Today’s Scripture – December 19, 2016

Matthew 13:8-9, 23 (NIV) “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.
“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

The seed that fell on good soil was no accident.  Whereas the rest of the seeds in this parable, those that fell on the hard-packed pathway, on the shallow rocky soil, and into the weedy soil were stray seeds that fell where they did because of the broadcast method used to sow them, the seeds that fell on good soil are those intentionally sown to grow a harvest.

In the hearts of the crowds that surrounded Jesus on any given day, all four kinds of soil were represented.  Jesus freely spoke about the kingdom of God to all of them, but He was intentionally aiming His words at those whose hearts had been prepared to receive them, and it was in those hearts that He expected the kingdom to take root and multiply.

Those hearts were prepared by a combination of God working in them to open them up to the truths about His kingdom, and faithful people speaking God’s truths boldly and faithfully to them.  John the Baptist was one such faithful person, who had in fact been sent specifically to help prepare the soil of those hearts to receive Jesus and His message (cf. John 1:76-80).

Of course, other people had worked on the hearts of God’s people, both consciously and unconsciously.  Some mistreated those people, causing their hearts to harden instead of soften, so that when Jesus appeared, His words could find no place to penetrate.  Others taught a skin-deep brand of faith that encouraged external righteousness, but did nothing to break up the hard hearts underneath, leading them to quickly grab hold of Jesus’ teachings, but then to turn away when the path grew harder.  (John 6:60, 66)  Others loaded down the hearts of the people with so many demands, rituals, and man-made additions to the law, that when they heard Jesus’ words, those extras choked the life out of them, and prevented any real fruit from forming.

Jesus’ gospel was actually a good deal simpler than most people believed it should be.  He didn’t surround His truths with elaborate rituals and ceremonies.  It was simply the good news of the kingdom of God – that once again, and for all time, God Himself was in the process of working to liberate His people, not from Egypt or Babylon, but from the penalty and power of sin, and that whoever was willing to have faith in Jesus, and surrender their lives completely to God, could become a part of it.  That message, though often cloaked in the symbols of Jesus’ parables, penetrated deeply into the hearts of those whose hearts were soft and fertile from responding to God’s preparation, and began to immediately germinate and grow.  In the years ahead, those same people would begin to produce fruit as they shared the good news of the kingdom of God, and brought more and more people in to partake of the real life that Jesus made possible.

Father, we rarely think about this parable when we think about “sharing the gospel.”  Still less do we think about how our actions, words, and attitudes play a role in forming the soil of the hearts of those around us who don’t yet know You.  It’s easy to see that we have two roles to play in growing Your kingdom.  We need to be consistently sowing the seeds of the gospel everywhere we go, like Jesus did.  And we need to always be looking at the hearts around us, the potential new fields that we will be working, and pray that the Holy Spirit would soften and prepare them, as well as being willing to help in that work of preparation as You direct, like John the Baptist did.  Help me to do both today in cooperation with You, and to do my part well.  Amen.

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