We're looking this morning at a story that Jesus tells that is probably very familiar to most of us. It can be very tempting to think to yourself, "I've heard this story, many times before, and there is nothing new here for me." Because we think that we know this story so well, we can close our ears to what the Lord wants to say to us. In fact, that is the point of the parable.
The first thing that I want to suggest to you is that this story might not be what you think your Bible is telling you it is about.
Most of our Bibles are divided into chapters and verses and have subtitles that are used to describe the content of the different sections. Those are fine, but they aren't part of the original texts that were God inspired. They were added by translators to help make the Word more readable for us.
Some translations have a subtitle "The Parable of the Sower". And sure, it involves a farmer who is sowing their seed. So this passage has been used when talking about doing the work of evangelism to describe how different people might receive the Good News that we are trying to share with them. There is nothing wrong with that. I think it can be helpful to us in that way. But I don't believe that is Jesus' main point.
Other translations have a subtitle "The Story of the Seeds". And again, sure it involves the seeds but I don't think that is the main thing that Jesus is wanting us to focus on"
Other translations have the subtitle "The Parable of the Four Soils". And I think that this one hits closest to what Jesus is wanting to communicate. Closest, but not bang on.
Right after Jesus told the parable, we see him calling out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." It is also very revealing that right after Jesus told his disciples the meaning of the parable, he says in verse 18: "So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them."
So even though the parable is about the 4 kind of soils, it really is about how the relationship between how we listen and respond to God's Word and our fruitfulness as followers of Jesus. How we listen and respond to God, as he speaks to us, will determine the amount of growth and spiritual fruit we will have.
This story is not just about hearing the salvation message, as some have come to understand it. It is about how God's Word comes to each one of us at various times and in many ways, and our heart condition of being able to listen to the Word.
Our heart condition determines our ability to hear God's Word and to decide what to do with it. That is why we see Jesus describing the four different kinds of soil as a person who hears the Word and respond to it in different ways.
And I want to suggest to you that the question "What Kind of Soil Are You?" isn't one that we need to ask of ourselves just once and then we're done. We need to be constantly asking ourselves throughout our lives and in all kinds of different circumstances. At any time, our hearts can take on one of the four characteristics Jesus talks about in this parable.
1. Hard ground
The New Living translation says that some seed fell on a footpath. The ground on a foot path has been packed down by the feet of all of those who have been using it. It is hard ground and naturally any seed that is scattered on it will just bounce off the surface and lie there just waiting for the birds to come along and steal it away.
When life is difficult and unfair, we can respond to life from a strictly human, fleshly mind-set and become, hard hearted. When people attack you, abuse you, gossip about you, or hurt you, the natural response is to protect yourself. The natural response is a fight or flight response.
You will either rise up and fight back or retreat and put up a wall to shield yourself from continued attack. And in our natural selves, we have a tendency to hold on to the hurt and play back in our minds the scenes of attack and hear over and over again the hurtful words that were spoken.
In that place of hardness and self protection, we won't allow God's Word into our hearts to bring healing and help. We can can become hardened by bitterness. Through unforgiveness and resentment, we can become so hard that our hearts are unresponsive to God's Word.
And so even when God is trying to speak to us, His Word, His Good News just bounces off of us and lies on the surface. It is never able to penetrate deeply into our hearts. Eventually the enemy comes and steals away the Good News and our lives never change. Not for the better anyway.
2. Rocky Ground
Jesus says that other seed fell on rocky ground. In that kind of soil, the seeds are able to penetrate the soil and start to grow. But because of the rocks under the surface, what grows can't send roots deep into the soil.
Maybe that testing is a drought and their roots can't dig deep into the moist soil below the rocks. Maybe that testing is a flood that washes away the thin layer of soil above the rocks.
This might be like a person who comes to church looking for an emotional lift. They hear the Word of God and they accept it with joy. But then when they leave through those doors, they don't do anything more with it.
