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A Heart that Bears Fruit for God (4 of 4)

This is the final part of the sermon I shared this past Sunday at Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta. Here is my outline for the blog version of the sermon:

Part 1: What Is “Fruit”?
Part 2: Two Kinds of Hearers
Part 3: Isaiah 6 and Hardness of Heart
Part 4: Four Kinds of Hearers and One Goal


FOUR KINDS OF HEARERS AND ONE GOAL

With the interpretation of his Parable of the Sower/Soils (Matt. 13:18-23), Jesus expands the picture from two kinds of hearers to four kinds. We do not have time to unpack each kind of soil (hearer) in detail, but will observe several key points.

Only the first soil mentions “heart” (Matt. 13:18). Only first and last soil mention “understanding” (Matt. 13:18, 23). But it is clear that all soils represent hearts in various conditions of understanding or not understanding. The four soils suggest a range of receptivity to the message of the kingdom and a range of levels of understanding.

This is a more nuanced picture than the “insiders” and “outsiders” division of the earlier verses, but the parable interpretation still ends up with only two groups: those who bear fruit and those who don’t. Life prior to the final judgment is messy, so it’s not always clear who is “inside” and who is “outside.” And it takes time even for healthy plants to bear fruit. Yet only when there is good fruit do we have assurance that God has granted true understanding.

This point must be underscored: What counts before God on the day of judgment, according to this parable and the next in this chapter, is that we bear fruit. Merely experiencing some initial joyful growth of the word in our hearts is not enough. Fruitfulness is utterly essential! “You will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father…” (Matt 7:20-21).

How much fruit? Perhaps a hundredfold, perhaps sixty, perhaps thirty. The amount may depend on how much you seek to understand, and it may also depend on what God has entrusted to you. But bear fruit you must, and bear fruit you “indeed” will, if your heart truly understands the word of the kingdom of heaven.

The first soil most closely matches how Jesus has described the unbelieving crowds. They hear the word but don’t understand it. One new idea is added: Here God’s judgment is carried out by him permitting Satan to remove the word from their hearts. Humans and angelic forces each possess agency, yet God is sovereign over all.

The second and third soils invite the most personal reflection, for they fall between the extremes of full unbelief and fruitful understanding. These soils depict things that may prevent those with false or inadequate understanding from achieving fruitfulness. Consider the rocky soil: If we don’t truly understand (grasp on a heart level, fully believe) Jesus’ kingdom teachings about the blessings of suffering for him (Matt. 5:10-12), then our growth will be short-lived and our lives will prove fruitless. And consider the thorny soil: If we don’t understand Jesus’ kingdom teachings about our caring heavenly Father and the superlative value of eternal rewards (Matt. 6:19-34), then we will be choked by the “anxiety of the age” and the “deceitfulness of riches.”

Brothers and sisters: Are there ways that we might be rocky or thorny soil? Are we quickly shaken by tribulation or suffering for Jesus? Are there days when we are consumed by cares and anxiety? Have we bought into the never-ending lie that we will be a little happier, a little more secure, if only we achieve a little more earthly wealth? How might these blindnesses, these false kingdoms, be ruling our lives? What do you think?

But all is not lost if we see in ourselves some of these tendencies! Jesus’ parable invites all who have ears, to hear! Indeed, the other parables in this same chapter can help us understand the needed kingdom truths. The parables about the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) and about the nets (Matt. 13:47-50) fortify us against the dangers of the rocky soil by reminding us that good and evil people need to coexist until the end of time, and that the true tribulation we must fear is the final judgment. The parables about the mustard seed and the leaven (Matt. 13:31-33) similarly encourage patient endurance. The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matt. 13:44-46) remind us of the joy and inestimable value of the kingdom, far greater than any earthly anxieties or riches that could turn us into thorny soil.

Thus, the rest of the parables are designed not only to hide kingdom knowledge from unbelievers, but also to give true disciples increasing understanding, so we can avoid proving to be either rocky or thorny soil. Our response to the parables reveals what kind of soil we are. Will we take up the challenge to have ears and hear?

Brothers and sisters: Our goal must be to be “good soil.” We must pray for deep understanding of kingdom realities—the sort of understanding and faith that grips our hearts, produces profound repentance, opens the door for deep healing, and results in plentiful fruit!

Nabeel Qureshi was a Muslim who became a Christian after years of difficult searching that stretched his mind, will, and emotions. I listened to his story by audio book this week. I was challenged by his example of seeking after God:[1]

  • How his dad heard some of the same apologetic arguments that Nabeel heard, but how he, unlike Nabeel, was unable to see his own deceptive thinking.
  • How Nabeel realized multiple times that he needed to count the cost and decide if he was truly willing to conform to whatever truth God may show him.
  • How Nabeel realized only after the fact that sometimes he was subconsciously not allowing himself to believe some things because of the costs that would come with true belief.
  • How it took diligent searching over many years with several stages of increasing belief and repentance before Qureshi came to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
  • How even after Nabeel acknowledged Jesus’s true identity in prayer to God, more diligent search was required to come to secure healing and fruitfulness for God.

