THE SOWER, THE SEED AND THE SOIL
Scott Bayles, pastor
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, Illinois
In 1886, after the state of Georgia passed prohibition laws, a young man name John Pemberton invented a carbonated non-alcoholic beverage which he thought would appeal to Americans given the prohibition against alcohol. It was marketed as a “soft drink” as opposed to hard liquor and contained a mixture made from coca beans and cola beans, which inspired the name Coca-Cola. John first started selling the soft drink in pharmacies in his home town of Atlanta Georgia, but he had a much grander vision for his invention. He had a dream that within 100 years every person on the face of the earth would have tasted the soda he created. He didn’t quite reach his goal, but I’d still say he was pretty successful, wouldn’t you? Today it is estimated that…
• 51% of the all the people living in the world today have actually tasted Coca-Cola
• 72 % have at least seen a can or bottle of Coke
• 97%, if they haven’t seen or tasted it, have at least heard of Coca-Cola
On the other hand, only an estimated 73% of the world today has heard of Jesus Christ and I guarantee you—a whole lot fewer have actually tasted what he has to offer. I wonder how different things might be if Christians were as passionate about sharing their faith as John Pemberton was about sharing his soft drink—if we tried as hard as he did to put Bibles instead of bottles in the hands of people all over the world?
It’s not easy to share your faith though, is it? Maybe you’re just not an extroverted person. Neither am I. Maybe you don’t know what you’re supposed to say or how to broach the subject. And, of course, there is always the fear of rejection. What if they’re offended? What if it turns into an argument? What if I ruin an otherwise perfectly good friendship?
I wonder if Jesus’ followers had the same questions running through their minds. They lived under a very strict religious order and to deviate from the accepted norm was, well, unacceptable. They must have worried at times about what to say, if they were qualified to say it, and how people might react to them when they did say something. So one day, Jesus left the synagogue to go teach outdoors. He climbed into rough, rickety little boat, tied it to a stake and let it drift just a few feet from the shoreline. Soon, swarms of people gathered on the beach and sat in the sand to listen to Jesus teach. Among those listening were his closest followers and I believe Jesus wanted to give them a bit of comfort and assurance about sharing their faith in him. So he told them the same parable that I’m about to read to you:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown… He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:5-8 NIV)
Jesus used many illustrations, or parables, when teaching the crowds. Parables are short stories that use familiar scenes and everyday objects and relationships to explain spiritual truths. A parable compares something unfamiliar with something familiar. It compels listeners to discover truth, while at the same time concealing the truth from those too lazy or too stubborn to see it. Later, when they were alone, Jesus would explain the meaning of the seed and the soils to his disciples, but before we talk about those parts of the parable, we have to talk about the sower.
• THE SOWER
Jesus began his story by saying, “A sower went out to sow his seed” (vs. 5 NKJV). Without the sower there wouldn’t be a story. In fact, even though preachers always tend to focus on the four types of soil, Jesus actually calls this “the parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:18), because it all begins with him. So who is the Sower? It’s Jesus. This story is actually about Jesus himself. It’s about Jesus coming into our world and sharing God’s message of love and forgiveness and redemption. It’s about Jesus reaching into the hearts of human beings and planting a seed that has the potential to grow into something wonderful.
That’s the first thing we need to understand when it comes to outreach or witnessing. It’s about him! We don’t share a religion or an ideology or a philosophy. We share a person. We share Jesus! And even though Jesus is the Sower in the story, each one of us who accepts Jesus as our Savior also accepts the responsibility of becoming sowers in his field.
Dwight L. Moody once told the story of a violent storm on Lake Erie. On a dark stormy night, Moody recalled, when the waves rolled like mountains and not a star could be seen, a boat neared the Cleveland harbor, rocking and plunging in the waves.
Seeing the light from the lighthouse, the Captain called out to the pilot “Are you sure this is Cleveland?”
“Quite sure, sir,” the pilot replied.
