Urgency (Matthew 13:3-10)

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“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell  along the  path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” 

Jesus ends His parable with a signature statement, “He who has ears, let him hear.” It means that if we are able to listen, we should listen, and listen carefully. The parable has a point that is not to be missed. 

That point is not actually about farming at all. It is not that farmers are unconcerned about their seed, or blind and unable to see where they are sowing, or in such a hurry they can’t be bothered to be careful. The point is that the Gospel message must be sowed, and it must be sowed hurriedly, wherever we find ourselves. The point tells us that Jesus is not simply telling a story. He is recruiting workers for the harvest!

Jesus knows that the crowd has heard Him speak to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus knows that the crowd has left the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to come out and hear Him because they know there is something about Him and His teaching that is much more attractive. But Jesus is not there to entertain the crowds any more than He was there to entertain the Pharisees when they demanded yet another sign. He is about a mission-critical task, and that task is to see the Good News of the Kingdom of His Father spread – as far and as wide as possible. 

The Kingdom is coming, and when the Kingdom is manifest the King will judge those who broke His covenant. Jesus wants to see people forgiven of their sins under the new covenant of His sacrifice so that they will not be condemned when that time comes. He sees the condition of their souls and knows the spiritual climate they are part of. He knows that their only hope for freedom is if someone keeps communicating the Gospel to them. The seed must be sowed, yet He also knows that His own time is limited. Therefore, the opportunity to get the Good News to them must be taken to its fullest advantage. 

For these reasons, each person who hears and responds to the Gospel – to the call of Christ – must be part of sowing the seed to others. Jesus tells us this parable with purpose. Unless we realize what He is saying to us and go about the same task as He did, we are not part of His solution. To let the Gospel seed grow in us, we must die to ourselves and follow Him and His purposes wholeheartedly. That doesn’t mean we must all become full time salaried ministers, but it does mean we must bear witness where we are sowed, and it does mean we must bear fruit in keeping with repentance! 

Or as Jesus put it, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Amen. 

Wherever God places you in the secular world, you are only there as a means to spread the gospel where you are.

Michael Jakes

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How will you apply Jesus’ point in the context of your life this week? 

Blindly (Matthew 13:3-9)

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“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell  along the  path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” 

Jesus’ first parable to the crowd is a story about a farmer. The farmer is sowing seed so that he might produce a crop, but in the act of hand-spreading the seeds, some is falling where the farmer knows it will not grow properly. But the farmer in this story seems totally unconcerned about that fact. Either he knows that some will fall in the good soil, and produce such an abundant crop that the ‘wasted’ seed will no longer be remembered, or he is blind and cannot see what he is doing, or he is in such a hurry that he cannot be bothered to care.

Later, Jesus will tell us the meaning of the parable. In so doing, we learn that the seed is “the message about the kingdom,” meaning that the sower is the one who spreads the Gospel. That truth unlocks the meaning of the parable, and explains why Jesus would tell the crowds the parable to start with. The revealed meaning also explains why the farmer is sowing so carelessly. 

The Gospel spreader cannot be concerned about where the seed lands. Their role is to spread it, not do a detailed soil analysis and then carefully plant it. The Gospel message – the meaning of the kingdom – is fresh and new to all who hear it. As such, the ‘seed’ bag is always full. There is no shortage of seed to sow, and there cannot be a shortage of seed to sow. So the farmer is unconcerned about where and how it is spread. 

The Gospel spreader is also blind, in that they cannot see the condition of the soil – for the soil is the condition of the souls of those the seed lands in. Only the individual and God can change the condition of their souls. The Gospel spreader cannot know when is the right time (for circumstances can change a heart quickly) and cannot know who is the right person (for the outward appearance does not reveal the condition of their heart). 

The Gospel spreader is also in a hurry. The time is limited, for no one knows the hour or day of the Lord’s return, and the task of spreading the Gospel is very great. The Gospel must be spread over the whole earth. The farmer in the parable has a limited amount of time, just as planting season is soon over and the growing season must have been started, or the crop will not be ready. So too, we are to spread the Gospel everywhere we can. We are unconcerned about where it lands, when it lands or the condition of the soil because knowing such is not possible. Therefore we spread it quickly and widely, and let God be glorified in the harvest and witness it produces! 

