Thrust Statement: Every Christian should examine himself or herself as to the soil of his or her mind.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:1-15.
As one reflects upon the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one quickly observes numerous responses to the preaching and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Some reaction was positive and some reaction was negative. All four Gospels are books about acceptance and rejection of Jesus and His preaching and teaching. In the prologue of John’s Gospel, he addresses this very issue of negative response and favorable reception (John 1:12-13). When Jesus gives His instructions to His disciples on their first missionary journey, he warns them about dismissal as well as approval of their preaching. As individuals reflect upon the acknowledgment and denunciation of Jesus and His disciples, one cannot help but reflect upon the now famous parable: The Parable of the Sower (see Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:1-15).
In this parable, one observes four different conditions associated with the soil of the land. In essence, Jesus is calling attention to the condition of one’s heart, which determines one’s receptivity to the truths of God. Jesus wants His listeners to listen with receptive hearts. The design of this parable is intended to illustrate the causes of rejection and acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus drew upon an agricultural image in order to convey why some would reject and others would accept His teachings. It is through this parable that Jesus draws attention to His own ministry. In this parable the soil represents the various conditions of the human heart. One objective of this study is to draw attention to the “now” as well as to the “then.” The question that confronts every believer is: How can Christians relate this parable to their own lives?
READING THE PARABLE WITH UNDERSTANDING
In the reading of any parable, one must first look at the surroundings of the story. In other words, one should at least read the chapters preceding the parable to see if that sheds light on the interpretation. Did Jesus set forth The Parable of the Sower in order to draw attention to the current situation in His own ministry? Can one read this parable today and draw similar conclusions based on similar circumstances within the religious world today? Do Christians today discover the same scenario about the soils of the mind as presented by Jesus in the first century? As one reflects upon this parable, one cannot help but wonder about himself or herself in relationship to the various kind of soils, which represents the minds of men and women in their reaction to Jesus. Every individual should search his or her heart for an examination of the following question: How do you relate yourself in your study of the various conditions in the sowing by the sower? What kind of soil is your mind?
Jesus depicts a sower casting his seed. But in the spreading of his seed, Jesus says that some seed falls on the roadside, some seed falls on rocky soil, some seeds falls among thorns, and, finally, some seed falls on good soil. Jesus wants His listeners to grasp the meaning behind this graphic story: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). God wants His people to exercise their ability to reason. God confronts every man and woman with His truth; if individuals fail to respond positively to His message, then they will lose it. What a sad commentary on the life of men and women who sit and listen week after week to the Word of God and do not respond positively to the teachings of Christ. Again, the question that continuously confronts every man and woman is: What is the soil of my mind or heart?
ONE CAUSE OF REJECTION BY THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS:
Why did Jesus tell this parable? Did Jesus speak this parable to illustrate the arrogance of the religious leaders in their rejection of His teachings concerning the nearness of God’s kingdom? Did Jesus speak this parable to illustrate perseverance in the sowing of God’s Word? God’s Word still prevails, in spite of rejection. Does the first soil—wayside ground—represent the closed mind? Does this soil portray the religious leaders as individuals whose minds are shut and the truths of God cannot gain entry? Does this soil characterize mental arrogance? In other words, the wayside ground pictures the man or woman who thinks that he or she knows everything already. It is possible for a man or woman to shut one’s mind to what one does not want to be true. This type soil of the mind is still with the Christian community today.
Just as the Jews rejected Jesus because He rejected their traditions, so today, many Christians reject other Christians when they too reject the long-held traditions of the early reformers. Many in Jesus’ day refused to allow Jesus to question their traditions. As a result of this decision, many Jews, especially the religious leaders, refused to rethink their presuppositions. Thus, they sought ways to eliminate Him. Even today, many Christians refuse the path of spiritual inquiry, which is also a condition of the soil of one’s mind. Some believers allow their presuppositions to keep them from reexamining their traditions in the light of God’s Word. Their prejudices separate them from the truths of God. Why is it important to reexamine traditions? One reason is that traditions often fragment the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is one. Christians are to work toward the unity for which Jesus prayed. Not only should one look at the original Sitz im Leben (situation in life), but one should also look to see if there are any parallels to draw upon for the society in which the Church finds itself.
