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The Parable of the Soils - Mark's Perspective - Part 3

Tom Pennington • Mark 4:1-20

  • 2009-07-12 PM
  • The Memoirs of Peter
  • Sermons


This evening we return to Mark's Gospel and to the Parable of the Soils from his perspective. As you know, as we've learned, Mark was good friends with Peter. And we're really getting Peter's perspective, I think, through Mark as we study this wonderful book together. Tonight, we come to the interpretation of what Jesus said was the most important parable He ever taught, and it's very important for us because it opens up some difficult things to understand. There are some things, let's be honest, in the Christian life and experience that are hard to understand, that are hard to explain.

What do you say to a parent about a child who grows up in a Christian home, who sees the example of Christ lived out before them, and yet never embraces the Gospel? What do you say about another child who grows up in a Christian home and appears to embrace the Gospel, but who at some point in his or her life begins to live like an unbeliever and continues on that path for the rest of his life, either in, either in apathy or antipathy.

Then there's the person who appears to have a sort of Damascus Road experience, a dramatic conversion out of a life of sin. And they are everywhere, involved in everything. And then you look around a year or two later, and they're nowhere to be found. They've deserted the Christian faith. There's the problem of someone who makes a profession and has never really formally walked away from Christ, but who lives as if they weren't a disciple of Jesus Christ. They live for what is for all intents and purposes a secular life. There're those scenarios and many others. We've seen, all of us have seen, similar scenarios unfold in the lives of people we know and love, sometimes in our own families. The answer to those questions, the answers are difficult. Why, is the question? Why do those things happen?

Well, in the parable that Jesus said was the most important of all His parables, He explains it to us. It's usually called the Parable of the Sower; more accurately it should be called the Parable of the Soils. As Jesus' ministry has unfolded, and as we've seen it unfold even in the Gospel of Mark, there had been incredibly different responses to Jesus. And those varied responses raised an important question. If Jesus was in fact Israel's Messiah, if He was the Son of God, if He had the authority to forgive sins, then why didn't everyone embrace Him? Mark 4 provides the answer. Because the way a person responds to Jesus says nothing about Jesus; instead, it says everything about the nature of that person's heart.

Let me just remind you of where we've been: a brief review. We've looked at the setting of the parables in the first two verses. You remember it's that same long day. Jesus had cast out and healed a demonized man that morning, and the Pharisees and the Scribes had accused Him of being in league with Satan. His family had shown up and had accused Him of being mentally unstable. They tried to take Him back to Nazareth. On that day, Mark 4:1 and 2, says that He went out by the Sea of Galilee. It was up on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, west of Capernaum. And it was probably in this little cove, this little nook on that north side of the lake. (There're a lot of good reasons to believe that. We've been through all of that.) Jesus got in a boat. This is a replica of a first century boat that was pulled out of the Sea of Galilee. It was a boat very much like this one that Jesus and His disciples got into, went just a little bit from the shore, and Jesus begins to teach.

And He gives to us in this teaching a number of parables. But He begins, in all three of the Gospels that record it, with the Parable of the Soils. And we've looked at that in detail. We'll recap some of that tonight as we look at the interpretation, and last week we looked at the purpose of parables. The purpose of parables. That is, why is it Jesus taught in parables? Well, He explained it to us last week, and it comes down to this: it is to reveal the truth to those to whom it has been granted; and it is to shield the truth from those to whom it has not been granted, those whose hearts have not been prepared, those who God has simply left alone, and they have hard, rocky, or thorny hearts.

Today we come to Jesus' explanation of this parable and its importance. Let me read to you His explanation. Look down in verse 13 of Mark 4. Remember, this is in private, later in the day when they've gone back in the house. Jesus is asked about this parable, and He explains to them.

And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear; immediately, Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom [the] seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitful of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.'"

Here Jesus gives to us both the importance of this parable, as well as the meaning of it and the interpretation of it. So, let's begin tonight with verse 13 and the importance of this parable. "And He said to them, [verse 13 says] 'Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?'" Jesus said, this parable is absolutely crucial to understand. Why? Well, because it explains how people will respond to everything else Jesus teaches. So, you have to understand this, to see why it is people respond the way they do to the rest of what Jesus teaches.

