Original Date: 07.26.2015
Four Kinds of Dirt
Bruce B. Miller
Four Kinds of Dirt
Thank you for your encouraging words. I’ve received more response to last week’s sermon than any sermon I’ve ever given. If you missed it, I spoke in response to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. You can find it on our web site. I have also published an expanded version of the sermon as a small book titled: Same-Sex Marriage: A Bold Call to the Church in Response to the Supreme Court Decision. You can find it on Amazon in Kindle and print versions. I’m most grateful for the way the Spirit used the message to transform lives: a woman confessed judging others with very harsh language; a man apologized to his boss for hateful speech from some Christians in the media, and many have sent me notes, mostly positive and a few with concerns that we were able to talk through. I’m still open to talking with anyone who has questions. Let’s continue to put our confidence in our big triune God, stand on our solid hope of Christ’s return to rule, and recommit to our mission to bring Jesus’ love to a broken world.
At Christ Fellowship, we want to make room to show Jesus’ love to all the people God is bringing to our community. Becausee are out of room for our children we began a project we call Make Room to raise money to build more space to reach people, especially children. I’m excited to share an update today. We’ve interviewed architects in two rounds of multi-hour interviews and have reduced it to our top two. We are now checking references in the hopes of making a decision soon. Secondly, we have closed on the sale of about 5 acres of our property to the south. We sold the land to Oxford Senior Living to develop an Assisted Living and Memory Care Community. Construction is expected to begin soon. We had budgeted a benefit to the church of $700,000, but in the end the Lord provided $743,000, all of which will go to the Make Room project. With your giving and the sale proceeds, the Lord has provided through you a new total of $2,657,774. So please keep praying and giving. We have reduced our projected budget to be in line with the money pledged and given because we would prefer not to borrow or borrow as little as possible.
Today we begin our new series, Roots: Cultivating Your Spiritual Green Thumb, a study of the Gospel of Matthew chapters 13 and 14. This passage comes right after a section where Jesus faced increasing opposition. Why in the world did people not all flock to Jesus? Jesus gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cast out demons and calmed storms. His teaching showed amazing insight and authority. Why would anyone not want to follow him? Jesus answers that question by telling a story.
Why don’t people follow Jesus today? Let’s get more personal. Why don’t all of us follow Jesus fully, with all our hearts? Why is everyone not totally devoted? Jesus answers by describing four kinds of dirt and three threats. The question is “What kind of dirt are you?” This question makes me think of all those ridiculous Facebook and Buzzfeed quizzes: what kind of Disney princess are you? In this case, the issue is actually quite serious. I don’t have a quick quiz for you, but if we listen well to Jesus, I think we will figure it out. It turns out that your answer matters a lot. Dirt can’t change itself, but the divine farmer can if we will actively receive Jesus’ words.
The key phrase in these parables is “the kingdom of heaven,” an important theme in Matthew, who presents Jesus as the King who has come to establish his reign. But the nature of the kingdom is unexpected, mysterious. We discover in Jesus’ parables that the kingdom is not located in a capital city, but rather is the redemptive rule or reign of God through Christ. It is both present because the King is present, and future because the King is returning. Today we are to obey the King and build communities of the King called churches.
The region of Galilee was well known for its quality soil so there were many farmers. They would sow seed by hand from a seed bag, scattering it along rows. Footpaths crossed fields, so it would be easy for some seed to fall on the worn path. Let’s read the parable itself starting in verse one. That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:1–9.)
It helped me to put the four elements of Jesus’ story in a chart. We have four types of dirt: a hard path, rocky, thorny and good dirt. We have three threats: birds, the hot sun and thorns. Then we have four results: the seed is eaten by birds, the plant is withered by the sun, the thorns choke the plant, and finally a big crop—30, 60 or 100-fold.
Because the footpaths went through the fields, during sowing season hungry birds filled the sky, ready to devour exposed seeds. This took place In Galilee, where the soil is shallow and over a layer of limestone. The hot sun in Israel could wither plants with short roots quickly. Of course, we see that in North Texas every summer when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees. Also in Israel, wild thorn bushes had to be cut back and rooted out so they did not choke out the good plants.
Jesus ends with a strong charge: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” This is a prophetic warning to open our hearts to understand and act on what he is saying. We are to actively receive his message. But what does the story mean? Jesus will interpret the parable, but first he answers a question from his disciples in which they ask the purpose of his parables.
