The Four Soils
The Four Soils
Luke 8:1 – 21
What will the seed do?
I heard this week of someone who went into a pet store and asked for a bag of birdseed. The very friendly shop assistant took them to the aisle where the birdseed was,
The customer chose a big bag, and as they walked back to the checkout, they asked the shop assistant, how long after I plant the birdseed, will the birds start to grow?
Well, in some ways it’s a fair enough question isn’t it? Though not one I’d recommend asking in your local pet store!
Normally we expect seed to be in the context of growing.
The point of a seed is what grows from it, what it leads to.
Which is exactly why Jesus tells this parable in Luke 8, about a farmer sowing seed in his field.
How will we be fruitful and mature?
Those of you who have been around our church for a while will have picked up that this year we’re thinking especially about how as a church we both make disciples of Jesus, as well as growing existing disciples to maturity, helping them be fruitful.
It’s not that in other years we haven’t wanted to do that, but it’s how we’ve chosen to focus our attention and evaluate what we should and shouldn’t be doing, this year,
Will a particular opportunity we’re faced with see people become disciples of Jesus, or help people who are disciples grow?,
And if not well, perhaps it’s not something that we should be investing in as a church.
The question is how.
How does someone become a disciple of Jesus,
How does someone grow to maturity as a follower of Jesus?
How can I be fruitful in my ministry?
Simply coming to church,
Or hanging around with Christian people,
Or being brought up in a Christian family,
Or having been regular in attendance at church once upon a time, doesn’t seem to be enough, doesn’t it?
And in fact, in Jesus’ parable, he tells us explicitly that none of those things are what makes someone a Christian,
Nor are those things, a guarantee of fruitfulness and effectiveness as a Christian.
And so if you know people who aren’t followers of Jesus, but you’d like them to be, and that might actually include yourself, this parable tells you exactly how that can happen.
And if you are a Christian, and you want to be fruitful, which I imagine most of us do, we tend not to want to be in-effective in anything, do we? Well, Jesus’ words here tell us where fruitfulness comes from.
We see from the beginning that there’s a crowd following Jesus.
There are some, who are committed to Jesus, The Twelve, there in verse 1, and these women, helping to support Jesus and his disciples out of their own means.
A few of you know Chris and Belinda Edwards who I used to work with at Trinity Hills Church. When they moved to Brussels, Belinda worked especially among the wives of men who had been moved to Brussels with work for a few years, then they’d be moved off somewhere else in the world,
And these wives called themselves “tag alongs”.
They just went wherever in the world work sent them.
Well these women aren’t “tag alongs”, are they? They’re the sponsors, the supporters, of this ministry, using whatever God has placed at their disposal, to ensure that the good news of the kingdom of God verse 1, can spread.
It’s a significant role, isn’t it?
Jesus is the one doing the proclaiming.
The twelve also, from what we read elsewhere, but the ones who enable it to happen?, this bunch of women, supporting the ministry out of their own means.
Socrates, Aristotle, the rabbis of the first century tended to hold women in pretty low regard.
But here we see how highly Jesus, and Luke value them. And in fact some of these women are trusted with the opportunity of being the very first witnesses and heralds of the resurrection.
the good news of the kingdom of God, is enabled to be heard, because of these women.
You might not think of yourself as much of a proclaimer,
You might find it hard to answer people’s questions,
Or even to explain your faith to others,
But maybe you’re an enabler, who can ensure that other people, maybe with different gifts, or who have current opportunities, you can give, and pray, and work to enable them to proclaim the good news.
You might not want to preach here on Easter Sunday. That’s OK. I’m quite happy to do that! I’m looking forward to it, even.
But maybe you can take some invitations to work, or class, or your street, and I promise, that when those people turn up at Easter, I will explain the good news of the kingdom of God,
And others here can have discussions with them, and answer their questions,
And that way together, we can see our region reached with the good news of Jesus.
So let’s listen to the story, and then spend some time thinking about what Jesus says about, remembering our question, how do people become disciples, and how do we be mature as disciples?
Probably most of us have heard it before,?
“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 ate it up.
6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.
