spirit a practical and progressive righteousness will ensue in almost all genuine cases of conversion [1 Corinthians 3:10-15].

APPLICATION: Whilst there are many who regard the filling of the Spirit as some kind of ‘second blessing,’ the Scripture teaches that it is synonymous with genuine conversion [Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-28, John 7:38-39, 1 Corinthians 12:13 and  Romans 8:9] which comes by God’s grace [Galatians 3:1-2] and is followed by subsequent in-fillings [Ephesians 5:18-21].  Therefore, I would exhort you to seek God’s empowerment for holiness daily and receive it by faith whether it is accompanied by an intense emotional experience or supernatural phenomena or not.  True authenticity of the presence of the Spirit will be evident in the way you begin to think and live and not necessarily in sensational manifestations.

 

 


[1] These “lawyers,” “scribes,” or “experts in religious law” belonged to either the Sadducees or Pharisees and were full-time students of the bible, not too dissimilar to our bible college lecturer or theologians.

[2] So as not to disempower people or bring unnecessary risk, please exercise some wisdom because not in need of help is actually looking for help.  I would advise you to take care that your deeds are not misinterpreted as manipulation or interference.  Moreover, I would ask you to exercise caution in lending or giving money particularly if you do not know if it will be misspent or cause offence.  Remember, it is better to give a hand-up rather than a hand-out.

The Cost of Discipleship [Luke 9:57-10:24]

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Sermon Link [why not have a listen to the sermon?]

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his exploration of the freeness of grace and the costliness of discipleship, wrote:

“To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. … the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.”[1]

 This emphasis, however, is sadly lacking within modern evangelicalism.  The fear of legalism and works-based righteousness has produced, instead, an anaemic form of Christianity that might best be described as the Gospel about Jesus instead of the Gospel of Jesus.  I am not saying that discipleship is the way in which we are right with God [Galatians 3:11] BUT that it should be the normal response of spiritual rebirth [Ezekiel 36:25-27].

 

1. The Call to Follow

57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” 61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:57-62 NKJV

 

As Jesus is moving from the region of Galilee in the North to the region of Judea in the South He comes across three prospective disciples.  The first, however, whilst he is eager to join has not clearly understood that Jesus has been refused hospitality in Samaria and therefore has nowhere to sleep and is effectively homeless [Luke 9:51-53].  The second man is asked to become a disciple but wants to wait until his father is buried and the third man wants to go home first and say goodbye to his family.[2]  Whilst this may seem harsh to us, what we must remember is that Jesus was in His final year of ministry at this time, which meant there was a sense of great urgency about His mission, an urgency that at times must be present within our own lives.

APPLICATION: Whilst we are weak and fallen individuals unable to follow the call, let us ask that God might give us the grace to count the cost, follow immediately and not look back.  This week look at the different areas of your life; these might include your intellect, time keeping, thought life, your finances, relationships or work.  Ask that God may allow you to see practical ways in which these might be used for His glory; if however, there are areas which do not bring Him glory you must turn your back on these things and begin to follow wholeheartedly.  This will not be easy and therefore must be done in prayer and in the counsel of mature believers.

 

2. The Command to Go

10 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ 12 ButI say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city. Luke 10:1-12 NKJV

 

Having whittled down these would-be followers to seventyish (the manuscripts are equally divided between seventy and seventy-two) Jesus commissions them for a mission trip.  On this mission trip Jesus gives them a plethora of principles that we can draw for our own lives.  Mission is better accomplished in partnership [v1] and while it is the job of all Christians, most don’t want to get involved so we need to pray for more workers [v2].  It will also involve great danger [v3], a sense of urgency [v4] and a dependence upon God and His people for provision [v5-7a].  It goes on to teach that we shouldn’t keep moving around until our mission is accomplished [v7b], that we shouldn’t be fussy at the provision we are given [v8], that there should be a proclamation and a demonstration of the Gospel [v9] and finally that we should not be embarrassed at God’s righteous indignation of sin [v10-12].

APPLICATION: I would like to encourage you to live missionally as that is what Christ requires of us all [John 20:21].  Please do not make others your pet-project or overwhelm them by becoming annoyingly overfamiliar before you even know them though; this only makes people suspicious of your motives and actually repels people from the Gospel.  Instead, try living more inclusively and developing actual friendships within your neighborhood and workplace; be ready to give an account of your faith, by all means, but please refrain from an aggressive, all-guns-blazing approach.

