Participating in the Process

Matthew 13:1-23

February 18, 2001 | Brian Bill

I want to begin with a test this morning.

Q:  Before Mount Everest was discovered, what was the highest mountain on earth?  

A:  Mount Everest, it just hadn’t been discovered.

Q:  A child is born in Boston to parents who were both born in Boston.  The child is not a United States citizen.  How is that possible?

A:  The child was born before 1776.

Q:  How many times can you subtract the number 5 from 25?

A:  Only once, and then you are subtracting it from 20.

Q:  How many animals of each sex did Moses take on the Ark?

A:  He didn’t take any but Noah did.

Q:  What is both a process and a one-time decision?

A:  Evangelism.

While conversion is a one-time event, evangelism is a process that we’re invited to participate in.  For the great majority of people, the road to Christ is long.  Although Jesus is near to everyone, most people are far from Him.  This vast distance is not going to be closed by confrontation and debate but by the beauty of a Christ-centered life that both demonstrates and proclaims that Jesus is the only way.

Last week we learned through two biblical metaphors that we are salt and light.  As salt, we’re to give taste to a bland world, we’re to work as a moral disinfectant, and perhaps most importantly, we’re to make people thirsty for Jesus.  As light, God chooses to use us to dispel darkness, to give guidance, and to reveal Jesus to others.

The fact that evangelism is both a process and a one-time decision is supported and developed by several other significant metaphors.  These witnessing word pictures help us sharpen our vision of how God communicates through people like you and me.

Witnessing Word Pictures

1. A Living Letter. 

Speaking of believers, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.”  This image declares that evangelism is allowing your searching friends to turn the pages of your life so that they can read the fine print.  It presupposes regular, close contact with people who are lost without Christ.  Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately in some cases, the response to Christ is often determined by the material found in the book of our lives.

2. A Shining Star.

 Philippians 2:15 declares, “…you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”  Our goal is not to beat people into submission but to reflect the beauty of Christ to others.  A star-studded sky, like a community salted with Christians, is very appealing to those in darkness.  Just as the heavens declare the glory of God, so do His living stars.

3. A Fragrant Aroma. 

I love it when Beth wears perfume!  It has a way of short-circuiting everything else and capturing my heart.  You and I are to influence lost people like a sweet smelling scent.  We see this in 2 Corinthians 2:15: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”  Drawing his imagery from the parade of the victorious Roman army, Paul makes us analogous to the incense that preceded the procession.  

That leads to some obvious questions.  Do I emit an attractive fragrance to those around me?  Do I give off the bouquet of Jesus when I mix it up with lost people?  If not, maybe we could start praying something like this, “Jesus, help me to smell like you today.  May there be something in my smile or my attitude that permeates people with the cologne of Christ.”

4. A Beautiful Bride. 

This potent image from Ephesians 5:32 highlights the powerful testimony of the church.  As we focus on our six purposes of Instruction, Ministry, Prayer, Adoration, Caring, and Telling, people will be attracted to the church, just as they are to a beautiful bride.  There is nothing more appealing than the body of Christ when the church acts like it is supposed to act!   When PBC operates as a biblically functioning community, we will experience what the early church did in Acts 2:47: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

5. A Patient Farmer. 

Agricultural imagery is the major metaphor that Jesus employed to communicate His evangelistic strategy.   Farming was, and still is, one of the most honorable occupations.  From the very beginning of the human race in Genesis 2:15, God told man to “work the garden and care for it.”

We’re to be like farmers who are involved in the progression of cultivation, planting, and reaping.  I call it “Contagious Christianity CPR.”

We see this fleshed out in Matthew 13 where we read about the Parable of the Sower and in John 4 when Jesus invites His followers to participate in the process of evangelism.  Here’s a summary of His teaching:

  1. Every person without Christ is a soil to be cultivated.
  2. Every person with Christ is a seed to be planted.
  3. It is normal to eventually reap what is sown.

Here’s another way to say it: Plowing leads to planting, which should lead to picking.  

The Process Explained

Please turn in your Bible to John 4.  Here in this passage Jesus is talking with a woman about her deepest needs.  After a discussion of the true nature of worship and the way of salvation, the Master turns to His disciples and has a “teachable moment” with them.  

