Date: November 11, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
Did you guys watch the Packer game last Sunday night? It was so disappointing! I really thought they were going to win until the fourth quarter! Some of you are thinking, “Hey, I thought the game was great! I was cheering for the Patriots!” Others of you are thinking, “Pastor Dan, enough of this Green Bay Packer stuff! I couldn’t care less who won that game!”
Well, I think this illustration would be better if the Packers would have won, but my point is this: When the topic is the Green Bay Packers, people have different opinions and different reactions.
The same thing is true for Christianity. Most of us in this room believe the Christian faith makes sense, is true, it works, it is what life is all about. We sing songs about how wonderful it is to trust, love and serve Jesus Christ.
Yet, there are a lot of people out there who don’t agree with us. Some of them say, “Hey, I have heard all this Jesus stuff and just don’t buy it. I don’t understand how any intelligent person can be so focused on someone who lived 2000 years ago.”
David Hume once said, “Christianity is a religion built upon miracles, and only a miracle can cause someone to believe it.”
Then there are those who say they have tried Christianity, but it didn’t work. I remember telling someone how I thought trusting in Jesus was the first step in dealing with a difficult situation in his life. He responded, “I don’t think so. I tried Christianity a few years ago, and it doesn’t work for me.”
When we hear comments like that, doubts can start to seep into our own minds. If Christianity is true, why do so many intelligent people refuse to believe? If Christianity is so wonderful, why do so many people who profess faith in Jesus and get involved in the church later drop out and want nothing to do with it?
Friends, one passage of Scripture which helps answer those questions and numerous others is our text today. Our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 8:1-15 (page 864). This is a story, a parable, about a farmer who plants his crop.
Let’s pause and pray the Lord would use this portion of His Word to help us realize that no matter what others may think, trusting and following Jesus is, indeed, the best choice anyone could ever make.
As a background to Jesus’ parables, Luke tells us that Jesus was traveling throughout northern Israel preaching the great news of His kingdom. The twelve disciples were with Him along with (vs. 2-3) a number of women whom Jesus had healed. That included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.
Luke 8:3b – …and many others who were supporting them from their possessions.
These apparently are the primary financial supporters of Jesus and His disciples; and yes, they are women. One of the things Luke makes very clear in his gospel is that Christianity is for both males and females. The Twelve Apostles were all men, but women played a very important role in Jesus’ ministry.
One day, Jesus addresses a large crowd that has gathered and tells a story:
Luke 8:5-8 – “A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the sky devoured it. Other seed fell on the rock; when it grew up, it withered away, since it lacked moisture. Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns grew up with it and choked it. Still other seed fell on good ground; when it grew up, it produced fruit: a hundred times what was sown.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.”
The people in the crowd can certainly relate to this story. Many of them had probably planted crops the same way. Now, when I was growing up on the farm, my dad planted corn or oats a bit differently. He made sure the seed ended up on the good soil in the field, not among rocks or thorns.
In Jesus’ day, however, the common practice was to spread the seed first and then plow up the ground. As he is spreading the seed, the farmer is not trying to be wasteful; it is just that first century farming practices were not very efficient.
This simple story is intended (vs. 9-10) to clarify spiritual truth for Jesus’ followers. However, other people may end up becoming even more confused.
It is much like if you get a pair of prescription eye glasses, the glasses will help you see better. But if I put them on, my vision will likely be impaired.
I believe not just parables, but many things the Bible teaches increase our spiritual understanding, but will simply not be understood by those who are spiritually blind.
Now, Jesus tells many different parables – 24 of them are found in the book of Luke. Bible teachers debate the precise meaning of many of them. This story, however, should be a bit easier to understand because Jesus himself tells us what the parable means.
Luke 8:11-15 – This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and fall away in a time of testing. As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, produce fruit.
Friends, the focus of Jesus’ story is the various responses people have to God’s Word, to the Gospel, the Great News of Jesus Christ. It explains why people have different responses to Christianity, just as they do to a Green Bay Packers loss. Today we are going to explore the first two responses – the path and the rocky soil; and next week we will focus on the other two responses.
The first response about which Jesus tells us is those people who hear God’s truth, but never respond to it. The seed that falls on the path stays on top of the ground, so the birds come and eat the seeds before they have a chance to germinate and grow.
Jesus says this seed is like people who hear God’s Word, but it always stays on the surface. It kind of goes in one ear and out the other. It never penetrates the mind, much less the heart. These folks may know the facts about Christianity, but it really means nothing to them.