BLINDED BY PREJUDICE
In the first century, Jesus deals with people blinded by prejudice, with people deafened by wishful thinking, and with people too lazy to think for themselves. Jesus went up against at least two hundred and fifty years of human traditions. Today, the Church is still having to battle human traditions from earlier preachers and teachers. Hopefully, one lesson to be drawn from this parable is the necessity of reexamining long held traditions in order to maintain the Spirit’s unity. There are many issues that separate God’s people. Yes, there are problems that hang over God’s community like an ominous cloud—divisions resulting from a lack of love.
For example, many Christians are not willing to reexamine the use of instruments in praise to God. In reexamining one’s long-held traditions, one must ask the following questions: Has God condemned the use of instruments as is commonly held in many local congregations? Are women to remain silent in an absolute sense in the assembly? Is it wrong for women to cut their hair? Is it wrong for women not to wear a veil today in the assembly? Is it wrong to have the modern day Sunday school to teach children and adults? Is it wrong to use individual communion cups in the observance of the Lord’s Supper? Is it wrong to have a baptistry in the so-called church building? This list is almost limitless. If one addresses these sacred cows, at least sacred to some believers, then one is automatically accused of not “abiding in the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9).
One can read The Parable of the Sower without making practical application to one’s own Sitz im Leben (situation in life). The primary objectives in this study are to call attention to the kind of soils that exist within the Body of Christ. One can quickly peruse this sermon without ever seeing himself or herself in this picture. Today, within many fellowships, one witnesses a hardness that is equal to the religious leaders that Jesus encountered in His own ministry. Christians still need to embrace this parable and put this story into their own lives.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
Healing of a Paralytic
To give support to the above comments about the wayside ground representing “mental arrogance,” which arrogance begets intolerance and shuts the mind to truth, the following analysis of the events leading up to this parable should shed light on the correct interpretation. Prior to Mark’s recording of this parable about the various soils, he gives a glimpse of the political and social attitudes of certain individuals. One such incident involved the healing of a paralytic. Who were some of the critics? Mark says that they were the “teachers of the law” (Mark 2:6). Listen as he gives their response to this miracle of healing a paralytic: “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (2:7).
Eating Heads of Grain on the Sabbath
On another occasion, Jesus and His disciples plucked some heads of grain on the Sabbath and ate. For this action, Jesus and His disciples came under the scrutiny of the Pharisees (Mark 2:24). Jesus countered their negative statements with questions about David and the consecrated bread (2:25-26). Mark does not record their reaction to Jesus’ forceful logic in exposing their lack of understanding. The religious leaders failed to bend their minds to God’s Word as unfolded by Jesus and His apostles. As a result of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, they were unable to live lives that produced fruit for the kingdom of heaven. One witnesses mental laziness on the part of the religious leaders. They refused to examine the Scriptures to see whether the things Jesus spoke were true. God wants His people to love Him with their entire “mind” (Matthew 22:34-40). He desires His people to reason—“Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Paul informs Timothy that he should study to show himself approved of God (2 Timothy 2:15). When one is unwilling to think, one sentences himself or herself to death.
Healed Man with a Withered Hand on the Sabbath
The events preceding the telling of this parable resembles a pyramid. The Parable of the Sower is the climax to the events leading up to this soul-wrenching parable. Following the Sabbath confrontation, He healed a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1). Even in this story, one witnesses again the intellectual haughtiness that spawns narrow-mindedness, a fanaticism that shuts the mind to truth. Some were already looking for a reason to accuse Him (3:2). Upon the healing of this man with a shriveled hand, Jesus asked these individuals: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (3:4a). Did they answer? No! Mark says, “they remained silent” (3:4b). This silence caused Jesus to look “around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (3:5a). Who were these individuals whose hearts were so callous and so hard? Again, Mark reveals who the “some of them” were: “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (3:6).
Jesus Accused of Being Possessed by Beelzebud
This incident adds to the conflict that prompted the Parable of the Sower. After the appointment of the twelve (3:13-19), Jesus entered into a house to eat, but a crowd gathered and they were unable to eat. When His family learned of this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, “He is out of his mind” (3:21). During this time, some teachers of the law from Jerusalem arrived and accused Him of being possessed with Beelzebud (3:22). Again, His mother and brothers arrived and were looking for Him (3:31-34). Following this episode, Mark says, “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake” (4:1). In spite of rejection, this famous parable sets forth the truth that some seed will produce fruit in the hearts of men and women. It is true that some seed will not produce fruit, but, on the other hand, there will be a great harvest in the end. Before sowing the Word, one must not seek perfect conditions; otherwise, the Good News of the kingdom of God will not bare fruit. There is always a risk every time that one spreads the Word of God. It is in this vein that Solomon writes: “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). If one waits for perfect conditions to sow God’s Word, the time will never come.
