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Keys to the Kingdom

Week 2: One Seed, Many Soils

Matthew 13:3-9;18-23

INTRO: “Bible is true…”

Last week we began a new series called “Keys to the Kingdom,” and by that we mean attributes or characteristics of the Kingdom of God. We are going to look at the implications of these characteristics as we seek to live out our faith as citizens of New Jerusalem.

We began this series by exploring the meaning of the Kingdom of God through the beginning of Jesus’s ministry found in Matthew 4:12-17. We saw that Jesus continued with the same message as his harbinger, his forerunner, John the Baptist, who proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus—the King of kings and Lord of lords—is the fullest expression of God’s kingdom in heaven and on earth. But it will not be until his final return that we see the consummation of God’s kingdom, until “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”

Simply put, the Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God—first and foremost in the hearts of men and women, young and old, and then in the domain of this world. All that is corrupt will become incorruptible and the citizens of a New Heaven and New Earth will feast at the banquet of our Lord. God will be our light…we will dwell with Him and He with us forever!

That is a time yet to come. What about the here and now? THAT’S what Jesus came to usher in: a saved people LIVING a saved life as citizens of God’s kingdom.

To that end, let’s look at the first in a series of FIVE Kingdom of God analogies Jesus offers in Matthew 13. In the fullest sense this passage is 23 verses long. I’m going to read the first 9 verses and fill in the rest as we go along. [READ MATTHEW 13:1-9]

In a larger context, Jesus is preaching, teaching, and healing around the region of Galilee. He was met with opposition by the Pharisees regarding:

  • Disciples picking grain on the Sabbath
  • Healing on the Sabbath
  • Being accused of healing by the power of Beelzebul
  • The seeking of a sign

It is, in some sense, BECAUSE of opposition that Jesus begins teaching in parables.
Jesus was preaching from a boat because the crowd along the shore of the lake was large. He is seated because that’s the typical posture for a rabbi. His voice would carry up to 300 feet in that bowl-like shore line to hundreds of listeners.

Matthew 13 contains 7 analogies of the kingdom of heaven (God) using parables:

Mustard Seed
Hidden Treasure
Pearl of Great Price

We’re going to look at the rest of these analogies in the next four weeks. The word “parable” means “to cast alongside.” It is a story, or comparison, that is put alongside something else to help make the lesson clear. But Jesus called THESE parables “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”

In between telling the parable of the sower and the seeks, and explaining what the parable means, his disciples questioned him as to why he spoke to the crowd in parables. Here’s what Jesus said: “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (13:11)

In the NT, a “mystery” is a spiritual truth understood only by divine revelation. It is a “sacred secret” known only to those “on the inside” who learn from the Lord and obey Him. Jesus goes on to explain that he speaks in parables because “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not ear or understand.” WHAT DOES HE MEAN?

  • Parables were meant to explain a rabbi’s point by illustrating it. The majority of ancient Jewish parables include an interpretation. If the point of a parable was not stated, the parable would simply be a story or a riddle.
  • Rabbis had more secretive teachings that they thought only their closest disciples could handle, and they reserved these for private instruction.
  • The meaning of Jesus’s parables, then, would be understood only by those who chose to become insiders. They functioned like sages’ riddles, inviting contemplation.
  • The people in Jesus’ day were like the people in Isaiah’s day who heard the word but could not really hear and repent.

The apostle Paul also uses the language of “mystery” to explain the divine revelation of salvation through Christ to those who believe: 25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.

27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col 1:25-27 NIV

Jesus did not teach in parables to confuse or condemn the people. Rather He sought to excite their interest and arouse their curiosity. These parables would give light to those with trusting, searching hearts; but they would bring darkness to the unconcerned and unrepentant.

In verses 18-23, Jesus explained this parable of the sower and the seeds so there would be no doubt as to its meaning. The revelation of God through Jesus Christ is NOT some secretly coded message that only the clever or gifted can decode. NO! It is heard and understood by those who are open to God’s divine revelation. And that’s why there are different soils.