8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
How do you come to understand God’s purposes? (v 10)
But before he explains this little story, Jesus says something about parables generally.
We saw a moment ago, that there are 2 types of people listening in;, there are people who are willing to hear and follow Jesus, and others who are just hanging around the edges.
Well, Jesus firms up the categories a bit, because he says there are 2 types of people who hear his parables.
See verse 10, Jesus says “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, and the you is emphatic there as Jesus emphasises that he’s talking to the disciples.
You, who follow me, Jesus says,
You who are responding to me, and to my teaching, and my ministry,
You who are giving up what you might claim as your own, for the sake of the kingdom of God and that others might come into it The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you.
Jesus is convinced, that The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God;,
An understanding of what God is on about, and what he’s doing in the world, is, given.
You don’t figure out, the secrets of the kingdom of God.
You don’t apply yourself,
And work diligently,
And bring all your skill to bear, on this subject until you finally master it.
An understanding of God’s plans and purposes, is something that is given to you by God.
So, if you have that understanding,
If you understand your sinfulness,
That you’ve rebelled against God,
That he created you, and you’ve ignored him,
If you understand that there’s a right and just penalty for that rebellion, that either you pay yourself, or someone else pays in your place,
And if you understand that Jesus pays that, then that understanding is a revelation from God, to you.
You didn’t figure it out. That’s God’s work, revealing to you.
Why do my kids get a sticker at school when they learn their times tables?
Because that comes by effort, and hard work.
Not so coming to know God’s plans and purposes.
Which should certainly guard us against any kind of feeling of superiority, shouldn’t it?
Have you ever come across Christians who have a, kind of moral superiority because they understand God’s purposes,
Because they’re following God’s pattern for life, but they kind of look down their noses at other people who don’t know that,
Have you ever met someone like that?
I certainly have, and it’s entirely unappealing, isn’t it?
It’s also entirely unjustified.
If you understand what God’s doing in the world,
His plans that centre on Christ,
If God’s pattern for life seems best to you, that’s only because God has revealed it to you.
No room for arrogance or superiority.
But the other side of what Jesus says here, is that if you don’t understand the secrets of the kingdom of God,
If none of the story of why Jesus came seems to make any sense to you,
If you don’t understand why Jesus would think you’re a sinner, when you’re a pretty good person,
Then the solution isn’t just to apply yourself more.
When my kids don’t understand their maths, that’s what we do. We just do more;, more times tables, more counting.
But this knowledge and understanding doesn’t come by working and effort.
This understanding is given.
I have a passcode to unlock my mobile phone. If you wanted to use my phone, you can’t unlock it without knowing that code.
There is no way you could figure it out, even if you know my birthday, and the name of my first pet and all that.
This knowledge and understanding can only be yours if I reveal it you. There’s no other way.
Actually, there is another way;, my children could tell you, because they know how to get into it!
You could just ask Jamie my son, and he’d probably tell you!
The point is, this knowledge, this understanding, can only be yours if it’s revealed to you.
So if you want to know it,
You need to ask God,
Ask God to make himself known to you,
Ask God to reveal to you, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom
What’s the point of a message that people don’t understand?
See, Jesus doesn’t teach in parables to make it easy for everyone to understand his meaning.
He teaches in parables so that some people won’t understand.
Now, this is probably not what you were taught in Sunday school!
Back then we were taught “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”
Which is, partly true I guess,
Or maybe you’ve heard somebody say like “Jesus taught in parables to make it easy for everyone to understand, which is not true at all, is it?!
Jesus taught in parables so that his meaning would not be clear to everyone.
See the little quote from Isaiah 6, Jesus teaches in parables to fulfil that!though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’
A parable is a filter. Do you remember your high school science classes? A filter lets some things through but not others.
It allows some light to pass but blocks other light, that kind of thing.
Jesus taught in parables so that some people wouldn’t understand what he was saying!
Not long after I became a pastor, I was standing at the door of the church that I was working at, having just preached my little heart out, and an old lady came up to me, leaned right in close, and, well, yelled at me, “I didn’t understand a word you said!”
Well, that took the wind out of my sails a bit, didn’t it?! Fortunately my boss was standing next to me and he reassured me that she said that every week to every preacher, and there didn’t seem to be much we could do about it!
