The Parable of the Soils: Matthew's Perspective - Part 2

Matthew 13:1-23

Tom Pennington  •  January 25, 2009
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We're taking a little break from our study in the Book of Ephesians and looking at the Parable of the Sower or the Parable of the Soils in Matthew13, which is where I invite you to turn with me again this morning as we continue to look at this most important of parables. Jesus said to His disciples that if you don't understand this parable, you don't understand the rest of His parables. It's foundational for us to grasp, and so we're studying it together.

Let me just remind you of the story itself. You follow along as I read it. Matthew 13, beginning in verse 1,

That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and chocked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.

Jesus said think deeply about, consider this story that I have told, because the truth doesn't lie on the surface, it lies beneath. Now to fully understand this parable you have to remember what else happened on that day. Just a few hours before, Jesus had healed the demon-possessed man. As a result of that, some of the Jewish people began to wonder if, in fact, He was the Messiah. Because of their jealousy and their envy of Christ the religious leaders, when they heard the people begin to think of Jesus possibly as being the Messiah, immediately accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub himself, in other words of being in league with Satan.

Just a short time later, still on the very same day before Jesus gave this parable, Jesus' mother and His brothers show up at the house where Jesus was teaching because they think He has lost His mind. Those two encounters on the same morning that Jesus gives this parable leave two huge questions in their wake. Why did the spiritual leaders of the Jewish nation reject Jesus their Messiah and His message? And why did Jesus' own family, prior to His death and resurrection, refuse to believe in Him? And how is it that some of those who attached themselves to Jesus during His earthly ministry, called themselves for a time His disciples, later turned away? How does all of that happen?

In this parable Jesus explains. He explains why not everyone believes the good news and why it is that even some of those who appear to believe don't truly become His permanent followers. It's a very important parable. It's usually called the Parable of the Sower, and that's because that's what Jesus calls it down in verse 18. But as we have seen by Jesus' own design, the focus of this parable is not the sower, it's not the seed. The focus of this parable is the soil, the condition of the soil on which the seed falls.

The parable is divided into two parts. There's the story itself in verses 3-9. This was told publicly to a large crowd of people. And then there's the interpretation of the story in verses 18 to 23. Jesus later explained what He meant privately to His disciples, as the other gospels that record this account make it clear. Last time we looked at the story itself, verses 3-9. Essentially in this parable you have a farmer or a sower. You have some wheat seed, which is what would have been planted up in Galilee in the first century, and you have four different kinds of soils on which that seed falls. And the focus is the soils.

Today, I want us to move from the story itself to Jesus' explanation, the interpretation given to us by our Lord Himself in verses 18-23. Notice what Jesus says to His disciples privately in verse 18, "Hear then the parable of the sower." Let me explain to you what it is I meant. Now remember, Jesus had told the story along with a number of parables from a small boat that had been anchored just off the shore there south of the city of Capernaum, which was His hometown. It's a perfect area and there's a large field, the Plain of Gennesaret is this huge plain, where there are still, if you stand there today, there are still fields covered with various kinds of produce. And it would have been so in the first century. So, He tells the story from the boat, but it's clear in both Mark and Luke that it was later after Jesus had finished teaching the crowds that His disciples came to Him and inquired in private what this story meant.

Here is Jesus' explanation to them and to us of what He meant. First of all, notice that Jesus defines the seed. He interprets what the seed is. Verse 19, He identifies the seed as the word of the kingdom, the word of the kingdom, or the word about the kingdom. The kingdom of course is the spiritual kingdom over which Jesus rules, the hearts of everyone who embrace and believe in Him, that's His spiritual kingdom. And so, He's talking about what it means to come into right spiritual relationship with Him. It's the message about the spiritual kingdom over which He rules. Mark calls it "the word" and Luke refers to the seed as the "word of God." So, the seed then is the word of God and especially the message about the kingdom or the good news about how to get into Jesus' kingdom, the gospel.