This might include someone who hears an evangelistic message on TV or radio or a person who reads a gospel tract while waiting in the dental office. It also could be someone who sits in a Baptist church every Sunday, but the words never connect.
But how can people who hear the gospel, who know about God’s salvation in Jesus, just ignore it? Well, here are some of the reasons I hear:
- “I don’t believe in God.”
- “I don’t think heaven and hell are realities.”
- “God is loving and will let everyone into heaven, so I am not going to worry about ‘religion.’”
- “I am not interested in Christianity because I have my own religion.”
- “Yes, this Christian stuff is probably all true, but it is just not for me. I am beyond hope, and I will probably end up in hell with all of my friends.”
However, I think the most common response when people hear the gospel is choosing to just not think about it. They have embraced what I call “Apatheism.” Their basic response to God’s Word is “Whatever!”
Friends, my assumption is that if people who hear the gospel will take time to carefully consider it, they will accept it and embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. After all, there is plenty of evidence that what the Bible teaches is true. The message it spells out is indeed about the best news one could ever imagine. Why wouldn’t someone what to be a Christian?
Well, for many people the answer is they have never really thought about it and don’t really want to think about it. Why? Well, from a human standpoint, I am sure there are a hundred reasons. Yet, Jesus says the reason is because:
Luke 8:12b – …the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
Or the Apostle Paul makes the same point this way:
2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
Now, this doesn’t mean people don’t share responsibility for their apathy and blindness. They most certainly do! But, Jesus reminds us that apart from God’s grace, the gospel is not going to make sense. That’s why Paul says the preaching of the cross, the gospel message, is foolishness to those who don’t believe.
We need to choose to put on those eye glasses of faith, which the Holy Spirit provides. That is what enables us to see clearly both why the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and why it really matters.
When that happens, things will start to really make sense. You might even ask yourself, “Why in the world did I ever try to live without Jesus?” Yet, Jesus reminds us that some people who hear the gospel will not respond because it just goes in one ear and out the other. They will not see how true and wonderful it really is. The words and deeds of gospel truth we speak to them will be just like on a hardened path which the birds eat before they ever begin to grow.
The second response to the gospel Jesus tells us about is when people accept it, profess faith in Christ, but later abandon Christianity.
They don’t believe what they said they believed, and they go back to living life with no thought of what honors the Lord. These are often the folks I mentioned who are disappointed with Christianity and have concluded it is just not for them.
Jesus says this is seed that fell on rocky ground or among rocks. There is not much soil. The seed sprouts, but it quickly withers and dies because there are no roots that grow down and provide the moisture and nutrients a plant needs.
Luke 8:13 – And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and fall away in a time of testing.
Note, Jesus says these people “receive the word with joy.” They appear to be very excited about Christianity, maybe very zealous about following the Lord … but it doesn’t last. When tough times come, these folks say, “Hey, this Christianity is not all that great after all. It’s not working. It’s not worth it. I was having more fun before. Enough of this following Jesus. I am going back to just focusing on me.”
Now, some of you are wondering, “Pastor Dan, what happens to people like this? If at one time they prayed to receive Christ or went forward in a meeting, they still get to go to heaven, right?”
I don’t think so. Remember, I believe the Bible is pretty clear: Not all who profess faith, possess faith. I am pretty sure that Jesus is talking here not about people who somehow “lose their salvation,” but about people who were never truly saved.
As human beings, we look at the outside of a person. That is all we are capable of doing. God looks at the heart, the inside, who that person really is. And because of that, we can get confused. A little sprout comes out of the ground, and we think, “Ah, here is a plant that is going to grow!” God, however, sees beneath the surface. He knows that little sprout will never amount to anything because there is no root.
Friends, we may see a person in church almost every Sunday. We hear him repeat a prayer to receive Christ. We may watch her raise her hands as she sings worship songs. And yes, we assume that individual is a Christian. Yet, God may be looking inside that person and knows that our assumption is wrong. He knows there is no root, there is no genuine faith, and there is no indwelling Holy Spirit. Yes, the person may be doing some good things on the outside, but on the inside they are not trusting in the Lord Jesus.
We need to remember that coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than stepping into your garage makes you a car. There is nothing theologically profound about that analogy, but if it helps you remember that not all who claim to be Christians really are, then it is a good one. It is possible for someone to profess faith in Christ, but to never possess genuine faith.
Folks, I have known numerous individuals over the years who seem to fall into that category. One of my high school classmates was in a little Sunday School room that night in the summer of 1969. I heard him repeat the prayer to accept Jesus. Yet, in almost 50 years, I have never really seen any other indication that he is a believer.
