This is the full manuscript of a sermon preached at morning worship at Grace Presbyterian Church (Westfield NJ) on August 20, A.D. 2017. The Scripture text for the message was Psalm 126:5,6.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Let’s begin by getting acquainted or re-acquainted with ALLEGORY. Did you say ALLERGY, preacher? No, ALLEGORY.
One well known Christian classic uses it, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. If you haven’t read it yet, you are missing out on a great blessing which is readily available to those willing to get away from glowing electronic screens large or small, long enough to read a book.
An allegory is a narrative or story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for truths about human life. One thing stands for another. Writing to the Corinthians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul the apostle sees allegory in Scripture when he quotes Deuteronomy 25:4.
“For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about?” (1 Corinthians 9:9)
Actually, God is concerned about oxen! At the end of the book of Jonah, God seeks to turn that prophet away from his wretched resentment. Jonah had not wanted God to show mercy on the great city of Nineveh. But God did so, and cites the presence of many cattle in the city as one of His motives. Just as Proverbs 12:10 says that a righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, so the righteous God was concerned about the beasts that would have died in the overthrow of an unrepentant Nineveh.
But Paul is getting at something more important than the welfare of cattle in his letter to Corinth, namely the earthly compensation of those who serve in the Christian ministry. All faithful Christians serve and all such will receive an everlasting and unfading compensation of glory. In the new covenant, some serve the covenant people as did the priests and Levites under the old covenant, and are to receive earthly compensation as did those servants of old.
So it is with our text. The Psalmist pictures someone first sowing seed in a field with sorrow, then reaping a crop with joy. You might see the old word sheaves in your version (translation) of the Bible. That word means bundles. The same person who went out planting seeds and crying as he went eventually comes in from the fields with big beautiful bundles of a good harvest.
What the Psalmist says about sowing and reaping can apply to actual, earthly farmers who might shed tears of uncertainty and fear in some sowing seasons, but be pleasantly surprised when they get a good crop and perhaps even a bumper crop at harvest time. But we can apply the Psalmist’s words to something more important…to a kind of farming that involves an everlasting harvest.
Just like literal oxen are not the issue for Paul in his word to the Corinthians, so literal seed is not the issue here. The seed with which we are concerned is the incorruptible seed, the Gospel!
In this message I am seeking to imitate the Lord Jesus Who used allegory to speak about sowing and reaping, for example in the parable of the sower, also called the parable of the soils. In that parable, He pictures four kinds of soil into which seeds are sown.
Some seed falls by the wayside and is eaten by birds, standing for the evil one who yanks the precious seed of the gospel out of hard hearts. Other seed grows in sandy soil but can’t take good root there and only endures for a short time, representing the hypocrite whose faith eventually is proven false. Still other seed takes root and grows but is choked off by weeds. This kind of faith is not genuine either and can’t stand up to the troubles and concerns of this world.
True, saving faith bears fruit, having been sown in the good soil of Holy Spirit prepared hearts. That kind of faith, by the power of the same Spirit, grows to maturity and yields a good crop for the divine Sower.
The apostle Peter also had this more important seed in mind when he wrote “…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,” 1 Peter 1:23.
Peter probably had the Lord’s parable in mind, and perhaps our text as well, when he wrote those words under the Spirit’s inspiration. The Gospel comes into good soil. A wonderful rebirth happens not by the will man or the will of the flesh but by sovereign grace. A soul learns of the One was crucified as the once for all sacrifice for that soul’s sin…the One Who was buried and carried away sin forever, as far as east is from west…the One Who rose from the dead victorious over sin, death, and hell and Who lives and reigns forever. That soul flees to and clings to Him, the One now seen as the perfect and complete satisfaction of its deepest need, the need for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God the gracious Giver of eternal life and glory to undeserving sinners.
Those who have been born again by that precious seed want to see it bear fruit in the lives of their loved ones and neighbors as well. Not everyone is called to stand at pulpits and sow the seed of the Gospel in regular, studied exposition of God’s word. Not everyone is called to stand on street corners with a megaphone and sow the seed of the Gospel in that more extemporaneous way. Not everyone is called to go to places geographically or culturally distant to sow the precious seed.
But brothers and sisters in Christ, we are ALL called to participate in the work of sowing and reaping, each according to his or her own calling. We are all farmers for God. We all share in the work of sowing the precious seed of the Gospel, though we do so in diverse ways.
But as a farmer might weep in uncertainty and fear about the crop he hopes for, we find occasions for weeping in sowing the precious seed of the Gospel. Let me speak briefly in turn to four “tear jerkers.” Do I mean four books or movies or infomercials that make people cry? No, I mean four things that can make us weep as we sow the precious seed of the Gospel.
The first is the fear of man. The Israelites were afraid of Goliath. Saul was afraid of losing face before man. Waiting in the high priest’s courtyard, Peter was afraid to confess his Lord, Who had prophesied that a crowing rooster would signify his fickleness.
Likewise we might see an unbeliever as a giant when it comes to speaking about the Lord. We also can be afraid of losing face before man. “They’ll think I’m a religious nut. They won’t like me. They’ll avoid me. They might even persecute me.” We are fickle in confessing Jesus in public places.
