Cross-Centered: faith that receives the word (Matthew 13)


Many of us complain about the weather but none of us can control the weather… Except there was a man who discovered something called “cloud seeding.”[1] On November 13, 1946, a plane took off from a NY airport with a unique weight load – six pounds of dry ice. The plane seeded the clouds with solidified carbon dioxide in hopes of creating enough condensation to cause precipitation. Eyewitnesses on the ground said the cloud seemed to explode, as snowfall was visible for forty miles.

The science of cloud seeding may be a modern-day marvel, but the idea is as old as day. God charges humanity to plant seeds of faith and hope in the heavens that will send the rain of God’s blessings. Today’s message is about seeds being planted not just in the heavens, but in our heart. The question is: are our hearts prepared to receive the seeds God wants to plant? Let’s turn to Matthew 13 to explore four types of heart soil.

EXAMINE           Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

13:1-3 Introduction

  • Jesus went out of the house… to reach people we must often leave our house, and our church.
  • Jesus got into a boat to speak over the water… sound amplification, innovative methods…
  • the whole crowd stood on beach… Jesus gained a hearing bc He gave a consistent message; what came out of His lips matched with His life. If our witness is not gaining a hearing, perhaps it’s bc our message is inconsistent. Too often, the cause of atheism or agnosticism of unbelievers is due to apathy of supposed believers.
  • Jesus told them many things in parables… παρα-βάλλω combined word to mean “to cast/throw alongside.”
    • In Matthew 13 Jesus tells 8 stories/parables: soil, weeds, seeds, yeast, treasure, pearls, fishing, homeowner. Some understand, many do not.
      • Imagine if I stood on Benfield Rd, stopped traffic with a megaphone and then began saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like getting pizza: Digiorno is frozen, Papa Johns is fast, Ledo’s doesn’t cut corners, MOD is a buffet dream, but Little Carmines is the tastiest. They who have ears to hear, let them hear.” Does everyone understand or agree?
      • Listening – sincerely listening – is a highly important task as Christ followers. Yet, listening is not what we love to do. We want to talk, defend ourselves, or complain – anything but listen.  
    • Simply put, a parable is an earthly story with hidden but heavenly meaning.
    • Reading Jesus’s parables we must also listen and learn from their context not just our own. 
    • We must focus on the primary lesson. We have to be careful not to read too much, nor too little. While there may be other truths or analogies discerned in a parable, generally a parable has one essential truth and application that is being communicated.

13:3 Parable of Sower

  • Recorded in Synoptics:: Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8. Also unique, Jesus provides us the interpretation.
  • A sower went out to sow seeds; a familiar and necessary action. A sower would have a bag of seed from which he would draw from and then cast the seed “broadcast style” in a very liberal manner. Some farmers may have plowed before casting seed, but many plowed after or both.[2] The seed would fall on various soil types and the farmer could only wait to see if the sown seed would grow.
  • Jesus explains the parable, relating the seed to “the word of the kingdom” (v.19). This word was Jesus’s message – the good news that God’s kingdom had come and the reversal of sin’s curse was slowly beginning to take place. The miracles of Jesus symbolized God’s power to turn back the devastating effects of sin in our life: physical health, emotional stability, mental wellness, and spiritual peace.

Four Soils

Seed among path or wayside (13:4, 18-19).
This is seed that remains on the surface and never penetrates the ground it is packed down and hardened. People and animals trample on the seed so it fails to take root to sprout or grow. Additionally, birds chirp and chow on the seed, having a convenient meal at the farmer’s expense.  

This type of person can be described as a Callous Heart. The person does not understand – beyond mental awareness or assent, but life application. In this case, God’s Word does not enter this person’s heart and become nurtured because they are indifferent. When others try to encourage or challenge them with the truth of God’s word, they are resistant and unconvinced. In all, the seeds of God’s truth stay on the surface and are swiftly erased by the vulture of culture.

