Today, of course, is the holiday we call Easter. The origins of this holiday are not completely clear. Some people think that the Emperor Constantine changed a pagan holiday on this date to become a day which the resurrection of Christ would be celebrated. That cannot be verified. But we do know that by the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation, the association by Christians with Easter as a celebration of the resurrection was pretty much established. So much so that the translators of the King James Version substituted the word Easter for the original word Passover in Acts 12:4. Most of our modern versions do not have that substitution. The NASB, for instance, reads the passover, not Easter.
So consequently, we do not actually find Easter mentioned in the scriptures. However, we do celebrate the Lord’s resurrection every Sunday. It being the day of His resurrection, the first day of the week, we come together to worship the Lord.
One aspect of the resurrection though that is rarely considered is how it applies to me. The Bible says in 1Cor. 15:20-22 “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” So we learn from that there is a resurrection for us that believe, in the same way that Christ was resurrected.
But in a manner of speaking there are two resurrections for the believer. The first is when we are dead in our sins, and made alive in Christ. There is a resurrection from death to life which is our spiritual rebirth. It is when we become a Christian. Jesus said you must be born again by the Spirit. Salvation then, comes as a result of first dying to the old man, and then being born again as a new man by the Spirit of God. And then at Christ’s second coming, there will be a bodily resurrection, at the last trumpet, when the dead in Christ will rise first and meet the Lord in the air. At that point our bodies will be changed from corruption to that which is incorruptible. It will be changed from mortal to immortal. But first comes the spiritual regeneration, when we die to the old man and are born again in the Spirit.
In speaking of the bodily resurrection from the dead, Paul said in 1 Cor.15:36, “That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.” Now he is speaking of the resurrection from the dead there. But it also can apply to our regeneration, when we die to the flesh, and are raised up to live with Christ, to walk from that point on by the Spirit, and not by the flesh any longer.
Now I don’t intend on preaching a typical Easter message today. But I did want to make the point that the importance of Christ’s resurrection has greater implications than simply His body coming out of the tomb. But because He lives, we live. Because He was resurrected we shall be resurrected. However, I also think that this principle of resurrection to new life is illustrated to some degree by the parable we are studying today. As most of you should know, we have been studying the parables of Jesus for a number of weeks now, and today we come to what is known as the Parable of the Soils.
This chapter is a continuation of a long day of teaching that Jesus did beginning in chapter 12. That same day, according to vs 1 of chapter 13, Jesus sat by the seashore. Jesus teaching at the beach seems to be a common occurrence in the gospels, as most of the time His teaching was outdoors. And on this occasion such large crowds gathered to Him that he moved to a boat and the crowds came near the waterline to hear Him.
Jesus began to teach them, and He spoke to them in parables. Just as a reminder, a parable is not a morality tale, it’s not an allegory. It is a fictional illustration set in the physical world used to teach spiritual principles. The first story that He tells is one that would be readily appreciated by his audience, who were from an agrarian culture, people that would easily understand and relate to this illustration of sowing and reaping. Not only that, but surrounding the Sea of Galilee were farm fields on the hillsides which could have been in the process of being sown at that very moment. And so the people could have been hearing Jesus describe what their eyes were witnessing in the distance at that very moment.
Now we are also fortunate, because in this parable, which is not always the case, Jesus explains the parable later to the disciples. So we can be certain that we understand what He was teaching. So there are two parts to this passage, the first part is the telling of the parable which the crowd received, and then the explanation of the parable which the disciples received. And there is an interlude in between where Jesus explains why that is so.
So Jesus presents the parable to the crowd on the beach saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some [seeds] fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Now that’s all that the crowd got to hear. They had to figure it out from there. And I have to say that even though the crowd was from an agrarian culture, and they probably had living examples on the hillsides doing the exact thing that Jesus was speaking of, they probably had no clue as to what He was really saying. Perhaps the best that they could extract from it would have been something along the lines of – most of your work will be unprofitable, but if you do a lot of it, some will be profitable. So perhaps they thought the moral of the story is to work hard and some of it will pay off eventually. After all, there was no real reason for the people to be see a spiritual application in that story. Everything that the gospels tell us makes it pretty clear that the multitudes who were drawn to Christ were really only looking for physical “blessings” in the way of food, or healing, or being able to have Israel reinstated as an independent monarchy under the reign of the Messiah who would be an actual king and would defeat their enemies.
There inability to discern the truth of the parable is why Jesus ends the story with the cryptic phrase; “he who has ears, let him hear.” This was not a call for all to listen. Rather, it was a call for those who were spiritually aware to understand the spiritual lesson being taught. It was said in recognition that they were not spiritually listening. They were only interested in physical things. But Jesus is saying that there is more than physical lessons here. There is a spiritual lesson which they needed to hear, but they first needed to gain spiritual awareness.
