It is our privilege tonight to study together one of the great parables of our Lord Jesus Christ found in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the soils. It’s such an important parable to us as it was to the disciples who first heard it. They had walked with Christ, talked with Him, seen His power, watched Him raise the dead, heal the blind, give hearing to the deaf, voices to the dumb. They had seen Him make paralyzed people walk. They had seen His tremendous power to transform people from darkness to light. They had heard Him teach and surely no one ever taught like He taught. And to them there was something so magnetic and so irresistible and so overwhelming and so powerful about Jesus Christ that they might have well assumed that once they were turned loose after their training period and began to preach Jesus everywhere they went everybody would believe.
We can understand that. Those of us who have experienced the power of Jesus Christ, those of us who have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, those of us who have had our sins forgiven and our hearts filled with the hope of eternal life in heaven, those of us who know the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self control, those of us who have gone through that transforming miracle might assume that everyone who hears about this must embrace it. But that is an unfounded expectation. And Jesus wanted to make sure that His disciples didn’t embark upon their ministry with some kind of unrealistic expectations. Disappointment would be high. It would be high enough in of itself without some unrealistic expectancy that most people were going to respond. He had already hinted at this earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5 through 7, when He said it’s a narrow gate and few there be that find it.
What were the disciples to expect when they went out preaching the gospel? What are you to expect when you go out and proclaim the marvelous truth of Jesus Christ? What kind of response is going to come? Well the answer comes in this marvelous parable that Jesus gives in Matthew 13 and verse 3. “He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sewer went out to sow, and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road and the birds came and ate them up. And others fell upon 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. And 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 hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears let him hear.’”
Now let’s set the scene here. Jesus has come out of a house according to verse 1, is sitting by the sea, a great multitude gathered to Him. In fact the crowd became so large that they pushed Him toward the sea and He had to get into a boat and literally sit in the boat in the water to keep the multitude from crushing Him. And as they are gathered around Him with the disciples, He focuses His teaching on the disciples. And He acknowledges that the crowd is not really going to understand this. In verse 10, “The disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been granted.’” You know what that means? That means a parable is a riddle if you don’t understand the meaning. Really it is a riddle that is impossible to understand without an explanation. The crowd heard the riddle; the disciples heard the explanation. And that is because God has designed to limit the revelation of His truth to a special group. It is to them that the truth becomes clear.
Now Jesus used very familiar terminology, very familiar language when He gave the parables. In fact He spoke about things that were familiar to all of them. In fact you know, as He sat in that boat just on the edge of the water in the Sea of Galilee with that massive crowd pressed down against the water, it is probably true that has He looked to one side or another they might well have even seen a man sowing in a field. The Galilee area was agricultural. This was typical stuff that went on all the time. And Jesus started with what they did understand and moved to what they did not understand. That’s what parabolic teaching is. And Jesus uses very precise parables, very precise analogies, very precise illustrations. The language is filed down to the exclusion of every unnecessary word.
He starts by saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Now He would have over his shoulder a bag made out of cloth or leather and he would walk the rows of plowed soil. With that bag of seed slung over his shoulder he would have what he needed to sow a certain amount of that soil and then he would reload his bag. In measured steps, carefully measured, and measured handfuls of seed, he would move down the furrow. His hand uniformly reaching into the bag and taking out approximately the same amount of seed and throwing that seed into the earth with a certain amount of dexterity that had been developed over years of practice. He would reach the end of the furrow and then he would turn and go back in the next furrow. This was known as broadcasting and is where we get the rather technical term today that we use when we talk about television and radio – broadcasting. The seed flying out of his hand would be susceptible to a gust of wind, would be susceptible to lack of alacrity at some point, some stumble in his step as he maybe stepped into a deeper hole of dirt or perhaps just didn’t cast it as appropriately as he might have. And so there were some variables in where that seed went.
And you will notice in this particular text that the seed falls in several different places. First of all notice in verse 4, some of it fell beside the road. And the birds came and ate them up. Now let me tell you what the picture here is; the fields were all over the Galilee, in fact they were all over the land of Palestine, but they were crisscrossed by footpaths or animal paths where they would drive their animals or their oxes would pull the carts, their donkeys would carry their burdens. And you know how in a dry, dry climate, a footpath becomes like concrete. And so these fields would be divided by long narrow strips which were uncultivated. In fact generally, historians would tell, us they would be three feet or less in width. Probably the very kind of path our Lord used when He was walking through the fields with His disciples, recorded in Matthew chapter 12 verse 1.