Disciples cannot know the conditions of given hearers’ hearts before they preach. [So] Jesus uses the … analogy of sowing before plowing; they must sow as widely as possible and let God bring forth the appropriate fruit.

Craig S. Keener

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Only God knows when and where and how the Good News of the Kingdom bears fruit. Our part is only one of faithfulness. Sow! Sow widely, sow often and sow abundantly! 

Everyday (Matthew 13:3)

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Having gone out to the lakeshore, and having seen the large crowd, Jesus   chooses to begin teaching. But where He used to teach lessons from the Law of Moses, Jesus now begins teaching using a much more indirect method. He is done arguing with the Pharisees, who listen in to His every teaching from the Law and compare it to their own interpretation. From this day on, Jesus will restrict His plain teaching to the few who know Him already, and steer His public ministry toward simpler, less ‘educated’ people. To do so effectively, He adopts the use of parables. Parables are stories that have more than one level of meaning. 

Jesus’ parables have been food for thought for two thousand years. On a surface level, virtually every culture, age and person understands what Jesus is saying. That is because the parables Jesus told use timeless illustrations from everyday life. They have a literal textual meaning, which usually is clearly understood – but also clearly not the purpose of saying it. Then there is another meaning, which is the whole point of the parable and is clearly the reason the story is being told to start with. Jesus’ parables are pragmatic, common sense stories that evoke an awareness of a more profound truth. 

He begins with, “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” As one commentator put it, “In line with typical ancient practice we are to imagine the seed being scattered by hand from a bag slung over the shoulder. The question of what margin of accuracy could reasonably be expected of such a sowing method will be of some importance […] for exploring the dynamic of the story. The typical sower in first-century Palestine was a subsistence farmer with a limited plot of land at his disposal.

Of course, today most people are not farmers. While in Jesus’ day most were, today the great majority of people live in cities – a trend that is only accelerating. Farming is the activity of the few rural people left, not the many as it used to be in Christ’s day. Many have never even visited a farm, let alone sown seed. Besides which, modern farmers use efficient machinery – they know better than to ‘waste’ seeds by hand distribution. Yet even a child knows that to grow food, you need to “sow” seed by somehow placing it in a growing medium – ideally fertile earth. Today we teach this to children as a function of a science class instead of subsistence living, but in God’s providence they learn it all the same. 

 “The parables are not merely illustrations for Jesus’ preaching; they are the preaching, at least to a great extent. Nor are they simple stories; they have been truly described as both “works of art” and “weapons of warfare.”” They are works of art in that the picture He paints, He paints for a purpose. They are weapons of warfare in that the story He tells, He tells to free people from their present worldview. 

As a master teacher, Jesus finds examples in everyday life that communicate something of the Kingdom to come. He contextualizes the teaching method to the people He is instructing. We must do likewise to reach those He is sending us, and those He sends us to.  

As Barclay puts it, Jesus’ parables “were designed to make one stabbing truth flash out at a man the moment he heard it.

Leon Morris

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Everyday illustrations are powerful tools of communication. How often do you use them? 

Teachable (Matthew 13:1-3)

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Jesus has had a busy day. He has spoken to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, rebuking them sharply for their glib demand for yet another sign. As the crowd gathered, He used the opportunity to teach all within earshot. Much has transpired so far. But the day isn’t over.

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables.”

The pressure of the crowd is intense, so great that His own mother and brothers cannot get close enough to speak to Him. He goes out of the house and sits by the lake. The crowd just moves with Him. They are insatiable. They want to hear more from the prophet. The crowd grows. Although the Pharisees and teachers of the law (the religious leaders of the day) do not recognize Him as more than a mere rabbi, the people do. They know that there is no one like Jesus, and they are determined to get all they can from Him while He is in their community. 

