Today, I want us to look together at the Parable of the Sower – also known by some as the Parable of the Soils. And what we have to understand at the outset is that this parable focuses on two important points. The first is salvation. God spreads the word of His grace everywhere because He wants everyone to be saved. But as we will shortly see from the parable, only a few will receive the word and continue to walk the narrow road. The second point this parable – as we will see in later sermons in this series – makes the point that spiritual growth and a desire for evangelism will naturally follow conversion. If we have no desire to follow Jesus more closely with every passing year, and if we have no desire to share the good news with others, then we need to examine ourselves to see whether or not, we are truly in the faith, or if we have done a good job fooling ourselves.
So, here is the Parable of the Sower – or as I like to call it, the Parable of the Soils:
That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Greek: A command – Listen!)
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore, I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them’ . . . .
Before we examine the Lord’s explanation later in this text, we should pause a while and look more closely at the REASON the Lord said He often spoke in parables. And that reason speaks directly to why so many people today hear the message of the gospel, but to them the words make no sense.
Notice this sober warning “I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.’ . . .
Did you catch that from the text in Isaiah? Their hearts had become spiritually dull, their ears spiritually deaf, and their eyes spiritually blind.
No wonder the Lord Jesus so often commanded, “He who has ears, listen!”
We’ve looked at such warnings before, and it is good that we look at them again – if only in passing – because God loves us. God wants us to hear His voice and come to Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But if we refuse to listen to His voice, then His voice will grow quieter and quieter until it is no longer perceptible.
If you’ve been here for the past two weeks you remember I took my text from the 11th chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “Come to Me,” Jesus said, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
But what I did not say during my two messages from this text is the Lord was quoting from the prophet Jeremiah. Listen now to what God said to His Chosen people: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ And I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’ (Jeremiah 6:16-17)
Do you see how people in general have not changed from one generation to another, and from one millennium to another? Do you think it was for no purpose that the Lord further warned His followers: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14)?
You might remember what the Lord said to the religious clergy of His day: “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39) And do you think the Lord is not also warning people today of the same danger – perhaps especially churched people?
Listen! And may the Holy Spirit ensure that I, and you also, that we never forget: “God is Holy; And He demands from us also holiness, and full and perfect obedience to His commandments.” Because if we drift into a lifestyle of disobedience – and people usually drift into disobedience by degrees – we will slowly dull our hearts, deafen our ears, and blind our eyes to truth. And so, we find in the book of Hebrews: “We ought, therefore, to pay the greatest attention to the truth that we have heard and not allow ourselves to drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1, JB Phillips translation)
Surely that is one reason St Paul wrote to Timothy – and the word remains true for us as well – “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness . . . Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:7b, 15,16)
So, back to the Parable. The Lord then explains to His disciples what it means: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (Matthew 13:19)
The ‘seed’ Jesus speaks of here is the word of God. So, look WITH me at the first kind of soil – the one beside the roadway. These are those who have zero interest in spiritual things. When they happen to hear the good news of Christ’s offer to come to Him, it passes into one ear and out the other. In other words, Satan swoops in like a vulture and snatches the ‘seed’ from them, almost before it lands.
Like the rich farmer Jesus spoke about in Luke 12, the devil helps them to think to themselves, “Heaven – if there IS a heaven – heaven can wait.” You might remember that parable about the farmer and his abundant crop. After surveying his fruitful fields, the farmer said to himself: “I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:18-21)
People who are like the soil by the roadway think similarly to themselves. They’ve got a life to live, places to go, people to see, wealth to acquire, and places to spend it. They can’t be bothered with thoughts of the afterlife.
But the day of reckoning always comes – whether we are prepared for it or not. And there is not a person here who has not known people like this soil. You yourself might have been this kind of soil. I certainly was such a person – until God got hold of me. Thus, the reason to continue praying for those you know who are like this soil.