JESUS’ FAMOUS PARABLE SETS THE STAGE
FOR HIS PREACHING AND TEACHING
Following the conflict that Mark reveals in the first three chapters of his Gospel, one quickly sees the background for the first of His parables. In fact, this parable sets the tone for all His other parables. Now is the time for Jesus to set the stage for His preaching and teaching. Thus, Jesus gives His now famous parable on The Parable of the Sower (4:1-9, 13-20). Listen to Jesus as he sets forth the various soils of the minds of men and women:
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” 9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (4:1-9).
This parable revolves around the preaching and teaching ministry of Jesus. Parables are peppered throughout the Gospels. For example, Matthew’s Gospel lists eight parables in which Jesus addresses the nature of His kingdom. After Jesus completed this parable, He says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). It is God’s intent that one hears and understands. As Jesus begins this parable, he calls attention to a farmer “scattering the seed” (4:4). Luke specifically calls the seed the “Word of God” (Luke 8:11). In other words, the sower sows the Good News (the Gospel) of entrance into God’s kingdom by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). It goes almost without saying that every believer today who proclaims the Gospel of God is a sower who sows the Word of God. This parable is just as applicable today as it was then
Modern Day Application
Are you proclaiming this message today with your life and lips? Are you telling individuals about the Word of God becoming flesh (John 1:1, 14)? Are you sowing the seed? Or are you just relying upon someone else? The words of Paul to the Corinthians are an example of what it means to sow:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Every believer is to participate in the sowing of God’s written revelation as well as the proclamation of the “living Word” who gives life. There is a sense in which the Bible is the husk, but Jesus is the kernel. It is in this regard that Jesus says to the Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). This parable is about the sowing of the Good News of God’s Way of salvation, that is to say, Jesus is the savior of the world. It is in this regard that Jesus, after His resurrection, speaks to His disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
FOUR BASIC SOILS
As one sows the seed of God’s kingdom (the Gospel), one discovers that this seed falls upon various soils that have an effect on the outcome of the sown seed. The varieties of soils represent an assortment of responses to Jesus as the savior of the world. In other words, Jesus sets forth four basic kinds of hearers that His disciples could expect to come across in the preaching of the Gospel and the teachings concerning the kingdom of God. The four kinds of soils, or conditions, are: (1) hard-packed soil, (2) thin-veneer soil, (3) thorn-contaminated soil, and (4) good soil. In seeking to understand the relevance of this parable for today, one should carefully reflect upon his or her own life to see if the Word of God has fallen upon “good soil” in his or her mind.
Listen to Jesus as he calls attention to the first of the four kinds of soils upon which the Word of God falls: “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up” (Mark 4:4). This “path” that Jesus speaks of is the hard-packed soil that lay between the furrows in which the seed was able to take root. Jesus explains this condition as: “The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” (4:14-15). In other words, the Word of God makes no penetration. This person is self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and self-righteous. This individual feels no disgrace or remorse for his or her transgressions or his or her sluggishness toward the things of God. This kind of soil does not allow for the bending of the mind toward spiritual things. This wayside soil does not allow for an honest investigation into one’s long-held traditions.
This wayside soil symbolizes the rebelliousness of people who listen to the Good News of God’s way of salvation, but what they hear makes no impression on their souls. This kind of soil represents the one who allows the Word of God to enter one ear and go out the other. They listen but they do not act. It is difficult to understand how people can hear the Word of God Sunday after Sunday and not respond to the love of God. There is no repentance. This kind of attitude leaves the individual exposed to the attack of Satan. When individuals who hear the Good News of God refuse to repent and turn to God, then Jesus says, “Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” (4:15). They hear, but do not act. Are you saying today, “If I accept what I am hearing today, then I will have to change my way of life”? Are you willing to change your lifestyle for Jesus? Is God’s Word falling on deaf ears? Christians have an awesome responsibility to listen to the Word of God. Since your conversion to Christ, is your heart tender and receptive to kingdom of God? Is your heart like cement, insensitive to the ways of God? Are you moved by God’s love? Are you stirred by the story of God’s redemption in and through Jesus? Are you unchanged since your conversion?
