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.