And secondly, because it provides a sort of key, a model, or a pattern, for how to interpret the other parables. It's a parable about parables. It's a parable about Jesus' teaching. So, in a sense, it's like a master key or combination that lets you in on how things work in the spiritual kingdom over which Christ rules. It's very important. You have to understand this to really get the rest of what Jesus teaches in parables. Jesus Himself said that.

So, that brings us then to the point of the parable. Jesus interprets the parable. He privately explains to His disciples what it means. So, let's look at it. Let's look at each element of the story. We're going to begin with the seed. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus says the seed is the word. In Luke, He says it's the word of God, in Matthew, the word of the kingdom: the word of or about the kingdom, the spiritual kingdom over which Christ rules. So, the seed then is the Word of God and especially the message about the kingdom or the Good News, the Gospel. In none of the three Gospels that record this story does Jesus tell us who the sower is.

In the Parable of the Tares that Jesus explains in Matthew 13, He Himself is the sower. So, certainly it is true of Him, but it goes beyond that. I think He leaves it general (someone goes out to sow) to let us know that it's really talking about anyone who teaches or explains the message of Jesus or the message about Jesus. Tonight, even as I teach this parable, I am a sower. As you explain the Gospel to someone else, you're sowing the seed, as Jesus did, even that day.

So, what are the soils? Well in verse 15, notice, Jesus describes it as the word, the seed as the "Word which had been sown in them." Matthew says the evil one snatches what has been sown "in his heart." So clearly then, the soil is the heart, and the four different kinds of soil on which the seed falls represents four different kinds of hearts. Let's look then at these four different kinds of hearts. This is the point of the parable. Four different kinds of soils equals four different kinds of hearts on which the seed of the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ is sown, or the Word is sown.

The first kind of heart is the hard heart. You remember it falls on the hard ground. Verse 15, "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown." You remember that I told you, small paths separated one owner's field from another, and farmers and their animals as well as even travelers would use those footpaths every day. There weren't fences, so the fields were separated by these paths. And people would walk up and down them. The animals would be led across them. And they would become harder and harder packed from constant use. As the farmer sowed the seed (whatever method he used), some of the seed that he sowed landed out on this out-of-the-tilled area, and on this hard-packed earth of the footpaths. And, of course, it wouldn't penetrate the ground. It would just sit there on top. And because no one was coming along covering the dirt using a branch or something to cover the seed with dirt, it just set there. And almost immediately birds would've swooped down and devoured those seeds. Jesus says, this is like when someone hears the Gospel with a hard heart.

Matthew defines this hard heart as one that hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it. He hears, and he doesn't understand. So, this person has some contact with the Gospel. Jesus does not mean that He doesn't really understand the words. Jesus isn't saying they didn't get the words He was saying, or even the concepts. What Jesus does mean is that they didn't get it. They didn't really grasp the truth in a life changing way. For whatever reason, the truth doesn't penetrate the heart because it's hard. He hears, but he refuses to think about it. He refuses to consider it, and so he never comes to a real understanding of it.

It's like in Ezekiel 33, when Ezekiel was preaching, and God said, "Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not practice them." Good message, Pastor. That was a great message. And they leave unchanged and unwilling to apply the truth. That's how it was with Jesus. The crowds gathered because Jesus was wonderful to listen to. They listened to the Truth. They heard the Truth, but it never penetrated. They had hard hearts.

In Luke 8:12, "Those beside the road are [like] those who have heard; … [and] the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved." They had hard hearts, the Truth hits, and somehow Satan comes and snatches what they heard away. You say, how does he do that? Oh, he has countless ways. C.S. Lewis, in some of his writings, describes the man who hears a powerful message sitting in service one day, and he walks outside. And immediately his eye falls on a hundred different things. And his mind is carried away with the business he needs to do, or with the new store that's in town, or some other distraction. And Satan has snatched away what he heard, and he never thinks about it again. Satan has countless ways to snatch the Word, but because it didn't penetrate, it never stuck.

Listen, the hard heart just doesn't get it. The Word never really penetrates. Do you know people who can sit in services like this one their whole lives, and who never really seem to come to faith and repentance? It's because their hearts are hard. It's because the Word of God never sinks in. It never penetrates. They're hard because of their own rebellion against God, and even perhaps the judicial hardening of God. Some of those who have hard hearts and are unreceptive have only rarely heard the message of the Truth. Maybe they come on Christmas, and Easter, Mother's Day. Others come too, almost every time the church doors are open they come to the service. They grew up in the church. They've heard it almost every Sunday. They come for various reasons. They sit and do their best not to listen. In some cases, they're here for other reasons: for business, because their spouse wants them to come, because their parents want them to come, or maybe they actually enjoy coming.