Well as a result those particular paths were beaten as hard as pavement by the feet of those who walked on them. And when the seed happened to land up on that hard soil, it couldn’t penetrate. It couldn’t fold its way down into the warmth of the soil and there be decomposed and out of that decomposed husk the new fresh life of the inner seed spring and produce life in that soil. It didn’t happen. The seed just fell and sat there until the birds came and ate it. Now you know that birds eat seed, right? And for every sower in every field there were certainly a little bevy of hovering birds. No doubt keeping their distance out of a normal sense of self-preservation. They wouldn’t get too close until the sower had passed a certain area. Then they would fly back, and whatever seed was readily available on the hard ground, they would hover in the air until his back was turned and he went to the next row. And then they would swoop down and swallow all that grain that was laying on the hard path. Luke adds that what the birds didn’t get was trampled under the feet of the people who come down the path.
Now the second kind of soil into which this seed might find its way is mentioned for us in verses 5 and 6, “And others” – others of the seeds – “fell upon 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.” Now when it talks about this rocky soil, it’s not talking about soil with a lot of rocks in it. Because any decent farmer is going to plow all that up. He doesn’t want that to retard the root system, and so culling out the rocks was a very common enterprise. In fact frequently the rocks culled out of the soil were used to build the little walls that separated field from field and one man’s land from another. But it is very common in Palestine to till spaces of land with a plow and not reach deep enough to find out that there is underlying limestone rock bed just below the point of the plow that is very hard and impenetrable. And what you have left then is a very thin veneer of soil. And the ground then maybe is only a few inches deep before the rock bed is reached.
In such ground what would happen? Well the seed would go into the soil. And seed, you know, is most often pointed, and that works its way into the soil wonderfully by God’s design. As the wind blows and the ground shifts and moves, the seed would begin to germinate. And then it would grow quickly, because it is warm and because obviously it would be moist, because the farmer made sure that it was wet. And it would begin to sprout up. In fact it would look like it was the best seed of all, because since the roots couldn’t go down all that life would go up. And so it would look like the healthiest plant. But when the sun had risen, it was scorched, because it couldn’t go down any deeper to get to the water. When the soil on the top dried, the summer sun got hot, the moisture quickly was drawn out by the penetrating heat of the sun, and the plant would wither and die. And Luke adds, when he records Jesus telling the same parable in Luke 8:6, it died because it had no moisture.
And then thirdly we find in verse 7 another kind of soil. Others of the seed fell among the thorns or weeds and the thorns or weeds came up and choked them out. This is very deceptive soil. It has been cultivated. It looks clean. It looks ready but in that soil is lying the fibrous vestiges of the roots of weeds. And they are ready to spring to life again. Anybody who’s done any gardening work knows this very well. And we all know that weeds grow better than anything – faster, bigger, stronger. So the good seed and the dormant weeds grow together, but the weeds squeeze out the life of the good seed. You see the seed has to have deep soil, and it has to have clean soil, or it doesn’t produce. The weedy roots, the roots of the thorns, whatever they might be, restrict the growth of the good seed, suck up all its moisture, send usually their flat plant out and veil its sunlight and the good seed dies.
But fourthly, verse 8 tells us about another soil, and it’s simply called good soil, and seed falling there yielded a crop. Some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty. This seed found good, deep, rich, clean soil. And the seed found its entry, found its nourishment, and it grew to an abundant harvest. Now even in good ground because of varying nutrients and varying capacities and characteristics of the seed, even in good ground, even with good seed, there are varying degrees of product. Sometime you get a ten-fold harvest. That was considered a great harvest. A sixty-fold harvest would be considered and average one. A thirty-fold harvest would be considered a below average one. But the Lord is speaking about more than a ten-fold or more than a sixty-fold or more than a thirty-fold crop. He’s talking about a spiritual reality here. He’s talking about a crop that is not a crop of seeds as we know them but a crop of souls.
