Got Dirt?

Posted: May 20, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, “Got Dirt?”

How are your gardening skills?  Children inherit many traits from their parents, but I can attest from personal experience that horticulture isn’t necessarily one of them.  My parents (particularly my mother) has a green thumb that can virtually take a dead stick and turn it into a viable plant; I have a poisonous thumb that virtually kills anything I stick into the ground.  Mom plants seeds for growth; I tend to commit them to burial. 🙂

One thing I have learned from her is that the type of soil makes a ton of difference.  Since the day we moved into our current house, we’ve tried to get grass to grow in our front lawn.  We’ve got a few sprigs here & there, but nothing has ever taken off.  Why?  The soil.  To go out front, you’ll find packed down sandy ground (packed so hard it’s like breaking into concrete), and 13 pine trees, which vastly affects the acidity.  Every attempt we’ve made to get grass to grow as failed – astroturf seems to be our next legitimate option.

Soil makes a ton of difference.  That’s the point Jesus makes in this first parable in Matthew 13.  This is a bit of a transition point in the book of Matthew, as the Pharisees have drawn a line in the sand against Jesus, and publicly denounced Him as being a tool of Satan.  Jesus has responded to their accusations with direct teaching; now He’s going to follow it up with parables…the first being that which is commonly known as “The Parable of the Sower.”

Actually, a better title would be “The Parable of the Soils,” in that the sower and seed are the two elements in this parable that remain the same.  It’s the soils that change.  Out of the four types of soil that are pictured, only one type is adequately prepared to receive the seed.  Only one soil is ready to be affected by the seed of the Sower.  Which soil best represents you?

Matthew 13:1–9 (NKJV)
1 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

  1. On which day?  “The same day…” i.e., the same day as the proclamation to the Pharisees that they had committed the unpardonable sin.  This is the setting of the kingdom parables, which gives us some good insight as to the theme behind them.  Jesus had been proclaiming (and demonstrating) the kingdom of heaven to some people who believed, some people who were on the fence, and some people who outright rejected the gospel message.  At first glance, everyone may have looked the same – but their eternities were vastly different.  That’s exactly what Jesus will teach in the various parables throughout Ch 13.
  2. Where did Jesus teach?  On a boat by the seashore.  Apparently there was such a crowd of people around Him (“great multitudes”) that He had to back away a bit in order to be heard by everyone.  It’s easy to understand why.  After all, here is this teacher who has demonstrated great supernatural authority via His miracles.  He can go toe-to-toe with the powerful Pharisees & not only is He not intimidated by them, the Pharisees are forced to back down and acknowledge His power and authority.  You bet Jesus would attract the attention of the multitudes!  YET…just because there are multitudes listening to Jesus does not mean that everyone among the multitudes was saved.  Just as Jesus was about to teach in the parable of the sower, there were some who received the gospel & some who did not.  Some of these individuals in the multitudes might have been in the very same crowd who later called for Jesus’ crucifixion.
    1. How important it is for us to realize that just because we sit in a church service, it does not mean that we are saved.  Membership in a local church no more makes someone a born-again Christian than voting in an election makes someone the president.  There is a vast difference between the person voting & the person being voted for.  Likewise, you can call yourself a Christian without actually knowing Christ & being known by Him as His own.  Participating in a local church is good – but what is MOST needed is participation in Christ.

3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow.

  1. What is a parable?  Basically, it’s an extended illustration with a teaching purpose.  A parable is usually fictional, but it can be a story of true events.  Usually there is quite a bit of symbolism involved, but it’s distinct from an allegory in that not every item has symbolic significance.  The word is a compound word in Greek, basically meaning “to throw alongside.”  Guzik summarizes it this way: “It is a story thrown alongside the truth intended to teach.”  Parables are stories to which we need to pay close attention, but at the same time, be careful not to stretch the meaning beyond what was originally intended.
  2. This particular parable is about a sower – a farmer.  We’ve moved away from a mostly agricultural-based culture (though many folks here are very accomplished farmers!), but this would have been a very familiar illustration to the people Jesus was teaching.  The sower in Jesus’ parable went out to scatter seed for his future crop.  Yet what’s different about this is the seeming wastefulness of the sower.  Farmers are typically careful with their seed, not wanting to just waste it anywhere, but this sower seemingly threw out the seed in every direction…not necessarily only on his tilled farmland.

