Luke 8:4-8, 11-15
The Parable of the Sower / The Parable of the Soil
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
So let’s start off with a question:
Why did Jesus come to earth and die?
The easy answer is to sacrifice himself on the cross for us and forgive our sins. But that’s just the beginning!! Jesus came for so much more: to give us a model for living, to teach us how to live, and to create a movement of love that would spread around the world. But he also came for something else, which is discussed a lot in the gospel of Mark: To bring about the Kingdom of God! Jesus came to BRING the Kingdom of God. Forgiveness of sins and redemption is simply the beginning, the foundation.
What is the “Kingdom of God”? Is it something we experience now, or something in the future? Check out a few verses:
28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
There are many other verses, but the basic gist of the kingdom of God is that it is HERE. It is not complete, but Jesus’ coming started the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom. Cool, huh? And he proved it’s coming through all sorts of healings and miracles while he was on earth. Now, ultimately, the kingdom of God will be eternal and God will reign supremely over all creation in his everlasting kingdom, as Daniel says:
27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
But the kingdom is HERE NOW! And Jesus brought it, in part, to heal His people; to heal people of all sorts of ailments, including, first and foremost, “spiritual death” – Ephesians 2 speaks of this:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
But Jesus also came not only to heal us spiritually, but physically and emotionally, as well. The kingdom of God is the beginning of a future time when God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. And so when the kingdom is fully established, all these things will pass away.
Jesus teaches us something truly profound in these parables: while the kingdom is here, it obviously is not complete yet, but it is indeed coming and it is growing. In addition, as he does in several of his parables, Jesus teaches us also HOW THE KINGDOM COMES. If the kingdom has come and this divine power is available to us today, then HOW DO WE ENTER IT? HOW DO WE RECEIVE IT?
The bible gives us a number of answers, including the second birth or new birth. Being BORN AGAIN leads us into the kingdom. I found the following “definition” of how to enter the kingdom… To enter the Kingdom, we must gain a proper outlook—a humble, teachable, childlike attitude—accompanied by real repentance, baptism and the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit. I think that’s good, but Jesus gives us an even more fundamental and interesting answer, and that is that the kingdom of God comes into us BY HEARING.
Let’s look back at our first parable:
Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
And of course there are other passages in the bible which support this as well, including possible the most commonly known passage in Romans 10:17
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
So if that is the case, that the kingdom of God COMES BY HEARING, then hearing is quite important. Another way of saying that is that LISTENING is extremely important in the Kingdom of God. Jesus says just a couple verses after this parable in Luke 8:18 that we should “consider carefully how you hear.” Consider carefully how you hear. Consider carefully WHAT you hear. LISTEN carefully. Your ability to listen and HEAR is crucial not only to the entering of the kingdom of God, but also our impact in the kingdom of God
Jesus said a lot of things that were completely contrary to human experience and wisdom.
Think about the kingdom of man: how many of our leaders listen to one another? I mean TRULY listen!! Tim Keller in his sermon on this parable expresses this very point. Our leaders are good at getting people to do what they want, and the best leaders in the kingdom of man are often BAD listeners, because you get power in the kingdom of MAN by speaking, not by listening. You gain power, by coercing people to do what you want, not by listening.
If the Kingdom of God comes by hearing, then by hearing what?
The word of God. Where every other kingdom has come by force, especially by war, the secret to the kingdom of God is the seed which is the teaching in God’s Word, the bible. Therefore, in a sense, the kingdom of God proceeds forth by hearing the word of God.
And what’s interesting is that Jesus uses the metaphor of a seed to represent the means through which the kingdom of God will be established. The likening of the kingdom of God to a seed would have been a sort of shocking comparison, especially for the Pharisees. The religious leaders of the day and even today expect that the kingdom of God will come about under the leadership of a powerful and conquering king; perhaps a king that looks a lot like a human king, a king that looks a lot like a military leader, one who would bring about the kingdom of God by force. And so when Jesus says that the kingdom of God is a lot like a seed, this would have been unexpected. A seed? I was hoping for an earthquake! Or a volcano! Or an avalanche! But NO, Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a SEED. And although a seed is small and subtle, over time the seed fundamentally changes the landscape upon which it is placed. If the seed takes root, it grows, and shifts the soil around, it breaks through the surface, and it transforms a lifeless landscape into a garden. It takes lifeless minerals from the soil and uses them to produce life-giving processes, and over time, slowly and subtly fundamentally changes what was there. And then something magical takes place: it bears fruit…it multiplies… it spreads…and it spreads…exponentially over time. And Jesus says this is what the kingdom of God is like. Where the leaders looked for a conquering king that would destroy their enemies and establish rule, Jesus gave them a seed.
