Matthew 13:1-23 Part 5

As we have seen so far, the substance and scope of this parable of our Lord is unfathomable; its power and its glory unapproachable; its beauty unmatched.  And its knowledge of the Kingdom of the Heavens defies full understanding.

But herein our Lord Jesus Christ reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom to His people.  The will of God for the salvation of His people is unveiled for all to see.  The government of the creation is opened up for us to look inside.  And the omnipotence of Almighty God, as bewildering as it is to our small abilities, is exposed to those to whom it is given to know.

But as precarious as our situation is (with regard to our capabilities), we have to humbly and solicitously intrude into the mighty will and intent of our Father, and we must invest ourselves, by His Spirit, with the astonishing truth of His administration of the creation!  As He carries out the eternal decree of His Own Will, those of us to whom it has graciously been given to know gaze into it all with awe and wonder – knowing that we still see through a dark glass; and knowing that, one day, we shall see Him face to face.

And on this side of that great day we have to work very hard, with fervent prayer, to comprehend the width and breadth and height and depth of His ways!  It’s not easy, as we’ve mentioned before; but the Spirit is given to us in order to teach us.  And, with Him, the Word of God is clear – although difficult.

We’ve struggled so far for a glimpse into God’s plan for Israel – that because of their own sin their eyes were closed and their ears shut and their hearts turned in them to stone.  And they have not been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of the Heavens.

But to some it has been given (those of the house of Israel whom He has kept for Himself); and it is given now to the Gentile nations in order that the Love of God be extended even to the pagans of all the world – that by the cutting off of the Jews the Covenant might instead be made with all men.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son….”  That the God-man might be the reconciliation between God and all flesh.  And that this God-man might be the propitiation – the satisfaction – of the justice of God, in that all men have come short of His glory and deserve His eternal wrath.  And that this same God-man is now the Authority in all the world – for its government and rule – as well as for its redemption and cleansing.

We’ve witnessed Israel’s predilection for demonic participation.  And this is the first immediate cause (in the parable) of the sowing of the Word to be rejected.  As the parable says, “the evil one snatches it away.”

And then we heard last Lord’s Day that those without root of the Word in them are faced immediately with persecution and separation.  And under that very heavy emotional and physical pressure they are withered and scorched by the heat.  They don’t persevere, in other words, under the intense antithesis – they are offended and crushed by the Rock which is Christ.

And now, this morning, our Lord takes us to another height of intensity!  There are more reasons – immediate reasons – why self-deluded men don’t receive the Word sown and grow up into maturity in the faith!  Listen to the parable again, verse seven: 

“…And other fell on thornbushes; and the thornbushes grew up and choked them.” 


And now the broad explanation of that statement by our Lord in verse twenty-two: 


“But that which was sowed into thornbushes, this is the one hearing the Word, and the care for life and the deception of riches chokes the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.”


As with the other places where the Sower sowed, this place where the sowing occurred is equally critical for us to examine:  On “thornbushes,” or on “thorny places,” or in “thorny growth.”

And in our Biblical exploration to find the meaning, we go first to Genesis three, verse eighteen.  After God pronounces the curse upon the first woman, committing her to great pain in childbirth, and causing her to have great desire for ascendancy over her husband (but being under his rule); then God turns to the man and says this:


“Because you have hearkened unto the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’; cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you….”

This is the same word as in our text.  Thorns.

Now, the first thing that we have to realize is that the fall of Adam into sin was a demon-inspired rebellion against God!  And without doing a complete exegesis on a verse other than our text, we must somehow comprehend this – that whenever there is sin and rebellion there occurs a degree of chaos, scattering and disintegration.  And the more freedom that is given to a man, or a family, or a nation, to sin, the more scattering (wilderness) and chaos there will be.  The reverse of that is also true, isn’t it?  The less restraint there is on a society’s fallen humanity, the wilder and more disorderly it will be!

When this demon-inspired rebellion against God’s-Word-to-Adam occurred, all of creation was affected.  What we erroneously call “nature” was cursed; and, rather than bringing forth the fullness and lushness of plant life, it now brings forth “thorns” naturally!  It will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, according to Paul in Romans eight, but presently there is this perversity in the created order consequent upon the demonic rebellion of which Adam and his wife were co-sponsors!  And the use of the term “thorns” here in Genesis three, verse eighteen is the figurative expression for that!  “Thorns,” means the uncultivated, disorderly chaos which occurs when God gives men “freedom” or gives them up to sin and judges them accordingly.

It’s so easily seen, isn’t it? – that when severe restraints are imposed upon a piece of land it produces properly.  When a crop is planted, the whole process has to be held in check.  Weeds have to be pulled out; insects must be killed; order has to be imposed on the crop!  And if that doesn’t happen – or if the whole process is left to its own freedom, to do what it wishes to do – if no restraints are imposed on it, a beautiful, productive garden will not happen!  There will be no fruit!  It will be full of thorns and briars and weeds!  It will very quickly deteriorate into a field of nonproductive chaos!

