Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Four Soils and Christmas

Christmas is a season of great sowing for the church and for the Kingdom of God … all the special services and year end functions are wonderful seed sowing opportunities. Your part is to try as hard as you can to bring people to them … just bring them … or at least just invite them.

The organiser’s part of every function that bears the name Christmas is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ … He is the reason for the season, that’s such a cliché, isn’t it? But whether folk acknowledge it or not, He is the reason for the season. Over the last week lights have found their way onto and into and around peoples’ houses … whether they acknowledge it or not, the truth is they are only putting lights all over their houses because of the fact that 2000 years ago a child was born in Bethlehem of whom it was said “the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6) If that birth hadn’t happened, no one would have hung up all the lights they have hung up in the last week.

So, your part, please, is to bring folk to our Christmas programme … our part is to ensure that people hear the gospel presented clearly and in a way that challenges them to a decision … this is the work of the church because this is the work of God that we are invited to get caught up in: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed’ … in this parable God is the Sower and the seed is (in Jesus’ words in vs 19) “the message about the kingdom.” Remember, this is what Jesus proclaimed, this is what He told the 12 to go out and proclaim, this is what He later told the 72 to proclaim …. 2000 years later this is the message of the church: The Kingdom of God is near … or “at hand” … in other words it so close you can take hold it. That’s the message and the invitation: This kingdom, where “the government is upon His shoulders” … is near, at hand … the invitation is “do you want to take hold of it?” Do you want to come under the governance, the authority, the reign of one who is described as Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace … ?

That is the “message about the kingdom” … and as Jesus expands on His message in His life we see that it is the offer of new birth into a new life with new hope and new purpose, new peace and new joy as (in the words of the carol) God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav'n. And as Jesus reveals in His ministry, all of this is ultimately made possible by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ which deals with sin which is a barrier to His kingdom coming and His will being done in us, even as it is done in Heaven.

And Jesus says as we preach this good news of the kingdom during the Christmas season of 2016, and invite folk to repentance and salvation by faith alone, there will be, if you invite them, only 4 different types of people at every service or Christmas function. Those who are like soil on a path, those who are like soil on rocky ground, those who are like soil that already has weeds in it and those who are like good soil.

Now, notice that the farmer sows the seed on all these soils. No normal farmer would do that, but our farmer is God and He scatters, and tells us, to scatter generously, lavishly, extravagantly … graciously. All 4 types of soil belong in the church … this is evangelism … all 4 types of soil are welcome in the church, because all people need to be saved and all people can be saved.

‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 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.

Notice that while I am speaking words, God is actually sowing that word in the heart. We are sometimes led to believe that the message doesn’t penetrate “hard soil” people … but that is not what Jesus says; a miracle takes place every time the message of the kingdom is preached: I sow to your ears, God takes His word and sows it in the heart … to me that’s a miracle and God will do it in every person who you bring.

So what is the problem with this first soil: the message gets to their heart … but they don’t understand it! So what can we do … PRAY that they will understand the message. I don’t know if you’ve prayed that way before for folk who you love but who, sometimes stubbornly, just refuse to come to faith … but please pray this way from now on: Pray that they will understand the message. Any of our teachers will tell you that unless you can get a student to understand their work, they will probably never be able to learn it; once they understand, they almost don’t have to learn it.
Pray for understanding … when understanding comes, the penny drops.

Let’s look at the 2nd soil that will be here this Christmas:

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 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.

One of the messages that doesn’t always get preached is that while one of the “blessings of God’s heaven” in the believer is abundant life, life to the full … this does not mean that the Christian life is trouble free and persecution free. There’s a sense in which this is the message of discipleship but the root problem is really once again one of understanding … sometimes they haven’t understood (perhaps because they haven’t been taught) that the Christian life can be very difficult.
So once again, our prayers that folk might understand the Christian message, might well bear much fruit.

The 3rd soil:

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. 

As I read this parable, I think these folk are Christians, they are saved; they have roots, they are growing, but they are not bearing fruit … why?, because there are other voices that they are listening to. Now, we all have other voices speaking into our lives … we hear them all, but it’s the voices we listen to that determine our destiny. At Christmas the voice of wealth speaks particularly loudly: you need this, your life will be so much better and easier with these things, all you need is a bit more money … but never mind, we’ll give you credit.

And once again, our prayers and efforts to help people understand these things can go a long way towards bringing folk back to that place where they become fruitful disciples again. Pray that folk would understand these things when they are taught them.

The final soil:

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.

Hearing and understanding: this is good soil and good soil produces a good crop … 30, 60, 100 times what was sown. I can only speak for myself and say that I am not bearing a crop of 100 times what God so graciously sows into my life … I don’t know that I’m even yielding 60 times what He sows into my life and I need to understand why that is. How about you?

The truth is that these 4 soils occur in most saved or born again people. Certainly many weeds persist, don’t they?... and we can still be quite shallow in our faith in some areas … and quite hard and impervious in others … particularly if we’ve made up our minds on a subject. And we need to understand this, in fact I think this is partly what it means to continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). By now you realise that this is the work of discipleship, but in today’s context I’m suggesting we need to pray for understanding for ourselves… every time we come to the Word, even a well-known Word that we’ve heard so many times before, let us humbly remember that unless we are willing to say: “I understand this story completely, there’s nothing that can be added to my understanding about the Christmas story, or about salvation, or etc” You can hear the error in that, can’t you? So let’s begin to pray regularly for understanding: for ourselves, for others, for those who preach from this pulpit. … Let’s come to this Christmas humbly admitting we don’t yet fully understand the Christmas story, let’s pray for understanding and then see what new thing God brings to life in us, in our church and in Hellesdon.

So this Christmas (and in the year ahead, as we have embarked on a journey of evangelism and discipleship) let’s try our best to bring folk to hear the message of the kingdom of God and His great saving work. But let’s not just bring, let us pray for those we hope will come, or perhaps return. And let’s pray especially for fresh understanding to dawn on them and ourselves as we celebrate God coming and dwelling in our midst in the flesh.

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