Mark 4:1-9 tells us “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables and in his teaching said ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
In today’s age of technology, we know that the key component that makes a computer function is its hard drive. Without the hard drive, a computer cannot function. Just as the computer relies on the hard drive, the heart is our hard drive for our lives. Therefore, the heart really is the heart of the matter. From a spiritual perspective, if the heart is not surrendered to God’s principles then our lives will not achieve what God has in store for us.
With that in mind, as we look at the parable that Jesus shared with the crowd, He starts by saying Listen! He then proceeds to tell a story about how a farmer went out to sow his seed. The word “seed” is used to depict the Word of God and the farmer (sower) is the Son of God and anyone that professes to be His follower. Just as a farmer sows his seed to produce a crop, you and I as Followers of Jesus Christ are to be sharing God’s Word to produce a crop. Much of what is going on around us in today’s world is our failure to boldly share the gospel and without the seed being planted then how can there be a harvest. A good farmer knows that he must sow his seed when the season is right to cultivate the greatest harvest. Today we have very few who are willing to be good farmers.
The soil is the heart of the hearer. There are people we come in contact with every day that have experienced challenges and disappointments in life and as a result they have allowed these events to harden their hearts in varying degrees. Some are downtrodden, some are disappointed, and some are downright bitter. Much like a potter’s clay, if a heart has been hardened it is virtually impossible to make something useful out of it. That is why I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit that can come into a life and restore hope which then begins to soften a hardened heart so that God can do a mighty work.
Some seed fell on the path leaving it exposed and subject to its surroundings. In Jesus’ day, there were no mechanized tools or defined layout of a field so the farmer sowed his seed across the land hoping that it would fall on hearty soil that would allow the seed to cultivate. Some of us have gotten so busy and allowed so much activity into our lives that we have become like the path. We’re moving around a lot but there’s not much substance. We can even get too busy working for God that we lose our roots and foundation. We have to guard our hearts from becoming so involved with activity and busyness that we lose connection with our Heavenly Father. We may have been a seed on the path and we were not able to take root in the Word of God.
That brings us to the “bird.” The bird is Satan and his army of demons. They desire to devour the seed before it has time to take hold. Satan is always busy with his lies and devious ways to distract us from truth. He will use whatever means he can to remove the Word of God from the heart of the hearer before it can take root.
Some seed landed on rocky soil. Rocky soil represents a lack of spiritual depth. A person with a heart like the rocky soil may make an emotional or superficial response to the gospel but the minute things don’t go the way they think they should they are quick to blame God for their circumstances. Because their roots are shallow, when difficult times come along they can quickly be uprooted and slip back to their previous way of life.
Some seed fell amongst the thorns. Some people hear the Word of God but they allow the worries of life and the desires for things this world has to offer to choke out their desire for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They are busy chasing promotions in their career, material possessions, belonging to the “in” groups, achieving status by the world’s standards. All of these can bring stress and worry and many people find themselves dealing with all kinds of physical and mental health issues due to this “chasing” after things of the world. Worry can kill you and chasing after desires of the world can cause that worry.
Some seed fell on good soil and that would be described as a spiritually productive heart. The results can only be attributed to the supernatural. The change that occurs and the peace that replaces the worry and stress are due to the seed being firmly rooted in good soil. Nothing can hinder the growth and yield of the crop when the heart is good soil. We must guard and protect our hearts from the efforts of the enemy to harden the soil to make it ineffective in yielding a crop. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
The hard heart is the most vulnerable to Satan. It is what he looks for so that he not only prevents the seed from taking hold in this person’s life but uses that person to influence others to ignore the Word of God. There are very real forces at work to do everything they can to prevent spreading the Word of God (the gospel which is the truth).
The flesh is against us like the rocky soil. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not based on emotion or feelings but through a moving of the Holy Spirit within one’s heart that brings about a spiritual change. There is no magic prayer that brings about salvation and we can’t live with one foot in the world and attempting to have the other in a right relationship with God. God’s Word says we become “new creatures” when we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and we no longer live our former lives but live a new life in Christ.
The world tries to smother growth much like the seeds that fell on thorny ground. We are constantly bombarded with new products, new technology, and new thoughts around morality and acceptable behavior all of which can smother out the new seed trying to find its way to root into good soil. We can quickly lose sight of the fact that the world is driven by sin and we fall into the desires of this world so deeply that we are no longer connected to the truth. The world, just like thorns, desires to smother truth and pull us into the tangled mess that eventually strangles us spiritually.
As I stated in the beginning of this article, Jesus and anyone who professes to be His follower has a responsibility for spreading the seed or the Word of God. Spreading the gospel should not be confined within the walls of the church. The church should serve as a school for farmers and equip them with going out to the fields and planting new crops. Farmer education should deal with the various types of soil and how to prepare a field to receive the seed. We may have to devise a way to keep the birds away from the field. At times we will have to remove some of the rock that will prevent the seed from growing strong roots. We must be willing to tend to the field once the seed has been sown; we will have to pull up the thorns and thistles that will try to strangle out the chance for the seed to develop; we will have to nurture the seed by making sure it gets the Son light it needs and the everlasting water to keep it strong. A good farmer knows that his hard work in sowing the seed and tending the field is in preparation for God to provide the harvest. A farmer cannot make a seed grow and develop but God can. It is God that gives us the increase.
Jesus began this parable by saying “Listen” and he closes by saying “whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” My prayer is this article will open you spiritual ears and be a source of encouragement for getting into spiritual farming. God doesn’t need our help but He allows us to come alongside to show the world what a difference a relationship with Jesus Christ can make in a person’s life. What an awesome thing to be allowed to be in business with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. So get busy getting your spiritual farming education and get out there and sow some seeds for the Lord!
(1) All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
(2) Proverbs 4:23
This article is based on a sermon delivered by Scooter Noland, Lead Pastor of Hope Church, Tupelo, MS on 5/10/15, from a series: Exclamation Point; and the message is titled The Heart of the Matter.