Because of sin, the “normal” state of creation is “uninhabitable.”  It’s “thorny.”  It’s not pleasant and productive.  It’s not lush and good and “pure.”  Wilderness is hostile to the interests and safety and fullness of human life; and unless severe restraint is imposed upon it, it will remain uninhabitable and hostile!

Unrestrained and unproductive creation is the place where demons live, because it’s lawless and turbulent.  God cursed it!  There’s a promiscuous freedom to do nothing except promote anarchy!  And unless it is sharply restrained, I don’t care what you plant in it, the cultivated area will soon be overrun by the lawlessness!  The “natural order” of things runs to “thorns.”  Wilderness, and lawlessness.

Now it’s interesting to note that, in places such as Ezekiel chapter twenty-eight where God commands the prophet to turn his face against the city of Sidon and prophesy against it, that this wilderness terminology is used to describe the city and the effect that it has on the nation of Israel!  At the same time, the great city of Sidon was thriving as a port city and it was a place of great lawlessness – for it didn’t submit to the holiness of God!

But it was eventually to be judged by God; and then it would no longer be a pricking briar and a grieving thorn to God’s people.  And then Ezekiel says this:


“…Thus saith the Lord God.  ‘When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob.’”


Now the essence of this is that a city such as Sidon, set free by God to unrestrained lawlessness, yet prospering for a time in world trade – this city (and others) was a pricking briar and a thorn of bitterness to the nation of Israel!  This and other cities and nations were “wild growth” for Israel, and thorns of affliction – for Israel gravitated toward those unrestrained cultures, and they joined them in their lawlessness.  And the nation soon became a cursed wilderness with them!

But!!  As Ezekiel twenty-eight says, for those who are sanctified (using the Old Testament terminology), the surrounding cities and nations will no longer be pricking briars or thorns of bitterness!  For Israel, according to several other passages, the briars and thorns of pagan nations would grow up into their own homes and places of worship; but for those who are sanctified by the truth, the thorns of demonic wilderness wouldn’t have that same effect!

In other words, when the Day of the Lord came, and the covenant was made with the Gentile nations, the freedom to sin would no longer be a thorn of bitterness to God’s elect, because those to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom are the house of Israel; the new Israel; and God has promised to keep them and preserve them.

And now that we’ve heard those things, I want to read to you a passage of Scripture which always has had some cloud around it, but which, now, is no longer all that mysterious!  Listen to Hebrews chapter six.  Four verses:


“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come (age to come); if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. (Here’s the natural order of things) For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth herbs appropriate for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God; But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”


As you can see, this is the passage from the letters in the New Testament which directly refers to this parable – and, specifically to this figure:  the thorns.  Israel has apostasized.  It had been wooed and lured by the lawlessness in surrounding towns and nations; and it, itself, had become a nation of thorns – demonic, wilderness, chaos.  Just like the thorns of Adam’s day when the earth was cursed.

And in this letter to the Jews (the Hebrews) the writer, writing some years after Jesus’ crucifixion, says to them that it is now impossible for the nation to be renewed.  It’s done.  The Word of the Kingdom is being preached in “the Way.”  And many are being crushed on the Rock which is Christ.  And the briars and thorns are everywhere.  The nation is a hazardous wilderness – unfit for human habitation, filled with thorns.  Wild, free of restraints, the home of wild animals and birds.  Completely lawless – set free by God to fill up the whole nation with thorny growth.

And when the Word of the Kingdom was preached, as Jesus commanded it to be done, that’s the condition into which God sowed the Word.  The vineyard didn’t produce grapes – fruit – it produced thorns.  The Word, when it was sowed, fell on thorns.  The nation was a wilderness wasteland!

Now.  If someone were to ask me, “in the light of all the Biblical language with regard to thorns, what is the deepest meaning of that event, during the trial of Jesus before His crucifixion, where upon Jesus’ head was placed a crown of thorns?”  I would have to say that, humanly speaking, I am in no way prepared to answer such a question!

Perhaps, as Jesus humbly receives all the suffering as the Lamb of God and substitute for His Father’s elect people, Satan, with devilish glee, makes a substitute of his own!  For the crown that the King of Kings deserves, Satan substitutes one of affliction and bitterness – one which is the very Biblical figure of lawlessness and chaos – one of fallen man in his perversity – one of freedom from the restraint of dominion and order – one which is the Biblical figure of the fall of man and the curse of the created order.  Perhaps the crown of thorns which was pressed down upon the head of Jesus signifies His taking away on Himself the allurement of the surrounding world order for His people.  I don’t know.

But there is something very alluring to fallen man about growing wild… and being free from restraint, isn’t there?  You know, a lure, in fisherman’s terms, is a deception.  An angler deceives fish into believing the hook is food!

And the surrounding world order is alluring in the same way.  It deceives fallen men and women and children into believing what is not true.  And perversity and chaos and lawlessness – the thorny growth – becomes a matter of great desire!

As Jesus says here in the parable, verse twenty-two,


“…But that which was sowed into thorns, this is the one hearing the Word, and the care for life and the deception of riches chokes the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.”