Jesus does not rebuke them for that, nor does He send them away. Instead, He purposefully sets off in a boat so that His voice can bounce off the water and be clearly heard by all. Then He tells them “many things”, but He does not use the same form of speech He used with the crowd inside the house, or the logic He used with the Pharisees. This time He uses parables. He finds and teaches an illustration instead of the plain fact, knowing that what they’ve come to hear is not academic theology, but pragmatic principle. 

Ministry – like everything in life – has a season. The Spirit of God moves and draws people, and it is right then that we either co-operate with the Spirit and take advantage of the season, or we don’t. It is that simple. We cannot manipulate the Spirit, and we cannot generate the season. These are works of God. Our role as His disciples is to recognize the season we are in, and to co-operate with the Spirit in that season to minister to the people He has sent to us. 

Some seasons the Lord will send you people who want theological argument. Some seasons the Lord will send you people who need straightforward spiritual truth. Some seasons the Lord will send you vast crowds who are not able to consume either – they must be given simple principles in illustration form, or they won’t be bettered at all. Sometimes you will have – as Jesus did this day – all three seasons in the same day.

What we need to do is realize the opportunity before us and adjust our ministry style to suit. The proficient disciple will have many styles to teach truth to various kinds of people. 


Whether you preach or teach, facilitate or direct, consult or coach and how you present that content most effectively is always a matter of who your audience is and their state of mind in that moment.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Only the Holy Spirit can truly prepare us to speak to any group or individual, because only the Holy Spirit truly knows their state of mind, and only the Holy Spirit can rightly influence our words and the way we say them. 

Family (Matthew 12:49-50)

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Jesus has already completely redefined the meaning of family when He  called God Most  High, “Father”. A father is a protector. A father is a provider. A father is a teacher. A father is a parent who loves you with a jealous agape love. A father is many things, and God is the epitome of all of them. To know God as father is to know God on a multitude of levels at the same time, for you must first know Him as God. God our creator. God our judge and king. God our redeemer and restorer. Our Father’s complexity is far beyond our ability to grasp, so it seems appropriate that our relationship with Him is also complex. 

Sadly, today many Christians treat each other as mere acquaintances and not part of God’s family. They are just other people to whom is extended a measure of trust on account of common identification as God’s children. But that is not what Jesus or our Father intend. “Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”” 

In calling His disciples not only brothers – but also sister and mother – Jesus is implying our relationship with each other should also be complex. Obviously not as complex as the relationship we have with God. But all the same, Jesus means for us to have a much richer relationship with each other than we might otherwise assume. 

God intends that we should know each other as “mother”. As someone who loves the other unconditionally. As someone who would forgo their own need so that the other might be blessed. As someone who always sees the best in the other, and always acts to better them. As someone who is not afraid to discipline the other, unashamed of the family relationship and does not even consider giving up. A mother is someone you can trust implicitly to be there for you, and for whom you are wholly committed to be there for them. A mother is full of compassion (Isaiah 49:15) and comfort (Isaiah 66:13). Do we have that kind of relationship with other believers? 

God intends that we should know each other as “sister”. A sister is someone you protect and care for. Someone you live life with. Someone to whom you can share your deepest secrets and trust that they will be safe for life. Someone who is there to tend to you when you are sick, and who you can rely on to stick with you through the messiness. Do we have that kind of relationship with other believers?

God intends that we should know each other as “brother”. A brother is someone who will help you, no matter what the struggle is. Someone who will labour with you toward your goals. Someone you can lean on and who will carry you if need be. A brother is a true loyal patriot, a friend of the highest order. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Do we have that kind of relationship with other believers?

Many (if not most) of us grew up without such depth and meaning in our family relationships, so we find it hard to be in such a rich relationship in God’s family. Nevertheless, so it will come to be, and so we should attempt.

So what are you going to do about the state of the church? How will you become a better member and contribute to the health of God’s family in this place?

Thabiti M. Anyabwile

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We are blessed to be a blessing, and we are loved that we might love also.

