Matthew 13:1-23 Part 4

Some time ago I was reading from Charles Hodge, who was one of America’s foremost Reformed Theologians – living and preaching and writing in the early nineteenth century – and I came across a piece he wrote concerning the great revival of religion in the first half of the eighteenth century.  And I thought it appropriate to bring some of it to your attention this morning since it has bearing on the parable of the Sower.

The preaching of this passage of Scripture for the last three weeks, and the discussions concerning it afterward in Sunday School, have included questions and conversation about the reception of the Word of the Kingdom when it is sowed – or preached – and the “snatching away” or the falling away of many of those who, it seems, have received that Word!

Of course, last Lord’s Day we heard that, because of depraved man and his infatuation with mystical and mysterious demonic things, whatever preaching is heard by them, along the way, it is often snatched away by the evil one without any effect – except for further condemnation.

But in the next two portions of the parable, Jesus makes it clear that there were many in Israel who, for a whole complex of immediate reasons, received the Gospel but did not persevere in the faith!  And hopefully we will be clear enough in the explication of those instances to alert each one of us to the dangers of self-deception in these cases.  (Paul taught that those who are persevering in the faith are those who are faithing.)

But Hodge’s examination of the so-called “revival” of the Churches of New England from 1735 to 1745 enlightens us to the fact that, even though this parable was set in the context of the divorcement and destruction of Old Testament Israel, some of the same things Jesus says are also true in more modern times!  In other words, those to whom it has not been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of the Heavens reject the Word of the Kingdom – and reject the Logos Himself – because of the very same immediate causes.  And those causes are there because of the depraved constitution and nature of men!  Men are men whether they live in the first century or the eighteenth century.  And they are blind and deaf to the preaching of Christ no matter which century they live in!  We’re all conceived with the fallen nature of our father Adam.

But there arose in the Churches of New England – and in other places around the country and in other countries – a tremendous resurgence of religion.  It happened with great suddenness in the mid-seventeen thirties and again in the early seventeen forties.  But Dr. Hodge says, “…the state of religion did rapidly decline after the revival….”  Jonathan Edwards said, “many were led away into sad delusions.”  “…The low state of religion and extensive departure from the truth (was) in that part of the country where the revival had been most extensive...” said Hodge.

Here’s an interesting quote from Jonathan Edwards: 


“When the Spirit of God is poured out, to begin a glorious work, then the old serpent, as fast as possible, and by all means, introduces this bastard religion, and mingles it with the true; which has from time to time brought all things into confusion.  The pernicious consequence of it is not easily imagined or conceived of, until we see and are amazed with the awful effects of it, and the dismal desolation it has made….  The imagination or phantasy seems to be that wherein are formed all those delusions of Satan, which those are carried away with, who are under the influence of false religion, and counterfeit graces and affections.  Here is the devil’s grand lurking-place, the very nest of foul and delusive spirits.”


Rev. Edwards was referring to great excitement and agitations, and impressions and visions and babbling – all of which, during this time, were treated as manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Churches were full to overflowing, and many, many thousands were attesting to conversion.

In fact, a great deal of Charles Hodge’s time was spent in Jonathan Edward’s own Church in Northampton, where he was minister for twenty-three years, and from which he was separated with very harsh treatment.  Rev. Edwards had said during that time that over three hundred people were brought savingly home to Christ in a six month period in 1734 and 1735.  But later he looked back on those conversions and called them “spurious.”  For only a few proved to be genuine!  Dr. Hodge states clearly that Rev. Edwards delighted in and allowed what seemed to be exceptional activity by God’s Spirit; and later he confessed that it was all delusion.

Hodge then says,


“Besides, such effects are not peculiar to what we call revivals of religion; they have prevailed, in seasons of general excitement, in all ages and in all parts of the world, among pagans, papists, and every sect of fanatics which has ever disgraced the Christian Church.”