“Thorns” is the production of fallen humanity; not fruit – thorns!  Israel in its blindness had gleefully taken up the perversity of the surrounding cities and nations because that was alluring.  The iniquity and perversity of those surrounding cultures enticed and deceived them, and they wantonly became harlots to every conceivable uncleanness.  It was irresistible to them, and they were willingly provoked into having the same mind as the surrounding pagan lifestyle.  “The care for life (self) and the deception of riches.”  The Sower sowed the Words of the Kingdom – the mysteries of the governance of God over His creation, and the salvation of that creation due to His great love for it.  It is to turn men’s hearts to glorify Him and His glorious Kingdom, to avert men’s eyes to the being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth of Almighty God; to give him praise and honor for His saving love and mercy; and to seek His Kingdom above all things.  That’s what the Sower sowed.

But the eyes of the nation were shut; and their ears were deaf; and the heart of the nation could not perceive the mysteries of that Kingdom.  Many were deceived.  Their eyes and ears could perceive only the “self” and what they needed.  And remember not too long ago when we heard Jesus say, “If you find your life you will lose it; if you destroy your life (self) you will save it.”  But over the years, Israel, the tree (vine), had withered.  The vine had been choked in the briars and had become unfruitful.  The enticements of the pagans had allured them, and they were now called “the harlot.”  And the briars and thorns of fallen humanity completely overran the nation.

And people – the same thing is still true.  The nature of fallen humanity is still the same.  And the allurements of that world order (from which we are to remain separate) are still just as deceptive.  You must watch for yourselves – and for those over whom you have responsibility.  And you must listen to those whom God has given you to have authority over you.  This is a very serious situation, for the grievous thorns of bitterness and deception are becoming more unrestrained!  More and more they are being set free to creep into our homes and places of worship.  And they will deceive you, for they are both the cause and the result of death.  You will lose your self.  You will desire freedom from restraint!

And let me make this point even more strongly – the thorns of lawless, fallen humanity are very, very attractive to fallen humanity.  They are so attractive, and so deceptive, that much of the time we don’t see the terrible danger in them!  We don’t see the danger in putting the “self” and what that self desires right in the forefront of our intentions!  And we don’t see the danger in those enticements which deceive us into putting the self in the forefront!

And Jesus covers them all when He says, “The care for life and the deception of riches.”  They are the thorns of bitterness and deception from Sidon.

What is “the care for life?”  This is exactly what Jesus meant when He said that if you find your life (or your self) you’ll lose it!  The term means that the burden of life is the self!  The concentration of attention is the self.  The many things over which people concern themselves in order to secure the self and the desires of life are many times contrasted in Scripture with the one thing that is necessary – and that is the Kingdom of God!  The knowledge that the Kingdom has dawned and is now in place liberates man from anxiety and care!  The one who sees and hears and knows the mysteries of the Kingdom, and who places God and His Kingdom first, is the one who attains a certain aloofness from care – a certain liberation, or freedom, from the world and from being deceived and controlled by it!  And also a certain “disdain” for lawlessness!  The world order desires freedom to participate in lawlessness.  But God’s people desire freedom from that!

But if the center of your attention is your self, then it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, fat or skinny, sick or healthy, young or old!  The care for self will choke out the Word and you’ll lose your life!  THE WORLD ORDER WILL DECEIVE YOU into believing that the care for self is the most important thing in all the world!  But it is thorns!  And it is the thorn of bitterness and deception!

Jesus also adds “the deception of riches.”  And let me tell you that this term means more – a great deal more – than just economic standing.  The apostles and writers of Scripture make it clear that the term “riches” is a characteristic of a man of this world!  As the terms “poverty” and “poor” refer to a man’s view of himself in relation to God, so the opposite is also true.  “Riches” has to do with a person’s view of himself in relation to God.  The “poor in spirit shall inherit the earth!”  Riches have no need of poverty of spirit.

And Jesus’ merciless denunciation applies to riches in exactly the same way as it does to every human, self-contrived security and obsession which make it impossible to see the Kingdom of God and His glory!  It is a great obstacle, and a thorny deception of the world order to be “rich” in the things of the world.  Being delivered up to the deceptive power of possessions means destruction!  A “rich” participation in the world order is death and chaos, for it is full of self-praise, self-righteousness, self-confidence and self-indulgence!  And a man must be free of these enticements of trickery and deception, for they are thorns which choke out the Word when it is sowed.  It is the opposite of “poor in spirit!”

And I beg of you to watch yourselves, for these thorny enticements may prove that you do not know the mysteries of the Kingdom; and that your eyes and ears have not been opened; and that you have no place in the Kingdom of God at all!  This is a “thorny generation” with all the enticements and deceptions that can be generated by the world order; and you must turn from them and mortify them.  Or they may deceive you all the way into eternal punishment.

Instead, we must be the recipients of the riches of the Kingdom.  For if we seek it first – giving all the glory and praise to God – then everything we need will be added to us.  And the Word of God will dwell “richly” in our hearts.

Next Lord’s Day, the good earth and the manifold fruit of living in Christ.  May God bless us by opening our eyes and ears and hearts to the Word of the Kingdom.