 

3. The Cause for Celebration

17 Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but ratherrejoice because your names are written in heaven.” 21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 22 Allthings have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  Luke 10:17-22

 

The seventy return and begin celebrating their triumph over demons, something the twelve were unable to do earlier [Luke 9:38-41].  Jesus, however, tells them that they must not rejoice in what they do but where they are going, for even exemplary outward service is not an indicator of inner motives or of eternal salvation [Matthew 7:21-27].  Jesus then begins to rejoice at the fact that God Himself is the determining factor of whether someone is able to understand or not understand spiritual truth.

APPLICATION: Having understood this we must develop the utmost humility before God, acknowledging our absolute need of Him for salvation and spiritual revelation for the default position of man is blindness and enmity toward Him [Romans 8:5-8].  Over the centuries, many Christians have found “the Jesus prayer” helpful in developing this posture of humility.  Why not try and pray it throughout the week?

“Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

 

Here is a link to a film about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

 


[2] The second man’s father may have recently died, been ready to die or may have been in perfect health.  It was the job of the firstborn son to bury his parents.

It’s Ok Not to be Ok [Luke 9:27-56]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

 

It seems, to me at least, that in so many evangelical churches, positive mental attitude has replaced biblical faith, so much so that many new or biblically illiterate Christians have total misconceptions as to the Christian life, mistaking triumphalism for faith and arrogance for assurance.  This is dangerous, for a Christianity built on such a foundation is often feeble, unrealistic and brings nothing but condemnation.  What is probably worst of all, it neglects the fact that Jesus wrestled with the will of God in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:36-45], Paul struggled with indwelling sin [Romans 7:14-25], Peter was publicly rebuked because of his religious/racial prejudice [Galatians 2:11-15] and John, on two separate occasions, tried to worship an angel [Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9].

My point is not to commend these things, for in fact, the opposite is true.  It is to highlight these things so that the Christian might not be surprised at the constant battle within his/her own life, a battle that has been permitted by Christ to humble us [2 Corinthians 12:7-10] and cause us to rely upon Him and on one another.  Nowhere can this be more consistently demonstrated than in this particular passage.

Here we see the inattentiveness of the disciples who are sleeping on the mountain of transfiguration [Luke 9:32], saying stupid things [Luke 9:33], unable to cast out a demon because of their lack of faith and prayer [Matthew 17:19-21, Mark 9:28-29, Luke 9:41][1] who refuse to ask Jesus when they clearly did not understand His teaching [Luke 9:44-45] and then argue over who going to replace Him when He died [Luke 9:46-48], something that also happens at the last supper Luke 22:22-24],  not to mention the prejudice they show [Luke 9:49-50, 9:52-54].  My point is that even our so-called heroes in the faith were not perfect men and therefore we should not be surprised when these imperfections rear their ugly heads in us or in other people.  They can and will be overcome.  However, for this to become a reality, our faith must be based on Christ and His work and not on a positive impression of ourselves.

 

APPLICATION: This week I want to encourage you to accept who you are, failings and all, and understand the fact that this was exactly the reason why God chose you [1 Timothy 1:15-16].  Secondly, I want you to begin taking your faith and placing it on Him and upon His finished work and not upon yourselves.  To understand this is to understand the grace of the Gospel, which is that He has chosen you, He will preserve you and He will sanctify you [Ephesians 1:4-5, 1:13b-14].  All you must do, by His grace, is believe it and allow it to be manifest in the way you think and live.

“When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”[2]


[1] Whilst “fasting” is a type of prayer and is added in some translations to Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:39 it is not included within our best manuscripts of the New Testament and therefore should not be considered part of the original text.  This is often picked up within the footnotes.

[2] “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Bancroft

WWJD? [Luke 8:22-9:26]

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Sermon Link [why not have a listen to the sermon?]

 

When I was younger, I used to watch a TV programme called “Quantum Leap.”  In it, a physicist called Sam Beckett would travel through time jumping into the lives of other people in which he would solve some sort of dilemma before he would jump into the life of another. [1]  The Christian life is loosely analogous to this concept too, in that the new life of Christ has come alive within us and helps lead us, guide us and conform us into His image.  And while this is done through God providentially assigning us with a specific genetic make-up, leading us into and out of certain life experiences and through the power of His Spirit, it is also, to a greater or lesser extent, linked to our volitional choice.  Therefore, we as believers must genuinely ask the question, in regards to how we live our lives and the decisions we make, what would Jesus do?

Luke, in this passage, having described the demands of discipleship, gives us a twenty-four hour period within the life of Jesus – a period from which we are able to draw three integral truths for the life of the Christian and the life of the Christian Church.  These truths, however, must not be seen as exhaustive but illustrative of individual and collective Christlikeness.

