5. Sowing the Seed
Matthew 13: 1 - 23
One of my favourite things to do when grocery shopping is to enjoy the free samples. This marketing tool is simply sowing seed. As we continue in our series called “Parables Alive!” we’re focusing today on one of the most well-known stories of Jesus called, “The Parable of the Sower.” Actually, we could call it the “Story of the Four Soils.” Part of what we’ll learn today is this: If you’re serious about growing then it’s time to start sowing.
These super stories that Jesus told are like mental “time bombs” designed to be unforgettable and then to explode into meaning for those who are serious about listening to the Lord. Fortunately, we don’t have to guess about the meaning of this message because Jesus provides an interpretation for the disciples.
Everyone back then understood how seed sowing worked. A farmer would have a leather pouch across his shoulders filled with seed and would walk down paths in his field slinging the seed out. This seed would end up in all sorts of soil, some good, and some poor. The farmer’s one desire is to get his seed into good soil so it would grow because the seed has life in it. The seed is small but powerful and will produce fruit if the conditions are right. But it must be planted in order to achieve its intended purpose.
Do you ever wonder how someone you love can hear a clear gospel presentation and yet not respond by receiving Christ? Are you bothered when you see someone seemingly make a decision for Christ and get all excited about it only to end up drifting away when disappointment comes? Does it trouble you when others get all wrapped up in the worries or wealth of the world and bottom out spiritually? What’s up with all that? The problem was with the soil, or the soul…not with the seed.
We’ll take each soil in order and read what happened when the farmer sowed the seed. Then we’ll bounce over to see how Jesus ties each soil type to a “soul type.” These 4 soils represent 4 different responses to the Word of God. We’ll work at understanding with our heads and then listen with our hearts. It’s actually pretty cool because we get to listen in on the parable itself and then hear how Jesus interprets it. That’s a great Bible study practice – start with observation and then go to interpretation and end with application.
1. Spoiled Soil: A Hard Heart v. 4
Fields in Palestine were small and were separated from one another by paths where the ground was beaten flat by all the people and animals that used them. The seed that hit this hard ground just lay there until the birds gobbled it up or was ground into the soil by sandaled feet.
Jesus interprets the 1st soil in v.19 - ask yourself if this describes your soul, or someone you know. The problem here is not a lack of understanding, but an unwillingness to embrace it. It’s not that they can’t understand but that they won’t. Part of the problem may be that some people have heard the message so much that it has just become “background noise” to them. Like an immunization, they have become inoculated from the impact of the gospel. They’ve received just enough of the message to make them immune to it. Some of you have been inoculated with small doses of Christianity, which has kept you from catching the real thing.
Satan loves to bring confusion and to cause callousness when the gospel is communicated. 2 Corinthians 4: 3, 4, “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” The devil loves to distract people so that they won’t respond to the Word.
Procrastination, pride and stubbornness can lead to a hard heart. Sometimes when you’re sowing the seed it will feel like the message just bounces off some people. It could be because the individual is so steeped in sin and so blinded by Satan and so wrapped up in self that he or she does not want to understand the message. Are there any hard hearts here today?
2. Shallow Soil: Rocky Road v. 5, 6
This type of soil was very shallow and the rocks on the surface had to be cleared every year. Much of the land was solid rock with just a thin layer of soil on top. The crops would spring up quickly but because there was no root system, they would wither and die.
Jesus explains the shallow soul in v. 20, 21. This individual responds to the gospel with great enthusiasm and emotion but because he or she didn’t count the cost of being a Christian, quickly falls away. This superficial person “endures only for a while” but in actuality was never converted in the first place. We could call this “convenient Christianity” because this person likes the idea of forgiveness and heaven and receiving “God’s favour,” but doesn’t want any difficulties. This individual wants emotionalism not exposition and is controlled by feelings not faith. Would you notice that Jesus doesn’t say “if” tribulation or persecution comes, but “when” it comes? Trouble and tribulation will strengthen true believers and it also reveals those who have only had an emotional experience. It has always been the case for people to bail on Christ when things get difficult. John 6: 66: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” Does this describe anyone here today? Did you have an emotional response some time ago but now you’ve fallen away? Have problems come up with your job, your family or with your health? Inside are you angry because you’re thinking you didn’t sign up for this? Perhaps you just focused on the benefits of belief without counting the costs of commitment – like repentance, dying to self and being all in for the one who is all in for you. Maybe you’ve never really been converted.
