Hearing the Word with Patience
Passage: Luke 8:1–8:15
Hearing the Word with Patience
When I was growing up in church, we used to sing a little song called, “Be Careful Little Eyes.” Did any of you sing that song growing up? I’m sure some of you did. It’s a simple song really, following an easy pattern – “Be careful little eyes what you see.” “Be careful little ears what you hear.” “Be careful little hands what you do.” I can still hear Ms. Anne, our choir director, singing that song, and I can still smell that musty room with no A/C on the third floor of the church building. “Be careful little eyes what you see.”
If you change one word in that song you’ll have a good summary of our passage this morning in Luke 8. The second verse of the song says, “O be careful little ears what you hear,” but you can describe the theme of our passage as “Be careful little ears how you hear.” That is the burden of Jesus’ parable in Luke 8. The Lord Jesus is concerned that we pay attention to how we hear his message. He’s concerned for how we respond to the gospel.
The Lord Jesus understands that there are two types of hearing. There is hearing that doesn’t really hear – you listen, but it makes no difference in how you live. You hear, but you don’t hear. And then there is the hearing that both hears and responds – you listen, and in response, you completely overhaul your life in light of God’s Word. There are two types of hearing, Jesus says.
So with apologies to that familiar children’s song, Jesus’ burden is not simply for us to be careful what we hear. His concern goes deeper, urging us to be careful how we hear – how we respond to his gospel.
And you can see Jesus’ concern in the flow of the passage. Throughout the text, Luke highlights the need to hear correctly. It’s all through the text – beginning, middle, and end. Notice v1, where Jesus is described as proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom. That’s Jesus’ ministry – he preaches, which means that hearing is essential. Then look at the middle of the text, v8. How does Jesus conclude his parable? With a call to hear – “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And then notice the end of the passage, v15. The good soil hears the word and holds to it.
Do you hear that emphasis throughout the text? Beginning, middle, and end – Jesus is concerned not just that we hear, but how we hear – how we respond to his Word.
And that gives us a framework for understanding the passage. The emphasis on hearing highlights the importance of God’s Word that Jesus proclaims. And that’s how we can break down this passage today – with a focus on God’s Word and our responsibility to hear. In terms of an outline, let me tell you where we’re headed. Vv1-8 summarize Jesus’ preaching, and here we will briefly consider the Urgency of God’s Word. Vv9-10 provide the purpose of Jesus’ parables, and here we’ll consider the Sovereignty of God’s Word. And then vv11-15 interpret Jesus’ parable, and here we’ll consider the Call of God’s Word.
That’s where we headed today – three truths related to God’s Word in Jesus’ ministry, and along the way, my hope is to connect each of these truths with how we ought to respond to his Word as well.
The Urgency of God’s Word
Let’s begin in vv1-8 with the Urgency of God’s Word. As the chapter begins, Luke reminds us that preaching was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. You see it right away, v1 – Jesus is proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. What is the central work of Jesus’ ministry at this point? It is proclaiming, far and wide, the good news of the kingdom. Yes, Jesus also performs many miracles, but remember, those miracles confirm his message. The miracles are the proof that the kingdom of God is coming, that God’s redemptive rule is being established, and that God is bringing to pass all those OT promises of salvation and restoration. This is central to Jesus’ ministry in Luke 8. With the cross yet to come, Jesus devotes himself to preaching the good news.
And Luke goes on in these opening verses to describe those who have responded to Jesus’ preaching. In v1, the twelve disciples are with Jesus, as you might expect. But then vv2-3 describe a number of women who are also accompanying Jesus. These women come from a wide-range of backgrounds. There is Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus delivered from a host of evil spirits, which very likely made her something of a social outcast. And then there is Joanna, whose husband works in Herod’s palace, so she probably comes from higher social standing. High class and outcasts – all types are following the Lord Jesus.
