Sermon preached on Luke 8:1-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/05/2021 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
The Secrets of the Kingdom of God
Today we get to talk about some of the secrets of the kingdom of God. May we all have ears to hear and eyes to see and minds to understand the wonderful truths God has revealed in his Word! And may those truths bear much fruit in our lives.
Let’s begin then in our first point to consider the proclamation Jesus was doing through the cities and villages. This is verses 1-3. We see that Jesus along with his twelve disciples and a number of women were with him as he went to town and city with his important message. I want us to notice two things about this.
First, Jesus’ message was a gospel message, specifically regarding the kingdom of God. This is what verse 1 says, and the Greek there translated as “bringing the good news” is just one word in the Greek. It’s where we get the word in English of evangelizing. Evangelizing is to bring the good news. We talk all the time about doing evangelism as Christians. And what is that good news that we bring when we evangelize? Well, we probably say something about being forgiven of our sins because of Jesus’ death on the cross so that we can be saved from the punishment of hell and have eternal life through faith in Jesus. But notice in verse 1 that the description of the good news is put in terms of the kingdom of God. To clarify, Jesus’ here doesn’t have a different gospel message than what we have today. It’s not that he is talking about different good news than what we are talking about. It’s all a part of the complete announcement of this good news that we call gospel. But I like to point out in cases like this that the way Jesus tended to describe this gospel is in terms of the kingdom. The gospel and the kingdom were intimately connected. One way we can talk about the gospel is about how we come into a glorious and everlasting kingdom of peace and righteousness through faith in Jesus. It is good news to herald the coming of this kingdom and king, especially when there is a way to be a part of such a wonderful kingdom through turning to Jesus in faith. This is the message Jesus was proclaiming everywhere he went. He clearly was on a mission to spread this news far and wide, here, there, and everywhere. He announced the coming of the kingdom. And he taught about what this kingdom would be like and how to be a part of it.
The second thing I want you notice about Jesus’s proclamation here is the people that were with him. He was not out here there preaching all by himself. In the one group, you had the twelve whom Jesus was teaching and training and preparing for their future apostolic ministry. They would carry on the official proclamation of the kingdom after Jesus’s later ascension back to heaven. For now, they were primarily students, learning the secrets of the kingdom so they could one day be the ones to preach this good news themselves on behalf of Jesus.
But then you also have these various women who play an important role here in providing for Jesus materially as he went on this itinerant preaching ministry. Some names are given to us. This Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all the gospels. She would become a witness to where Jesus was buried, and a witness to his empty tomb, and in fact, the risen Lord Jesus first appeared to her before anyone else. That was quite an honor bestowed upon her. The Joanna mentioned here is also among the women who were the first eye-witnesses to the empty tomb, Luke 24:10. Regarding this Susanna, there is no other mention of her in the Bible. But the point of these women being mentioned here is to express how they drew from their own material and financial resources to go along with Jesus and help provide for him. There’s a wonderful reminder here that despite all the supernatural miracles Jesus did, he didn’t draw from his divine prerogatives to benefit himself. He needed the support of these women to be provided for, and otherwise lived in rather humble circumstance and general poverty. And so, these women were glad to care for him. And we see why they were glad to do so. Verse 2 says that these women are people that Jesus healed either of demons or sickness. Mary Magdalene herself had suffered from seven demons. These women showing such love and gratitude to Jesus are illustrations of this same point that Jesus made in last week’s passage. Remember that is where that sinful woman had been forgiven of much sin so she loved Jesus much. So too, these women had been so blessed and healed by Jesus that they loved him much and delighted to care for his material needs so he could be about this preaching ministry from town to town. So then, their love for Jesus reminds us today to be show love and gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us.
Let us then turn in our second point to consider this Parable of the Sower. This is a memorable parable of Jesus, recorded in all the synoptic gospels. Here we receive not only the parable, but Jesus’ official explanation. The parable is about a person scattering of seed in order to plant them. In their agricultural setting, this was surely a familiar illustration. We observe then that Jesus says the seed is the word of God. So then, we can imagine the sower being the prophet or Bible teacher who is spreading God’s word. In this passage we ought to especially think of Jesus himself as the one who is spreading God’s word.