 

1. The Primacy of Care

22 Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them,“Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep.” Luke 8:22-23

 

Most Christians, like their non-Christian friends and family, have very little time for other people.  Sure, we can be polite and civil (some of us at least), but our relationships with our fellow worshippers, family members, work colleagues and neighbours is often superficial at best and our care of the stranger in our midst, be it the new girl at work, the immigrant neighbours who have just moved in or the new family at Church can, at times, be appalling.  Jesus here is completely exhausted but still takes the time to still the storm [Luke 8:24], deliver a demon-oppressed man [Luke 8:27-39], heal a sick woman [Luke 8:43-48], raise a young girl from the dead [Luke 8:51-55] and feed five thousand people [Luke 9:12-17].  He did this because He believed in the primacy of care and the importance of people.

APPLICATION: As disciples we must follow His example.  This does not mean we should overstep boundaries or not practise wisdom, but it does mean that we should learn people’s names, learn a little bit about what their interests are and about their families, stop dominating conversations, share the truth in love, refuse to put them down even in jest, practise and receive hospitality and invite them into our lives or get involved in theirs, particularly if they look as though they really need our help.  It is this counter-cultural stance that makes evident the genuineness of our faith for He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” [1 John 2:6].

 

 

2. The Priority of Prayer

All bible-believing Christians agree on the importance of prayer and no-one modelled its need and the priority it should take in our lives as much as Jesus.  Even within this short period we see Jesus praying a prayer of protection against the storm [Luke 8:24], a prayer of deliverance for the demon-possessed man [Luke 8:29-33], a prayer of intercession for a dead girl [Luke 8:52-55], a prayer of commission for the twelve [Luke 9:1-2],a prayer of thanks for  the provision of the five thousand [Luke 9:16] and a prayer for revelation for the disciples [Luke 9:18-20, Matthew 16:17].   However, our lives and churches often suffer from a lack of supernatural power that results from the low priority we place on sincere, heart-felt, faith-based prayer.

APPLICATION: This week ask that God would give you the ability to pray.  Spend some time finding what places and what times work best for you.  A fruitful prayer life will have set-times (like before meals, when waking up and going to bed) and impromptu times, will pay attention to the bible and the newspaper and will be for the affairs of others as well as for yourself.  Some people may find that worship music or the sound of creation helpful when praying.[2]

 

3. A Willingness to Share

Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases…So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Luke 9:1,6

A husband who can repair an engine but is unable to cook a meal, a child who can use complex electronic equipment but is unable to use a washing machine, an office that is over-reliant on one member of staff or a Church that collapses after the loss of their pastor or worship leader are all tragedies.  These tragedies often have two things in common, an unwillingness of people to share their skills and the unwillingness of others to learn those skills.  Jesus chose to complete His mission by transferring His skills to His team, and their role, as willing disciples, was to learn and practise those skills.

APPLICATION: We, too, must be facilitating others and be willing to learn new skills whether they be in the Church, the home or the workplace.  Why not start by taking an inventory of some of the things that you are responsible for or some of the things you do well and teach others.  This does not necessarily mean that you need to abdicate responsibility, though you may, but it does mean that you can empower others.  Alternatively, you might want to get involved in areas in which you have little or no knowledge or for which you have not been responsible before.  Please remember that even the most complex task can be broken down, making it more simple and manageable.  Remember the way in which the “Karate Kid” is trained through menial tasks?

 


[2] While it is a poor substitute for creation itself the sounds of nature are freely available on the internet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdIJ2x3nxzQ

The Soil is Just as Important as the Seed [Luke 8:4-21]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement and a major contributor to the development of seek-sensitive services, said of missionaries:

“They do good work.  They pour out [their] life.  They bear witness to Christ.  They teach and heal men, distribute powdered milk, and demonstrate improved agricultural methods.  But they do all these things, and much more, while their churches grow, if at all, by baptizing their own children.”[1]

Whilst I agree with his belief that the missionary must immerse himself in the culture of the host nation, speak their language; eat their food, live amongst them, use their songs and music styles and communicate the Gospel in words and ideas that can be easily understood by the host, we see that Jesus takes the opposite tack here.  Having totally immersed Himself in first century Palestinian culture and having gathered a significant following, Jesus, by way of judgement, begins to teach only in parables so that his message may be concealed to those who are uninterested and revealed to those who are truly seeking [Matthew 13:34-35, Luke 8:9-10].