And finishing up this nine or ten page essay on the subject, Dr. Hodge says this: 


“This is a formidable array of evils… there was too little discrimination between true and false religious feeling.  There was too much encouragement given to outcries, faintings, and bodily agitations, as probable evidence of the presence and power of God.  There was, in many, too much reliance on impulses, visions, and the pretended power of discerning spirits.  There was a great deal of censoriousness, and of a sinful disregard of ecclesiastical orders.  The disastrous effects of these evils, the rapid spread of false religion, the dishonor and decline of true piety, the prevalence of erroneous doctrines, the division of congregations, the alienation of Christians, and the long period of subsequent deadness in the Church, stand up as a solemn warning to Christians… in all times to come.”


And then he quotes Rev. Edwards himself in the last paragraph: 


“…it is by this means that the daughter of Zion in this land, now lies in such piteous circumstances, with her garments rent, her face disfigured, her nakedness exposed, her limbs broken, and weltering in the blood of her own wounds, and in no wise able to rise, and this so soon after her late great joys and hopes.”


Now, by shortening it that much I risk not getting across the flavor of the times there in the eighteenth century and the perceived evil in the Church.  But I fear boring you more than that!  So we’ll leave it there.

But the point is, here, that a man such as Jonathan Edwards, a true man of God, a great Theologian and a faithful pastor, was sent into some melancholy (those are Hodge’s words) at the fact that so many of those who were “converted” under his ministry of the Word, and were allowed to the table as a part of the unity in the Body of Christ, did not persevere in the faith!  And, in Edward’s own words, this experiential mysticism was like a new playing field for demonic activity.

For some, these things might be cause for despair and confusion.  But for others to whom it has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, there’s nothing of the sort!  And this parable is very comforting to us in that way.  It reveals the government of God over every creature and all of history.  God is the One who grants if for men to see, and hear, and perceive in the heart.

Let’s go on.  Verses five and six: 


“And other fell on rocky places where there was not much earth, and immediately it sprouted because of not having depth of soil.  And upon the rising of the sun, it was scorched; and because of having no root it was withered.” 


The parallel verses (Jesus’ explanation) are twenty and twenty-one.  Here’s what they say: 


“But that which was sowed on rocky places, this is the one who hears the Word and receives it immediately with gladness; but he has not root in himself but is short-lived; but when there occurs pressure and persecution because of the Word, he is caused to fall away.”


It’s very difficult to even find a place to start!  The parable is so full of the government of God and His plan for the salvation of His entire creation that it’s hard to hold it all in your mind while you explain its parts!

But let’s begin with the last word in verse twenty-one. 


“He is caused (passive voice) to fall away.” 


It might be translated “to be entrapped” or even “ensnared,” or, as the KJV has it, “offended.”  “To stumble” is the lightest and most farfetched translation; but all of these have bits and pieces of it.  It’s hard to come up with a one-word translation for such a complex concept, isn’t it?  How can you do that when the term has such deep Theological roots?  We can say that, since it has not been given to some to know the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, when it is sown in their hearts (in their persons), they hear it and become put out by it, and, for one reason or another, it becomes unsavory and offensive!  The truth entangles them, and, sooner or later they recoil from it, thereby proving that they never saw or heard or understood in the heart!

The word is skandalizo, and we’ve seen it before, haven’t we?  Listen again to Matthew eleven, verse five: 


“Go and show John again those things which you hear and see.  The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.  And blessed whosoever shall not be “scandalized” by Me.”  Blessed whoever shall not be entrapped by Me (caused to fall away by Me).


Verses twenty and twenty-one.  So the explanation of the parable says that those rock places receive the sowing of the Word with gladness, and then they are “scandalized” by it when pressure and persecution arise!  The “way” to the Father through Jesus Christ the Lord ensnares and entraps them when they meet up with pressure and persecution!

Now, it was necessary to look at that terminology first, because in the history of the prophetic Word of God to Israel, it is constantly associated with “rock” Theology!  Jesus says, “but that which was sowed on rocky places, or rock places.  So we have to immediately go to Scripture to find the connection between the “Rock,” and being offended and falling away!  (caused to fall away)

Listen to the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter eight: 


“And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of offense and for a rock of falling (skandalizo) to both the houses of Israel, for a trap and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many among them shall stumble and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken….”  (all descriptions of skandalizo)


In Isaiah chapter twenty-eight God says to Israel that they are full of lies and falsehoods, and that they have made a covenant with death!  And then in verse sixteen He says this: 


“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a foundation stone, a precious stone, a sure foundation:’ and he who believes shall not be shamed.” (or disgraced). 