There are any number of reasons a person’s soil is along the side of the road. In the 50+ years I’ve walked with Christ, I’ve spoken to many of them. Some care nothing for spiritual things because they grew up in what they would call a ‘religious home.’ Their parents brought them to church every week, sometimes even for mid-week services. But the messages they heard while sitting in pews never touched them.
Then there are those who care nothing for spiritual seed because they’re angry with God. He let their beloved parent die. Or their spouse. Or their child. Or they themselves developed a chronic and debilitating illness. And they blamed God, and still blame Him, and want nothing to do with Him or spiritual things.
There are other reasons, of course, for soil to be barren – but the APPLICATION point of it all is this – and it’s important now to pay close attention:
How do WE prevent our soil from becoming like dust along the side of the road? I know many of you are familiar with this parable of the soils, so you know there are other types of soils Jesus spoke of and at which we will look, but do not think for a moment that it is not possible to move from one soil to another – from bad to good, or even good to bad. I’ve seen it over the course of my half-century of walking with Christ. And so have many of you.
Now I want to say this: If we find ourselves having moved from the good and fruitful soil to the less fruitful soil, the pattern for returning to the Lord is the same pattern for all situations where we are not walking closely with Him:
Repent. And ask Him to soften your heart when you feel it growing cold and barren. As God told His people through the prophet Isaiah: Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Even the most passionate heart can grow cool. Remember that. Even the most passionate. And it is only the work of the Holy Spirit that keeps our flame for Christ burning.
“Restore unto me,” King David prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12)
Let’s now look briefly at the next soil as the Lord explained it: “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)
There are also a number of reasons people in the beginning joyfully come to Jesus, but they do not stay with Jesus. One reason is poor teaching. Only the Lord knows how many new Christians walked the aisle to an altar during a church service and expected promised blue skies and sunshine from then on. They were taught by false shepherds and pastors that if they have enough faith, they won’t have trouble in life. What a damnable lie that is. And PRECISELY because they were too lazy to read and study the entire Bible for themselves, they did not know that Jesus promised just the opposite to what those liars in their pulpits were promising.
“In this world you WILL have tribulation,” Jesus warned. “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” (John 16)
Listen, there would have been no reason for the Lord to warn the Christians in those various churches Revelation to ‘persevere’ through their trials and persecutions, if coming to Christ was the key to persistent blue skies and sunshine. There would be no reason for St Peter to write, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is come upon you as though some strange thing were happening to you.” And James to write, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.”
Another reason, beyond poor teaching – another reason some leave Christ is because the word of Christ which they read and hear does not take firm root. Why? Likely because God demands more of us than many are willing to give. Jesus demands FULL allegiance to Him, not partial allegiance. Listen to His words in Luke 14: “If anyone comes to Me and does not [by comparison] hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple . . . . So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, [hear!].” (Luke 14:26-27,33-35).
It is not enough to go down to the altar unless we are willing to lay ALL our soul and life on that altar. Jesus demands of us all to sacrifice on that altar our time, talents, treasures, dreams, aspirations, plans, goals – all given to Him.
Now let me quickly say this by way of encouragement. It is not possible to do ANY of this in our own strength. As the Psalmist wrote: Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127)
And again, the Psalmist prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51) In other words, unless the Holy Spirit within us builds within us clean hearts, and passionate hearts for Christ, hearts that hunger toward better obedience to Christ, then we work at it in vain.
A firmly rooted faith is obtainable ONLY through consistent, reflective, and prayerful reading of God's word. Peter tells us: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)
There is so much more to say about this parable and the two soils we’ve already looked at, but we cannot do that now. The clock is telling me to bring this message to a close, and I will do so with this word of counsel:
Any of us can move from good soil to bad. Any of us can move from bad soil to good. But our movement has to do with our desire. When Jesus said to the crowds of followers: Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” some came to Him. Most did not. And of those who came, many did not stay.
So, my counsel – humbly seek the Lord to answer for you this probing question: What kind of soil are you? What kind of soil are you moving toward? Bad or good? Good or bad? And then humbly ask Him to make you the good soil, the fruitful soil that you’ve read about before, and of which we will look at more closely in a subsequent message.