Reflections for this week (Nov 13-19, 2023)

My sermon this Sunday (Nov 19, 2023) is on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23. Here are some of my own observations and applications. You can post your own thoughts about the passage in the ‘Comment’ section below. You can find the sermon videos posted here.

  1. “That same day” (Matthew 13:1) Matthew says that Jesus began teaching on the same day that he was dealing with the accusation and rejection of the religious leaders, as well as his family’s concern for him (Matthew 12). If ch.12 demonstrates how different people responded to Jesus, these parables illustrate those different responses too.
  2. “Such large crowds” (Matthew 13:2) Today we would consider large crowds a sign of success. And yet Jesus knows that large crowds are not necessarily a good thing. It is not just the number of people, it is the condition of their hearts. As this first parable will show, there are different heart responses to Jesus, even among his fans.
  3. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matthew 13:24) This first parable does not start with these words, but the other parables in this chapter do. I think it can be inserted here; Jesus is preaching the good news of the kingdom. His parables are talking about “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11). And the seed in this first parable is “the message about the kingdom” (Matthew 13:19).
  4. “A farmer went out to sow his seed” (Matthew 13:3) Either God is the farmer and Jesus is the seed, or Jesus is the farmer and the kingdom message is the seed. Both work, though the second one seems to fit the context better. Jesus is describing what happens when he spreads the good news of the kingdom.
  5. “He was scattering the seed…” (Matthew 13:4) If the seed is the good news of the kingdom, this image of seed being scattered shows how generous God’s grace through Jesus is: “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:8) God is not skimpy with grace. It is spread generously through the whole world (the field), and no one is excluded from receiving it.
  6. “Some fell along the path… Some fell on rocky places… Some fell among thorns… Some fell on good soil” (Matthew 13:4,5,7,8) This also applies to how Jesus’s message is received by the church. Jesus came to Jewish ‘believers’ and received a “rocky” response. Think of your typical church gathering, and the message of Jesus being spread; is only one quarter of the audience actually hearing and receiving the message?
  7. “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:9) If I read this parable on Sunday morning, and then said AMEN and walked away, would that be enough of a ‘sermon’ for you? If this was all I had (with no explanation), would it be enough for me to understand? Is my heart curious and willing to put in the effort to figure out what a difficult or unclear bible passage means? Am I an active seeker of wisdom and truth, or do I passively let someone else do the work for me? Do I have ears to hear?
  8. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means…” (Matthew 13:18) The main point that Jesus seems to be making is that while God’s grace is generously distributed and shared with everyone, not everyone receives it. Some reject it altogether, some receive it with joy but only hold it loosely, some receive it with joy but it gets choked out by other loves or concerns; and some receive it with joy and eagerly embrace it until it germinates and produces good fruit. The question is, which soil am I?
  9. “When anyone hears the message of the kingdom…” (Matthew 13:19) If I were to ask you what the message of the kingdom was, could you answer? Jesus makes understanding this message the main point of this parable, and it is also the main point of his whole ministry. What is your response to this message… And if you are not even sure what it is, what is your response to that? Do you WANT to know it, will you dig in deeper to find out?
  10. “What was sown in their heart” (Matthew 13:19). Notice that the message of the kingdom is sown in every person’s heart, in every kind of soil. The problem is not that God has not sown it; the problem is that the soil (heart) does not receive the seed/message that is sown. The focus of this parable is on the heart (heart knowledge), not on the head (head knowledge).
  11. “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word (message of the kingdom) and understands it.” (Matthew 13:23) I don’t think Jesus means that they understand it fully; I think he means they understand it enough to want to embrace it. The disciples did not understand it fully, but they understood it enough to want to pursue it by following Jesus. As I see it a ‘good soil’ disciple is not one who knows it all’ but who ‘knows they don’t know it, and want to know it!’
  12. “Understand with their hearts.” (Matthew 13:15) I think this is what it means to understand with your heart. It is like parents of a newborn. They do no fully know or understand their newborn child, but they do know enough to open their heart to that child. Head knowledge and understanding will grow over time; but only because they already have a heart knowledge and understanding.
  13. “I want to know Christ… Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:10,12) Jesus is the living embodiment of the kingdom of God. Knowing Jesus (personally, in a heart relationship) is the key. We do not immediately obtain all understanding or realize the goal of kingdom living right away. But we press on – or dig in – to grow in the experience of the kingdom seed which God has graciously planted in me. I still have a long way to go, but knowing Jesus, I want to grow in knowing and living with, like and for Jesus!

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