Be careful how you listen (3)

Not hearing, not seeing, not understanding

Scripture Readings

  • Isaiah 5
  • Matthew 13:10-23


  • “Blessed be the Name”
  • “Highest Place”
  • “Oh, the mercy of God”
  • “Almighty God, your Word is cast”


My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

There are some short sentences on the screen. They read:

  • “I see the clouds in the sky.”
  • “I will see the doctor today.”
  • “I have never seen anything like this.”
  • “I will go to see my dear friend today in hospital.”
  • “O, I see!”
  • “I was asked to see my grandchildren.”

All of them have the word “see” in it, but the meaning of “see” is different in each of them.  Let’s see if we can get the understanding of “see” in each.

The first I “observe”, the second means “appointment”, the next “experience”,  the next “visit”, then “understand”, and the last “look after” (or care for).
Of these which meaning of “see” fits best with the following verse:

“…they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts …” (Matthew 13:15, NIV)

The same principle applies when one hears, but does not understand: it is a matter of when seeing, one must understand or discern, and when hearing one must take note or understand.

When the Bible refers to the sinful nature of man, it refers to in these terms:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1:18–19, NIV)

We’ve already looked at the first type of soil described as “the path”, where there was no crop.  Where did the hardness of heart come from?  Our Lord explains:

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (Matthew 13:19, NIV)

When someone hears the Word of God but does not understand by searching and studying, or does not make an effort to hear what it says, ones heart grow hard, and ones mind becomes darkened.  What happens is this:

God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”(Romans 11:8, NIV)

In the time of Ezekiel this sickness of the soul happened because:

Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” (Ezekiel 33:32, NIV)

What follows as a result of the unwilling to put to practice what God says about the truth is:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21, NIV)

It is because the people have decided not to really see, hear, etc., as if this were a dreadful thing to do, that God has decided to punish them by allowing them to have their way! Causing them to be addressed by means of parables is a means to this end.

Shallow, fruitless hearts

The over-arching theme of this series of sermons is “Be careful how you listen”.  What God wants, like a farmer out in the paddocks, is a harvest.  What counts is what happens when the Farmer goes to look for a harvest.  The main point is therefore not that fact that the seed germinated and that there was some promise of a harvest at some point during the season; what counts is a crop that would be fruitful in producing a yielding crop. For this reason there is no distinction between the first three types of soil.  Those hard of heart were not worse than those who received the Word with joy at first, or those who were only later choked by the thorns.  All of them did not produce a harvest; all of them were fruitless.  It reminds us of the words in Revelation, “If only you were hot or cold, but now that you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Fruitfulness is therefore the business of the Kingdom.  Jesus declared to his disciples in the night he was betrayed and handed over into the hands of sinners to be crucified:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8, NIV)

He also said:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16, NIV)

Fruitlessness is the result of hearing but not understanding, it is the result of seeing but not understanding.  This leads to darkness of heart.  This in turn, ultimately, leads to what our Lord refers to in John 15:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1–2, NIV)

Fruitlessness is dangerous and reflects a sickness of the soul.  Going through the right drills, looking attractive like the wheat paddocks look at the moment after the lovely rains we had, showing the promise of a crop is not the same as being a crop in the Kingdom of God.

So, right in beginning of this sermon I want to share with you the impact of this as I prepared for today:  I will go nowhere in my spiritual life unless I do not understand and put to practice what God in his Word commands me to do.  Fruitlessness is a deadly condition – the blessing the Word once promised to ones life may lead to hardness of heart and darkness of soul.  So, the question is this: how did you apply the Word of last week to your life?  Not only the Word you heard during the service, but the Bible readings you went through last week?  Jesus said:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

Paul writes:

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Romans 2:13, NIV)

The shallowness of the soil is symbolised in the fact that the Gospel was indeed accepted, but because there was no understanding; because of the word sown in their hearts they should have expected persecution.  The furnace of persecution is where the truth of one’s allegiance is discovered.

There are too many people like the superficial and fruitless of the parable filling the church pews today. Their confessions do not spring from inner conviction they failed to consider that true discipleship implies self-surrender, self-denial, sacrifice, service, and suffering. They ignore the fact that it is the way of the cross that leads home.  O, dear friend, let’s search ourselves today.  Let’s not fool ourselves in the presence of our Lord who speaks to each of us:  what fruit do we have to show that we are indeed Christians?  Do we run and pull our head in when things get a bit tough?  Will be stand, rooted in the Word of God, drilled like a soldier, to face the difficult times arrive that will strip us from everything which might define us at the moment?  How is it that we react even at the present when we have to give account of the faith that is within us?  Do we shrink when the enemy of the cross of Christ laugh at us because we believe the Scriptures?  Are we willing to take it on the chin for the glory of Jesus Christ?  It is only when the seed is planted and it withstood the blazing heat, the scorching sun and the blistering wind that it produces a crop.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us.”

He then writes about the way we read: not only on the surface, because

“Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alon[e] with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible …

“If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament …

“And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way – and this has not been for so very long – it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.”

The double-minded hearers

The double minded Christian stands in both the world and the kingdom of God.  He wants the best of both worlds.  In Luke 14 Jesus spells out the cost of discipleship:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26–27, NIV)

There are Christians who deceive themselves into thinking that if they were only rich they would be happy. When they are rich they delude themselves into imagining that if they were only still richer they would be satisfied, as if material riches could under any circumstances guarantee contentment.

Such desires or cravings are wrong either because the object for which these people yearn is sinful; for example, a desire for dangerous drugs, or for intimate relations with another man’s wife; or because, even though the thing which one desires to have or to do is perfectly legitimate, the desire itself may be unjustifiable; for example, to play baseball or chess to the neglect of everything else.  It is to make it an idol.  We all know of people who put their whole life on hold to get a gold medal in a sport or other achievement — and they might lose their souls.  Parents, never put your children on this road!  They may just become fruitless in the Kingdom of God — and lose everything!

There is nothing wrong with the sower. Also, there is nothing wrong with the seed. With these people, however, everything is wrong. They should ask the Lord to deliver them from corroding cares and dream-world delusions, so that the kingdom message may begin to have free course in their hearts and lives.

The apostle John writes:

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:16–17, NIV)

John then carries on to describe the tragic consequences of those who sat on two chairs:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19, NIV)

And Paul adds to this—something sad about someone whoas once on his side as they preached the word of God: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me …” (2Timothy 4:10)  It is interesting that the term “love this world” is also used in the parable of the sower for the seed which was choked by the worries of this world.  Our Lord warned:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31–34, NIV)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6, NIV)

Maybe we should learn from the author of Proverbs:

Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7–9, NIV)


The devil can use two things to draw us away from God: suffering on the one hand, and prosperity on the other hand.  Looked at from a biblical point of view both these things are a gift from God which should be used for his glory.  But if they become something in themselves, and we are so shallow of root in our understanding of the Scriptures, they make us fall.

Job, the man who lost it all—everything but his faith in the Lord—said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5, NIV)

He knew God, he understood God’s revelation, and he kept his faith.


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