4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.

  1. Referring to the roadside.  This is the ground that was trampled down & firm, where the seed would not even penetrate the top at all.  Lying there, it was fodder for the birds to come by & eat it. [grass seed without topsoil]

5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.

  1. The next bit of seed had a little earth to penetrate, but only a very little.  Without much depth for the root to grow down, the shoot grew up quickly.  It also died quickly because it was left without much root to search out nutrient.

7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.

  1. The third bit of seed were sown among the weedy area.  (Very unusual for a farmer!)  The freshly sown seed could not compete with the weeds that were already established there & it choked out the new plants.

8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

  1. The fourth group finally fell on good soil & yielded a crop.  Obviously this was soil that was ready & fully prepared for the seed because it didn’t yield an ordinary crop, or even a good crop…this crop was superabundant!  Typical harvests were considered great if they were 10-15 fold.  The minimum on this was 30-fold, and ranged up to 100-fold.  IOW, when this seed took hold in the soil & grew as it was supposed to grow, it produced abundantly more than anything else could have possibly expected.
  2. Note three things here:
    1. The seed never changed.  The problem with the growth was never with the seed.  When it flourished, it flourished!  The seed was exactly the same on all four soils.  Not a thing was withheld from the soil; the soil itself was the problem.
    2. Only 1 out of 4 soils was actually any good.  The majority of the soils did not see permanent growth from the seed.  The seed went anywhere & everywhere, but only a small percentage of the seed that was sown bore any eventual fruit.
    3. What was good was beyond all expectations.  The small minority of seed that produced fruit produced more increase than all of the seed that was originally sown.  This was super-abundance, more than any possible human expectation or imagination.  This is obviously the work and blessing of God.

9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

  1. Not everyone did indeed have ears to hear.  Jesus explains the reason for this in vss. 10-17 (come back next week!), but some would be blessed with the understanding of this parable, and those who were ought to pay close attention.
  2. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would say something along these lines. To each of the seven churches in Asia, the book of Revelation records Jesus saying, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Not everyone has an ear to hear.  Not everyone wants an ear to hear.  Yet the message is certainly available to be heard. … Some people want to blame God for their lack of faith.  “Oh, I’d believe in Jesus if only God gave me more proof.  If He did XYZ, then I’d believe.”  The problem isn’t in what God has or has not made available; the problem is that the person has a skewed perspective of him/herself.  WE are created beings; GOD is God.  WE do not make demands of our Creator, yet God in His grace has indeed revealed Himself to us.  If we’re not willing to hear to what God has revealed, then the problem is not with God…it’s with us.  If you’ve got ears to hear (if you’re submitted unto the Lord, humbly seeking Him), then you can indeed hear what God has to say.
  3. So what does the parable mean?  Jesus tells us starting in vs. 18…

Matthew 13:18–23 (NKJV)
18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower:

  1. Jesus doesn’t always give the explanation for His parables.  At least, if He did give it to the disciples, the Holy Spirit did not inspire the gospel authors to record the explanations for us.  We’re only blessed with the explanation of a few – the sower being one of them.
  2. Why the sower?  It’s speculation at best – but perhaps the parable of the sower is explained to help us understand how to understand all of the parables in general.  We’re given a pattern with this one, which helps guide us through the other parables Jesus gives.  Keep in mind that if you belong to Christ Jesus, Jesus is not hiding the explanation from you.  There are some from whom the explanation is hidden (as Jesus explains in vss. 10-17), but Jesus DOES want His disciples to hear and to understand.  Very specifically, He tells His disciples, “Therefore hear the parable of the sower.”  This is something He wants us to know.
  3. Jesus wants His people to understand His teaching.  To be sure, there are some things that might be confusing to us as newer believers – there may be some things that are confusing to those who have walked with Jesus for decades!  It’s not that God wants us to be in the dark about these things; it’s simply that there are some issues about an infinite God that are difficult for our finite minds to wrap around.  Yet what do we do if there’s something in the Bible that we don’t understand?  There are several things:
    1. Pray.  The Holy Spirit is our teacher. (1 John 2:27)
    2. Keep reading the Bible.  The Bible is its own best commentary.
    3. Get around other believers.
    4. Use the vast amount of resources at our fingertips.  We’ve been blessed with access to Biblical literature & study tools that some of the ancient reformers could have only dreamt about.  The average study Bible has more information in its footnotes than some pastors in third world countries have in their entire libraries!  (Some pastors don’t even have a full Bible!)  The internet provides vast amounts of Biblical commentaries and encyclopedias for absolutely no cost.  To be sure, we need to be careful where we turn for instruction (there is much false teaching out there!), but there’s no lack of availability for a 21st century American Christian.
  4. What’s the actual interpretation of the parable?  See vs. 19…