Now before we get to that I want you to notice something else about this simple story. He says nothing about the sower, absolutely nothing. A sower – that’s all. So we know one thing, that this is not a parable about sowers. It doesn’t say sower number one was really good, because he did it this way. Sower number two was not so good, because he did it this way. Sower number three was even worse and so forth. It’s not a parable about sowers. Same seed, same sower. The issue here is not the sower. The issue here is not the seed. The issue here is the – what? – soil. And the parable is very clear. The seed falling on the hard path can’t germinate. It’s either picked up by birds or trampled. The seed falling on rocky soil would germinate and spring up rapidly for a little time, but because of lack of depth it would whither in the heat of the sun. and then the seed falling on thorny soil would germinate even longer and would grow with a bit more vigor but never ripen and never produce fruit, because it is choked out by the presence of faster growing, stronger weeds. And the seed falling on good soil cannot fail and brings forth varying degrees of fruit.
Now verse 18 - pardon me, verse 9 says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What is Jesus saying? If you can understand it, understand it. And at that point they would all be scratching their head and say, “Well, we understand the illustration, but what does it illustrate? What are you talking about?” Jesus says if you can understand it, understand it. And then He immediately says, and those of you who can’t understand it are limited. Because to you disciples – as I read you earlier, verse 11 – “It has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but for the rest it has not been granted.” So Jesus said there’s a limited group of you who are going to be able to understand this. And it isn’t long until He turns to His disciples – now go to verse 18 – and He says, “Hear then the parable of the sower.” Back in verse 16 He said to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desire to see what you see and didn’t see it and to hear what you hear and didn’t hear it.” Now you listen to what I tell you; you are the privileged. You’re going to hear what many have longed to hear. You’re going to hear what this crowd is not going to be able to hear. You’re going to understand what they will not understand. I’m going to explain this to you.
Now here comes the explanation. Let’s look first of all at the sower. We know nothing about the sower other than the fact that this is someone spreading seed. That’s all. So we can conclude that the sower is anyone who sows seed. He’s talking about someone who is sowing some kind of seed. What about the seed? In this parable it doesn’t say anything about the seed. But Luke 8:11 in the parallel passage says this, “The seed is the Word of God.” The seed is the message, the logos, from God. We could say the seed is the message of how to enter the kingdom. The seed is the good news. The seed is the gospel. The seed is the message of salvation. And so anyone is a sower who proclaims the message of salvation. Anyone who spreads the truth about Jesus Christ, who drops the precious seed wherever there is an opportunity, is the sower.
Now it doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of the sower. It just says he sows the seed. And we could conclude with the apostle Paul that there’s no reason to speak in words of human wisdom. There’s no reason to use clever terminology and human philosophy. There’s no reason to manipulate people, because the power is not in the sower. The power is in the seed. That’s why Paul said, “I was determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” That’s the seed – the message of salvation. The seed then has been created by God then, revealed by God, given to man to be spread. “Christ is the living seed and the Bible,” said William Arnot, “is the husk that holds the seed.” And when we preach Christ, we sow seed.
So the parable then is about proclaiming the message of the King and saying He has a kingdom and here is the good news about how you can enter. Look at verse 19, “When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom” – this is the message about how to enter God’s kingdom. What is God’s kingdom? It’s the sphere of salvation. That’s all. It’s the sphere over which Christ rules the saved. It’s the domain over which He is king and that is the domain of the redeemed, believers, the converted. And here is the message about the kingdom and how to enter it, how to become a subject of the living God, how to enter into God’s kingdom where there is forgiveness and eternal life. So the parable then is going to tell us what is going to happen when we preach the gospel. It is a tremendously important passage.
Now we’ve talked briefly about the sower, because there’s not much to say. We talked briefly about the seed, identifying it as the message of the kingdom, the truth about how to come into the kingdom through faith in Christ. Now let’s talk about the soils because that’s what the parable is really all about. What is the soil here? Verse 19, “Whenever anyone hears the Word of the kingdom” – well that gives us a little bit of a hint. “When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom and doesn’t understand it the evil one comes and snatches away” – here’s the key – “what was sown in his heart.” What is the soil then? It’s the heart. The sower is anybody who spreads the message. The message is the gospel of how to come to the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, and the soil is the human heart.
