Summary: The different soils in the Parable of the Sower reveal four different "soul" types.
Sowing the Seed
Rev. Brian Bill
An 80-year-old grandfather went to his daughter’s house for Sunday dinner. When the meal was over, he announced that he was going to take a walk through the neighborhood. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” he said. But two hours had passed before he finally returned. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “But I stopped to talk to an old friend and he wouldn’t stop listening.”
One of the keys to living the Christian life is to never stop listening to the Lord. We’re continuing in our summer series called “Practical Parables” and we’re focusing today on one of the most well-known stories of Jesus called, “The Parable of the Sower.” Actually, we could call it the “Story of the Four Soils.”
Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 13. We see in verses 1-2 that so many people crowded around Christ that he had to get into a boat in order to speak to those who stood on the shore. He sat down and in verse 3 we read: “Then he told them many things in parables.” This is actually the first recorded parable of Jesus and kicks off a whole series of simple stories in the rest of Matthew’s gospel. These stories, while easy to understand on one level, were sometimes difficult to grasp for those who weren’t prepared to ponder them. The word parable means “to lay beside” and has the idea of placing two things together in order to teach a spiritual truth. These super stories are like mental “time bombs” designed to be unforgettable and then to explode into meaning for those who are serious about listening to the Lord.
Drop down to verse 10 where we read that the disciples asked Jesus a question about this particular teaching method: “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Jesus answers them in verses 12-13: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’” In other words, the purpose of a parable is to both reveal and to conceal. To those who don’t stop listening and want to understand, the parables reveal amazing truths. On the other hand, parables are perplexing to those who refuse to listen. Notice verse 9: “He who has ears, let him hear.” Fortunately, we don’t have to guess about the meaning of this message because Jesus provides an interpretation for the disciples beginning in verse 18: “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means…”
Before we begin, let’s put this text in its cultural context. While He’s teaching, it was quite possible that there were some farmers out in their fields doing some planting. Jesus starts with something they can understand and moves to something they can’t comprehend. Look at verse 3: “A famer went out to sow his seed.” Everyone back then understood how seed sowing worked. A farmer would have a leather pouch across his shoulders filled with seed and would walk down paths in his field slinging the seed out, much like we do when planting grass seed. This seed would end up in all sorts of soil, some good, and some not-so-good.
Because we have a lot of farmers at PBC and many who are into gardening, let’s take a few minutes to discuss what conditions are best for getting a high yield. I’ll put two columns up here on the white board. Let’s start by talking about what leads to bad crops and then we’ll focus on how to have a good crop. [Go to white board]
Here’s how we’ll proceed today. We’ll take each soil in order in verses 4-8 and read what happened when the farmer sowed the seed. Then we’ll bounce over to verses 18-23 to see how Jesus ties each soil type to a “soul type.” These four soils represent four different responses to the Word of God. We’ll work at understanding with our heads and then listen with our hearts.
Because this is such a popular parable, we’re in danger of just skimming over the surface. Take a look at this visual Scripture reading. [Play video]
1. Spoiled Soil: A Hard Heart. Look at verse 4: “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” Fields in Palestine were small and were separated from one another by paths where the ground was beaten flat by all the people and animals that used them. The seed that hit this hard ground just laid there until the birds gobbled it up or was ground into the soil by sandaled feet. In our culture it would be like throwing grass seed on the sidewalk.