19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

  1. The seed = “the word of the kingdom” = the gospel.  In Luke’s gospel, Jesus describes it plainly as “the word of God.” (Lk 8:11)  Matthew consistently describes the gospel in his writing as the gospel “of the kingdom.”  It’s the proclamation that the King has come, and that He brings reconciliation with God through the forgiveness of sin.
  2. The problem? Birds = “the wicked one” = the devil.  The seed of the word fell, but there was no time for it to take root into a person’s life.  The devil came along and stole it away and it was as if the word had never been sown in the first place.
  3. The word can be stolen!  Some people have lived their whole lives among other Christians – they’ve attended many church services – they’ve even read from the Bible – but to look at them closer, it’s as if they’ve never been exposed to the things of God at all.  This is the wayside hearer; the word has seemingly been plucked away by the devil.  Some people might even sit patiently as a sermon is being preached, yet stare up blankly as if they haven’t heard a single thing (no fingers being pointed, I assure you!).  Yet that’s as clear a picture of the wayside hearer as is possible.
    1. Keep in mind that the devil doesn’t want you to respond to the gospel.  He hates people because he hates God.  He knows that he’s going to spend an eternity in torment in the lake of fire, and he wants as many people to join him there as possible.  There is a spiritual battle that is being waged around us, and the devil actively snatches away the word of the gospel from people.  Their heart wasn’t prepared in advance to receive the gospel, and they were a prime candidate to be assaulted by the devil.  Pray that God might prepare your heart!

20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.

  1. The stony ground = rootless faith.  There is indeed an initial response, but no root.  Like a mushroom that pops up overnight, but is easily kicked over, so are those who respond to the gospel but have no true root of faith.  How many people have responded to a crusade, or an altar call, or an emotional campfire invitation at summer camp, only to have a mere surface-level revival & go back to the way they were living a few weeks later?  It’s not that their experiences were necessarily bad; it’s that they weren’t really rooted in Christ in the first place.
  2. The problem?  Trials show the lack of a foundation.  Trials aren’t a “maybe” in life; trials are a guarantee.  Jesus made this absolutely clear to the disciples (and to us): John 16:33, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." [] When these trials come, our lives are going to be shaken.  When our lives are shaken, our foundation (or lack thereof) is going to be made evident.  As Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount, He ended with a parable of two men who built their houses.  One was built on the rock; the other on the sand…the rock was a sure foundation, and trials could not blow down the house.  That’s the way we want to be, yet that’s obviously not the way everyone is.  Some people have a lack of foundation; a lack of faith.
  3. The word can be forgotten!  In this case, the person seemed to grow, but he stumbled.  Why?  He wasn’t prepared to pay the cost of following Christ.  “For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word”  This person was overjoyed to hear of forgiveness & salvation – he wanted to respond to the wonderful plan that God had for his life.  Yet he didn’t understand that the plan was wonderful because of Who offered it; not because of any earthly benefits that may have been included.  Those who are identified with Christ are saved, praise the Lord!  But we’re also identified with the One who was hated and rejected by the rest of the world.  We can be assured persecution because our Lord was persecuted.  Those who don’t count the cost of following Christ will easily forget Him later on when life gets tough.