Or I think of some celebrities – Jane Fonda, for example, who supposedly became a Christian and for a while seemed to maybe have changed on the inside, but then those changes faded away.
Perhaps most interesting are the testimonies of folks who are believers in Jesus now, but professed faith in Jesus long before they actually became Christians.
I remember the testimony of Tim Lang, a gospel singer who had served as minister of music in a church and had led hundreds of people in worship each week, but was not really a Christian.
When Tim indicated his desire to trust in Christ one Sunday after the sermon, the senior pastor wondered what kind of joke he was playing. For many years, Tim had professed faith, but at least in his view, had never really possessed faith.
Jesus says it is often difficult times which reveal whether or not faith is genuine. In fact, in Matthew’s version of the parable, he says that is what persecution does.
This reminds me of the story from the former Soviet Union. A group of about 25 Christians had gathered for worship – meeting secretly and illegally – when there was a knock at the door. They opened the door to find three Communist soldiers standing there with sub-machine guns. One of them shouted, “This is an illegal meeting! All of you stand up and put your hands on top of your head! Now, anyone who is willing to renounce Jesus Christ and affirm their allegiance to the Communist party may leave.”
For a few seconds, no one moved. Then one man stepped quickly through the door. A couple of moments later two others joined him. After four minutes, only nine worshipers remained. The soldier shouted, “This is your last chance! You can renounce Christianity and affirm Communism, or you can face the consequences!” Another two minutes went by, but no one moved. Then the soldier said, “OK,” and he and his two comrades put down their weapons. He then said, “We, too, are believers in Jesus. We want to worship the Lord with you tonight, but we only dare worship with those that we know truly love Jesus.”
Now, I want to be clear: In all these cases, I am not the judge. God is. Maybe Jane Fonda really will be in heaven. Maybe Tim Lang really was a Christian before, but just struggled with doubt. Maybe some of the people who walked out that door were genuine Christians, but like the Apostle Peter, temporarily lost their courage and denied their faith.
One of the main lessons from the rocky soil is that we really are not able to tell who is a true Christian and who is not. Because all we can do is look at the outside, we can see that green sprout, but we don’t know if there is any root or not. We really cannot know.
John Newton, the 18th century pastor and songwriter – best known for his #1 hit “Amazing Grace” – once spoke these very wise words. Newton said, “When I get to heaven, I think there will be people there that I didn’t expect to see. And there will probably be people who I thought I would see who are not there. Yet, most important, I will be grateful that by the grace of God, I am there.”
Friends, by claiming the promises of the Lord and being honest about your own soul, you can have assurance of your salvation after all. The Apostle John says:
1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
But, the fact you can have assurance of your salvation doesn’t mean you can have assurance of my salvation. And I cannot have assurance of your salvation. I am pretty sure Billy Graham will be in heaven, but I could never see his heart. Only God knows for sure.
Now frankly, I have a high level of confidence that most of you here are genuine believers in Jesus. Your words, actions and attitudes have convinced me of that. I have been serving the Lord alongside some of you for over 25 years. I have no reason to doubt that you are truly a Christian.
Jesus’ analogy is much more relevant when someone initially professes faith in Jesus. Yes, that is a wonderful and exciting thing. Whether it is your 5-year old son praying to receive Jesus, or a teenage girl going forward at a youth meeting, or a 75-year old man giving a testimony of faith as he is baptized – it is all great.
Again, there is no reason to doubt the salvation of any of these individuals. I am glad each has professed faith in Jesus. Yet remember, we only see the outside. It is exciting to see that green sprout, but we don’t know if there is a root underneath. We cannot be 100% certain this individual has truly been born again, born of God. We don’t know for sure that he/she has been regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Friends, there is one important truth we need to keep in mind. For those who Jesus describes as rocky ground – those who have professed some type of faith in Jesus, but don’t possess genuine, saving faith – it is not too late. By God’s grace, these folks can truly become believers in Jesus Christ and experience God’s salvation. That is true for all of your family members and friends who are in this category. And it is true for anyone listening today who happens to be in this boat.
So friend, if you are one of those people who have been playing a Christian game, pretending to be a believer in Jesus on the outside without any real faith on the inside, I urge you to truly turn to the Lord Jesus today.
Stop pretending, stop trusting in yourself or anything else, and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And then you will have a faith with roots, a faith which draws spiritual life and nourishment from God’s Spirit, a faith which will sustain us in this life and bring us safely to our heavenly home.