And what’s more, these women provide financial support for Jesus’ ministry. It was common in Jesus’ day for wealthy women to support rabbis, but these women seem to go beyond that common practice. Their lives are devoted to the Lord. Joanna is one of the women who goes to the tomb on Resurrection Sunday, Luke 24. These women are not mere check-writers. They’re devoted followers, and their lives exemplify true faith. In fact, don’t miss how Luke is piling up examples of faith across these two chapters. Do you see it? The centurion, ch7 v9; the forgiven woman, ch7 v50, and now Mary and Joanna ch8. Here we see little glimpses of what it means to follow the Lord. The gospel is calling all sorts of people to follow Christ – men and women, rich and poor, respected and outcast.
But as we come to v4, Luke moves from examples of faith to an example of Jesus’ preaching, and the example highlights Jesus’ use of parables. In this passage specifically, Luke recounts the parable of the Soils, as we should call it. Now, what makes this parable is unique is that Jesus uses it as the crowds are increasing around his ministry. You can see it there in v4 – “a great crowd is gathering, and people from town after town” are coming to him. And in response to this growing crowd, Jesus tells this parable. That’s striking. The crowds are growing, and instead of trying to maximize his impact, Jesus tells a parable. But not just any parable. This parable confronts the growing crowd with the need to hear the Word carefully.
Notice the details, vv5-8. Jesus pictures a Sower walking the paths through his field, and as he walks, he scatters the seed. But the seed falls on various kinds of soil. There is the soil along the path, which gets trampled down and eaten by birds. There is the rocky soil that lacks conditions for growth. There is the thorny soil where the seed is choked out by hostile plants. And last of all, there is the good, rich soil, where the seed takes root and grows. As the Sower scatters across a broad area – across a great field – but only soil bears fruit.
Now, we’re going to look the parable’s interpretation in a moment, but for now, I want you to see Jesus’ laser-like focus on hearing carefully. Notice the end of v8 – “As Jesus said these things, he called out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” Do you see how v8 is a call for the crowd to be careful how they hear? Jesus is saying, “It’s not enough for you to flock to me, perhaps to see a miracle or a healing. No, what’s urgent and essential is how you hear the Word. Are you hearing carefully?” That is Jesus’ concern.
And so, brothers and sisters, I want you to notice the urgency that comes every time we encounter God’s Word. People may hear, but do they hear? You may hear, but do you hear? It’s urgent. The Word of God was central to Jesus’ ministry, and that means even when the crowds seem to be exploding in excitement, Jesus returns to this simple but urgent question – “Do you have ears to hear?”
The Sovereignty of God’s Word
And that urgency leads us into our second truth. The parable, as we just noted, is clear enough on the surface, but it is also clear that Jesus is getting at something more here. That’s actually how parables work – they are simple stories that make a deeper point. In other words, Jesus uses this parable precisely in hopes of proving some deeper reflection. He’s not content with crowds. He wants disciples who hear. And so, following Jesus’ lead, the disciples ask the natural question – “What does this mean, Jesus” This is vv9-10, and here we find our second truth – The Sovereignty of God’s Word. The disciples ask for insight on the parable of the soils, but before Jesus explains the details, he first emphasizes the purpose of speaking in parables. The parable’s details are important, but there is a bigger truth at work here that the disciples need to understand. And so, Jesus highlights two purposes at work in his parables. Under God’s sovereignty, parables both reveal and conceal. This is key. As the sovereign Lord of all people, God uses Jesus’ parables to reveal the truth but also to conceal. Notice how Jesus explains this dual purpose of the parables.
First of all, Jesus emphasizes that understanding God’s kingdom comes only by revelation. Notice v10 – “Jesus said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.’” That is the language of revelation. The secrets of the kingdom belong to the Triune God, and these secrets – or mysteries, as Paul calls them – are beyond human understanding. To know these mysteries, they have to be revealed to you. Revealed by whom, you ask? By the One to whom the secrets belong – by God himself!