Maybe they're like those people in Ezekiel's time who said hey, let's go listen to Ezekiel. It's like a wonderful song. Wasn't it a great message today? They find the Word attractive, but they never bother to apply the Truth to their own heart. There are people all around us who have hard hearts. They've heard the Gospel, but they never really get it. It never sinks in. They never think about it. Satan is always snatching it away before it can penetrate, and they're forced to deal with the Truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Jesus goes on to describe a second heart. It's the superficial heart. Verse 16, "In a similar way these are ones on whom the seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy." You'll remember that when we were talking about the land there in Israel, and basically you had this wonderfully fertile field, but it would grow next to a hill. And near the hill would be jutting out underneath the topsoil, a thin layer of topsoil, a ledge of limestone. And so, there's just a tiny thin layer, a veneer, of soil, and that seed falls there and begins to grow. It would have been sown and covered. The soil was very shallow, just a thin layer of topsoil. And because of that small amount of earth, that part of the field would have heated up more quickly, creating almost a hothouse effect. And those seeds would have sprung up quickly, looking like the best and healthiest plants in the whole field.

But eventually, the rainy season in Israel begins to subside, and the hot desert winds begin to blow. If you've ever lived in a desert-like climate, you've experienced that, like the Santa Anas in California. They come sweeping off the desert, and they just suck the life and moisture out of everything. And eventually, these plants are scorched, begin to dry out, and die. Jesus says, this person hears the Gospel message and he gets it. He comprehends it; in fact, he accepts it as intellectually true. And he responds to the Truth emotionally. Notice, Jesus said he receives it "with joy." So, he hears it. He understands it. He gets it. He agrees with it, and he even receives it with joy, a highly emotionally experience perhaps. There may be weeping and crying and thrilling joy, a dramatic event as this person receives the seed.

What does it mean, he receives the seed, receives the message? Well, Luke puts it like this: "They believe for a while." So, in the case of the rocky soil, this belief must be something short of true saving faith. In fact, both Mark and Matthew call it temporary faith. Verse 17, notice it says, they are only "temporary." Why? Because "they have no firm root in themselves." In other words, the plant that begins to grow doesn't sink its root deep into the person's heart. It is a superficial response to the Gospel. Perhaps they find the idea of forgiveness and a relationship to God attractive, desirable; but they respond impulsively, without really counting the cost.

You remember what Jesus said? If you're going to come follow Me, make sure you count the cost. What kind of a person would build a tower, and before he started the tower, wouldn't sit down and consider what it really cost? And this person doesn't count what the cost is. He responds emotionally and says wow! that's a wonderful message! I want that! I find that attractive! And he has no root.

Verse 17 adds that the true nature of their conversion experience is revealed by one of two things. One is affliction. Notice what Jesus says: "when affliction arises." The word "affliction" means "pressure." It's speaking of those external pressures that all of us have in this life, the distress that is caused by real hardships in life. This person comes upon financial problems, trouble in their marriage, trouble at work, maybe problems with a child, maybe health issues. They come across affliction, real trouble in life, and it reveals their superficial conversion. The other thing that He says causes this to be revealed is persecution "because of the word." This includes ridicule. It includes insults, loss of position or wealth, loss of friends and family, or in extreme cases, even physical abuse and death in certain places in the world. So, persecution arises in some form.

And when the affliction, the hard times, the troubles in life, or this persecution arises, it says this person who immediately received with joy, immediately falls away. The Greek word for "falls away" is "skandalizo." They're scandalized. The trouble and the persecution scandalizes them. It becomes an offense, a cause of stumbling. One Greek lexicon defines this word: "To cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey." They fall away. Although, for a time, these people look like the real thing, when trouble or persecution comes, it becomes obvious that they never were believers at all. There's example after example in the New Testament. We've looked at it recently. So, I won't take you through that.

I think I told you the story. When this kind of soil, this superficial response to the Gospel, first struck me, I was a relatively new Christian. And there was a man in my high school who had a terrible life. I mean he had a reputation for doing and being everything that as Christians we weren't supposed to be and to do. He was an absolute pagan. He was well liked. He was a great football player. He was a real ladies' man. One of the years in high school, I remember he had this dramatic emotional conversion experience.

