Sermon

God's Word Faithfully Preached from the Pulpit

๐—–๐—ต๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐—ฐ๐—ต ๐—ž๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด๐—ฑ๐—ผ๐—บ: ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ฃ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐—ฏ๐—น๐—ฒ ๐—ผ๐—ณ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ฆ๐—ผ๐˜„๐—ฒ๐—ฟ (๐—œ๐˜€๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ฎ๐—ต ๐Ÿฒ:๐Ÿต-๐Ÿญ๐Ÿฌ ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐— ๐—ฎ๐˜๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ๐˜„ ๐Ÿญ๐Ÿฏ:๐Ÿญ๐Ÿด-๐Ÿฎ๐Ÿฏ)

Introduction

(Story: Expectation vs Reality)
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We begin our new year with a new sermon series. And as I personally meditate on the nature of the church, I was drawn to the insights from the theological works of Zacharias Ursinus’, his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, and Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. However, the most important source on shaping my perspective about the doctrine of the church has been the profound teachings of Jesus, particularly his parables concerning the Kingdom of God.
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The Kingdom of God is central to Jesus’ teachings. It finds its expression in the parables recorded in Matthew chapter 13. These narratives, though diverse, converge on the common theme of God’s sovereign rule over his church, and the effect it has on those who receive it. In our preaching today, we will beginning with the Parable of the Sower.
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But before we dive further into the heart of this series, let us first consider the essence of a parable. What is a parable? Well, parables areย  often misunderstood as illustrative earthly stories imparting great heavenly or spiritual and moral truths. Often received as fables, these stories are employed by many preachers today as spiritualized models to follow. However, Jesus throughout his ministry, used parables for a specific purpose and it is to serve as windows into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. This means parables are stories about the Kingdom of God. It provides us a way to perceive the unseen reality of God’s reign over his people. Now, specifically the Parable of the Sower sheds light on the nature of church as a community bound by regenerated hearts.
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This parable, an important centerpiece of Jesus’ teachings, unveils for us layers of meaning. Beyond the surface of the ordinary elements narrative lies a special revelation about the varied responses of human hearts to the proclamation of the Kingdom. In this parable, we learn that the fertile soil of regenerated hearts, where the seed of God’s Word takes root, is the one that flourishes, and yields abundant fruit. And the church as a kingdom, as a collective of regenerated hearts, mirrors the receptive soil of the Sower’s field. That as members of this community, our role is to continue being nurtured by the transformative power of God’s Word, a living testament to the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit within us.
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Our preaching this morning will cover three parts:ย  1) Spirit-Wrought Faith,ย  2) Grace-Bestowed Election, 3) Faith-Grounded Holiness. And before we begin, let us pray:
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Lord God, help us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all day long. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen. (based on Psalm 25:4-5, NRSV)
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Spirit-Wrought Faith
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Let us begin with Matthew 13:1-9. Here we have a structured narrative, opening with Jesus leaving a house and choosing the seashore as a teaching setting. The subsequent use of a boat as a pulpit creates a natural amphitheater, setting the stage for the delivery of the Parable of the Sower. Then, as the narrative unfolds seamlessly, it goes straight to the heart of the teaching.
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For context from the preceding chapter, Matthew 12, Jesus was primarily preaching in Galilee. However, the reception of his message was mixed. While some people were amazed at His teachings and recognized His authority, others, particularly the religious leaders, opposed Him. The Pharisees, in particular, accused Jesus of performing miracles by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, rather than acknowledging the divine authority behind His actions. This opposition marked a growing tension in the reception of Jesus’ message during that time.
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Jesus preached the Parable of the Sower in response to the opposition his message had been receiving from the Pharisees and the leaders of his day. As a historical context, Israel as a nation, at this point, suffered from a kind of dissonance often experienced when expectation and reality do not match. The Old Testament themes, particularly drawing on agricultural imagery found in prophetic literature, such as Isaiah 55:10-11, the use of the sower and seed metaphor aligns with the expectation in the Old Testament that when the Messiah comes, Israel will be restored to all its former glory, the defeat of all their enemies, and the submission of all nations under God’s rule. Jesus’ sermon on the mount preaches blessedness despite suffering and even persecution, so the leaders of their day questioned the power and authority of Jesus.