The parable of the sower does not begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like” (as the others do) because this parable describes HOW THE KINGDOM BEGINS…with proclamation of the Word, the planting of the seed in the hearts of people.

When we say, “Let me plant this thought in your mind,” we express the idea of this parable. The seed is God’s Word, because the Word is “living and powerful” (Heb 4:12ff). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it, and that life can be imparted to those who will believe.


Jesus tells the parable of a farmer sowing his seed on (a) footpath; (b) rocky places; (c) weeds; and (d) good soil. The soils represent different responses to God’s Word. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and be allowed to bear fruit.

Only good soil produces any crop. Three-fourths of the seed did not bear fruit because of where they landed, and Jesus gives the reasons for their unfruitfulness:

The evil one prevents God’s Word from taking root
The Christian life is too demanding for some to withstand persecution and trouble
Worldliness (personal greed and lusts) is more enticing to the hearer of God’s Word

But those who both hear and understand (comprehend/apply) God’s Word end up bearing fruit. To be blunt…these are citizens of the Kingdom of God…the New Heaven and New Earth God is establishing with the Second coming of Jesus.

Jesus was NOT describing in this parable an age of great harvest, but one in which the Word would be rejected. “Great multitudes” did not impress Jesus…seeking and saving lost people was His mission. He knew most would not receive and bear fruit.

Honestly, bearing fruit is the test of true salvation. Let me read for you some very hard words of Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount: [READ MATT 7:13-23]

What is the fruit that indicates we have heard and understood God’s Word?

  1. First, it is the proclamation that we are sinners saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Word of God in Romans 10 says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  2. Second, it is the character we possess because of the Spirit dwelling in us. Galatians 5:22-23 reveals the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  3. Third, our faith in Jesus and His Word naturally leads to good works. As James, the half-brother of Jesus, puts it: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
  4. Fourth, making disciples. The Great Commission is not the “good suggestion.” [Share Matt 28:18-20]
  5. Fifth, worship and praise of God in everything we do. We are called to do everything as “unto the Lord and not for people” (Col 3:23). We offer our lives as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, for this is our true and proper worship (Rom 12:1). We are to continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips that openly profess the name of Jesus (Heb. 13:15).

STOP!!! Right about now some of you are getting that glazed over look. You’re thinking, “Ain’t no way I can do all that! Does that mean I’m bad soil?”

Not necessarily. Truthfully, some of us in this room may be rocky or thin, thorny soil that needs cultivation. Maybe you need to have a bit more seed spread on you. Maybe you need some tilling and weeding before God’s Word takes root. Don’t quit! Don’t give up! Keep open to God’s movement in your life!

Others of us are good soil, but maybe we aren’t bearing the fruit God wants us to bear because we get stuck in the mud. Maybe we get overwhelmed by all this behavior modification.

Let me leave you with some good news. The kingdom of God is NOT about YOU jumping through a bunch of theological and ecclesiological hoops. It’s about allowing the Holy Spirit to cultivate in you a life of holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. It’s about allowing God to break up the hard, uncultivated soil in our lives so that the Word of God can take root and bear the fruit that reflects the repentant, servant heart of a Jesus-follower.

God can and will do a good work in us IF we give Him the chance! It requires of us the self-discipline to pray (talk to God), to read and meditate on God’s Word, and worship (to live a daily life of awareness and thankfulness of God’s presence). It also requires humility to admit when we are out of God’s will and purpose so that we can change directions.

These are attitudes of the heart, not behavior modifications. God will change our actions as our thinking changes. As a person thinks, so he or she is. Being good soil means being conformed into the image of Christ by the renewing of our minds…by changing the way we think. THEN we will bear more and more fruit for God’s kingdom.

A final word. The sowing of God’s Word is not discriminatory. The Kingdom of God is intended to be deployed and developed in every heart and in every culture and place. Our God is a universally loving and giving God. As such, we are called to share the Good News both near and far. We are not responsible for what kind of soil the seed falls onto. We—the Church—ARE responsible for those around us and abroad to getting a little seed on them. You never know when your sprinkling of God’s Good News falls at just the right time on just the right person. Amen.