Monday, February 04, 2019

Devotional: Be Careful How You Hear! Matthew 13:1-23

Chapter 13 is one of the major teaching sections of the Gospel of Matthew. In it Jesus uses eight parables to explain the character of the kingdom of God in this age before Jesus’ second coming. In the present age, the kingdom will exist in a hidden form mixed with the kingdoms of the world. Only disciples that persistently listen to Jesus will understand it and recognize it. They will only understand Jesus when they value his kingdom above everything else in this life. Others may profess to follow Christ, but at the end of the age, God's judgment will reveal who are the true members of God's kingdom. The chapter is highly structured to highlight these points. The parable of the soils is sandwiched around Jesus’ explanation of why he uses parables. The parable of the weeds is sandwiched around two parables that explain the hidden nature of the present kingdom. The chapter ends with four parables that highlight the great, but presently hidden, value of Jesus; kingdom. We must listen well with a willing heart to avoid the mistake of the nation that rejected Jesus and was destroyed.

Matthew begins by pointing out the great crowds that listened to Jesus’ teaching.(13:1-2) Sadly, by the end of his ministry this great crowd will dwindle down to a few women and the eleven disciples The point is that it is not enough to just hear what Jesus is saying. Only disciples that stick around, act on what he says, and continually seek Jesus’ direction will really understand what he is all about and benefit from it.

Jesus as the “sower” plants the “seed” of the kingdom message everywhere and to everyone he meets. (13:3-9)  He speaks using  images that would have been common to his audiences. The problem with lack of fruitfulness was not caused by his presentation but by the receptiveness of the audience. The “path” represents people who do not care enough to really listen and so the word goes “in one ear and out the other” as if he had never spoken (13:18-19). The “rocky soil” represents those that hear with shallow commitment. (13:20-21). Testing and trials reveal their lack of commitment and they fall away. The “seeds among the thorns” represent those that let other priorities crowd out their commitment to Jesus’ word. (13:22). Jesus will hold first place or no place in your life. The “good soil” represents those that really believe Jesus, are willing to live by his values and are truly committed to his work. (13:23) They are willing to join in what Jesus is doing and thus learn more and deeper things about him and become more like him.

In between the telling of the parable and the explanation of its meaning, Jesus explains to his disciples why he teaches in parables. (13:10-17) Basically, the truth goes out to everyone, but it can only be understood by disciples who are willing to follow Jesus. That is, they are committed to pursue what Jesus is saying by asking questions, applying what he says to their daily lives, joining him in ministry, enduring what he endures, falling and getting back up, and doing all this in submission to him and his agenda. Those unwilling to do this, as Isaiah predicted, render themselves unable to see, hear and understand. Understanding comes only to those committed to a life of discipleship.

So we need to be careful how we hear. Hearing Jesus’ words, submitting to them and applying them to our daily life makes it easier to hear and understand more. Hearing Jesus without response makes it harder to hear the next time. We must see and hear with our eyes, ears, heads, hearts and hands. That is really listening!

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