So Jesus has this great big crowd who have all come to see Him. And He gives them this cryptic sermon that they can’t possibly figure out on their own and He walks off the beach. And the disciples, I imagine, think that Jesus has blown a good opportunity. He failed to make the message clear, and bring it home with a suitable sentimental story and an invitation to walk the isle repeat this prayer after me.
So perhaps reproachfully, they say, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” There might have been a huge number of people who made a commitment to follow Christ that day, but instead, He left a lot of people on the beach scratching their heads, asking one another, “what did it mean to you?”
So the disciples question why Jesus taught in parabl, and He answers by saying in vs 11 “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him [more] shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see [it,] and to hear what you hear, and did not hear [it.]”
Now that answer deserves a message of it’s own to plumb all the depths of what Jesus said. But we aren’t going to take the time to parse it all this morning. However, the gist of what Jesus is saying is that it takes spiritual life, new eyes and new ears that are spiritually tuned, in order to understand the spiritual truth of the parable. The disciples had that new life. The multitudes did not.
In His answer Jesus revisits the principle we talked about last week in regards to the Parable of the Talents. That to him who has, more shall be given, and him who does not have, even what he has shall be taken away. And if you remember we said that which they had was spiritual life, and those that did not have spiritual life would even lose what they did have, which was natural life. Jesus says the same thing here in regards to why He speaks in parables. If they don’t have spiritual life, then they cannot understand spiritual truth.
It really goes back to what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3. You must be born again. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Without being born again, without new eyes and new ears, there can be no understanding of spiritual things.
Then Jesus explains the parable to the disciples. He says, hear then the parable of the sower. I originally called my message the Parable of the Soils. That seemed to make sense to me, and besides, that’s what most commentators called it. But Jesus calls it the parable of the sower. And so I changed my title. It’s Jesus’s story, and I suppose He knows best.
However, the tendency to call it the parable of the soils is due to the fact that Jesus describes four types of soil in the parable. He gives practically no description of the sower. We are not even told who he is. But we can deduce that the sower is Jesus Christ Himself. And we can find justification for that in another parable,
There is a parable which we will look at next week which begins in vs 24 of this chapter, called the parable of the wheat and the tares. And Jesus explains that parable in vs 37, saying, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man…”
I’ve mentioned before a principle of hermeneutics called expositional constancy, that means symbols in scripture seem to have the same meaning. And you might be able to make that case here. It’s safe to say that if the Lord is the sower in one place, He certainly could be the sower in another place. After all, the good seed comes from Him, doesn’t it? That’s not a stretch. So we could conclude then that the one who sows initially is the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who has the word of life.
And that assumption clues us in on what is the seed in the parable. The seed is the word of God. Jesus calls it in vs 19 “the word of the kingdom.” It could also mean the message of the kingdom. Luke records this same parable and in Luke 8:11 he adds “the seed is the Word of God.” So the message of the kingdom is contained in the Word of God. Jesus began His ministry preaching the kingdom of God is at hand. Over and over again He has given instructions concerning the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. The message is that Jesus is the King of the kingdom of heaven, and His rule is over heaven and earth. The message is the good news, the gospel, that God has made a way for man to enter into His kingdom, and receive the blessings of the kingdom. The blessings of the kingdom are life, spiritual life, abundant life, eternal life. So the gospel, the word of God, is the seed which Jesus Christ is spreading abroad over the earth.
And I think the point should be emphasized that without the word of God a man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus doesn’t give an example here of a patch of soil in which no seed was cast, because that should be obvious. Without seed, there can be no growth, no life. So it’s important that we recognize the essentiality of the word of God in salvation. I could say a lot about that, but we don’t have time. However, I do want to emphasize it, because I’m afraid that so often today the word of God is being de-emphasized. We substitute all kinds of things in the church for the preaching of the word, singing, skits, dramas, films, etc. And we wonder why people are not saved. Paul said in 1Cor. 1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Now that brings us to the soil. Jesus gives us four types of soil. And the soil symbolizes the heart of man. The heart, when spoken of spiritually, is really the soul. It is the seat of man’s intellect, emotions and will. Jesus references the aspect of the intellect especially in the first soil, the packed hard road beside the field. There were byways through the farmer’s fields that allowed people to traverse across their property without trampling on the crops. And these byways were not cultivated. They were hard packed. And some of the seed cast by the sower falls on the hard packed soil that is not broken up. It lays on top and Jesus says the birds of the air come and eat the seed.
He says when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. So we see in that statement several things. First, the necessity to understand the word. That incorporates the intellect. Secondly, the birds are interpreted as the evil one. That references the devil and his angels, and Jesus indicates that they can snatch away the word of God. The word of God is foolishness to these people who don’t understand it. So they disregard it, and the devil makes sure that it is dismissed as foolishness and not brought back to their mind. And the third thing Jesus teaches in that statement is that the soil is the heart. The word of God was sown in the heart.
Romans 10:10 says, “for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” The first soil illustrates a hard, unbelieving heart in which the word is not received.
Jesus next interprets the rocky soil. Vs20 “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.”
Rocky soil is soil that is a very thin layer of dirt over a bed of rock. And because the root can’t go down, the growth spurts up, but when the sun becomes hot, there is no moisture in the soil and the plant wilts and eventually dies. Jesus interprets this as a person who hears the word, but has not counted the cost of discipleship. This is what I spoke of earlier, in order for the seed to grow, it must first die. There is a cost to Christianity, a cost to following Christ. It requires a sacrifice of your will, for doing His will. Some people are happy to accept that Jesus died for their sins so that they can receive the blessings of God. But they don’t realize that they need to die to their flesh as well. Jesus said take up your cross and follow Me. That’s what it means to confess Jesus as Lord. These people were not saved and then lost it, they were never saved at all. They had a superficial salvation, but never a true conversion.
The third soil is the thorny soil. Charles Spurgeon gave a great sermon on just this soil alone. He hardly mentioned the other soils, just the thorny soil. And perhaps because if I had to guess this is the most pervasive one. Thorns are pervasive, aren’t they? I noticed again yesterday that the first things to get green in the field around my house is the thorns. They take over. You don’t need to plant thorns, they are naturally prolific.
Jesus said in vs22 “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” I’ve always had a question in my mind whether or not this person is saved or unsaved. The first two were clearly unsaved. This one I’m not so sure. I think the indication is that if he persists in that condition then he is unsaved. But perhaps there is a chance that this person is saved, he has new life, but he backslides. He turns back to the things of the world that he was supposed to have forsaken. He becomes so enamored with the world again and the pursuit of money, or his career, or something that is carnal, fleshly, that it chokes the spiritual life to the point that it doesn’t produce fruit.
But maybe I’m being overly generous in that assumption this person could be saved. Because Jesus says in Matt. 7:16-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn [bushes] nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” So, the bottom line is that a life that does not bear fruit is not truly a Christian. Perhaps there is a time where God has to do some pruning, some cutting away, some cultivation in order to take away the thorns and weeds which are choking out the life, but the bottom line is that fruit is the evidence of spiritual life and the lack of fruit is evidence of no spiritual life.
Well that leads to the last type of soil, and that is the good soil. The seed which fell on the good soil *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. Jesus said in vs 23 “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” The number of the fruit there is not of primary importance. But what is important about the good soil is that it is fruitful. How much may depend on other conditions. But the point is that believers bear fruit.
The question is, what is fruit? A common misconception is that fruit is leading other people to Christ. That may play a part in it, but that is not specifically what Jesus is talking about. Fruit is righteousness. It’s a life of righteousness. Not just being declared righteous by faith, resulting in justification. But living righteously, which is sanctification.
I’ll give you a couple of verses to support that. Phil. 1:9-11 says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” The fruit of righteousness. It comes through Christ living in you. No longer you living for your desires, but Christ living in you.
Another is Heb. 12:10-11 talking about our earthly fathers, “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He [disciplines us] for [our] good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” There it is again, the fruit of righteousness, sharing in God’s holiness.
Righteousness is the fruit of the new life. John said in 1John 3:7 “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” That’s the evidence of being truly saved. That’s the evidence of being a Christian. There is a new life of righteousness which is evident to the world.
That life of righteousness is what the scripture refers to as sanctification. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Sanctification is holiness, righteousness. It is being holy because He is holy. And so let me close by saying this. Examine yourselves this morning in the light of this parable. Which soil do you think characterizes the state of your heart? Do you not understand this message and are going to forget about it as soon as it’s over? That’s the soil by the road. Or are you like the rocky soil? You had some sort of spiritual experience once and because of that you think you are saved. But in reality the word of God has never taken root in your heart. And so there has not been any spiritual life.
Or do you recognize yourself as the soil that is thorny? You believed the word, you have had some spiritual growth, but the the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth are choking the word, and your life is unfruitful. If that’s the case, you need to uproot those thorns, confess your sin to the Lord and ask Him to cleanse you, to renew a right spirit within you. Repentance is the plow that produces good soil, which results in the fruit of righteousness.
Psalm 51:10, 12, 17 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. … 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. … 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.