  • When most people hear “Satan” they think of a mythical man wearing a red suit and pitchfork in hand. This cannot be farther from the truth. The Bible presents Satan disguised as an angel of light, a trickster and deceiver, and a ferocious predator who prowls like a roaring lion.
  • Specifically, Satan is present with those who sow the seeds of Scripture. Satan knows the power and impact of God’s word and will do everything possible to vulture the vision of evangelizing with the gospel and making disciples.
    • Distractions during the air war of proclamation.
    • Doubts during the ground war of personal teaching and one-anothering.
    • Difficulty of private devotion… tired, stressed, worried, shame & guilt from sin, or simple misunderstandings.
    • Dangers of persecution… consider the church around the world yet it thrives bc nothing is stronger than God’s word and the humble boldness of God’s people.
  • Ask for a softened heart.
  • Water pouring of a deep dive in Gospel’s to read and replicate life of Jesus.
  • Water pouring of forming habits of spending time with others who love Jesus and Scripture – like a puppy dug with its master or a toddler with its parent.

Seed among stony or rocky ground (13:5, 20-21).
This seed appears to take root but only superficially. We should not envision the farmer sowing seed on gravel, but shallow soil with limestone rock below the surface. The shallow soil would produce the initial warmth and moisture for quick germination of the seed. However, due to the heat and pressure of the sun, the seed quickly withers away. The young plant showed much potential and promise, but disappeared entirely.

This person can be described as a Counterfeit Heart. The person maybe gets baptized or joins a Bible group, or begins serving. But the excitement and shine fades. God’s Word stays on the surface in this person’s heart and they never mature spiritually. When trouble or persecution comes their true spirituality is shown. The point is that the test of time, hardship and challenge prove spiritual growth.

  •  Christians must be careful to not stay shallow but call for one another’s spiritual growth. Shallow soil is only sharing the portion of the gospel that forgives sin but does not call individuals to also follow Jesus. Along with the blessings of salvation by grace, Christians are called to take up a cross and follow Jesus (Mt 16:24-26), gouge out items that hinder our vision and amputate attachments that steer us away from holiness (Mt 5:29-30), and we are told that we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Ac 14:22). Being a disciple of Jesus means we count the cost, or we too will be deemed another hypocritical and counterfeit Christian.

Seed among thorns (13:7, 22).
Again, this seed seems to take root in the soil. But the plant’s root system is connected weeds and thorn bushes. The healthy plants grow but do so in competition with the weeds and thorns. Weeds and thorns are feisty survivors, and if consistently unchecked will choke out healthy plants and consume the ground.

This person can be described as a Cluttered Heart. God’s Word enters a person’s heart but the priorities, commitments and other environment factors of life prevent them from really growing spiritually. Jesus says, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful.” Additional cares like the friends you have, priority of activities, choices we make all effect our spiritual growth. The “thorns” of life cause us to choose whom and what is our ultimate master.

  • Thorns come to a sharp point and hurt when you touch them. The thorns in our life are items we care about and hurt when we must reposition the level of our interaction or remove ourselves from them all together.
    Is there anything in your life that first glance seems vital to you, but God’s glare reveals a level of idolatry?
  • Unfortunately, we cannot remove every weed or thorn (Mt 13:24-30); they must grow with us in a Gen3 world. Yet, we can choose to feed what we need to grow AND we can choose what grows in our immediate environment. Are you feeding the right areas you need to grow?
    “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

Seed among good soil (13:8, 23).
This seed takes root deep into the soil and is enriched by its environment. It is likely the soil was prepared and ready to receive the seed. There was no competition with other plants for space or food to grow. The seed bears fruit with remarkable productivity. It not only grows but it multiplies with abundant return on labor.  