It's fascinating to me, by the way, that Jesus here compares the word of God to a seed, because a seed is such a powerful thing. I read quite a bit about seeds this week, and I'm not going to share it all with you. I just want to remind you of the reality that in that tiny seed lies all of the information necessary, all of the nutrients for that embryonic plant to grow and develop into the full plant. It's incredible what God has designed in that little seed, and it's also amazing that Jesus likens the word of God to that seed. It falls into the heart, and everything it needs to thrive and grow and produce fruit is locked within that tiny seed.

Jesus then mentions the sower. He calls it the Parable of the Sower, you'll notice in verse 18. In none of the three gospels that record this story does Jesus tell us who the sower is. Now later, in the Parable of the Tares, down in verse 37, a different parable, He says the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, so in that parable Jesus Himself is the sower and certainly Jesus sowed as well. But all the gospels leave it purposefully generic, in fact, look at how verse 19 puts it here in Matthew, "… when anyone hears the word of the kingdom…." This implies that the sower is anyone who sows the word. Sowing takes place when anyone teaches or explains the message of Jesus or the message about Jesus to someone else. So, ultimately then, the sower is any Christian who is sowing the seed, and, of course, it includes Christ Himself as the one after whom we are named.

Now that brings us to the major component in the story. The sower is any Christian sowing the seed, anyone taking the word of God and explaining it to others, sharing it with others. The seed is the word itself and specifically the message about how to get into Christ's kingdom, or the gospel.

That brings us to the focus of this story and that is the soils. The focus of the story is the condition of the soil on which the seed falls. So, what are these soils? What do they represent? Look at verse 19, Jesus tells us. He says, "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand …" [and then look at the rest of the verse] "the evil one … snatches what has been sown" [underline the words] "in his heart." "sown in his heart." The seed is sown on the soil, and the soil is nothing less than the human heart. So, the soil is the heart. And the four soils on which the seed falls in Jesus' story represent four different kinds of hearts, four different kinds of heart responses to the truth and specifically, the truth of the gospel message. The seed, always the same, but the results depend on the condition of the heart in which the seed falls. So, let's listen to Jesus explain why different people respond differently to the gospel.

Last time we looked at the hard soil, and the hard soil produces the first kind of heart. It is the "unreceptive heart," the unreceptive heart. Verse 19, "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road."

You remember last time we noted that small paths separated one owners' field from another in a typical large area where produce was grown. Farmers, their animals, travelers, would use those paths day in and day out, so those footpaths became exceptionally hard packed with use. And as the farmer sowed, whatever method he used to sow his seed, some of the seed landed out of the tilled area that he had prepared and on one of these paths. And of course, because that soil had not been prepared, because it was hard packed with human and animal traffic, the seed couldn't penetrate the ground. It wasn't covered with earth and so what happened, happened naturally. Immediately the birds would have swooped down and devoured those seeds.

Jesus says this is like when someone hears the gospel and doesn't understand it. Now don't misunderstand that expression. This does not mean that he doesn't grasp the words or the concepts. Jesus' hearers understood most of what He said in the first century. It does mean that while they would hear it, and while they grasped the basic words and concepts, they don't really get it. They don't really grasp it in a life changing way. For whatever reason, the seed, the word, doesn't penetrate the heart because it's hard. It's unreceptive. So, this person hears, but he refuses to think about it. He refuses to consider it. He rebuffs that seed, it never penetrates his heart.

Luke describes it like this, "Those beside the road are those who have heard, then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart so that they will not believe and be saved." The seed of the gospel falls, but because they have an unreceptive hard heart they rebuff it, they refuse to consider, refuse to think about it and immediately then the seed goes away. This, by the way, is the normal human condition. This is how every human being is naturally. Ezekiel 36, you remember, refers to us as having hearts of what? Stone. By nature, we have hearts of stone, and God says I'm going to have to give them hearts of flesh that'll receive the truth.

In Romans, 3, Paul has that lengthy indictment of humanity and remember what he says? He says in that list, "there is no one who understands." There is no individual that lets the word of God penetrate. We all by nature have hard, unreceptive hearts. Soil, of course, is not responsible for being hard and unreceptive to the seed, but people are. When a person's heart is hard to the gospel, it is because, listen carefully, that person has hardened his own heart against the truth.