But what’s the point of a message that people don’t understand!
Why does Jesus deliberately teach in such a way that people aren’t going to understand it?
Well, a parable reveals truth, but simultaneously conceals truth.
To the person who genuinely wants to follow Jesus,
And turn their ear to his teaching,
And listen to what he says,
And reflect on it, and consider it,
And change their own presuppositions and assumptions,
To somebody like that, a parable reveals a message from God.
But to someone who is content to simply let the story wash over them, a parable is just that, a simple story.
On the one hand there are people who think, “Jesus is speaking, this must be worth listening to. And so to those people, this particular parable teaches about effective and fruitful Christian growth.
But we probably also know people who think, “I’ve got it pretty much figured out when it comes to God,
How he should act,
What he should do,
What he should do for me”,
To the people who are clear in their own minds, what God ought to do for them, and if he did that I’d be happy to get involved in that,
To those people, this parable which teaches things that maybe they don’t expect, or they don’t like, they don’t understand.
And it’s not that Jesus is deliberately messing with people’s minds,
But people’s own minds,
The way they think,
They way they think of Jesus, and approach Jesus, that will determine whether they’re given understanding or not.
To those who are committed to Jesus and his teaching, parables teach something of how God works.
This one, in Luke 8, gives us an insight in the growth of the kingdom of God!
It tells us what we need to know to grow to fruitfulness and maturity.
And just like I said, actually you can find out my mystery, you can find out my passcode by going to my son,
It’s to God’s Son that we turn to learn the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.
The division between those who understand the parable and those who don’t, is equal to the division between those who come to Jesus, who are willing to have their lives turned upside down or right side up by him, and those who will not.
Jesus is the key to understanding the parables,
Jesus is the key, to having insight into the kingdom of God.
People make different responses to the Word of God (v11 – 15)
And what becomes clear in verses 11 to 15, is that people make different responses to the Word of God.
This is often called the Parable of the Sower, that’s the NIV paragraph heading.
But we could call this “the parable of the soils.”
It’s the soils where the distinction comes, isn’t it?
The farmer does the same thing in each time, the seed is the same, It’s the soils where the difference comes in;, different responses to the Word of God, to the message that Jesus brings.
So if you want to show off to other Christians how clever you are, always refer to this as The Parable of the Soils! That’s what I do!
We mustn’t think we’re too clever though, because in Matthew’s gospel account Jesus actually calls it the Parable of the Sower!
Anyway! The seed that the farmer spreads, is the word of God. God had spoken in the Old Testament about sowing his Word among his people.
And what’s Jesus been doing? Travelling throughout all the towns and villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God,
Jesus is the farmer in the story.
He’s the one scattering the seed.
But not only him. The language is so general, notice that the farmer doesn’t even appear in Jesus’ explanation, almost certainly Jesus means that this explains anyone who speaks God’s Word.
You, speaking to your friends of the hope that you have in Jesus, is explained in this parable. I don’t know whether you’ve thought that before.
When you’re handing out Easter invitations, in class, or at your workplace, and somebody asks you, “Why do you believe this stuff anyway?
What’s Easter all about?
Why does it matter that Jesus isn’t there, Easter morning, in the tomb?
Whatever part of the Easter story you manage to explain in your answer, if you’re anything like me,
Whichever bit of what the Bible says about Easter you get out,
Or if you recount the eye-witness testimony about the empty tomb, this is what you’re doing. Jesus pictures you, in his parable.
And remember how Jesus described the seed being sown, in the parable itself? Verse 5, As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path
Now, some of you have seen the Giant Russian sunflowers that we planted out the front of our house along the footpath, and some of you were even fortunate to have seem them in the few days between when they bloomed and when some passer-by attacked them with a stick and knocked all the heads off!
But when I planted them, with my kids, we were very deliberate. We poked a little hole with our finger, dropped in a sunflower seed,
Poked another little hole,
Dropped in the next seed, and so on.
That’s not the approach here, and so we know it’s not the way that Jesus wants us to think about the spread of the Word of God.