What Is the Condition of Your Heart?
What is the condition of your heart? Remember, the state of one’s heart influences the receptivity of God’s Word—acceptance or rejection. God confronts everyone with His truth. God confronts you with His truth. If one does not respond positively to the truths of God, then one will lose it. The longer one puts off salvation the more difficult it becomes to act in a positive manner. The following story is found in Jerry Vine’s commentary on Exploring the Gospels: Mark:
A boy from the country was going to the city to get a job. Before he left, his mother said, “Son, I want you to promise me that you will go to church on Sunday.” So he promised, and went to the city. He worked the first week, became acquainted with some of the fellows there, and made some new friends. On the weekend his new friends invited him to go horseback riding with them on Sunday. He remembered his promise to his mother and he said, “Sorry, fellas, I can’t do it.” But they continued to pressure him and after a while he agreed to go. Sunday morning came, and they began their horseback ride. Around 11:00, they rode into the city and as they were passing the church, bells announcing the services began to ring. Our boy could see his parents walking into their little home church in the country. He remembered his promise to his mother but he just kept on riding. The bells grew fainter. When they got to the edge of town, the boy stopped and said, “Fellows, I come from a Christian family. My mother asked me to promise her I’d be in church today. I have noticed as we have been riding that the bells have been getting fainter and fainter. If we ride anymore, I won’t be able to hear the bells. I’m going back while I can still hear them.”
Have the bells of God’s call stopped ringing for you? As you reflect upon your own life, do you remember the bells ringing? Can you still faintly remember God’s gentle call to you through your parents’ teaching, through church attendance, through vacation Bible school, through Bible readings, and so on? Can you still faintly hear the bells now ringing? Do you remember the words of the Holy Spirit concerning postponement of salvation? If not, then you should listen to the author of Hebrews as he reflects upon the words of the Holy Spirit as He spoke through David: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). Do you want salvation? Do you want release from the burden of sin? Do you want the peace that passes all understanding? Do you want your sins washed away? Do you want to be a partaker of God’s spiritual blessings? If so, then hear the words of Jesus:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Are you one in whom the truth about Jesus cannot find an entry? Are you one in whom the truths of God can find an entry? The first “path” that Jesus addresses deals with individuals who lack interest in the things of God. This destitution of concern results from a failure to realize how important the Christian decision is. The Word of God fails to make an impact on the lives of many men and women because they do not understand its magnitude. This famine of interest does not always stem from hostility, but rather from a lack of interest. Many individuals think the Word of God is irrelevant and that they can get along without it. Where do you stand today? Do you need God to get through your depression? Do you need God to strengthen you in your daily walk?
If someone were to ask you, do you need God? Surely, you would respond with a loud sounding “yes.” Surely, each one would respond with deep emotions—yes, I need God. But in your confession of the need of God in your life, one cannot help but wonder what actions you have taken. Do you hear God’s Word, but do not act? Have you repented of your sins? Have you confessed the name of Jesus as Lord? Where do you stand in your relationship with God?
God Wants Everyone to Respond to His Call
Again, one must ask: How many of you remember the following words of Jesus as reported by Matthew concerning the way to find rest from one’s burdens? Listen again as this Scripture is cited:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
God wants you to respond. God does not want you to be hard-hearted. God does not want you to be like the soil that is beaten as hard as pavement from the feet of men and women. He wants you to hear and understand. He does not want your life to be hardened with the cares of this world. He wants you to come to Him for eternal life. Jesus wants you to come in faith. God does not force salvation on anyone. One must choose to accept or to reject the incarnate God. It is as John writes:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:10-13).
Acceptance or Rejection: The Decision is Yours
Some Jews accepted and others rejected Jesus as the Messiah. But the choice was theirs. As one peruses the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew, one is immediately confronted with acceptance and rejection. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, one observes that one-third of his Gospel is given before he records the parable of the Sower. This parable, recorded by Matthew and Mark, is true to life. Many had accepted Jesus as God’s Anointed One, but, on the other hand, many rejected Jesus, even though they had heard the same message. God offers salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). One cannot separate divine grace and human faith. It is in this regard that Jesus says,
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:35-37).
In this declaration, Jesus speaks of divine grace and human faith. Pore over what Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me,” which is divine grace, but, on the other hand, he also adds, “who ever comes to me I will never drive away,” which is human faith. Salvation is not through a creed, it is not through a particular denomination, it is not through godly elders, it is not through great preachers, but rather it is through Jesus. As stated above, Jesus is the “bread of life.” If one comes to Jesus, he will “never go hungry” and he “will never be thirsty.”