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But Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God will come with a common message but will be received differently by its hearers. Contrary to expectation, he proclaims a message of conversion not by civil force but by spiritual regeneration. The use of an agricultural metaphor seems to point out a harvest from the land alluding to the nation in jubilee, but the contrast of seeds landing on different kinds of soil conditions points to diverse responses based on the receptivity of individual human hearts, and not a collective whole. This parable reflects a continuity of biblical themes, illustrating the transformative power of divine revelation in line with the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament.
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The parable unfolds as a vivid metaphorical description of various soil types representing different responses to the divine message. There were four kinds of conditions: the path, rocky ground, thorns, and good soil. The first three yield negative results, with only the fourth bringing in fruits. The point is clear: not all who receive the message of the coming of the kingdom, like the seed landing on different kinds of soil, will accept its message and become its disciples. Jesus calls for spiritual discernment, emphasizing the need for attentive hearing and understanding.
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Receiving the message of the kingdom, the gospel message about Christ’s atoning work, only happens after regeneration. Regeneration, often referred to as being โ€˜born againโ€™ or โ€˜spiritual rebirthโ€™, is a transformation of the heart brought about by the Holy Spirit. This spiritual awakening allows a person to perceive and respond to the divine truth, including the gospel message about Christโ€™s atoning work. Regeneration precedes faith, meaning itโ€™s not faith that causes regeneration, but rather regeneration that gives rise to faith. This is because faith is a gift from God, not a product of our own efforts or intellect. It is the result of the Holy Spirit working within us, enabling us to believe and trust in Christ. This is what is meant by โ€˜Spirit-wrought faithโ€™, a faith born out of, and sustained by, the regenerating work of the Spirit.
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Grace-Bestowed Election
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Moving to Matthew 13:10-16, the disciples approach Jesus with a query concerning his use of parables in his teachings. In response, Jesus begins by unveiling to them his purpose for using them: the mysteries of the kingdom are disclosed to the disciples, those intimately connected with him, while veiled from those who remain outside the kingdom. God rules by Election and Reprobation. Verse 11 clearly records Jesus saying that the kingdom is “given to them”. This passive and indicative word Jesus used makes no room for misinterpretation: the message of the kingdom and the secret to understanding it comes by divine prerogative. Both regeneration and conversion are grounded solely upon God’s grace. It is by divine election without any condition or even qualification on the recipient. This initiation into the secrets of the kingdom forms a crucial aspect of Jesus’ pedagogy, conveying profound truths through symbolic narratives. Such a selective disclosure underscores the exclusive nature of spiritual understanding granted to those who actively seek to comprehend the teachings of Christ.
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However, the message does not in of itself is not confusing or even obscure. On the contrast, the message itself is plain and clear. The problem lies on the message but on its hearers. The purpose of parables, according to Jesus, extends beyond mere storytelling. He explains that these narratives serve as a litmus test for the receptivity and responsiveness of the hearer. In verses 12-15, Jesus expounds on the dual function of parables โ€“ to enlighten and deepen the understanding of those genuinely seeking the truth, and conversely, to obscure and confound those who approach with a closed heart. This dialectical aspect of Jesus’ teaching method aligns with the discernment of wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, particularly in Proverbs where wisdom is portrayed as a hidden treasure, discernible only by those who diligently seek it.
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The insightful linkage between Jesus’ words and the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) underscores the fulfilment with the Old Testament narrative. By quoting Isaiah, Jesus positions his teaching within the broader prophetic tradition, emphasizing that the unbelief and spiritual blindness among the people are not unforeseen but are part of a divine plan unfolding throughout history. This connection to the prophetic voice reinforces the idea that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises and the embodiment of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.
