Rising Above Average: The 25% Rule

sower

Matthew 13:3—9

The thirteenth chapter of Matthew is made up of seven parables of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Understanding the content of these parables is key in understanding what the Kingdom of Heaven is like during this present Dispensation of Grace.  Before we begin our examination of the longest of these parables; the one that best describes the present conditions of the Kingdom, we should define exactly what the Kingdom of Heaven is.

Throughout the Gospels, we read two terms that mean basically the same thing:  the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.  Simply put, these terms have reference to the saints of God from all generations and dispensations; all born again individuals from Genesis to the end of time make up the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Kingdom of Heaven is not synonymous with the Church, although the Church is certainly part of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We might say that the Church that we see in the world today is the visible part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The seven parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 are often referred to as the “Mystery Parables” by Bible scholars because in the Bible a “mystery” is a truth that is hidden until revealed.  For example, the Church is called “a mystery” by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians because it was not revealed in the Old Testament but after the death and resurrection of Christ.  The Gospel is also called “a mystery” by Paul as is Jesus Christ Himself in Colossians 4:3.

So, these parables, then, reveal certain “mysteries” or “secrets” of the Kingdom of Heaven in this present dispensation.  In Matthew 3, John the Baptist declared that the “kingdom of Heaven” was near.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus began His earthly ministry.  In Matthew 11:12, we read this enigmatic verse—

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

John the Baptist’s arrival on the scene proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, referring to the coming of Jesus Christ, was the tipping point; it was the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven and the beginning of its construction.  It is growing today, spiritually, one soul at a time.  We cannot look around and see the Kingdom’s brick-and-mortar construction in this dispensation; that will occur in the next dispensation: the Dispensation of Divine Government, or the Millennium.

In Matthew 13 Jesus, by means of parables, teaches us the nature and character of the Kingdom of Heaven as it right now. When we understand this chapter in context, it answers many questions Christians have about the state of modern Christianity.

1.  Setting the scene, 12:46—50; 13:1—2

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.

Jesus had just scolded the Pharisees for their unbelief; He referred to the citizens of the nation of Israel during His day as “a wicked and adulterous generation.”  His people were not receiving what He was teaching and Jesus had had enough of it.  These startling verses speak of a relationship that is more precious and greater than the relationship between mother and son and blood brothers.   Jesus is teaching two things here:  first, since His own family (the Jews) had not received His teaching, He will now take it to people who will receive it; second, the strongest relationship one can have is with Jesus Christ.  If you are a born again believer and have non-Christian family members, you are closer to Jesus Christ than you are to them.  In fact, you are closer to other believers than you are to them!  That is a tremendous, though secondary truth Jesus has mentioned here!

Actions speak louder than words, and with chapter 13 we need to note what Jesus did before studying what He said:  He left the house and sat by the lake.  The symbolism here cannot be missed:  “the house” may have been Peter’s home in Capernaum, but it is symbolic of the house of Israel.  Jesus then “sat by the sea,” which was the normal position for a teacher to take during that time, but the sea is also symbolic of Gentile nations elsewhere in Scripture.  Jesus Christ, in Matthew 13, is symbolically leaving Israel because they had rejected Him and His message and He now turns to the world at large and He needs to explain to them—to us, really—what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.

2.  Why parables?  13:11—17

He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.   This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

The disciples, who were Jews, wondered why Jesus was teaching in parables.  Jesus told them that the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven had been given to them, the Jews, but not to the rest of the world, the Gentiles.   And yet, many Jews did not understand the mysteries of the Kingdom, as demonstrated by His rejection.  Verse 12 sets forth a principle that the one who has will be given more, but the one who does not have will lose what little he has.  This principle, naturally works in the world of finance:  if a person has money they are able to invest it and make more but if a person has little money they can lose it all if an emergency arises.  In the spiritual realm, to the one who had some basic spiritual understanding, more knowledge and understanding would be given to them through the teachings of Christ.  He was teaching in parables, not to confuse anybody but so that those already had understanding might add to it.

The fact that some did not grasp His parables was not the fault of Jesus, but of willful ignorance on the part of the listener; note the action is on the part of the ignorant person—

…they have closed their eyes (verse 15)

What is it that causes a person to hear the Word of God yet not grasp it?  Simply this:  willful ignorance.  For the disciples, and of course for true believers, verse 16 is the key—

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

Seeing and hearing spiritual truths are the privilege of all members of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is why, for example, Paul wrote this in 1 Corinthians 1:22—24

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

To the unsaved, the Gospel makes no sense, because they refuse to believe and become part of the Kingdom of Heaven.  But a side blessing of salvation is an ability to comprehend the deep things of God.

3.  The parable of the sower, 13:3—9

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.”

This parable, sometimes referred to the as “the parable of the soils,” is designed to teach us some heretofore secret truth about the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is interesting that out of the seven parables He tells in this chapter, Jesus only interprets two of them; this one and the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  Jesus’ interpretation of this first parable is important for two reasons;  first, Jesus tells us exactly what He wants us to us to learn from the story, and second, He sets forth the meaning of the symbolism seen another parable.  We’ll discuss that when we get to that particular parable.

