Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.  And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.  And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold.”  And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables,  so that
“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.  And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.  And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.[a]  And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word,  but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold.”
Who among you is a true follower of Jesus? That’s the question a youth pastor once asked his youth group. All the hands went up. There was no surprise there. “Alright”, he asked “How many of you would still follow Jesus if it meant that you had to give up all your stuff including your phone?” Immediately 50% of the hands dropped. He asked them further, “Okay. how many of you would follow Jesus if it meant that you had to go to the interiors of Maharashtra and settle there for the mission of God?” Another 40% of the hands dropped. Finally, he said “how many of you would follow Jesus if it meant following him upto the cross?” At this all of the hands dropped and the whole room was filled with silence. At this point, one of the boys asked the youth pastor “how come you didn’t mention any of this to us while you asked us to repeat the sinner’s prayer after you?” Following Christ is a serious commitment and Jesus desires real followers who would remain with Him, learn from Him and become like Him. Today’s passage is a very familiar one for most of us. I’m sure we’ve heard many sermons on this passage but I want us to pay a close attention to what Christ calls from us. Let’s reflect on this passage and evaluate ourselves to check and see if we are real followers of Jesus.
There are 3 things that Christ demands from His followers:
- Real openness to the gospel
- Real faith in the gospel
- Real fruit through the gospel
Real openness to the gospel
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.
 The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.
It’s just so cool to see how Jesus uses things and objects from that time to help people understand deep spiritual truths. Most of us probably won’t completely relate to this analogy because we aren’t working in the fields all day but the people to whom Jesus was speaking to clearly understood what he was saying. They knew that throwing seeds on the road would be useless. Neither would it find any soil to grow its roots and it wouldn’t even last long on the road – the birds would quickly pick it up and eat it. Jesus used that to indicate a heart that is stubborn and hard-hearted toward the things of God. Anything about God or sin or righteousness or holiness is immediately shot down. The mind completely shuts down when gospel is spoken to the person.
Since I was a kid I remember how my parents would take me to every single prayer meeting or conference that they could take me to. Every Thursday, Friday and even Saturday was spent with the church or in prayer meetings. Now it’s one thing that most of those meetings were in Malayalam so I didn’t understand the messages fully but it just felt like with every passing year that it was getting harder to listen and understand these messages. The moment the preacher would start preaching, my mind would instantly tune out. Later on when I started going to a church where the messages would be preached in English, same response. So if you had to just look at my schedule each week: it was packed with religious activity. I was involved in every meeting or conference that heralded the name of Jesus Christ but was I a follower? Absolutely not. What was missing? For starters, the manner in which I responded to the word of God. It’s not because I wasn’t capable of understanding the spiritual truths, I didn’t respond to the gospel because my heart was hardened with sin. I didn’t want to change. So there was no joy, no gladness and no excitement when the gospel was being preached.
So how did God change me? He humbled me and put me in a place where I would recognize my need for Him and the gospel. The miracle of the gospel is that the Holy Spirit uses the word as the raw material to break through our stone hearts and give us a new life and a new heart! Are we in a place where our mind shuts down every time we read the Bible or listen to a message? Is the Bible and spiritual conversations something that makes us really uncomfortable? Well, the answer is not in avoiding God but in humbling ourselves and confessing our sins and our need for Him. It’s our sin and hard heartedness that prevents us from knowing God. And even though we’ve messed up, God provides a way. See the promise in Ezekiel 36.
 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek 36:25-27)
God has done everything for us. We needed cleaning, he cleansed us. We had a heart of stone, he gave us a new heart. We needed a new spirit, he gave us a new one. We couldn’t obey His commands, He gave us a Spirit to help us obey God’s commands. So this should also encourage us to pray earnestly for our family members and friends and colleagues and neighbours who have hardened hearts. The power is in the Spirit as we share the gospel with them.
Real faith in the gospel
 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.
 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.  And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.
What do we see when we look at the next type of soil/heart condition. Here is a person who receives the word with joy. He’s not like the person who shuts his mind when the gospel is preached. He hears, delights and rejoice in it. But this faith has no depth. It’s very superficial. It’s temporary. It would not last long since there is no serious commitment. So when things get a little harder: financial problems, marriage issues, difficulty at your workplace, sickness and ailments, maybe someone close to you left you and went away, maybe someone cheated you and you feel betrayed – at that point if your faith is not real, you will be ready to give it up and forsake Jesus.