22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

  1. The thorns = distractions & cares of the world.  Riches and cares of the world are like weeds.  Not just any weeds, but thorny weeds – dangerous plants that compete for the nutrients of the ground.  Likewise the cares of the world compete for the heart of people.  On one hand, someone sees a need to respond to the gospel of Christ – yet on the other hand, there’s his own reputation to think about.  How will his friends and family respond to this new “Bible-thumper” in the house?  Or instead of serving the God that called her to salvation, she serves the god of her flesh, indulging in all of the various materialistic things that are out there.  (The deceitfulness of riches isn’t just the money we accumulate, but also the stuff that we purchase.  Simply because we owe more money to the credit card than what we have in our bank accounts doesn’t mean we haven’t indulged in the deceitfulness of riches.)
  2. The problem?  It would seem there was growth, but in the end there is no fruit.  This illustration is particularly interesting because the plant grows to maturity (the seed isn’t stolen, nor is the plant easily withered), but it’s only when it comes to the production of fruit is the problem seen.  This person can look like a Christian, talk like a Christian, do everything else a Christian does from all other respects – but when it comes to bearing fruit, there’s nothing.  There’s no fruit of the Spirit in the person’s character (primarily being that of love in all its fullness, Gal 5:22-23), there’s no fruit of discipleship with other people – there’s nothing that comes out of this person’s life that shows the life of Jesus Christ within him/her.  Jesus had taught earlier that a tree would be known by its fruit – yet what does it say about someone who doesn’t have ANY fruit at all?  A lack of fruit is just as telling.
  3. The word can be displaced!  The problem here was the competition from the thorns.  Likewise with the person who tries to ride the fence with Jesus.  They understand that Jesus is God, and they know they need to be saved, but they try to have things both ways.  They don’t want to give up the things of the world in order to gain Christ, and there’s a constant competition between the things of God and the things of the world.  Here’s the issue: thrones can’t be shared – only one king can sit there at a time.  Jesus put it this way: Matthew 6:24, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." []  You must choose today whom you will serve!  Those who try to have both Jesus & the cares of the world in their life will find that one always wins over the other – and it’s not going to be to the result that they want.

