How to make a Christian? (July 26, 2020)
How to make a Christian
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Watch livestream: https://youtu.be/UaQSpkV4bvo
How do you make a Christian? What do you do? Maybe I’ll restate that just a little bit. How is a Christian made? Because that’s what we are all here for, right? It’s what Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). So how do you do it? Well, Jesus tells you how in that very same sentence, “Baptizing them… and teaching them everything” (Mt 28:19-20). I’m going to phrase it a little differently. I’m going to use Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 3(:6), because it better parallels the parable we are looking at today, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God makes it grow”.
How has that been going? Are you vigorously planting those Gospel Seeds every day and everywhere? Or have your sowing arms grown tired and weary? Have you mostly given up on sowing that seed?
I’ve seen a pattern that repeats throughout my life. After big life changes – graduation, ordination, moving – I’m diligently and excitedly sowing that seed. Or I attend a mission seminar – while I was in school we had these “Mission and Ministry” days once a year. Now it’s Pastor’s conferences, Mission Fest Sundays, or Women’s Rallies that get me all fired up and excited about sowing the Gospel Seeds! But what happens after a few weeks? You probably know. You’ve probably experienced the same thing. You sow those seeds in the days following that mission rally. You get to know your neighbors and speak freely about your faith just after moving in. And then you wait and watch expectantly for that seed to sprout. You look around in church on Sunday expecting to see that person you invited. Or you look forward to the questions your neighbor will come back with, wanting to know more about your faith. But as the days turn into weeks, and weeks soon turn into months with still no evidence of those seeds sprouting, you perhaps get discouraged. I know I do. Your excitement fades. Your zeal flickers. Your sowing arm gets tired and soon just hangs by your side. I know there are times that I wonder, “What’s the point? What’s the use? These seeds are never going to grow. Nothing I plant ever sprouts.” And so you leave those Gospel Seeds in your bag, and save them for… more fertile soil???
Let me ask you: What if God appeared to you tonight, as he did to Paul, and said, “Keep on speaking, do not be silent. I am with you. I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10)? What stands out to you in those words? First, God’s command to “Keep on speaking, do not be silent” jumped out. For Paul, this was spoken at a time when people weren’t just apathetic, they opposed Paul and became abusive! And God said, “Keep on speaking!” Why? What’s the point? God continues, “I have many people in this city.” In context, God was speaking specifically about Corinth. But what about Temple? Do the same words apply? Does God have many people in this city or are we it? Are the Christian churches here in Temple all that there is and there will never be a new person to come to faith? God’s statement remains true! “I have many people in this city.” And since you and I will never know how many still need to be reached, we must simply follow God’s command to keep on speaking! Do not be silent! God promises, “I am with you.”
In the parable of the sower, that we are focusing on today, I’ve always been a little disappointed by how little ink is spent on the seed that fell on good soil. It’s barely two verses, compared to the eight verses spent on the seeds that did not take root, or died shortly thereafter. And hardly anything more is said in the explanation of the parable than what was said in the first place. “It produced a crop… [it] refers to someone who hears the word and understands it…. [it] yields a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown” (Mt 13:8, 23). Come on, Jesus, couldn’t you be a little more inspiring?! A little more uplifting?! Spend a little more time on it and tell us how productive we are going to be as we spread Gospel Seeds and see them sprout, thrive, and flourish?!
But that’s just it, isn’t it? Whereas we tend to focus on the results – how many seeds sprout and grow and flourish – Jesus says, don’t worry about that. Scatter the seed of the Gospel to all with no regard for where it might land, or whether or not it will sprout. In fact, Jesus gives us an indication of just what we will find when we do scatter seed with how much ink he spends on each result. Most of what you cast will bear no fruit. Don’t worry about that. Scatter the seed of the Gospel with no regards to what it will bear. The word will be received in my different ways, but how it is received is not your concern. That it’s received is your concern.
As you scatter seed, you are going to see it opposed by the sinful nature, and by Satan, and by the fallen world we live in. As you scatter seed, you are going to see the Gospel promise snatched away from apathetic or misunderstanding hearts before it even has a chance to grow roots. As you scatter seed, you are going to see newborn faith choked out by the busyness of the world or scorched by the heat of persecution. As you scatter seed, you are going to see that most of it never bears fruit that lasts.
And if this is what you focus on, then your sowing arm is going to get tired really quickly. Your excitement to plant new Gospel seeds is going to fade quickly. You may even stop trying altogether if you are primarily concerned with how many of the seeds you plant sprout and flourish. You may forget, or doubt the words of Jesus when he says, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Gospel seeds are no good when they remain in the sower’s bag. A farmer’s seeds are guaranteed to do nothing when they sit in the hopper.
I think another of Jesus’ parables applies here. A master left his servants with an amount of money to use while he was gone. The first two put it to use and earned a return. The third servant hid his away and didn’t use it. The master commanded, “Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas… I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Lk 19:24,26).
It’s all about a shift in perspective. I’ve always heard and known, “Don’t focus on the outcome. Focus on doing the work.” But every time I’d find myself anxiously waiting for those VBS registrations to come in. Or waiting with bated breath for someone new to walk in on Sunday. Because we always want to quantify something. So, I’ll never forget the encouragement from our presenter from Praise and Proclaim Ministries a couple years back: “Count gospel seeds. Count seeds planted.” Faithfully plant the seeds of God’s Word, rejoice that Gospel Seeds are going out! And leave the rest up to God. You sow. God makes it grow.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).
What do you do with Gospel Seeds? Sow them! God makes them grow! He will accomplish what he desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it.
I know it isn’t always easy. I know it’s hard not to focus on results and grow weary of casting Gospel Seeds while there’s seemingly no return. Leave that up to God. Because even the hardest packed hearts can be softened by God’s Word. How many of us were once that hard-packed path? Even rocky hearts or lives filled with choking weeds can be overcome and cultivated by God’s Word. How many of us have gone through those times in life and been brought back by seeds that were sown in our hearts? God’s Law gets things ready, crushing rocks of pride and cutting off the thorns of life that entangle us. Then, the gospel seed – packed with the power of God for salvation – tells of a love so great. A saving love that penetrates our hearts and gives birth to faith and trust.
There’s one other thing, as well, that can be very difficult to do. It can be very difficult to divide up the sowers, and send some to a new field – like Trinity is working toward as we send some sowers to focus their efforts on the Waco area. That’s tough. We miss our friends. The work remains but the workers are divided – do we have enough remaining here? It’s in God’s hands. Our mission is making disciples. Our mission is sowing Gospel seeds upon whatever soil is in our reach. And sometimes that means looking up from the one corner of the field we have been working on and seeing that there is more within our reach. You sow. God makes it grow.
Although it’s not to be our main concern, God does comfort us in our tireless efforts by revealing what these seeds can do when they do land on good soil. It takes root. It bears fruit! And do you know what’s in fruit? More seeds! “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” (Mt 13:23).
That’s the really neat thing about seeds. One seed can produce hundreds more! Ralph Emerson, a famous American essayist and philosopher, once said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” It’s the same thing that God says through Isaiah. As rain waters the earth so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty” (Is 55:10-11). Even though the seeds that fall on good soil are in the small minority, those seeds that do take root flourish and multiply! There’s nothing lost in sowing Gospel Seeds. Nothing lost in dividing up workers throughout the harvest field. Only seeds that sprout, flourish, bear fruit, and multiply what once was sown.