Reading the parable of the soils reminds me of the story of Johnny Appleseed; a story I heard growing up in Cleveland. I always believed there was a real person named Johnny who planted trees wherever he went, but I think it was just a childish belief in the larger than life tale of some guy. I lumped that story in with other early stories such as Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, and Samson and Delilah. Older, and a little wiser, I believe the Bible stories to be true, and so too the exploits of Johnny Appleseed.
Until recently, the connection between the Sower and Johnny was (for me) in the way they haphazardly threw their seed on the ground. No self-respecting farmer would be so careless and then expect a crop. Well, Johnny didn’t plant like that, and the Sower in our parable did do it, but it was for effect. Maybe there was even a chuckle as the hearers pictured a farmer tossing seed everywhere he could imagine.
Regardless, Jesus tells the agricultural parable because the hearers would readily understand the picture; unfortunately, most would not understand its meaning. The seed goes from the farmer’s bag, to the farmer’s hand, to one of four different soils that are representative of the condition of the heart and its receptivity to the Word of God (the seed). The main emphasis is on the soil, not the Sower.
The soils (heart) listed, into one of which we all fall, are hard, shallow, weedy, and good. The Message explains these meanings as good as anyone, so let’s let God’s Word speak for itself.
“This story is about some of those people. The seed is the Word of God. The seeds on the road are those who hear the Word, but no sooner do they hear it than the Devil snatches it from them so they won’t believe and be saved. “The seeds in the gravel are those who hear with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm doesn’t go very deep. It’s only another fad, and the moment there’s trouble it’s gone. “And the seed that fell in the weeds—well, these are the ones who hear, but then the seed is crowded out and nothing comes of it as they go about their lives worrying about tomorrow, making money, and having fun. “But the seed in the good earth—these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there’s a harvest (Luke 8:11-15 MSG).
Pretty straight forward. However, most of the hearers missed it.
The hearts of those first hearers can be characterized by one of the four soils and that goes for us today as well. The Word of God will pass through our ears and fall on one of the soils described here. That begs the question; what soil describes the condition of your heart?
These four soils are descriptive of those who hear about the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Christ. Whether standing in a group listening to Jesus speak these truths personally or millennia removed from the scene, the question is still the same; what soil are you?
Hard: This is the one who hears and immediately rejects the truth. The devil takes the truth from their hearts and they never believe, nor are they saved. These may not be notorious sinners, however, there is zero interest in God or His Word (v.12).
Shallow: These joyfully receive the Word immediately for reasons of their own, but when things don’t go according to their plan, they fall away. These are those who make an emotional response to the Gospel. Maybe a revival, a message, or some tragedy draws a person to God, but emotions alone can’t keep them true when afflictions hit (v.13).
Weedy: This person cares too much for the world and its stuff. Because of worries, riches, and pleasures found in this life, their faith is eventually smothered and falls by the wayside. Someone has said that it is not knowledge that they lack; it’s commitment (v.14). No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24).
Good: These are those who bring forth fruit (v.15). The seed of God’s Word falls on this soil and its roots dig deep and strong. These true believers endure and bring forth good fruit (Eph 2:10; Gal 5:22-23).
This parable is about perseverance. I desire to have a heart like the fourth soil; the root of God’s Word dug deep into my soul enabling me to persevere through thick and thin. When that day comes, at the end of my race, I long to be found faithful (1 Cor 9:24; 2 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:1-2).
The first three soils are unacceptable. Use this parable as a template to check your own faith and adjust accordingly.
Grace and Peace,