“Where are the lower lights?” the Captain asked.
“Gone out, sir,” came the pilot’s reply.
“Can you make the harbor?” the Captain inquired hopefully.
“We don’t have any other choice, sir.”
So with a strong hand and a brave heart, the old pilot guided the boat, but in the darkness he missed the channel and crashed into the rocks. The boat was slivered and entire crew lost their lives that night.
Inspired by that true story, Phillip Bliss wrote the enduring hymn, Let the Lower Lights be Burning. The opening stanza proclaims, “Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from his lighthouse evermore, but to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.” Jesus may be the everlasting light, but we are no less the light of the world—guiding people to him.
We have to be willing to go out into the field and sow the seeds of grace and mercy and love. We have to be willing to talk with people about Jesus because, if we don’t, no one else will.
You now, when an unknown author named John Grisham wrote a book titled A Time To Kill, it only sold about five thousand copies. It wasn’t advertised, never made a best-seller list and it was never even reviewed by anybody. It was sort of a flop.
Then he wrote The Firm, and it wasn’t advertised either. It was hardly reviewed, and the reviews it got weren’t very good. But people read it and liked it and told other people they liked it and The Firm ended up selling seven million copies.
Today John Grisham has written dozens of other books, and has had multiple number one best-sellers, and it’s not because of advertising or because of the publisher’s clever marketing plan; rather, it was because a handful of people liked the book and they told other people, until millions of his books had been sold.
Christians are people who like Jesus. They’ve experienced him, and so they tell somebody else. It doesn’t take a newspaper ad. It doesn’t take a review in a magazine. Witnessing is just people who love Jesus and have experienced him, telling other people, until it has spread to thousands and millions and tens of millions and hundreds of million and more.
Okay, so maybe you’re willing to follow in Jesus footsteps and sow the seeds of faith in the people around you, but you just don’t know what to say. Lucky for us, Jesus tells us when he explains the meaning of the seed.
• THE SEED
When Jesus later pulls his disciples aside and explains the meaning of this story to them, he says, “This is what the story means: The seed is God’s message” (NCV). The seed is the gospel—the Good News! The apostle Paul even explains: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NLT).
When God’s message of love and grace penetrates a believing heart, time and eternity are forever changed for that person. But what is God’s message to humanity? If witnessing to others involves sharing God’s message, can you do that? If you had just five minutes to explain the Good News of God’s message, could you do it? Do you know it?
There are a lot of methods people have come up with for effectively sharing their faith. In fact The Way of the Master, Ray Comfort’s and Kirk Cameron’s ministry even offers a brilliant training course for witnessing to total strangers. But when it comes to sharing God’s message—explaining the gospel in a simple and concise way—I don’t think anything is better than John 3:16. Not only is John 3:16 the most well known and beloved passage of Scripture, but within this single verse we discover all we need to known about the Good News and how it relates to us. It begins with God, ends with life, and urges us to do the same! John 3:16 is the North Star of the Bible, a 26 word parade of faith, hope, and love. If you are going to share God’s message with an unchurched person who knows nothing of the Bible, this is the place to start. Within this verse we find four immovable truths that can be distilled into eight simple words—think of them as four points on a compass.
Fist, God loves. The verse begins, “For God so loved the world…” If those words are true, it changes everything, doesn’t it? Imagine what the world would be like without God’s love. A dark planet hurtling through space unguided, undirected. No hope. No future. But God does love the world! We see it in every sunrise… every blade of grass… every fountain of water… every birth… every child’s face. Max Lucado writes, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart...” God loves.
And at the opposite side of the compass, God gives. John 3:16 says that God loves us so much “that he gave his one and only Son…” That sounds strange to some people. So many people in the world respect the teachings of Jesus. They admire his example. But no matter how they turn it around, they can’t see any significance in his death. But the fact is—we fall short and our shortcomings (sin) separate us from God. That’s where Jesus comes in. He determined to build a bridge with an old rugged cross. He gave himself. God gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, to bring salvation to the world through his death.
