Teaching series from Luke

Parable of the Sower & Soils

Luke 8:1-15

Teaching t20260


One of the key features of Jesus’ public ministry was, of course, teaching or preaching.  As a master teacher, Jesus utilized different methods of teaching.  Sometimes he taught in a straightforward, didactic manner—6:20-49 is an example of this.  Jesus was also a master at teaching through parable—using a story about everyday life to illustrate spiritual truths.  Our passage this morning is a prime example of this.  Let’s read 8:1,4-10 (NASB).  Before we read Jesus’ explanation of this parable, we need to understand two things.

Notice what this parable is about.  It is not an overview of Palestinian agronomy and horticulture—it is an illustration of “the kingdom of God” (8:1).  This is the most foundational and important concept in the whole Bible.  God created humans to live under his loving rule/kingship.  But humans chose to reject God’s leadership and follow God’s enemy (Satan) in rebellion against God.  This rebellion has thrown the world into disorder.  But God has launched a plan re-establish his loving dominion over this world.  This plan centers around the coming of God’s King (the Messiah).  So when 8:1 says that Jesus was proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God, it means that he was proclaiming himself as God’s King (Messiah) and summoning his hearers to submit to God’s rulership by submitting to him.  (Emphasize this unique claim vs. merely a spiritual teacher, a prophet, etc.)

Notice also that this parable is about a specific phase of God’s kingdom—what Jesus calls “the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (8:10a).  This phrase means a previously unknown portion of God’s kingdom—a secret phase of God’s kingdom that Jesus was disclosing through this parable.  The Old Testament prophets taught that when Messiah came, he would decisively overthrow God’s enemies and irresistibly establish God’s dominion over the whole world (TIMELINE).  (Today, we call this even the “second coming” of Christ.)  Jesus confirmed that this day was coming—but he revealed that as the Messiah he was coming first—not to defeat God’s enemies and rule the world, but to invite people to be reconciled to God and receive his forgiveness, and to provide this forgiveness by dying for our sins.  (We call this the “first coming” of Christ.)  He also taught that after his “first coming,” he would continue to spread this good news through his followers until everyone all over the world had a chance to hear it.  (We call this message the New Testament.)  Only after this will Jesus return to decisively and dramatically establish God’s rulership over the world.  So this parable illustrates the main purpose of this “mystery” phase of God’s kingdom—spreading this good news all over the world.  (Recommend “Kingdom Parables” series and/or Ladd, Gospel of the Kingdom).

Specifically, this parable explains why this message has different effects on different people.  It’s not that the message is defective, or that it is true for some people but not for others.  The message is the message of God, true for everyone and able to transform every person who hears it.  The issue is that many people fail to experience the life-changing power of God’s message because they don’t respond properly to it. 

Imagine 3 people who have the same bacterial infection.  Their doctor correctly prescribes the same antibiotic for all of them, and the same instructions for taking this medicine.  At the end of the therapy period, one person is fully recovered, one is even more infected, and one began to recover but then relapsed.  Should we conclude from these different results—that the doctor misdiagnosed, or that the medicine was inadequate, or that bacterial infection is only a state of mind?  Or should we suspect that the patients responded differently in following the therapy instructions?  Would we be surprised to discover that the patient who recovered fully complied fully, while the patient who began to recover and then relapsed took the medicine only until he began to feel better, and that the patient who was worse off than ever never took the medicine to begin with?  That’s the point of this parable—many people fail to benefit from God’s “medicine” of forgiveness through Jesus because they fail to respond to his “medicine” properly.

As we read Jesus’ explanation of different responses to his message, think first about yourself.  Which of these responses have you had in the past (I’ve had at least 3 of them)?  Which one is your current response?  Which response do you want to have from here on?  That’s the most important question, because you aren’t fated to respond to Jesus in a certain way—you can choose your response!


Read 8:11-15.  Jesus describes four different responses to his message—one of them is good and results in a great harvest (a transformed life that influences many others for Jesus), but three of them are disappointing.  Notice that Jesus describes the proper response in three ways (8:15).  These three ways contrast to each of the three disappointing responses.  Let me show you what I mean...

The good soil represents people who respond to his message with an “honest and good heart.”  This doesn’t mean that you are righteous—if you were, you wouldn’t need Jesus’ forgiveness!  It means rather that you are honest about your need for Jesus’ message—that you are humble (like the woman in 7:36-50).  You agree that you have rebelled against God and are guilty before him.  You admit that you are incompetent to direct your own life.  So when you hear this message that Jesus can forgive you and guide you reliably through life, you respond by giving yourself to Jesus as your Forgiver and Guide.

This is the opposite of the first soil (8:12)—the person who hears this wonderful message/invitation, but because of his self-sufficiency refuses to admit his need for it.  The hardness of the pathway soil represents the proud hardness of this response.  And when you respond this way, God’s enemy (Satan) will actively help you to ignore and discredit this message.  He may show you hypocritical “Christians;” he may introduce you to a form of spirituality that preserves your pride by affirming your essential goodness and competence; he may supply you with an opportunity to fulfill your selfish plans (sensuality; materialism; vanity).  Before you know it, your dismissal of Jesus seems totally justifiable.