In this particular parable, one which seems to be central to our understanding of all parables [Mark 4:13], Jesus begins to tell “the parable of the soils” [the parallels can be found in Matthew 13:1-23 & Mark 4:1-20], a parable which describes four reactions to the Gospel message.[2]

 

1. By The Wayside – The Ignorant Ones

And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it… The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.  Luke 8:4-5, 11b-12

Farming, in Israel in the first century, was different from farming in the West today.  All of the various fields were separated by boulders or boundary markers and people would traverse through the fields which would harden the soil and create natural walkways.  When it came to sowing, the farmer would remove the rocks and the weeds and then  scatter the seed before ploughing the ground.  This meant that he might be able to reclaim the soil that had been used as a public thoroughfare.   Sometimes when seed was sown the ground, which had been previously walked upon, was so hard that the seed was unable to penetrate it and therefore was trampled and eaten by the birds of the air.  Jesus uses this as an example of those who are the ignorant ones, those who did not understand the message and were not interested in trying to find out the meaning of the Gospel message [Matthew 13:19].

APPLICATION: Take some time to familiarise yourself with the Gospel.  What does it mean, what does it do, who is it for and how is it made effectual?  You may find it helpful to consult the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 82-93, courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored or even speak to some mature believers within your Church.

 

2. On the Rocks – The Superficial Ones

Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture …13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:6,13

Since it was normal practice for the farmer to remove the stones and the weeds and because the parable does not focus on the sower, Jesus, we can wisely suppose that this was the seed that fell on bedrock.  Israel itself, even to this day I believe, is renowned for large limestone deposits beneath the surface soil.  This seed, then, happened to fall here, and because it couldn’t grow down it went up and looked like it was going to produce a bumper crop but because it had no root it died away.  Jesus compares this with the one who starts his journey exceedingly well but is overcome by temptation.  Having said this, I do not want the reader to think that the Christian life does not involve temptation [Romans 7:14-25] and, God-forbid, failure [1 John 1:5-8] but this is the one who is not, by the grace of God, removing himself from temptation and seeking to overcome it.

APPLICATION: While the bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another [James 5:16], as Protestants, we are often reluctant to do so.  Why not find a mature and trustworthy friend to whom you can confess your major and re-occurring struggles and who can give you good honest advice on how to overcome?  They do not need to know all the details so keep it short and to the point.

 

3. Among the Thorns – The Worldly Ones

And some fell, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it…14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Luke 8:7,14

 The third seed probably fell in an area that had already been weeded but because the roots of the weeds had not been fully removed and because the weeds were well established they grew up quicker than the seed and choked it out before the fruit could ripen.  Jesus likens this third group to those who have believed but are preoccupied with worldly things.  Maybe these things are not bad in themselves but the “cares, riches, and pleasures of life” would not let the fruit become productive.

APPLICATION: Chasing and/or living for fashion, family, money, marriage, fame, work, business, hobbies, education and food can all be things that choke out the Gospel seed.  Why not get a copy of Watchman Nee’s classic “Love not the World,” which is available free on e-book and have a read?[3]  Are you someone who lives for this world or one who longs for the one to come?  If you are unsure look at what directs your life, how you spend your free time and how you use your disposal income.  It is often a great indicator.

 

4. On Good Ground – The Genuine Ones

But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold. “When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”… 15 The ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:8,15

 In Jesus’ day, a good harvest was considered around ten percent; here then we have a supernatural bumper harvest, which Jesus compares to the seed that fell on the good soil.  These are the ones who have “a noble and good heart” [Kingdom character], “keep it” [they persevere] “and bear fruit with patience” [maybe not instantly but eventually they become productive].   It is these who can only truly be considered Christian, something that Jesus brings out in the immediate context [Luke 8:16-21].  This, however, does not mean that we are saved by a transformed lifestyle but it does mean that a changed lifestyle is normative if salvation is genuine [Ephesians 2:8-10] and while there may be exceptions to the rule [1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Jude 1:20-23] unless the seed falls on good ground there can be no lasting productivity and no assurance of salvation.

APPLICATION: When Billy Graham was a young man, a great evangelist called Charles Templeton mentored him and became a close friend.  Charles Templeton was a man who was not only miraculously “converted” but was considered a greater evangelist than Billy Graham at the time.  He went on, though, to renounce the faith and died as an apostate.  While only God knows what happened with the man’s soul, I would challenge you to watch the film, “Billy Graham: The Early Years.”  After watching it, I would ask that you consider recommitting your life to Jesus and asking that he might give you the grace for a full assurance of salvation, victory over sin and temptation and that you might be productive in all the areas of your earthly life.

 

 

[1] McGavran, 1970, Understanding Church Growth: Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids p.54 [brackets my own]