Now listen, here’s the basic point of this parable. It is this: that the result of the hearing of the gospel depends on the condition of the heart to whom the gospel is addressed. Did you get that? It is not the skill of the sower. It is not the attractiveness of the seed. It is the condition of the soil. So that what we are dealing with in this matter of evangelism is the character of those who hear.
Now this is so important. I have known Christians all my life who have backed off from witnessing for Christ, because they feel they are not effective, because they don’t see a lot of results. And this parable is here to dispel that ridiculous notion that somebody’s salvation is dependent on the skill of the sower or on some manipulative capability in the seed. Not so. It’s dependent on the condition of the heart. You have unresponsive hearts, impulsive hearts, preoccupied hearts, and prepared hearts. And they’re all out there. And if you get the seed right – that’s not too difficult. We all understand the gospel – the only remaining issue is the condition of the heart.
Now with that in mind let’s follow what our Lord teaches in explaining this very simple parable. Back to verse 19, “When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom and doesn’t understand it” – or doesn’t comprehend it or doesn’t receive it, doesn’t take it in – “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. The seed that fell on hard beaten ground lies there not absorbed, exposed to birds and the trampling of men. And in one brief verse, in one precise statement we have the preaching of the gospel and the response, the self-destroying response of simple neglect, indifference. They are just not interested. They don’t want to hear it. And that indifference can, of course, move to a hard heartedness, and that is of course Satan’s most coveted opportunity because he can just swoop down and take the seed away.
The analogy is powerful. There is a condition in the human heart which responds to the smooth hardness of the footpath that crosses a plowed field. The heart can become a thoroughfare crossed by the mixed multitude of sins day after day and pounded hard. It lies exposed and unprotected to the evil stomping of everyone who comes down the path. It is never broken up. It is never turned over. It is never cultivated. There is never any conviction. There’s never any repentance. There’s never any soul searching. There’s never any heart examination. The heart is callous. The terrors of the Lord and the sweet wooing’s of His grace are both rejected. It is what the Old Testament calls the hard heated and stiff necked. Nothing wrong with the seed, nothing wrong with the sower, but nothing happens on the hard, impenitent heart.
And this, by the way, is that heart classified in the Book of Proverbs as the heart of the fool. The fool who will not hear wisdom, who will not listen to truth, who stiffens his neck, who hardens his heart, who says there is no God. I will not hear. This is the person whose mind is shut. This is the Jewish leaders at this very time who have already rejected Jesus Christ. And though His miracles are absolute proof that He is God and His Word is absolute proof that He is God, they will not accept that fact. They are obstinately stubborn. And when He comes to them in Matthew later on in this gospel, recorded in chapter 21 and 22, He says to them, “You had every opportunity. You had the prophets and God has even sent you His Son. And you killed the prophets and now you will kill His Son.” They were so hard hearted – impenetrable.
In the nineteenth chapter of Luke in verses 41 and following, Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem and Luke writes, he wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace, but now they have been hidden from your eyes. And the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you and surround you and hem you in on every side and level you to the ground, and your children within you, and not leave in you one stone upon another, because you didn’t recognize the time of your visitation.” And then He went right into the temple and just started throwing them out of there. Obstinate, hard hearts.
Hearts, Paul defines, as hearts where the god of this world has blinded their minds less the light of the glorious gospel should shine unto them. These are the hearts of those who are the willful and contented children of the devil. And they will not take it in. And the seed lands there, and it is snatched away. How is it snatched away? False teachers, fear of man, pride, doubt, prejudice, stubbornness, love of sin, procrastination, whatever. And you have to look at your own heart and ask yourself, are you that hard, dry road, right on the edge of the field? And the assumption here is that you’re certainly within the hearing, but you’ve been hardened by your continual impenitence, hardened by sins that have constantly tread over your heart so that the powerful, productive seed of God’s Word cannot penetrate at all. You are lying happily and content asleep in the arms of the wicked one, to borrow the language of John.
