Hearing Is Not Believing

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “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.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Luke 8:1-15 ESV

Luke records that Jesus continued His Galilean ministry, visiting many of the towns and villages of the region, where He continued to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God was close at hand. The Messiah had come and the King’s arrival was a visual sign that the kingdom would not be far behind. A new day had dawned in Israel. Things would never be the same again, but what Jesus came to bring would be far different than what the people of Israel had expected. Yes, He was the King for whom they had longed for, but He was offering them a kingdom far different than they had imagined. As Jesus would later tell the Roman governor, Pilate, at his trial: ““My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT).

And later on in his gospel, Luke records an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. They asked Him, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT), and Jesus responded, “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21 NLT).

With His incarnation, Jesus came to earth as the fulfillment of the promise that God made to David. He was the Son who would re-establish the Davidic dynasty and rule over an everlasting kingdom from the city of Jerusalem.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.… And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. – 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16 ESV

As Jesus made His way through the cities of Galilee, He was accompanied by His 12 disciples. These men had ring-side seats to the greatest show on earth. They were privileged to watch the Messiah as He validated His ministry and mission through miracles and signs. They were able to hear Him teach but also enjoyed up-close and personal access to the Son of God. And Luke adds that there were others who made up this inner circle of Jesus’ followers. He provides the names of a number of women who had decided to join the retinue of Jesus’ disciples because they “had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2 ESV).

Luke provides us with the names of three of the women who were part of the growing number of Jesus’ female followers. There was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Each of these women had been delivered from disease or demons by the hand of Jesus. Their lives had been radically transformed by their encounter with this Rabbi from Nazareth and they decided to follow Him wherever He went, believing Him to be who He claimed to be: The Messiah of Israel.

And we know that these women were not fairweather friends. They remained committed to Jesus throughout His earthly ministry and Luke reports that they were even present at Golgotha when Jesus was crucified.

And all those who knew Jesus stood at a distance, and the women who had followed him from Galilee saw these things. – Luke 23:39 NLT

That these women dedicated their lives to following Jesus is especially telling when one considers the status of women in the culture of that day. It would have been unthinkable within Hebrew culture for a woman to abandon her domestic responsibilities to travel around the countryside with a group of men. At best, this kind of behavior would have been seen as irresponsible and unacceptable. At worst, it could have been construed as immoral, eliciting all kinds of rumors and inuendos concerning the nature of her character.

But these women were willing to take that risk because they were convinced that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. And it seems that Jesus gave them His permission, treating them with dignity and respect, and not as second-class citizens. Luke even indicates that there were other women who accompanied Jesus and they were far from freeloaders. These women used their financial resources to support Jesus and His disciples. But it’s important to recognize that Jesus treated these women with honor, viewing them as far more than sources of financial backing. They were respected members of His growing family and given the same respect and honor as the twelve. Jesus’ treatment of women stood in stark contrast to the surrounding culture in which they were often regarded as little more than property and afforded few rights. In Jesus’ kingdom, there would be no distinction between the sexes. In fact, the apostle Paul makes it clear that all earthly divisions are removed in the Kindom of God.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

Beginning in verse 4, Luke gives his version of Jesus’ parable of the sower. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not provide the setting for Jesus’ teaching. He simply states that a great crowd had gathered from all the surrounding towns and villages. According to the other two gospel authors, this scene took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, just outside the town of Capernaum.

Luke’s version of this occasion is much shorter and does not include all of the parables that Jesus taught to the crowds that day. He focuses on the parable of the soil and the parable of the lamp, both of which illustrate the role of faith. As was common with Jesus’ teaching, He used parables to convey spiritual truths through the means of simple stories. But as will be apparent in this situation, Jesus was always focusing His attention on His disciples. The meaning of the parables would be lost on many within the crowd, and Jesus would have to explain to His disciples the hidden truth contained behind the story.

In this case, Jesus used a familiar agricultural metaphor to illustrate a much deeper and significant lesson. Everyone in the crowd would have understood the image of a farmer sowing seed. But Jesus’ main focus was on the receptivity or condition of the various soils on which the seed fell. Some seed fell on the path and was quickly eaten by birds. Other seeds fell among the rocks and eventually sprouted but died away for lack of moisture. The seeds that landed among the thorns were quickly choked out because they were unable to establish roots. But a portion of the seed fell on good soil that had been prepared beforehand. The seed was readily accepted, took root, and yielded “a hundred times as much as had been planted” (Luke 8:8 NLT).

Even as simplistic as this parable appears to be, its meaning escaped Jesus’ disciples. This led them to ask Him for an explanation. And Jesus informed them that they were being given a special privilege to understand things that were hidden from the rest of the crowd. They were being given access to the secrets of the kingdom of God. Jesus was going to explain to them truths regarding His kingdom that even the prophets of old had not understood. The kingdom for which they had long been waiting was going to be different than what they had expected. And entrance into that kingdom would require more than just citizenship in the nation of Israel.

In the parable, all the soils were in the same vicinity. The sower was sowing the same kind of seed in the same general area and expecting the same results: Fruitfulness. But not all the soils were the same. They each received the seed but their ability to produce fruit was hampered by their particular condition. And Jesus informs His disciples that the various soils were intended to represent the hearts of men. Each hears the words, but their ability to respond and believe what they hear is affected by the attacks of the enemy, earthly temptations, and the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. But some “hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15 NLT).

Jesus is letting His disciples know that the good news of the kingdom of God will not be good news to everyone who hears it. Not all will received what He has to say with open arms. They will hear it but refuse to believe it. The enemy will deceive and delude them. The temptations of this world will distract them. The temporal pleasures of this life will overwhelm them. And the message of the kingdom will produce no fruit in their lives. Jesus was preparing His disciples for the inevitable reality that the message of the kingdom would soon be theirs to share and they would discover that not all would receive what they had to say. The gospel of the Kingdom of God would be heard by many but only received by a few. Faith would be the sole requirement for membership in the kingdom. Hearing alone would not be enough. Believing would be necessary.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson