Today, let’s talk about the parable of the sower and the four types of soil, as found in Matthew 13:3-8.
Here, we have a rare parable in which Jesus Himself gives the explanation to the story in verses 18-23. The seed is, of course, the word of God – the good news of the Gospel. Notice how, with each kind of soil, the Sower performs the exact same work with the same level of intentionality and care. But it’s the soil’s reception of the seed that makes the difference. The soil by the wayside, for instance, represents those whose hearts have been hardened and calloused to truth. The seeds do not even become embedded in the soil. Next, a seed that falls in stony ground may quickly spring up because it germinates so close to the surface, but it has no root. These hearers of the word at first accept the Gospel gladly, believing that the walking with God will free them from all burdens and cares. But as soon as trials or persecutions come along, they lose their grip. They had not counted the cost to follow Christ. Next, Jesus says that the thorny soil represents “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires of other things” that choke the word. Isn’t it crazy how thorns can grow in any kind of soil without any planting or cultivation whatsoever? But the seeds of grace, on the other hand, must be carefully nurtured and grown. Finally, the seed that falls on the good ground “is he who hears the word, and understand it.” The Greek word for “understands” (suniemi) doesn’t so much refer to an intellectual acceptance of truth as an open-heartedness and receptiveness to it.
As we step back from this story to gain a wider perspective, I want to share some of my own struggles with this parable. For me, this passage was always a little uncomfortable. It all sounded sort of “pre-deterministic.” Do some of us just naturally have good soil, I thought, and others inherently bad soil? At the same time the parable also made me feel kind of good about myself. I must have been lucky to be born with good soil… But then one day I ran across Jeremiah 4:3 and Hosea 10:12. I read, shocked, as God admonishes His own people: “Break up your fallow ground! And do not sow among thorns… Sow for yourselves righteousness. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts!For now is the time to seek the Lord!” (NKJV and NLT). My mind was blown. I realized that MY heart was the heart full of rocky, thorny, trampled down soil! I had always thought of myself as a pretty good person – I had always stayed in church, never rebelled, or anything like that. I was lucky to have the good soil, I thought. But God showed me that, while I knew how to play the game on the outside, my own heart was–and still is–in desperate need of a good plowing. And, guess what, I can’t do it on my own!
In Ezekiel 36:9, God gives us an amazing promise: “For indeed I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown.” In this same chapter, we find God’s mind-blowing promise to give us a new heart: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (vs. 26). Friends, I am going to venture to say that this illustrates the condition of all of our hearts. We all have hearts filled with shallow, rocky, thorny soil. Our only hope is to realize our desperate, pathetic condition. And, guess what, when we invite Christ to come in and break up our fallow ground, He without exception promises us: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27).