Ed Stetzer: Subversive Preaching

“Consider the sower who went out to sow” (Matt. 13:3). Jesus’ first parable about the kingdom of God speaks less about what the kingdom is than how the kingdom begins. It begins with a seed.

This is the same “seed” Peter was talking about when he said we’ve been “born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). It’s what the psalmist was referring to in saying that “though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves” (Ps. 126:6).

The seed is the Word.

The Word starts everything—”the word about the kingdom” (Matt.13:19). This is what God uses to produce an exponentially expanding realm of his rule and influence, “some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown” (v. 8).

No Word, no kingdom.

Each of us has been raised on certain givens, standards and traditions that may or may not find their basis in scriptural truth. The ideas that motivate us, determine our priorities, frame our ethics and inform our behaviors can come from anywhere—books, interviews, random trails of thought that float into our ears and bounce around in our heads. But only the Word can produce kingdom fruit. If our lives don’t start there, they cannot lead to anything that eternally matters.

Jesus taught us a striking message about this Word—that it is a kingdom-sprouting seed, producing fruit only in receptive soil. So our first job as subversive kingdom agents is to be people who “receive the implanted word” (James 1:21). This doesn’t mean the Bible is the only thing we can ever read, but it does mean our impact on this culture and generation—both as individuals and through the church—depends not upon our skills and timing or our grasp of certain business models. It doesn’t even depend on our eagerness to know, our sincerity to learn, or our desire to experience the Word. It depends upon our willingness to receive humbly and in faith the message of the Gospel.

We must resist being merely familiar with this Word, but must drink it in as if our life depends on it (1 Pet. 2:2), letting it change our whole perspective and expectation of life. God’s Spirit will produce an explosion of kingdom growth within us, then (better yet) through us.

We already know what happens when our hearts are beaten hard and resistant to God’s Word. We know what it’s like to give him little room for squeezing seed between the tiny cracks in our schedules. We know when our soil is so full of other interests and concerns, there’s not much daylight left for the small shoots of spiritual possibility to take hold and actually do anything. In other words, we have all been the path, the rocky ground and the thorny patch before.

But for those who are in the kingdom of Christ, we’ve received the Word with receptive ears and have seen the truth with spiritual sight. We’ve experienced the fruit of the kingdom.

When we face hard times, our soil often dries up and hard soil forms. Or when we get busy and distracted, our Christian life begins to gasp and sputter from lack of nutrition. We produce fewer kingdom fruits.

But when our hearts are truly receptive to God’s Word—letting it live, grow and germinate in us—our Lord will take care of making things happen in the fertile soil. Our desires and attitudes will become his desires and attitudes. Things will start sprouting from our work and testimony we never thought in a million years we’d ever see attached to us. The people around us will be changed and challenged by what just naturally comes up in conversation—not occasionally but regularly and consistently, in surprising amounts.

Because when the seed strikes root in good soil, the new life that springs up is a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood agent of his subversive kingdom. And with that kind of structure underneath us, we can go out intentionally with great determination to undermine the evil world order and set free its captives—especially as we join together with other believers in the church who are feasting on the Word themselves. That’s how God creates entire fields of bumper kingdom crops, both here in our communities and around the world.

The Word that changes us is what also changes others.  

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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