Perhaps there are people reading today that struggle with the way that God works. But the bible is clear: we’re in this for the long haul. When we are reborn spiritually we are righteous in the eyes of God immediately, but spiritual growth occurs over a lifetime. Perhaps this is frustrating, perhaps you feel that God’s kingdom should behave more like the kingdom’s of man. Have you ever heard someone ask “if God is real why doesn’t he just do ______”!! Why doesn’t he just do this!!? Why doesn’t he just do that!!! Then everyone would know he’s real!! Then the suffering could stop!! Or maybe you’re asking questions like: why do I still suffer? Why do I still have so much pain? Why?
But Jesus says it doesn’t work that way. Jesus is clear: my kingdom comes about in a way that is totally unexpected; not like a conquering king who kills everyone, not like an earthquake that destroys everything, but like a seed that slowly but surely transforms everything. And so this is our second principle in these parables and that is that the kingdom of God is like a seed: though vulnerable and weak, it will change EVERYTHING!!!
This is crazy!! And think about the seed. The seed is this: God came down from heaven as a king and DIED, so that you could live. Just like a living seed must fall from the tree and “die” in order to bring forth new life, our God needed to come down and die, to bring forth new life through us.
Crazy. Jesus says my kingdom will triumph through LOVE, not force, and it WILL triumph. But it all starts with hearing.
How are you at hearing? At listening!?
Let’s look at the different types of soil Are there aspects of biblical teaching that you have HEARD with your ears, but you have not RECEIVED with your heart. Are there areas of your life that you KNOW are contrary to scripture, but you are avoiding and ignoring them? Consider carefully how you hear. Take heed to what you hear.
And so Jesus gives us 4 sort of metaphors or TESTS to see HOW we’ve heard His word. As a group of Christians, some of you perhaps have been Christians for many, many years and it might be tempting and maybe even easy to assume that you are the “good soil”. Let’s not assume that for purposes of this discussion and we’ll see what God’s word has to say.
So let’s look at the soils and unpackage these a little bit…
“Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”
This is an interesting one. The path, by definition, is compacted and hard. A seed cast on hard ground will struggle taking root and establishing itself, and therefore is subject to be picked up and taken away. This type of person HEARS the word of God – notice that – they HEAR IT, but it doesn’t take root. One way of understanding this person is perhaps to think of this type of hearing as being purely intellectual. There’s no IMPACT, there’s no personal experience, there’s no true CONVICTION, and therefore it is not deep and is easily brushed away from their heart.
To know whether you might be this type of listener, one question to ask yourself is this: when I hear or read or study the word of God, do I feel something? Do I hear a message and get struck to my heart and say “my gosh that’s ME!!!” Has the word of God surpassed the intellectual and cut straight to your heart and exposed the innermost dark spots of your soul. Or are you a Christian because your family is or was? Or is your spirituality more academic?
The problem with the intellectual is that it is so easy for the world to come along and convince you of something else. If the bible is just a book, and NOT THE INSPIRED WORD OF GOD, then it will be very easy for someone to convince you that some new morality is acceptable. And if you have been convinced of certain worldly concepts that are contrary to scripture, then you might be the soil that is in the path.
Let’s keep going:
“13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”
Rocky ground is different from the hard-packed path. In rocky soil, the seed is able to germinate and it’s even able to begin to grow. But when the rubber hits the road, or when the sun beats down and it gets hot, there’s not enough moisture, not enough root, and therefore it shrivels up and dies.
This too is interesting. This person goes beyond the purely intellectual. This person sees Jesus for who he is. He might even recognize that Jesus has changed his life! But the problem is with this person, they can’t take the heat. And even though Jesus may have changed their life and even though they were saved, when they lose something of value, when suffering comes into their lives, they lose perspective and begin to question everything.
