- THE PRAYER OF DAVID (PS. 139:23-24): “SEARCH ME…!”
23Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; 24 and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)
- King David unlocks a profound truth about himself in Psalm 139 – he is not connected with understanding to the depths of his sin and the condition of his heart in weakness and brokenness. How comprehensively does an unrenewed mind and a dull, disconnected heart shape our choices, thoughts, and emotions? The prophet Isaiah understood the depths of his problem when he identified his unclean speech as a means of defilement; yet he understood that his speech was in part of a culture of unclean speech that hid the problem from his sight.
- We are often too dull of heart and disconnected from God to truly and fully appreciate how dull of heart and disconnected we are from God. Our lives are filled with unperceived sin and pride; David’s prayer was a glorious admission that his transcendent Maker knows him fully and inescapably. God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves. The prayer of David is connected to the desire to tap into the only real truth we can attain about ourselves. Only what God thinks and speaks about us is true.
- David asks God to do four things: to “search me,” to “know me”, to “test me”, and to “lead me”. David opened the whole of his heart up to God’s examination with a desire for hidden things to be revealed through testing and trials; secondly, David opened the whole of his life up to God to be led by grace out of his sinful condition and wicked way – to an “everlasting way”, or superior way that would never fail. David wanted true information about his heart condition and grace and help to be delivered from it. The knowledge of our heart and its condition knit to God’s affection and love for us can empower us to exercise faith in saying a wholehearted “yes” to God’s dealings to reveal and God’s dealings to remove.
- The parable of the four soils In Matthew 13 operates as a mirror, reflecting back to us where we truly are and what we need to say “yes” to in order to lay hold of the fullness of God’s purposes and promises in this life and in the age to come. The prayer of David is critical when approaching the parable in order to receive all that God wants to impart and train in our thinking and doing to lay hold of His fullness for us.
- THE INVITATION OF JESUS (MATT. 13:9; MK. 4:9; LK. 8:8) “HE WHO HAS EARS…!”
9He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:9)
A. The parable of the four soils is re-told three times, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The re-telling in the different gospels has noteworthy similarities and noteworthy additions and angles. The Holy Spirit takes the invitation of Jesus seriously in the recording of this parable: we need to lean in and pay close attention to this parable all three times. The Spirit desires careful attentiveness in the study and reading of each account.
- The invitation, “he who has ears, let him hear,” is also a warning that there are layers to this parable and that we will miss many of them regardless of how many times we read through it. We have to give ourselves to careful, detailed devotion in the receiving of this parable in order to get the whole of Jesus’ heart here – and we need His grace and help. His goal is our fullness without coming short (fourth soil – Matt. 13:8, 23; Mk. 4:8, 20; Lk. 8:8, 15 – “bearing fruit with patience”)
- I have found that it is helpful to read the parable, its purpose, and its explanation all the way through and then, having the interpretation, going back and reading the parable again. It has been interesting to me how much of the parable opens up in our understanding when we go back through it in this manner. We also have to recognize that this parable judges and reveals the heart as we read it and hear it. We cannot be too quick to “assign” a category for ourselves and assume that we land in a category. It is also important to understand that, in this parable, all four soils represent believers and the various ways we receive the word of God as it is “scattered” by the sower. In hearing this parable, we can be quick to think of others who fit these descriptions rather than evaluating our own heart condition.
III. 1ST SOIL: THE SEED FALLS BY THE WAYSIDE (MATT. 13:4,19; MK. 4:4,15; LK. 8:5,12-13)
4And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. (Matt. 13:4)
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. (Matt. 13:19)
15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. (Mk. 4:15)
5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. (Lk. 8:5)
12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (Lk. 8:12)
- The first group are believers who receive the word (it is “sown in their hearts”, and they “hear”) from the sower – yet it has no impact on their hearts. Why? Matthew and Luke each give us insight into why the ones on the wayside are not impacted by the word – they do not understand it therefore they trample it underfoot; meaning, they do not value it, treasure it, or nurture it.
- When one standing on the wayside sees valuable seed (“the word of the kingdom”) being scattered on the side of the road where it cannot have any impact or growth, recognizing that value simply means picking up the seed and placing it where it will grow in a healthy manner. This is the imagery that the gospel writers are emphasizing in this section of the parable: the hearers have no revelation of the value of what they are receiving and thus trample it underfoot – not spitefully but inattentively.
