On Seeds, Sheep, and Fears

Read: Luke 8: 4-21

It was a simple farm story.  Jesus’s listeners, in a highly-agrarian society, would have understood the set-up easily.  A farmer throws out seed.  Some of it gets eaten by birds.  Some of it gets choked by thorns that grow up.  Some of it falls on rocky ground.  Some of it manages to grow into a healthy crop.  Simple.

But Jesus’s disciples knew better.  Jesus was given to speaking in parables, and this story clearly seemed to have a deeper meaning. “Fill us in, Jesus,” they asked.  His interpretation went something like this: “The seed is God’s Word.  Some people don’t believe it.  Some people like it but fall away. Some people worry too much to grow.  Then there are the ones that actually mature.”

It’s never been one of my favorite stories.  It reminds me of the one Jesus tells in Matthew 25, the one about the sheep and the goats.  The sheep being the ones He keeps and the goats being the ones He tosses out. Or the story in Matthew 13 in which an enemy sows weeds in with the good seed, weeds that look like grain until the final reaping.  I don’t like any of these stories, honestly.

“Don’t take it for granted.”  That’s the point, right?  “Don’t take it for granted that you are a part of the healthy crop, the sheep, the good grain.”  Wow, Jesus, that’s a frightening thing to hear.  How will I know which I am?  What if I’m not the one I think I am?

His answer?  “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  Huh?

I only just recently had this saying explained to me.  The Hebrew word for “to hear” is shema.  But shema also means “to obey and take action.”  So what is Jesus saying?  “If you hear this, obey and take action.  Work hard to grow that crop and be the sheep.  Finish strong. Don’t make assumptions.  Make obedience.”

Which, I’ll grant you, isn’t all that comforting, either, given my track record at obeying.  I imagine his disciples felt the same.  You mean I could think I’m a Christian but get stolen away in the time of testing?  Lost in the worries of this world?  How can we be sure to get in, Jesus?  Just a few verses later, in fact, Jesus’s mother and brothers show up, expecting to get quick admittance to His company.  (They don’t.)  With every moment, the door to Heaven starts to look pretty hard to open.

Here’s what I want to say today: If you’re worried by these warnings, too, I think there’s  hope.  It means the Holy Spirit is stirring you!  If you’re scared into checking out your heart and recommitting your days to following Him, there’s even more hope.  This is why our good Savior taught these scary parables; He wants to warn you.  Stories like this are His kindness!  Like Joshua to the Israelites, Jesus is saying, “Choose this day whom you will serve!”  If you are responding emotionally to the warning, praise God!  He wants you to hold fast.  Don’t let yourself be satisfied.  Practice MORE.  Strive for MORE.  MORE maturity!  MORE obedience!

Even kinder than His warnings is the grace that the Lord showers down on His people to help them mature.  Because in the end, our assurance is based on our God’s goodness.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given the desire to obey and the perseverance to keep trying.  His death, resurrection, and perfect record paid for our failures and gave us His perfect record—what great hope, indeed!

As I write this, I am praying over you, North Wake.  I am praying that none of you will be stolen from the fields by the enemy.  I am begging our Father that each one of you will stand firm in the days of trials and testings.  Over the years, I have seen men and women sifted out of the harvest, and it has broken my heart.  Please pray for me, too, that I will be one of the sheep who remain with Him until the end.

What a glorious moment it will be, when His golden fields of grain are gathered in.  Let’s be there together, my dear church!

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash