The Good Soil.
How is one to respond to the gospel message? To the varied cultures of this world, the gospel message is seen as simply one of many different religions, one of different methods to fill that void in all people, that void that needs God. Some people would argue that any method is sufficient, as long as belief is sincere. Nearly every person on this planet who is of reasoning age has developed a viewpoint concerning religion and/or faith. Few subjects will evoke as emotional response in most people as will that of religion. The response of this world's population to the gospel message is as varied as the cultures, world-views, and experiences they come from. Most will use their own world view to reject God's offer of grace through the atoning act of Jesus Christ..
As Jesus was presenting the gospel message to the people in the ancient Near East, he brought it to a people who were similarly varied in their backgrounds. The fertile crescent of land that ran up the Jordan River, then eastward to the source of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, then south to the Persian Gulf was located at the intersection of three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa. This area became populated with people from every area of the known world. It is into this mosaic of cultures that Jesus brought his message, a mosaic that is still characteristic of many areas today. As a Christian feels called to share the gospel message, he/she can expect a varied response that is indicative of the varied cultures of today's society.
In this segment of the gospel according to Luke, we will look at Jesus' teaching concerning the various ways that people respond to the gospel.
And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, 3And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herodís steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.
This passage is introduced by reference to what has just taken place. Jesus had recently been in the house of a Pharisee named Simon. His lack of respect for or response to the teachings of Jesus was contrasted with the profound love for Jesus that was expressed by a despised woman. We see in these two individuals, representatives of each end of the social ladder. At one end is the Pharisee who was highly respected and considered highly learned in religious arts. Such an individual should have been the first to respond to Jesus. The despised woman was at the bottom of the social ladder, considered unclean by her religious culture. However, it was she who demonstrated love and respect for Jesus and chose to follow Him. These two are examples of the wide range of cultural status and mores of the population. It is also an example of how these two responded to Jesus' message, with one person rejecting Him and the other accepting Him.
Jesus left the house of Simon and traveled throughout the local region, sharing the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Traveling with him were many of his disciples, and among them were the apostles. A few of the women who traveled with him are mentioned. These are women who remained faithful to Jesus throughout his ministry, and each came from different walks of life.
And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:
The writers of Matthew and Mark identify that the following sermon takes place by the lake. Luke is interested in focusing on the size of the crowd. Though it is still relatively early in Jesus' ministry, the word of his message and of his healing spread quickly. People came out to meet Jesus and see for themselves if the stories were true. Some came with the belief that they could find healing. As Jesus looked upon this group He could see the great variety of peoples that were represented, as they came "out of every city." These people, again, represented many different cultures and world views, and they would respond to the gospel message in different ways. It is to this group that Jesus presents the Parable of the Sower.
A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. 6And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. 7And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. 8And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Though often referred to as the "parable of the sower," a better title might be the "parable of the soils." Jesus describes an event that those in his audience could easily relate to. All of his listeners were familiar with planting and harvesting of fruits, vegetables, and grains. The parable describes a single farmer and a single type of seed. In each of four described occasions, the effectuality of these is the same. What changes from event to event is the soil upon which the seed falls. We see four soils:
1. The wayside, or the footpath. Here the soil has not been tilled. It is hard-packed dirt upon which people walk and birds forage. The soil was not properly prepared, and so the seed did not have a chance of germination.
2. On the rock. This "soil" had no depth. The seed sprouts normally, but with no room for root growth and little to no moisture available, the sprout quickly withers and dies.
3. Among weeds. The weeds that are worthless and only consume the resources of the soil are hardy, and overpower the young seedlings, choking any area for root growth and blocking the sun. Again, the seed withers and dies.
Up to this point, we are describing my lawn quite accurately.
4. It is the seed that falls on good soil that sprouts and grows. This soil is soft, holds moisture, and can be easily cultivated. Such soil brings forth fruit.
Was Jesus giving the people a lesson in agriculture? Everyone in his hearing was so familiar with the concept of sewing seed, it would have been obvious to those in his hearing that his statements were rhetorical. However, the meaning of his parable would be understood only by those who were engaged enough in his message to recognize its meaning. The statement, "He that hath ears ..." clearly indicates that understanding of the meaning of Jesus' parable come to those who listen with their heart and mind as well as with their ears. Those who would reject Jesus and his message would not grasp the statement, as they themselves are examples of the "bad soil" on which the seed of the knowledge of the Kingdom of God does not flourish. Still, as a teacher, Jesus does gather together those close to Himself so that He can show them how the parable applies to real life truth.
And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? 10And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
Who can understand the principles of the Christian faith? It is not uncommon for the entertainment industry to delve into the elements of the Christian religion in movies, television, radio, or in the print media. It is usually evident that the writers of these programs have little or no understanding of the faith as they try to describe what they think are the facts. Mo-re often than not, the media portrays Christians as foolish and weak, or legalistic and dogmatic. Scripture is often utilized without any concern towards the context, original languages, or the meaning to the writers. Consequently, doctrines of the faith are more often misunderstood and misapplied. The task of understanding the kingdom of God is inexorably linked to a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and His counsel, a resource that is unavailable to those who reject God. Paul writes, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).