Consider Zachariah 7:12. God says this about the children of Israel, "They made, they made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord had sent by the prophets." We make our hearts hard. And Satan takes advantage of that. Notice what Jesus says here, "The evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart." The evil one Mark tells us is Satan, Luke tells us is the devil. So, we're talking about the archenemy of God. When the seed is sown and the heart is intentionally hard and resistive and unreceptive, Satan comes immediately and snatches that seed away so that there's no hope of it penetrating. How does he do that? Oh, an infinite number of ways: distractions, something going on immediately following the hearing of the word of God, some other thought comes into mind. There are countless ways Satan can snatch away what has been sown.

By the way, the word "snatch" is a word of violence. He comes and steals it. Before they can think about it, before they can contemplate it, before it can lead them to believe, Satan comes and violently seizes it and snatches it away. In the first century, the hard-hearted ones, the unreceptive ones, were the scribes and the Pharisees who just earlier that day had accused Jesus of being in league with Satan himself; Jesus' own family, His brothers, who thought He was out of His mind.

Today, the "unreceptive heart" takes many different forms.

It can be the "proud moralist," the moral person who is filled with pride and self-righteousness, whether within the church or outside the church, who needs nothing from God because he's making it fine on his own thank you.

The "indifferent person" who just doesn't care, apathy. I just am uninterested. I've got too many important things to do to care about the truth.

The "unconvinced," I just don't know if Jesus is who He claimed to be or if Christianity is what it claims to be, or that offers, in fact, what it claims to offer.

Those into "false religion," those who create their own designer religion, which is becoming increasingly popular.

There are any number of ways that a hard heart in our culture expresses itself. Some of those who are unreceptive have only rarely heard the gospel. Others who are unreceptive and have hard hearts grew up in the church and heard the gospel almost every Sunday. Many of them still come to church for various reasons. They sit and do their best not to really listen.

Listen, if you have a "hard heart," if you are unreceptive to what Jesus taught and is teaching even through His word today, then you ought to be afraid. You ought to be very afraid. Because Jesus Himself said, He told the Jews who were hard-hearted in the first century, listen, there's going to come a time when you will seek Me, and you will not find Me and you will die in your sins. Some people have hearts that are hard like those footpaths surrounding the first century field that will not let the word penetrate, refuse to think about it, let's talk about something else. They're utterly unreceptive.

There's a second kind of heart. It's the "superficial heart," the superficial heart. Notice verse 20,

"The one on whom the seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away."

Now remember, rocky here represents a common problem in Israel, beneath what looked like good soil might be a large outcropping of limestone rock, limestone bedrock. So, the seed would have been sown in this earth, would have been covered so the birds couldn't get it, but the soil was very shallow, just a thin layer of top soil. And because of that small amount of earth, as the sun came out would have created a sort of hothouse environment for that seed, and it would have sprung up immediately because it had so little earth, and that soil was so much warmer than the rest of the field, warmed by the sun and the bedrock beneath it. And it would have caused those seeds to spring up. They would have looked like the best and potentially the most productive seeds in the entire field. But eventually the rainy season would begin to subside, and the hot desert winds would begin, and these plants that looked so healthy and so promising are scorched and begin to dry out and eventually they die.

Jesus says this is like the person who hears the word and immediately receives it. He hears the gospel message, and he comprehends it, and he accepts it as true, factually true, and he responds to that truth emotionally. Jesus said he responds with joy. This person may have a highly emotional experience. There may be weeping and crying and thrills of joy. A dramatic event as this person receives the seed, receives the message. But what does it mean, "He receives the message?"

Well, Luke in his parallel account puts it like this, "They believe for a while." They believe for a while. Now the rest of Scripture is clear that a person who truly believes never stops believing, so in the case of this rocky soil, this belief must be something that falls short of true saving faith. In fact, Matthew and Mark call it "temporary" faith. Did you see that? It's temporary. Why? Because he has no firm root in himself. In other words, the plant that begins to grow doesn't sink its roots deep into the person's heart. It never penetrates fully down into the heart. It is a superficial response to the gospel. This is a shallow heart. The gospel looks wonderful to this person. The gospel looks attractive. The gospel looks appealing. They respond emotionally to it. In some cases, this person looks at the gospel for what they can get out of it. It'll fix my marriage. It'll improve my life. It'll grow my business. It'll make me more successful. Well, okay, then maybe I'll try Jesus.

So, what happens? Well that kind of faith, the kind of faith that's about what you can get out of God, is at best temporary. Why? Because God hasn't promised that our lives will be free of trouble and pain and difficulty, and so when the person runs into that, guess what happens, "wait a minute, I didn't sign up for this!" Verse 21, "when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away." The word "affliction" here means pressure. In most cases in the New Testament this word is used to identify those external pressures that are a part of life in this world. It's the distress caused by real hardships in life. But there's something else that can reveal the superficial heart, not just really hard times, trials and difficulties and pressure, but notice, "persecution because of the word." According to the New Testament this includes insults, loss of position or wealth, loss of friends and family and the extreme cases, even physical abuse or death.

So, affliction or trouble and persecution come and this person, who has at first responded well, "falls away." What does it mean to fall away? Well, the Greek word that's translated "falls away" here is a word that you'll recognize, "scandalidzo" trouble and persecution scandalizes this person. The word which they once received with joy and an emotional experience becomes an offense and a cause of stumbling. One Greek lexicon defines it like this: To scandalize or to cause someone to fall away is to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey, "desertion." Although for a time he looked like the real thing, when trouble or persecution comes, it become obvious that this person was never a believer at all. The seed never sunk deep into the heart, took real root.

You see this in the New Testament. You see it in Matthew, in fact, just in this chapter, look over in 13:57. Jesus goes back to Nazareth, and there He taught them, verse 54 says, "in their synagogue and they were astonished" and yet, at the same time they said, wait a minute, who does this guy think He is? We know Him, we know His family. Verse 57, "And they took offense at Him." They were scandalized by Him. And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in His hometown, and in His own household. And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief."

Turn over to John 6, there's another picture of what this looks like. In John 6, there are those who would attach themselves to Jesus as His disciples, who called themselves His followers, His disciples, but in fact were like this shallow, superficial soil. John 6, Jesus teaches and He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and of course He qualifies that by saying the words that I'm speaking to you are spiritual, so He wasn't talking about eating His literal body and drinking his literal blood, He was talking about partaking of Him in a spiritual sense, but verse 60, or go back to verse 59,

"These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore," [as a result of these things,] "many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it? But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumble at this, said to them, "Does this cause you," "[to be scandalized," ]"to stumble?"

It did. Look down at verse 64. Jesus says, "But there are some of you who do not believe." Who was He talking to? He was talking to His disciples, that is those who had attached themselves to Him, who called themselves His disciples. "There's some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were, plural, who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. So, He lumps some of His disciples together with Judas. Jesus knew there was a group of those who had attached themselves to Him, who weren't really His followers.

Verse 65, "And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him" you can't really become my follower unless it's been granted to you … [by God,]["As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." Here's the superficial heart: it receives the word with joy, an emotional experience, isn't this great? I love Jesus! Then trouble, persecution comes and the plant that had begun to grow, dies. Judas Iscariot is another example. For three and a half years he looked like the real thing. So much so that when he left the room on the night of the last supper, not one person suspected that he was, in fact, the betrayer. He preached, he traveled with Jesus, he was enthusiastic in his support of Jesus, but when he saw that this kingdom thing wasn't exactly going to work out like he had planned, he wanted out. He was scandalized, and he turned on Jesus. I've seen this myself, as you probably have.

When I was in high school, my freshman year of high school, there was a student a couple of grades older than I was who was an absolute pagan and had that reputation. But he was well liked, He was a great football player and quite the ladies' man. My freshman year in high school he had this dramatic conversion experience. I mean absolutely dramatic. To all observers it was the real deal. He came and gave his testimony, and he cried and he wept and talked about the change in his life. He went to every Bible study that occurred. He was zealous. He shared his faith. But within a year's time he had left all of that and was living exactly as he had before. He had a superficial heart. Sadly, there are many people who make a profession of faith in Christ; and then trouble and hardship comes or persecution, and they reject the message that they once received with such joy. Some hearts are "completely unreceptive," others are "superficial."

But there's a third kind of response to the message of Christ. It's the "preoccupied heart," the preoccupied heart. It would have been in October or November of the year that the farmer would have prepared his field for planting. He would have pulled out all the weeds and the thorns that he could see and then plowed the field, but the roots of the weeds and the thorns that were there from the previous year would have been deeper than his plow could cut. In addition, all those seeds, just as they do in your yard and in mine, all those seeds that those weeds and thorns had spread in the previous growing season were still there, in the soil, waiting for the growing season to begin. So, some of the good seed would have been sown into ground that was already infested, either with the roots of thorn bushes or with the seeds from thorn bushes, and in a few weeks the farmer was growing a mixed crop. And wherever those thorns were, wherever he hadn't completely eradicated them and their seed, what you would have over time is the wheat being gradually choked out by these thorn plants.

Look at verse 22 and Jesus' explanation of this kind of heart, "And the one on whom the seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." In other words, the seed of the gospel falls into this heart, and this person also responds favorably. This heart also appears to accept it, and the plant begins to grow, looks like it's going to be the real thing. But this heart has thorns that begin to grow at the same time, and eventually those thorns choke out the gospel.

Growing up in the south, I had a constant reminder of this point that Jesus was making, a graphic illustration. It was in a scourge that now covers much of the south called kudzu. Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the U.S. in 1876 by some well-meaning soul who can be glad he doesn't still live. For 75 years it was promoted. In fact, from the 1930s through the early 1950s, the soil conservation service encouraged farmers to plant kudzu to help with soil erosion. But then, as you and I can see today, it literally began to take over. So, in 1953, what for 30 years farmers had been encouraged to plant as a way to keep the soil from eroding was identified as a pest weed. And kudzu is truly amazing. It can grow on average up to 60 feet in one growing season. That averages, are you ready for this? 12 inches a day. You really can see it growing. And it completely chokes out everything else, everything in its path. You can ride down the interstate, and you can see over on the side that it has literally covered acres and is choking the life out of everything else.

That's what Jesus is describing here with the preoccupied heart. D. A. Carson writes in his commentary, "This person simply never permits the message to control him. Life has too many other commitments that slowly choke the struggling plant, which never matures and never bears fruit."

So, what exactly are these thorns that choke the gospel out of this "preoccupied heart?" Well notice Matthew lists two. He says, "the worry of the world," literally, the worry of the age. This person's mind is distracted and preoccupied with the cares that are part of living in this age. And gradually, over time, the message of the gospel and their initial attraction to it slowly dies, choked out by all of the worries that go along with life; worries like careers, and mortgages, houses, cars, etc., etc., etc.

Matthew also identifies another kind of "thorn." It's "the deceitfulness of riches," the deceitfulness of riches, of wealth. This is either not having wealth and wanting it or having it and desperately wanting to keep it and to grow it. As one of the world's richest men was asked, "How much money is enough?" His response was, "Just one more dollar." That's the deceitfulness of riches. First Timothy 6, Paul describes this to his young son in the faith. He tells him this in 1 Timothy 6:9,

… those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Here's the "thorny heart." In his parallel account, Luke adds one other distraction, one other preoccupation, "the pleasures of this life." The pursuit of personal pleasure can choke out the gospel. It may be illicit, sinful pleasure found in drugs or alcohol or sex, or it may be legitimate pleasure, pursued to such an extreme that it crowds out and chokes out everything else. You know it's interesting, with the rocky soil it takes only one hot day. One sirocco off the desert, and the plant withers and quickly dies.

But with the distracted, preoccupied heart the process is a much slower one, almost imperceptible. The spiritual interest is slowly choked out over time. There's no dramatic repudiation of the faith, instead the seed of the gospel just slowly dies in the heart. Occasionally, this kind of person will stop claiming to be a Christian altogether. Sometimes they will openly repudiate Christ and the Christian faith, but most of the time, listen carefully, most of the time, the seed that died years before, in spite of that, these people still claim to be Christians, because there was a time, and they'll even use language similar, there was a time when they were receptive, when they were very enthusiastic for spiritual things. They may go to church. They may still be active to some degree. They may still profess faith in Christ, but because of a "preoccupied heart," the seed died long ago and they're just going through the motions.

Listen, left to grow in the heart, the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life can choke out the beginning signs of spiritual life and notice verse 22, the result, "It becomes unfruitful." That's the key. The wheat plant never bears wheat. It never bears fruit. It never produces. They hear the Bible, but it never produces any change. It's like in Ezekiel's time. Turn with me, in fact, to Ezekiel:33, I want you to see this. Ezekiel 33:30. Israel's about to be carried captive. God says this to Ezekiel, verse 30 of Ezekiel 33,

"But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, 'Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the LORD." [Let's hear the Bible.] "They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain." [I love this image. It's so graphic,] verse 32, "Behold," [Ezekiel, as a preacher, one teaching my word] "you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words" –[enjoy them] "but they … [don't] practice them."

This is the wheat plant that doesn't bear fruit. The most graphic New Testament example of this kind of heart, this distracted, preoccupied heart, I think is Demas. Do you remember Demas in 2 Timothy 4? Paul writes about his traveling companion, his fellow missionary, Demas. He says, "Demas having loved this present [age] …, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica." Folks, there's a man who made a very clear profession of faith in Christ. There's a man who said he was called to the ministry, a man whom Paul took with him on one of his missionary journeys but who loved the world around him so much that it choked out the seed, and it never bore fruit, and it died.

Sadly, the most common example of the preoccupied heart comes from kids who grow up in Christian homes. The word has some early influence in their lives. It brings conviction. It brings a sense of the attractiveness of Jesus and the gospel. Maybe there's a profession of faith. Maybe there's even baptism. But before the word can complete its work, the student grows and becomes a junior in junior high school or high school or college and begins to face the worries of the age in which he lives, the worries that come with adulthood. He hears the siren songs of personal pleasure and personal prosperity and gradually, over time, all spiritual interest dies. All that's left is the skeleton of a childhood profession. And tragically many people in that situation will cling to that profession for 20 years, 30 years, until they die, even though they have lived their lives like pagans.

Understand folks, it hurts me to tell you this because I know this affects some people that we love, but understand that when that happens, it's not that that person was a genuine believer who has wandered away from Christ and needs to come back to Him. According to Jesus that person just seemed to be a real Christian. Where there is no fruit, there is no faith. Instead the good seed apparently fell into bad soil, and the worries of life and riches and pleasure killed the word that had been sown in their heart. Theirs was a "preoccupied heart."

There's one other kind of heart. It's the "prepared heart." Much of the seed that the farmer sowed would fall into the soil that he'd prepared, soil with plenty of depth and free of thorns, soft and deep and clean. Jesus says in verse 23, "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit." Let me ask you this: What makes for bad soil? Physically? In a field, what makes for bad soil? How does it get to be hard, or shallow, or thorny? There either has been no preparation of it or insufficient preparation of it. In other words, you've just left it alone. You've just let the curse take its toll and run its course. So, what do you have to do to a human heart to make it unreceptive or superficial or preoccupied to keep the word from growing and bearing fruit in the life? Absolutely nothing! Just let the curse take its course.

So then, what makes for good soil for planting and growing a crop? Hard work and careful preparation. The soil has to be fully prepared. But the soil can't prepare itself. In the same way, the good soil in this parable can't take the credit. It's not because you're a better person than somebody else that your heart received the seed. It's because it was prepared by someone else. It's right there alongside the bad soils. The difference is the preparation by the farmer. Listen carefully, very important for you to understand this distinction. When our hearts are one of the first three soils, they are in bad condition and unreceptive or superficial or preoccupied. We take all the blame, it is simply the run of the curse in our lives. We take the full responsibility. The only way our hearts will ever receive the word and bear fruit is if God prepares the soil of our hearts to receive it. Remember Ezekiel 36, "I will take … [out of them their] heart of stone and I will give … [them]" what? "a heart of flesh."