Disappointed (Matthew 12:46-50)

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All the synoptic Gospels have this scene; Jesus – surrounded by a packed  crowd – is  approached by His mother and siblings. But they cannot get near enough to Him to ask Him anything, so they send word of their arrival. Luke records, “Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.””  Mark words it slightly differently, “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”   

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that they wanted to do more than see Him or find Him. They purposed to speak to Him; “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”  

The contrast between the prior encounter and this one is profound. In the prior encounter, Jesus responded to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They had come to Him easily – no doubt walking through the crowd without hindrance on account of their authority. In this one, Jesus is about to respond to the news that His own family is working hard to see & speak to Him – yet is still unable to get close. There is contrast also in the purpose of the discussion to be had. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had a frivolous ask. Jesus’ family is likely there with an important message – for no one sends their whole family out to find one member unless it is a critically important and time sensitive matter. 

Yet both parties are disappointed. The Pharisees and teachers are disappointed because Jesus is unwilling to perform miracles on demand. Jesus’ family is disappointed because He does not immediately drop what He is doing, and instead chooses to use their efforts as a teaching point; “He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”” 

Jesus’ comment teaches us much. It teaches us that God is about His own purposes, and those purposes supersede our petition, however significant or frivolous that petition may be. His comment also teaches us that from God’s vantage point, relationship is founded on obedience, not religious authority, and not physical lineage. 

That means we cannot simply rely on our authority in the church for our prayers to be answered. Neither can we rely on all the years we have known Him. Our relationship with Him starts and ends with obedience to God’s will. As John will later write, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 

While God’s Spirit will never leave believers in Christ, His blessings may. That hinges on our obedience.

Charles F. Stanley

APPLICATION: Intentionality

When was the last time you asked the Spirit of God do search you thoroughly?

Sentencing (Matthew 12:43-45)

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Matthew is giving us a summary of Jesus’ condemnation of those who have rejected   Him. Having first compared that generation to the Ninevites (and noting that those Jonah preached to repented), and then comparing the leaders to the Queen of Sheba in Solomon’s day, Jesus goes on to speak directly to the nation as a whole. He notes, “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”  

The context of this parable (and the fact that Jesus’ parting comment clearly designates it as a parable in the first place), mean that this is not a teaching on demonology or exorcism. It is a comment meant to describe the path Jesus’ generation is on. Remember that the crowd Jesus was speaking to knew about exorcism. They knew that the final condition of a man who is only temporarily freed from demonic possession is far worse than their first state. Likewise, Israel’s rejection of Jesus will result in a far worse condition as a nation than Israel had at the time. 

Jesus’ first two comments were kind in comparison. Perhaps they were meant more for the crowds gathered around him than for the Pharisees and teachers of the law when they posed their challenge, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

But Jesus was not duped into responding as they might have hoped. Instead, Jesus uses a Spiritual example from the enemy’s camp to prophesy their future. 

Those who asked Jesus for yet another sign actually wanted to exorcise Jesus from their land and out of their people group. To that point, Jesus’ comment is not given as logical teaching to impart an understanding of what demons experience after an exorcism. It may inadvertently do that. But it is primarily a biting and scathingly sarcastic condemnation of His own religious leadership, who are not only making His ministry much harder, but perhaps also much less fruitful than if they had recognized who was walking among them. 

It was no doubt harsh living under Roman rule and occupation. But it would be much harsher as exiles from their homeland. While Herod and his ilk occupied Israel, there was at least a structure to live life by. It was a difficult life – a disordered life, rife with violence and oppression – but a life in their homeland all the same. When Herod and his enablers finally left (by way of death), a far worse Roman invasion would take place. History shows us how that reality played out. The temple would be completely destroyed in 70AD. The Jews would be driven from their homeland. Two thousand years of wandering would be capped off with a world war caused by Hitler’s personal drive to exterminate the Jewish people. The generation of those who reject Jesus would indeed find the condition of their country worse than it was at first.

If that was so for them, how much more will it be for those who can look back on all of it as history, and yet still reject Him? 

As a minister, I have never found men and women rejecting the gospel of Christ on the basis of misunderstanding or confusion. Rather, the problem is some dark place in the soul, some secret sin. The rejection of Christ is the refusal to give these things up and come to the light of Christ and follow Him.

A.W. Tozer

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Mindful of the coming judgment, let us do all we can to reach those we can with the Gospel while we can.