Time to Decide

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 8:18

Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.

Luke 8:18 RSV

Have you ever wondered why it is that people respond to the Christian message in such widely varied ways? I surely have. When I think of who Jesus is – surely the person in all history most worthy of trust, when I think of what He taught, so simple at one level but so amazingly profound, and when I think of what incomparably good news the Christian gospel is, it’s hard for me to understand how anyone could reject it. But obviously many do. How do we come to terms with that?

I’ve been helped significantly in this by the eighth chapter of Luke’s gospel. It shows how the precious seed of the gospel sometimes isn’t welcomed by those who hear it. But it shows also that there are always some who do respond and bear much fruit. Then these verses bring everything together and show that hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ produces a crisis for all of us. Listen. I’m reading Luke 8:18.

Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.

SOME REJECT

Let’s look first at this mystery, that the gospel of Jesus Christ, so full of life and power, could somehow bear no fruit in some who hear it. Jesus talks about the Word of God as the seed and Himself as the Sower. As He goes about preaching and teaching, He’s like a farmer scattering seed on the ground. The sower obviously wants a harvest. He tosses out good seed. But the result is not always positive. Some of the seed falls along a foot-path. It is stepped on by passersby, picked up and carried off by birds. The ground is so hard that the seed never has a chance to germinate and grow.

According to Jesus, this is a picture of some who hear God’s word. They hear it but it never sinks in. And because it remains on the surface, never welcomed into the heart, it’s relatively easy for the Evil One to snatch it away. In a sense, these people hear, but they don’t hear. The sounds of the words impinge on their auditory nerves but the essence of it never reaches mind and heart.

Perhaps you know people who listen to you like that. You’re sharing something important with them, but their minds seem to be on something else. Even if they stand facing you, they seem to be looking beyond you, their attention elsewhere. You have the feeling that if you were suddenly to say something shocking or ridiculous, they would continue to nod vacantly. No matter how true, helpful, urgent the things you have to share, they never really tune in. You have the feeling that they will remember nothing of what you have shared with them.

Some of the seed, Jesus continues, fell on the rocks. He seems to be describing terrain on which there’s a thin layer of soil covering bedrock. When the seed falls there, it germinates quickly. Plants spring up almost overnight. But the soil is too shallow and the underlying rock too unyielding. The seed can’t put forth any roots, can’t reach down for moisture. Under the searing heat of the sun, the little shoots have no chance to survive. They wither away.

Jesus says there are hearers like that. When the gospel is presented to them, they seem happy to receive it. But they don’t take it seriously. It’s like one more interesting fad to pursue. Theirs is belief without commitment. The Word never goes deep. When these pseudo believers are sorely tested, when it becomes in some way costly for them to embrace the gospel, they quickly lose interest. The word has never really captured their hearts, and so they show no staying power. In spite of a beginning full of promise, their superficial response makes them unstable. For them, hearing the good news seems to have no lasting effects. They move on to some other interest.

We have relationships like that, don’t we? Now and then we meet persons who respond to us enthusiastically. They seem very interested in us and want to know all about us. We have some enjoyable times together perhaps. We think it may be the beginning of a rich friendship. But when we have a need or suffer reproach, when being our friend may involve some commitment on their part, they are nowhere to be found. The flame that burned so brightly at first dies away.

Jesus talks about still another kind of hearer. These people are like soil already infested with thorns. When the seed falls there, it has scarcely begun to sprout when the thorns choke its growth. Those briers, Jesus says, stand for the “cares of life.” It’s possible, apparently, to cling to our anxiety in a way that hinders spiritual growth. We’re so taken up with cares that the promises of the gospel are squeezed from our consciousness.

In another way, “riches” can do that to us. We are preoccupied with how we can advance our financial interests. If it’s not making money, it’s guarding what we have or using it to make still more. Wealth is notorious for its addictive power. It’s possible to be so controlled by it that our intentions to live a Christian life get strangled.

Or maybe it’s what Jesus calls “the pleasures of life.” Our recreations can become so absorbing that they tyrannize over us. We get hooked on our hobbies. What starts out as harmless diversion becomes a desperate kind of pursuit. We can’t seem to get enough. And when we pursue that course, there simply isn’t time or energy left for Christian faith and obedience. Our life is so full of these other things that there’s no room for God. Believe it, says Jesus, that can happen.

SOME RECEIVE

But there’s also a bright side to this story. Whenever the sower is passing out this good seed, some of it always falls on good soil, sprouts and grows. It is so fruitful that it sometimes produces a hundredfold! In other words, when conditions are right, the yield is spectacular. The seed is so charged with life and fruitfulness that in a congenial environment it can produce an amazing harvest.

