Birds, Heat, Thorns, & Fruit

October 18, 2010

by Don Abbott

The Parable of the Sower in the Real World

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 8:4-8

For the past five or six years the Lord has provided me the opportunity to teach His word and preach His Gospel in our local jail. It is not your typical county lock-up as it also serves as a federal holding facility. This insures quite a diverse clientele with inmates from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The initial perception of such a facility is that of a dark and separate subculture… a place unlike the “real world”. However, after spending considerable time “on the inside” and looking at it through a more biblical lens, it begins to appear as more of a representative microcosm of the world at large. Most of the same conflicts and struggles that we battle day to day appear in the jail, only in a more concentrated form. If what we live can be defined as our reality, then life behind bars is hyper-reality. All of the desperation, disappointment, disillusionment, and outright sinfulness of the world we know is amplified tenfold. In this place is where the Lord first showed me the sobering reality of the Parable of the Sower.

Verse 11: Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

Our calling in the jail ministry is the same as given to each of us, by Jesus himself, to go into the world and proclaim the truth of God’s word. This is Gospel preaching; simply to proclaim that which we know to be true.

The Son of God, God the Son, became flesh and dwelt among us, yet without sin. This Jesus obediently gave himself to be nailed to a cross, to satisfy His Father’s wrath and atone for the sins of His people. He died and was buried in a borrowed tomb, and in three days He arose from the dead. The risen Christ appeared to many witnesses and then ascended to the right hand of His Father, where He rules and reigns until the appointed day when He will return. Each of us is commanded to repent and believe in this same Jesus.

Verse 12: The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, we regularly experience this. I suppose we feel like these individuals are the easy ones to understand. They hear the Word proclaimed, and then simply dismiss it as foolishness. The Gospels and Epistles and even the Prophets of old make it clear to us that there are many who will hear, yet their spiritual ears are deaf and their spiritual eyes are blind.

Understanding this shouldn’t make us grieve any less for these that won’t hear; to the contrary. Jesus lamented their unbelief, and so should we.

Verse 13: And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

Here’s where it gets hard. You see, this speaks of individuals who hear, and they don’t reject the Word. To the contrary… they receive it gladly! This is what we hope for, right? Many inmates I have been acquainted with have first come reluctantly to hear the preacher, only to rejoice in what they have heard. Not just for a day, but for weeks and months. Listening reading, praying, testifying… it’s a wonderful thing when we see what looks like transformation before our very eyes. “Here’s a keeper” we say. “This one is in it for the long-haul”. But then some bad news comes down. They thought they were going to get off with a light sentence, but the judge slaps them with some hard time. Or maybe the wife calls. She’s found another man, so she and the kids are gone. That once exuberant faith can be crushed when the trials come. This is not a set-back. This is a departure. The one who had received it gladly finds himself in the same peril as the one who never heard it in the first place… perhaps worse.

Verse 14: And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

I have often challenged the inmates I meet with this observation- “the strongest drug I have ever seen is that first breath of air that hits a man when he walks out of this jail”. I have seen several that had received the Word, and you would be convinced that they were going to walk with the Lord when they reenter society. Folks give them assistance with food, clothes, and even employment. Everything looks great. But the promise of pleasure or the allure of the profit to be made by selling pleasure to others… it’s just like a snare, a thorn covered vine that grips and squeezes until the growing plant is killed. The saddest realization is that this is common, far too common. But again, what we see in jail is simply an amplified illustration of the world you and I live in. The reality of those choking thorns is as real in our churches as it is in the prisons. This is certainly a hard truth to bear.

Consider how terribly depressing this parable would be if Jesus had just stopped here.

Verse 15: As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Ah, the good soil. This is our prayer. As we look back at the other three examples Jesus gave us, what is left? In the first case, there is no sign of a seed at all. In the second, we see a withered remnant for a time, but it too will eventually disintegrate and turn to dust. In the third it is much the same, though it’s hard to see, because what was choked has been completely obscured by the thorns that surround it. But what of the forth? What do we see? Fruit… we see fruit! There is life, and the life that came from the seed is being multiplied. That which was given life is now useful as a vessel of life.

So what makes the difference? Is it the delivery or sincerity of our message? Is it our commitment to follow-up and discipleship? Not to lessen the importance or these things, for they are important, but no, this is not what makes the difference.

We find the Parable of the Sower in three Gospels: Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. You won’t find it in John’s Gospel, but I think perhaps it is John who gives us the most clarity as we struggle to grasp the truth of this parable.

In John 2:23, 25

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Here we see believers, genuine believers, to whom Jesus did not entrust himself. Again we ask, what was lacking? Not the message, and certainly not the messenger. They had been in the presence of the Lord Jesus himself.

Where then did these come short? Have you stopped to think what immediately follows Chapter 2? It’s John 3 the new birth!

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

This is it. This is what makes those good soil, fruit bearing believers. They are born again by the Spirit of God. They must be.

So, in understanding the reality of this great parable, where does that leave us? How are we to respond? What would our Lord have us do?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1, 2

To preach the Word; that is our calling.

And what shall we say?

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

Simply sow the Word, and trust that the Lord of the Harvest will provide the increase. Preach the Gospel and trust in him, he knows what He’s doing.

One Response to “Birds, Heat, Thorns, & Fruit”

  1. EJK said

    To personalize your conclusion, despite the fact that friends of had been faithful to deliver the gospel to me (which was necessary for me and obedient of them), if the Holy Spirit had not opened my eyes to see the glorious gospel I would still be in my sin today.

    And now I am still responsible to preach “in season and out of season” and then leave the results in God’s hands.

    Thanks for the reminder to do my part. And thanks for the reminder that I represent the Living God who saves!

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