I remember the next day, or shortly after his conversion (it may have been over a weekend), and shortly after that, he got up in front of a portion of us in the student body and shared his testimony. And it was compelling stuff as he described what God had done in his life and the change that God had brought about. And he wept, and he cried. And I was deeply moved: never seen God change someone so radically in my brief life. He was zealous for a number of months. He shared his faith with everyone, all of his friends. He showed up at every Bible study. He looked like the real deal, but a year later he was living exactly as he had before because it didn't pay off for him the way that he thought it would. This was a shock. It was superficial faith. He received it with joy, but there was no root.

The person with a superficial heart immediately responds to the Word, just as quickly, when trouble comes, immediately falls away. They just leave. Real Christians can leave for a time; in fact, this same word "skandalizo" is used over further in Mark, in Mark 14, of the true disciples when Jesus is arrested. They fell away, but they only fell away for three days. Real Christians don't walk away for good. So, what does it meant then when someone who professes Christ and has seemed like the real deal walks away for good? What does it mean? You know somebody like that? What does it mean? Well, the Apostle John couldn't have made it any clearer in 1 John 2:19. "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be known that they all are not of us."

When someone who looks for a time like the real deal, leaves and walks out on the faith, they fall away, it shows not that a person can be saved and lose their salvation (the Scripture's very clear that doesn't happen), it shows as John says here, they never were truly converted at all. I'm sure you know people like that as well. Jesus wants you to know that's a superficial response, and that's why it doesn't stick.

The third kind of heart is the distracted heart, comes in verses 18 and 19, the distracted heart.

"And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful."

As I told you before, in October-November, in Israel, the farmer would have prepared his field for planting. He would have pulled out all the weeds and thorns and plowed the field, but the roots of those weeds and thorns would have been deeper than his plow could've gone. In addition, all the seeds that the weeds and thorns had spread in the field the previous growing season, were all still there down in the soil. So, some of the good seed, that was sown, would fall into ground already infested with thorn roots and thorn seeds.

Luke puts it like this: "Other seed fell among … thorns; and the thorns grew up with it." So, the two are growing up together, intermingled: the good seed, the wheat and the thorns. The seed of the Gospel falls into this heart, and this person also responds favorably. This heart also appears to accept it, and it begins to grow, but this heart has thorns that begin to grow at the same time and eventually choke the Gospel. This plant too has the appearance of becoming productive wheat. If you'd gone out on the field and looked, you would've seen this. These wheat plants spring up, and they would've looked great. But then you would've realized there were thorns growing there as well, and you would've worried a little bit about that. And over time the thorns would've overtaken the wheat. Jesus said, this is like a person with a distracted heart. They hear the Gospel, and again they respond well. They're interested, but they bear no fruit because other things in the heart choke it's growth.

What exactly are the thorns, that strangle the Gospel in this heart in which it has begun to grow, the distracted heart? What in your heart, or in the hearts of people you know and love, can strangle out the Word so that it never really bears true fruit? This person never comes, or you never come to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? You just come short. Here are the thorns. Jesus says, "the worries of the world." Literally, "the worries of the age." This person's mind is distracted and preoccupied with the cares that are part of living in every age. And gradually, over time, the message of the Gospel and their initial attraction to it begins to wane and eventually die, choked out by all the worries that go along with life. Worries like careers, and mortgages, and houses, and cars, and kids, and getting them through school, and soccer matches, and all the stuff of life. It takes the seed that you once found attractive, that you once were drawn out after, and it begins to choke it out before it bears fruit.

A second thorn Jesus identifies here is "the deceitfulness of riches." The problem is not with having wealth, it's being deceived by it. This is, not having wealth and wanting it, or having it and trying to keep it and make more, and imagining that life consists of what you own, what you have. Jesus, you remember, said very clearly: a man's life does not consist of the abundance of things he possesses, but riches (either having them and wanting to keep them, or not having them and wanting them) can be very deceitful. It can tell you there's joy and happiness and fulfillment there. It's deceitful. This kind of heart can become so obsessed with success and money, that even their eternal destiny takes a back seat. Jesus couldn't have been clearer when Matthew 6, He said, "You cannot serve God and wealth." Decide who your master's going to be.

