'A Parable on Parables - Part 2' - now, what I didn't perhaps say last week, which is fundamental to understanding this portion of Scripture, but particularly relates to our interpretation and application of it this week, is that the sower in this parable primarily portrays the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the ministry of the Lord to Israel to sow the seed of the Kingdom, that's what we have here - coming as Messiah, bringing the gospel. But there is also a prophetic element to this parable that shows, not only to the disciples, but to the church of today, how people will respond to the gospel and to the word of God. So how ministry and service, as we sow the seed of the word, will be received in these last days.
So, in its original context, as the Lord Jesus is sending out these twelve apostles to serve Him, it was necessary that they understood how the word of God that they preached would be received, how people would respond, the diverse responses that they would have in their hearts. We pointed out last week that such instruction was necessary for the disciples because, if you look at chapter 3 and verses 28 to 30, you see the different responses that the word of the Lord from the mouth of the Sower, the Lord Jesus Christ, the responses that it received. Some said that He had a devil, and even His own friends and family were insinuating that He was mad.
Now last Sunday morning, along with answering the question 'Why did Jesus use parables?', we sought to answer the question 'What is a parable?'. We defined a parable as 'something thrown alongside something else', in other words a comparison - but I hope you remember, and this is fundamental for your understanding of parables in the Gospels, I hope you remember that these parables, we said, were originally meant to be heard, not read. Therefore the hearers had to make an instant appraisal of what Jesus was saying. They didn't have the privilege and the liberality of time that we have to read and study these truths. We also looked at the purpose of parables, and we saw that the purpose was twofold, and those purposes had opposite effects. On the one hand a parable was to make truth more clear to those who had ears to hear and were willing to receive it, and on the other hand it was to make truth more obscure to those who did not have ears to hear, those who had no spiritual concern.
Then we looked at the point of this particular parable of the seed, the soil and the sower. We defined parables as having one particular main idea, I urged you not to get bogged down with the details too much at the expense of the one main point of a parable. There is in every parable one great idea that leaps out and shines like a flash of lightning, and we saw that in this parable - before we even look at the interpretation and application of each detail - Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was sowing the seed of the Kingdom, they would sow the seed of the Kingdom, and although part of that seed would never grow, some of it would. There would, one day, be a splendid harvest.
Now I'm not going to spend any more time recapping on those truths - if you want to know about them, get the CD from last week. We're going to turn our attention now to the responses that are identified, that is, the responses to the seed that is sown that is found here in the soils that the Lord Jesus tells us about. Now we're not getting sidetracked by detail, as I've warned you about last week, because it is the Lord who interprets these soils for us - He tells us what they mean, and they are vitally related to the main point of this parable. Before we look into the interpretations of these soils, and applications thereof, let us remember the title of our messages these two weeks is 'A Parable on Parables', because parables in general and this parable of parables in particular are all about how people respond to the word of God. It is vitally important you keep that in mind - indeed, the Lord reiterates that in verse 13, just before He interprets and applies the parable to them He says to them: 'Know ye not this parable? How then will ye know all parables?'. If you stumble at this one, this parable on parables, this parable that explains how you understand parables and how people respond to God's word, you'll never understand another one.
So let's seek to interpret and apply. Really interpretation is simply 'What does it mean?', and application is 'What does it matter?'. We'll deal with both of those things as we deal with each soil, going from one through to four. Before we look first of all at verse 15, the wayside soil, let me say that obviously this parable has commonly been interpreted and applied to the unconverted - and that is very true, as we'll see as we go through it. But let me suggest to you that this parable can clearly be applied to every believer in Christ, because every believer is called to be productive, but of course all believers are not. The point of the parable in general is that the condition of the soil of your heart determines your potential for growth. That can be applied across the board: the condition of your heart determines how you will respond to God's word, and the fruit that will accrue thereto.
