Sowing the Seed

August 17, 2013 | Brian Bill

One of my favorite things to do when grocery shopping is to hit the store on the day they are giving away free samples.  A couple weeks ago Beth and I were in HyVee and when we arrived she asked if we could shop together instead of me wandering aimlessly around the aisles by myself.  But then I spotted a lady cooking up something in a fry pan.  As Beth headed for the produce I made a beeline for the beef.

When I got there I noticed the woman had a huge smile on her face.  She immediately started talking about the product, mentioning how healthy it was (it was actually a chicken meatball) and how incredibly tasty it was.  

As she was extolling the virtues of the vegetable and chicken concoction she inserted a toothpick into a mound of the teriyaki topped treat and handed it to me with an expectant smile.  As I started to put it in my mouth she pointed out the incredible value and handed me a coupon.

As I was munching on the meatball she quickly mentioned the cost, pointing out that while it was more expensive than ordinary meatballs, it was worth it.  Before I could swallow my first sample she handed me a Cajun creation.  

She then asked which package I wanted to buy.  I stared at the tomato basil meatball until she handed it to me and then politely declined to purchase anything and headed over to the bakery for a choice sample of cheesecake.  

When I circled back around a few minutes later I was hoping the sample-sowing lady would forget I had already been there and give me some more.  As I approached I heard her casting the chicken meatball vision to another customer.  

She just kept smiling and handing out samples to all who walked by.  I saw one customer with four packages in her cart.  It’s like the sample lady couldn’t stop talking about the product.  As I swooped by on my search for some free cheesecurds in the dairy aisle I smiled and simply said to her, “Well done.”

When I finally found Beth I broke out into some cheers for the chicken meatballs and told her where the samples were.  Beth went over and tried some (and I had a few more).  After hearing about all the benefits of these little round balls, she bought a package for us.  As we walked away, I looked back and the lady was already talking to someone else.

This woman was simply sowing samples.  Her job was to get as many out as she could.  When someone declined she simply smiled and fried up some more.  She was quick to explain the cost but equally ready to describe the benefits.

We’re continuing in our summer series called “Practical Parables” and 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.

Please turn to Matthew 13.  We see in verses 1-2 that so many people crowded around Christ that He had to get into a boat in order to speak to those who stood on the shore.  He sat down and in verse 3 we read: “Then He spoke many things to them in parables.” 

The word parable means “to lay beside” and has the idea of placing two things together in order to teach a spiritual truth.  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 beginning in verse 18: “Therefore hear the parable of the sower…”

Look at verse 3: “Behold, a sower went out to sow.”  That word “behold” is designed to get our attention.  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, much like we do when planting grass seed.  This seed would end up in all sorts of soil, some good, and some sketchy.  

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 bottom line in these instances is that conversion never occurred, though it seemed like it did.  The problem was with the soil, or the soul…not with the seed. 

Here’s how we’ll proceed today.  We’ll take each soil in order in verses 4-8 and read what happened when the farmer sowed the seed.  Then we’ll bounce over to verses 18-23 to see how Jesus ties each soil type to a “soul type.”  

These four soils represent four 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. 

Look at verse 4: “And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.” 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 laid there until the birds gobbled it up or was ground into the soil by sandaled feet.  In our culture it would be like throwing grass seed on the sidewalk.

As Jesus interprets the first soil in verse 19, ask yourself if this describes your soul, or someone you know: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.” The problem here is not a lack of understanding, but an unwillingness to embrace it.  We could call this the “unheeding hearer.”  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.

The word “snatch” means, “to seize with force, to rob.”  Satan loves to bring confusion and to cause callousness when the gospel is communicated.  We see this in 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 and his minions love to distract people so that they won’t respond to the Word.  In Luke 8:12 we’re given more insight into the wiles of the devil who comes and takes away the word “lest they should believe and be saved.”

According to Hebrews 3:13, sin also has a way of hardening our hearts: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  Procrastination, pride and stubbornness can also 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.  Incidentally, hardness can happen in the hearts of children who are raised in Christian homes when they hear the Word but don’t heed it.

Are there any hard hearts here today?  Any spoiled souls?  Are you in a calloused condition?

2. Shallow Soil: Rocky Road. 

We see the second soil in verses 5-6: “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.”

This type of soil was very shallow and the rocks on the surface had to be cleared every year.  In Palestine, 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.

One of the runners in our Run for God group shared a personal parable about his experience running the Bix.  Some runners at the beginning of the race tore up Brady Street, weaving in and out, only to fall way behind at the end.  Those who held a steady pace finished way ahead of the sprinters.    He mentioned that the Christian life is like a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s more important to go deep than to just bust quickly out of the starting gates.

Jesus explains the shallow soul this way in verses 20-21: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

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 favor,” 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?  The word “tribulation” has its background from the threshing roller used by the Romans to smash grain and means “to crush, press, squeeze or break.”  

Trouble and tribulation will strengthen true believers and it also reveals those who have only had an emotional experience

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.  Listen to 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. 

