Read Luke 8:4-21
All of this year we have been tracking the journey of the twelve disciples with Jesus. I happen to believe that their journey is a roadmap for all disciples. There are certain stages in the journey. There are certain truths that need to be learnt. Like the disciples, we are invited to “Come and see” – to investigate Christian faith. Then we are challenged to “Follow me” – to trust Jesus and to commit to Him. Then we are called to “Be with Him” – to walk with Jesus and to learn from Him.
There is more to come but that is where we are up to and, possibly, where we will leave it this year because, from next week, we will start thinking ahead to Christmas.
The disciples have been following Jesus around, watching all sorts of things happen, hearing His teaching. But what are they to do with all this information? At this point of their journey, Jesus addresses that. What are they to do with all they are seeing and hearing? What will God expect of them?
In the passage that we read, there were the parable of the seeds, the image of the lamp and the incident with Jesus’ mother and brothers. The parable was preached publicly but Jesus said that most would not understand it. That is the nature of parables. Some will get it and others not. But Jesus gave the twelve disciples a private interpretation. V.11: “The seed is the word of God.” That makes it simple. However, it is not quite that simple because the seeds also represent the people who hear the word. For example, v.15 says, “The seed on the good soil stands for those who…” The people. The different plants represent different responses to the Word. Disciples, what shall you do with what you are seeing and hearing?
Using the image of the lamp, Jesus said “Therefore consider carefully how you listen.” Listen to what? The implication is that he is talking about listening to His teaching or listening to the word of God.
The incident with Jesus’ mother and brothers also focuses on the word of God and what we do with it. “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and… What?”
At this point in their journey, this is a lesson that Jesus reiterates several times and therefore emphasises. What are they to do with all they are learning? What does God require of those who have received?
I think the parable of the seeds is fascinating. Let’s summarise it. There are four types of response.
|Good soil||Sown||Came up||Grew||Produced|
Here is a key point: the first three categories are failures. They did not produce what the farmer wanted. The whole point of planting the seeds was so that they would bear a crop. Three out of the four didn’t. There is no value in the seed just being sown or the seed just germinating but not growing. There is not even any value in plants growing but producing nothing. Relating that to us (and putting it fairly bluntly) God wants us to be productive. If we do not, we have failed.
John 15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last…
We have been chosen to bear fruit. That is the whole point. And yet many Christians don’t. Many Christians think it is just fine bearing no fruit for God’s Kingdom.
In the parable, Jesus explained three reasons why we might fail: deafness, difficulties and distractions.
Deafness. The first lot of seeds heard the word but it never sunk in. It was trampled or snatched away before they had even thought about it or let it work in their lives. Jesus said that Satan snatches it away so that they may not believe or be saved. People are missing out on salvation because, even though they hear the word of God – the hear the good news of Jesus – Satan snatches it away.
How might he do that? Busyness? Noise? “I’ll think about that sometime but I can’t now.” Gone. Or Satan whispers, “Don’t believe it. They are trying to trap you. It is superstitious nonsense.” Gone.
Sometimes, when I am reading my Bible, something convicts me but the easiest way to cope is to keep reading rather than to pause and do something about it. Just rush on; forget what I have read and didn’t really want to face up to. Do you ever do that? The word is heard but immediately ignored.
Difficulties. The seeds sown on the rock represent people make a joyful, enthusiastic start but it doesn’t last when difficulties test it. Jesus said, “When there is testing, they fall away.” There are some people whose faith is a flash in the pan. Then life throws up some difficulty and they are disenchanted with God.
Distractions. The seeds among the thorns are sown, come up and grow. This is much more positive. But other things choke the life out of the plant so that it doesn’t become mature. Jesus identified worries, money and pleasure. They take precedence in people’s lives, and their spiritual growth stops. We might even know that experience ourselves – being distracted by things other than God.
The sowing of the seed is evangelism. The seed coming up is conversion. The growth of the plant is discipleship. Those plants have grown and perhaps look like they should be producing seeds. But the scary thing is –but they are not. There can be people who look like mature Christians but they are producing nothing.
Success is the multiplication and that is disciple-making – the seed produces more seeds – 30, 60, 100 times as many.
