Well, here is my latest mum report: nothing, not one single bloom. However, my irises are blooming at the rate of two per day in the warm South Texas sun. All my soil preparation, mulching, and feeding have benefited the plants I thought needed no encouragement, with no impact on the others. I have more irises blooming this year than I’ve had in three years. I may gain enough experience with different plants to know how to produce the best blooms in the future. Even so, the weather will determine the outcome to a certain extent. My miniature garden has many things in common with a farm: its unpredictability, dependence on the weather, and its ability to bring smiles or frustration, joy or discouragement. All this is leading up to the parable of the Sower. Most of us are familiar with the parable told by Jesus of four different types of ground on which the seed (gospel) falls when sown by God (the Sower). Here it is in its briefest form (without the explanation): “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8) The sower and seed are constant, but the soil varies, being either too compacted, too rocky, too thorny—or soft and receptive. Jesus told parables for the benefit of believers. “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16-17) Our Lord prepared the hearts of his people to receive the knowledge that much of their preaching, witnessing, and teaching would fall on deaf ears and hard hearts. The fruit born by his people is evidence that God’s Word has taken root in gospel-transformed hearts.
As I started to meditate on the parable, I noticed the slight differences in words used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mark wrote: “…those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20) Matthew writes, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23) And here is Luke’s, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) All three apostles caught Jesus’s central teaching that a gospel-changed heart isn’t guaranteed, but will bear fruit. More often than not, though, the gospel doesn’t penetrate or take root. Jesus’s preaching, teaching, and witnessing went unaccepted by many, so we should not expect ours to be any different. We faithfully pray for the gospel to take root, participate in ministry, and rejoice in sharing the mercy of our Savior. We do not stop; this is our fruit. God has prepared our hearts, planted his Word, and it has taken root—to bear fruit for Christ. Be encouraged that even when the “weather” (our circumstance and trials) threatens our crops, and people don’t react as we might wish, pray, or expect, Christ plants his gospel word to be heard, accepted, and bear fruit.
According to the ESV Study Bible notes, “Typical agricultural yields ranged from about fivefold to fifteenfold, with a tenfold return considered a good crop, though some historical reports tell of extraordinary yields up to a hundredfold.” (1) From this perspective, thirtyfold is a hugely successful crop of changed hearts. So even the smallest fruit generated by some believers should be considered significant. And of course, all the fruit, every single one, is utterly flawlessly transformed by the grace of the gospel. There is no imperfect fruit-bearing here, making each convert a cause for celebration. God rejoices in your loving heart for him, desire to bear fruit, seed sowing in imitation of Christ. By God’s grace alone, we have heard God’s Word and accepted it; therefore, we bear fruit.
Matthew reminds us that we have also been given understanding through Christ’s redemption. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23) As my pastors preach through the Book of Acts, I am inspired to remember the ups and downs of early church ministry. When only a few women show up for our monthly training meetings, Jesus reminds me to be content. When more women come to a Bible study or book discussion, I remember that God is the one providing the yield. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9)
Looking out on my garden, I realize that you may think that I like mums more than irises. In truth, I treasure the irises more because I haven’t had them in gardens as often, and I love their white boldness. They remind me of Christ’s purity as I am writing. Just so, Christians treasure God’s grace for fruit-bearing, in all circumstances. Luke’s summary of the parable includes the idea that the “honest and good” transformed heart gives way to patient fruit-bearing by those who hold onto the gospel. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) “No farmer has ever produced a bumper crop impatiently. No farmer can ever just throw the seed in the ground and expect fruit to be there present in abundance that same afternoon. It is easy to grow weeds, but, if you want a good crop, that can only come through careful preparation, careful cultivation, and then through patient waiting for the earth to be watered, for the sun to shine, for photosynthesis to take place, bringing together that beautiful, exciting, enchanting experience of the growth of life. It is true not only in the agricultural world, but it is true in the spiritual world as well.” (2)
Richard Phillips brings our attention to the other usual interpretation of “patience” in Luke 8:15. “Trials are important for testing and approving our faith. If you want to know if you are a true Christian, if your faith and religious zeal are real and abiding, then you must consider your reaction to trials. If you are unwilling to stand for Christ when you are mocked, if you are not able to obey God’s Word even though you seem to lose out, if you respond to bad times by shunning church and blaming God, then you have reason for concern.” (3) It is not only a farmer’s internal reaction to trials that brings the yield but his ability to make the best of the situation to benefit everyone. My brothers and sisters in Christ who use their trials to teach, drawing great spiritual encouragement from their afflictions and difficulties, are the ones who help me the most. Our women’s study of Hebrews since September reminds us weekly that God hasn’t designed the Christian life to be smooth and easy. Our character is refined, not by soft chamois, but by hard files of varying degrees of roughness. The Lord offers us rewards when we persevere in our fruit-bearing. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)
How did Christ plant the gospel in your heart? What seed-sowing milestones do you remember? How might you do the same for others? How do you hold onto God’s Word tightly and treasure his grace? Do we see all our circumstances as an opportunity to trust Christ, rejoice in him, and useful for bearing his fruit? Are we willing to use our afflictions, rejection for our biblical faith, or difficulties to bear more fruit? “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” (Psalms 92:12-15)
(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Mark 20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Matthew 13:23, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-13.html
(3) Phillips, Richard, “Turning Your World Upside Down—Kingdom Priorities in the Parables of Jesus, Page 11, P & R Publishing, 2003.
February 14, 2020