And that is what Jesus urges the disciples to see. By his sovereign grace, God has and he will reveal his purposes to Jesus’ disciples. God will open their eyes, you might say, so that the disciples will understand what God is doing in and through Jesus. When will this revelation happen? For the disciples, it is happening over time. Little by little, they are seeing more of what God is doing in Jesus, and the culmination will come following Jesus’ resurrection – when God pours out his Spirit through the Risen Christ.
But the point here in Luke 8 is that the disciples are recipients of revelation. And understand, this is a revelation of grace, nothing but grace. The disciples are not smart enough to figure out the secrets of the kingdom, and they have not earned the privilege of receiving the secrets. Not at all. Instead, God, in his sovereign grace, has given – has revealed – these things to the disciples. That’s part of the purpose for Jesus’s parables. They highlight the need for revelation. God has allowed the disciples to see, and that revelation is a work of grace.
But there is another side to revelation, isn’t there? If the truth of the kingdom must be revealed, might it also be concealed? Yes, Jesus says, and that’s where he goes in the rest of v10. He cites a passage from the OT that speaks to God’s sovereign purpose in his Word. Notice the rest of v10 – “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Now, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6 here, and if you remember Isaiah’s life, then you’ll know that Isaiah 6 is an important moment in the prophet’s ministry. It was in Isaiah 6 that God called the prophet, and it was also in Isaiah 6 that God commissioned the prophet. And it’s that commission that Jesus quotes here.
But Isaiah’s commission was surprising. You may remember. God said he would use Isaiah’s preaching as an instrument of judgment. Isaiah would preach the truth, but Israel would not believe it. Their hearts were hard – and here’s the key – Isaiah’s preaching would expose and deepen that hardness. It’s a striking display of sovereignty. Through Isaiah, God did two things – he exposed the people’s unbelief, and through that exposure, he brought the judgment of further hardness of heart.
Do you see why I use the word conceal here? When Isaiah preached, the people heard the truth, but they didn’t hear it – and Isaiah’s preaching was one of the means God used to bring that judgment to pass.
Now, back to Luke 8, and make the connection with Jesus. Remember, a good portion of the people in Jesus’ day did not believe his message. They did not embrace the truth. And the parables, Jesus is saying, are God’s judgment on those people. In his sovereignty, God uses the parables to both expose their hard hearts and bring about the consequences of unbelief. And in that sense, the parables conceal the secrets of God’s kingdom. They are instruments of God’s sovereignty through which he fulfills his purpose.
I know this is heavy, but this also consistent with how God has worked down through history. Do you remember Pharaoh’s hardness of heart in the book of Exodus – how he refused to let the people of Israel go? Do you remember that? Exodus tells us that Pharaoh certainly hardened his own heart – that’s true. But did you know that before Pharaoh hardened his heart, God said that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart? Exodus 4.21, in fact – God declared that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart. But here’s my point. How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Through God’s word. Do you see it? As Moses proclaimed the truth to Pharaoh, that proclamation exposed Pharaoh’s unbelief, so that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
It’s divine sovereignty, brothers and sisters, and it is worked out through the Word of God. And what Jesus is saying in v10 is that his ministry has a similar effect. Jesus’ ministry carries a similar purpose. Through the word, God sovereignly reveals his truth to his people, and through that same word, God sovereignly enacts judgment on those who will not believe.
Now, there are a number of takeaways for us at this point. We could talk about how God’s sovereignty and human freedom are compatible with one another. That’s important. We could talk about how God uses his Word to expose the true nature of a person’s heart. There’s some really significant insight on that point. Both of those would be fruitful discussions.
But brothers and sister, what I want you to see is the stunning reality of grace that should overwhelm each of our hearts this morning. Before we get into a discussion of how God’s sovereignty works in the world, we should first stop and marvel at the grace we have received as believers in Jesus Christ. That’s the hands-on, make-a-difference-for today application for believers from v10, and it’s what I want us to dwell on for just a minute here.
If you are a Christian this morning – if you both understand and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is the King over God’s kingdom, that his resurrection is the beginning of the New Creation, and that his return is coming soon – brothers and sisters, if you believe that this morning, you do so because of grace! Whatever insight we have is by grace, and whatever insight we gain is by grace. “What do you have that you did not receive,” as Paul says.