23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

  1. The good ground = the understanding believer.  Finally, after all of the bad examples, Jesus ends with a good one.  When the soil is right, marvelous things happen.
  2. The result?  The word can take deep root & bear much fruit.  This sets it apart from the first three soils.  Unlike the wayside, the word is not stolen away & penetrates into the heart.  Unlike the stony ground, the word is able to take deep root in the person’s life & give them a sure foundation in their faith in Jesus Christ.  Unlike the thorn-filled ground, there’s no distraction to choke out the fruitfulness of the gospel in the person’s life, and the end result is amazing.
  3. The understanding believer has a life filled with the fruit of God.  Obviously not everyone has the same amount…that ought not be surprising to us, but it often is.  It can be disheartening when we start to compare our walk with Christ with someone else.  “Wow – Billy Graham sure has been used by God!  Too bad I’m not.”  Be careful!  Who are we to tell our Maker that He has done wrongly with us?  Whatever God produces in our lives is an abundant miracle that gives Him glory!  Maybe we’re the thirty-fold believer…well, praise God!  That’s still more of a harvest than anything else could have ever done!  Don’t compare yourself with other Christians; compare yourself with your past.  When you put your faith in Christ, you became a new creation by the work of God.  The old “you” is gone; a new “you” is here.  This new “you” has fruit that abounds to the glory of God.  Before, you never worshipped God – now, you do.  Before, you lied, cheated, and stole – now, you live uprightly.  Before, you never confessed sin because it never bothered you – now, you are acutely aware of sin in your life.  Now, your life reflects the love of God in a way that was never before possible – this is due to the work of God, and for which we ought to give God thanks & praise!
    1. That’s not to say we never improve or mature, but simply that there is variety in the body of Christ.  If there is sin in our life, or an area in which we know we need to mature, then we certainly seek the Lord for those things, and change.  But there’s no need for jealousy among believers, because every person that is born-again by the Holy Spirit is a walking miracle of the grace of God.
  4. Interestingly enough, we’re never told the identity of the sower.  Certainly it could be Jesus as He went through the land preaching the gospel of the kingdom – scattering the seed to everyone, knowing that some would reject the word & others would respond & bear fruit.  Jesus never changed the gospel one iota based on His listening audience.  To be sure, some truths of the gospel were hidden among the parables, but Jesus’ ministry was very public.  The Pharisees had exactly the same opportunity to respond to the gospel of grace as everyone else did.  …  All that said, Jesus never gives us a solid identity for the sower.  It could just as easily be anyone sowing the seed of the word of God.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians that when it came to the growth of the church at Corinth, he planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Cor 3:6).  Paul & Apollos sowed the seed of the word.
    1. We can, too!  Every time you share the gospel with someone, you’re sowing the seed of the word.  Every time you tell someone about Jesus, you’re participating in this same work that Christ described.  Oh, that God would send more people to sow the seed of the word!  Are you not grateful for the person (or people) that sowed the seed of God’s word into your heart?  It’s rare to find a Christian that did not first hear the gospel because of the words of another person (be it a friend, preacher, etc.)  That person took the time to sow the seed of the gospel to you; may we take up the same call and do it with someone else!
  5. We know the seed never changed from instance to instance – the one thing that changed was the type of soil.  Question: how is soil changed?  It’s not as if a certain type of ground can decide to become a different type of ground & change itself.  It’s not like we can will ourselves to be a new creation & receptive to the word of God.  Soil can’t change itself, but it can indeed be changed.  How?  It’s got to be affected by the gardener.  If you’ve got the wrong type of “soil” in your heart, you can’t make yourself better…you CAN go to God and ask Him to change your heart.
    1. How do you know if your heart needs to be changed?  Ask yourself how you respond to the gospel.  Have you ignored it or given it a second thought?  Have you claimed Christ for a while only to be ashamed of Him later on?  Did you at one point commit to Christ, only to find now that you care more about riches & “stuff” than the things of God?  These are all indications that you are in grave danger!  Stop everything you’re doing right now & ask God to give you a tender heart to the gospel!  He is in the business of changing hearts.  He is in the business of bringing dead things back to life & converting His enemies into His children.  If you repent right now and ask Christ to change you, be assured that He will!

Conclusion:
Jesus’ audience & intent ought to be obvious here.  He was talking to some who had responded to the gospel of the kingdom & others who had not.  He was continuing to cast the same seed to all.  Some received – some rejected – some were ambivalent…all were represented by different types of soil in the parable.  The question of application is simply this: which soil represents you?  We’ve all got some kind of dirt.  What kind of dirt have you got?  Soil that is resistant to the Lord Jesus Christ, or soil that is ready to respond to the good news of Jesus & place your faith & trust in Him as Lord?

“OK – I’m a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ & I get that.  I’m grateful that my heart was open to the seed of the gospel, and has taken root in my heart.  I’ve seen God produce fruit in my life, and I know I am in the hands of Christ.  So what do I do with this parable?”  Simple: go sow some seed.  Surely you can thank God for your salvation, and you can continue to check your heart before the Lord to ensure that you’re not being distracted by the riches & cares of the world.  You can remain humble and dependent upon the Holy Spirit so that the expected trials, tribulation, and persecution within the world does not cause your faith to stumble.  All of that is true – but one of the most practical things you can do in response to this teaching from the Lord Jesus is to go sow some seed of the gospel.  Go tell someone else the good news that the King of kings has come & He offers life & forgiveness of sin to all who respond to Him in repentance and faith.

And notice how this takes the pressure off: all you do is sow the seed – you’re not responsible for anyone’s conversion.  You cannot make someone into good soil or bad soil.  You cannot control how someone else responds to the gospel.  You can even be assured that the majority of the people with which you share may not respond at all.  All you can do is be faithful in sowing the seed…and some will respond.  Eventually when you’ve cast enough seed, some will take root in good soil – and that ought to give you a lot of hope.  Christian, go participate in the Great Commission and tell someone else about Jesus.  Go sow the seed of the word, and pray to the God of the Harvest that He might bring forth fruit.

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