Have you accepted Jesus? Have you believed in Him? Have you confessed His name? Have you committed your life to Him? Are you “cold” or “hot” in your zeal for God’s kingdom? What kind of soil are you? What is the soil of your mind? I remind you of the words of Peter as he addresses Cornelius and his household: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Again, one should reflect upon the words of Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:14-18).
Once more, one witnesses divine grace and human faith. Do not allow the “wicked one” to come and snatch the seed out of your heart (Mark 4:14). Are you seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)? How often do you read the Word of God? How often do you pray for the growth of God’s kingdom? How often do you meet with God’s people on Sundays? Is Sunday a day for sleeping? Is Sunday just a day for fun at the lake? Is Sunday your day for visiting relatives? What does your Christian faith mean to you? How often do you share your faith? Are you “weary and burdened”? Yes, Jesus invites those who are weary from their vain search for peace through human wisdom. Jesus invites those who are exhausted from seeking salvation through their own efforts. Jesus invites those who are weary and burdened from trying to achieve God’s righteousness through their own efforts.
As one contemplates on the wayward soil, one realizes that this is the soil of no results. The individual who is like the hard-packed soil beside the road is the individual that listens to the Good News of God, but this hearing makes no impression to repentance. This person can get up and walk away. This type individual is the one who is unwilling to give himself or herself to the Lord. As you contemplate the soil of your own mind, the question naturally arises: Has the Word of God fallen on wayward soil? Again, you should ask yourself two more questions: Has the Word of God been lost to me? And, Is the Word of God sown in vain? Do you hear the Good News of God but let it pass through your mind as a mere flash of lighting? Has the Good News of God changed your life? Remember, Satan is present whenever one hardens his or her heart against God.
The thin-veneer soil is the “rocky soil.” What is this kind of soil? R. Kent Hughes writes:
In Palestine much of the land is a thin two- or three-inch veneer of soil over a limestone bedrock. Here some of the seed falls, the warm sun quickly heats the seed in the shallow soil, and the seeds sprout in feverish growth. But then the sun beats down, the plant’s roots meet the bedrock, and it withers and dies.
This type ground represents one whose faith is superficial, or shallow. When one’s faith is just on the surface, one’s acceptance of Christ is easy, but it is not easy to be a Christian. Many individuals are deeply moved by hearing the Christian message of redemption; on the other hand, unless one is willing to reflect upon God’s love in all its richness, one will not be able to withstand the hardships with the storm of life. If there is not a deep-rooted conviction about Christianity, the effects will be temporary in spite of stirring emotions. Christianity is not trouble free. It is in this frame of mind that Matthew records Jesus’ warning about the cost of discipleship (Matthew 10). Do you remember your conversion? Do you remember your zeal for God? Do you remember the frequency with which you read the Word of God? Do you remember how you attended every service, or gathering, of the saints on Sunday?
How seldom do you allow the Word of God to take possession of you? How often do you permit the slightest problem to throw you off track from your spiritual journey? How frequently do you permit God’s Word to be dismissed from your heart? Jesus says, “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Mark 4:16-17). Many respond to the Word of God with tears; they respond with great enthusiasm. But within just a short period of time, the passion for spiritual things fades away gradually, not all at once. These persons have no depth in their lives. They are like plants; they sprout up quickly, but, at the same time, they die out quickly. What is the soil of your mind? Is it rocky soil? Do you sleep on Sunday morning? Are you just brushed with Christianity? Are you a half-hearted Christian? Is Jesus just halfway in your heart? Has Christianity “enveloped” your life? Or has Christianity just “brushed” your life?
Some Christians are like a soda drink that fizzles. Jesus describes the person that is seasonal; they rejoice in the Gospel for a while, but, in time, they sputter like an automobile that is out of gas. Are you just living on the surface of the soil? Is there any depth to your spiritual life? With this kind of mindset, the Word of God does not go deep into one’s heart. Many just wither and die on the vine, no roots. Many never allow the Word of God to take root. Many never learn to depend on the power of God through the Gospel. In time, Christians often allow the trials and testings of life to uproot them. Some believers become disillusioned with their parents and give up God—no deep roots in the Christian faith. Others become disheartened with life in general and give up God—no deep roots in the Christian faith.