Who are the hearers like that? Listen to Jesus’ words:

And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).

Did you get that? They hear the Word and they cling to it. Literally, they keep on holding it fast. These people prize what they have heard. They recognize that it’s the best news in the world, the most important message they will ever receive. They hide the Word in their hearts. They “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it,” and as they do, it becomes in them a life-giving power. They keep on bearing fruit. Come wind, come weather, they continue in the path of discipleship. They make abiding in Christ their chief concern. And their lives bear the fruit of Christian character, of obedience and effective witness.

In a sense, this is a glad word for all who try to communicate the gospel. Jesus is not the only sower of the good seed. He describes here not only His own ministry of proclamation but that of His followers also. They too will be scattering the seed abroad. They will be tempted to discouragement when they see how some will not receive the gospel at all, how others show interest but fall away, how still others let the Word be choked out of their lives. But they can be sure that their labor will not finally be in vain. Some will respond.

Remember this word from Isaiah’s prophecy? For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10-11). “The word,” he says, “will not return to God empty.” It will accomplish its design. It will be effective in just the way that He intends. No word from God will be void of power.

For all of us who preach the good news, this is tremendous encouragement. Although in every group there may seem to be those who in various ways are resistant to the Word, we always find some good soil. Some hearts will drink it in. Some lives will be transformed by it and become astonishingly fruitful. So we never speak the good news in vain. Although we may not always be able to identify the results, at least right away, we can be confident that every ministry of the Word, however humble and seemingly inconsequential, will finally bring a rich harvest.

Once when I was in college, I was talking to Jim, one of my fraternity brothers, about receiving Jesus as his Savior. He listened politely with what seemed like interest but didn’t seem ready to make a commitment. The hours I spent in his dormitory room didn’t seem at the time to be fruitful. Some thirty years later, I got a letter from Jim’s roommate, Bill. This is what he said, “You may remember the time when you were talking to Jim about the Lord. He didn’t receive Christ at that time, but I did. I was sitting at my desk, supposedly working at my studies, but I was listening to every word, and there and then, I asked Jesus into my life. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it ever since.” I was almost overwhelmed with joy to read that and to realize again that even when we think we aren’t getting anywhere in our Christian witness, it’s never for nothing.

THE CRISIS OF HEARING

Now for the last thought in this passage: According to Jesus, the hearing of God’s Word always produces a crisis. “Take heed then how you hear,” He says, “for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” What does Jesus mean by that? Those who “have” are apparently those who have been responsive to the Word of God, who believe what they hear and set themselves to obey it. That openness qualifies them as candidates for further light. The more they welcome the Word, the more capacity they have to receive it. For them it becomes grace upon grace. Every new believing response to the gospel makes them more and more rich in the things of God. So if you love to read the Word of God and seek to apply it to your daily life, you’ll find yourself growing in appreciation for it and in your hunger. I know people who have been reading the Bible for decades who are so eager to open it every day that they can hardly wait. They say in the words of the psalmist, “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

But the opposite is also true. Those who are indifferent to the Word and disobedient will lose even the small measure of light they possess. Whatever spiritual knowledge and joy they have known will diminish. Their hearts and lives will become darker and poorer. That won’t be because the Word is harmful or because God somehow wants to push them away. It will simply demonstrate that when we hear the Word of God, we can never be the same again.

No wonder Jesus says, “take heed how you hear.”

The Word of God produces a crisis precisely because it is God’s Word. In the preaching of His message, He confronts us. When we welcome the Word with a believing heart, we move toward God. When we ignore or refuse it, we turn away from Him. After the Word has come to us, we’re either more open or more closed, more tender or more hard of heart, more full of faith and joy or more empty within.

Now, friends, this is more than just an interesting hypothisis. This is the truth. You and I can never trifle with the Word of the living God. It will always make us different, but the difference will depend upon our response to it. I tell you now afresh of Jesus Christ, God’s gift to the world, incarnate, crucified and risen again for you. If you will receive Him with a trusting heart and set yourself to obey His word, your whole life will open up to God and His truth. But if you resist Him today, if you turn from Him today, if you want nothing to do with Him, you will find it in coming days even more difficult to believe. So try to remember, whenever the gospel comes to your mind and heart, it’s the time to decide. It’s time now. Oh, decide to say yes to Jesus Christ!

Prayer: Father, let this time of decision be a blessed one for all who share this broadcast. May no one harden his or her heart to the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ. But may all of us receive it with our whole hearts and bear fruit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.