So then, we see that the seed which is God’s word is described as falling on four different places. Three of them are not good places and describe people who outwardly hear the word, but don’t truly hear it in their hearts. Only one is a good place, describing someone who does truly hear God’s word. This parable is helpful for us to understand all the different ways the people respond to the same message. You can have a room full of non-Christian people all listening to the same gospel message, and some people become converted, while many do not. Jesus’ parable here explains that while it is the same word that goes out, for many the soil of their hearts is not one conducive for the word to implant and grow and bear fruit.
Look at each of the four options. For the seed that falls on the path, Jesus explains that this is like when the word is preached but the devil ends up taking the word away from their hearts. This reminds us of the spiritual warfare that is going on. From the beginning, the devil has been out to destroy us. Sometimes people have the word given to him, but he comes along and speaks his lies or gives his temptations and the person doesn’t respond to the word as they ought. The Bible tells us that we need to be aware of the devil’s deceitful tactics so we can be on guard against it. He will try to tell you that God’s word is not true, that it is backward, wrong, and not to be believed or trusted. But he is in fact that one who shouldn’t be trusted. Let us trust God’s word over the devil’s.
For the seed that falls on the rock, Jesus explains that it is the person who only superficially receives the word. They make an initial profession of faith and are at first excited about it, but they ultimately fall away because the word hasn’t really taken root in their hearts. All it takes is a time of testing to show their true state. Maybe they are facing persecution for their faith, and so they are quick to abandon their profession in order to avoid it. Or maybe they realize there are troubles that come along in this life when you look to heed God’s word, and so they give up it to make life easier. But if the word had truly taken hold of in their hearts and really become rooted in their souls, they would have realized that the afflictions in this life are but momentary compared to the eternal weight of glorious kingdom of God.
For the seed that falls among thorns, Jesus explains that this is the person who ultimately chooses the pleasures and joys of this life over what the word calls them to. They are also people who may at first seem like they are entertaining the word. They might be people who start going to church and even make a profession of faith at some point. But then the thorns get in the way. The thorns are those things in this world that compete for their affections and heart over God and his word. Living for the Lord in this life means there are certain things you must give up. But sinful pleasures in this life can be so very alluring. We can feel like we are missing out on certain things, certain experiences, certain pleasures, if we actually follow Christ. These sinful pleasures can call you to turn from the way of righteousness and give into the cravings of the flesh. This is why Jesus can say that for such people their fruit doesn’t mature. Maybe you’ve seen a plant
do this. It gets some little fruit starting to grow, but the fruit never gets bigger and eventually just falls off prematurely. It may be the weeds have choked out that plant so it couldn’t put it’s focus on making the fruit. So then, Jesus says that people need to find their delight in the Lord and his word and then there won’t be any weeds to choke us out.
So then, the last seed is that which falls on the good soil. Jesus explains that this is the person that truly hears from their the word of God and they embrace it and hold fast to is. These are people who from their hearts truly love what the word calls them to. The end result is a tremendous harvest of fruit. But do notice that this fruit doesn’t grow up overnight. It requires patience. This seed must meet the good soil, germinate, build those deep roots, get that sunlight and rain over time, grow its foliage, then it must flower then fruit which must grow and mature. Finally, it is ready for a harvest. But this is how God’s word works in the life of the true Christian. Over time there is great fruit that comes from a heart that trusts in God and his word. Over time, turning away from the world, the flesh, and the devil and hearing and heeding God’s word from the heart brings wonderful and eternal rewards.
Let us now in our third point, consider a point from this passage that I’ll summarize with the quote at the end of verse 8. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is something Jesus says at different points when he tells a parable. It is explained in the next verse when Jesus describes why he speaks in parables. He speaks of how only some people have been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but others haven’t been. He says there that those who haven’t been given to know such secrets are why he teaches in parables. He says that it is so they see but not see, hear, but not really hear. Yet those who are given to hear, are called to truly hear what the parable says to them. In other words, some people will hear the parable and understand it and some won’t. Some will take its truth to heart and embrace it, others will disregard it. Some will find the wonderful life-changing truths about the kingdom of God in it, others will miss the message to their shame and demise.