Or it could be persecution because of the faith! It probably is cool accepting Jesus and talking about Him within the four corners of the building where your church meets. But the moment people insult you, harm you and even exclude you from the family or your community, then if your faith isn’t real you’ll be ready to give it up.
Even as I’m saying this, I know it’s really difficult and stressful for some of us to be a believer. You might be the only believer in your home. It’s not easy one bit. But just because we are going through a hard time, that shouldn’t stop us from loving, knowing and trusting Jesus. That’s real faith. Like in marriage, just because the couple may be going through financial trouble or a severe sickness, that shouldn’t stop them from being committed to each other. They don’t stop being husband and wife. The covenant of marriage says “till death do us part”. You don’t abandon your spouse when things get difficult. Real faith means that you remain committed to Christ even when everything around you is crashing down. Real faith sees hardships, trials and sufferings as God’s ordained means of making you like His Son. It’s like a man who wears several layers of clothes. Imagine hardships and persecutions as different things that remove every extra layer of clothing. One by one all the layers of pride, comfort, selfishness, people pleasing get peeled off and finally you come to the single piece of clothing that you were wearing all along. If your faith is real, that will be Jesus Christ who will be seen in you. That’s the goal.
If you had to look into your life and honestly answer. What is your response to hardships and persecutions? What would that say about our commitment to Jesus? I’m not saying that we will always perfectly respond to hardships. There are times when we do struggle in our faith. There are times when our faith wavers because of our circumstances. But that shouldn’t cause us to desert Christ. We don’t stop loving and obeying Jesus even though we will experience moments of unbelief. We repent, believe in the gospel and move ahead. We repent, believe in the gospel and move ahead. The Christian life will have struggles but you’ll always see a progression in faith.
Real fruit through the gospel
 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.  And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold.  And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word,  but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold.
The third type of soil is the one among thorns. The issue with this kind of spirituality is that it doesn’t produce any fruit. In this case they are definitely hearing the Word but there are somethings that choke up your faith:
- Cares of the World: This means being anxious about future, where you’ll live, what job to take up, how much money to make…all of these things consume your mind and drive your life
- Deceitfulness of Riches: All your actions and choices in life will indicate that you believe that money and possessions will answer all the problems in life
- Desires for other things: these are longings and cravings for forbidden things. Things that you know are wrong and outside of God’s will for you, where you live believing that these pleasures will fulfill you.
Growing up whenever I heard this part I always thought this was the second best type of soil after the good soil. I thought their condition wasn’t too bad. However, if you asked a farmer he would tell you that this kind of plant that doesn’t bear fruit is totally useless. The point of planting a seed is for it to grow and bear fruit. All these three types of soil are compared with a fourth soil which is the good soil. This is a person who shows real openness to the gospel, he shows real faith in the gospel and also bears fruit through the gospel. It’s not good enough to just be hearing the gospel and taking in the word but true followers of Christ are fruit-bearing. Now what is the fruit? All the righteous qualities that the Spirit empowered you with when you became a believer: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). As a child of God having the DNA of God placed in you through the Spirit, you begin behaving like Jesus Christ more and more each day. How you look at life, what you desire, what you value the most, whom do you want most in the world – all of that changes when the Holy Spirit comes into you. And the people around you see all these godly qualities in increasing measure. You’ll start getting more questions from the people around you. They’ll find it strange in the way you take the important life decisions. They’ll ask “Why do you say that you’ll only marry a believer? Why do you not swear? Why do you say that you’ll keep yourself pure until marriage? Why do you show kindness toward that person who has been so insulting toward you? Why do you still remain committed to your spouse? Why do you keep talking about Jesus? Why do you not cheat and lie in the workplace?” All of these questions will give you plenty of opportunities to reflect and talk about this great Savior whom you follow.
Are there times when Jesus followers don’t display the fruit? Yes. But you’ll always see true followers repenting and turning back because you are united to Him. True followers will realize He is everything to them. They understand how their spiritual life, physical life and everything else is sustained by Him only. They can’t live apart from Him and cannot desire life without Him. They realize He is holding their faith and so there’s always that desire and response of repentance that’s inbuilt within them.
What I really want all of us today to understand is that following Jesus is a serious call and a higher call for all of us. Christ is not exalted and shown as precious with half-hearted devotion but with a red-hot burning faith that is authentic. When people look at your openness to the gospel – your willingness to take in and hear everything that corresponds to God’s Word, when people look at your real faith in the gospel – persevering in the midst of suffering and hardships & when people look at your fruit through the gospel – one that shows the character of our Savior – all of this glorifies Jesus Christ and shows Him for who He is!