And He goes on to say that because of the foundation the covenant with death and Hades will be disannulled.

And Paul, in Romans chapter nine picks up on these two prophetic words through Isaiah.  Right after he writes concerning the termination of the covenant with Israel and the calling of the Gentile nations, he says this: 


“As it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of offense, a rock of falling (or entrapment); and whosoever believeth (faith) on Him shall not be shamed.’”  (disgraced)


And then Peter, who is named “Petros” or “rock”, makes an even fuller use of the Isaiah prophecy:


 “Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious; and he that believes on Him shall not be disgraced.’  Unto you therefore which believe, precious; but unto them which be disobedient, ‘the stone which the builders rejected, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of offense, and a rock of skandalizo’ (falling) to them which take offense to the Word, being disobedient – whereunto also they were appointed.’”


And, as you know, Peter, being named Rock, preached the Word of offense, for he was appointed to be the Apostle to the Jews!

So, Jesus Christ is the Rock foundation under the New Temple, and the chief cornerstone in that temple.  And that Rock is a rock of offense to the Jews.  They fall on it and it crushes them, and they are ashamed and disgraced by it.

So, just as the Sower sows in “the Way” and the Word of the Kingdom is “devoured” by the Jewish predilection to demonic activity; so the Sower sows on the Rock places, and the nation is offended and ensnared and they fall away and are crushed!  And, as Peter says, “…as they were appointed to do.”

Now I know that this is a lot to hold on to – and there’s more – but you must try very hard so as not to lose it and get discouraged.  This is the Revelation of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  It is a Kingdom parable.  And we must hear it and be gladdened by it and faith in it and live in it!  Remember what Jesus says – “The one having ears to hear let him hear.”  So make sure that you’re hearing; so that it takes root and produces fruit, persevering to obedience.  You must become like Jesus in character – killing the Adam nature and putting on the nature of Christ.  See, you can’t live in Him – in union with Him – and not become like Him!  Be faithful!  And if there is no likeness, then there’s no union!  And sooner or later, under some circumstance or another, that old “Adam nature” will show its true colors.

And Jesus gives an immediate reason for that happening here, doesn’t He?  From the shallow roots of a thin top layer of soil, verses five and six, and the subsequent withering of the sprout and then scorching of the sun, Jesus illustrates the pressure and persecution because of the Word – the Logos; the Rock Himself! – verse twenty-one.

The parable itself pictures a seedling on a thin top layer of soil which rests upon a substrata of rock.  And the sprout comes out but then withers; and the sun scorches it.  It has no roots.  It’s skandalized by the Rock!

A number of prominent passages of Scripture can be used for help here, but it is very obvious to me that Jesus is thinking of the condemnation of Judah by Jeremiah in chapter seventeen.  Listen: 


“Thus saith the Lord; ‘Cursed is the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart departs from the Lord.  For he shall be like the shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a dry and uninhabited land.’”


Now Judah didn’t trust; but others would!  Listen to what he says in the next verse about those who will trust Him; and listen to the great similarities to Psalm one:


“Blessed the man that trusts in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.  For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and spreads out her roots by the river, and shall not fear when heat comes, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be anxious in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”


See, these two words – withered and scorched – have to do with the reversal of covenant blessings!  Israel has sprung up, like a green tree, before the Lord.  But she has been entrapped and ensnared by the Rock which is Christ!  There were no roots in the River of Living Water, but she simply withered and burned on the Rock.  And she fell away – shamed and disgraced.  Its blessings annulled and reversed.

And the immediate reasons for the falling away, Jesus says, are “Thlipsis” and “diogmos” – affliction and persecution.  The words’ actual translations are tribulation and driving out.  Israel’s great tribulation is widely prophesied and then recorded in Revelation for us, and she was driven out of the land.  And the remnant were, indeed, driven out into the nations.  And in these deep afflictions and persecutions, which all came to pass because of the Sowing of the Sower, the nation was crushed on the Rock.  Instead of remembering the water of life which flowed from the Rock in the desert, they were, instead, put off and offended by Him in shame and disgrace.  And in tribulation sought another way, rather the “the Way.”

