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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Who Are These People?

I read the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:3-9) the other day. I find it disturbing. Who are these people?

You know the parable. A sower sows seeds. The seeds fall on different types of soil. The seeds on the path are scooped up by birds. The seeds on rocky soil are scorched. The seeds in the weeds are choked. Only the seeds on the good ground produce grain.

Fortunately, we have Jesus's explanation for this particular parable (Matt 13:18-23). So far, so good. The seed is "the word of the kingdom". The one who doesn't understand has the word snatched by the evil one. The rocky soil is one who "receives it with joy", but tribulations and persecutions cause him to fall away. The thorny soil also appears to receive the word, but it is unfruitful because of "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches." And, then, there's the good soil. We get that one.

Now, that's what the text tells us. What else do we know? Well, we know that "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30) We know that God "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy." (Jude 1:24) We can be "sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6)

So, let's feed these back into the "equation". There are four types who receive the word. The first never "experiences" it, so to speak. The last produces "grain". So there are two "soil types" that receive the word, but lose it. Who are these people? You see, if we say they are genuine believers, then Jesus would have to have been wrong when He said that "no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" because apparently tribulation and the world are quite able to do so. Jude would be wrong when he said that God was able to keep you from stumbling because persecution and riches are greater than God's ability. Paul would be wrong in his confidence in God because the world would appear to be more powerful than the Father. And we know that cannot be. So ... who are these people?

If John is right -- "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." (1 John 2:19) -- then it would appear that there are some "Christians" who are not at all. Note how closely they resemble the genuine article. You receive the Word; they receive the Word. You receive it with joy; they receive it with joy. You experience tribulations and persecutions; they experience tribulations and persecutions. You have pressures from the world; they have pressures from the world. In John's version they are in our midst, among us, indistinguishable. They teach and they share and they move among us. Jesus describes (in the very next parable after the Parable of the Sower) the "tares among wheat" (Matt 13:24-30), growing up in the very midst of the real stuff and looking very much like the real stuff and left there by God until the end.

Who are these people who hear the Word and even seem to take it in, but ultimately fail? It would appear, all things considered, that they are the tares among the wheat, the false "believers" who are among us. I think it's clear that we can't pick them out very well. It looks like they can't pick themselves out very well. They may be the neighbor or coworker who tells you, "Yeah, I tried that 'born again' stuff; it didn't work." Or they may be a friendly church member, even serving or leading a class. It's a scary group -- scary largely for their own sakes.

What is clear is this. The genuine reception of the Word is dependent on the heart of the one who receives it. The hard heart, the timid heart, the heart cluttered by the world, these cannot take in the Word. It is a heart problem (Ezek 36:26). Another clear message is that those who actually receive the Word will actually have results -- a change in life and behavior, affecting others and bearing fruit of both affecting others' lives for Christ and bearing the fruit of the Spirit -- what we call "sanctification". If there is no change -- no fruit -- perhaps you ought to be checking your own condition.

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