Matthew Message #38

The Parable of the Sower Matthew Chapter 13

Matthew Message #38 Transcript:

Ed Miller

Chapter 5 – 16:20 is really the heart of the book of Matthew.  It’s one big section.  In these chapters the Holy Spirit presents the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In chapters 5-7 He says something.  You’ll recognize that as the Sermon on the Mount.  In chapters 8-10 He does something.  You’ll recognize that as the great miracle section; eight redemptive miracles.  Chapter 11&12, people respond to what He said and did and you have the eight great responses.  In chapter 13 we start the second series of the same thing.  In chapter 13 Jesus says something.  That is the great parable section of Matthew.  Then in chapter 14 He does something.  That’s the miracle chapter again and that’s where they walk on water and multiply loaves and all.  Then in chapter 15-16:20 you have another set of responses to all that the Lord Jesus said and all that He did.

We began last time with chapter 13 where He said something.  Some say there are seven parables in this chapter and some say there are eight.  It depends on how you look a verse 52.  The kingdom of heaven parables; the parable of the sower; the parable of the wheat and tares; the parable of the mustard seed; the parable of the leaven; the parable of the hid treasure; the pearl of great price; the dragnet; and some say the parable of the treasure chest.  Last time we introduced the parable section with these three questions; what is a parable; what is the purpose of teaching in parables; and what is the chief principle, apart from the indispensable principle that is the main one of trusting the Holy Spirit?  But in addition to that, what is the chief principle of interpreting parables.  Let me give those three answers and then we’ll move on to the new material.

What is a parable?  Literally the word means “to place alongside for the purpose of comparison.  In a word, it’s an earthly true to life story.  It didn’t actually happen but it’s true to life.  It could have happened and probably did happen every day.  It’s a true to life story with a spiritual meaning.  That is, reflected in the story is a spiritual counterpart.  The laws of nature reflect the laws of the spirit of God; physical truth illustrates spiritual truth.  According to Matthew 13, what’s the purpose of a parable?  Why did He speak in parables?  This is a whole new method of teaching, as far as the life and ministry of Christ.  Why did He speak in parables?

Chapter 13:10&11, “And 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.’”  There were two reasons; to reveal and to conceal.  That’s why He spoke in parables; to reveal, to tell His mysteries (His sacred secrets and private diary and confidential whisperings); to tell the things of God in the ears of those who wanted to hear it and to hide it from those who did not want it.  The disciples didn’t understand the parables any more than the average Pharisee.  The disciples had to come privately for an explanation.  He never turned away anyone who came for an explanation.  He always spoke in a way that you had to come to Him for a revelation, if you were going to understand it.  Why did He speak in parables?  To reveal the truth to all who wanted to see it and then to hide it in mercy from those who would be accountable if they had light and would reject it.

What is the great principle in interpreting parables, in addition to the main one; trust God?  It can be summarized in these words: every parable has one main point; one central teaching; one sacred secret.  Every parable has one main point.  The danger in telling the truth in story form like this is that some people just pick up the details of the story and then they try to find doctrine out of the details of the story.  The details are mostly scenery; mostly drapery; mostly ornament.  That’s what the details are; just the props that hold the story together.  You’ve got to separate the gem from the box that it comes in if you are going to understand the parable.  You don’t throw the details out.  You interpret the details but in terms of the main point. 

I’m going to take a little bypass here so that you’ll understand this point.  It’s unusually important since we are going to be studying the parables.  I’m going to give you a striking illustration of this point and then we’ll come back to the parable.  John 15:1-11; you can glance at them.  You recognize this passage.  That’s why I’m choosing it; because it’s famous and popular; as the vine and the branches.  I don’t think anyone would dispute the main point of these verses; fruit bearing by abiding in the vine.  That’s what He’s talking about in those eleven verses; how to bear fruit; abide in the vine.  Certainly there are other details in this section.  You could talk a lot about pruning but the point is not pruning.  The point is fruit bearing by abiding in the vine.

The details must be interpreted in terms of that main point.  Glance please at verse 6, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up and they gather them and cast them in the fire and there they burn.”  Some have bypassed the point of that illustration of the vine and the branches and they jump to that detail and they say, “See, here in the Bible this is what it’s teaching.  If you stop abiding in Christ you may lose your salvation and you’ll end up in hell because what else could this mean, ‘Gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.’  That means you are going to hell.  Therefore it’s possible if you are a true branch and actually have abided in the vine and then you stop abiding, it’s possible to be cut off and one day end up in a fire.”

