Summary: We cultivate a responsive heart to God by obeying the truth.
My first pastorate was a rural church in northwest Oklahoma. A young man in the church returned from military service overseas. He brought his new bride to meet me. She was Irish. It was her first time in the U.S. I asked what impressed her about Oklahoma. She said it was the dirt. I was surprised. I asked what it was about the dirt that impressed her. She said it was red. I asked what color dirt was supposed to be. She said, “Black.”
Jesus tells a parable about different kinds of soil. This parable is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It’s often called the Parable of the Sower, but a more accurate name would be the Parable of the Soils. The setting for the parable is a little different in each gospel, but they use it for the same purpose. The point of the parable is to emphasize a responsive heart to the truth of God’s Word.
The parable describes four soils, but really it comes down to two soils. One soil is responsive. This is the person who acts upon the truth of God’s Word. He seeks to change and obey the Word. The other soil understands God’s Word but doesn’t seek to apply God’s Word. It is unresponsive.
When was the last time you were having a conversation with someone, but you weren’t paying attention? They are talking, you appear to be listening, but you are a million miles away. You’re thinking: I wish I’d stayed up one more inning for the first game of the World Series. You knew better. It was the longest first game in World Series history, and you went to sleep before it was over. Then you’re jolted out of your daydreaming when she says, “Are you listening to me?” You act like a man and say, “Yes, of course. I heard every word.” Technically you are right, but morally you’re a liar! This is what is happening in this parable.
In chapter three there is the impressive list of dignitaries, but to whom does the Word of God come? It comes to John the Baptist. Jesus returns to his hometown. He preaches a messianic passage and tells them that He is the Messiah. They reject Him. Jesus performs stunning acts of power by healing lepers and the handicapped. He exercises authority over demons, but the Pharisees refuse the obvious testimony of Jesus’ life and teaching. These are examples of unresponsive soil.
On the other hand, there is fruitful soil. Chapter one is Elizabeth, Zachariah, Joseph and Mary. In chapter two are the shepherds, the old man Simeon, and the old woman Anna. In chapter five is the calling of the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John. Levi, the tax collector, responds to the invitation of Jesus. In chapter seven the sinful woman is saved.
What is Luke doing? He is leading us to this parable to explain why some are responding to Jesus and some are not. The people you’d expect to embrace Christ are not. The people you’d expect to reject Christ are. Why? It has to do with the condition of their heart. Some are responsive like good soil to seed and others are unresponsive like bad soil.
His biblical text for supporting his teaching that there are different responses to the truth of God is found in Isaiah 6. Isaiah has his vision of God in the temple. He commits to obey God before he knows what God wants him to do. He has a responsive heart. The assignment God gives Isaiah is to preach God’s Word but know the people will not submit and obey. They are unresponsive soil. Jesus was saying what was true in Isaiah’s day was true in His day. It’s still true today. Some will hear God’s truth, and they will be changed by it. Others will hear the same message, but it won’t alter their attitudes or actions one wit.
As we study this parable the question is not, “Are you listening?” The real question is, “Are you responding to what you hear?” As I read the text, listen for the two kinds of soil: responsive and unresponsive.
(4) As a large crowd was gathering, and people were flocking to Him from every town, He said in a parable: (5) "A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the sky ate it up. (6) Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture. (7) Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. (8) Still other seed fell on good ground; when it sprang up, it produced a crop: 100 times what was sown." As He said this, He called out, "Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!"