This person can be described as a Compliant Heart. God’s Word enters this person’s heart because they are humble enough to listen and learn. They persevere learning from difficult circumstances and trying times (James 1:2-4). They rely on God to produce the results instead of doing so on their own. And their fruit spreads near and far for others to enjoy. It is likely this fruit relates to both inward character (Gal 5:22-23) and outward influence of making disciples.

It is also important to note that the good soil does not represent people who are perfect. Christians are not sinless saints but saints who are sinning less; they are progressing toward the image of Christ in character, in conduct, and in competency of service to God’s kingdom. Like gardening, some seasons will yield much and other seasons will be a struggle. But when we stop tending the soil and allow it to become dry, crusty, trampled and hardened, then we cannot blame God for our lack of fruit. The excuse, “Nobodies perfect” is often code for “I don’t want anybody pointing out my sin.” This should never be in the Christian life.

  • Good soil to receive the seed and bear fruit is the result of “hearing the word.” The verb “hear” appears 11x in Matthew 13. How do we hear God?
    • Scripture in a consistent fashion, not just random turns of a page / also why expositional > topical
    • Saints… faith may be personal but it’s not private; humility to hear from others or pride = downfall.
    • Sleep (dreams)
    • Circumstances  
  • Another takeaway in this fruitful result of 30/60/100-fold is that numbers matter and evaluation is possible.

Matthew 13:53-58
53  And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there,
54  and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?
55  Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
56  And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
57  And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”
58  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

The aim of Jesus’ teaching, or Bible study is not to fill in a blank on a paper or notebook, but to fill our life with awe of wisdom and grace. Christians are not those who know some facts about Jesus, but those who willingly follow what He says.


Close with 3 final applications

  1. Jesus calls this parable, “the parable of the sower” (Mt 13:18), not “the parable of the soils.” The focus is on the sower not the soil. Everyone knows gardening is one of life’s greatest challenges because soil preparation is something we are not entirely in control. Likewise, we cannot make our bad hearts become good soil. Yes, there are some environmental factors that we can facilitate to hear the word, but ultimately, we need God the Sower to germinate seeds of faith, hope, and love. Only God can break up the fallow ground of our hearts, remove the rocks and take away thorns that prevent roots from growing deep, and produce fruit in our life – apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
    Ultimately, Jesus – the Sower – is frequently sowing seed in dozens and hundreds of ways if we have ears to hear.
  • Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God as a seed. Yet, a single seed and something small can have significant impact. Do not diminish small actions or a small audience – take your little and entrust it to God’s hands, and He will make it much (cf Zech 4:10; Mt 25:23).
    • Take your faithful few prayers and trust God to answer in big ways.
    • Take your small steps of obedience and see how God will guide and grow your life.
    • Parents, invest moments with Scripture and praying over your child when they’re young, and watch them grow into mighty oaks.
    • Believer who’s afraid to tithe, begin your generosity in marginal percentages and observe God’s faithful provision, and that you’ll never be able to outgive the Lord.
    • Christian, take your short statements about the gospel to neighbors and friends and see if revival breaks out. #WhosYour1
    • What seeds will you begin to plant this week?

  • Jesus’s parables reveal the kingdom of God – the most important kingdom on earth. The visible expression of God’s kingdom is the church. Friends, we are in a kairos moment (unique season) that we cannot afford to push pause in our discipleship commitment and membership to the local church.

Discipleship commitment

  • GOD: I commit to Jesus Christ as Savior from my sin and Lord of my life.          
  • OTHERS: I commit to meaningful membership and participant in a small group.
  • SPIRITUAL GROWTH: I commit to serving others and sharing my resources of time, talent, and treasure. 
  • PRAYER: I commit to prioritizing praying for my circumstances and my church. 
  • EVANGELISM: I commit to being a good neighbor and gospel witness.
  • LEADING GENERATIONS: I commit to making disciples and multiplying ministry through mentoring.

[1] Illustration adapted and used from Mark Batterson, Win The Day.

[2] Leon Morris, Pillar NT Commentary: Matthew 13:3 

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