And so, there should be a deep undercurrent of gratitude and worship that marks each day of the Christian life. I know that some days are harder than others, especially when we’re living in times like today. And I’m not telling you to walk around with a Pollyanna, “everything is fine” kind of attitude. But I am saying that on every day – even in the middle of a pandemic – on every day, grace is present and working in the life of a Christian. To know Christ is grace, to serve Christ is grace, to have even an inkling of an appetite for the Word is grace, to lisp and stammer along in prayer in grace, to have the faintest glimmer of faith in the gospel is grace. If you’re a Christian, what God has given you is grace upon grace!
And here’s the takeaway, brothers and sisters. Here’s the food for faith today – God’s grace never falls short. God always finishes what he starts by grace. If you believe this morning, then v10 is telling you that grace upholds your life. God is absolutely sovereign, his sovereignty is expressed through his Word, and therefore, brothers and sisters, there is reason for gratitude and worship every day because every day we live and believe and stand by grace.
The Call of God’s Word
And so, we come at last to the interpretation of the parable, vv11-15. We might go a little long this morning, but since you’re listening in the comfort of your living room, you can just refresh the coffee and we’ll keep going. Vv11-15 give us the third and final truth – the Call of God’s Word. In v11, Jesus confirms for us that the parable is about hearing God’s Word. Notice in v11 that the Sower’s seed is the Word, Jesus says. And then in v12, Jesus begins to explain each type of soil. Each soil represents a different response to the Word of God, culminating in the good soil that faithfully hears God’s Word and holds fast to it. We can think of each soil as giving us a different exhortation as to how we should hear. The first three are warnings, and the final soil – the good soil – is the example that we’re intended to follow.
Now, before we look at these types of soil, I want to stress that Jesus’ point is not to say that a person progresses through the different types of soil until he arrives at the good. It’s not that you are first the soil on the path, then the rocky soil, then the thorny soil until finally you become the good soil in the end. That’s not Jesus’ point at all. Remember what we said at the outset. Jesus is concerned with how we hear. He’s calling us to examine our hearts to ensure that we’re hearing the Word with faith. But the value of the parable is that it pictures the many different dangers that threaten a person’s hearing of the Word. Let’s look briefly at each type of soil, and let’s focus on how each type calls us to hear God’s Word.
The first soil is along the path, and the exhortation is this – Hear the Word because a spiritual battle is raging. Jesus says the soil along the path represents those who hear the Word only to have the Devil snatch the Word away before it takes root. Now, if that sounds alarming, that’s because Jesus means it to be. The Devil is real, brothers and sisters, and he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And what the Devil is hungry for is faith in God’s Word. The Devil is sinister, but he understands the truth. He understands that faith springs from God’s Word, which is why he’s hungry to devour the seed of the Word.
Do you see the spiritual stakes at play in hearing the Word of God? The Devil loves to snatch the Word away. And that means every time you open the Bible, every time you gather with the Church – you are pushing back against the Devil’s schemes. Think about that, brothers and sisters. That adds a new depth to your morning Bible reading, doesn’t it? You’re not simply reading words on a page. You are, by faith, fighting against the Evil One. Read, brothers and sisters, and carry on the fight. That’s the first exhortation – Hear God’s Word because a spiritual battle is raging.
The second exhortation, from the rocky soil – Hear the Word because perseverance is vital. The rocky soil, Jesus says, hears the Word initially and even displays some joy in receiving it. But over time, as hardships arise, this person falls away from believing the Word. Now, that’s not to say this person was a Christian and then lost his salvation. That’s not at all what Scripture teaches. John 6, Jesus says, “This is the will of him who sent me – that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me.” Jesus keeps his people and he keeps them to the end.
