Rumors about a miracle worker from Nazareth have been swirling around the city for weeks. Some said He was crazy. Others believed He was the Messiah. The religious leaders claimed He was possessed by a demon. But no one doubted the miracles He performed. A paralyzed man was able to walk, insane people were cured of their evil spirits, the blind received their site, and all kinds of sick people were made well.
All that He did verified His message that the kingdom of God was at hand. While everyone was welcome to listen and respond to His teachings, Jesus’ target audience was the poor and the marginalized. One thing that made Him different from the other prophets of the day was His respect for women, and their respect for Him. Among His followers were “women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manger of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:2-3). Rabbis usually didn’t even talk to women. Yet, this Rabbi has women as some of His closest followers.
You have heard all the reports and rumors about Jesus. But you have not seen Him. You have been too busy in the fields, sowing and plowing and hoping this year’s harvest will be better than last year’s. You are barely surviving. Life is to complicated to worry yourself about a miracle worker from Nazareth.
Finally you get some time away from the farm, and so you head to the lake. You love the Lake of Gennesaret. You love the feel of the breeze and the smell of the water. Your favorite spot on the lake is just outside your hometown of Capernaum. Here, the shore is sandy with very few rocks and the ground gradually slopes upward toward the mountains. The hill, the shore, and the water, form a natural amphitheater. From time to time the city sponsors concerts at this site and the sound is always great. It’s a wonderful place to spend time with your family.
The day is relaxing, at least for a while, but in the distance there is a commotion. Shading your eyes, you look down the shoreline and notice a person walking toward you with a crowd following Him. The closer He gets to you, the larger the crowd grows. Could it really be Him? Could this be the miracle worker you have heard so much about? So much for a quiet day at the lake!
He is now close enough for you to hear Him talking to His followers. People, by this time numbering in the thousands, gather along the shore, all the way to the top of the slope. Everyone is quiet as Jesus begins telling a story. The story is about farming, planting, and harvesting. You listen, first out of curiosity, and then because you can’t stop from listening. He speaks with such authority! His stories are so real, so relevant.
Four Conditions of the Dirt
The story begins, “A farmer went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5a). Palestine was full of farmers. If you weren’t a fisherman, there was a good chance you were a farmer. Jesus’ parable about sowing, growing, and harvesting, would make perfect sense to His audience. The main lesson in this parable (as in all of Jesus’ parables) is that the kingdom of God is here, and it will be fruitful. A secondary lesson is the condition of the soil, and that is the lesson on which I want to concentrate. In this story about a farmer sowing seed, Jesus mentions four types of dirt.
- Hard dirt.
In order to completely understand Jesus’ point, we must understand one fundamental difference between farming in Palestine and farming today. In Palestine, unlike today, sowing preceded plowing. The farmer in Jesus’ story wasn’t wasting seed; he was sowing in a “broadcasting” style, not concerned with where the seed fell. He would come back later with a plough and turn over the dirt, burying the seed.
Jesus explains, “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up” (Luke 8:5). The “path,” were people walked, had become hard. The farmer may, or may not, ever come back and plow over these seeds. Thus, the seed on the path would be walked on by people and feasted on by birds. The seed on the hard dirt never got a chance to be buried in the soil.
- Rocky (shallow) dirt.
Jesus continues, “Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had not moisture” (Luke 8:6). The farmer wasn’t foolishly throwing his seed on visible rocks. The “rocks” were layers of limestone, just inches below the surface. Later, as the farmer turned the dirt over, he would notice the limestone. The seed, here, would grow quicker than anywhere else (because the rock absorbed the sun’s heat); but because the roots could not go down deep, and the rocks could not contain moisture, when the sun beat down, the plants would die.
- Thorny dirt.
Continuing, Jesus said, “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants” (Luke 8:7). At the time of sowing, these thorny plants were not visible. In the course of time, as the grain grew, the briers grew along side them, choking them off.
- Good dirt.
Finally, Jesus said, “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown…He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). I think it is safe to assume that most of the seed fell on good soil. Jesus was not saying only 25% of seed falls on good soil; that would bankrupt a farmer! Most seed produces fruit. The three-fold harvest—“thirty, sixty…a hundred”—offsets the three failures of hard dirt, rocky dirt, and thorny dirt. The Message translates v. 8 like this: “Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop.” In the end, because of the good seed and good soil, the farmer received more than he could have ever dreamed.