When you think of this parable in that particular light, indeed it is perhaps more applicable to believers - because, as the Lord has already said, the mysteries of the Kingdom are intended for the children of the Kingdom. So the Lord begins to expound the wayside soil, the stony ground, the thorny ground, the good ground. We'll take our time on the good ground later on, but let me say that the first three soils - the wayside soil, the stony ground, and the thorny ground – essentially are the three great enemies of the Christian: the world, the flesh, and the devil. I think if you see that it will help you in our interpretation and application this morning.
So let's look at verse 15 first of all, the wayside soil: 'These are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts'. The wayside soil, or literally 'the soil along the way' - that gives a clue to its meaning. This was the pathway along by the side of the field, and men's feet walked upon it, and so the soil had been trampled and it had become hardened. Satan is pictured by these birds snatching away the word - very easy to interpret, isn't it? The Lord is speaking of the hard, unresponsive heart - a person who is stubborn and unbroken, who says a determined 'No!' to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures. This is an individual who is unmoved and untroubled by the message of God's word, someone who is indifferent, insensitive to the word of God at the moment he receives it and thereafter.
Now certainly, right away, you see the obvious application. This is a wonderful picture of an unconverted sinner, and of course Paul helps us in 2 Corinthians 4:4 where he says that Satan, who is the god of this world, this world age, has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel should shine unto them in order that they be saved. So, if you're here this morning and you're someone who frequents gatherings where the word of God, the seed of the Kingdom, is sown, you need to beware - because every time you open your heart and do not allow the seed of the word of God to find root in it, you're allowing your heart to become harder and more unresponsive, consequently, to the next message you hear from God's word.
Now though that is the case, this certainly applies to unbelievers - and incidentally Luke chapter 8 verse 12, where Luke recites this parable, he applies it to the lost, and he says that the devil snatches away the seed 'lest they should believe and be saved' - but I want to ask you: could this truth not also apply equally to the Christian? Now I know what Luke says, but Mark doesn't say it, and Matthew doesn't say it in Matthew 13 where he records it - but Satan is operative in this particular line in our lives as well. You remember in Luke 22:31, the Lord Jesus said to Simon: 'Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you like wheat'. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 that Satan is 'as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour'. Now the apostles sometimes were affected like this - in John 2:22 they failed to remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He was to rise again. In Luke 18 verse 34 the plain and obvious truth about His death and resurrection, I quote, 'was hid from them'.
Now Matthew, in Matthew 13, says that this person who has the seed of the word of God snatched away from their heart by the devil does not understand, and then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. So certainly it applies to the unconverted, but can it also apply to believers who do not understand many parts of God's word, what God is saying to them, and Satan ties them up in knots and has them over a barrel? As I've said, soil becomes hard when too many feet tread on it. It's not just unbelievers who recklessly open their hearts to all kinds of people and influences, we as believers are also in danger of exposing our hearts to things that will harden them. I just wonder is that why many in the church today are desensitised to the seed of the word of God, because they have become desensitised to sin and to this world?
Of course it applies to unbelievers, but I'm asking you this morning: is your heart hard to God's word? Primarily it does refer to those that are unsaved, but it applies to you: what are you exposing your heart to that has made you become unreceptive to the word of the living God?
Let's move on to verses 16 and 17, the stony ground: 'These are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended'. Now this stony ground indicates to us that there was a shallow skin of earth that covered this stony ground, which probably was a shelf of limestone rock which was very common in Galilee. This is speaking of a person who seems to go on brightly for the Lord for a while, but then tribulation and persecution rises because of their profession, and they decide that the cost is too great - and perhaps they even abandon the whole thing. In other words, persecution exposes their shallowness.