William Barclay goes right to the very core of this shallow ground, by writing: “The Christian offer is not only a privilege, it is also a responsibility. A sudden enthusiasm can always so quickly become a dying fire.” Paul warned the Colossians: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7-8). One’s reflection upon “rooted and built up in him” causes one to think of a tree with its deep roots in the soil. Just as a tree is deep-rooted in the soil, so Christians are to be deep-rooted in Christ. If one is deep-rooted in the faith, he or she serves God out of gratitude for what God has done for humanity in and through Jesus—a life “overflowing with thankfulness.”. Every believer will always praise God from whom all blessings flow. James Montgomery Boice’s words are well worth reflecting upon:
They hear the gospel and seem to fit in. They even make a profession of faith. But then some difficulty arises—the loss of a job, misunderstandings with other Christians, sickness, even a bad romance—and just as suddenly as they once seemed to embrace the faith, they fall away because they were never really born again.
If one wishes to please God in his or her life, one must allow the truth of God to take root. One must also cultivate the soil of one’s mind with spiritual things in order to bear fruit. Warren W. Wiersbe writes that it is “shocking to realize that three fourths of the seed did not bear fruit.” Unless there is fruit in one’s life, it is evident that saving faith has vanished. Is your faith active? Are you producing fruit? What kind of soil are you? Do you allow affliction and persecution to keep you from faithfulness to God’s kingdom? It is not uncommon for individuals to allow difficulties to interfere with their faithfulness to God. Many Christians permit their fleshly nature to keep them from devotion to God. Do you have a real relationship with Christ? Are you a halfway Christian? If so, your superficial emotionalism will not stand the test in the face of catastrophes. If one has true conviction about God’s Atonement, this belief involves the whole person who can then withstand the storms of life. Vernon McGee correctly analyzes this mindset:
These rocky-ground folk are the opposite of the first group. It was the Devil who took the Word away from the wayside hearers, but the flesh is the culprit with this group. Instead of being in deep freeze, they are in the oven—warm, emotional, shedding tears, greatly moved. These are what I call Alka-Seltzer Christians. There is a lot of fizz in them. They make as much fuss during a service as a rocket on a launching pad, but they never get into orbit. I classify them as the Southern California type. They have great zeal and energy during special meetings, but they are like burned out Roman candles after the meetings are over.
This thorn-contaminated soil is the soil that allows the cares of the world to distract them from spiritual things. Many let the cares of the world shut them out from God. It is not uncommon for Christians to permit the details of the world to crowd out the Word of God. Jesus, as He explains this parable, says, “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19-20). Jesus speaks of those with divided hearts. Whenever the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and a host of other things settle in the hearts of men and women, one observes irreconcilable loyalty to the things of God.
One can hardly read the Sermon on the Mount without reflection upon the “worries of life.” Listen to Jesus as He calls attention to the problems of life and how to respond to these problems—trust in God:
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:28-34).
Such worries leave no room for the kingdom of God. Do you ever wonder where Christians are on Sunday morning? Thorns choke the desire to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and the desire to gather around His table, which reminds God’s people that Jesus is coming again. Also, thorns squeeze the life out of the Word of God. In other words, it is no longer their delight. How seldom do you allow the Word of God to take possession of you? It is not just the worries of this life that impede one’s progress in his or her Christian walk. Worries of life also entails one’s outlook on money. One must not allow money to take the place of his or her devotion to God. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, addresses this issue of priorities: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (6:24). Some Christians operate with the same mentality of the “rich fool” that Jesus uses to illustrate an undue emphasis upon money:
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).
Are you like the “rich man”? Are you thinking that you need to provide for yourself now? Are you saying I will think about spiritual things later? Is your heart and mind opened to God? Are you receptive to the truths of God? Are you rich or poor toward God? Many believers store up things for themselves, but they are “not rich toward God.” Have you abandoned God in order to make more money—more money to build a bigger house or buy a larger farm or purchase a nicer automobile? Has “the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” in your devotion to God? There is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself. But when one allows material things to override spiritual things, one needs to reevaluate his or her priorities. Are you trying to hold on to Jesus with one hand, and, at the same time, to hold on to the world with the other hand? The “thorns of life” can suffocate the Word of God. What do Jesus’ words concerning thorns mean to you? How do you look at money? Has money taken God’s place in your life? It is in this same attitude that Paul warns:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
It does not take much to throw God’s people off the Word that became flesh. Are you bound to Jesus? Are you sowing the “seed,” that is to say, the Good News of God to a lost and dying world? Whoever lives in the Word made flesh must send this message of salvation to others. How frequently do you allow Jesus to take possession of you? How often do you read and reflect upon God’s written revelation? In your day-to-day affairs, do you allow the anxieties of daily living to dampen your faith? Have you allowed Jesus to become the determining factor in your day-to-day walk with God? As you reflect upon God’s written Word, do you weep over your unfaithfulness? Are you ashamed of your unfaithfulness? Has God’s Word penetrated your heart, not just your mind? Whenever one hardens one’s heart against God, Satan is present. What is the soil of your mind? The author of Hebrews issues this caution:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).