Interlude: the purpose of parables
Jesus’ disciples asked why he speaks in parables. Follow along with the interlude in verse 10. 10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10–17.) Jesus shares two basic purposes of parables: to reveal and to conceal. To those believing in him and his mysterious kingdom message, parables reveal deeper insight. To those who deny the obvious in terms of who Jesus is and what he is doing, the parables conceal truth. The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven are for Jesus’ followers, his family. The word “secret” does not imply something to be guarded and kept from others, but rather, insider truth that others do not understand.
For instance, you would not understand our family group text. We use the GroupMe app. The name of the group itself is combination of two inside jokes. Most of the names are not real, but plays on events. The texts come fast and the inside jokes are thick and hilarious, but if you have not lived in our family, it would make no sense to you. As a family member, the texts make the memories and jokes that much richer and more multi-layered.
Jesus’ parables acted in a similar way. When you are in his spiritual family, you get the truth; but if you are not, it seems like nonsense until by faith you become an insider. Verse 15 could sound like God does not want them to understand. Once again, we meet the interplay between divine and human causation, divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Both are true. Jesus’ parables are concealed from those who hearts are already hard. It’s like the parable serves as a test to reveal the truth of a person’s heart. People harden their own hearts. God sent his Son because he loves the world and wants all to come to repentance. When people reject God, over time that rejection often hardens. But no decision is permanent. Jesus challenges everyone to hear him and become insiders by faith so they can really understand.
The huge blessing comes in seeing and hearing what prophets and righteous people longed to see for centuries. We have a similar blessing. When you join Jesus’ family, you start to understand the family group text. And you get closer and closer to Jesus. We each have that opportunity. Those who have ears to hear, who actively receive Jesus’ teaching, have their lives transformed. The kind of dirt we are makes all the difference, as we will see in Jesus’ interpretation of the parable.
The Interpretation: What kind of dirt are you?
Turn in your Bible to Matthew chapter 13, verse 18 to see Jesus’ interpretation of his parable. 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18–23.) As we did before, let’s summarize what Jesus is saying in a quick chart. We have four kinds of dirt: path, rocky, thorny and good. We have three threats: the evil one, trouble and a combination of worries and wealth. Then we have four results: no life, fall away, unfruitful, and big crop.
|Type of dirt||Path||Rocky||Thorny||Good|
|Threat||Evil one||Trouble||Worries, wealth||—|
|Result||No life||Fall away||Unfruitful||Big Crop|
What kind of dirt are you? Is your heart hard? Shallow, divided or receptive? The key to changing our dirt-type is the willingness to really listen to Jesus, to be receptive to his message, not just cognitively understanding it, but volitionally acting on it. Then God changes you by his Spirit. Let’s walk through the four kinds of dirt.
Hard: The devil, no life
The path is hard so the seed cannot get started. The threat is the devil, the evil one. We must not forget the spiritual world, the supernatural. As Ken Stoneking shared in his recent message, the devil is real and demons are real. Often when you are seeking to know God, you will experience evil attacks, nightmares, visions of an evil presence. People report feeling a pressure or an intense drawing into evil behavior they want to get out of, or even into death. We must resist the devil and he will leave, when you come against him in Jesus’ name. Tell a Christian what you are experiencing and get people praying for you. As followers of Jesus, pray for seekers and new believers against the devil who wants to steal the word away from them.
If you sense that you have a path-type heart, you are not really receptive to Jesus right now. I ask you to pray and ask a Christian to pray for you. There may be more at work in your life than you know. You may think you are being purely rational, but there could be supernatural forces at work, blinding you to spiritual truth.
The second kind of dirt is rocky where the ground is shallow so there is no deep root. Then when trouble or persecution comes, the person lasts only a short time before falling away.
Rocky: trouble, fall away
Consider whether you are rocky ground. These people hear the Word and at once receive it with joy, but they stay shallow. They have not grown deep spiritual roots. In Jesus’ day, many in the large crowds were amazed at his miracles and enjoyed the excitement of being part of the crowd, but they were not true followers. The image of the root conveys commitment. Unless you are rooted deeply in Christ, you will find it impossible to endure difficult times and opposition against your faith. When life gets hard, when the job falls through, when your health fails, when people hurt you and let you down, you bail on God. Usually you blame God that he did not do what you expected him to do for you. He is not answering your prayers. Your life is not what you thought it would be or hoped it would be. So you walk away.
True faith grows roots. How do you grow roots spiritually? First, you truly repent of your sin and personally trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. You give him your allegiance. It’s not just that you respect him or admire him, but you choose to follow him fully. You give your life to him. Then a great way to grow is by living the four practices of a Christ-follower: engage God individually in his Word and prayer, connect in a group with other believers, worship in a gathering weekly and impact others helping them find and follow Christ. Do that and you will grow roots.
The third kind of dirt is thorny. The threat is a combination of the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth that choke you, making you unfruitful.
