In Luke 8:4-8 Jesus tells a parable about farming. He tells of four different soils. This parable is often called The Parable of the Sower. However, the parable is really not about the sower but the soils. It is a parable that many of you know well. In the study of this parable I believe it has been easy to miss the point that Jesus is trying to make.
The first thing we need to observe in this account is that Jesus tells a parable without explanation. It is not as obvious from the Luke and Matthew accounts of this parable, though it can be seen. Mark’s account of this parable clearly states that Jesus told this parable to the crowd and did not explain the meaning to them (Mark 4:10). This is why his disciples come to Jesus later and ask him the meaning of the parable (Luke 8:9). Why does Jesus tell parables without explanation? What is going on that Jesus would do something like that? Doesn’t it make far more sense to tell the parable and then immediately give the explanation? Notice the reason Jesus gives for telling parables the way he does.
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'” (Luke 8:10 ESV)
This answer sets up his explanation for the parable of the soils. Jesus says that he tells these parables about the kingdom of God “so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Are you confused by this answer? Jesus tells parables so that the people will not see and will not understand. Parables were not told to make his point easier to understand. Parables were told to separate the sincere seeker from the casual hearer. Jesus was not interested in gathering crowds. He was interested in finding true listeners, people seeking the kingdom of God. Jesus is looking for people with particular ears, who are truly listening. He is not trying to amass a following or gather large crowds. He tells parables so that people will come to him and ask him what it means. Jesus is not telling his disciples that they have some sort of miraculous, Spirit-infused knowledge that no one else was given. Why were the secrets of the kingdom of God given to the disciples? It was given to them because they were seeking. It was because they went to Jesus asking the meaning of the parable and Jesus was about to explain the parable because they came looking for the answers.
What do you do with the scriptures that are difficult and hard to understand? Will you do what the crowd does? Will you simply walk away without trying to learn the meaning like the crowd? Too often we are spiritually lazy with the scriptures. We are not interested in learning what the difficult teaching means. We want to oversimplify it, overlook it, or ignore it. We must press into the scriptures. We must try to find out what it means. The disciples of Jesus try to find out what his teaching means. They do not pass it off with a “I don’t get it.” The parables intended to weed people out who did not want to know the mind of the Lord.
What a difference this is to the common practices of churches today! So many churches think that we need to use all kinds of other means to gather a crowd. The logic is that we must gather a crowd and slip them the gospel while they are here. This is why we see churches having Super Bowl services, figuring that they can artificially generate a crowd and then by teaching for ten minutes they will love the Lord. Jesus did the opposite. Jesus did not try to create crowds. Jesus weeded out the crowds trying to find who was truly interested in seeking after him. This is one reason we do not use any advertising tools other than the gospel and community. Get to know Christ and be part of the family of Christ. We want to find people who are interested in that, not people who are interested in football or bingo. If you want to know the Lord, you are in the right place. If you are looking for entertainment, there is a movie theater at CityPlace. Jesus wanted seekers and he told parables so that “seeing they would not see and hearing they would not understand.” Who will press into God’s word and want to learn more? Jesus is looking for you.
The Parable’s Explanation (8:11-15)
The parable of the soils is a parable about how the word of God is received. The parable describes how we listen to God’s message. There are four ways that God’s word is listen to and received, according to this parable. The parable will teach that there is nothing wrong with the sower or the seed. The problem is with our hearing. The parable is asking the audience this question: what heart do you bring to the word of God? How do you listen to the word of God?
The first soil is the parable is described as the path. These hear the word of God but nothing ever happens. Does this sound like you? You are here regularly and you listen to the message each week but nothing changes. You are distracted. You are sleepy. You are bored. You are not listening. You do not care. You should see the things that I see go on out there is the audience. There are times I think about quitting in the middle of a lesson because it looks like you would rather do anything else but truly listen and act. People stare into space, play with the children, play on their phones, read a book they brought, and many other things. Hearing the word of God but nothing is happening. The word is not penetrating the heart. The heart is not receiving God’s message. Those with such ears are not who Jesus is looking for as disciples.