Mark adds one other distraction: "the desires for other things." The cravings for all kinds of other things. It may not be money. That may not be your issue. It may be, as Luke puts it, desires or cravings for the "pleasures of this life." The pursuit of personal pleasure can choke out the Gospel. It may be illicit pleasure like drugs, alcohol, sexual sin, some other pleasure that sort of runs your life. Or it may be a legitimate pleasure, pursued to such an extreme that it crowds out what really matters in life.

Now, I want you to look at these two hearts (the middle hearts here, the rocky ground and the thorny soil), because there are a couple of important distinctions between the superficial heart and the distracted heart. Stay with me a moment. I think this is important, something I haven't really seen before. With the rocky soil, all it takes is one hot day, one sirocco off the desert, and the plant withers and quickly dies. But with the distracted, preoccupied heart, the process is much, much slower: almost imperceptible. The spiritual interest is slowly choked out over time. In one case, the person immediately gets up and walks away, leaves his Christian profession. In the other case, the life that had begun to grow is slowly choked out.

There's another distinction. The superficial heart, the rocky soil: that person falls away. He either renounces the faith altogether, or just leaves his or her profession. But with this distracted heart, often there's no dramatic repudiation. This person probably still claims to believe the Gospel, but simply bears no fruit because there was a time in their lives when they were receptive, when they had great enthusiasm for spiritual things. They may still go to church. They may still be active, still profess Christ. But because of a distracted heart, they're just going through the motions. They show up and just go through the motions again. Jesus said, left to grow in the heart, the worries of life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life can choke the Word slowly, imperceptibly, so that the Gospel never really bears fruit in your life. Notice the result (verse 19): "It becomes unfruitful." That's the key. The wheat plant never bears fruit. It never produces.

Turn back to Ezekiel 33. I mentioned this passage earlier. I want you to see this in its context. Ezekiel 33:30. God's talking to Ezekiel, His prophet, and He says to him,

"But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, 'Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the LORD.' [Let's go listen to what Ezekiel has to say. Let's go listen to the prophet.] They come to you [verse 31] as people come, and [they] sit before you as My people and [they] hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouths, and their heart goes after … gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not practice them."

God says therefore I'm bringing judgment. Here you have the heart that never produces fruit. And folks, here's the point: where there is no fruit, there is no faith. Let me say that again. Where there is no fruit, there is no faith. Instead, the good seed fell into bad soil, and the worries of life and riches and pleasure strangled the Word that's been sown in the heart.

You know, as you look at this, isn't this where so many people we know in the Bible belt live? They live right here: distracted hearts. They've heard the Gospel. They've made a profession of faith in Christ, and they've never permanently walked away. They've never been scandalized and fallen away. They probably never openly renounced the faith. In fact, they probably still claim to be Christians, but there is no fruit. They do not do what they hear. Reminds me of what Jesus says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. You remember those words? Those really sobering words where Jesus said, "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord,'" and they'll list things they've done. And then Jesus says this. He says, I will say to them "depart from Me" you workers of iniquity, "I never knew you." "Depart form Me." Literally it says, "you who work lawlessness."

In other words, you're claiming to know Me, but your life doesn't practice the Word you've learned. It's not bearing fruit. So, you're not the real deal at all. Listen carefully. I understand that sitting here under the sound of my voice tonight there're all these kinds of soils. If there is no fruit in your life, but you still claim Christ, then you are this third kind of soil: the distracted, preoccupied heart.

There's one other kind of heart Jesus describes. It's the prepared heart. Look at verse 20. "And those are the ones on whom the seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." Much of the seed the farmer sowed would fall in to the soil that he himself had prepared: soil with plenty of depth, soil uncluttered by thorns and other worthless plants. It's soft and deep and clean. What makes bad soil? Think about this with me for a moment. What makes bad soil? What makes it hard or shallow or thorny? Either no preparation, or insufficient preparation. Just let the curse take its course. What do you have to do in a heart to keep the Word from growing and bearing fruit in the life? Absolutely nothing. Just let the curse take its course.

What makes, on the other hand, for good soil, soil for planting and growing a good crop? Hard work and careful preparation. The soil has to be carefully prepared. But soil, folks, can't prepare itself. Good soil can't take credit for being good soil. Just imagine for a moment if soil, dirt, could talk. Go out to one of the fields nearby. It wouldn't say, you know, unlike the other dirt around me, I'm good soil. I've prepared myself to receive the seed. No, it's right there alongside the bad soils.

