To become a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, the candidate must go through many “hoops.” One requirement is that Dr. Duncan (Chancellor) and I (Provost) interview the candidate for three hours covering a host of theological topics. Recently, we interviewed the well-known theologian, seminary professor, and former pastor of First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, SC, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Normally in these interviews, I sense that the candidate is slightly nervous. However, given my respect for Dr. Ferguson, I was nervous and wanted to make a good impression on him!
As one would imagine, Dr. Ferguson’s interview was very impressive. During the interview, I noticed that Dr. Ferguson wove into several different answers a quote from the Good Shepherd passage where Jesus says that the sheep “will hear my voice” (John 10:16). Among other things, Dr. Ferguson related this to his personal conversion, aspects of pastoral theology, and his doctrine of Scripture.
In many places in the Bible, including John 10, the Bible rhetorically uses two senses of the verb “hear.” There is the surface hearing of a biblical message and the deeper hearing of actually spiritually understanding, believing, and obeying the message. In John 10, Jesus is indicating that there are sheep that will truly hear his voice through the Scripture and follow him.
Instead of being overly disappointed that not all believe, we should be encouraged that some DO believe. Yes, Jesus’ voice is heard by his sheep. Similarly, in the Parable of the Sower, there are “good soils” who “hear” in a deep way. This is encouraging. Our preaching/teaching/talking-to-others-at-McDonalds is not in vain.
Overview of the Parable of the Sower
The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23 breaks down into:
* 13:1-9 The parable per se
* 13:10-17 Why does Jesus speak in parables?
* 13:18-23 Jesus’ interpretation of the parable to his disciples
In the parable, Jesus himself is the sower (cf. Matthew 13:37) and the seed is the Word of God (cf. Luke 8:11). The soils/plants are different types of people with three (bad) soils not responding properly and the “good soil” being believers. Note, Jesus is telling a parable about himself. Those actually listening to Jesus’ parable are the soils he is speaking of! Of course, Jesus intends that the parable be extended beyond his ministry to all those who sow the seed of the Word of God in his name (e.g., Acts 6:7).
Why Does Jesus Speak in Parables? Matthew 13:10-17
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11).
Before getting to the parable and its interpretation, first a few comments about the disciples’ question concerning Jesus’ reason for speaking in parables (Matthew 13:10). The Bible presents several angles as to why Jesus spoke in parables. Here the emphasis is on parables not being a straightforward way of teaching. In context, this is related to not everyone believing as shown by the four different soils. Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 // Matthew 13:14-15 to show that in the sovereignty of God some will “hear but not understand.” Parables have a unique way of presenting the two levels of hearing.
Concerning the “soils” that do not believe, Jesus presents both personal-responsibility reasons (e.g., cares of the world, Matthew 13:22) and sovereignty-of-God predestination reasons (Matthew 13:11-15). For some, it is difficult to put these two together. The solution to this is simple: Be a Calvinist!
Immediately following the “be a Calvinist” section, Jesus gives comforting words to the believer. “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). That is, Jesus’ true disciples hear him at the deep level. Ultimately, this is due to grace.
Do we believers feel individually blessed? In the special providence of God, the Holy Spirit opened our ears to hear the Good Shepherd speaking to us through Scripture. Jesus was speaking of us in John 10. The sheep “will hear my voice.” The sheep place their full trust in the person and work of the Good Shepherd.
Good Soil. Matthew 13:8 and 13:23
“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. . . . As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:8, 23).
Yes, there are bad soils, but there is also the good soil. The good-soil people hear Jesus’ voice at the deep level. He speaks to believers through the Word. Do we believe as strongly as we should that when we preach/teach/speak the Word that there is among the bad soils some “good soil” for the “seed” to fall upon?
I am often the guest preacher at both large and small churches. A few weeks ago as I was the guest preacher at a small ARP church. On the drive to the church, I was encouraged by this parable even though the sermon was on another text. There are all types of soils, but there will be some good soil there!
Ten Theses of Berne
In recognition of the 500th year of the Reformation, a quote from the Reformation is appropriate. In 1528 Berne, Switzerland was considering changing from a Roman Catholic city to a Protestant city. Before doing so, there was a “Disputation” in Berne where both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians and pastors/priests were invited to “dispute” ten statements or theses. There were over 350 in attendance and the Disputation lasted twenty-one days.
The ten theses were composed by two Berne Reformed pastors, Haller and Kolb. Zwingli had editorial input. Speakers for the Protestant side were Haller, Kolb, plus the “heavy hitters” Zwingli, Bucer, Oecolampadius, and Capito. As a result of the Disputation, the Berne city council voted to become Protestant and ended the mass in its churches.
The first thesis was: “The holy catholic church, whose sole head is Christ, has been begotten from the Word of God, in which [Word of God] also it continues, nor does it listen to the voice of any stranger.” (See John 10:4-5, 16.) No, the true church does not listen the voice of a stranger. The true church listens to the voice of the Good Shepherd through his Scripture, and listens to him alone.
The good soil is the Church, it has only one head. The Church “hears” the voice of her shepherd, and the Church “does not listen to the voice of any stranger.” Oh Christian reader, may you (1) Be grateful that you were and are the good soil and hear the voice of the Shepherd and (2) Be encouraged in your ministry that there is some good soil for you to sow the Word of God in.