Summary: In his parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus shows us various kinds of spiritual heart trouble. From the story, we learn to share our faith indiscriminately, trust God to bring the growth, and cooperate with God in the growth he wants to bring in us.
Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23
Have you ever wondered why some seem to embrace God’s good news of salvation and others don’t? Have you ever wondered why God sends people to hell? Or maybe they send themselves there, as they reject the God who desires that all people be saved.
Jesus used a parable to talk about people’s varying receptivity to God’s word. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus knew, as the Master Teacher, that people pay attention to illustrations. Sometimes I can tell I’m losing you; you get that glazed over look! Then, I’ll start telling a story, and suddenly everyone tunes back in! Stories are powerful. They grip us. They grab our attention. And so it was in Jesus’ day.
A lot of Jesus’ stories have to do with farming, since he lived in an agrarian society. In today’s story, Jesus talks about seed and four different soils. Back then, farmers would throw out seed from a little pouch, hoping that some would grow.
Also in today’s passage, Jesus does something he doesn’t often do with his parables: he interprets its hidden meaning for his followers. He tells us, in the parallel versions from Mark and Luke (Mark 4:14; Luke 8:11), the seed is the word of God. The soil is the condition of our hearts, our inner life. It represents our receptivity to the gospel, the good news of God’s forgiveness. In three out of four of his examples, people definitely have heart trouble. Let’s briefly look at those three, and then we’ll consider the implications for us.
The seed sown along the path was eaten up by birds, which represent Satan, the evil one. In Jesus’ time, fields were surrounded by walking paths hardened and baked by the sun. Birds could easily find the seed and eat it up. Jesus says, in verse 19, these are people who have hardened hearts. The gospel never really penetrates below surface understanding, so Satan easily snatches it away.
Then Jesus talks about seed that falls on rocky places. There’s a little bit of soil on top of the rock, which leads to instant sprouting. But the soil is so shallow the plant cannot grow. Jesus says, in verses 20 and 21, this seed represents people who outwardly embrace the gospel with great fanfare, but their emotional, superficial commitment quickly withers away at the first sign of trouble because it has no depth. 1 John 2:19 describes these kinds of people as it says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
The third kind of person with heart trouble is represented by the seed sown among thorns. In verse 22, Jesus says the thorns represent the distractions of this world: peer pressure and wealth that come in and choke out any spiritual growth. This type of person never really breaks with their past. Worldliness and materialism choke out the word of God, and nothing changes in their life.
It reminds me of the young woman who received a proposal from her boyfriend: “Baby, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Porsche like Johnny Brown, but I love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then said, “I love you too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.” (from Chris Beam, “What Kind of Receiver Are You?”, in https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/what-kind-of-receiver-are-you-chris-beam-sermon-on-parable-of-sower-196194?ref=SermonSerps). There was some worldly distraction going on there.
And then, without much description or explanation, Jesus says some people have very fertile soil in their hearts, and they embrace the Word of God and see amazing growth, some 100-fold, some 60-, and some 30-.
So what are the big lessons as we think about those with and without heart trouble today? Here are some take-aways that grabbed me. First,
1. We need to share the good news with everyone. In the parable, the farmer throws the seed everywhere, not knowing in advance where it may sprout. Likewise, God calls us to share the good news of his love and forgiveness with everyone we encounter, sometimes with deeds, sometimes with words. As the famous quote goes, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
This was a revolutionary message for Jesus’ listeners, for they thought God’s word was reserved exclusively for the Jews. Yet, Jesus says in his parable that the seed goes out to everyone indiscriminately. If we’re honest, it is a challenging word for us today. Some people I have trouble believing God truly loves. Yet he does! That one person you despise the most—perhaps the face of a Muslim extremist; or maybe the face of your next-door neighbor—Jesus loves that person just as much as he does you. When we remember that, everything changes. We need to share the good news with everyone we meet. Next,