The Parable of the Sower
In the late summer of 2016, during a meaningless preseason football game, an African American quarterback kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem. His name was and is Colin Kaepernick and with thousands in the stands and millions watching from T.V. at home, Colin knelt rather than stand, as is customary, as a protest against racial injustice, police brutality and oppression in our country. As you might recall, the responses by the media and general public were all over the place. Some loved it – here Colin was using his platform as a professional athlete for good, quietly and peacefully protesting a real injustice and point of deep lament in our country. Others hated it – seeing it as deeply offensive and disrespectful to the many men and women past and present who have served our country. Others were simply understanding towards it – seeing it as an example of free speech, a hallmark of what makes our nation great. Others were completely indifferent on the matter, and finally, I imagine a few of you are hearing the name Colin Kaepernick for the very first time.
Now here’s what’s interesting to me about this one. Everyone agreed on the basic facts at hand. A black man kneeling during the national anthem when everyone else was standing. Everybody knew what happened, and witnessed the exact same thing. And yet, there were so many different reactions to what was seen and heard that day.
And that is in many ways what’s going on in our story today, it’s called the Parable of the Sower, a parable that highlights how different people can have different responses to the same message.
For example, you’ve got the sower, or let’s say the farmer, which could be Jesus himself or really anyone who tells people about Jesus.
You’ve got the seed, which is the gospel message, or the Word of God.
Those two factors, the message and the messenger, are the basic, unchanging constants.
And yet, “Why do some people follow Jesus while others don’t? Why do some people become Christians while others never do?
Well, it’s because there’s a third factor at play, it’s the variable of all variables. Truth is, it’s the soil that the seed is planted in that makes all the difference, or in less metaphorical terms, and as Jesus later explains, it’s the posture of our hearts that make all the difference.
Why do some people follow Jesus and others don’t? Why are some more receptive than others? The point of this parable is that it primarily comes down to the receptivity and posture of our hearts.
Now, very quickly, before we get too far ahead of ourselves when it comes to this specific parable, let’s step back and talk about parables in general. It’s worth doing so since this is simply the first parable of many that we’ll be studying over the next few months as we continue our journey through the gospel of Luke.
In short, parables are stories that Jesus tells, where he uses the everyday stuff of life to communicate a greater truth. Stories that Jesus tells where he uses the everyday stuff of life, things from home life, nature, animals, agriculture, commerce, and more, to communicate a deeper spiritual truth. And while parables aren’t true in the sense that they happened, they are masterfully told to teach you and me about things that are true – things that are true about who God is, who we are, and how we’re called to live in light of the two.
And the powerful thing about parables is that they’re designed for you and I to see ourselves within the story and beyond that, their stories that call us to respond in some way.
And so as we go through this parable and all the others, be asking yourself, who might I be in this story and how might Jesus be calling me to respond?
Alright, so that’s a little bit about parables. Let’s dive into our story today. What’s so wonderful about this parable is that Jesus first tells us the parable and then afterwards, explains to us what it all means.
And in this parable, using the image of a farmer sowing his seed in a field, Jesus illustrates four different heart postures, or four different responses to the Word of God. And each of these four are a lot more than theoretical categories simply written on a page. Rather, they represent real people in real life, and as we go through these four categories, I imagine that there will be certain people in your life – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – that come to mind. And in each of these, consider for yourself which one you most identify with.
So here are the four. We’ll move through these rather quickly, by explaining each one and in each of the four, we’ll highlight both a takeaway and a prayer in each one.
Alright, here’s the first:
The Unreceptive Heart
In the parable, Jesus says, “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.
And then in explaining it Jesus says, 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
So what does that mean? It means that when these people hear the Word of God, it might as well be bouncing off concrete. It makes no impact. They give it barely even a consideration. For these people, when they hear any conversation about Jesus, religion, church, God, Christianity, they have little to no interest whatsoever. Some of these folks may be generally indifferent, others may be seriously opposed, where if they hear any kind of talk about Jesus, you’d think you just started talking about Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, you know, he who must not be named.
I think the takeaway is that we need to be emotionally and spiritually prepared that some people will hear the gospel message and reject it. I was checking in on Freeman McCall, one of our former pastors, who had major back surgery Thursday, he’s doing good by the way, more on Freeman later … and he was reminding me that Jesus likely shared this parable in order to prepare the disciples, because in just a chapter later, Jesus then sends out the disciples to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. The point being, Jesus is preparing his people to experience indifference, apathy, even outright rejection.
You all, there are so many people in our town, in our country and around our world whose hearts are either hardened or unreceptive to the gospel. Let’s pray that God would soften their hearts and that they might begin to see a need for a greater purpose and meaning in their life. Let’s pray for courage and boldness to share even when rejection or apathy is present. And as we interact with them, let’s love them with everything we’ve got and make sure that if they reject our message that they’re rejecting Jesus, the real Jesus, not cultural Christianity or anything else.
That’s the first heart posture and response toward the Word of God. An unreceptive heart. Now here’s the second.
The Receptive, Yet Unprepared Heart
In the parable, Jesus says, 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
And then in explaining it Jesus says, 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
In short, these are people, who have heard about Jesus, who were receptive to the Word of God and were excited about, energized by it. But then hard times come their way, a loved one dies, they lose their job, the savings account dwindles, there’s a divorce in the family, stuff hits the fan. And things change. They fall away. This wasn’t what they signed up for. This isn’t the Jesus they thought they were getting in the first place. And their faith is absolutely rocked by the trouble and hard times they experience.