The Scriptures mention numbers of people in Israel who, for one reason or another wanted to follow Jesus – Scribes, priests, commoners, zealots.  But they couldn’t stand the heat when the sun came up.  Affliction and separation.  People who followed Jesus were persecuted!  And they were separated out!  As soon as they began following Him, both things began to occur!

And who is it that stands fast when all their property is taken away; or when they are beaten publicly; or when they are thrown into prison; or when they are threatened with banishment or death?  Who is it that professes the name of Christ when roving death squads arrive with instruments of torture?  Those are the things that happened in Israel!

These things have been mentioned a few times before, and we said that that kind of persecution isn’t likely to happen to us in the immediate future.  But it might some day.  And who will then persevere?

But the more likely thing to happen to us – and indeed it does happen all the time – is the separation, or the driving out.  Sneers and mocking;  an offhanded remark of derision from someone that is generally respected; a look of pity from someone above you in wealth, as he despises you for your profession of Christ; unkind remarks from a mother, or brother, or in-law; a snub; humiliation; someone you really like a lot separates from you; you’re stopped from getting a job everywhere you turn; you’ve been branded by somebody up the line; there’s a blackball; your reputation has been slandered in ways that are totally untrue and unjust.  It seems that there’s a cloud of infamy that follows you around, and the rejection and separation is almost palpable – touchable.  You’re seen as strange and unapproachable, and everybody else has more friends.

Who is it that will persevere in all that and be faithful?  Who is it that can lose their business when customers stop buying and separate themselves?  And who is it that can stand against the great debaters when they prove to the new follower that he is intellectually primitive to believe that stuff?  A well-read deist or atheist or skeptic can blow away a new believer with their knowledge of the world.

What young person, sheltered from the sophistications of the world order, stands resolute and steadfast when the world is laughing at them for their naiveté, and prudishness, and singleness of mind?

And I tell you, as Christ here tells us, that there are many who are involved in religion, excited about all the emotions, involved in the fervent appeal of it, who are and will be offended by all these things; and they will fall away and be crushed on the Rock which is Christ.

And there will be many young people, sheltered and raised in homes where they are held back from the sin of the world, who will be shamed and disgraced and offended by the Name of Christ; and they will run to the world to put a stop to that separation.

Many will run.  They don’t like the virtue that’s required in the body of Christ.

What’s the problem?  What is the defect?

Well, the defect is radical – and terrible.  God said,


“A new heart will I give you, and a right spirit will I put within you.  I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”


Defect?  There’s been no new creation in Christ; no death for the old life; no new life in the person of Christ; no mourning over sin; no secret prayer and struggling with the ravages of sin; no poverty of spirit.  There’s been no crushing sense of having violated the Law of a thrice holy God.  “Is not My Word like a hammer? saith the Lord.”  There have been no hammer blows to cause them to rush to the foot of the Cross of forgiveness and cleansing.  There’s no sense of the plague in their hearts; no acquaintance with the guilt – and no knowledge of the nothingness of the self to which they must be brought.  There’s no love of truth

And, therefore, there are no roots in them.  It’s all surface (emotion and experience) and no depth.  No death to self, and no victory in Christ.  And the hand-to-hand combat which is required against the world order is a terrible offense.  And they fall away.  And I tell you this morning that if you have no more than this surface religion, you have deceived yourself, and you have no more than the Jews of Jesus’ day – and that landed them in hell.

And I ask you right now to watch your daily trials.  How do you react?  If you rebel and waver and doubt and lust after the world and are shamed and disgraced over these little things, what will happen to you when you’re tested more sternly?  And surely you will be.  For gold must be tried by fire in order to become pure.  And the battlefield warfare can’t be won by those who have no roots and no fruit.  They run away – fall away.  They are withered and scorched and crushed when the heat is turned up.

God grant us grace in Christ Jesus to receive the sowing into good earth, for Jesus’ sake – and for the sake of His Kingdom.