C. They “trampled” the seed because they did not understand what it was or why it was valuable. The enemy is not going to steal the word from the heart of someone who simply doesn’t grasp it yet – Jesus is speaking of those who hear the word but do not study it, ponder it, and dialogue with the Holy Spirit about it to apply it and obey it. Jesus speaks a simple statement to the disciples of the value of the words of Jesus and His explanations of the kingdom in Matthew 13:16-17:
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt. 13:16-17)
1. Jesus is telling His disciples that the value of what they are receiving is immeasurable. The ability to understand – to truly comprehend or “hear” by grace is a gift from God that the great saints of old longed from but did not see or receive. Jesus establishes the value of His words in a manner that was meant to set our emotional chemistry and our “bent” towards what He said. We must appreciate what those who came before us could not receive – and what we have been offered freely. We must consider, and be grateful, that we are “rich” simply by receiving the “seed” of truth sown by Jesus into our lives.
IV. 2ND SOIL – THE SEED FALLS ON ROCK (MATT. 13:5-6, 20-21; MK. 4:5-6, 16-17; LK. 8:6, 13)
5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. (Matt. 13:5-6)
20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (Matt. 13:20-21)
16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. (Mk. 4:16-17)
6 Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. (Lk. 8:6)
13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. (Lk. 8:13)
A. The second group values the word of God in receiving it with rejoicing related to understanding; and they believe for a while. Yet, while valuing the word they do not go deep in developing a root system in the truths of it. The word entered their lives and hearts but never shapes or forms their paradigms, mindsets, worldview, emotions, and values. One can enjoy much teaching – and even be convicted by it with real repentance – without ever engaging with the truth of it in a manner that transforms our desires and re-shapes and renews our thinking.
- There is an immediate benefit to receiving the truth – it sets you free (Jn. 8:32) and can be the source of great joy. But the word needs “moisture”, or the “watering” that Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 3:7 (“planting” and “watering”).
- The word that frees is also meant to be the word that nourishes and washes (Eph. 5:25-33); there is a continued journey in the word by which we are sanctified and cleansed by it as we talk to the Holy Spirit and one another about it. The word is meant to form and shape the whole of our culture and re-shape what we know to be true. The truth of the word is meant to consume the whole of our thoughts and settle our hearts, connecting us to what matters and disconnecting us from what does not. It is meant to bring us real rest related to our future and great restlessness concerning the condition of the world around us. It is meant to create great hunger for God and remove great hunger for the meaningless things of this world. Depth in the word dials us down to hear and perceive clearly in times of trouble.
- The trouble that Jesus was speaking of is trouble that He causes. It is the “sun” that comes up and scorches the rootless plants without sufficient moisture. The word itself in Matthew 13:21 causes great trouble and persecution for the believer. Because the world hates God and is on their own course apart from Him – in deep disagreement with Him (Eph. 2:1-3) – the truth and its implications are by nature disruptive to those who are comfortable in their own agendas and ways. The word of God with power disturbs and interrupts the natural course of things for wicked men. The stadium in Ephesus was filled with those who were raging at Paul because of the disruptive nature of his preaching in that city (Acts 17). Those who go deep in the word are going to find themselves in real and deep opposition to those who reject the word. The one unprepared for the “heat of the sun” will end up being scorched by it.
V. 3RD SOIL–THE SEED FALLS AMONG THORNS (MATT. 13:7, 22; MK. 4:7, 18-19; LK. 8:7, 14)
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. (Matt. 13:7)
22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (Matt. 13:22)
7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. (Mk. 4:7)
18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mk. 4:18-19)
14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. (Lk. 8:14)
A. One can value and go deep in the word but end up choked, or paralyzed, by competing desires, worries, and cares – and end up unfruitful – the word does not bring the believer into maturity, fullness, or fruitfulness in their marriages, children, or friends. Desires for the nations and for impact are in competition for desires for pleasure, comfort, and “deceitful riches”. (cf. Col. 1:9- 11 – “fruitful in every good work”; Phil. 1:9-11 – “filled with the fruits of righteousness”)