Though the scriptures do not describe the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles until their collective experience in the upper room following Jesus' resurrection, The Holy Spirit was working in the lives of the disciples. Jesus declared to them that they would be given understanding of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. The Greek word for mystery is not referring to a hidden secret as the English word usually implies, but refers to an "open secret" that is revealed to those who will seek its solution. Sometimes something can be effectively hidden by placing it in plain sight, a location where one might never consider looking. This concept describes well the term used. The mysteries of the Gospel are not secrets that are hidden under a cloak of darkness, but rather truths that are placed by God in plain sight where all who choose to understand can do so. However, those who are not interested, those who consider the kingdom of God no more than foolishness, and those who summarily reject God are not given the resource to understand.
So that the disciples will clearly understand this parable and its application in the kingdom of God, Jesus describes the metaphor he is using.
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
What is the "word of God"? To many, their first answer to this question might simply be that the word of God is the Bible, as it is referred to appropriately as "God's Holy Word." It would be difficult to refute this assertion with any level of scholarship. However, the "word of God" goes beyond simply the printed scriptures to also represent the authority behind the words of the Bible. That authority, resting with the Trinity is represented and revealed to mankind in many different ways, and each is a form of the Word of God. The concept of the word, (Greek logos), was understood in Greek culture to represent, not just the words spoken, but the combination of those words and the authority behind them. An example of this is the Genesis account of creation where God is described as accomplishing the work of creation by speaking it. John 1 refers to Jesus Himself as the Logos, the Word.
Consequently, the apostles would understand that the seed is the logos, the whole of the authority of God the Father, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the person of the Messiah Himself revealed to mankind through the various means, including scripture. Though they did not quite grasp the full consequence of Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, they would grasp the logos concept. As the seed is planted in the ground with the purpose of bringing forth a seedling that would grow to maturity, the word of God is planted in the hearts and minds of the people God has created. Just as the quality of the soil affects the ability of the seed to flourish, the nature of a person's heart affects the ability of the logos to flourish in the life of the person. People receive the word of God in many different ways. Through the metaphor in this parable, Jesus describes some of them.
Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
There is a range of meaning of the word, here, as used in these verses. It ranges from simple hearing where the content of the words is not perceived, to those who hear and fully integrate the authority and meaning of those words to their lives. Some people have the opportunity to hear the word of God, either through a spoken testimony or through written means. However, just as the seed falls on the dry, hard-packed earth, God's word sometimes falls upon the hard-hearted. These are people who are satisfied with the things of this world where Satan is prince, and refuse to take the message of God's word to heart. They will neither believe the gospel, nor will they be affected by it. Consequently, they will never be saved.
We meet hard-hearted people every day. These are they who are satiated by the things of this word and feel no need for salvation. Many are live in such disbelief as to testify with pride that they will be joining Satan in hell at the end of their days. When they are presented with the gospel they will reject it as foolishness, and even if they begin to turn, their desire for the world, their pride, and their prejudices towards the faith will keep them from turning to God completely.
The hardest heart seems to be that of one who is religious. A religion is a system of rituals and works that makes one worthy of acceptance by God. The plethora of world religions all operate with this premise. Similarly, the religious leaders of ancient Israel are best characterized by hearts that were hardened by their pride and zealous religion. Even many today observe Christianity as a religion and not a faith. They understand that they are secure because they perform the list of rites and rituals specified by the dogma of their church authority. They, like the ancient Jews, continue performing their religious ceremonies, and just as the Jews of Jesus' day no longer experienced the Glory of God as it once came down and consumed the sacrifice, their modern rituals also lack the power and dynamic of the Holy Spirit, often replacing it with emotion, lofty words, and "religious" works. However, salvation does not come from any work of man, but by the work of grace demonstrated by Christ that, while we were yet sinners, He paid the penalty for sin, a debt that no manner of man's works can repay.
They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
Another response to God's Word is to accept it without sincerity. Upon hearing of the good news of the opportunity they have for salvation from the consequences of their sin, they will appear to accept the truth with excitement. However, a saving response to God is one of decision and choice, not one of emotion. I have seen many people come forward at the end of a preaching service to make professions of faith who come in tears of joy and excitement, only to remain unchanged and without any evidence of that experience. These responded to the word with an understanding of their need, and an understanding that God is providing for their need. They respond to the word with great zeal. However, the word never takes root in their lives. Though they responded in words, they did not choose to appropriate the full measure of God's word in their lives. Rather than giving God the place of authority in their lives, they remain on the throne of their own kingdom. When one does not allow God to come into their heart, the seed of His word cannot grow. Soon after their emotional outburst of joy upon hearing the gospel, the event is just a distant and insignificant memory, and their lives are unchanged. Their desire for the temptations of this world was simply too great. They chose to continue to be filled with the things of the world than to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.