The picture is of scattering, a liberal spreading! More like me fertilizing the lawn than planting sunflowers.
And I think Jesus deliberately uses this language of scattering, to give us a sense of how he goes about proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, verse 1, and how we ought to speak the Word of God.
I think the point is that it’s not supposed to be a tiny bit here,
A tiny bit there,
Maybe this person deserved some,
Maybe that person over there is going to end up being super fruitful, so we’ll give them some.
No, it’s just, scattered.
The farmer in the parable gives no particular thought, as to where the seed should go and where it shouldn’t go, just that it’s all got to go!
The whole area needs to be covered.
If there’s dirt, put some seed down.
We could say, “if it’s a person and it’s breathing, put some seed down,
Speak the good news of Jesus.”
But as we’ve said, the point is that there are different responses to the Word of God.
You make know, the word parable just means “to put alongside”, and so each of these 4 types of soil is put alongside a particular type of person, so we can see what response that type of person makes.
The devil stifles belief (v 12)
So Those along the path, Jesus says, are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
The point is not, if you don’t believe the message about Jesus then you can just blame the devil.
Back in 2009 a 62 year old woman was arrested after stealing more than $70,000 from her church. She explained her actions, saying, “Satan had a big part in this theft.” Which, well, it’s true isn’t it?! But she also had a big part in the theft!
You can’t escape responsibility for responding to the Word of God by saving, “the devil made me do it, it’s not my fault.”
But this putting alongside, tells us that there are some, who never even consider the message of the kingdom that comes through Jesus.
And it reminds us of the reality that we face when we share the message of hope and forgiveness and reconciliation that we have in Jesus.
So yesterday a bunch of us delivered invitations to our Easter services. Now letterboxing and maybe a quick conversation, those are really just the very first steps of speaking God’s Word to someone, but even as far as that goes, we need to remember that there will be spiritual opposition to that. Satan hates people being invited here at Easter. Or any time for that matter.
The Devil longs to take away the Word of God, before any belief or anything like that.
If we’re not aware of that,
If we’re not ready for that kind of opposition when we speak the Word of God, we’re fooling ourselves, and we’re not seeing the whole picture.
If you don’t believe you’re in a spiritual battle whenever you speak the Word of God into someone’s life, then you haven’t heard Jesus parable.
Some, without root, fall away in times of testing (v 13)
Others though, hear, and believe, but fall away in times of testing because they have no root.
Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
We saw this on a huge scale in the storms in the second half of last year, didn’t we?
In the rain and the wind, whole trees tipped over, because their roots weren’t enough to hold them firm.
On the outside they looked perfectly fine, but their roots weren’t up to the task, and they were ripped up.
It’s exactly the same with some people,
They’ve believed, something,
But what they’ve believed has perhaps only just scratched the surface, because the Word of God hasn’t actually got down into their being.
Now, Jesus doesn’t use the categories that perhaps we’d like,
Are they are Christian?
Are they falling away?
Jesus doesn’t fill in the picture in those terms, but he says it’s possible to believe for a while, but not to the end. That is, there’s something that looks like faith, that’s not saving faith.
The word of God is heard, but it doesn’t penetrate, and so when faced with, the time of testing;,
The death of a loved one,
Because they haven’t taken the message into all of their being, or because they haven’t taken on, all of the message, they fall away.
This is the danger in trying to keep some part of my life untouched by the Word of God.
You know, “I’ll obey Jesus here,
I’ll let his Word seep down deep into this part of my life”, but you know like that garden edging you can get to keep your lawn out of garden beds, we erect garden edging around parts of our lives, to stop God’s Word seeping down deep in that part.
If God’s Word really takes root there, well, I’m going to have to make some changes,
For God’s Word to really take root in my life, that’s going to costs me, and so we resist,
We try and keep God’s Word, well, really, just in one of those little seedling pots, where it won’t ever get tangled up in anything else.
But hear the warning, if God’s Word hasn’t taken root in your life,
If you’re not convinced about God’s goodness and his sovereignty,
If you’re not convicted at the horrific seriousness of your Sin,
If you’re not persuaded by God’s pattern for life,
And drawn in to God’s purposes for his world,
If you’re not confident that what God holds in store for you and guarantees you by his Spirit, is better than whatever this life can offer, and cannot be taken away by whatever life throws at you, then when the time of testing comes, you will fall away.
