The Sower, the Ox and the Ass
THE SOWER, THE OX AND THE ASS
Isaiah 32:20 (KJV)- Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth tither the feet of the ox and the ass.
RSV- Happy are you who sow beside all waters, who let the feet of the ox and the ass range free.
In the four gospels, you will read about Jesus using imageries to describe the nature of His calling upon His disciples. When he called fishermen – Peter, James and John, he used the imagery of a fisherman to define their calling. He said, “From today onward, you will be fishers of men.” That is, instead of catching fishes, you will be catching men for the kingdom of God.
In our key text, we can see another three imageries that define our calling as Jesus’ disciples – The Sower, The Ox and The Ass. And that is the title of my message this morning.
(I) BACKGROUND OF THE KEY TEXT
The nation of Israel was captured by the Assyrians and the land became barren. The Assyrians must have almost entirely stopped all agricultural process and this involved terrible losses and sufferings.
Then God sent Prophet Isaiah to prophecy new hope to the devastated and barren nation of Israel that God would send the Spirit of God and when He’d come, He would cause the barren land to become fruitful field and the fruitful field would be a forest. Peace, security and trust would be restored. The Spirit would then build up what the rebellious nation had torn down. It was only after the Spirit of God had come that the people would be restored of their blessedness and they would then be able to sow besides many waters and their livestock like oxen and asses would be blessed too.
So take note of the condition of the land of Israel pre and post arrival of the Spirit of God. Before the Spirit of God came – no sowing; barren land . After the Spirit of God came, much sowing; fruitful land.
(II) THE SPIRITUAL MEANING
What do these three imageries mean spiritually to us? What do they represent in our modern lives today? What have they to speak about our present ministries?
(A) THE SOWER
Isaiah 32:20 (KJV)- Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters………….
Who is the sower?
1) The Sower Is A Man In Trust – He has the seed-corn for next year’s harvest. The food of the people depends, in measure, on each one’s faithfulness to his trust.
Application: The Christian is a man put in trust. He has what is for the blessing of men. Truth, more precious than seeds. Powers of sympathy and love that bring bountiful harvests. Wealth, knowledge and position may all prove life-giving to men but all these cannot compare to the trust of the gospel God has entrusted to the Christian as the Sower.
2) The Sower is Required to Sow All He Has In Trust-He is not to live on the seed. He is not to store it up safely. He is not to use it for any objects of his own. He must not delay in fulfilling his master’s will with the seed. It was given to him that he might sow it all in the soil.
Application: So God would have the Christian put to use every talent, every trust He has committed to him. In this, our Lord is our example. Everything God gave him, He gave away: love, truth, comfort, healing, pity, time, strength, character, life – all He gave away. In Him, there was no getting to keep; only getting to give.
3) The Sower is Required to Sow Freely- “Besides all waters.” Not too nicely examining the conditions of the soils; not selecting just the deep and prepared earth, but scattering freely and scattering wide.
Application: The Christian never knows where, in God’s fields, the richest harvests will be reaped. So he sows all over the field, sows in perseverance and sows in faith.
What is the Sower sowing?
He has the best seed to sow: TRUTH, which God took centuries to prepare, which is the purchase of a Savior’s tears and blood, which is exquisitely adapted to the soil for which it is intended.
What kind of soil is he sowing the seeds upon?
He has well-watered, that is, fertile, responsive soil in which to place it. He has amongst others the virgin soil of youth. Youth may often be inattentive, frivolous, unstable; nevertheless they are docile, affectionate, trustful and tender-hearted.
The responsive soil which he is sowing upon is also the prepared soil of affliction. When God has chastened the soul with His fatherly hand, there is softness of spirit, an impressionableness of heart which makes words of comfort, of exhortation of warning peculiarly welcome.
The responsive soil here could also include the productive soil of poverty. From the days the gospel is preached to these times in which we live, the poor have been comparatively rich in faith and hope. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, more so in this 21st century where globalization has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. By those to whom the riches and enjoyments of earth are denied, the treasures of truth and the blessedness of the Kingdom of God are likely to be prized and gained. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
There is a special blessing reserved for the Sower but he must fulfill one condition in order to reap this blessing – HE MUST SOW BESIDES ALL WATERS.
In some parts of the East, particularly in the sowing of the rice, the time chosen is when the rivers overflow their banks. Cattle are turned into the wet land to tread it and prepare it for the seed, which is then cast upon the water. It subsides into the ground and yields a quick harvest.
So our key text suggests that if the Sower wants to reap the blessing, there must be the PROXIMITY to the WATERS and to such a state of security that the oxen and asses may be turned upon the land to feed at large, without fences to limit their movements.
What does proximity to the many waters represent?
1) OPPORTUNITY – The great work of sowing the gospel is committed to the Church. We are to tell the story of God’s love; to make known the ruins and devastations; to proclaim salvation; to persuade men. The opportunity is near us and it is our job to maximize this opportunity to sow the seeds of the gospel.
The language of our key text is a warning against the neglect of the least opportunity of usefulness to others. Isaiah pronounces a blessing upon those who are prepared to scatter seeds, not only where there is probable prospect of a rich harvest, but upon whatsoever soil God shall bring them in contact with. It is not only by the waters that are sweet and sparkling that the sowing is to be carried on but also besides the floods that seem likely to overwhelm. We are to maintain a lively sense of our obligation to do good unto all men as we have opportunity.
We should not neglect any opportunity of securing benefit for ourselves. Every period of existence is to be spent unto God. Swift and resistless the waters of life glide on and as a good Christian, we should sow our good seed beside them all. Whether in youth, middle age and in advancing years, whatsoever our hands find to do, do it heartily as unto to the Lord and then we will be able to reap a harvest according to our sowing in that which preceded it. Blessed through eternity will he be who sowed wisely and liberally beside all waters of life.
Let it be our ambition to be useful. The difference between one man who lives a useful life and another who lives a useless life, is simply this – the one improves his opportunities for doing good and making others happy, while he ministers to his own well-being; and the other lives only for himself and reaps the barren harvest of his selfishness. Life comes but once to each of us and blessed are they who are careful to “sow beside all waters.”
Those who wish to be useful should never forget the many favorable opportunities for sowing seed on the clear and untroubled waters of childhood.
Another opportunity for sowing precious seeds in on the troubled waters of strife.
Another, on the stagnant and muddy waters of doubt and unbelief. It often happens that the Christian is obliged to listen to the senseless discourse of those who seek to bring the Son of God into contempt and if he would be prepared for such occasion of seed-sowing from you, he would become a diligent student with the right understanding of the gospel.
2) MANY PEOPLE
“Waters” in the Bible always represent people. “Many waters” would therefore mean many people. The sower must sow where there are many people. Go to places that are dense in population and sow your seeds of the gospel there and you will have a blessed harvest.
“Many waters” also suggests earnestness and energy. Throw all your energy into this work of sowing. The sower must be diligent in his sowing.
4) OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY SPIIRT
“Water” is also an emblem of the Holy Spirit. “Many waters” also suggest many occasions or waves of the move of the Holy Spirit. The people of Israel were not able to experience the blessedness of sowing until the Holy Spirit came. We too will not experience the joy of sharing the gospel until we are near to the move and in the move of the Holy Spirit. Until the Holy Spirit comes down, we will be toiling in frustration but once He is here, He soften all the grounds of the heart of the souls and it makes our sowing so much easier. So by sowing besides all waters, WE TAP THE SOURCE OF HIS LIFE AND BY SENDING OUT THE FEET OF THE OX AND THE DONKEY, WE SHOW OUR CONFIDENCE IN HIS PROMISE.
What is the outcome of the sower when he sows besides many waters?
He will experience the “blessed” life promised by God.
The word “BLESSED” has three shades:
1) Under divine blessing (Psalm 32:1)
2) Enjoying fulfillment in life (Psa 112:1)-Spiritual enjoyment is deepened and your Christian character grows. Many can say the sowing days are the happiest.
3) Doing the right thing at the right time (Psa 2:12)
To sum it up, the sower will experience the three-fold blessings: divine favor; personal fulfillment and total rectitude (Moral uprightness).
(B) THE OX
Isa 32:20 (RSV)- Happy are you who sow beside all waters, who let the feet of the ox and the ass range free.
It was customary to send oxen into the water to tread the ground before the seed was cast, so as to prevent it from being washed away by the waters.
Oxen are partners of the Sower when it comes to sowing.
Oxen are the most hard-working animal. They toil under the sun without complaint. They have a penchant for water.
E.g. On one rainy day, Pas Toh Nee was driving me past Barangay San Rafael where there are a few patches of rice fields. They were all deluged in water because of the rain and I saw many buffalos just soaking happily there. It was a very serene picture of their penchant for water. It was a very refreshing sight.
Oxen is a picture of a servant. One of the four faces of the living creatures that Ezekiel saw in the Vision is that of an ox and it foreshadows the servant ministry of Jesus in the Book of Mark.
Before the Spirit of God came down for Israel, the feet of the oxen were all tied. There was no plowing since the there was no rain and the soil was hard. The owner had to tied their feet down so they wouldn’t run away and get lost. But once the Spirit of God came, rain came too and there were much waters in the field and so the Sower let the feet of the oxen range free in the many waters. They didn’t even felt the need to put up any fencing because they knew the oxen wouldn’t go anywhere. Their life is in the watered field.
Application: We are all called alongside as the Servants of Christ to toil along with the Holy Spirit in the harvest of the world. Before the Holy Spirit comes, many of us are tied down with weariness. But when He sends the rain of revival, the Sower which is the pastors and the leaders must lead their people who are the oxen to the “waters” of revival. There the “oxen” will range freely, with no more tied down feet; no more dread for the ministry. Whenever there is a feeling of dread, the temptation of the workers of the gospel to stray after sin and the world is very high. But when they are led to an already watered field, to a revived place of evangelism, they will stay and not stray. They don’t any restraint. They simply love to be involved in the harvest field which is already watered by the Holy Spirit.
E.g. For ten and the half years, we have been sending the oxen to tread on the soil of the City of Iloilo. G12 leaders were being sent to many barangays to help sow and tread the harvest field. It started well but as the years rolled on, the ground seemed to be harder and the feet of the oxen began to be tied down by weariness, dryness and dread. As a Pastor, I had no more words to encourage. I knew many of our preaching fell on deaf ears. Many of our oxen knew what was right but they had no power to fulfill their duty as a servant to the calling of Christ. I felt the urgent need to gather all my oxen and bring them near the ‘waters” of the Holy Spirit. Thank God, He blessed our church with very good offering on January and I managed to save P76,000. I took it as God’s will for me to organize a special time off for my oxen (my workers, my toiler, my partners in the harvest field) to encounter God. I began to plan this Leader’s Encounter Retreat but I had the problem of finding the right speaker. I wanted to invite a certain person but when I saw how badly he performed in one of the services, I pulled back. Then I wanted to invite another person but Pas Toh Nee never gave me the consent. Instead Pas Toh Nee said that we two should be the one to do it. I was filled with fear and uncertainty as I didn’t know how and I know a prophet is not without welcome except in his own hometown. “Will the Holy Spirit come down? Will the waters of Revival come? Will my oxen be refreshed and feet be loosed from dread and heaviness?” –Those were the doubts and questions running through my mind. But the Holy Spirit just challenged me to just do it-bring your oxen to the waters. You just have faith in me. Step out of your boat and begin to witness a miracle. I did and together with Pas Toh Nee, we witnessed one of the greatest fall of the Holy Spirit upon all my oxen. You could literally see them swim in the Holy Spirit- their feet were literally set lose and they were ranging freely, drinking from the Holy Spirit. But as for me, I managed to claim this “blessedness” portion reserved for the Sower. I can hear God’s voice commending me- “Child, you did it right. I will bless you because you let their feet loose and you brought them near to me, to encounter my Holy Spirit and therefore, I will refresh and reempower them to help you fulfill the vision I have given you.” Pas Toh Nee at the end of the Retreat, said to me, “Now I know why you were persistent in wanting your leaders to have an Encounter Retreat.”
Proverbs 14:4 – Where there are no oxen, there is no grain; but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
I cannot sow the gospel alone in this city. I need “oxen”. I need hardworking workers who are willing to yoke themselves with both of us and the cause of the Christ to sow the gospel. God has blessed me with 110 oxen. Of course I wish I have more but like Gideon with this small number of oxen, as long as a Sower, I always lead them near the many waters and let their feet range free in the watered field of evangelism, God will bless us and our ministry.