Look at John 6. Jesus makes this point in a powerful way in John 6:44. One of the most potent verses about the effectual call and election that exists. He says, verse 44, "No one can come to me," that is in faith, "unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." But look at verse 45, not as familiar but every bit as powerful, "It is written in the prophets, and they shall all be taught of God." Now look at the lesson Jesus draws from that Old Testament reference. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Do you know what Jesus is saying? The only way you will ever respond to the seed is if God has prepared your heart, if He teaches your heart, if you've learned from Him, if He tills the soil of your heart.

That's what happened in Acts 16. Do you remember the story of Lydia? Lydia in Acts 16:14 is listening to Paul preach, and it says, as she … [listened] the Lord opened her heart to … [receive the truth.] Folks, understand this, there is no good soil without the intervention of God. He prepares the heart to receive the truth. Left alone we are responsible for our own sinful responses. So, what happens in the soil that's been prepared by God to receive the seed? Notice this person responds in several ways here in Matthew 13,

"He hears," verse 23.

"He understands," that is he really gets it, he grasps it.

And, and this is the key, "He bears fruit." There's the absolute key, he bears fruit. Different seed based on a variety of circumstances will produce different yields in good soil. The average first century yield was between 5 and 15%; so thirty-fold would have been a great yield; sixty-fold, wonderful; and a hundredfold would have been extraordinary. But notice that the seed grows at different rates and produces different yields in different hearts even though they're good soil. All good soil isn't exactly alike. Some bears more fruit than others, but all bear fruit, if it's good soil. Notice that Christ identifies every soil that bears fruit as good soil regardless of the different rates of yield.

What is the fruit that every true Christian will produce? That every heart that is that good soil that responds to the seed of the gospel. What is the fruit that we will bear? Well, in Matthew 7, Jesus explains as He ends the Sermon on the Mount. Do you remember there at the end of the Sermon on the Mount? He says to them (and it's in Matthew 7 and it's also in Luke's gospel) and in Luke's gospel, He says this, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do the things that I say." And then He gives that parable, you remember, of the wise man who built his house on the rock; the foolish man who built his house in the sand? We're familiar with that parable from the time we were kids if you've grown up in the church at all.

But we often miss the point. Listen to the point Jesus made. Who was the wise man who built his house on the rock? Jesus said he's the man who hears my words, and what? Does them. The fruit, folks, is obedience to Christ. The word that was sown in the heart gives the fruit of further obedience to the word which continues to be sown in the heart. That's how you know. That's what results from good seed falling in good soil.

Now, as we tie it all together, let me make some concluding observations for you real briefly. I've gone longer than I had intended.

Number one, there are only four kinds of responses to the gospel message. Every person here this morning has one of these kinds of hearts.

Secondly, three out of four of these responses are favorable toward the gospel and appear to be Christians.

Third observation, two kinds of these responses look like genuine salvation initially, but in fact prove not to be.

And fourth observation, only in a heart prepared by God will the seed take root, bear fruit, and prove to be permanent.

Now, folks, this parable helps us understand the responses we get when we share the gospel. They're going to look like this. It also helps us examine our own hearts. You are one of these soils as Jesus told this parable. Which one? That's absolutely crucial for you to know.

And thirdly, this parable serves as an invitation because it invites anyone here who has to honestly say, "you know, my heart's one of those first three," to become the fourth. You say, "How do I become the fourth if God has to prepare my heart?"

What you have to do, is the message Jesus preached everywhere He went. You have to repent of your sin and believe in Him as Lord and Savior. If you are willing to do that this morning, then your heart is good soil. Which are you? The seed is always the same. The effects it produces is based on the condition of the soil in which it falls.

Let's pray together. Our Father, thank you for this graphic illustration of such deep spiritual truth. Help us to grasp this parable of our Lord's. Help us to understand it. Help us to apply it to our own lives, to the lives of those we love as well as to the lives of those with whom we share the gospel.

Oh, Father, give us insight, give us wisdom, help us to see and to hear. Father, may we be like those Jesus taught: He who has ears, let him really hear. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.