A Heart of Good Soil (By Les Kovacs)
Text: Luke 8-9
Observe: In these chapters we find Jesus doing what He does best, teaching the people about the kingdom of heaven, healing the sick, and performing miracles.
Chapter 8 opens with Jesus traveling with His followers from town to town, and He tells them the parable of the sower. The seeds are the Word of God, and the different types of soil upon which the seeds fell are the people who hear the word and how they respond to it. He warns them to listen carefully and take heed of what He says. The crowds are so thick around Jesus that His mother and brothers are not able to get close to Him, but Jesus tells the disciples that His family is actually those who hear God’s word and obey.
Jesus takes His disciples across the lake, and takes a nap. While He is sleeping, a fierce storm kicks up and boat is in danger of being swamped, so the disciples wake Jesus and alert Him to their fear. At that, Jesus gets up and calms the wind and the waves, and asks them what happened to their faith? Still, the disciples ask themselves how it is that Jesus can accomplish these things.
Having sailed across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes, Jesus encounters a man possessed by many demos. The demons immediately recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and plead with Him not to be tortured, and would rather live in a herd of nearby pigs. Jesus grants their request and drives them into the pigs, who immediately run into the lake and are drowned. Once the people see what has happened, they demand that He leave their area at once, so once again, He crosses the lake to the other side. Upon arriving, Jesus is called to heal a dying young girl, but as He’s on His way, a sick woman touches His robe to be healed of her 12 year-long affliction. When she confesses to being the one who touched Him, He tells her that her faith has made her well. This short delay was enough for the young girl to die, but that’s no obstacle for Jesus and He raises her up again.
In Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve on a mission to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick and drive out demons. They are to take no provisions whatsoever, and only accept whatever hospitality they are offered on the way. The apostles return and report everything they had done. These miracles make the people, including King Herod, wonder about Jesus teachings.
The crowds follow Jesus wherever He goes. At Bethsaida, Jesus teaching and healing lasts long into the afternoon, and the disciples ask Him to dismiss the people because they were in a remote area and without food and lodging. When Jesus tells them to feed the people, they ask Him with what? They only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and there are more than 5 thousand people in attendance. Jesus takes the food, gives thanks to heaven, breaks it into pieces and miraculously, there is more than enough to feed everyone. Later, in a private moment with His disciples, Jesus asks who the people think He is, to which they tell Him, John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the old prophets come back to life. Then He asks who they think He is, and Peter says “God’s Messiah”. Jesus declares Peter correct in his declaration, and then predicts His own death, and says that if they want to follow Him, they must deny themselves and take up their crosses daily.
Shortly thereafter, Jesus took Peter, John and James and went to the mountains to pray. While there, He was transformed into a bright shining figure and two other men, Moses and Elijah, appeared with Him to discuss His coming departure. As the dazed disciples looked on, a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” And all at once they were alone with Jesus again.
When they returned to town, Jesus healed yet another demon-possessed boy whom the other disciples were not able to help because of their inadequate faith. While the people were marvelling at this, Jesus predicted His own death to His disciples. Still they didn’t understand, and argued among themselves about who would be the greatest, and Jesus indicated that it was the least of them who would be the greatest. As they were walking through Samaria, they were prevented from staying in one of their towns, so James and John wanted to bring down fire from heaven to destroy them, but Jesus said no, and they continued on their way. As they walked along various people asked to follow Him, but when Jesus said “follow me”, they all had other things to do first before they could do that.
Interpret: Jesus’ opening parable about the sower is brought to vivid life in these ensuing two chapters. Wherever He went, He told the people about the kingdom of heaven and spread the good news of salvation. These were the seeds the sower spread, the word of God, and we can see in this narrative how the various people responded to the word. Those that heard the word of God but didn’t let in take hold I their heart were like the owners of the herd of pigs, who only saw their financial investment drowned in the lake and drove Jesus away. They saw the cost of following Jesus and decided it was too much in earthly terms. The demons were able to recognize Jesus on sight as the Son of God, but most of the people, including the disciples, didn’t fully understand who Jesus really was, even after hearing His teachings and witnessing His miracles. But those who heard the word and believed, they were the ones who were blessed with being released from their demons and physical afflictions.
As Jesus travelled about the countryside, He spoke the words of life and healed the people who believed in Him, yet He never, ever forced anyone to accept Him. He always allowed them to believe or not as they wished, even though as God, He could have made them do so. When He sent the 12 out to spread the word, He told them to stay where they were welcomed, and to leave if they were not. When the Samaritans refused to allow them to stay in their town, rather than destroy them, Jesus simply left them in peace and went on His way. He always let people decide for themselves if they would follow Him or not.
Even His disciples, who were with Him almost constantly, didn’t always get it. They were first-hand witnesses to His healing and miracles, and were given more in-depth teaching than the crowds, yet they often failed to understand what He meant or who He actually was. Yet with infinite patience, Jesus continued to teach His disciples by word and example.
Application: Just like with the people of His day, Jesus allows us to decide for ourselves whether we will follow Him or not. He taught them. He fed them. He healed them. And then He said to them, “Follow me.” Today, the physical Jesus may not be walking and talking among us, but we can still read of His ministry. We can read the scriptures and see the truth of what He said. Today, Jesus continues to sow the seeds of the gospel of salvation, and we must decide for ourselves whether there is good soil in our hearts, or if it is hard-packed, rocky and full of weeds. When we spend time with Him in prayer or in scripture reading, we allow Him to work the soil of our hearts and allow the seeds to take a better hold of our thoughts, our intentions, our being and our doing. Like His disciples, we may not always get it, but Jesus was patient with them and He is patient with us.
Questions: Do you think you would recognize Jesus if He walked through your neighbourhood? Would you follow Him, even if it cost you everything?
Prayer: Father God, we pray that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit, our hearts may be filled with good soil, so your word can take root in our lives, your good works can be undertaken by our hands, and the story of salvation can be shared by our lips. May everything we think, say and do bring honour and glory to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Song: Here’s my Heart: Casting Crowns
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.