God has called many of us to be “oxen” in His harvest field. Our job is to assist and work under the Sower, our pastors and our leaders; to help them loosen up the soil of people’s heart through our visitation. It is the feet of the oxen that loosen up the hard soil. Similarly, it is with our going to the people with our feet that we help them to understand and accept the gospel.
The good news is the many water is near. It is here. The revival and the move of the Holy Spirit is here. So, as oxen of the church, the Holy Spirit wants to set your feet loose and let you range freely in the watered field of world. Be ready for that!
(C) THE ASS
The ass is also known as the donkey. It is known as the beast of burden. On the positive side, it is good at helping men carry their burdens. The asses of the church are those who help the pastor bear the burdens for souls and the ministry. On the negative side, they are known for their stubbornness and willfulness.
Like the oxen, the feet of the asses during the time of Israel, was also tied down. Like many of us, we are being tied down by the burdens of life and sins.
This scenario of the asses’ feet being tied down brings to my memory another similar case in Luke 19:28-38, where a colt that has never been ridden was tied there. Jesus instructed his disciple to find this colt, untie it and bring it to him, so that he could ride upon it to Jerusalem.
Application: The colt is a young donkey. The colt here represents many young people of our church, whose feet have to be tied down by God, men or life. You are very willful and stubborn and so you get tied down. Nobody has ever ridden on you. Nobody has ever controlled you to move where they want you to move. All along, you have always been wanting your own way. So God ties you down. He has to train you to break your spirit and so he treats you like he did to Ephraim in Hosea 10:11- Ephraim was a trained heifer that I loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke, Judah must plow, Jacob must harrow (break up/plow) for himself.” Your feet have been curbed. Your movement limited. Your dreams tied down. You cannot go and do what you want to do. But when the Spirit of God comes like that during the OT and when Jesus comes like that during the NT, the Spirit of God and Jesus will untie the feet of asses and let you range freely in the flow of revival and Jesus will sit upon your life and direct you where He wants you to go. Then you will get to enjoy the Hosannas that people will give to Christ. Even though the road of Hosannas lead to Golgatha and then finally to the Calvary Hill, still there is the resurrection that Christ want you to partake with Him.
Application: As asses (the older ones), are your feet tied down by the burdens of life? As colts (the young people), are your feet tied down because of your willfulness and stubbornness? Good news – the Spirit of God is here. The “many waters” is here. Just as the disciple obeyed the instruction of Jesus to go and untie the colt, I as the servant of God am obeying Him to let loose the feet of the colt and lead you to the Holy Spirit so that your will and your heart can be soften by the water of the Holy Spirit to surrender to Jesus’ will and then you will never drive your own life anymore. Rather, you will let Jesus ride upon you as the King of your life.
E.g. During the Leaders’ Retreat, I also witnessed many young people’s willfulness being broken by the Holy Spirit. Their feet were tied down by their youthful passion, rebellion and stubbornness but when as a pastor, we untied their feet and led them to the Holy Spirit, God came down and plowed their hearts and spoke to them personally and when God spoke, the mountains in our hearts flowed down and they began to surrender and submit to the will and teachings of God.
We are given the calling as a Sower, an oxen and an ass. As a sower, we are entrusted with the seed of the gospel. As an oxen, we are called to be a servant of God and to partner with the sower in treading the ground of human hearts and preparing them for the gospel. As an ass, we are to help the church to bear the burden for souls, not just the burdens of life. The feet of the oxen and the ass must be set free by the Sower to be led to the many waters.
The Holy Spirit has begun to pour His water of revival upon this church. It is up to you whether you want to come near to this water. If you desire to come near, then you will get to experience the three-fold blessing of God.
The Holy Spirit has already gone ahead of us to water the hearts of many unsaved in this city. With the revival in our hearts, let us go out and sow liberally and earnestly. The opportunity is here. The opportunity of many souls to be saved is here. Let us do it with the waters, with a revived heart, with the power of the Holy Spirit. And as oxen, remember, our feet have been set free by the Holy Spirit and Jesus to range freely not in our selfish materialistic world but in the harvest field of God. And as an ass, our will is already broken and as long as we stay surrendered to the lordship of Jesus, he will lead us on the path to glory.
That is the calling of God upon you today- THE SOWER, THE OXEN AND THE ASS.
END OF SERMON
SERMON OF PASTOR LILY
PREACHED AT EFC ILOILO ON 1 MAY 2011