This past Sunday I preached on the Parable of the Sower from Luke 8:4-15. This parable teaches us why different people respond so differently to the message of the gospel. Two people may hear the same sermon; one walks away a new creature in Christ while the other goes away completely unfazed. On hearing the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners and was raised to new life, one hearer repents of his sins and embraces Christ as his Savior and Lord, but another hearer continues to live in the darkness of his unbelief. How can that be?
The answer lies in the breast of every human being. According to Jesus’ teaching, each person who hears the Word of God has a heart that is like a particular kind of soil upon which seed falls. Some hearts are like the hard-packed soil of a pathway running through a field. Just as the birds of the air swoop down from the sky and snatch the seed that falls on such soil, so the devil swoops upon these hard hearts and picks them clean of the seed of the Word. You could say that no one is more faithful to attend church than the devil – when the Word is preached on Sunday, he’s always there to pluck it from those whose hearts are hard.
Some hearts are like soil that is thin with a layer of rock just below the surface. As seed that falls on this soil grows at first, but soon withers away from a lack of moisture, so some people respond positively to the gospel at first but fall away under testing. This kind of response reminds me of people who burst from the starting line of a distance race, run like jackrabbits for half a mile or so, then fade and fall behind. The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. Only those whose faith is deeply rooted in the nourishing and enriching grace of God and his Word will persevere to the end.
Other hearts are like soil infested with thorns. When seed falls on this soil, it cannot grow to maturity and bear fruit because the thorns choke the life out of it. Likewise, when some hear the gospel they believe and profess faith in Christ. But examine their lives and you’ll see no real fruit of Christian obedience. The problem is, all their moral and spiritual energy has been sapped by the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” (v.14). I believe this soil best describes the danger we face as Christians living in a secure and affluent time. We aren’t indifferent to the Word, nor are we tempted to abandon the faith because of persecution. But we may just find so much in the world to occupy our hearts and capture our affections that our faith bears no fruit to God’s glory. Beware the example of Demas, who fell “in love with this present world” and abandoned Paul (and presumably Christ, 2 Timothy 4:10)!
Finally, some hearts are good soil. The seed of God’s Word falls on them and produces an abundance of spiritual fruit, even a hundredfold. These are those who “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (v.15).
Different hearts explain the different responses to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. But why are some hearts good in the first place? Scripture’s answer to that question is: the grace of God. By nature all human hearts are bad soil of one sort or another. Apart from grace, no one would repent of his sin and come to Christ for eternal life. But for his people, God fulfills the promise he made through the prophet Ezekiel to remove from us the heart of stone and give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Only with this new heart can we respond with faith and obedience to the preaching of the gospel.
Give thanks to God that if you believe in Christ, it is by his grace! Just as Jesus did for the disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God” (v.10).
Soli Deo Gloria!