That’s not the point.  He’s not talking about heaven and hell in this passage and He’s not talking about eternal security and he’s not talking about assurance of salvation and he’s not talking about apostasy.  He’s talking about fruit bearing through abiding and all the details must be interpreted in terms of that main point.  John 15:6 simply means this; that if you don’t abide in Christ, you are worthless as far as fruit bearing is concerned.  That’s His point.  You are absolutely worthless as far as fruit bearing is concerned, just as a worthless branch, a dead branch in a literal tree is good for nothing and you throw it away.  It’s no good anymore as far as bearing fruit is concerned; just throw it in the scrap heap and burn it in the fire.  He’s not saying you are going to go to hell.  He’s just saying that if you don’t abide, then you are worthless as far as fruit bearing is concerned.  You’ll never be able to bear fruit.

I use that as an illustration because some people have made a doctrine out of the detail of that story and they miss the main point.  You can go very far astray by interpreting the drapery that’s the scenery of the details of the particular parables.  The details are to be interpreted but only in terms of the main point. 

We can come back to chapter 13.  Since we’re going to lay great stress on that point, the chief point of each parable, what did the Lord Jesus intend by each story?  I think one of the greatest things I’ve ever read, single statement, on how to interpret the Bible, came from Bishop Butler.  He said, “The meaning of the book is the meaning of the author.”  Well, of course!  That’s the way to interpret it.  Look back at what He wrote when he wrote it.  If you can get back to what He meant when He wrote it, that’s good hermeneutics; that is, that’s good principles of interpreting.  So, we want to get back to what Jesus meant when He said these parables.  We don’t want to read in a whole bunch of doctrine.  If we interpret the details aside from the main point, we can end up with a lot of squirrely ideas and a lot of things the author didn’t intend.

For example, in the parable of the unmerciful servant, if you just took one of the details there you could come up with a doctrine that you don’t need the blood of Christ for forgiveness because in that parable one got forgiven without sacrifice, just by petition, just by prayer.  And from the parable of the unjust steward, if you just take one of the details, you can conclude that satan is the chief steward in God’s house.  When Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son, did He intend that every detail be interpreted?  What did the robe mean?  What does the ring mean?  What do the shoes mean?  What does the fatted calf mean?  What does the music mean?  What does the dancing mean?  Does any one of those have a spiritual counterpart?  If you tie it in with the main point it’s easy.  The main point of that parable is the joy in the father’s heart when the prodigal returns.  That’s the point.  And now those details make sense because that’s part of the celebration; the robe and the ring and the fatted calf, the party and the music and the eating and the making merry.  That’s just the father expressing the joy of his heart.  It’s not a hard point to grasp but it’s extremely important.

You almost laugh if you had access to some of the commentaries that I have access to and that I actually read.  Sometimes I wonder why in the world I even read them!  Some of the things people come up with by misinterpreting and not seeing it in its context.  In the parable, the ornaments, the details are just for decoration.  They hold the story together and we’ve got to understand it that way.  It gives it flavor and makes it interesting. “The Lord will come as a thief in the night.”  It doesn’t mean He’s going to break the window and pop you on the head and ransack your house.  Right?  But yet some could interpret it that way.  The point is that He’s going to come suddenly and unexpectedly.  If you get the main point, then the details make a lot of sense.

I read one commentator that said, “Some of these parables have a primary meaning and then a secondary meaning.  First you must get the immediate meaning which might apply to the Jews or something like that, and then later on you get the other meanings.  I think that’s nonsense.  Jesus meant one thing and the primary sense is the only sense.  There are not two senses.  He meant one thing and He said one thing and He illustrated it.  We want to find that one thing.  Anything you grab beyond that I would say is just man’s idea and it’s not worth too much.  If we affix a sense of what Jesus said beyond what He said, where are we going to stop with that kind of thing?  There’s no end to it and there’s no principles by which we can stop.  I think we just dishonor the word of the Lord when we say that it has two meanings or three meaning.  It doesn’t.  It has one meaning.  If we can’t find it, let’s be honest and say, “I don’t know,” and maybe someday God will show us.  But if we see the one thing, then let’s say that and then interpret the details in terms of that.

Let’s begin our new study.  For those who like logical connections, let me give a little outline of what I’d like to cover.  First, I’d like to say a word or two about these particular parables in chapter 13 as a whole.  Then I’d like to look at each parable.  Today we’ll look at the parable of the sower.  Each parable as a unit in itself and today we’ll do the sower.  Finally, I’d like to take some broad, general principles from each parable and find application to life, the Lord giving grace.   Let me say something about this parable as a whole and then we’ll get into chapter 13.

As you know, the message of Matthew and the life of the Lord Jesus was a life of rejection.  All the way through, especially through His three and a half year ministry He was being increasingly rejected.  As you go through the book of Matthew, especially, the rejection on the earth deepens and as it does, the acceptance in heaven also deepens and God says, “This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”  I won’t go back into all the theme of Matthew.  There were three big stages of rejection in the ministry of Christ and in every stage where it came to a climax, like right here, where the Pharisees had come to a point to say, “You have a demon.”  They rejected Him so much and said, “You are casting out the devil by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.”  It was just an outright rejection.  Then He started speaking in parables.

Then He went on in His life and there was another heated time where there was a tremendous rejection and then you have a second group of parables and He just began to speak in parables.  Every time there was a severe rejection and just before the cross, He spoke in judicial parables.  His parables took on another flavor and it was full of judgment and He poured out a whole third set of parables.  In the Bible, that’s what you have.  You have three sets of parables.  We’re studying the first set.  This set of parables was by the lake of Galilee and it was in the light of the Pharisees first rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The second set was uttered after the Mount of Transfiguration when again, Luke 1-18, tremendous rejection took place and this time they even went beyond.  They not only said you have a demon but they almost accused Him of being the incarnation of satan himself; a terrible opposition and rejection.  The third set of parables is in Matthew’s gospel and starts in chapter 18-25 when He gives the awful “Whoa, whoa, whitewashed sepulchers and all the rest; very heated and He begins to speak in parables; the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and all of that; very full of judgment.

The parable in Matthew 13 I call “Kingdom of heaven parables”.  Matthew 13:11, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”  So, you don’t think I’m reading this in, glance at these verses: verse 19, “the word of the kingdom,”; verse 24, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared”; verse 31, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; verse 33, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; verse 38, “these are the sons of the kingdom”; verse 41, “they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks”; verse 43, “then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father”; verse 44, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; verse 45, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; verse 47, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; verse 52, “therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like,” and He goes on to give another description.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that these are parables about the kingdom of heaven.  They describe the kingdom of heaven. 

I’ll recall to some of your minds that in our discussion of the Sermon on the Mount we spent an awful lot of time nailing down what God meant by the expression “kingdom of heaven”.  Let me summarize it now by telling you what it’s not and what it is.  If you want the proof of that get those tapes on the Sermon on the Mount.  The kingdom of heaven is not the visible church on the earth; the blending of the good and the bad.  Many people say that’s what it is; Christian government as we know it with both the good and the bad; the wheat and the tares growing together; the good fish and the bad fish in the same net; the evil birds coming to the mustard tree as well as the good birds.  Some people say that’s what the kingdom of heaven is; Christianity with all of its good and all of its bad, permeated with leaven, so that it’s not all good now and a lot of it is bad.  It embraces both spiritual Christians and nominal Christians.  That’s not the kingdom of heaven and that’s not what He’s talking about.  As we go through these parables you’ll see that He’s not describing that at all.

What is the kingdom of heaven?  The kingdom of heaven is the rule of heaven and is where the King rules.  Its’ the principles by which the place called “heaven” is governed.  I’m talking about when you die, if you know Jesus, where you’ll go.  You go to heaven.  What is that kingdom like up there?  How is it ruled?  By what principles does it operate?  What is the kingdom of heaven like in heaven?  There the inhabitants, glorified saints, angels, cherubim, seraphim do the will of God without bondage.  They delight to do the will of God.  They worship Him and adore and praise.  It’s not a mixture in heaven.  It’s pure and it’s holy. 

How do they live up there and by what principles and by what rules and what motivates them?  Those spirits of just men made perfect quite literally free from the flesh and in their spiritual beings, quite literally living in heavenly places, on what principles do they live?  The kingdom of heaven in heaven was announced by the Lord Jesus and that was the excitement of the Sermon on the  Mount, that there is now a way that the kingdom of heaven can come to earth and all those who live on the earth can live by kingdom of heaven principles.  We can do the will of God with the same freedom and deliberateness as all those who are in heaven do it.  We may now have a heaven on the earth and He taught us to pray Matthew 6:10, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it’s done in heaven.”  The same way things are done up there, He says is now possible to be done on the earth.  It doesn’t have to be a bondage to obey God and there doesn’t have to be a heaviness and a struggle in your spirit to do the will of God.  There’s a kingdom of heaven on the earth.  The kingdom of heaven is that spiritual life, the principles of grace, the principles of the gospel, the good news that Christ can rule your life and you can have in your life now the same principles that they have in heaven.  It’s the laws of grace.

Back to the parables.  All of these parables are parables on the kingdom of heaven; every one of them.  They are parables on the kingdom of grace.  They are parables on the spiritual walk; the spiritual life and how to do the will of God without a bondage and how to be excited and never be in any kind of a struggle or effort in worshipping God and bowing before Him and adoring Him.  These are kingdom of heaven parables. 

Some people try to take them all at once, rather than go through them one at a time.  One commentator said that these parables actually cover all of church history and they compare them to the seven churches in the Revelation; so that the sower is a picture of the church of Ephesus, the backslidden church; and the wheat and the tares is a picture of Smyrna, the persecuted church; and the mustard seed is a picture of Pergamus, the licentious church, and so on, just picturing church history all the way.  Some interpret the parables, and say, “This parable carries you from the first century to the third century and then the next parable of the wheat and tares goes from the third century to the middle of the fifth ,” and they do it that way. 

Others say, “No, no, no.  Don’t do it that way through history, so that the sower ends, but do it this way.”  They all go through history and the truth gets gradually increasing as the day approaches near.  So, they take for example, to take the big thing in all the parables, like I can expect rejection.  That was true of Jesus’ time and that’s true in the first century and third century, fifteenth century and is true today.  I can expect rejection or I can expect the kingdom to grow like a mustard seed or to spread like the weather.  That was true in Jesus day and it was true in the first century and that was true later on and is always true.  Or I can expect to pay a price if I follow the Lord, like the pearl of great price and the dragnet, on and on.  Some interpret it that way.  What we’re going to do is take it one at a time just to look at the kingdom of heaven.  I agree that if you get those principles, they’ll apply in every age and every generation.

First parable is the parable of the sower.  Let me give you, in addition to Matthew 13:1-9 and verses 18-23, because that’s where you have the inspired interpretation.  You also have this parable in Mark 4 and in Luke 8.  He gives it three times.  Matthew 13:1, “On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea.  And great multitudes gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole multitude was standing on the beach.  And he spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower 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 hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.  He who has ears, let him hear.’”

In Luke 8 where He records the same parable we read in verse 18, “Take care how you listen.”  I think that is the heart of the parable of the sower; how you listen.  In this parable the Lord Jesus compares the heart to four different types of soil; the wayside soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil and then good soil.  The work of the sower, the hope that the seed has for surviving depends upon what kind of soil it falls in.  The Lord Jesus said that the seed was the word of the kingdom.  It’s a word about the realm of grace, about spiritual life, about the truth of God.  This is a parable about reception; how do you receive the word; what kind of soil does it fall into?  How is the seed received?  How is the message received?  The four soils are pictures of four possibilities of the condition of the heart.  They proceed from total rejection to total acceptance.  They are progressive.  But his main point is that the kingdom of heaven can only bloom in the heart that is receptive.

I realize great books have been written on the will of the man; what part does man have and what part does God have and how much does God influence what part man has.  There’s all kinds of things written on that.  There are some people who say that man has no part and God has 100% every part.  God does it all and man does nothing.  There are others that leave God out altogether and say that man does everything.  In this parable, even though it wasn’t written to answer this question, I think it gives a good illustration of the truth of God.  The soil is a picture of man; the heart of man.  The soil does not have within it… (as some people say everybody has a divine spark within and all you have to do is discover the divine spark and develop it and it will grow).  You don’t have a divine spark within.  The seed had to be brought to the soil.  The soil had nothing.  The seed had to be brought to the soil.  If the sower never sowed the seed, then the soil would never get the seed.  The seed comes from without.  It’s the seed that has the life and not the soil.  It’s God’s part to sow the seed.  It’s man’s part to receive the seed.  At least that much is illustrated in the parable of the sower.  That’s man’s part.

This is not a parable on God’s part.  This is a parable on man’s part.  He illustrates God’s part.  God will sow the seed.  He’ll get it to you.   Don’t worry about that.  God will get the seed to your heart.  No matter where you are or where you live in the whole universe of God, God will get the seed to you.  Now the question comes, and here’s the parable; how you receive it.  What is your reception like?  What kind of soil do you offer God?  I think that’s the main point of the parable.

We know that God is the first cause of all things in the whole universe and yet I don’t need to clear my throat to say that God has created man with a heart that is free to receive everything that He gives.  When He gave man over against the instinct He put in animals where they obey instinctively, He gave man a free will.  When He gave man a will, He made man a cause in His universe, so we can’t lay sin at God’s door and we can’t say that He’s the cause of sin.  He gave man a will and man has the power to reject and the power to fail.  He’s got the sovereign power to destroy himself, if he wants to.  It’s an awesome thing.  Now, God is going to influence the will on both sides.  He’s going to repulse it and He’s going to attract it.  He’ll always work in man’s heart to make him fear or hope, but the bottom line is that man has got to give Him a soil and has got to give Him a reception, or the seed is not going to do him any good, no matter how much He sows.  Man has a choice what kind of soil he offers to the Lord.  God is not going to fail on His part and this parable appeals to man not to fail on his part; to be open and to be receptive and to offer God good ground.

Let’s look at each of those soils as He describes it here as an illustration of the human heart.  The whole burden in this parable now is to show us our responsibility to be receptive.  Preaching the kingdom of heaven is like scattering sparks.  If it finds tinder, it will attract itself to that tinder and it will kindle itself into a flame.  But if there is no tinder, it’s not going to cause a fire. 

First of all, Matthew 13:19 says “the wayside soil”.  “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it…”  Matthew is the only one that adds that key, “does not understand it.”  It’s very graphic.  This is a hard packed down foot path in the field.  This is where the donkeys walked and where the wagons rolled and where the workers walked in between the rows of crops.  It was hard and impenetrable.  The seed could only get to the outside of this soil because it was hard.  It never gotten within.  It never got on the inside.  There was not even an inch of penetration.  It was hard, pack down ground and no receiving.  What kind of a reception did this first soil give?  The answer is none.  It didn’t open itself at all.  The seed laid on the top.  It didn’t have a chance and therefore, illustrated by the birds, the devil came and took it away. 

The Greek word for understanding this, “They understood not.”  According to Robertson, it’s a comprehended not; they didn’t put it together.  He said that it comes from the idea that they gave it no attention.  You might get the idea just by saying that they understood it not, that it wasn’t the soil’s fault.  Isn’t that God’s fault?  He’s the One that’s supposed to turn on the lights.  He’s the One that’s to make me understand it.  It’s not their fault that they didn’t comprehend it.  They heard it and they didn’t understand it.  Isn’t He the Illuminator?  Isn’t He the One that is supposed to show me?  That’s not the point here. 

The point is this.  It’s not a lack of light but it’s a lack of attention.  He’s hard and he doesn’t want to know.  He doesn’t pay attention to it.  That’s the idea.  This hard ground just doesn’t care.  He doesn’t pay attention.  I believe that’s why it’s first.  Attention is the first claim of the gospel.  The truth of God and the understanding of man can never be brought together unless first there is attention.  You’ve got to give God your attention.  If you don’t give Him your attention, if you don’t listen, then the seed can never grow.  I believe man’s highest obligation toward God is attention.  We better give Him attention.  I believe in the context here, attention is voluntary.  I can choose the things I want to be attentive to. That first soil, the wayside soil, the trodden path, if it had a tongue or a big sign on it, the tongue or sign would say this, “Free passage here for everything but Christ.”  That’s why it was so hard.  The first soil is hard; outward rejection and no penetration at all.  Satan takes it out of his mind as soon as it lands there because nobody spends time thinking about it.

Hold that a moment.  The second soil is the rocky soil.  Don’t think, as I did for years, that this is soil with rocks in it.  That’s not what He means by rocky soil.  Plants will grow in rocky soil.  The roots will just grow right around the rocks.  This is not rocky soil.  The Greek helps us out.  What this is, is a thin layer of earth with a bedrock pavement under it.  It’s not rocky; it’s bedrock.  It’s a cement slab.  It’s not little rocks in the soil that you can take out.  This is bedrock, with a hard base.  That’s the second picture of the human heart.  It looks a little bit better on the surface than that packed down soil but it’s just as bad because this is just as hard; it’s hard under the soft.  It looks good.  It has an early promise but it also has early failure.  This is the one who wants the kingdom of God, now watch.  Here’s the earth and here’s the rock, he wants the kingdom of God as long as God doesn’t go too far.  Verse 20 & 21, “The one on whom the seed is sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no firm root in himself but is only temporary.  When affliction and persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.  The rocky soil has no moral courage.  I’m not saying we should be indifferent to trials and troubles and pretend that they don’t bother us, but if we’re open to the truth of the kingdom of heaven, then our goal will not be our own safety and our own comfort and our own happiness but we’ll lay hold of principles that are higher than that and overrule those dangers.

Let me give this warning.  If you ever have the privilege of sowing seed, sharing the grace of God with anybody, individually or in a group, don’t put too much stock in first receptions.  This rocky soil received in with joy.  I used to come home from a conference and get all excited, “Boy, they just received it with great joy.”  The years tell the story.  It’s not the first reception.  Let’s follow in ten or twenty years and then you’ll see if there was soil there.  Maybe it’s a shallow reception.  The test of all reality is fruit.  That’s not only from this chapter but it’s from the whole New Testament.  As long as there is no price to pay, this soil says, “Okay,” but if the sun comes up and it gets hot or there is any trouble with it, forget it.  Those who meet the Son of God in reality are going to quickly see that He is not of this world and this world is not of Him.  And to receive the good seed you are going to go outside the camp and you are going to walk in a narrow path and you are going to be a peculiar people and you are going to be crucified to the world and the world is going to be crucified to you and through tribulation you are going to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The parable asks this question, “How do you receive the seed of the kingdom?  How do you receive the message?”  The first soil answers, “I don’t give any attention to it at all.  I’m hard.”  He asks again, “How do you receive the kingdom of heaven?”  The second soil answers, “I receive it reservedly, in a shallow way.  You can only go so far.  If it starts to cost me something, forget it.  If there is any price to pay, I’m going to abandon it.  If it serves my comfort and serves my ease and it ministers to my joy and my happiness, I’ll be glad to embrace the gospel.  But if there is any price to pay, forget it.”  No wonder Jesus said, “Take heed how you hear and let him who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The third soil is the thorny soil.  The thorns are described in Matthew 13:22, “The one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man that hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out the word and it becomes unfruitful.”  I used to have a false picture of this.  I used to picture intertwining vines and choking out the poor stalk, getting all wrapped around with a weed and being choked to death.  That’s not the point at all.  The point is this; how is that good stalk choked out?  The answer is that the soil can’t bear both the plant and the weeds.  It chokes it out by the weeds eating up all the nutrients.  It takes all of the nourishment.  That’s why you weed your garden; not that the weeds are going to jump up and take all your eggplants or tomato plants.  They aren’t going to do that.  They are just going to sap out of it all the necessary nutrients that your good plant needs and the purpose of it is so that sap can be concentrated into the good plant.  The soil can’t support both.

This is a picture of the crowded heart; the preoccupied heart.  It’s a picture of the divided heart.  He wants both; he wants the world, the kingdom of the earth but he doesn’t want to throw the kingdom of heaven out the window, either.  He wants gold and God; he wants mammon and the Lord.  But he can only feed one.  Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.”  There can only be one, so the Lord is the one that gets choked out.  The love of the world always neutralizes the gospel; it always does.  This third soil wants position, wants power in the world, wants wealth, wants comfort, wants pleasure, wants security, wants influence, wants authority, wants approval, wants fame and feeds those things and gives all his energy to those things and lives for those things and throws the Lord in on the side and He is choked out and the principles of the kingdom are choked out.  The parable asks, “How do you receive?”  That’s the message.  The first soil says, “I don’t give any attention to it.  I’m hard.”  The second soil says, “I receive it reservedly, until it demands a price.  It can go so far and no further.  I’ve got bedrock there.  The third soil says, “I receive it conditionally; on the condition I can keep all the other stuff.  I still want the pleasures of this world.  I don’t want to have to give it up.  If I accept Christ and I give myself to Him I’m going to have to give up too much.  It’s going to cost me.  I still want to think about my houses, about my lands and about my pleasure and about my money and about my success and about my attainments and about my dreams and about my ambitions and about my education and going to the top.  If I can still do that, well I’ll be glad to be a Christian.  I receive it conditionally.

Then we come to the fourth soil and the parable asks, “How do you receive the seed of the kingdom?”  And the fourth soil answers, “I receive it unreservedly.  I’ll give it my full attention.  There will be no reservations and no conditions.”  Look at Matthew 13:23, “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 one hundred fold and some sixty and some thirty.”  Mark 4:20 says, “They hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty, sixty, a hundred fold.”  The basic ingredient of good soil is reception.  They accept it.  Luke 8:15, “The seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have,” three things, “have heard the word with an honest and good heart, who hold it fast and who bear fruit with perseverance.”   Unreservedly open to receive the seed of the kingdom. 

The good soil also has birds flying around it and trying to get the seed and it also has the hot sun shining upon it and also has the potential of noxious weeds growing up all around it and choking it out.  But this good soil, by an act of volition, by an act of the will, has offered to God an unreserved reception.  It gives all of its attention.  It has no reserve; come what may.  There is no line at which it says, “Okay, Lord, you can grow in me but if it comes this far, I’m not giving up my family, I’m not giving up my car, I’m not giving up my job.”  There’s no reserves; unreservedly and there is no bedrock.  It is just the soil that gives itself unto God and it says, “No matter what, Lord; let the sun shine, let the persecution come, let the trials come, let the cares of this world come, let all the pleasures of life come.  It’s not going to choke it out.  I’m going to hold it fast, with perseverance.  I’m going to embrace it.”  That’s good soil.  The proof, the evidence, the test of good soil is always fruit.  That’s the evidence of good soil.  It’s fruit.  Where there is an unreserved reception of the seed, the living seed of the word of the King of all heaven, there will always, and there is never an exception to this, be fruit. 

Some people make a big deal out of the fact that Matthew says 100, 60 and 30 and Luke says 30, 60 and 100 and reverses the order.  I think God did that to show you that the order is not important.  I don’t think God is comparing some good ground Christians produce more than other good ground Christians.  I don’t think He’s contrasting fruit with fruit.  I think He’s contrasting fruit with no fruit.  I think that’s His point.  The point of 30, 60 and 100 is capacity.  I think that’s what He’s saying.  In good ground we all produce fruit.  But the 100% is not to be desired over the 60% or the 60% over the 30%.  He’s talking about capacity.  Good ground is good ground and all you can ever give God is good ground.  You can’t give Him anything else than that.  You can’t do better than giving Him an unreserved reception of His word as it comes to your heart.  But we’re not all going to produce the same way.  We all have different capacities and we all have different mentalities and we all have different gifts of the Spirit of God.  He’s not condemning someone for only bringing forth 30%.  If you had a roomful of thirty percenters, equal capacity, you’d have a roomful of one hundred percenters.  The thirty percent is 100%, if you produce to full capacity.  The whole purpose of comparing 30, 60 and 100 is just to say that we’re not going to produce the same.  There is going to be differences among us but we are all going to bring forth fruit unto the Lord. 

The appeal of the parable is how do you hear; how do you listen?  What do you give God as a receiver?  The wayside soil says, “I don’t give it any attention.  I’m hard.”  The rocky soil says, “I’m shallow.  I accept, but with reservations.  Don’t go too far.”  The thorny soil says, “I’m a little bit preoccupied.  I accept it with conditions.  Let me feed my own pleasures and I’ll be glad to throw a little in toward the Lord.”  And the fourth soil answers back, “I receive it unqualifiedly and without any reservations.  Come what may; hell or high water, as they say.  I’ve given myself over to it.  I want the seed of the kingdom.”

Before leaving this, let me state for you five general principles of application.  I won’t develop it a lot but you’ll see that it can be easily developed.  Principle #1: If you are modelled after this sower, if you have the privilege of sharing the message of the grace of God with anybody, don’t be discouraged if three quarters of the people you speak to reject it.  That is illustrated here.  Three fourths of these soils were rejected.  If the Master Sower, the one who did it always right, if He had that kind of reception, I have an idea that we who are not Master sowers may increase that percentage a little bit on rejection.  Don’t be discouraged if people don’t listen.  There is always going to be those who are hard and shallow and divided.