While Jesus was focused on doing the will of His father, the disciples were in the drive-through at a fast-food restaurant.  They were concerned about their empty stomachs while Jesus was determined to fill an empty life.  When they came back with their carry-outs, they pleaded with Jesus to eat something in verse 31.  Jesus changes the focus from food to that which really matters in verse 32: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  The disciples think that maybe someone else had dropped some lunch off for Jesus so He clears it up by saying in verse 34: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”

What really satisfies Jesus is not food, but doing the will of the Sender.  Because His disciples were not around when Jesus had his conversation with the woman at the well, they had no idea about the mysterious meal He was talking about.

we don’t see lost people the way Jesus does because we’re too focused on ourselves

We’re often just like the disciples.  We’re so wrapped up in our daily needs like what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to do next, and how our jobs are going, that we miss what is truly important.  Frankly, we don’t see lost people the way Jesus does because we’re too focused on ourselves.

I love verse 35: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”  Jesus is quoting a proverb that taught that there is no hurry for a particular task.  It would be like saying, “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”  The seed may be planted, but there is nothing else to do.

Jesus strongly disagrees when He says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”  While the process cannot be rushed, there is a sense of urgency.  We can’t procrastinate.  When the ground is cultivated, and the seed is planted, the time for reaping is at hand.

To “open your eyes” means to raise them up and look at something else.  It was a common expression in the Old Testament.  The word “look” has the idea of “to scan and look closely” in order to perceive something.  In essence, Jesus is saying, “Listen, guys.  You say there are four more long months before the harvest.  Take a look at what’s happening right now.  The harvest is coming in as I speak!

Some of your versions translate the word “ripe” as “white for harvest.”  The barley harvest made the fields look “white” when the time was right for reaping.  Four more months was a normal expectation in the natural realm, but by lifting up their eyes, the disciples could see an approaching group of seeking Samaritans, who had been impacted by the testimony of the woman at the well.

Take a look at verse 36: “Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”  Generally, there is a considerable interval between planting and reaping.  But in this case there is very little time between the planting and the picking of the produce.  Christ is the one who planted the seed in the woman’s heart, she sowed it in the other Samaritans, and now they are coming to the disciples who will be the reapers.  It’s really a fulfillment of Amos 9:13: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes…”

Normally, in the process of evangelism, the planter and the reaper are two different people, and the time needed for germination of the seed takes much longer before it’s ready for harvest

The disciples as reapers are able to rejoice in a spiritual crop that they themselves have not planted.  Normally, in the process of evangelism, the planter and the reaper are two different people, and the time needed for germination of the seed takes much longer before it’s ready for harvest.  That’s the meaning of verse 37: “Thus the saying, ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.”

Jesus wraps up His lesson in verse 38: “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.  Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  The Greek word translated “hard work” is rendered “tired” in John 4:6.  The process of evangelism is not easy work.  Cultivating and planting can wipe you out but it’s worth it all when you can be glad with those who have the privilege of reaping what you have sown.  Psalm 126:5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

John 4 gives us at least 5 practical truths that have direct application to our role in evangelism today:

  1. The normal evangelism process involves Cultivation, Planting, and Reaping.
  2. Reaping may be closer than we think.
  3. We have different roles in the process.
  4. We’re on the same team.
  5. It’s hard work.

A Three-Phase Process

In our time remaining this morning I want to develop the process of CPR evangelism.

God’s communication strategy is wrapped up in people like you and me who own the mission, who are ready to give the reason for the hope that we have, who exhibit salt and light, and who are eager to participate in the process of cultivating, planting, and reaping.  

The cultivation phase emphasizes making truth visible; the sowing and reaping stages focus on making truth audible.  Another way to say it is that when we live as salt and light God uses us to cultivate the soil of people’s hearts.  When we communicate the gospel message we are planting the seed.  And when we call for a response, we have the joy of reaping the harvest.  Let’s look at each of these a little more closely.

1. Cultivation is an appeal to the heart through the building of a relationship. 

If evangelism involves “show and tell,” cultivating is “showing.”  It’s living out what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

You can cultivate the soil of someone’s heart by spending time with him or her.  It’s bumping shoulders with someone so that Jesus rubs off on them.  It’s being close enough to a lost person that they can smell the cologne of Christ on you.  It’s allowing them to read the book of your life in order for them to recognize the Author.

Sadly, most Christians have very few non-Christian friends.  For many of us, our relationships involve only church people.  My guess however, is that you know more people than you think you do.  If you start first in your own family, chances are there are some who don’t yet know Christ.  You work with people who are still separated from Jesus.  God has placed you in a neighborhood that is full of people who have not experienced the joy of knowing Jesus as their Leader and Forgiver.  

The challenge for us is to cultivate these relationships so that we can earn the right to be heard.  People don’t care what we know until they know that we care.  And, you must be a friend if you want to make a friend.

I love how the Living Bible translates 1 Corinthians 9:22: “…whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.”  Here are some pointers to help cultivate that common ground.

  • Take the initiative with people.
  • Be natural and engage in normal conversation with people.
  • Be open and willing to admit your own struggles and failures.
  • Be gentle and respectful.
  • Don’t forget what it was like to be a non-Christian.

2. Planting is an appeal to the mind through the communication of revelation. 

In the planting phase, the goal is to expose the pre-Christian to the fundamental concepts of the Christian faith.  Research indicates that those who trust the Lord and remain as members of the church have had over five exposures to the gospel before they received Christ.   If cultivation speaks to the heart through relationship, then planting is addressed to the mind through revelation. In cultivation, the emphasis is on caring.  When you plant, the focus is on communication.

When we plant the seed of the gospel we must be sensitive to the readiness of the soil.  Matthew 13 reminds us that the Gospel is the seed and we are the planters of that seed.  Our job is to scatter it.  It’s best if it lands on plowed soil but we don’t always know which soil has already been prepared.

Soul culture is a bit different than most farming today.  When Jesus lived sometimes the cultivating and the planting would take place at the same time.  Cultivation is what gives planting its power.  A godly life prepares one to hear the Word of God.  A loving heart opens a hard heart to the heart of God.

Having said that, here are a few differences between cultivating and planting:

  • Cultivating demonstrates, planting declares.
  • Cultivating appeals to the heart, planting addresses the mind.
  • Cultivating is visual while planting is verbal.
  • Cultivating prepares, planting presents.
  • Cultivating shares experiences, planting explains them.

It’s obvious that we have to do more than just spend time with people.  We have to also plant the seed.  Planting draws from two major data banks: Your story and His story.  Give people your “bio” and then give them God’s “book.”  You plant when you explain how Christ has transformed your life.  You sow when you tell others that Jesus paid the price for their sins.

As we engage in the CPR process of evangelism, the heart is warmed through cultivation; the mind is addressed through planting; and now we come to the final phase where the will is mobilized by reaping.  We move from caring to communication to conversion. 

3. Reaping is an appeal to the will in anticipation of a response.

In making a decision to become a Christian, the involvement of the will is fundamental.   It was our will that got us into trouble in the first place.  Adam and Eve’s sin was an act of rebellion against God’s authority.  Conversion is laying down our arms and coming out with our hands up.

Some of us don’t think enough about the harvest because we think people aren’t ready to come to faith.  As Jesus reminded His disciples, the fields are ripe for picking!  Your friend may be a lot closer than you think he is.  We cultivate and plant so that there will be a crop.  Paul felt this way in Romans 1:13: “…I planned many times to come to you…in order that I might have a harvest among you…”

Let me give you three suggestions for this stage.

  • Pray for open doors and boldness.  Pray the Prayer of Jabez and ask God to expand your witnessing opportunities.
  • Speak with the expectation of reaping.  You’ll be halfhearted if you expect no results.
  • Invite people to respond.  You might want to ask a question like this when you sense a person is close to receiving Christ: “Is there any reason you would not want to surrender your life to Christ right now and receive forgiveness for your sins?” 


Friends, instead of just looking at evangelism as something scary, or as a one-time event, try to see your friends somewhere in the process of making mini-decisions toward Jesus.  God wants to use you to cultivate the soil, He wants you to plant the seed of the Gospel, and He may want to use you in the reaping process.  Let me put it this way.  You are successful in CPR evangelism if God uses you to help someone move closer to Christ. 

Evangelism is:  

Taking the initiative

In the power of the Holy Spirit,

To help a person move one step closer

In the process of coming to saving faith in Christ.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Philemon 6: “I pray that you will be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”  When we take an active role in cultivating, planting, and reaping, people will come to Christ and we will grow in our relationship with Him.  How great is that?

Since you didn’t do so well on the first quiz this morning, I have another one for you:

  1. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
  2. Name four winners of the Miss America contest.
  3. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
  4. Name the last six Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

  How’d you do?  The point is, none of us remember people who are the best in their fields.  Awards tarnish.  Achievements are forgotten.  Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here’s one last quiz (I promise).   See how you do on this one:

  1. Think of a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
  2. Name two friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
  3. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
  4. Think of three people you enjoy spending time with.

  Was that a little easier?  Here’s the lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards.  They’re the ones who care.

When you leave this morning, you are entering your mission field.  Care for people.  Communicate your story and His story.  And expect conversions.  Cultivate, Plant and Reap.  And watch God do His work!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?