Four Conditions of the Heart
Understanding and applying parables can be tricky. Even Jesus’ disciples were not sure what the story meant (Luke 8:9). I see the application this way: The “farmer” is Jesus, Himself. The “seed” is the word of God that Jesus proclaimed, mainly, “the secrets of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:9-11). (By extension, we are farmers as we scatter Jesus’ message.) The “dirt” represents a person’s receptivity to Jesus’ message, and that receptivity is a matter of the heart. Thus, just like there were four conditions of the dirt, so there are four conditions of the heart.
- The hard heart.
Jesus explains the meaning of His parable by saying, “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:11-12). Some people hear the words of Jesus, and the message of salvation, and the good news of the kingdom, but because of their hardened, path worn hearts (hardened and worn out by Satan himself), they reject the gospel out right, wanting nothing to do with it.
- The rocky (shallow) heart.
Jesus continues, “Those on the rock 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” (Luke 8:13). Other people hear the words of Jesus and immediately accept His words as true. These people are excited about what they have heard and their new faith in Jesus. But their faith is shallow. There is no depth to it. The moment believing in Jesus costs something, or becomes uncomfortable, or it doesn’t live up to their expectations; they wither and die on the vine.
The idea behind the word “testing” is hardship that causes difficulty or pressure. The Greek word translated “fall away” is where we get our English word “scandal.” It pictures the part of a trap that when sprung captures its prey. People with a shallow faith believe because it sounds too good to pass up, but when the pressures of living out that faith increase; they stumble and fall into a trap.
- The overcrowded (thorny) heart.
Jesus continues, “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” (Luke 8:14). These people are initially receptive to Jesus’ message, but life gets in the way, choking them spiritually.
Jesus mentions three things that choke the spiritual life out of a person. The first thing is “worries.” Another word for “worries” is “anxiety.” Life’s worries and anxieties include the basic necessities of life—food, clothing, and shelter. But it also includes worries about finances, disease, children, and on and on the anxieties go. How many people do you know that have worried themselves to death? How many times has worry robbed you of the joy of living?
The second thing that can choke us is “riches.” Wealth never gives what it promised. We think riches are automatically a blessing from God, when in actuality they could be a burden from our selfish desires or a curse from Satan himself. Wealth never satisfies, and when it keeps you from following Jesus, the pursuit of riches destroys. But how many people have compromised their faith in pursuit of the almighty dollar?
The third thing is “pleasures.” How many people have forfeited their eternal life for momentary lusts? How many people have traded the eternal for the temporary? Nothing keeps a person from growing in their faith like worries, riches, and pleasures.
- The good heart.
Jesus concludes, “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” (Luke 8:15). These are people who hear Jesus’ message, accept it, obey it, and live it out everyday. Notice that in both the conditions of the dirt and the conditions of the heart, the problem was not in the seed or in the farmer. The problem was in the soil, or the heart. It is my job to make sure my heart is good soil for Jesus’ Word to grow. It is your job to make sure your heart is good soil for Jesus’ Word to grow.
Notice that while Jesus said the knowledge of the kingdom of God is a secret (v. 9), those who receive God’s word and allow the seed to grow in their hearts, cannot keep God’s kingdom of secret for long. Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them” (Luke 8:16-18). Then, using His family as an example, Jesus reemphasizes that His true family members are “those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:19-21).
Four conditions of the heart—hard, shallow, overcrowded, good. In what condition is your heart? How can you know? You can know by taking a spiritual EKG.
E – Examine your own heart.
No doctor can determine the shape of your spiritual heart. Only you can do that. Are you receptive to God’s Word? Are you obedient to what Jesus tells you to do? Is your heart hard, shallow, overcrowded, or good?
K – Know for sure your heart belongs to Jesus.
Are you playing religion or has there been a time when you asked Jesus to come into your heart and forgive you of your sins? Today, make it sure you are in a right relationship with Him.
G – Grow.
Don’t be like the seed that gets trampled on, scorched, or choked. Grow in your faith. Sink your roots deep down in the truths of God. Don’t be content with where you are.
Today, the seed of God’s Word has been sown.
What condition is the soil of your heart?