Principle #2:  Since God lays full responsibility upon us as the soil, to receive the seed, don’t blame and pass the buck when you are not receptive.  Don’t say, “It’s the Sower’s fault.”  It’s not the Sower’s fault because He’s not drawing me.  He didn’t convict me of that yet.  He didn’t put that in my heart.”  Don’t blame the Sower.  And certainly don’t blame the seed.  The seed has life.  Don’t say the word of God is so dry and so boring and they’ll never get anything out of it.  The word of God is alive because the Bible is the shell and Christ is the life.  The only thing more precious than the Bible is what it contains; the revelation; the Living Word of Christ Himself.  It’s alive.  Don’t blame the seed.  Don’t blame the birds.  “It’s not my fault.  Satan came along and took it.”  Don’t blame the sun.  “I’m going through all these problems and trials and difficulties, I can’t turn to the Lord now.  I’m pretty busy.”  And don’t blame the thorns.  “I didn’t mean to get involved in all of this and get busy that I didn’t have time for the Lord.  I didn’t mean to get swallowed up with all of this fiscal irresponsibility and snowed by all of this debt.  I didn’t mean to get lured away into these places of bad relationships and unholy alliances with unholy people.”  Don’t blame the thorns and don’t blame the sun and don’t blame the birds and don’t blame the seed and don’t blame the sower.  Okay soil, you’re responsible before God to give Him a soil that will receive the truth of God and there are no excuses.

Principle #3:  We have reason and cause to praise God for what kind of a sower He is.  “Very sloppy throwing that seed all over the place and getting it out of the farm and onto the hard ground, onto the path.”  Praise God for the kind of a sower we have who will throw that seed all over the place, even though the ground is not receptive.  He still throws it on the ground, leaving man without excuse.  Glorious sower we have!

Principle #4:  The conditions of that soil are not permanently fixed.  That’s why He said, “Take heed how you hear.”  You are not locked into one particular soil.  Don’t think, “Well I’m good soil and I’ll never be anything else.”  The fact is that at any moment in your life you can be any one of those soils.  Every time the word of God goes out, you have an opportunity to be one of those four soils and you are every time.  I look back in my life and there are plenty of times that I did not give my attention to the word of God.  It just laid on the top.  I’m not fooling anybody.  There’s plenty of times too that I buckled under the pressures of persecution and the trouble.  I was a rocky soil, reserved, “Yah, come this far, Lord, but no further.”  There’s also plenty of times when the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked out the good word of God.  And there’s also been some good soil.  You are not locked in.  That’s what is so glorious about this thing.  It’s not once and for all, “The first three are unsaved and are going to hell.”  The first three did reject in that sowing but I know the Lord sowed again and again.  How many times?  When the Lord first sowed His seed upon me, I’ll tell you, I was not in church with my head bowed.  When God first sowed His seed on me, I was a well-trodden path and God was so good.  We have much reason to rejoice.  At any moment in your life you can be any one of these four soils and so can I.

Principle #5, I’ve already stated it and I’ll state it again.  The test, the evidence, of good soil is fruit.  What kind of fruit?  Well, the fruit is like the seed and the seed is the word of the kingdom, so the fruit will be the blossoms of the kingdom, the evidence that the kingdom of heaven is increasing in your life and you are being enculturated in the ways and with the principles of God and you are being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, being made like Him and being made fully.

Let me give you a clincher verse to wrap all this up and we’ll close this parable of the sower.  In the book of Kings God told Solomon to ask anything he wanted and God would give it.  1 Kings 3:9 KJV says that he asked for wisdom.  But he didn’t ask for wisdom.  That’s what I like about the New American Standard.  In the margin it gives the literal.  This is Solomon’s prayer, “Give Thy servant a hearing heart.”  Isn’t that something?  “Give thy servant a hearing heart.”  As we close these meditations on this parable of the sower, with the awful possibilities of our heart, can you pray in your heart to the Lord 1 Kings 3:9, “Give Thy servant a hearing heart.”  Oh, that we might be the good soil that gives unreservedly an openness to receive the seed of the kingdom!