And Jesus shows that even though they had a true spiritual experience, they never really understood the kingdom of God. In some sense, I like how Tim Kelly says it: ”instead of entering Christ’s kingdom, they were trying to get Christ to enter their kingdom.” And they were trying to get Jesus to bless them and to do what they wanted, and as long as he did that, they were good and strong. But the reality is that they never truly loved him or worshipped him. Rather they worshipped the things they LOST in the heat of the sun. Their real gods are the things they lost when difficulties arose…
What in your life might you be worshipping over God? Because what if in God’s sovereign will he chose to take that thing away from you. What happens? Do you fall away from the faith? Or do you trust God anyway and even grow closer to him because you recognize your need for him.
“14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”
What’s interesting is the first two soils so far refer to people who apparently end up not being saved – whether they “lose” their salvation, or were never saved in the first place, doesn’t really matter. The point is, it seems they are not saved in the end. But the third is slightly different and it says that they do not mature. This type of person is saved – they’ve received the word and they are saved and going to heaven, but instead of falling away from the faith when they lose something, or when they are tested, they are mixing a little too much world in with their walk.
In the bible, God never seems to bless divided loyalty…
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
And while Jesus is speaking of money here specifically, he is also speaking of ANYTHING else that comes between us and God and says that no one can truly serve both God and anything else. The bible goes to great lengths to teach us that we are to be IN the world but not OF the world…
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.
Jesus says you cannot serve both God and money. Jesus says that we are to turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross daily and follow him. He says that his disciples will give up everything for him, or at least be willing to.
How do you receive passages such as these that teach us not to yoke ourselves to unbelievers? Do you receive that and obey? Or do you ignore it and brush it off as not important? Are you willing to give up everything for him? What in your life is more important than Jesus? This isn’t meant to be condemning and horrible, and we’ll pull this full circle in the end, but ask yourself that question!!
This type of soil I think represents many of the people in the church today. People who are allowing themselves to be choked, and at some level it’s making them miserable. You know Jesus, and so you know you can’t go back, but the problem is you’re not going forward either. You’re not maturing…why? Because you’re allowing everything else to get in there. You’re doing things that you know isn’t quite right. Your work is too important to you so you allow that to get in the way of everything. Your priorities aren’t right. You don’t see spiritual growth in your life from last year. You don’t see fruit. You don’t see lives changing. And you’re just chugging along, barely living, even though Christ came to give you not only life, but LIFE to the FULLEST!!!! And if you don’t see that, then perhaps there are some things choking you!! Get those weeds out!!
And finally, the good soil…
“15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
Jesus in Luke’s version uses the term producing a crop “a hundred times more than was sown.” This doesn’t really mean much to us, but to a farmer, this would be unheard of. 100x what was sown???!!! No way!! But that’s what Jesus says. Those who hear the word, retain and BY PERSEVERING produce a crop…
So here’s the reality: I talk to enough people in the church, whether just in passing or more in sort of confidence and support to know that most of us are a combination of these different types of soil, maybe even all four. Let’s be honest: at some level we receive some of the word of God intellectually and academically; at some level we may lean too strongly on the emotional side and we want God’s blessings more than we want God; at some level we all allow other things to choke out God and mess up our priorities; but at the same time, many of us are also hearing the word and retaining it and persevering.
And so what do we do? Some of us may be forgetting something and that is that we’re the soil and not the gardener. The soil’s job is not to be tilled, it’s not the soils job to get rocks out, and it’s not the soils job to get the weeds out. Rather, whose job is that!?? It’s the gardener’s job…
So what is the job of the soil?
To receive the SEED!!! To LISTEN to the word of God and reflect on it and meditate on it and RECEIVE IT!! Stop denying it! Stop compromising and allow God to work on you!! If we read enough of the bible, it’s only a matter of time before we come to something we don’t like. This is when the sun beats down. This is when the rubber meets the road. Do we rely on our own intellect and wisdom and logic? Or do we simply receive God’s Word? Let’s just receive it and accept it and let God do the rest. Amen?