And guess what, people might do all those things! But David conquered Goliath, and his fear of and love for God triumphed over his fear of what man could do to him. Peter turned and became as bold as a lion. We can’t control what people are going to think of us for sharing the Gospel anymore than we can cause a plant to grow out of seed. Don’t be afraid, just keep sowing.
Another tear jerker, another occasion for weeping is besetting doubt that the Gospel is what the Spirit proclaims it to be at Romans 1:16. It is the power…the dynamite…of God unto salvation! Losing sight of that can make us either give up or fall back on human wisdom to persuade. We’re not thinking Biblically about the work of evangelism when we do either.
If you share the Gospel with someone, you usually won’t see immediate fruit, anymore than you will see a blade of wheat or a stalk of corn spring up instantly when you plant a seed. Don’t lose heart. If the seed has been sown in good soil, it will eventually grow. Just keep sowing. We walk by faith, not sight.
The third tear jerker is fear of failure. Look unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, says the writer to the Hebrews. How did Christ’s ministry appear when He was crucified? One friend cruelly betrayed him, another publicly denied him, the others deserted him. He had nothing to show at that moment after three and half years of laboring hard and dealing with hardened people. Was He a failure?
In some circles there is talk of leading people to Christ. They talk about successes in doing so as if people were notches on evangelism belts. But if you have been led to Christ by human power alone, you haven’t been led to Him in truth! Only the Spirit of the Father draws sinners to the Son. And God’s measure of success is not the world’s measure, nor the measure of the worldly church that thinks of evangelism as a kind of marketing program.
So yes, look unto Jesus and consider what for a moment looked like His failure. Look again and see His smashing success. Keep sowing.
Our fourth and final tear jerker is a sense of insufficiency. These inspired words of Paul muse on the greatness of the task before him and his own sense of insufficiency for it.
“For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15,16)
Sharing that apostolic sense of insufficiency is good! Pride goes before a fall; God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Woe to the one who unlike the apostle thinks, “I’ve got this!” Let him who thinks he stands as a mighty soul winner take heed lest he fall. When I’m weak, then I’m strong. Recognize that you ARE insufficient, but that He is more than sufficient. Keep sowing.
Now we come to the end result of sowing with tears, the promise of rejoicing. In another Psalm the inspired writer calls God his exceeding joy. Jesus God incarnate is our exceeding joy. All our joy is in Him. There is a river that makes glad the city of God and that river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb.
Many when sowing the seed of the Gospel with Jewish friends or others who might have respect to the Old Testament have appealed to the great passage known as Isaiah chapter 53, about the suffering servant. Centuries before His first advent, that passage gives us an amazing word picture of Jesus Who is that suffering servant.
There is a statement in that chapter which I want to underscore today. “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied…” (Isaiah 53:11)
What does that mean? It means that the man Christ Jesus will see that He was after all infinitely successful. He will see billions from every tribe nation and tongue brought to His heavenly father to be His everlasting brethren, the eternal bride of the eternal Son.
By this sowing and reaping, we actually share in fulfilling that Scripture, in bringing joy to Jesus the once suffering servant! We know that faith pleases God, how wonderful that we not only can please Him, but be part of bringing Him joy!
The holy angels rejoice in this Gospel reaping as well. Shall we not go forth to sow even if with weeping? Again, we do so “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Already it has been said that you might not be called to public speaking or sudden culture shock. No one is called to grab strangers by the collar and holler. But there are all sorts of small ways that we can can be prepared to sow and create opportunities to sow.
How about simply using the term Lord’s day instead of Sunday in ordinary conversation? Suppose a friendly neighbor asks you what are doing this weekend. Imagine the response you might get if you say, well on Friday night I’m doing this and on Saturday I’m doing that but on the first day of the week I’ll be at worship.
Such a response might lead to an explanation that Sunday is not the weekend but the Lord’s day, and hence an opportunity to talk about what Lord you mean. And how about not saying you’ll be going to church, but going to worship. Brothers and sisters gathered here, we have not come to church. We are the church, we the church have to come to worship in this building set aside for that purpose. By simply changing your terminology, you might create an opportunity to talk about what worship is and Who you worship.
And there’s always my personal favorite door opener, never attributing anything to luck, but invoking our sovereign God whenever possible. Do these small things and others and you will find ways to sow.
Finally, shed the mindset that sees evangelism as a burdensome, weary task. His yoke is easy and His burden is light! Does not bringing joy to our Savior and being the reason for His joy motivate us to sow so that we may reap? Consider the reward, explained by Jesus at the end of another parable, the parable of the talents:
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ “ (Matthew 25:21)
Not all the soil your seed goes into will be good soil. And you will not likely ever fully escape all those four tear jerkers while you are in the body. There will be weeping in our Gospel seed sowing, don’t imagine that you can avoid it in this life. There is greater weeping involved as we get more deeply involved with other’s live as we sow the precious Gospel seed. It’s all part of this package we call discipleship.
But there is wonderful, joyful reaping in this life and the everlasting rejoicing with no tears whatsoever in the next. Rejoicing with Jesus is the grand finale!