One of the greatest barriers to acceptance of the gospel message is the submission to the constant barrage of messages that people receive from this world. People who feel comfortable in the riches and pleasures that this world offer are among the hardest to see their own need for God. They simply do not see the significance of the consequence of their apostasy, one that is not realized until their death, when they will have no inheritance in heaven. One of the most dangerous and insidious wiles of evil, one that leads many to eternal separation from God is the satisfaction that comes from empty and powerless religion. People who are secure in the world think that by "being good", attending church services, or by doing any other number of actions or rituals, they will be saved. However, works and rituals do not result in submission to God. This is the message that is so repeatedly demonstrated in the Old Testament as the entire nation of Israel wandered away from God while deeply steeped in religion and ritual. Many people who attend church regularly have not completely surrendered to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, preferring to "keep one foot in the world and one foot in heaven." By refusing to submit to Christ, they are still unrepentant and unsaved. Just as with those describe before, the Holy Spirit is not at the central core of their life, and there is no power, no agape love, that produces true fruit of the faith.
The most tragic of these are those who think that by church attendance they are saved, and in so thinking they remain apostate. They know deep in their heart that their faith is not complete, but the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world scream so loudly that the cry of the Holy Spirit for repentance is drowned out. When they come before the Lord in judgment they will be able to list all of the good things they have done, but because their sins have not been forgiven through repentance unto salvation, God will also be able to list all of their sins, and the penalty for sin is death: eternal separation from God. They will be greeted only with, "get thee away from me, for I never knew you."
But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
The only effectual way to respond to the word of God is that means by which the fruit of repentance is demonstrated. Just as the seed brings forth fruit that is consistent with its nature, one who turns to God in faith and accepts that word in faith will prove fertile soil for the work of the Holy Spirit, and fruit will result. When one trades in the pride of self-will for the humility of a God-willed life, one's nature changes. Just as apples are borne by an apple tree simply because it is its nature to do so, a Christian will bear the true fruit of righteousness simply because it is his/her nature to do so. Rather than having a nature that is shaped and guided by the cares and desires of this world, the true Christian has a nature that is shaped and guided by God's agape love. Having discovered this nature, the Christian loses his/her desire for the choking temptations of this world, finding real and true joy and peace when immersed in (or baptized in) the love of God.
The doctrines and cultures of this world have a great many people deceived as they diminish the authority of God's word, replacing it with their own idols. An idol is anything that is given authority that rightly belongs to God. Such idols will produce in people the hardpan soil of a hard heart that will summarily reject God's authority in their lives. Such idols will produce in people a lack of true commitment to God and by so doing never allow the roots of faith to form. Such idols will in many people distract and blind them to the truth, leading them to believe that they are secure, only to have their true apostasy revealed by their lack of spiritual fruit.
In the sixth through eighth chapters of the gospel of Luke, the writer describes many occasions when Jesus points out the variety of distinctives among the multitudes and the responses that they demonstrated when confronted with the gospel message. He points out the religious people who, satisfied with their own rites and rituals have become so satiated by them that they are blind to the simplicity of the Gospel. Likewise, modern (or ancient) religion cannot save, even when that religion is given a title of "Christianity." Salvation only comes when an individual recognizes their need for salvation and turns to God in humility and faith with a sincere desire to turn from the wickedness of this world's authority and surrender one's heart and mind to the authority of God. Jesus died on the cross to pay the sin debt for those who would turn to God in faith. There is no work, no ritual, no rite, and no prayer that can pay that debt.
Jesus also points to the rejected and downtrodden who embrace God's gift of grace with open hearts. Their salvation did not come from following the Jewish laws. Their salvation came from faith in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the law that God laid down. God's gift of grace is open to all, whether one is religious or not.
Let us not become so immersed in our religion that we forget our faith. Let us not become so characterized by our denomination that we fail to bear the true fruit of the faith. If, as you read these words you realize that you are not fully committed to God, and you are not bearing the true fruit of the faith, take this moment to pause and simply make that commitment to Him. Admit that you have sinned and fallen short of God's requirement for righteousness. Believe in your heart that Jesus is your own Lord and Savior and that, through His death and resurrection, He paid the debt for your sin, offering to you the salvation that you so desperately need. Then, setting aside your pride and self-will, setting aside the idols of this world that choke and strangle, and even setting aside your religion, confess with your lips in prayer and before others, that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior as you accept His gift of grace in your life. Such a confession is one that is made from a heart that is, indeed, the good soil, and upon that confession you will find the peace and joy that comes from the knowledge of your faith, and the fruit of that faith can flourish.