AND GOOD SOIL
Is your life void of fruit? There is the good ground. Have you taken the Word of God into your life? Jesus speaks of this soil this way: “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times” (Mark 4:8). This “good soil” represents one who is open to the Gospel of God. This heart that is open will produce fruit—“thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” The good soil of the mind is a heart that allows the Word of God to take deep root and produce a harvest of characteristics that honors God. The good soil accepts Jesus as the promised Messiah, the savior of the world. The good soil has an open mind to teachings of Scripture. When one’s heart becomes crowded with the things of the world, this double-mind smothers Christian growth and puts a stop to a great harvest for God’s kingdom. Paul enumerates many of the fruits that are indicative of the one who is a new creation in Christ. Listen to Paul as he sets forth behavior that rejoices the Holy Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:22-24).
Just a brief overview of the Book of Ephesians reveals that God expect His people to be involved in good works, works that honor Him. Paul writes: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). As noted above in the other three soils, many lives remain untouched by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. As one reflects upon the good soil, one ought not to forget that the good soil of the mind witnesses to development in the lives of God’s people in Christian ministry. Paul in his Galatian Epistle enumerates the opposite of the “fruit of the Spirit”:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
If one is to produce good works/good fruits, one must love the Lord, love His people, and love the Holy Scriptures. This one becomes, as it were, the backbone of the local Body of Christ—one among many. The ministry involves witnessing to others about the Good News of God’s Way of salvation in and through Jesus. In addition to witnessing, one’s life also gives to support the work of God’s kingdom. This kind of soil grows in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Are you Spirit-filled? Are you Christ like? Are you a soul winning Christian? What kind of fruit do you bear in your daily spiritual walk with God? What does the following Scripture say to you: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruit evidences the good soil.
As one reflects upon the four different soils of the mind, one cannot help but remember the words of Paul: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Have you examined your spiritual condition? Hopefully, each person that hears or reads this message will examine himself or herself to determine the soil on one’s mind. Has God’s Word fallen “along the path”? Is the soil of your mind like the “rocky places”? Have you allowed God’s Word to fall “among thorns”? Or do you have the soil of an open heart toward Jesus and His teachings? Jesus taught this parable to awaken in the hearts of His hearers the need to respond positively to His person as the Anointed One of God for the salvation of sinful humanity. In concluding this parable, Jesus pleads with His listeners about the necessity of evaluating one’s condition: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).
Are you listening to this parable of Jesus? Are you receiving His Word with a spirit of humility? Is your mind strangled by your love for the world? Is your heart impenetrable? Are you willing to allow God’s Word to break your hard heart? What do the final words of Jesus in this parable really mean to you? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is found at the end of each letter addressed to the seven churches of Asia. This saying individualizes this parable to every man and woman. He is saying in effect: “This means you!” Even though Christians frequently hear the message, they frequently apply the teachings to others, not themselves. This Parable is loaded with stern and forceful words. Following His explanation, He is saying: “All these things are meant for you.” Even though this Parable is addressed to the local situation of Jesus’ day, nevertheless, this Parable is eternal and still speaks to God’s people today.
 All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless otherwise stated.
 Jerry Vines, Exploring the Gospels: Mark (Loizeaux Brothers: Neptune, New Jersey, 1990), 62.
 R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, in Preaching the Word, volume 1 (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books,1989), 107.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, The Daily Study Bible Series, Revised Edition, Volume 3 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 60.
 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, An Expositional Commentary, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 233.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Loyal: Matthew in The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume 1 (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1999), 45.
McGee, J. Vernon. “Matthew,” in Thru the Bible Commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program, electronic ed., Vol. 4 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981), 73.