So, the disciples. What would God expect of them? They were to pass it on what they were learning. These disciples would become disciple-makers – multiply themselves 30, 60 or 100 times. The same thing applies to us. God has chosen us to bear fruit – to be that fourth category of seeds.
Those stages in the growth of the plant also parallel the growth stages we have seen the disciples go through. The sowing of the seed is the “come and see” stage. The seed germinating is the “follow me” stage. It is the gospel taking root in our lives so that we choose to follow Jesus. The “be with me” stage is about growth – learning from Jesus – and the bearing fruit is the “go and make disciples” stage. And that is God’s expectation of us. Jesus said that fourth category of people heard the word, retained it, persevered and produced a crop.
God doesn’t light a lamp and then cover it up. That would be bizarre. Who would light a lamp and then put it in a cupboard? [Candle in fridge.] Quite the opposite. The lamp is put in a very prominent place so as to give light to others. Note that phrase: so as to give light to others. The lamps here are Christians. God didn’t save you only to hide you. No, He saved you so as to put you in a prominent place so that you could give light to others. What are we to do with the gospel? Pass it on. What are we to do with God’s word? Pass it on.
In the missional community, after a Bible study, we sometimes take time to reflect on who we could pass this message on to. Multiplication happens as we pass on what we have received. Each time you read the Bible, ask God, “Who could I pass this on to today?” Too often we focus on receiving but we should put equal emphasis on passing it on. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Illustration: Andrew passing on his programing knowledge. Passing it on is multiplication.
Every hidden thing – every sin – will be revealed. Everything will be visible. It is crucially important therefore that the gospel is passed on. Be careful how you listen. Listening is not just about listening. It is about listening and responding; listening and passing it on. Those who are open to God’s revelation will be given even more revelation. Those who want to learn will be given even more understanding. Those who are closed to God’s word; who don’t want to learn, will have no understanding.
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers turn up. Jesus gets the message that they are waiting outside, wanting to see Him. His response seems fairly tough, but what was He saying? There is a relationship that is even closer than family. Jesus’ closest bond is with those who hear God’s word… and put it into practice.
How often has we come across this same message? How often have we said that God’s love language is obedience? “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount was the story of the two men who built houses – one on sand; one of rock. The difference between them was obedience. In fact, Jesus used the same words as here. One heard His words and put them into practice. The other heard His words but did not put them into practice.
In these three teachings, Jesus tells the disciples what to do with the word of God.
- Hear it
We need to be in a place where you can hear the word of God. The crowds went out of their way to hear Jesus. Are you reading, or listening to, and studying the word of God regularly? Are you hungry to hear from God? All of the other steps depend on first hearing it.
- Retain it.
Hold onto it. Don’t lose it. Don’t let Satan snatch it away but meditate on it and learn from it. Retaining it implies that we value it and it becomes part of our life, guiding our thinking and our actions.
- Obey it.
As James says, “Be a doer of the word, not a hearer only.” When God speaks, do it.
- Persevere in it.
Even when there are difficulties or distractions, keep going trusting God’s word.
- Pass it on.
This is the goal – that we are building into other people’s lives – that the word of God is able to work in other’s lives as well because we are passing it on. The objective is that the seeds will multiply – that our lamp gives light to others also. The objective is not just that God is making a difference in us but that He is making a difference through us. We have been chosen to bear fruit.
Do you have that desire? When we make disciples by investing the word of God into others’ lives, everybody wins. God is glorified. In the same passage in which Jesus said that we have been chosen to bear fruit, He also said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Secondly, we demonstrate that we truly are disciples, because this is what disciples do. Disciples bear fruit. Disciples expand God’s Kingdom. Thirdly, Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
Those are three great outcomes: God is glorified, you show that you are a disciple of Jesus (or, as Jesus put it in the Luke passage, you show that you are part of Jesus’ family) and your joy is complete.
If you want to make a difference for God, follow these steps. Make sure you are hearing God’s word. Retain it. Obey it. At that point you will be building your house on the rock. There’s a fourth great outcome. Persevere in it. Then pass it on. And there is a fifth great outcome, of course: there will be a harvest with all the rejoicing that accompanies a harvest.
What are we to do with the word of God? Hear it. Retain it. Obey it. Persevere in it. Pass it on.
What has God said to you today? Who will you pass that on to?