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In the concluding statement of verse 16, Jesus pronounces a blessing upon the disciples, affirming their privileged status as recipients of divine revelation. We, as disciples of God’s kingdom, are all included only by divine ordination. Being part of God’s elect ruled by his divine sovereignty is the blessed status of all believers. This beatitude emphasizes the transformative impact of understanding the mysteries of the kingdom, portraying it as a source of profound blessedness. In this manner, Matthew 13:10-16 not only provides insight into the electing love of God but also grounds their blessing solely by grace.
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By way of application, we are reminded of the importance of seeking and embracing divine wisdom with an open heart. As disciples of Godโ€™s kingdom, we are called to actively seek understanding and discernment, recognizing that these gifts come solely by Godโ€™s grace. The parables serve not only as narratives but as mirrors reflecting our own receptivity to divine truth. They challenge us to examine our hearts and minds, to ensure we are not merely hearers of the Word, but doers as well. As we persevere to the end, let us remember that our understanding and enlightenment are gifts of grace, not of our own making. This realization should humble us, making us quick to repent, reminding us of our dependence on Godโ€™s sovereignty and leading us to live lives marked by gratitude, obedience, and profound blessedness. As recipients of Godโ€™s electing love, let us strive to reflect His grace in our interactions with others, serving as the salt and light of His kingdom here on earth.
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Faith-Grounded Holiness
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Finally, we come to Jesus’ explanation of his parable. This goes to prove that the mystery of the kingdom lies not in the message itself but in its hearers. The seed corresponds to the message of the kingdom which Jesus preached, while the type of soil simply shows the different ways the message is received.
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The metaphor is plain. The seed that landed on the path hears the Word but did not understand it. Unbelievers fall in this category, for they hear the message of the gospel without any distinction, but when there is no faith, it will never yield to anything. Then the seed that landed on rocky ground is also a failure because it cannot grow any root. Rootless Christians make a profession of faith but will never possess true and saving faith. The initial acceptance, even though marked by joy, cannot sustain itself because false professors rely on false assurances. They will soon fall away from the faith because, as 1 John 2:18 explains: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Next, the seed that first thrived on thorny grounds eventually perished because it became barren in the end. It did not grow any fruit. Jesus explains that the Word was truly understood upon its first hearing, but it failed to grow any fruit because it was not lived out.
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From the first three types, when listed out positively, we will see what being a good soil means, namely: hearing, understanding, and living.
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Faith must result to holiness. Holiness is grounded in faith. This relationship is vital to Christian piety. Again, holiness comes from faith. The reason why the fruit of holiness is by faith is that the root of faith is Christ. Ultimately, Jesus is the only good ground upon which we are all united through faith. His body is the immortal seed sown on which the overflowing water of the spirit gives life to the body of the whole church (1 Corinthians 15:45). So whenever God’s Word, the Gospel of Christ is heard and received, we draw all life-giving powers from the Spirit. Therefore, hearing the Word ultimately means we understand it and apply it in our lives, hearing leads to doing.
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How then do we hear and do? Is this something we can generate for ourselves? Again, here we must come full circle. Fruit, when grounded in faith, can only come from the Spirit. Holiness presupposes election, regeneration, and conversion. Holiness is by grace and not by scolding. It is often tempting for most leaders and teachers in churches today to assume that holiness is produced purely by inspiration or perspiration. But motivational speech and self-help routines cannot generate a single drop of holiness apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. It comes to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
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So let us pray and continue to ask God for all these spiritual blessings in individually to believing Christians and to church community as a whole.
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Conclusion
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ZCRC(Imus), this is the nature of the church. As Godโ€™s kingdom, the Word comes with the Spirit and creates faith in the hearts of His people. The Word creates the church by the Spirit. As believers, they understand that their salvation comes solely by Godโ€™s grace and the fruit of holiness is a result of true and saving faith.
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Our Father in heaven, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
ZCRC Imus
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