Now a question that many ask when they look at this stony ground is: is this person regenerate? Is this person born again, or is this person someone with spurious faith that makes a profession but their life doesn't back it up? Well, let me say again: we have to be careful, very careful, because these truths in this parable, as with many parables, certainly apply to how people receive the gospel, but they are generally speaking about how everyone receives the word of God. Now many people feel that this speaks of a person with a shallow heart, someone who makes a superficial response to the message of the gospel, and emotionally, with joy, embraces it - but when the hardships come along, they fall away, proving that the matter was not in them, as the Lord says 'There's no root in them'. In other words, they say these people are false professors. Now let me say that that may well be, and certainly that is true of many people who profess the name of the Lord Jesus - and let me say that some of you, maybe many of you, will disagree with what I'm going to say this morning, and I'm only saying it to you for your consideration. Search the scriptures to see if these things are so.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 8 for a moment, where Luke gives us this parable. When Luke records how the Lord Jesus explained and interpreted this parable, he indicated that the seed falling on the rocky soil represented those who, Luke 8 verse 13, look at it, 'believe for a little while, and in time of temptation fall away'. Now I know some of you might say: 'Well, this can't be true faith, or the person would never have fallen away' - but if you look at the passage in Luke 8, how Luke records it, it doesn't say that. It doesn't say it was spurious faith, it says he believed for a while. Now if you look at verse 12 in relation to the hard ground that Satan snatches the seed from, look: 'Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved'. Now Jesus, in the verse before verse 13 where He talks about the stony ground, He links belief with being saved, does He not? Verse 12: 'lest they should believe and be saved'. Now in verse 13, He says these people 'for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away'.
Now have we any grounds to say that 'believe' in verse 12 means something different than 'believe' in verse 13? I would say we don't, in fact the most reasonable thing is to assume that they mean the same thing. In verse 13 it indicated that the rocky soil people received the word. Now Luke also wrote the book of the Acts, and he uses the same expression, though we can't rely on that too heavily, but he uses the same expression, 'received the word', as to how the church grew as they received the word - Acts 8 and Acts 11. Also look at Luke's account for a moment, verse 6, it says, as Jesus delivered this parable first of all, that the seed that fell on the rocky ground sprung up. Then look at verse 7, the seed that fell among thorns sprung up. Verse 8, the seed that fell on the good ground sprung up. They all sprang up, except the first seed.
Someone put it like this: 'In the pro-life movement for plants, we like to say plant life begins at germination'. Some believe, and I think with some grounds, that there is life here in these three soils from the seed. By the time it sprang up, life had long since begun. Whether a person believes for a second, or a person believes for a lifetime, surely we believe that it is at the moment of belief that Christ gives them the gift of everlasting life? I think that is a possible interpretation, and if you're honest with yourself, if you ask the question: 'Is it possible to believe for a while, and then hardships come into your life and you fall away because of those hardships?', what would you answer? You would say 'yes', wouldn't you? I'm just asking you to suspend for a moment your traditional understandings of this portion of Scripture. Even if you reject that, there certainly is an application to you, is there not? Because we, as believers, can have superficial acceptance of God's word. We can seem, apparently, to joyfully embrace it with our emotions, and yet it doesn't affect our lives, it doesn't bear forth fruit. We drink 'Christianity-Lite', we don't want hardships, we certainly don't want persecution.
Now I was in a field recently for family reasons - you can work out that conundrum - and I heard someone read the word of God, and he read from 2 Timothy 3 verse 12: 'Those that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer prosecution', of course it says 'suffer persecution' - but it may be that we will, some day soon, suffer prosecution. But if we don't, we ought to be suffering persecution for our faith, it's not something that is reserved for those in the Middle East, in lands were Islam holds sway, or in Asia, China, Vietnam etc. We ought to be living against the trend, not living comfortably with a godless culture that is around us. Some of us espouse to believe in God's word, but when difficulties and persecution for our faith comes along we let go, give up. Oh, it applies to us, does the stony ground.
Then verses 18 and 19: 'These are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful'. This is the thorny ground. Now a Palestinian farmer could be lazy, a bit like me when - if - I'm doing the garden! He would cut off the top of the weeds, leave the roots in the ground - he would even, perhaps, burn the head of the weeds, but the field, though it would look clean eventually, below the surface the roots were still there and so, in time, the weeds would be revived in all their strength. The weeds would grow up with such rapidity and virulence, that they would choke the life out of that little seed and the sprout that is implied that comes up.
