By Will Graham
There is nothing the devil does so well as distracting folk from having an encounter with the soul-piercing Word of God. The repeated testimony of Scripture and Church history is that Eden’s ruthless serpent hisses into fury every time the clear-cut message of the Gospel is announced. He will do anything to halt the Word of the Kingdom from flowing with free course.
In the Parable of the Sower the Lord Christ announced that, “When anyone heareth the Word of Kingdom and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side” (Matthew 13:19). Satan is as violently opposed to the Word as can be. Ever since the beginning he has sought to lead humankind into temptation by placing a big fat question mark upon the explicit command of the Lord: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1).
I.- “When anyone heareth the Word of the Kingdom and understandeth it not.”
As Jesus’ words make clear, the devil depends upon man’s ignorance in order to rob him of the seed of life. It is one thing to hear the preaching of the Word but it quite another thing to understand it. Cats and dogs may listen to good sermons all day long however they won’t be any better off come bedtime. They hear externally but they don’t grasp the inward spiritual beauty of what’s being shared. The same thing happens to sinners given that Beelzebub holds captive their fallen hearts, eyes and ears. As Paul put it, “But if our Gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine upon them” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The wicked one knows well that there is no weapon as lethal to his phony demonic kingdom as the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Three quick slashes of “it is written” were enough to send Lucifer fleeing with his tail between his legs (Matthew 4:1-11). Even common as muck disciples were empowered to cast out devils by the authority of Jesus (Luke 10:17). In every circumstance the Holy Spirit thus desired to teach the Church that the Christian’s assurance of victory never lies within himself but solely in the Word of God. This means that any congregation which condones the dumbing down of straight preaching from the pulpit is playing right into the hands of Dr. Dragon. The Word must be preached for souls to be delivered from the kingdom of darkness. Only through hearing the Word of the Kingdom by faith can there be genuine understanding.
II.- “Then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.”
The proclamation of the Word of the Kingdom is always accompanied by satanic resistance (1 Thessalonians 2:18). The devil’s hoards of demonic fiends work overtime to soften the severity of Scripture. In the Old Testament Jannes and Jambres rose up against Moses the moment he began to speak for God. And in the New, Elymas withstood the apostle Paul as he ministered the Word of life unto the Roman deputy Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:8). Nothing captures Beelzebub’s attention so much as radical mouthpieces of God.
The wicked one comes when the Word is announced in its naked splendour to steal the message of faith and repentance away from the hearts of men. That’s why Matthew Henry designated Satan ‘the great thief of sermons’. I have often been astonished in church meetings when a piercing Word of God has been preached only to find saints after the meeting talking and joking about the same foolish nonsense as always. How can this be? Did they not hear what was spoken? It’s like when you stand on some high spot on a mountain after a long day trekking and with one glance you can observe the beauty of creation for miles and miles off into the distance. Those moments leave you breathless. Then you say to the person beside you, “What about that, eh?” And they look back at you as if they were contemplating nothing. Where is the wonder, the awe or the jaw-dropping astonishment? When the Word is preached many folk hear pretty words from the pulpit, but it is rapidly stolen from their hearts and minds. For this very reason, we must labour strongly against the devil and wage warfare to hold onto that which was spoken unto us by grace.
III.- “This is he which receiveth seed by the way side.”
The way side hearer still exists today. Back in the seventh century the Puritan giant William Gurnall complained about “merry-meetings” and “alehouses” as obstacles to coming to hear the preaching of God’s Word. In the 1970s the well-beloved Leonard Ravenhill spoke in much the same spirit of seeing movies or reading the sports page of the paper. Nowadays, the chief obstacles are social networks and mobile phones. It seems that our generation has forgotten what eye-to-eye contact is. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen groups of young people sitting together in cafés or restaurants completely oblivious to one another and what’s going on around them because they’re all chatting on WhatsApp.
The worst thing is when these distractions creep into the church and we find folk chatting online whilst the sermon is been preached. I would also go a bit further and question a few other ecclesiastical practices that ultimately turn us into way side hearers. Today’s passion for 24/7 photography has been bugging me horrendously for some years now. You can hardly sit down for two minutes in some churches before some fellow starts to move about taking photos of the congregation, the preacher and the choir. It’s a hindrance. All of this distracts us from zooming in upon the message of the man of God on the platform.
I think the guys involved in the Swiss Reformation had the right idea: they banished everything out of the church building that didn’t line up with Scripture. Therefore their meeting places where simplicity exemplified: some pews for the hearers, a pulpit for the sermon, a table from which to serve the Lord’s Supper and white-washed walls. Why did we have to go and make things so complicated? It seems to me that so many of the so-called ‘good things’ that take place in modern day churches only serve to distract us from the meat of the Word. In this sense, they are master strokes of the devil.
IV.- The Sower’s perspective.
Before I conclude this brief study, I also want to add another dimension to our traditional reading of the Parable of the Sower. So often we just read it from the perspective of the hearer, but we also must study it from the perspective of the Sower i.e. the preacher.
As I preacher of the Gospel I am very conscious of the whisperings of Satan almost every time I put my knees on the ground and my pen to paper as I start to prepare a sermon. As I write I hear voices like the following: “Oh, but if you say that, so and so will get offended” or “No, don’t mention that, you know as well as I do that preaching such a thing will land you in hot water”, etc. It takes a real dose of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Word of the Kingdom. Jesus is the Sower par excellence yet look at how the devil resisted Him every step of the way from the cradle to the cross. Jesus knew what He was on earth for therefore He roared back at Satan. Not just as hearers, but as sowers we must be aggressive in battle to make known the Word of the Lord! Let’s refuse to be silenced!
To all of you out there, I urge you to keep sowing the Word no matter how the devil combats and contests. He’s a dirty opponent and he will use everything in his power to stop you from hearing and preaching the Word of the Kingdom. So I ask you this day: are you a way side hearer or are you a faith-filled hearer? Do you let the devil steal Gospel seeds from you or do you fight back and show him that greater is He that is in you? Have you given into the temptation of distraction or have you wrestled to discipline your mind and ears to be sensitive to the Word of God? Submit yourself to God! Resist the devil! And he will flee from you!