We should not confuse gaining a heart that understands with simply becoming a Christian. No, the call to understand is not simply about becoming a Christian, but about being one. It takes continued growth in understanding for continued fruitfulness. We need to grow in knowledge, in faith, in having our hearts seized and transformed by the King of the kingdom of heaven. This will lead to ongoing repentance, healing, and fruitfulness.

So let me end as Jesus ended, with a question: “Have you understood all these things?” (Matt. 13:51). That is: Have you followed with your ears and your minds? Did the words I shared ring true in your heart? Are you allowing them to grasp you deep inside and stir up a new vision of reality? Do you believe what you have heard? Have you been moved to repentance? Have you already begun to ask God for deeper healing and more fruitfulness?

If yes, then I give you Jesus’ words: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52). Treasure the truths you have heard today, both the old ones and anything that may have been new for you. Thank God for the gift of spiritual understanding! Bring out your treasures frequently, admiring them and sharing them with others. If you do, you have God’s promise: You will indeed bear fruit and yield “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


Do you have any feedback on this exposition of Matthew 13:1-23? Your responses are welcome in the comments below!


[1] See Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, book by Nabeel Qureshi.


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A Heart that Bears Fruit for God (1 of 4)

Today it was my turn to preach here at Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta. For a text, I chose the passage that I was reading this week as I work my way through Matthew’s Gospel in Greek. As a bonus, it is a passage that includes a quotation from the OT. I often try to include an OT reading and a NT reading in our gatherings, and I often like to chose passages where the NT quotes the OT.  Regular exposure to such passages is one good way to improve our own ability to interpret Scripture.

For something different, I decided to write out my sermon in full in advance. I didn’t end up simply reading it through, but it did work well both as preparation and as notes while I preached. Plus, now I can share it here! Here is our outline:

Part 1: What Is “Fruit”?
Part 2: Two Kinds of Hearers
Part 3: Isaiah 6 and Hardness of Heart
Part 4: Four Kinds of Hearers and One Goal


Today I want to talk to you about a heart that bears fruit for God. Our text is Matthew 13:1-23. You may turn there now. This is the famous Parable of the Sower, perhaps better titled the Parable of the Soils. Our key verse today is the last verse of our passage, verse 23. I’ll read it now:

“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 a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

This verse is the conclusion of Jesus’ explanation of his parable. In this explanation Jesus clarifies that the “seed” is “the word of the kingdom” and the various soils are different kinds of people who respond differently to the gospel message. But in this last verse there is one term from his farming imagery that Jesus does not explain. What is it?

WHAT IS “FRUIT”?

The term is “fruit,” and we will begin our study today with this term. What do you think it means? I remember, when I was a young adult, looking at passages like this and the one in John 15 and thinking that Jesus was talking about evangelism, as if bearing fruit referred to spiritual reproduction. Now I think this is possibly included, but much too narrow of a focus.

This likely reason why Jesus never interpreted this term here because this fruit imagery was well known to his Jewish audience. Fruit imagery appears multiple times even just within Matthew’s Gospel, and the meaning soon becomes clear:

“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:8, 10) —John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees

  • Good fruit is the result of repentance
  • Good fruit is essential to avoid judgment

“Beware of false prophets… 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:15-23)

  • Fruit can be good or bad, depending on the “tree”
  • Good fruit = doing “the will of my Father who is in heaven” (not merely doing mighty works or being a prophet)

“…Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matt. 12:32-35) —Jesus to Pharisees, who had just said he cast out demons by power of Satan

  • Fruit comes from the heart; fruit change requires heart change
  • Fruit includes our speech

“And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.” (Matt. 21:19) —Jesus cursing fig tree in his final week

  • The Jewish nation failed to produce good fruit, so would be judged

“’When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit…’ [But they killed his son.] They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’… Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matt. 21:34, 41, 43) —Jesus telling the parable of the tenants who refused to give their master fruit from his vineyard

  • Failing to produce fruit is connected to rejecting (killing) God’s Son
  • The Jewish leadership failed to give God the fruit he required, so they would lose leadership of God’s kingdom

Fruit, then, is our whole outward way of life, including our actions and our speech. Fruit can be good or evil, for it springs from good or evil hearts. Good fruit comes from a good heart that has experienced repentance and welcomed Jesus as God’s Son and as King. Only truly doing God’s will counts as good fruit—hypocritical mighty works in his name don’t count. Those who produce bad fruit will ultimately be removed from God’s kingdom and destroyed.

A heart that bears fruit for God, then, is a heart that does the will of God, a heart that gives God what is rightfully his and what pleases him in every aspect of life.

Who bears such fruit? Who has such a heart? Back to our key verse: “This is the one who hears the word and understands it.” Only the heart that understands the word of the kingdom can do the will of God.

For the rest of our time, then, we will consider what it means to have a heart that understands. We will consider two kinds of hearers, four kinds of hearers, and one goal.


Your responses are welcome in the comments below!


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