Beloved, this is certainly a parable that we all know well. Perhaps it is for many of us the most familiar of Christ's parables. And as is true of all the parables Christ spoke, this parable is also one that is very practical with regard to spiritual things. It teaches us concerning our life as citizens of the kingdom of God. In this parable Jesus addresses those of us who confess, "We are children of God. We are Christians. We are God's people." He speaks to you and me here. And He instructs us concerning what it means to live according to the confession we make.
Specifically what Christ sets before us in this parable is the calling we have with regard to the preaching of the Gospel. Christ shows us in this parable that there are two ways in which to listen to the preaching. There are two kinds of listeners. There is, first of all, the listener who rejects the preaching. He is not interested in it and therefore bears no fruit. There is no positive change in his life by means of the preaching. This listener is represented by the three kinds of bad soil mentioned in the parable. But there is also the good listener. He is the one who receives the Word and bears fruit. You can say concerning him, "The preaching makes a difference in his life."
By means of this parable Christ confronts each of us with the
question, "What kind of listener are you to the preaching?"
It is quite possible, beloved, that this is the first parable that Christ preached. Verse 10 seems to indicate that, for Christ, having spoken this parable, is asked by his disciples, "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?" It is as though this is the first parable the disciples have heard. If this is Christ's first parable, as seems to be the case, then the truth taught in this parable is certainly very basic and fundamental to life in the kingdom of God. Remember that, beloved.
The significance for us of the truths taught in this parable is shown in verse 9 where Christ says, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." A believer, one who is a citizen of the kingdom of God, is one who hears. He listens well - very well - to the Word of God. And Christ points out that in that way one is blessed as a citizen of His kingdom. He states that in verse 16, "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear."
That stands in contrast, of course, to the way in which the Scribes and Pharisees heard what Christ said. Remember, the disciples asked Christ, "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?" In answer to that question, Christ said concerning the Scribes and Pharisees, "I speak in parables because they have ears but hear not, and they have eyes but see not. But you, my people, are blessed. I have given you ears to hear and eyes to see. You have minds that understand, and hearts that love My kingdom and the Gospel of My kingdom."
Is that true of us, beloved? Do we use our ears to hear and to heed the preaching of the gospel? The preaching is for us the chief means of grace. The preaching is the power of God to save us. So how do we receive it? Does it make a difference in our hearts and in our lives? Are we listeners, then, who bear fruit?
Keeping these things in mind, let us consider this parable under the theme,
There are three things that we want to notice:
I. The Sowing Of The Seed
II. The Bad Soil Hearing
III. The Good Soil Hearing
I. Christ tells us in the parable that a man went out into his field to sow seed.
This man did not do this as farmers do today, with machinery. Everything was done manually. This farmer owned some land which was made up of very small fields. Between each of these small fields there was a pathway that provided access to his fields. And now he sows seed in his field. He takes a bag of seeds and hangs it over his shoulder. He puts his hand in that bag and he scatters the seed across the field as he walks back and forth in that field. The result of that kind of sowing is that seeds fall in many different places, both in and around that field.
The parable makes that clear to us. Some seed falls on the hard soil - the hard-packed soil of the pathway that surrounds the field. Some seed falls on stony soil within the field - soil that is very thin because it has below it a layer of stone. Some seed falls among thorns and thistles - soil with weeds in it - quite likely the soil in the corners and along the edges of the field. And finally some seed falls in good ground - soil that has been well prepared and in which the seed grows and bears fruit.
This parable, as Christ told His disciples, is an earthly picture of the preaching of the Gospel.
There are various important elements in the parable. First of all, the seed. We must understand that the seed is the Word of God. Jesus says so in verse 19 when He makes reference to hearing the "Word of the kingdom." That's what the seed is, the Word of the kingdom, the Word of God.
But that seed is not simply the Bible. We are talking now about the seed of God's Word as that seed is scattered and sown. That seed is therefore the Word of the kingdom as it is preached. The seed represents the proclamation of the truths of Scripture. The seed is the preaching of the "Gospel" - of the good news of salvation. It is the spiritual food for the people of God.
The preaching feeds our souls. It does so because it confronts us with our sins, shows us the great need we have for the Lord Jesus Christ, and directs us to Christ. This includes the fact that the preaching admonishes us as God's people. It is a Word that says to us, "You must repent of sin and flee from sin. Daily you must hate the ways of sin and love the ways of righteousness. You must love God and your neighbor. You must obey God. You must live a life of good works."
The seed in the parable, as it is scattered, represents all of
this. It is the preaching that every one of us hears from Lord's
day to Lord's day - the Word which is a lamp unto our feet and
a guide for us in every area of life.
We also must take note of the sower in the parable. That sower, you understand, is Christ. He is the One Who scatters the seed of His Word. Christ preaches to you. It is true that Christ uses men to do that. He appoints men to represent Him in the church. And He teaches and He preaches through those whom He calls to be ministers of the Gospel. But you must understand, beloved, that Christ Himself preaches through those men. He proclaims the Gospel through them. As Christ Himself said to us, "My sheep hear My voice." He does not say, "My sheep simply hear about Me," but He says that His sheep hear Him. They hear His voice in the preaching.
This is also taught in Luke 4:18, 19, where Christ said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
It is important for us to remember that Christ is the Sower. There is much opposition to that truth today. People will say, "You mean to tell me that when a minister preaches it isn't really just a man preaching - it is Christ preaching? I don't believe it. That's nonsense."
The reason many oppose this truth is because they want to have the option of either taking or leaving what the minister says. There are certain things they don't like in the preaching. So they are looking for a way to avoid having to heed what the Word of God says to them. What is their excuse? "Well, he's just a man isn't he? He makes mistakes, the minister does. He makes errors in the things that He says from the pulpit. So how can you say that Christ preaches? It's just a man giving his opinions. If we don't like what he says, we don't have to listen to him."
Now it is true, beloved, that ministers make errors. But when we say that Christ preaches through a minister of the Gospel, we are not saying that every single word that every minister says is Christ's Word. It is only when the truth is preached that Christ speaks through the minister of the Gospel. And that is why every one of you has the calling to be like the Bereans, to study and know the Word of God so you can know whether what the minister says is the truth. You may not simply sit there and think you have to believe every single word that the minister says. Be Bereans! Study to be sure that what you hear is the truth. When it is, Christ Himself speaks to you through the preaching.
It is crucial that we confess that Christ preaches. If we don't, that takes away from the power of the preaching. That is serious. The preaching is a power to save God's people exactly because it is Christ who preaches. A man hasn't got that power. No minister of the gospel is able to save through the power of his preaching. It is the power of Christ that saves through the preaching, for Christ preaches. Without that, the Word would be worthless and useless. It would do you and me no good.
And so we confess, Christ preaches! He determines where the Word
is preached. He determines what is preached. He determines by
whom that Word is preached. And then Christ makes that word powerful
and effectual to save His people. Then the Word preached is the
power of God unto salvation.
The other main element in the parable is the soil. The soil here represents the hearts of those who hear the preaching. There are different kinds of soils representing different hearers of the Word of God. There are many who hear the word - they hear it in church, they hear it on the mission field, they hear it wherever that Word is truthfully proclaimed. They know what is said. They understand the words that are spoken. They hear the preaching.
But this parable focuses our attention especially on the way in which one hears the Word. Christ makes that very clear in His explanation of the parable in verses 18 and following. He points out that every different kind of soil represents a different kind of hearer.
The emphasis in the parable is on how well one hears the preaching.
It is true that sometimes there are deficiencies in the preaching
of the Gospel. Sometimes there is error and heresy. In fact, that
happens a lot today. Many depart from the truth and proclaim the
lie. When that happens, you don't have to believe that Christ
preaches there, for He doesn't. Christ is only present where His
truth is preached. But even though that happens, that is not an
factor in this parable. That's not what Christ is speaking of.
He is saying in this parable that the truth is proclaimed. And
the question is, "How do you respond to that true preaching
of the gospel?"
Really there are only two kinds of hearers in the church. What sets them apart is their fruit. There are some that bear fruit when they hear the preaching. There are others that do not.
We must understand, beloved, that the fact that one hears the Word and bears fruit is only because of a work of God's grace in his heart. Only those whose hearts have been prepared actually hear the Word and produce fruit. The parable makes that clear. It speaks of the soil that has been prepared, the good soil. Why is it good soil? Why is it receptive to the seed? Why does it bear fruit? Because it has been prepared; prepared by Christ.
The prepared soil represents us as good hearers whose hearts have been prepared to receive the preached Word. That preparation, you understand, is the work of the Spirit in our hearts, the Spirit Who regenerates our hearts and makes us receptive to the Word. Without that we are dead - dead in trespasses and sins, and unable to respond to the Word of Christ. A dead man cannot hear that Word. It doesn't matter how powerful or how persuasive the preaching might be, a man who is spiritually dead doesn't hear it. The Holy Spirit must raise us to life. The Spirit must bring us from darkness to light. The Spirit must give us ears to hear, hearts to believe, and a willing desire to obey the Word that is preached.
While that is true, that preparation by the Spirit is not the main point of the parable. As we said before, the emphasis is on the responsibility that you and I have in hearing the preaching. God is sovereign. He prepares our hearts. But at the same time you and I are accountable before Him. We are accountable for all that we do, for God deals with us as rational, moral creatures. He created us as those who are able to think and to hear and to know and to decide. Therefore every one of us is accountable to God for what we do. Specifically, as taught in this parable, we are accountable to God for how we hear the preaching of the Gospel.
Christ will ask us concerning that on the Judgment Day. He will
say to you and to me, "What did you do with My Word? How
did you listen to the preaching?" It's certainly a great
privilege that we have to hear the truth preached. But we bear
a great responsibility before God. We must give an account to
Him as to how we heard His Word.
As we now consider the different kinds of hearers spoken of in the parable, there's something else we must realize, and that is that even we as believers are sometimes those bad hearers. There are of course those that are always bad hearers. They never hear the Word, they have no interest in the preaching of the Gospel, and thus they never produce fruit. And yet, those weaknesses can sometimes be found in us too. We can be guilty of those same sins. We hear the preaching, but it makes no difference. It goes in one ear, and out the other.
That's why we need to hear the warning of Christ here. We have
to learn what to avoid with regard to hearing His Word. And we
have to learn how properly to listen. Preaching is the chief means
of grace for us as God's people. We need it. Christ uses it to
save us. It is the Word that powerfully saves us and gives us
the enjoyment of eternal life. That's why it is important for
us to hear that Word, and to hear it well. Christ says, "Who
hath ears to hear let him hear."
II. - With regard to bad soil hearers, Christ tells us that there are three types of bad soil, three types of unfruitful hearers.
First of all Christ mentions the seed that falls by the wayside in verse 4. The seed is sown, but the birds come and devour it. Christ explains this in verse 19, "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and snatcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which receiveth seed by the wayside." That soil that receives that seed is soil that hasn't been prepared. And so the seed doesn't penetrate into the soil. The seed doesn't grow. There is no receptivity to that seed. No fruit is produced in such soil.
This represents someone who hears the Word of Christ but does not receive it. He hears it only with his ears. He has what Scripture refers to as a hard heart. And such a heart is not simply a heart that is passive to the Word of Christ. It is a heart that is rebellious against the Word of Christ - a heart that is stubborn and that hates the Word. It is a heart that always opposes the preaching - always criticizes it, and purposely, intentionally and actively rejects it.
The text says this is the heart of one that does not "understand" the Word. No doubt that person will claim, "Well the fault isn't with me. The reason I don't understand the Word is because there's a problem with the Word itself. It's unintelligible. It's too difficult for me to follow. It's too deep. It's too doctrinal. The problem is with the preacher." But that is not the problem. The problem is in that heart, that rebellious heart that is not the slightest bit interested in the Word. It is a heart that has no delight in spiritual things.
Sometimes those kind of people are in church. They have many interests in life, but no spiritual interests. They are here in church, but they don't really want to be. They don't want to listen. And they don't try to listen. That's way too much work. In their judgment preaching is a foolish thing. The preacher is also foolish, for he is so out of touch with life. "His sermons don't to apply to me," they say.
The reason this kind of person responds that way to the preaching is because he doesn't think he needs it. He doesn't see his sin. He doesn't see his need of Christ. So the devil has an easy prey. The Word is snatched away and bears no fruit. There is no change. He is a fruitless hearer of the Word.
That's not true of us, is it? Remember that bad soil does sometimes
represent you and me. Is this the kind of listener we are? Do
we say that the sermons are too difficult and too deep? Are we
basically uninterested in the preaching? We have to consider that!
Notice, secondly, that Christ mentions that some seed falls on stony ground. This is the ground which is just a thin layer of dirt over rock. Christ explains what that represents in verses 20 and 21. "But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended."
This is the kind of hearer who has at first a very exciting zeal for the Word he hears. You've heard this kind of response. He praises the preaching. He says, "I've never heard anything like it before. What a wonderful message!" At that point he seems to be one that will produce fruit in his life - perhaps more fruit than many others. He seems so spiritual, so godly, so interested in the Word. But he gives up. He doesn't last. All his zeal and excitement dies. And again he is one who bears no fruit.
The text tells us why he doesn't bear fruit. He gives up because of persecution and because of troubles that come on account of the Word. In other words, he finds it way too difficult to be a Christian. At first he was excited. At first he was one who couldn't wait to talk to others about the preaching and about the Christian life. But soon he is silent about all this. Why? Because he is mocked as a Christian. He is silent because he doesn't like to be cast out by his friends on account of his beliefs. And so eventually he dies. He gives up and produces no fruit.
The persecution that the text mentions is something that is inevitable for the people of God. It is interesting to notice how the text refers to persecution. Literally the word persecution means "to be pressed in on every side." It is as though one is pressed into a corner. He is pursued. He is hunted down by the ungodly. That is what all of God's people will face and do face. They are persecuted. Perhaps we don't lose our lives. In this country we are still free to worship God. But if we live a godly life we will be persecuted. Think, for example, of Sunday observance. If you very really observe the Lord's Day as you ought to, your neighbors will have something to say to you about that. And so will your friends and the people you work with. Especially when you refuse, as you must, to join them for certain Sunday activities that they want you to participate in.
We can also be persecuted for what we believe. Maybe the reason we don't experience that too much is because we don't confess what we believe. We are afraid to confess openly and unashamedly that God is sovereign in our salvation and that man is nothing. We are afraid to confess openly that God has chosen some and rejected others. We are afraid to confess openly that man is totally depraved and of himself can do no good. We are afraid to confess that there is no such thing as a common grace of God. But confess these things and you will be persecuted.
Persecution can also come because of the way we live in our families. It will come because you as mothers see that your God-given calling is to be at home with your children. Others cannot understand why you don't pursue a career. They think you should get out of the home and make something of yourselves in life. If you don't, if you live as God calls you to live, you will be persecuted.
Do we stand up under persecution, when the way gets tough? Or, do we find the Christian life too difficult, too narrow, too restrictive? And do we therefore feel like changing our ways a little so that we are not persecuted? Do we find Christ's Word too black and white, so that we want more grey areas in order to have more freedom? If so, then soon we too will be fruitless with regard to the preaching. We will hear only what we want to. When the Word admonishes us, as it must, and touches us where it hurts, we will say, "I'm not hearing that Word. I don't want to change my life." Then the Word makes no difference. It is as though we heard nothing. We leave church and return to our sinful ways. That's what the stony ground represents. That's not us, is it?
Christ mentions, in the third place, the thorny soil. We read in verse 7, "And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up and choked them." This is soil that has weeds in it. The weeds take away all the food for the good seed. The result is that the seed cannot grow and is fruitless.
Christ explains this in verse 22 where He says, "He also that receives seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word, [he hears it, notice! But then] the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." That represents a hearer who is preoccupied with the things of this life. So preoccupied is he that he does not hear the Word.
Notice what the text calls those things that preoccupy and distract him - they are "weeds." Those weeds are first of all "the cares of this world" - in other words, the anxieties of earthly life. They are the things we worry about. These things distract from hearing the Word. One is preoccupied with thinking about his work, his income, his food, the natural disasters that happen, his crops, his cattle - all of these things, and more, are on his mind. He is really preoccupied with himself, for he is asking himself concerning all these things, "How will I be affected? How will I deal with these things? How will I be able to survive?"
But notice that those weeds are also referred to in verse 22 as the "deceitfulness of riches." That's a powerful statement, beloved. That's telling us something about riches - riches deceive! How true that is. Wealth says to us, "I'll give you happiness. The more you have the happier you will be." Many are persuaded by that. But it is a big lie. Ask yourself, are rich people happier than the poor?
One who hears the Word in that way is one who is deceived by all
these things, deceived by all the worries and concerns of life,
and deceived by riches. He is allured by the pleasures of this
age. He is overcome by the cares and anxieties of this life. And
when those cares and anxieties confront him, he does not turn
where he ought to - to Scripture and to God in prayer. At the
end of the week he is certainly spiritually weary. But he doesn't
look forward to the spiritual rest of the Sabbath and the food
that will be provided for his soul there. Instead, when he comes
to church he is still preoccupied with all these other things.