The second soil our Lord describes in verse 20 and 21, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man that 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.” There’s a couple of immediatelies here. He immediately receives the Word with joy. The distinguishing factor here is joy. Joy is certainly the characteristic of true salvation, but it is also a characteristic of a false salvation. This kind of joy here is emotionalism, excitement, enthusiasm. There’s really been no counting of the cost. There’s really no looking at the narrow way and really understanding what it requires. There’s really no understanding that you are turning from your sins and you are coming naked and barren through that very narrow door to walk that narrow way. This is warm affections, positive feelings stirred up because maybe now you’ve decided you found a solution to your problems. You’ve got something that maybe will salve your pain and solve your heartache. And you want to belong to a group, and it’s nice to feel religious, and it’s great if you can sort of associate with God. Maybe this is fire insurance to keep you out of hell, and it all kind of feels good, and there’s a euphoria. And people are rushing around you and you pray to prayer, and you feel emotional and certain joy comes. The thrill is there. The enthusiasm is there. There might even be tears of happiness. But it’s a shallow joy and the roots are short, and they’re not deep and it’s not penetrating, and there’s not the thoughtful, profound joy of the devoted hearted. It is a very superficial joy. It is a joy that absolutely cannot last and does not last. It fades away at the first sign of paying a price.
It’s reminiscent of the man who crashed the party in Matthew 22, the celebration for the son of the king, picturing Christ. And there’s a man and he’s in there at the party, but he doesn’t belong there. He doesn’t have a wedding garment. He has no place there. It’s that attitude that we find in John chapter 6 of those people who follow Jesus for a while and then when he started talking about death they went away very fast. And when you look over the field at first, you can’t spot them, because you can’t see the rock and the life comes up and it comes up quick. But wait. Wait until the trouble comes, because it’s only temporary. When infliction or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately he falls away. If the Law of God has never rent or ripped open that stony heart and made it contrite, if the truth of God has never bruised it small, that person may, by receiving the gospel on some temporary superficial basis, obtain some easy access apparently to religion, but it’s not the real thing. It is, to borrow the words of Jesus with which He concluded the Sermon on the Mount, a house built on - what? - sand. Yeah, they want to belong to Christ. They want to be Christian because of what it gives but no cost – no cost. And when tribulation comes, thlipsis, pressure and persecution and suffering, they’re gone. Just like Judas. Just like the disciples who walked no more with Jesus. Just like the branches that sprout out there but bear no fruit and are cut off and thrown into the fire. Just like Simon who wanted to buy the Holy Spirit, and boy was he excited when he thought he could plunk his dollars down and buy the Holy Spirit and cash in on the power and the enthusiasm and the excitement.
It’s not good, you know, when there’s too much joy. It’s not good when there’s too much frivolity and too much happiness and too much giddiness. There should be joy there, but it should be balanced with the deep sense of repentance, conviction, and remorse; spiritual begging as you find in a Beatitude attitude, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, meekness; a penitence like in Luke 18 where the man beat his breast, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” with tears. And I’m afraid contemporary, sort of shallow, trivial approaches to evangelism produce rocky soil converts. People who – they come to Jesus because it feels good. You know, at the concert they heard people sing about Jesus and it felt good. Or they watched the TV show and it was kind of fun and happy, and they’ve got some problems and maybe Jesus will solve them. But there’s no real true repentance. There’s no genuine commitment. And the first time trouble and persecution come, they blast that deception away, and through that trouble and tribulation the false disciples are revealed. And so are the true ones, because they stand the test. If your confession of Christ doesn’t run deep, from a deep inner conviction of your lostness and the desire to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a life of self-sacrifice, self-denial and service, and even suffering, then you have no root. And when it gets hot, you’re going to shrivel up and die.
And there’s a third soil and Jesus explains it in verse 22, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the thorns” – or weeds – “this is the man who hears the Word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of the riches choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful.” And here the reception looks better. The roots maybe run down a little deeper. They’re not blocked by the rock. This one survives a little longer. This is not just a quick temporary thing. This one lasts a little longer. It looks pretty good, but eventually Christ just gets crowded out. This person is not a stupid fool like the hard soil, not just a person of momentary shallow emotion like the rocky soil. This is good soil; it’s just impure. And the seed has to struggle for mastery. This is the double minded person who can’t let go of the world. And if any man loved the world, John said, the love of the Father is not in him. And James said friendship with the world is enmity with God. And Jesus said you cannot serve two masters. You will hate the one and cling to the other.
