“One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable…” Luke 8:4
Now we’re just going to stop right there. Before we go any further, we need to talk about this verse – specifically about this word “parable” that we just read. Now if you don’t speak Christian-ese, this word “parable” might seem a little foreign. It’s not really a common, everyday-language kind of word. The guys at the shop don’t usually tell ‘parables’. But Jesus did. And lots of them. In fact the count in my Bible says that Jesus told 46 different parables. And I’m sure He told many more than that – they just weren’t recorded in the Bible.
So what exactly is a parable? Simply speaking, a parable is really just a short story about something very common and very familiar that illustrates a unfamiliar spiritual truth. For example, Jesus would tell a story about something very common like a farmer planting seeds – something that everybody in that time would understood and know what it was all about – many of his listeners would have been farmers themselves, so they knew about planting seeds. But within that story of a farmer planting seeds, Jesus would have a hidden spiritual truth that would be illustrated by the characters and events that happen in the story.
You could almost think of a parable as a parallel. You know how parallel lines run directly beside each other? Well, in parable, the story and the spiritual truth would run parallel to each other – you could compare the two. In fact quite often Jesus would begin his parables by saying something like “The kingdom of heaven is like…. THIS” – then He would tell this story – drawing a parallel between the story and the spiritual truth about the Kingdom of heaven that He wanted His listeners to learn.
So when we read in Luke 8:4 that…. “One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable…” we know that Jesus is about to tell us a story about something very common and very familiar – something we already know all about – and that in that story will be a parallel, hidden spiritual truth that Jesus wants us to learn and understand.
So let’s try this again: Luke chapter 8 – starting at verse 4:
One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it.6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out,“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Luke 8:4-8
So you can see that the story in itself is not all that profound. It’s just a farmer tossing seed around – some of it grows – some of it doesn’t. There’s no unexpected plot twists along the way. No surprise endings. It’s just a boring, mundane event of life. But there are some significant spiritual truths that are hidden within this story. So let’s see if we can wrap our heads around what those parallels might be.
Jesus starts off telling us about this farmer who goes out to plant some seeds in his field. Now of course, he’s not going out with his big John Deere air-seeder, he’s going out with a big pouch of seeds – probably wheat or barley – that was the common crops of that area.
And the system for planting was simple. Reach your hand into the pouch, grab a handful of seeds, and scatter them around as you walk. It was pretty simple. And for the most part, that system worked really good – but there was one problem. You see, with today’s high-tech equipment, a farmer can place each seed exactly where they want it – right down to the cm… But when you’re just flinging handfuls of seed all around, sometimes the seeds don’t end up where you intend them to.
I’ve experienced this myself! When we were pastoring in Mirror, we built a new church building, and one of the jobs that I took on was planting the new grass around the building that following spring. I actually had a grass seed spreader – which was basically a pouch with a hole in the bottom that slowly let the seed fall out into spinner. As you turn the crank the spinner would fling the seed all around. But as I was doing this, some of the seed didn’t land in the dirt. Some landed on the sidewalk. Some landed in the parking lot. Some ended up in my shoes – and some even in my hair. Of course, most of the seed landed in the dirt, but certainly not all of it.
And this is what is happening in the story that Jesus is telling. This farmer is out there flinging seed all around and it’s landing in different places – on four different types of soil.
Verse 5 has the first type of soil. It says…
“As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it.” Luke 8:5
Now of course, the footpath would not be prime soil. It would have been packed and baked in the sun like a brick. It would have been rock hard. So there is no way those seeds were going to get down into the soil where they could grow. It was just a matter of time until the birds saw them gobbled them up as they lay there on the surface.
Verse 6 has the next type of soil:
“Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture.” Luke 8:6
When we went out to see my folks in Creston, BC last week, this is exactly what we saw. Many of the plants that were growing on the side of the road or on the mountain side were completely dried up. They had started to grow in the spring, but as the hot summer came upon them, they just wilted away because they had no moisture. Rocks just don’t hold moisture like good soil does. And that’s what happened in Jesus’ story to the farmer’s seed that fell among the rocks.
Then verse 7 tells us about another kind of soil:
“Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants.” Luke 8:7
Again, back in those days they didn’t have round-up or weed killer. So if the grain seed fell in an area that was full of weeds, there wasn’t much hope. The thorns and weeds would block out it’s sunlight, drink up its water, and use up the available nutrients in the soil. And so basically, the plant would starve and never fully develop.
This is one lesson that I’ve learned in my years of landscaping. When Heather & I were first married, we lived out in field. We pulled a mobile home out into the grassy pasture and called it home. But of course, we wanted some trees and so we got a bunch of maple and lilac seedlings and planted them as a windbreak around the property. And when we planted them, they were just basically little sticks, and so we dug a hole about a foot across and stuck it in. Well, it didn’t take long for those little trees to get complete lost in all the grass that grew up around.
Now about that same time, we had some neighbours who did the same thing. Except they had plowed a huge strip probably 20 feet across in which to plant their trees. They kept that dirt tilled up and black for several years after they had planted their trees and in just a few years, their trees had grow to be at least three times as tall as ours. Why? Because our trees were choked out by all the grass, and their trees grew up without any competition. That’s exactly what happened with the seed that fell among the thorns.
But there is one more type of soil. Look at verse 8:
“Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Luke 8:8
This is the soil that the farmer was aiming for. The rich black soil where the seeds could sprout, take root, and grow up and produce a fantastic crop. And that’s exactly what happened. The seed grew and produced a great crop – a hundred times as much as had been planted – for the farmer.
And so that was the parable of the farmer scattering his seeds. But what did it mean? What was the parallel? What was the hidden spiritual truth within the story? And honestly, I think that if I were one of the original listeners to that story – I’d have no idea what the point was. I’d say that hidden truth was hidden pretty good. And I think the disciples would say the same thing, because in verse 9, they ask Jesus to explain what the parable meant. So let’s pick it up in verse 9.
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.” Luke 8:9-15
So that’s the parallel truth. Within that simple little story of a farmer scattering seeds, there is a pretty pointed message for you and I. And it applies just as much to us today as it did to Jesus’ listeners back then. All of us are like one of those soils – the question is: which one are you?
Verse 12 says:
“The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved.” Luke 8:12
I think there have been a lot of people over the years who would be the hard soil. People who have heard the Gospel, but have simply refused to believe and accept it. Is that you? Are you the hard packed soil on the footpath? Is your heart hard towards God? When you hear God’s Word – do you just block it out – and not allow it to sink into your heart? Maybe you’ve heard the Gospel many times… You’ve heard John 3:16 which says…
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
That verse is amazing and profound.. But perhaps you don’t let that truly sink in. Or maybe you’ve heard Romans 10:9 which says…
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
But you just block it out. You refuse to make that choice. Or maybe you’ve heard Proverbs 3:5-6 which says….
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
You’ve heard all those Scriptures. You’ve heard that God loves you like crazy and He’s just waiting for you with open arms – and yet… You still put Him off. You refuse to accept His forgiveness. You refuse to submit your life to Him. You refuse to soften your heart. Are you the hard soil?
Or maybe you’re the rocky soil. Verse 13 says…
“The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation.” Luke 8:13
Does that sound like you? At one time you accepted Christ with great joy! It was exciting and new and life would never be the same again! But then some hard times came along. Maybe you were teased at school for being a Christian. Maybe the guys at the shop snickered when you told them you went to church last Sunday. Or maybe some other difficult stuff happened. Maybe you got health problems or family problems or financial problems or whatever, but you started doubting the decision that you made to follow Christ. You started falling away from God. You never developed those deep roots and so you’ve sorta just drifted away… Are you the rocky soil?
Or perhaps you’re the soil that’s full of weeds? Verse 14 says…
“The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” Luke 8:14
Maybe you’ve let the good things of this life crowd out the best things? Perhaps your career or your reputation, or a special relationship, or your ambition or pleasure – maybe you’ve let those things steal your focus from Christ? Maybe being part of the world is just too much fun – and you’re not willing to make the necessary sacrifices to really give your life to God. You want to be in control. You want to set the agenda. You want to do what you want to do. But I tell ya, that’ll quickly choke out your relationship with God.
If I were to generalize, I’d say this is likely the most common soil for most North American Christians. It is so easy to lose sight of eternity and simply focus on the here and now. How many things that have eternal value do we sacrifice so that we have pleasure for a moment right now? It’s difficult to spend 15 minutes in prayer with God, but it’s easy to sit through a 2 hour movie. We can’t afford to give $50 a month to a missionary, but we’ll spend that easily on junk food or entertainment or whatever else.
“…all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” Is that you?
Or are you the good soil?
“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.” Luke 8:15
Is your life producing a harvest? Are you, like those seeds, multiplying yourself? This is one of our main objectives here on Planet Earth. Making disciples. Multiplying ourselves. That’s the evidence of good soil – its someone who is producing a harvest.
At the end of your life will you be able to look back and see a harvest of 30, 60, or 100 people that have come to know and love Jesus because of you? Are you making disciples?
I love how Jesus describes those people – they hear God’s Word – they CLING to it! – And they patiently produce a huge harvest. I want that to be me. I don’t want to reject God’s Word. I don’t want to fall away from God’s Word. I don’t want to allow other things to choke out God’s Word. I want to CLING to God’s Word – and patiently produce a huge harvest.
I think of my grandparents. My grandparents on both sides of the family were definitely those “good soil” kind of people. They weren’t preachers – they were just farmers. None of them were super outgoing. For the most part they were quiet and reserved. They weren’t highly educated. They were just regular people people who heard God’s Word, clung to it, and patiently produced a huge harvest. The vast majority of their kids, their grandkids, and their great-grandkids are all following the Lord today – several of them are in full-time ministry as pastors or missionaries. And I certainly don’t know the numbers, but I would be very confident to say that because of their lives, there will be much more than 30, 60, or 100 people who will be joining them in Heaven one day. They were the good soil.
What kind of soil are you? What kind of soil am I?
If this morning you find that your heart has been hard – if to this point, you’ve not responded Jesus, you’ve not accepted his love and his forgiveness, you’ve not submitted your life to Him – well, you can change that today. You can decide right now to soften your heart and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. You can begin a new life. One that’s not always easy – but one that’s absolutely worth it. You can do that today – and I certainly hope that you will. And if you’d like to talk to me some more about it after the service or later this week – I’d love to talk sit and have a coffee with you and talk about that.
Or maybe you’re like the rocky soil and because of problems or persecution or temptation or whatever the reason, you’ve been falling away from God. Your relationship with God has been strained or you’re feeling distant from Him. But its not too late to come back. God hasn’t gone anywhere – He’s just waiting for you to look to Him for help – and He’ll be right there. You don’t have to face your problems or your temptations alone. Certainly God is with you all the way and He understands what you’re going through.
And not only that, God’s given you a church family to help you along the way too. Believe it or not – there are people right here in this building who know how you feel – they face the same struggles – they fight the same temptations. You’re not alone. And part of our job as church is to help each other grow deep roots, so that we can get through the problems, endure the persecution, and escape the temptation. We’re here to help each other. We want to help you succeed.
Or maybe you find yourself a little more like the weedy soil this morning. Maybe there is stuff that you’re allowed to grow up in your life that has taken your focus away from Jesus. Maybe there is stuff that has become more important to you than your relationship with God. The Bible calls those idols. And it tells us to get rid of them. We talked about this last week with the rich young ruler. His great wealth was the one thing that kept him from following Jesus. There is a lot of “good stuff” in this world that can choke out our relationship with Christ. Money. Sports. Facebook. Relationships. Career. Possessions. None of those things in themselves are bad. But the minute they start taking priority over our relationship with God, they become idols and they begin to choke the life from us.
If that’s where you’re at this morning, I encourage you to be ruthless. Get rid of any of those “good things” that are hindering your relationship God. Pull the weeds. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be fun to do that. But we have to live with eternity in mind – not just the moment. What’s going to really matter in a 1000 years? How you built your relationship with God – or how you enjoyed all that “good stuff?” Get rid of the weeds that steal away true life.
And if, by chance, you’re the good soil this morning, that’s awesome! Keep it up – keep clinging to God’s Word! But be careful. For its very easy for our hearts to become a little hard – a little rocky – or a little weedy.
And as you reflect on the state of your heart this morning – whether it be hard, rocky, weedy, or even good – know this: When it comes to the soil of our hearts – Jesus is the master gardener. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can de-stone the rockiest soil. He can uproot the most stubborn weeds. And He can produce a harvest in people like you wouldn’t believe. It doesn’t matter what kind of heart you start with – if you give it to Jesus, He can make it rich and productive, producing a harvest in your life of 30, 60, or 100 times as was sown.