The difference is the preparation by the farmer. If the farmer had not carefully prepared it, it would either be hard or rocky or thorny just like the rest of the soil. Good soil is soil that has been carefully prepared to receive the seed and to be fruitful by someone else. In the same way, we are each responsible for the bad condition of our hearts. We alone are responsible. The only way we will ever receive the Word and bear fruit is if God prepares the soil of our heart to receive it. That's the clear message of Scripture.

I wish I had time to take you to all these texts. Let's just look at a couple of them. Look at John 6. I love this one. I know I come here often, but it's hard to imagine Jesus ever being clearer than this. John 6:44,

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me."

In other words, Jesus was saying, you have to have a heart that the Father has prepared before you'll come to Me. It's the way it happens. You want to see what that looks like in real life?

Turn back to Acts: Acts 16. Let me show you what Jesus said looks like in work clothes. Acts 16:14. We meet a woman named Lydia, the first convert in Europe, and as Paul is there, "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart [the Lord prepared her heart] to respond to the things spoken by Paul." This is how it works. All of us have hard, or rocky, or thorny hearts. We have distracted hearts. We have hard hearts. We have superficial hearts. That's how we would be naturally. So, the Holy Spirit has to prepare our hearts to receive the Word like He did with Lydia. God opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

So, what happens in this soil that's been well prepared by God to receive the seed? Well, if you kind of weave the parallels from the Gospels together, it's very interesting. The prepared heart hears the Word, understands the Word (according to Matthew 13), accepts the Word, holds it fast (according to Luke 8), and bears fruit, all three of them. That's what the prepared soil does. That's how it responds when the seed is sown. It hears, understands, accepts, holds fast, and eventually, bears fruit. There's the key, by the way: it bears fruit. That's the reason the farmer sowed the seed in the first place.

Now let me ask you a question. How do you know if your heart is good soil? Well, the answer to that is simple. Does it bear fruit? You say OK, what is the fruit? What is the fruit that every true Christian will produce? It is a harvest of two things: Christian character and good works, Christian character and good works. Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness; do those qualities describe you? Can you read that list in Galatians 5 and see God producing those things in your heart? And would the people who know you best agree?

Where the Spirit is, where the soil has been prepared, you will bear fruit of Christian character and good works. You were prepared for that, according to Ephesians 2:10. That's why God saved you, to produce good works. We're not saved by good works, we're saved unto good works. But where there is good soil, it bears fruit. It bears fruit in Christian character, and it bears fruit in good works. That's what results from good seed falling in good soil: a truth being sowed in a heart prepared by God.

Notice verse 20 adds, they "bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." You see, different seed, based on a variety of circumstances, produce different yields. In the first century, they tell us the average yield was between five and fifteen percent. So, thirtyfold would've been a wonderful yield; sixtyfold, amazing; and a hundredfold would've been absolutely extraordinary. But Jesus' point is this: the seed falling in good soil may grow at different rates and produce different yields in different hearts. All good soil isn't exactly alike. Look around. Look at your fellow Christians. Look at yourself. Some of us are slower learners than others, but there's fruit where there's faith.

Notice that Christ identifies every soil that bears fruit as good soil, regardless of the differing rates of return. So, if there's fruit, Jesus says it's good soil. Luke adds that the good soil produced "with perseverance," with perseverance. Ongoing fruitfulness is the only way to tell if the seed has fallen into a heart prepared by God. Isn't that what Jesus said in Matthew twenty-four? "The one who endures to the end, he will be saved." He will prove that he's the real deal. If he's the real thing, if that person is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, then he will bear fruit with perseverance.

Now obviously, I've applied this as we've gone along, but I want to look, as we close our time together, at a couple of sort of overarching implications. Understand this: every person who has ever heard the Gospel has one of these kinds of hearts. And did you notice that of the four kinds of soils, three of them respond favorably at first, but only one proves to genuinely be good soil. So, let's kind of go back over those scenarios I began with tonight.