This is the double minded person who can’t let go of the world. He wants God and his money. Remember the rich young ruler in Matthew 19? “What do I do to get eternal life?” He wanted eternal life. He came running, he slid in on his knees, looked up publicly in front of everybody, and he was a ruler of the synagogue, and yet he admitted, “I don’t have eternal life. How do I get eternal life?” He wanted it but he wanted it along with the control of his life and his money – on his terms. These are people whose hearts are filled with their careers, their fortune, their prestige, their plans. And it’s not abandoning those in an all embracing commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s sort of adding Jesus to the rest. And Jesus said at the end of Luke 9, “If you put your hand to the plow and start in this direction and look back you’re not fit for the kingdom.” You’re Lot’s wife. This is the deceitfulness of riches.
Now, again I say to you beloved, nothing is said about the sower. Nothing is wrong with the sower. Nothing is wrong with the seed. If you’re faithful and present the truth, that’s all you can do. The issue is the condition of the heart. You see salvation occurs in a heart – listen carefully – that has been plowed and prepared, where the things of the world have been removed, where the rocky ground has been broken up, where the hard ground has been made soft. Sure some people superficially say they believe. That’s a devil faith James says in James 2. That’s a faith that has no works, that has no evidence. Those are people who in their lives are filled with the love of the world, or they’re filled with self-preservation, and they don’t want to pay any price, and the problem is no fruit. Now in all three of those cases you’re dealing with people who aren’t converted. They aren’t saved. They aren’t regenerate. And the mark of their regeneration is fruit. Certainly this fits the teaching of Jesus in John 15 where He says, “Every branch in me that bears no fruit, He cuts it off and throws it in the fire.” That’s picturing hell fire.
Now several thoughts arise, in fact a lot of thoughts, but let me just give you some of them. The soil in itself, it’s good. It is susceptible to the seed. Every human heart to some degree is capable of receiving the seed. It is not the soil itself; it was the rock or weeds or the hardened condition of it. The human heart was made to receive saving truth, but its perverted condition is what causes it to fail. Those people who hang onto their sin or selfishness or their unwillingness to give everything to Christ to pay the price will in the end perish.
And you know we’ve all had these kind of experiences. I think back in my life to a time when I was very young in the ministry and I was preaching one of my first week meetings in a church in Beloit, Wisconsin. A marvelous church, a very godly pastor, a flourishing, growing church. And I was a very young man, and he had me come and preach every night for I think seven or eight days. And I’ll never forget sitting on the platform with this beloved pastor, and we grew to be friends as we shared that week together in an evangelistic effort. And one night he looked down and he saw a man sitting on the front row and he leaned over to me and said, “That’s one of my converts.” I said, “Well how nice.” He said, “Yes, one of mine, not God’s.” I never forgot that statement. What he was really telling me was that from his viewpoint he’d done everything he could do and there was an apparent response, but it was either rocky soil or weedy soil. And it was clear to him at the moment that he said that that there was no fruit, no evidence. We’ve all had that.
I remember early in my ministry here at Grace Church a man came to me and said, “I’ve been in the pornography business for many years.” He said, “I have produced pornographic films. I’ve heard you preach, and I’ve committed my life to Christ, and I need to be baptized.” And I was elated. And he expressed joy and happiness over this new life that he had come to understand, and I baptized him right here in our church. And it was a period of about three months at the most, he was back into pornography. Whatever good intentions, the love of worldliness choked out the reality.
We’re all going to experience that. I can go away with my tail between my legs and castigate myself and say, “You’re a lousy sower, McArthur. You got to go out every day and work harder on your technique.” Or I could say, “You know what really offends people is the seed. We just got to come up with a synthetic seed that is not so offensive.” That is not the issue. Don’t mess with the seed, please. And it isn’t even the skill of the sower. Walk away and pray for the condition of the soil. Because until a heart has been plowed by God it’s not going to produce.
And that takes us to the final soil. Verse 23, “The one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the Word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13:23 says, “This is the one who understands the Word.” Mark 4 says, “This is the one who accepts the Word.” Luke 8, the same parable, says, “This is the one who holds it tightly.” This is the one who embraces it. That is it. Taking in the Word, accepting it, embracing it, that’s what marks the true believer. He counts the cost, as a later parable in Matthew 13 shows it, like the man who found the treasure in the field and sold everything to buy it or the man who found the pearl of great price and sold everything to buy it. This man gives up everything. This is the man who believes and who obeys, and he is productive thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.
