The Story of Jim the Farmer
Dr. Jim Denison
Every day in America 108,000 people move; the government issues 50 more pages of regulations; 40 Americans turn 100; we purchase 45,000 new cars and trucks and wreck 87,000; 20,000 people write letters to the president; dogs bit 11,000 citizens, including 20 mail carriers; we eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3,000 tons of candy. We then jog 17 million miles to get rid of it all. We are busy people.
As a result, time is our most valued currency today. In every survey I’ve seen, people would trade money for more time, every time. Wouldn’t you?
If someone could show me the best way to use the little time I have, I’d listen. When this new year is over, I want to have spent it in the best way possible. I want the joy of knowing that my life this year has been worthwhile. Don’t you?
So, what will bring us our greatest sense of joyful satisfaction and significance? I’d like to answer that question with a parable today.
A young man and his wife moved to rural Mansfield, outside Fort Worth, to become pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. Someone suggested that they do some landscaping around the parsonage and plant a garden. It looked easy, and they were foolish, so they gave it a try. And they failed abysmally.
One year the pastor scattered grass seed around his back yard, but some got on the concrete porch. Before he could sweep it back into the bag the birds found it and ate it all. And he learned that the ground must be broken up before the seed can sprout.
The next year they planted where the old driveway had been. Even though it was grown over and they raked and weeded and watered, the limestone just under the surface was their undoing. The plants shot up quickly, but couldn’t get rooted and died. And he learned that the ground must be plowed down before the seed can grow.
The next year their garden started well. But they hadn’t pulled all the grass burrs and weeds out of the soil, figuring they wouldn’t hurt things. They were wrong. That year while others harvested their gardens, this couple mowed theirs. And he learned that the weeds must be pulled before the seed can survive.
Sometimes the birds eat the seed; sometimes the plant dies for lack of roots, or because of weeds. And sometimes the seed bears a great harvest, even a hundredfold. In each case the seed is the same. When the ground is broken and plowed and weeded, it can grow.
But in no case can the seed grow without a farmer. And that’s the point of Jesus’ parable, and of my horticultural failures as well. The seed needs a farmer. So does the gospel.
It is clear that the seed in Jesus’ parable is the gospel; cf. v. 14, “The farmer sows the word.” Matthew’s version calls it “the message about the kingdom” (Matthew 13.19). The farmer shares his faith, explaining the gospel to others. This is your job and mine.
If you have seed, you must sow it. It’s no good in the bag, or in your hand. It only makes a crop when it’s in the ground. If you’re a Christian—if you have the seed of the gospel in your heart and life—you must sow it. So must I.
But we know all this. We know we should share our faith.
We’ve all heard the Great Commission: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” We know that Jesus’ last words to the church were, “You will be my witnesses.” We know we are supposed to take Christ to our city and world. But if you’re at all like me, the thought of evangelizing others is not always a pleasant one.
Let’s be honest about it—if we liked witnessing, we’d do more of it. But the facts are clear. Scholars in evangelism estimate that ½ of 1% of Southern Baptists share their faith regularly in any given year. One percent of the Christian church’s growth is by conversions from outside the congregation. And you know that Park Cities can only document twenty-two adult conversions in 1997, though we are one of the most mission-minded and mission-giving churches in America.
If you’d known this was going to be a sermon about witnessing, how would you have felt about it? Guilty? Bored? Uninterested?
Here’s the surprise: the Bible consistently connects witnessing with joy. Not boredom, or guilt, but joy. Hebrews 12.2 says that Jesus saw his saving mission this way: “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising its shame.”
In Jesus’ three famous parables about lost things we find the same reaction. When the shepherd finds his lost sheep he rejoiced (Luke 15.5); when the woman finds her lost coin she rejoices and throws a party (v. 9); when the father finds his lost son he is thrilled (v. 24).
Here’s how the angels feel when someone responds to our witness by becoming a Christian: “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (v. 7).
Here’s how Paul felt about the preaching of the gospel: “Because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1.18).
Even when they were punished for witnessing, the early Christians rejoiced in the privilege of sharing their faith: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5.41-42).
Now, what did these early Christians know that we don’t?
First, they knew that the seed is good news. The “seed” in the parable is the “word” (v. 14); Matthew’s version calls it “the message about the kingdom” (Matthew 13.19).