In other words, Jesus here is talking about the doctrine that we call election or predestination. It is a more advanced teaching, but we find it described here. There are some who will truly understand and believe God’s word and will be saved, and there are some that won’t. Scripture tells us that this is something God predestined to be the case from before the foundation of the world. He chose from eternity those whom he would save, and those whom he would not. Jesus’ use of parables coordinates with God’s saving purposes in terms of election. In fact, not only does this explain here why Jesus taught in parables, but this Parable of the Sower itself illustrates election. It is the elect alone in whom God works by his Spirit to be the good soil that receives the word and bears much fruit.
This parable also explains why there are some who may for a time look like they are God’s elect, when they really are not. Notice how Jesus’ language in explaining the different bad locations for the word speak of people who “hear” the word. But then they go on to show they don’t truly “hear”. That’s why he can say “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”. There are people who only outwardly hear the word. They might go to church for a time and worship along side you and give to the church building fund and do other Christian things. But if in testing they fall away, or if the lures of this world turn them away, or if they fall prey to the lies of the devil, then we realize that they never really knew the Lord. God’s word was never really rooted in them. Thus, we realize that they weren’t really the elect of the Lord. Or to say it another way, they didn’t have ears to hear. Or to say it yet another way, to them was not given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.
There are several applications that come to us from this passages’ teaching on divine election. Regards our own growth and knowledge to God, we realize that we need God to open our ears. We look to him for our salvation. When we find our ears opened, we give thanksgiving to God. We don’t take pride in ourselves in our salvation, but we give glory to God.
Another application we find here about this doctrine of election is what we sometimes call the free offer of the gospel. Yes, the free offer of the gospel is teaching rooted in this passage’s teaching. Some Christians who have perverted the doctrine of election in a hyper way think we don’t need to bother evangelizing because of divine election. That’s not correct. Likewise, other Christians who have had trouble affirming the Bible’s teaching on election have said that it would make evangelism worthless. They ask why bother evangelizing if God is just going to save whomever he is going to save anyways? While that might seem like a logical enough question, it is not a biblical conclusion. To see this, all we have to do is cross reference verse 10 and verse 1. Verse 1 says that Jesus went through every town and city and proclaiming far and wide this good news about the kingdom. But then in verse 10, Jesus clarifies that only to some has God given to actually know the secrets of this kingdom. In other words, Jesus says that that message itself needs to be given to everyone, but only the elect will truly understand it and be saved. As the sower scatters the seed all over, and not just on the good soil, we too look to evangelize everyone. This is what Jesus did. This is what we are called to do. It is called the free offer of the gospel and it is not in conflict with the doctrine of election. Let us as the church keep sowing God’s see everywhere, this wonderful message of the gospel.
The final application I’ll bring to you then from this is a subset of that last application. I point you once more to verse 1. Not only did Jesus preach the gospel to the crowds, but we see there he also had the twelve with him. It was to that inner circle that he particularly took the time to explain the parables so they would truly know the secrets of the kingdom. But my application here comes from the member roll of that twelve. Judas Iscariot was on the list. So then, Judas seemed at that time like he was part of the elect. He seemed like he had been one to whom these secrets of the kingdom were given. But he wasn’t. That would ultimately be exposed. So, the application is to take heed lest you stand. This doctrine of election has never been given so at to promote spiritual slothfulness. Some Christians who have perverted this doctrine of election in a hyper way effectively downplay the need for us to really strive for godliness and obedience in response to God’s word. But Jesus here commands those who are elect to respond to the word. That’s what it means when he says he who has ears to hear, let him hear. Being elect doesn’t excuse us from striving for obedience, it really makes us all the more called to obedience. If he’s given us ears to hear him, we really should listen to him. Likewise, the existence of Judas Iscariot among the twelve with all their special privileges with Jesus shows that we can’t assume just because we are outwardly members in the church that we are elect. We must rather look to make our calling and election sure through spiritual diligence in attention to God’s word, as Peter calls us to in 2 Peter 1:10.
So then, today the Lord has taught us many important secrets of the kingdom of God. Let us indeed hear them and heed them unto the day that Jesus returns to usher in that kingdom which we proclaim today.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.