Years ago, my youth pastor growing up, he and his wife tragically lost their 2 year old son to a long and grueling battle with cancer. It was brutal. Just awful. And I’ll confess one of the hard things for me was knowing that he was struggling with his own faith, wondering if he could really believe in Jesus in the face of such unfathomable loss. Now, some of that was his own wrestling, but in many ways, it didn’t help that folks from church were saying unhelpful things. Misquoting scripture and saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” And he’s thinking, kind of feels like he is. Or things like, “just keep praying about it.” And he’s thinking, “I feel like I’m praying all the time and it’s not doing anything.” Unhelpful things like that.
Let’s pray that we would be people who compassionately and gently walk alongside people who are suffering, who are even willing to sit in silence while our friends are hurting.
And as a takeaway, let’s remind people that following Jesus in this world is often hard, that it’s not all roses, so that we’re prepared when the going gets tough. Let’s emotionally and spiritually prepare people to be ready for times of testing, for times of suffering and hardship, so that their faith in Jesus is not a casualty of their hardship, but rather a source of strength that helps them withstand it.
So that’s the second heart posture and response toward the Word of God. A receptive, yet unprepared heart. Now here’s the third.
The Receptive, Yet Distracted Heart
In the parable, Jesus says, 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.
And then in explaining it Jesus says, 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
These are the people, who seem to be open to Jesus, who seem to be open to hearing God’s Word, but when it really comes down to it, following Jesus might as well be one item on the buffet line and it looks like there are a lot of good entrees down the line and the plate is getting full and they get distracted, they get conflicted, they start to wander. Whether it’s life’s worries, riches and pleasures as it says, whether that’s power or approval or comfort or control, achievement, materialism, you name it, that’s what they’re drawn to, that’s what they’re fixated on.
So let’s pray that our hearts would be captured by Jesus, not caught up and tangled by earthly, material things that lead us astray. And let’s pray that we would be a kind of people that live lives where Jesus is front and center, where it’s clear that Jesus is our first love, and lives that demonstrate that real, lasting joy isn’t found in what the world has to offer, but what Jesus has to offer.
So those are the first three. Here’s the last one and (hopefully) the one we all want to be …
The Receptive and Fruitful Heart
In the parable, Jesus says, 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
And then in explaining it Jesus says, 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
In short, these are the people who not only respond positively to the Word of God, who put their faith in Christ, but also the kinds of people whose lives bear fruit, whose lives, living in obedience, consistently produce good and beautiful things. People who are filled with the Holy Spirit, who are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, people who forgive others because they’ve experienced real forgiveness, people who serve one another, people who are the salt of the earth and light of the world, people who are showing the people around them the love of Christ.
It’s pretty clear that this is the kind of soil we ought to be aiming for, this is the kind of heart we would want to have.
So there you have it. The Parable of the Sower. Four heart postures or responses to God’s Word. From the unreceptive heart, to the unprepared heart, to the distracted heart, and finally the receptive and fruitful heart.
Now before we put a bow on all of this, let’s make our way towards the end, by highlighting a couple more points of application. You’ve likely noticed that as followers of Jesus, we, at times, play multiple roles within this parable, both as the sower and as the soil. Both as those who share God’s word and those who hear it. And so, with that in mind, here’s one point of application, first as the soil, those hearing and responding to God’s Word.
As the soil, consider this basic farming principle. Seeds need space and time to grow and flourish. I know almost nothing about farming or gardening, but this at least has to be true. Crops need space and time to grow. Let Jesus take up space in your life. There are so many things going on, so many things competing for our time, that it’s so easy to box Jesus out as if he’s just another thing on our to-do list. Carve out space and time in your life for bible reading and prayer, for silence and solitude, make church a core commitment for you and your family. Seeds need space and time to grow and flourish. So too with God's Word in your own life.
Secondly, here’s one point of application, as the sower, for those sharing God’s Word. Sow seed in an indiscriminate fashion. Don’t just simply share the gospel or invite to church those who you think will say yes, while dismissing those who you think will say no.
Our responsibility is not to change the soil, but to simply and faithfully sow the seed. Truth is, we really have no idea how people might respond to Jesus. We simply need to sow the seed, share the Word, tell them about Jesus, and let God go to work.
And I’ll finish with this:
Years ago I heard a story about a strong Christian woman, I’ll call her Mary, who worked as a nurse in the Boston area. Mary was the wife of a seminary professor of mine that I had years ago. Mary had a co-worker that she wanted to share her faith with, but the time never seemed quite right. She was nervous about the whole thing, and pretty soon her and her family were about to move across the country. So on her last day of work, she wrote this woman a two page letter about why Jesus meant so much to her.
Now Mary and her family move away, first to Virginia then Texas. Then 7 years later, Mary and her family moved back up to the Boston area to go to grad school. And one day, Mary is at the mall where she hears “Mary, Mary.” It was her co-worker, the nurse from years ago. She told Mary she had met Jesus, been baptized, joined a church, etc. Really great, right? And then this woman digs into her purse and pulls out the letter. And she said, “It all started with this.”
You never know what Jesus will do. When and how he’ll change people’s hearts. Let’s point them to Jesus and let Him take care of the rest.
And may it be said of us and the ones we love - the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.