He cannot let go of his earthly cares, not even for one hour.
He is busy planning his next week. He is busy thinking of ways
in which to deal with all his riches and all his earthly worries
and concerns. He doesn't hear the Word, for his heart is filled
with earthly things. There is no room for the Word.
The temptation, of course, is that you and I are caught up in
that kind of life. Let us take to heart the warning, beloved.
Be careful. Be careful of riches. Yes, it is true that riches
are not evil in themselves, but they certainly have the power
to deceive. They promise happiness - but they don't give it. And
yet our hearts can so easily be filled with those earthly things,
and with all the worries and anxieties that come along with those
things, that there is no room for the Word of Christ. The preaching
goes over our heads. We don't hear anything about ourselves as
sinners. We don't hear anything about ourselves as those who need
Christ as our Savior. We don't see our need of Him. And the Word
bears no fruit in our hearts and lives.
III. Finally Christ in this parable mentions the good soil.
We read in verse 8, "But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit." That soil represents the heart of one that is no longer hard or shallow or preoccupied. Instead his heart is soft and is receptive to the Word of God. This is the heart of one who knows he needs the preaching. He needs it for two reasons. He needs it first of all because he is a spiritual pilgrim and soldier on this earth. As he has lived six days of the week that has just passed he has become weary in that spiritual battle. He therefore comes to church on Sunday as one who is hungering and thirsting for the Word of Christ. He needs nourishment for his soul.
He also needs that Word as it is preached because he knows he is a sinner. He is conscious of his sins and he needs to hear that Christ has forgiven him. He needs to hear of God's grace to him. He is sorrowful for his sins and he knows that he needs the Gospel of grace in Christ, for it is the powerful means to strengthen his faith. And so he wants to hear the Word. He wants to listen to Christ. He is hungry for that spiritual food, because that Word means everything to him. Life could not be lived without the preaching of the Gospel. He could not survive without it.
He is that way, because, as we said before, he is one who has been prepared by the Spirit. That is absolutely necessary. It is the work of God's sovereign grace in us, His children. It is a wonderful work of God, for we cannot prepare our own hearts to hear His Word. By nature we have no desire to hear it - in fact, we have no desire even to be in the house of God. But God does that work. He regenerates our hearts and puts within us that desire to hear His Word. He makes us realize that we are weary pilgrims. He gives us the desire to come to His house and to hear the preaching of the gospel in order to be strengthened in our faith.
On account of God's work, we realize the responsibility that we have toward the preaching, as that is pointed out in this parable. We are called to have a sincere interest in what Christ Himself has to say to us. Not a half-hearted interest - but a true, spiritual, heartfelt interest in the preaching. And, having heard the Word, we are to be spiritually fertile, to bear spiritual fruit.
The good soil does produce fruit. And that means basically this - the preaching makes a difference. One who bears fruit does not leave God's house in the same way as he came. And he is not one who says on Sunday, "Wow, what a powerful sermon that was!" and then by Monday he has forgotten about the sermon and does not think of it again all week. Nor is he one who ignores the Word if he doesn't like it, even if it cuts, or hurts, or offends. He hears it then too. And finally, he does not forsake the Word when he is persecuted and troubled in life. Instead, he is one who is a hearer and a doer of the Word.
And therefore he produces in his life the fruits of the Spirit
- love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith. He is obedient.
He walks a sanctified life as a citizen of God's kingdom, for
God's Word, the Word of the kingdom, has fed his soul. The Word
of the kingdom has set before him the way he must live in thankfulness
to God. The Word of the kingdom has given him life.
We all hear with our physical ears the Word that is preached. But how do we really hear the Word, beloved? How do we really listen to the Word? God through his Spirit prepares our hearts. That's a wonderful thing. That's the work of His sovereign grace in saving us. But we are accountable to Him for our hearing.
Let us bear fruit, beloved, spiritual fruit. Let us take God's Word with us when we leave His house. And let us live and walk as citizens of His kingdom. Then it will be true of us what Christ said, "By their fruits ye shall know them. You will be able to tell that they are My people, for they will live in the good works that I have prepared for them. They will produce fruit in their lives."
May God lead us to do that. And may we always be blessed in that way through the preaching of His Word.
Last modified: 01-Aug-2001