So the Lord is speaking again of people who believe, and they have a promising start, and then something happens. They become preoccupied with business, or with worldly worries, as Jesus says 'with the lust of riches'. Essentially they lose interest in the spiritual life, their heart becomes crowded. Now some say, and I used to think, that this was a person who had no repentance. Now repentance simply means 'a change of mind', but we have got this idea from somewhere that a change of mind only happens at conversion - that's rubbish. That change of mind, Jesus says, ought to go on every day after conversion, taking up our cross and following Him. Now, this is a person who stopped, one day, repenting. Other things crowded in, occupied him, eventually making him double-minded and consequently unproductive for the Lord.
Why do we apply these truths so quickly to those who are not converted, and forget to apply them to ourselves? We forget how sinful we are, don't we? How prone we are, in this particular instance, to packing our lives with a multiplicity of interests that leave us with no time in our hearts for Christ! The more complicated our lives become in this age, the more necessity there is that we make sure our priorities are right, we allow our hearts to receive the word of God and not be crowded with other things that prevent our productivity for the Master. So I'm asking us today: is your heart so crowded by other things that the word of God is choked?
The seed that fell on stony ground, there was an internal struggle in that heart, the heart was shallow. Here we have an external struggle, the things of the world are attracting them. The hard ground was the devil, the stony ground is the flesh, the thorny ground is the world - look how Jesus defines it: 'the worries of this world, the pleasures of life, the seductiveness of wealth, the passionate desires for material things' creep in and choke out the word, making it unfruitful. Now believers, we need to sit up and listen this morning. G. Campbell Morgan, that great Bible expositor once said these words: 'Persecution is only Satan's second-best weapon, his first is materialism'. Can I repeat that for you again? 'Persecution is only Satan's second-greatest weapon, his first is materialism', because by stealth the love of other things chokes the seed of the word of God, and we become double-minded. Oh yes, we want Christ, we want our profession, we want our Christian way of life, but our hearts are a bit like the girl to which the young man once proposed, and said: 'Darling, I want you to know that I really, really love you, more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I'm not rich, I don't have a yacht or a Rolls-Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart'. She thought for a moment, and then she answered: 'I love you with all my heart too...but tell me a bit more about Johnny Brown!'.
That's what we're like, isn't it? We love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might, with all our strength, and we sing the hymns, we listen to the preaching - but in reality the things of this world, particularly materialism, is choking us! We love the Lord with all our heart... ‘but let me live this materialistic life without a conscience, without a twinge’. What our culture worships, we as Christians must struggle against. It was Francis Schaeffer who said: 'This world worships the god of personal peace and affluence' - that is profound. We forget, as believers, that our rest is yet to come in heaven, in glory - but the toil is now, as we follow the Master. Whatever culture we are in, whether it's Communism, whether it's Islam, whether it's Capitalism, we need to realise that we are constantly being subtly coerced into spending our money, or spending our time, or spending our energies on those things that are not of Christ.
A pastor who experienced the persecuted church came home to his Western congregation and said these words: 'Consumerism could be a more effective killer of Christianity than Communism'. Do you know that's what the Chinese church is saying today? You've seen it on the news that China is becoming a capitalist society in cahoots with the UK and with the USA in trading and so on across the world, everything - you probably look at your watch and it was made in China, everything is made in China. Consumerism is entering, and you know it's affecting the revival church that was born during persecution. That church in China is trying to resist it, because they know it's going to kill them. In the words of Lee Tian (sp?), a famous Shanghai pastor, listen, I'm quoting him: 'Consumerism makes you think you don't have to suffer to follow Jesus. It makes you think you can have lots of things and Christ as well. In reality you end up with lots of things, and most of the time you don't even realise Christ has gone'.
Oh, this parable is for us. I know it for unsaved people and how they respond, but it is for everyone, all of us who hear the word of God, how we respond to it. I'm asking you: have you a crowded heart by other things that are choking God's influence in your life? Do you know what the answer is? You and I need to simplify our lives in order to get to know God. It doesn't mean being against money, or being against materialism and becoming an ascetic monk, no, that's not what I'm talking about - but live more simply in order that others might simply live, ourselves included. We need to fight to keep our faith simple and keep it pure - who is fighting for their faith today in the West? Are you?