It’s not all going to be equal. Some bear fruit, other’s bear more fruit, and some bear much fruit. You say, it’s too bad we all can’t be equal. Let me help you with that. It’s not the skill of the sower. It’s the condition of the – what? – soil. Now you look at my life and you say, “Well, you’re probably going to be a hundredfold person.” Well it’s not because of the skill of the sower; it’s simply because I throw more seed, and that has to do with my calling not my dedication. Right? I mean I’ve thrown seed farther and wider than most of you. I’m throwing seed when I’m sleeping. You’re not, because you don’t have tapes and a radio program. And you haven’t written a lot of books. I’m throwing seed sleeping. I mean, if I were dead I’d be throwing seed, which doesn’t sound fair in one sense, but it’s true.
Every time I turn on the radio and hear J. Vernon McGee again. Still throwing seed even though he’s in glory. Sure, there are going to be people who are going to have a bigger crop, because by virtue of their calling and by virtue of people’s faithfulness, they’re going to throw seed as much as they can. And the message of this parable, if I could just sum it all up, is throw seed friend, throw seed. And don’t walk away and say I must be a horrible sower because it got rejected. It’s not the skill of the sower; it’s the state of the soil. And pray that the Holy Spirit will convict, because until the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and judgment, until the soil is plowed, no fruit can come.
And on the other hand, you don’t want to get discouraged about this, but you also don’t want to become proud. It wasn’t your cleverness it was the preparation of the Holy Spirit. And you never know. Sometimes I have spent hours and hours and hours talking to someone, and when it was all said and done there was never real conversion. Other times a passing comment and somebody immediately is genuinely saved, and you just kind of back up, you know. Sometimes I have preached what I thought were unusually clear texts of Scripture that brought the gospel penetratingly clear and covered so much ground; I didn’t see any fruit. Other times preaching on something not even connected to the gospel, making a passing comment, and somebody comes up after and says, “I want you to know that one sentence you made led me to the knowledge of Christ.” And you just say, well that’s the Spirit who works the heart.
The ultimate mark then of a true believer is fruit – fruit. And it’s by the product of that fruit that we know the life is there. You can’t have a no-fruit Christian. You can have a low-fruit Christian but not a no-fruit Christian. Look long enough you’ll find some shriveled grapes some place. And be faithful. Don’t feel that you have to bear the burden when the heart doesn’t have a true response and don’t take the credit when it does. That’s how it’s going to be out there folks. There will be a harvest, maybe small, but the Spirit of God has some prepared hearts. Throw seed.
I close with a simple little illustration. If I can tread on holy ground ever so delicately by adding a little thought to the parable. Perhaps behind the sower was his little child, say his five-year-old son, trying to learn to do what his daddy did. And his daddy has made him his own little pouch and he’s got his own little bag of seed. And he’s got a little fat hand made mostly up of palm. You’ve seen them. And he’s trying to reach in his little bag and throw seed like his daddy does. And he mostly throws it down his daddy’s back or in his own eyes and hair and mouth or in big clumps somewhere. But the wonderful truth is, whether it was thrown by the very accomplished sower or the little fellow with limited skill, when the seed hits the good soil it produces the fruit. No credit. And if you’re faithful, you have fulfilled your responsibility. Some day when we get to heaven we’re going to be receiving a reward, a reward for our faithfulness, for our sowing. And that reward, the greatest reward will be obviously the glory that comes to Christ from those who believed. The second greatest part of that reward will be the joy of having made friends for eternity. That’s enough satisfaction. And may God help us to sow the seed so that many can be added to the redeemed so that they can glorify Christ and be our eternal friends. What a privilege. Pray with me.
Father, again, we are overwhelmed at the privilege of being sowers. We remember – we remember that the Scripture says that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, is the true sower. He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and He has delegated this task to us in His absence. May we be faithful and know that You will do Your work through Your Spirit in prepared hearts. And then Father, we plead with You to plow hearts and make them ready to receive Your truth. For Your glory we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.
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