And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9 ESV)
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23; ESV)
The Hardened Sinner
This parable of Jesus demonstrates the reality of how sinners respond to the message of the gospel of salvation. First, the seeds scattered along the path represent a hardened sinner, who will hear the gospel but doesn’t fully comprehend it, nor does he respond to the message in any kind of receptive manner. This could be manifested in one of two ways. First, Hardened could react with impassive indifference. The message may seem foreign or totally unrelated to his situation. He doesn’t feel convictions of guilt over sin. This sadly results in a callous heart unaffected by the mercy and compassion of a loving God.
The other opposite reaction is passionate hostility. Hardened may indeed be pierced by a conviction of sin, yet the desired effect is not contrite sorrow but self-righteous rage. The idea that he may be guilty of high treason against the Lord of all creation is more than a prideful soul can bear. What does Hardened do? Scripture explains that he will suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18) The soil of Hardened’s heart is impenetrable. The seeds of the scripture bounce harmlessly off the sun-baked surface, unable to find a place to take root and are quickly taken away.
The Unfruitful Professors
Jesus goes on in his parable to describe the next category of sinner with two illustrations: the shallow root believer and the thorn & thistle professor. Henceforth they shall be referred to as Shallow and Thorn, respectively. Together these hearers make up the 2nd category of sinners – the unfruitful professor. Shallow appears to understand the gospel proclamation. He grasps it well enough to express true joy at the prospect of the coming kingdom of God. He sincerely believes he will partake in all its blessings. Despite his initial response, the daily demand of taking up his cross will kill off his hope.
Shallow only wants the blessing but not the trials that preface it. He is not willing to sacrifice any of God’s common graces in order to receive the benefits of His saving grace. Shallow may be enamored with the idea of God’s love but he is not able to return it. He loves himself and the world that has made him comfortable so much more. One who doesn’t love God most is an idolater, a denier of the faith he proclaims. Gospel persecution only works to manifest this truth in his life. Only true love can survive hardships. False love only endures until the warm fuzzies dissipate. Convictions born purely out of emotion can only be sustained until the feeling wanes. We all know, according to the Law of Diminishing Returns, that emotions abate over time, especially when circumstances turn against us. The soil of Shallow’s heart has no depth. God’s word can find no place to take root. The thin soil line will only allow the roots of God’s word to penetrate the emotions but not the soul of the hearer. Shallow is only in it for the benefits. At the first sign of a price to pay he will bow out.
Thorn may have a deeper conviction than shallow. His roots don’t falter under the intense glare of the relentless sun. In other words, he can weather bumpy times. After all, the blessings of God are worth a few inconveniences here and there. God’s word may find deeper soil in which to take root, however, a foreign element is introduced into the picture. Quick growing weeds share the same soil with Thorn, stealing away valuable nutrients. The weeds tower above our tender sprout, casting a long, dark shadow, obscuring the sunlight, and snatching away its warmth. Prickly thorns and thistles wrap around his stalk, strangling the life from him.
Saint Luke’s description of Thorn’s spiritual condition is more complete: “And as for what fell among thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Luke 8:14. Love for the world and the things therein while simultaneously claiming love for God is tantamount to spiritual suicide. Jesus said man cannot serve two masters. He will always love one at the expense of the other. Love for the things of this world is hard-wired into our fallen natures. Thorn is born to love this fading world system. If, after he claims Christ as his very own, he still embraces the world’s values then he shows himself to be double-minded. Such a person cannot receive any good thing from God. How easy it is for Thorn to be led astray by his divided heart. He walks away from the trail God has blazoned before him, to wander off to see the next big thing, experience a new sensation, heed ear-tickling words, touch a forbidden fruit. Thorn is seduced by the unholy trinity of temptation: The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. The path to eternal life is narrow. Thorn wanders too far off and never finds it again. He is lost because he can’t tear his gaze away from the sensual prizes he longs for in his heart.
The Fruitful Servant
We now come to the final symbol in Christ’s story – the seed planted in good soil. This seed produces a harvest. The hearer of God’s word is the only one that is fruitful. Notice in the parable that Fruitful is the only hearer of the word that is said to also understand it. Shallow receives it with a knee-jerk emotional reaction but never truly understands it. Thorn is led astray by worldly desires before the truth can ferment in his soul. Fruitful, however has grasped the message of the gospel; it has illuminated his mind. In biblical terminology a hearer is one who understands the content of God’s message, not just one who physically can hear the message. True hearing results in tangible evidence: an ample crop harvest. The harvest may vary according to the individual, nevertheless a crop matures without exception. A true understanding of the gospel produces faith: a saving kind of faith that ultimately doesn’t falter. The epistle of James tells us that saving faith never travels alone. Good works always follow faith. Why is this so? The earnest answer is simply this: The seed found good soil and takes root. An appropriate environment produces excellent results. Where faith be found godly works are produced. Where the roots grow the fruit will show. Faith in God’s love and mercy to us in Jesus Christ will never fail to manifest itself in works of love toward God and neighbor. Fruitful lives his life in a heartfelt gratitude for who God is and what great love He has demonstrated in giving us his Son. He is obedient and faithful because God’s incorruptible seed remains in him.
In summation Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower that three kinds of sinners exist in the world. There is Hardened, who doesn’t respond to the word. Then there is Shallow and Thorn, who do respond but fall away in times of testing and finally there is Fruitful, who responds and endures to the end. Hardened, Shallow and Thorn are born sinners and die sinners. Fruitful is a sinner by birth, a justified saint by re-birth.
In this new series I will relate some experiential theology relating to my odyssey through life as each one of the three categories of sinner. It is a tale of two conversions. I will endeavor to also compare and contrast my experiences as a help to those examining themselves to see if they are in the faith.