But the rocky soil doesn’t belong to Jesus, and this person’s falling away reveals that he did not truly believe in the first place. He falls away because there is no root of true faith in his heart. This is a good reminder, that true faith perseveres to the end. That’s what Jesus is getting at here. Saving faith believes by grace, and saving faith keeps believing by grace. We’ll come back to this need for perseverance with the good soil, but for now, that’s the second exhortation. Hear the Word because perseverance is vital.
Third exhortation is from the thorny soil – Hear the Word because the world chokes out faith. In this soil, the seed of the Word is choked out by worldly concerns. This is striking. The thorns in v14 are not necessarily immoral things. In fact, these are often good gifts from God – money, provision, pleasure even. On their own, these things can be good gifts. But when these things move from good gifts to ultimate idols, they suck up all the life in the soil of your heart, and there’s nothing left to nourish faith in God’s Word.
It’s a good reminder. We need to be vigilant against obvious wickedness and immorality, but we also need to be vigilant against allowing good things to become ultimate things. That’s when faith gets choked out, Jesus says. That’s the third exhortation – Hear the Word because the world often works against faith.
That brings us to the final exhortation – from the good soil, v15. This is the culmination. The good soil exhorts us to Hear the Word and Keep On Hearing. Notice the ongoing tone of v15 – “As for that in the good soil, they are those who hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart.” Oh friends, there is a world of wisdom here from the Lord Jesus. Notice that the good soil hears the Word and holds it fast, Jesus says. Picture a white-knuckled grip on something precious. When Sam was little, we were playing in the snow one winter, and Sam bolted into the street just as a car was sliding down the road. I raced to grab him, and as we walked back to the yard, my knuckles were white on his little hand. Why? Because he’s precious to me, and I was going to hold fast to my son. That’s something of what Jesus has in view here. The Word of God is precious to the believer, and we hold to it with that white-knuckled grip of faith.
And when we live with that kind of grip on God’s Word something remarkable happens. A remarkable work of grace occurs. We find, over time, that it is actually God’s Word that is keeping a hold of us, even as we hold fast to that Word. It’s one of the more incredible aspects of the Christian life, brothers and sisters. Faith finds its life in and through God’s Word. The Word of God is of such a power that it actually strengthens our grip as we hold fast, so that in the end, our faith is firm not because of us, but because of the Word in which we believe. The Word strengthens the very faith it calls us to display. This is the kindness of God – that he would call us to hold fast to the very thing that he uses to hold us fast to the end. It’s the kindness of God, and it’s also an encouragement to every believer this morning. Hold fast to the Word, remembering that through the Word, God is holding fast to you.
But the grace continues. Over time, as we hold to the Word that holds to us, Jesus says our lives bear fruit. Notice the last line in v15 – “the honest and good heart..bears fruit with patience.” Patience here is the quality of bearing up under pressure, and it is a close spiritual cousin of hope. The good soil believes God’s Word with a hopeful heart, remembering who God is and what he has promised to those who believe. And that’s what I want to emphasize here, brothers and sisters. Spiritual fruit requires patience. In fact, there are two ingredients to bearing spiritual fruit – God’s Word and persevering patience.
I hope you hear the encouragement, brothers and sisters. One of my favorite theologians has said before that God is doing ten thousand things in your life right now, and you’re aware of three of them. Part of growing in godliness is learning to wait with patience for the fruit God is bearing in your life. You may think the Lord is doing nothing in your life right now, but that’s not true. His work takes time, just like the farmer’s harvest comes only in season. Trust him with patience. Hold to the Word and keep holding to it. Don’t underestimate the slow, steady progress of grace.
How should we understand Jesus’ ministry? The crowds are growing, but how does Jesus respond? His focus is not on the size of the crowds, but on the soil of our hearts. The kingdom of God is coming, just as sure as the good soil bears fruit in time. The question is not so much with Jesus or the impact of his ministry. No, the question is with those who hear. Be careful little ears how you hear.
And so, I’ll end by simply asking you – How are you hearing the Word of God? Are you hearing with patience? I pray that you are. I pray that we all are, and I trust that in the Lord’s time, he will bring a harvest of good fruit in our lives and in our church. Amen.