Some fail to mature because of concern about comfort and money (v 14)
There are others, who don’t make it to the end, not because of the hardships of life, but because of things they think about, or even because of the good things of life.
Verse 14, The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
And here it’s the danger of worrying about things,
And the danger of pursuing things, the good gifts of life.
But these worries, riches and pleasures, they’re not like that super-duper weedkiller that you accidently spray on your favourite plant and 6 hours later it’s dead!
A plant being choked is a gradual process isn’t it?
2 things grow up together, but one gets bigger and bigger, gets more of the nutrients, and the other gets smaller, and smaller, until it dies away altogether.
I’m sure we all know people, who become irregular in their attendance at church,
They start to miss Bible Study Group every now and then,
They don’t prioritise reading God’s Word for themselves.
Then after a while, they’re away from church more often than they’re here,
You’re surprised when they turn up to Bible Study Group,
Their Bible at home never gets opened,
Because other priorities, have choked off the fruitfulness of the Word of God in their life, and they do not mature.
It’s not sudden,
It’s a process.
But maybe if, today we hear Jesus saying that that kind of faith is not saving faith, we’ll be more likely next time to step in,
To ask our friend, how they’re going,
What’s God teaching them through his Word?
How terrible to realise that you’ve stood by and watched your friends get choked off because of their concerns for comfort and money.
A good heart and perseverance lead to fruitfulness (v 15)
But finally we come to the one we want to be!
How do we get to maturity and fruitfulness?
How do we be certain we can be useful to Jesus?
Well, through hearing and persevering.
Verse 15, the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
The people represented by the other types of soil, they all hear the Word, don’t they?
The difference is these ones hear the Word with a noble and good heart.
They don’t tell God how he ought to act,
They don’t think the message of the kingdom is good for others but not for them,
These are the ones who first seek to have the Word of God change them, before bringing it to bear on others.
These are people who humbly listen to Jesus’ parables, in the expectation that God will speak to them.
And those who hear God’s Word like this, well, it has a deep effect, doesn’t it?
They retain it,
And ultimately are fruitful.
It’s not that those rocky soil ones are the only ones who face the time of testing, these believers face it too.
That’s the whole point of persevering! There’s no persevering if there’s nothing to persevere through!
It seems to me that the way to gain a faith that perseveres through difficult times, is to persevere through difficult times.
The fact that Jesus says that fruitfulness comes through persevering is your guarantee that tough times will come.
And so we must hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Your response to God’s word is what determines whether you’re a fruitful follower of Jesus or not.
See, it’s why down in verse 21, when somebody says, “Hey Jesus, you’re family’s here,
Those closest to you,
The ones you have most in common with, they’re outside wanting to see you.
Jesus says, “actually no, My mother and brothers,
Those closest to me,
The ones I have most in common with, are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
It’s almost exactly the same place as where the parable finishes.
What matters, more than anything else, is your response to the message of God’s kingdom that Jesus brings.
That matters, even more, than genetic relationship to Jesus. I reckon that if any of us had that, we’d probably think that counts for something, you know, great-great-great-great-great-uncle Jesus.
No, if you want to be in Jesus’ family tree, hear God’s Word, and put it into practice,
Receive it with a noble and good heart, and by persevering produce a crop.
Now Jesus doesn’t tell us what this crop is, but a crop is what naturally grows from the seed, isn’t it?
When I planted my sunflower seeds, I didn’t get peaches, I got sunflowers.
The crop is what the Word of God naturally brings forth in our lives.
Think of what elsewhere is called the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.
Maturity and Christ-likeness, that’s what the Word of God naturally grows in us, doesn’t it?
Fruit for the kingdom of God,
People coming to salvation,
Glory being given to God,
Jesus probably has all those things in mind, and he wants us to bear them, by responding to God’s Word.
How do you not waste your life?
Be one of those, with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
How do you grow to maturity?
How do you become fruitful?
Be one of those, with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.