This was my response the first time I heard this message.  Something inside told me that I was hearing the truth and that I needed to respond, but I knew that this would mean following Jesus—and I was more confident in my own plans for my life.  Within a short time, I got my ego stroked by peer popularity and I embraced atheism because it was cool and meant that I was the sole leader of my life.  It took a really hard blow five years later before I was willing to bow.

What about you?  Is this your current response to Jesus?  If so, maybe the best thing you can do is be honest about it.  Just admit that you’re not interested in Jesus because you think you don’t need forgiveness and that you are competent to run your own life.  But you’re not here by accident—God brought you here to hear his invitation. And if you sense deep down that you may be wrong about this, then I appeal to you to at least keep listening to Jesus’ word!  Keep attending this meeting, and start reading the New Testament—because if you do, this message will become more compelling to you.  And don’t be surprised if you experience lots of resistance!

The good soil represents people who not only humbly admit their need for Jesus’ forgiveness and guidance—they also “hold  it fast.”  This phrase implies that there will be strong pressure to forsake your trust in Jesus’ guidance.  It doesn’t mean that you pass this test with flying colors.  It simply means trust when tested—that you keep trusting his wisdom and goodness and stay on the path that follows him.

This is the opposite of the second soil (8:13)—the fickle person who responds positively to the message initially, but forsakes trust in Jesus when following him results in unexpected suffering.  Maybe it’s that others mock you for your faith in Jesus.  Maybe it’s that Jesus won’t be your Genie and give you what you really want, or that he calls on you to give up something you really want.  Maybe it’s that someone hurts you or something disappoints you, and you won’t let go of this and grow bitter.

Sometimes this response indicates that you didn’t really receive Jesus to begin with.  I have seen many people (including myself) respond positively to Jesus, claim to have received him—and then a few months later completely deny him.  I cannot see into people’s hearts, but I suspect that in many such cases there never really was a surrender of the will to Jesus in the first place.  They only wanted to use Jesus as a means something or someone else.  I have also seen people who continue to believe in Jesus, but “go on strike” for months or even years because of their poor response to suffering.  They have received him as their Forgiver, but they have forsaken him as their Guide—so their spiritual lives are barren and bitter and cynical.

What about you?  Is this your current response to Jesus? You don’t have to stay stuck here.  You can choose today to forgive those who hurt you and start trusting that Jesus knows what he is doing with your life.  You can agree that he didn’t abandon or screw you over, but that it was your unwillingness to keep trusting him that hurt your spiritual life.  You can admit that you responded poorly to your suffering, and you can ask him to help you learn how to suffer victoriously.  When you decide to go back to trusting Jesus’ word, he will immediately restore your spiritual reality and hope! 

The good soil represents people who produce a great harvest because they have “perseverance.”  This refers to long-term commitment—continuing to respond to Jesus’ guidance as the first priority over the course of your life.  It doesn’t mean that you never stumble, or that you are always zealous, or that you never wrestle with temptation and doubt.  It means that you have decided to give Jesus your whole life (MIND; BODY; POSSESSIONS; PLANS; TIME; etc.), and that knowing him better and influencing others toward him is the priority around which everything else in your life revolves.  It is this “long obedience in the same direction” that Jesus says will result in a truly meaningful and productive and deeply satisfying life.  You will wind up in awe that Jesus changed you and worked through you to change others far beyond your wildest dreams!

This is the opposite of the third soil—the compromised person who truly believes in Jesus, but whose life “brings no fruit to maturity” because he lets temporal matters consume his affections and energy.  It’s not that you forsake Jesus because of suffering—it’s that you allow yourself to be distracted by careerism or the pursuit of wealth or hobbyism or entertainmentism or personal comfortism.  This is insidious—both subtle (because none of these things is wrong in themselves) and gradual (usually not a specific decision, but rather many small decisions to neglect your spiritual life and pursue these things). 

Especially in affluent America, this is a huge temptation!  I struggle with this temptation often, and I am not suggesting that it is easy or simple to avoid this trap.  But I see it as just that—a trap that will waste my life if I give into it.  What is tragic to me is not that so many American Christians struggle with this—but that so many don’t struggle, but instead give into it and justify it and pass on these empty values to their children and become impotent to attract their friends and neighbors to Jesus because their Christianity is just the same suburban, selfish materialistic values instead of a radical alternative life of serving love.

What about you—is this your current response to Jesus?  You can change this, you don’t have to keep letting these “thorns” and “weeds” choke your spiritual life and prevent you from becoming a fruitful and productive and joyful servant of Christ!  You can admit your spiritual compromise and give yourself wholly to him, and ask him to remove whatever “weeds” he sees.  You can start feeding your spiritual life by re-engaging with his people and his Word and serving people as he guides you.  You can commit yourself to follow him wherever he leads you, and he will revitalize you and lead you back into his path for your life!  What do you want your Christian life to be like five years from now—more of the same, or spiritually fruitful?  What are you going to do now that will move you toward that harvest?


  NEXT WEEK: Jesus’ authority over the forces we can’t control (nature, demons, sickness and death)