3. Strangled Soil: Attracted Yet Distracted v. 7
Thorns and thistles and weeds rob the soil of water and nutrients and can cause the crops to fail. Jesus moves from the weedy soil to the worried soul in v. 22. The pursuit of possessions is very seductive, isn’t it? Just watch a commercial on TV to see how marketers strive to seduce us to part with our rands. When we’re seduced in this way, the Word is often suffocated in our lives. This person is so attached to this world, with its worries and wealth, that the word is choked before conversion can happen. In Luke’s account, we read that these people “are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” Worry, wealth and the pleasures of the world can strangle the seed. When gardening, have you ever wondered why weeds grow so quickly? It’s because they are native to the soil. In a similar way, the weeds of worry and the deceitfulness of wealth and the pursuit of pleasure are endemic in our hearts as well.
It’s like the woman who received a proposal from her boyfriend. The guy got down on one knee and said: “Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Rolls Royce like Johnny Green, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a moment and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Green.” Have you ever seen someone start out with a strong spiritual interest and then become distracted? I have. This happened to the apostle Paul, when a man he thought was a believer, revealed that he really wasn’t by his behaviour in 2 Timothy 4:10: “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed…” Are you attracted and yet distracted today? Are you trying to have it both ways? If you’re distracted you’ll eventually depart. If you’re all up in the ways of the world the Word will be choked out.
4. Spiritual Soil: Fruitful Faith v. 8
The good ground had been worked, prepared and ploughed. It had depth and was free of weeds. Back then if a farmer had a harvest that was 7 times what was sown it would be considered a good crop. To have yields of a 100, 60 or 30 fold would be unheard of, unnatural, even astonishing. Jesus saves the best for last in v. 23 - He hears and understands.
Faith produces fruit. Let me be quick to say that not all believers produce the same amount of fruit but they all produce some fruit. Fruit-bearing is the mark of a disciple according to Jesus - John 15: 8: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” Our Lord is wondering what kind of listener you and I really are.
One of the keys to living the Christian life is to never stop listening to the Lord. Do we hear what He says? If you’re not willing to do what God says, you won’t “hear” what He says. To say it another way, if you’re willing to love God, then you will listen. Spiritual illumination comes to those who are personally committed to follow Jesus. Let me say again that the first 3 soils represent sinners who have not been saved, not believers who somehow lost their salvation.
1. The Word of God is the only thing that produces lasting growth.
According to Mark 4:14, the seed is the Word of God. We will unashamedly continue to preach and teach the gospel here because it is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” On a personal level, make sure you are sowing the seed of God’s Word into hearts, and not just your own thoughts, political perspectives, opinions and ideas. Keep in mind that the seed is all that the farmer has. Remember that the sower who sows in tears will reap with joy.
2. Sow the seed of God’s Word in your children.
Deuteronomy 6: 6 - 9 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” When your child comes home from Sunday School, ask them what they learned and look for ways to apply it to their lives.
3. A small percentage of what is planted actually grows to maturity.
To use the figures from the parable, only about 1 out of 4 actually bears fruit. Don’t despair. Just keep sowing. Keep smiling and serving up the Word. Like Dory from “Finding Nemo,” just “keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.” What do we do? We just keep sowing, sowing, sowing. Since we don’t know when and where the seed will germinate, we must just keep sowing it.
4. If you’re serious about growing, then it’s time to start sowing.
Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Our job is to scatter the seed all the time, in every place we go. I love what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3: 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”
5. Pray that God would plough up hard hearts.
Ezekiel 36: 26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Prayed that God would soften souls.
6. God wants to use you to cultivate hard hearts and pluck weeds from worried lives.
Your role may be to come alongside someone in pain or to simply serve a neighbour. God will use you and then He’ll do the rest.
7. People often move between different soil types depending on their stage of life, their response to truth, and perceived needs.
This movement can be forward (toward spiritual soil) or backward (to spoiled soil). A woman who was hard-hearted the last time you spoke with her may be open today. Don’t “time-stamp” someone by assuming that just because they were against the gospel in the past that they’re still hard today. Just keep sowing, sowing, sowing.
8. Our goal is not just to have people make decisions for Christ; we’re serious about making disciples of Christ.
This takes effort and time. We want to see fruit. We want to make an impact, not just get people emotional.
9. This parable must become personal.
We’re forced to ask some tough questions like, “What kind of soil am I?” “Am I just a fan of Jesus or am I a full-fledged follower?”
Your heart has been hard or rocky or you’ve been distracted. But right now you sense God ploughing up your hard heart. Don’t miss this opportunity to believe and receive the seed of the Word of God into your soul.
It’s not enough to nibble on a sample of salvation. It’s time to have complete and total buy-in by believing and receiving Jesus Christ as your substitute. Make Him the centre of your life right now.