What about a child who grows up in a Christian home and never embraces the Gospel? What would Jesus say? That person has what kind of heart? A hard heart: exposed to the Gospel, but it never penetrates. They never want it. They never want anything to do with it, and they move on. Then there's the person who appears to have a dramatic conversion out of a life of sin, and a year or two later they're not to be found. What kind of heart does that person have? They have the rocky-soil heart, the superficial heart. They respond with joy. Looks like the real deal. Looks like it's going to be great in producing wheat. But then it dies. They fall away. They leave their profession of faith. They walk away, and you never see them again. A superficial heart.

What about the child who grows up in a Christian home and who appears to embrace the Gospel, but who at some point begins to live like an unbeliever and continues on that path for the rest of his life, still all the time claiming to be a Christian? What kind of heart does that person have? According to Jesus they have a distracted, preoccupied heart. A heart where the thorns have choked out the seed so that it doesn't ever bear fruit. So, you see that this amazing parable really helps us look at the situations around us. We can never know another heart for sure. Only God knows, but these are indicators of what's really going on in the hearts of others.

There's a second implication I want you to see here. This parable, while it does teach us about parables, while it does teach us about different kinds of hearts, you are not stuck with the kind of heart you have. This parable, remember Jesus told to the crowd, and He ended it with an invitation. You remember? "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." If Jesus were here tonight, and you had concluded that you had one of those first three kinds of hearts, He would say, are you willing to really hear? Are you willing to turn from your sin and come to Me because I can give you a new heart? You remember the new covenant promise of Ezekiel? I will take out your "heart of stone," and I will give you a "heart of flesh," a heart that can understand My law. I'll write My law upon your heart so that you will do it. God can give you a different heart. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." This is an invitation to you. If you've concluded that you don't have a heart that's good soil, that's borne fruit, you can. If you're willing to turn from your sin and embrace Jesus Christ, He will give you a new heart.

But the most important lesson for most of us here tonight to take from this parable is this third implication. The only reason you responded to the message of the Gospel was that your heart was good soil. And why was your heart good soil? It had absolutely nothing to do with you. It's because God had prepared your heart. He had prepared the soil of your heart. Soil that left to itself, would've been hard or rocky or filled with thorns; but God in an act of grace prepared your heart to receive it (like Lydia, in Acts 16) so that you responded. It's because of a work of grace.

Look back in Mark 4. You remember, in between the story that Jesus told and His interpretation that we've studied tonight, was the explanation of why parables? You remember what He said? Look at verse 11 again. "… He was saying to them [to His disciples], 'To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God.'" [Or as the other Gospel writers say,] "To you … has been granted to know." It's because God decided in an act of grace to break up your hard heart. Because God, in an act of grace, decided to break up that rocky, limestone ledge beneath that thin layer of topsoil. Because God, in an act of grace, decided to tear up all of those thorns that would've choked out the Word. He prepared your heart, and when the seed fell, you received it, and you've borne fruit. It was all and is all grace. "To you it has been granted to know."

Let's pray together.

Father, we are overwhelmed by Your goodness. Lord, we freely acknowledge that if You had left us to ourselves, we would never have responded to the Gospel. We would never have seen the beauty of Christ, we would never have seen the reality of our sin. But, O God, we thank you that in an incredible act of grace that we didn't deserve and never would deserve and never will deserve, You prepared our hearts to receive the Word. Thank you, O God. Fill our hearts with genuine praise and love and adoration. Lord, help us to sing with all of our hearts. Help us to love You and to serve You and to worship You. May our lives be filled with the sacrifice of praise, even the fruit of lips giving thanks to Your name.

Forgive us, O God, for becoming discouraged and absorbed with our own lives when You have done so much. And Father, I pray that You would use this parable to help us understand the lives of the people around us and their responses to the Gospel. And help us to be diligent as Jesus was, even in the face of the reality of these different responses, to share the Gospel everywhere. Lord, open up our mouths to sow the seed, and may You be gracious to prepare the hearts of those with whom we share.

And Father, I pray as well tonight for the person here tonight who has never come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Lord, perhaps they've had a hard heart and never gotten it, never responded. Or perhaps they've had other bad soil that looked like they responded, that prayed some prayer, that walked some aisle, that signed some card, made some profession, but their lives have never borne fruit. Father, break away the blinders and the facade tonight, and help them to see themselves in this simple story of Christ's, and use it to change them. May they really have ears to hear.

We pray in Jesus name, Amen.

The Memoirs of Peter