In the story, the sower represents the Lord Jesus Christ.  Note what Jesus said in verse 37—

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.”

Of course, this is taken from His interpretation of another parable, but Jesus is consistent.  If the sower represents Him in one parable, the same symbol in another parable will also represent Him.  This is His work in the world today; Jesus Christ, through the ministry of members of His Church, is sowing the seeds of salvation.   As He has left Israel, symbolically, Jesus was no longer looking for fruit on His vine.  Now, Jesus was seeking to sow seed that would produce fruit elsewhere.

The seed, according to verse 19, represents the Word of God and the field represents the world.  However, we are supposed to learn something of the state of the Kingdom of Heaven today in this parable and it serves as the foundation for the remaining parables of the Kingdom.  So while the field represents the world, it is accurate to say that given the interpretation of the other parables of Matthew 13, the field is also a picture of the Church in the world, where the preaching of the Word, or the sowing of the seed, takes place.

What we see happening when the Word is preached and the seed sown is disappointing.  According to Jesus’ own word, the world as a whole will not be saved through the preaching of the Word of God.  Indeed, only 25% of those who hear the Word respond favorably to it.  Keep in mind that we are living in the Dispensation of Grace.  By definition, the various dispensations of man were really designed to test man and to show him that he needs to be saved.  From the initial dispensation in the Garden of Eden, known as the Dispensation of Innocence, down to today, man has failed every testing.  This final dispensation of man’s dominion of the earth will also end in failure.  In the eschatological future, when Christ returns to inaugurate the Millennial Kingdom and the next dispensation, man will again be tested at the close of it and will again fail and be judged accordingly.

4.  The startling truth of the parable, 13:18—23

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

As explained by Jesus in His interpretation of the parable, the various types of soil represent the different kinds of hearts of those who hear the Word being preached.

When the Word of God is sown in a heart that does not understand it, and that does not involve the intellect or conscience, the enemy will steal it away.  Jesus’ point is that the Word cannot simply remain in the heart; it must make its way up to the brain.  The Word of God is not like a pill you take once in a while just to make you feel good or happy!  Though the Word does speak to emotions and feelings, it must be understood by those who hear it.

Those who hear the Word and receive it with joy will also lose it.  The Word of God, though a source of great joy to many believers, is also a source of conviction and should move the repentant sinner to be sorrowful of his sinful state.   An individual whom God is convicting and drawing to repentance is not generally joyful about it!  The joy comes later.  Some people hear the Word, sometimes improperly taught and improperly received, and all they hear are happy bedtime stories.  That person will lose what little they had.

Other times the Word of God falls into hearts that are pulled in many different directions because of circumstances.  These people hear it, but have no idea how to apply to their situations and therefore lose it.  Often this is the fault of the pathetic preaching and teaching, and sometimes the truth of the Word is just ignored by the hearer because they don’t like it.

That the Word was heard and understood is affirmed only of those who bear fruit.  The true understanding of the Word of God brings a soul into a connection with God because God is revealed in His Word; it expresses in an understandable way the nature and character of God.  If a person understands the Word of God, they understand God Himself.

And only 25% of those who hear the Word respond correctly to it.  Only a fraction of those who hear the Word of God are actually bearing the kind of fruit Jesus is interested in.

Remember, these are parables of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus wants us to understand a secret truth about the Kingdom of Heaven.  What is the truth He wants us to know in the parable of the sower?  Does the truth relate to the different kind of hearts?  Or is the truth deeper than that?

As we study the remainder of the mystery parables, we will discover what the true state of the Kingdom of Heaven is today.  The Kingdom of Heaven, today, is populated by what can best be described as mediocre Christians; only one quarter of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven today are the kind of citizens who are serving God in obedience and excellence.  Only 25% of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven today are wholly dedicated and consecrated to it.  It’s a good thing we are living in the Dispensation of Grace!

We will learn in subsequent parables what will eventually happen to the other 75%.

If the Kingdom of Heaven is reflected in His Church, then the Church of Jesus Christ is not nearly as healthy as some may think it is.  If the 25% rule is accurate, and it must surely be since Jesus taught it, then what does that say about the average church?  What does that say about the average church member?

Conclusion

Are you part of the minority in the Kingdom of Heaven?  Are you part of the 25% who hear the Word and respond to it properly?  Can you be described as an above average Christian?   Or are you part of the 75% mediocre majority?  Are you the kind of believer who allows the world to steal the Word of God from you?  Are you up one minute, riding a wave of spirituality because you got all ginned up at church Sunday, only to come crashing down on Tuesday morning because a bad situation stole the Word out of your heart?  Are you that kind of believer?

If you are not part of the 25% minority, the world will choke the Word of God out of you as surely as it did Demas.  Paul wrote with sadness about the man who was once his friend—

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.  (1 Timothy 4:9—10)

The Church needs you to be part of the 25% minority; we need believers to rise above average.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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