Thorny: worry and wealth, unfruitful
Could you be this dirt? When you look around at church-goers in Collin County and ask what kind of dirt they might be, I think quite a few would be thorny ground. Our suburbs are filled with people on medications for anxiety related issues. Worry keeps us from sleeping, messes up our digestion and leads to panic attacks. American suburbia, including church-goers, are anxiety-riddled.
And what about the deceitfulness of riches? The Greek word for “deceitfulness” can also mean pleasures; both meanings could be in view. The word of Christ is choked out by the deceitful pleasure of money. Collin County is the richest country in Texas. About a week ago, we were mentioned in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in an article titled:
“A Mismatch Between Need and Affluence”
“In a state with a moderate standard of living, Collin County, Tex., stands out. The suburban area north of Dallas has a median household income . . . 64 percent higher than the state average . . .Racial and economic divides may affect life in McKinney in ways subtler than police violence. They may blind people to their neighbors’ need. Despite Collin County’s general affluence, . . .there’s one arena in which it doesn’t perform well: charitable giving as a proportion of income. Its residents give just 2.94 percent, less than all neighboring counties and the state average of 3.59 percent.”
The people of our county struggle with the deceitfulness of wealth as evidenced by our poor charitable giving. By the way, areas in the country the Chronicle of Philanthropy identifies as high charitable giving, give about 8% of their income to charitable causes, which is more than twice as much as Collin County. Ask yourself where you are in your giving. That’s one measure of spiritual maturity.
The people in this category may or may not actually be true Christians. In the parable, they exist but bear no fruit so they are of no use to the farmer. Jesus said you cannot serve God and money. In the Gospel of Matthew, generally those with no fruit are not true disciples of Jesus. Without a deep trust in God, the worries of this world and the allure of money will choke out your spiritual life. You will waste your worry and your money on what ultimately will not matter.
How do you deal with thorns? Cut them out, dig them out, get rid of them. If you identify with the thorny ground or at least can see that either worry, money or both are active threats to your spiritual growth, then face them head on. Confess and repent. God says we are to mortify or kill sin. In the power of the Spirit you can overcome anxiety and greed, worry and materialism.
On one level, all three of these kinds of dirt are not good. In the end, there are only two groups of people: those in Christ with eternal life and those outside of Christ dying forever. The Bible describes people who think they are Christians, but are not. This is one of my biggest concerns. What if some of you listening to me now think you are going to heaven? You think you are a Christian, but you are not. You are going through the motions, saying the right things, but at the end of the day, you have not bowed down before Jesus as the King of your life. You are not saved. I do not want you to face judgment day like that. There is so much more that God has for you. If you are unsure, then make sure right now. Repent and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Then by God’s power, you will become good dirt, you will be truly born again.
Good dirt: hugely fruitful
Those who are truly saved will be hugely fruitful. For the original listeners, the most unusual feature of the parable may have been the extraordinary crop. A ten to twenty-fold yield would have been considered wonderful, but 30, 60, to 100-fold would be possible, but incredible. In the power of God, when we actively receive Jesus’ Word, we can live incredible lives. You can live a transformed life bearing the fruit of the Spirit and impacting many others for Jesus. Imagine if you were a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control all the time. Only in the power of God can you experience that kind of dramatic transformation and impact.
There is no telling what God may want to do through you when you totally surrender to him. God loves to use the weak to confound the strong. He has used many young people to start revivals. He used 80-year-old Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt. When you present yourself to God, in his power he can use you to make a huge difference. We are all different and there are differing yields depending on varying gifts and circumstances, but all are tremendous whether 30-fold or 100-fold. Are you making yourself available to serve God somewhere? Are you being faithful to serve? Most of us underestimate what God can do in us and through us. If we will actively receive his truth, he will transform us and use us to transform others.
Jesus’ parable leads us to question ourselves: What kind of dirt are you? Hard, rocky, thorny or good? And if you do not like your answer today, what will you do to change it? The categories are not permanent destinies. God is inviting you to follow him fully through giving your life to Jesus. The more you resist, the harder your heart will get, the more hard of hearing spiritually, the more blind. However, the good news is that the more you respond to Jesus, the more you will see, the more you will grow.
Jesus’ point is that we must actively receive his teaching, because the devil seeks to steal the Word from you. Troubles tempt you to fall away, and worries and money choke the Word, making you unfruitful. But if you actively receive Jesus’ truth, you will be fruitful for God. You cannot be a giant spiritual oak without putting down deep roots. When you surrender fully to Jesus, all in, holding nothing back, in the Spirit’s power of God will use you to make a huge impact for him—30, 60 and 100-fold.
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