A third kind of soil is described in verse 7: “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.”  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 verse 22: “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”

The word “deceitfulness” means “to seduce.”  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 shekels.  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 of this parable, we read in Luke 8:14 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 go into the tank due to distractions?  I have.  This happened to the apostle Paul, when a man he thought was a believer, revealed that he really wasn’t by his behavior 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. 

Only the fourth soil actually bears fruit in verse 8: “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”  The good ground had been worked, prepared and plowed.  It had depth and was free of weeds.

Back then if a farmer had a harvest that was seven times what was sown it would be considered a good crop.  To have yields of a hundred, sixty or thirty fold would be unheard of, unnatural, even astonishing.

Jesus saves the best for last in verse 23: “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” He hears and understands.  Luke 8:15 says that he “keeps the word.”  He listens to the Lord, then He loves Him, and then this leads to living it out.  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 in John 15:8: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” In Galatians 5:22-23, we see that believers are to be fruit-bearers: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Hearing and Heeding

Let’s go back to verse 9: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Our Lord is wondering what kind of listener you and I really are.  The word “hear” is used 19 times in chapter 13 alone!  

An 80-year-old grandfather went to his daughter’s house for Sunday dinner.  When the meal was over, he announced that he was going to take a walk through the neighborhood.  “I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” he said.  But two hours had passed before he finally returned.  “Sorry I’m late,” he said.  “But I stopped to talk to an old friend and he wouldn’t stop listening.”

One of the keys to living the Christian life is to never stop listening to the Lord.  

Do we hear and heed what He says?  If you’re not willing to “heed” 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 three soils represent sinners who have not been saved, not believers who somehow lost their salvation.

Here are some application points to ponder.

make sure you are sowing the seed of God’s Word into hearts, and not just your own thoughts, political perspectives, opinions and ideas

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 at Edgewood because as Romans 1:16 says, 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.  Psalm 126:5-6 tells us that the sower who sows in tears will reap with joy.  

2. Sow the seed of God’s Word in your children through formal Bible reading times and informally as you do life together. 

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “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 or AWANA or student ministry, 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.  

  • If you’re serious about growing, then it’s time to start sowing.  Listen to 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.” 
  • Pray that God would plow 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.”  On the first day of school this week I ran around Moline high school and prayed that God would soften some souls this school year and that Christian kids would have the boldness to sow the seed on their campuses.  I prayed for the teachers and administrators.  And then I prayed the same thing as I ran around Roosevelt and then around the Regional Office of Education building.
  • God wants to use you to cultivate hard hearts and pluck weeds from worried lives.  Jeremiah 4:3: “Break up your fallow ground…” Your role may be to come alongside someone in pain or to simply serve a neighbor. God will use you and then He’ll do the rest.  How are you doing getting to know the names of 8 of your neighbors?  Have you given someone your copy of “Anchor for the Soul” yet?  BTW, we gave away 600 copies two weeks ago and we now have 600 more available!  Here’s the deal.  You give them to your neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members and I’ll make sure we don’t run out.  Deal?
  • 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.
  • 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.  I was very moved by what the student ministry did last Sunday night.  Meeting at our home they gathered to do a prayer walk.  Using different “stations,” they prayed for students, teachers and administrators, they focused on the fingerprints they’re leaving behind, they were urged to stay on the right path, they used a mirror to reflect on the fact that they are each made in God’s image, they wrote their sins in sand and then erased them to show the power of God’s forgiveness, they looked at a lunch box to remind them that fellow students are hungry and thirsty for Jesus and then wrote their burdens on post-it notes, committing them to the Lord.

This fall the focus of our weekend messages will be a verse-by-verse exposition through the Old Testament Book of Malachi as we learn together how God wants us to “Step it Up.”  Can I encourage you to get into an ABF class or a Life Group this September?  Sure we want decisions for Christ but what we really want are disciples of Christ.  We want to see fruit, not fickleness.  We want to make an impact, not just get emotional.

1. This parable must become personal. 

As we ponder this parable 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?”  “Am I truly converted or did I just have an emotional experience?”

This parable reminds us that we have an enemy who is the Deceiver.  One author nails it when he says, “Some of his most effective work is in removing assurance from those who ought to have it, and in giving assurance to those who should not have it.”  

Friend, maybe you think you’re saved but you’re really not.  Perhaps the soil of your soul has been spoiled, shallow or strangled.  Your heart has been hard or rocky or you’ve been distracted.  But right now you sense God plowing up your hard heart.  Don’t miss this opportunity to believe and receive the seed of the Word of God into your soul.  

In Luke’s account of the parable there are four prepositions.  The seed dropped “by the wayside;” it landed “upon the stony ground;” it nestled “among the thorns;” and finally, it fell “into the good ground.” This seed fell not only upon the ground but into the ground so that its roots went deep and ultimately the plant developed and bore fruit. 

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 center of your life right now.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?