Jesus doesn't promise us an easy life but He does promise that He will give us what we need to have eternal and abundant life. When the trials and temptations come, a shallow, surface faith isn't going to cut it. We need to be in God's Word.
We need to be spending time talking to God and listening to Him. We need to be in relationship with others, serving them and being served by them.
Coming to church once a week to sing a few songs and to hear a pep talk isn't going to cut it. If you are only fed or expect to be fed only on Sunday mornings, you will starve spiritually. You might feel emotionally uplifted for a while because God's Word is good every time you hear it, but you cannot live without getting rooted.
You cannot have only head knowledge and emotional lifts, you must have a heart that is fertile and deep. Not shallow and rocky under the surface.
3. Thorny soil
Jesus says that the seed in this kind of soil is starts to grow but it soon choked out by life's worries, material things and the pleasures of the world. Again, the soil is soft enough to accept the seed. Again, growth starts. But this time, what grows is never able to grow into maturity because it is choked out before that can happen.
This kind of heart is distracted and anxious. Instead of having their mind and heart devoted to pleasing God and pursuing righteousness, they are divided. Satan's battle cry is, "Divide and conquer." A divided mind and heart will always prevent God's Word from producing a bumper crop in your life.
Last week we talked a bit about the constant battle between the old flesh nature and the new nature that we have in Jesus. And while the war is won, the battles continue. We constantly battle to remember the new life we have in Christ and win the battle against those things that we used to value and do in our old lives.
This is what Jesus is talking about here. It involves us reminding ourselves that in Jesus we are new creations. The old is gone and the new has come. So we need to be asking ourselves, "What is it that I'm really living for? Am I living for myself or for God? Am I in control or is God? Will I strive to meet my own needs or will I let God take control? Do I really trust God or my credit cards when trouble comes?"
If our focus is on worldly wisdom, earthy pleasures and personal ambitions, then our heart is full of thorns and we will allow God's word to be choked out.
4. Good soil.
The fourth kind of heart is the honest and good heart. The heart that is like good soil is fertile ground for God to use. God is able to cause His Word to produce fruit in our lives.
God wants to produce change and He wants to make your life fruitful and Christlike, but it all depends on the condition of your heart. Every time God's Word comes to you, either in church, through reading, on the radio or TV, in prayer or by some other means, as scripture reaches you, the condition of your heart will dictate how you will respond.
To close this morning, I want to look at practical applications of this for us.
Since God wants us to have a heart that is good soil for him to use, how can we cultivate a ready, rich heart of soil? In other words, how can we have a good heart for God to plant His Word in?
The first thing to do in getting our heart ready, is to turn it over. How? Repent of any known sin. It is no mistake that the word repent means, "to turn."
You don't say that you are sorry and you will try to do better, you confess that you have sinned and you need God's forgiveness and grace.
In order to cultivate a heart that is noble and good, you need to plow up your heart and mind and turn control over to God.
Ask God to break up the hard rocky surface of your heart and turn over the bitterness and unforgiveness that has made you unproductive and useless in the past.
The next step is to sow God's Word deeply into the situations of your life. We are commanded to not be hearers only of God's Word, but a doer as well. If we want a harvest to take place, we must apply the truth of the Bible into our lives and do what it says.
Apply God's Word to the things you face everyday. Look for what the Bible says about your situation and then follow the principals of scripture.
In other words, put your faith into practice and live what scripture teaches. Don't just say you believe it, live it. I love what Paul Harvey said, "If you don't live it, you don't believe it."
The fourth step is to weed the garden of your heart. Guard your heart from the thorns of anxiety, worry and the cares of the world. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all other things will be added unto you."
Don't allow weeds to grow, but remove them from your heart and life. Be careful what you watch, listen to and read. Protect your heart and your relationship with God.
Keep the standard of holiness and purity always before you. With your eyes on God and your trust in Him, live to please and love him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
If we will plow, prepare, plant and protect our hearts, we will be ready soil that is good for God to use. And with good soil that is daily cultivated and ready to receive His Word, a harvest will be produced.