The second soil is described as a rock. Jesus says these hear the word of God, receive it with joy, but because they have no root, fall away in times of testing. These hear the word of God, but their heart is shallow and superficial. They become Christians, which is exciting, but they have no root. Thus, they fall away in the time of testing and temptation. This is an all too common response to the word of God. Shallow Christians that never grow deep. They are always shallow with the word of God and shallow in their faith. This person can seem to be a disciple for years because the great moment of testing has not occurred. Sometimes it is only months or even days. I have seen people come to Christ only to never see them again. I have seen people come to Christ, last for a few months, and then give up and go back to their old lives. The problem is that they never develop a deep root in Christ. When we choose not to grow deeper in Christ through reading the word of God, praying, worshiping, and fellowshipping then our faith will not be strong enough to support us during life’s difficulties. These are not the hearers who will be Jesus’ disciples.
The third soil is full of thorns. These are ones who hear the word, but their faith is choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. Their fruit does not mature. These people hear the word of God but never follow through with what they hear. It is important to realize that Jesus does not say that they are choked out by sins. It is just the distractions of life. Their faith is choked by the cares of the world. The concerns of family, the challenges of work, and any number of things that we give our time to in this world. The enjoyment of riches occupies his time. Always having other things to do. Not that the things you are doing are sinful but you simply do those things rather than worship God, serve God, read God’s word, give to the Lord, and the like. These are the ones who are always missing from worship because there is always something else they “have” to do. These are not the followers that Jesus is looking for.
Jesus concludes with the fourth soil being good soil. Notice the characteristics of good soil. This is the one who hears the word, hold fast to the word in an honest and sincere heart, and bears fruit with patience. They hear the message from God’s word and they hold on to it. It sinks into their hearts and causes changes. Notice that the changes are not overnight. The fruit comes with patient endurance. Fruit bearing takes work and time before significant results are seen. This is why Jesus told parables. He is trying to find those who have these kinds of ears and hearts. Who has the good, sincere, and honest heart? Jesus is trying to find those people to be his disciple.
Unfortunately, too often we end the message right here. But the story is not done. There is nothing in the next verse to indicate that we have a new setting or a new teaching. You notice from the story that Jesus is continuing to expound on the teaching of listening.
Lamp Under A Jar (8:16-18)
Jesus uses a second parable to emphasize his teaching. When we keep this parable in its context we will see it relevance to how we hear. In fact, notice that Jesus’ conclusion to this parable is, “Take care then how you hear.” If you have something useful like a lamp, you use it! You have heard the word of the Lord. What are you going to do with it? Many hear the word of God without making any changes. You go to worship services, sit through sermons, but nothing happens. They are as useless as a lamp under a jar.
What are you going to do with what you have received in hearing God’s word? Notice verse 18: “For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” To put this another way, if you are not seeking and striving for understanding, you will not understand any of it. Jesus’ message provides light for those who listen and that light reveals our heart attitudes. When the word of God is proclaimed, what we do with the word shows which soil we are. We immediately learn the condition of our hearts. If you do not seek to understand God’s word then you will not understand God’s word. When the crowds did not come to learn the meaning of the parable then they were not going to learn the secrets of the kingdom of God. The disciples did because they came asking for understanding. We must not shy away from teaching and preaching the difficult doctrines and texts because God is looking for those who want to learn more about him.
Jesus’ Family (8:19-21)
Once again the setting has not changed and the topic has not changed as we come to verse 19. Jesus’ mother and brothers come to see Jesus but cannot because the crowd is so massive. Jesus declares who are truly in the family of Christ: those who hear the word of God and do it. This is the same as the good soil in the parable. The message of this text is to take care how we listen. How you listen to God’s word shows if you are truly one of Jesus’ disciples or not. How you listen shows if you are really in the family of Christ.
There is only one point to this lesson today. As you look as your spiritual life up to today, which soil are you? Have you been listening but not caring and not changing anything? Have you listened and obeyed, but have not grounded yourself in God’s word so that times of trial rip you away from God? Have you listened but you are entangled by life’s distractions, not following Jesus as you must, putting other things ahead of our Lord? Have you been listening and holding fast to God’s word, and the fruit of your faith can been seen by all? Take care how you hear.