Then, on the west side of the compass, we believe. John 3:16 says that God gave his Son “so that whoever believes in him shall not perish…” No other religion offers what Jesus promises. Jesus calls us to do one thing: believe! It’s not because of who I am, but because of who he is. It’s not because of what I’ve done or will do, but because of what he has already done! And all he asks is for us to put our trust in him, and him alone!
Finally, on the last point of the compass, we live. The promise of John 3:16 is that whoever believes in him will “have eternal life.” What a promise! Countless legends tell of the search for the secret to immortality, but the truth is—it’s right here. Can you imagine what it will be like to walk beside God? To be surrounded by his glory? To stand in his presence? Imagine exploring the depths of God’s love, wisdom, and holiness. Imagine forever growing in our capacities to fathom his immensity, immutability, and incomprehensibility. Eternal life brings with it infinite possibilities.
God loves. God gives. We believe. We live. That’s the gospel. That’s the Good News. That’s God’s message to a world desperately in need of a Savior! Is that simple enough? Can’t you explain that to anyone? Any where? Any time?
And once you’ve shared that simple message, if they’re interested in more, point them to the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—especially, John. Unlike any other book of the Bible, John was written for one specific purpose: “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then, by believing, you may have life through his name” (John 20:31 NCV). When the seed of God’s word is planted in a sincere heart, God will cause that seed to grow and flourish. God will give it life.
There is one last piece to this parable, though. And that is the soil.
• THE SOIL
Explaining the meaning of the story to his disciples, Jesus says:
The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. (Luke 8:12-15 NLT)
There are a whole lot of reasons not be a follower of Jesus. Some people just reject the message of Christ altogether. Some think it’s a great bed-time story, but it’s just not relevant to their lives. Others may see the relevance, but the pressures of life and the pursuit of money or entertainment are just a bit more important to them.
In the story, the farmer sows the seed on all kinds of soil, seemingly indiscriminately. No wise farmer would sow seed in thorns or on a footpath, would he? Is he just careless, wasteful, or stupid? No—in ancient times, farmers knew that some of the soil would be unproductive, but in order to get the best possible coverage, they willingly and liberally scattered the seed on it anyway.
Just like those farmers, God allows his words and his love to fall on many who will not receive it. And yet he is still willing to pour out his grace upon them. God knows the high potential of this seed. Christians sometimes tend to pull back from those who are uninterested or even just different—but God doesn’t. In God’s eyes, he’d rather be rejected nine out of ten times, than to miss the one who would accept him.
Even though God’s message to humanity will meet rejection more often than not, there are still “honest, good-hearted people” who will listen—who are eager to hear about God’s love and willing to put their faith in Jesus.
Kent R. Hunter, in his book Moving the Church into Action, say that there are at least six major occasions when people will be more open to Christians who desire to share the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ with them.”
1. When people move to a new community, they tend to be open to new things.
2. When people are changing jobs or careers they are more open to other changes.
3. People who have visited the church in the past are more open, b/c they feel a familiarity.
4. People who are friends of new members are often more receptive.
5. People who have been helped by the church are more open to an invitation.
6. Economic difficulties tend to create a spiritual openness in people.
At time like these an “honest and good heart” is at it’s most fertile. Easter’s right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to start inviting people to church. According to a nation-wide survey, of people who are not regular church-goers, fifteen percent said that they would go to church if someone they knew invited them. Fifteen percent. That means you may have to invite ten people to get one yes, but to that one—it’ll mean all the difference for time and for eternity.
So who do you know that you haven’t invited to church? Who do you know that you’ve never shared God’s message with? God loves. God gives. We believe. We live. It really is that simple. People need to know. We need to tell them. Let’s sow some seeds together.
If you haven’t given your life to Jesus already, just know that God gave his one and only Son so that we could live forever with him. Apart from him we die. With him we live. Choose life. Choose Jesus!