Then finally, verse 20, there is the good ground: 'These are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred' - definite acceptance of the word of God at any cost. Even, if you look at it, among the good hearers there are varying degrees of fruitfulness - some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred. So even among those people there is a variety of productiveness. What determines that productiveness is simply our hearts! Do you see it? The life is most productive in the one that is most responsive to the seed, the one who receives it, the one who takes it into their minds and into their hearts and then puts it into action, the one who, as Matthew says, has an honest and a good heart that is fertile for productiveness for Christ.
Generally speaking, if I could sum up in conclusion what this parable says, it is simply this - now listen, I know this doesn't apply across the board, but generally speaking: God goes where He is wanted. Is that too simple for you? God goes where He is wanted. Is He wanted in your heart? Do you want other things better? Would you want comfort rather than persecution? Do you want to open your heart to all the things of the world that are hardening your responsiveness to His word?
Let me finish with this story: in Vietnam a former soldier by the name of Bao (sp?) was conscripted by the Khmer Rouge in 1966 when he was only 17. He became totally de-humanised by the war. He saw his best friend shot dead, his girlfriend raped then strangled. To deal with those traumatic memories Bao chewed a jungle leaf that was prized for its narcotic qualities, and he would eventually lapse into dreams of a perfect world, and then he would again waken up into the hell of war.
One day his troop was ambushed by a South Vietnamese patrol, and after a fierce skirmish only one of the enemy survived. They got him and stood him up to be shot, and they gave him a last request. The prisoner didn't request a cigarette, as was per usual, but he asked to have a portion of a little book read to him that was sitting in his top pocket. Bao was the man who took it out and began to read the words out loud: 'And Jesus said...', but he got no further because suddenly the air was filled with what sounded like thunder, and the trees around were shredded with bullets. Bao dived for cover, and just managed to escape the destruction, because there was a helicopter gunship that came overhead. In the melee that prisoner escaped. The next day the soldier asked his troop leader, this is Bao, 'What did Jesus say?'. The troop leader looked shocked, and Bao said: 'Look, it must have been something important for that guy to want to hear it just before the moment of his death'. Now his leader was furious with him, and told him he was reporting him to the political commissar, and Bao new that he was in serious trouble. On the march back he was struck with painful diarrhoea, and the troop waited by a tree for him, and he went a little distance to relieve himself - there was a huge explosion, and Bao returned to the trees to find his companions hanging in bits from the foliage, they were all dead.
He continued to be a soldier for four more years, and every day he wondered what Jesus said. Finally, when he reached Saigon, and his own side was victorious, he found a Bible on a dead person. He re-covered it in brown paper, and he read it all the way back to Hanoi. He said these words: 'I finally got to read what Jesus said, and I decided I wanted to die to those words to'. But he answered, 'I was spared by God even when I was in my sins, the diarrhoea was what saved me, and that was God - otherwise I would have been in bits like the rest of my troop, but God wanted to save me. He spared me to hear what Jesus had said'.
Now that's a testimony of the power of God and the power of God's Word to intrigue that young man Bao for four long years with the phrase 'Jesus said'. My question to you today is: does it intrigue you? To whom is given, more will be given - those who have a heart to receive and long to know what Jesus said, God will accommodate you, God will make you productive, God will do a miracle in your life. If you're intrigued with what Jesus said, that will determine how much fruit you will bear for God.
Oh Lord, forgive me for hypocrisy, forgive us all when we sing these words and yet our lives declare the opposite. If there is no greater thing than knowing Christ, then I should be getting to know Him more. Yet we would rather have our things. Lord, help us, deliver us, have mercy upon us. Lord, give us grace to prepare our hearts, for out of our hearts spring the issues of our lives. Let us guard them, let us keep them good soil, tended, weeded. Let this seed of this word bear fruit, to the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-second recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "A Parable On Parables - Part 2" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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