The Parable of the Soils (Luke 8:1-15)

Where there are different people, there will be different responses. Four people go and watch the same movie. One says, “It was epic!” Whereas another says “It was a flop”. And somewhere in the middle are other comments. Four people order the same meal at a restaurant. One says, “It was the greatest meal ever!” Whereas one says, “it was like dog food!” And again, somewhere in the middle are other comments. Where there are different people there will be different responses.

This is also true of the Gospel. The same message of the good news of the Kingdom of God can be shared with a group of people; yet there will be varying responses. Some will reject it out rightly. Some will find it interesting. Other will embrace it for a season. Some will wholeheartedly commit to it. These different outcomes are not the result of a differing message; rather they are the outcomes of different conditions of the individual’s heart.

This passage begins by telling us that Jesus went from place to place preaching the good news of the kingdom of God (8:1). The Kingdom of God is both present and future. In the present it is to enter and enjoy God’s spiritual rule, and in the future, it is to enter and enjoy God’s rule as King in the new heaven and new earth. Jesus is telling people about how they can enter into this kingdom.

Among the many that heard Him, we are told about some of those who responded in faith to this message. In addition to the twelve disciples, Luke also lists three women (Luke 8:2-3). The life-changing power of Christ’s message reached people from all kinds of backgrounds and situations. But not everyone who heard His message responded in faith. And not all that responded remained His followers. Why is that? We are going to learn in this message about four different kinds of responses to the good news of the Kingdom of God. When the gospel is shared, not everybody will respond the same way. The problem is not with the message, but it was with the heart of the individual. The same was true then, and the same is true today. This passage not only explains the ministry of Jesus, but it also explains what happens until the day of Christ’s return. After this, a crowd gathered and Jesus told them a parable,

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:5-8). 

In this parable Jesus describes happenings in everyday life. In this specific case it is of a sower sowing seeds. The sower has a supply of grain and sows it in the fields with the view of having a bumper crop. The disciples were curious as to what this parable meant. Jesus went on to tell them that the purpose of parables is to conceal insight from those who reject truth, and reveal insight to those the receive truth (8:10).

Jesus then provides the interpretation of this parable. We are told that the seed in the parable represents God’s Word (8:11), which is the same Word that contains the good news of the Kingdom of God that Jesus has been preaching (cf. 8:1). And the four different soils represent four different responses to the message of the good news. In this message we will consider the stubborn (8:12), the shallow (8:13), the strangled (8:14), and the saved (8:15).

1.         THE STUBBORN (8:12)

The first soil in this parable is hardened and callous. So much so, the seed that is sown is unable to penetrate. Jesus said, “The ones along the path are those who have heard” (8:12a). Though they have heard the good news of the kingdom of God, they have remained in a state of unbelief. The reason the word didn’t penetrate the heart was because it was a stubborn heart. This heart didn’t see a need for salvation. This kind of individual relies on self and rejects God. In the book of Proverbs this is the description of the fool (1:20-25, 29; 12:15; 28:26). Just like a well-worn path, packed tightly from continuous trampling and constant sun exposure, this hard heart has consistently reject God’s truth and as a result has become hardened.

This hard heart hears the word, but Jesus adds, “then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (8:12b). This reminds us that there is an actual satanic strategy to snatch the seed of truth from sinners. Satan does this by means of deception and distraction.

This first kind of person does not see their need for gospel. They are proud of their own achievements and they have a high view of themselves. There are many people who will refuse to believe the gospel message because their hearts are hard. They trust themselves and they are leaning on their own understanding. Jesus exposes this kind of heart for what it is – stubborn and lost.

2.         THE SHALLOW (8:13)

Unlike the first soil, the second soil receives the seed, but the soil is shallow and therefore its life is short-lived. Jesus said, “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (8:13). This is describing the kind of person that shows initial enthusiasm and excitement for the gospel, but in the end it proves to be nothing more than a shallow emotional response.

The message of the gospel brought joy to their life. The thought of being forgiven, or the hope of eternal life appear very attractive. But when difficult times come, they fall away. The problem with this person is not their emotion and joy. There is something very precious about a strong emotional passion for the Lord and what He has done for us. In the previous chapter (7:36-50) we saw the display of deep emotion for the Lord from the woman that was forgiven. So strong emotion and passion is not bad. The problem with this person’s emotion in the parable is that it is not grounded in the understanding of their need for salvation. Their excitement is based on information that appears to appeal to their wishes.

Salvation is not about fulfilling our wishes. True joy comes as a result of a heart that knows the depths of its sinful depravity and the deepness of God’s grace to forgive us of our sins. Our joy comes not because of what we get, but because of God’s grace to save. Like the woman in the previous passage, she loved much, because she was forgiven much.

3.         THE STRANGLED (8:14)

The third heart is similar to the second in that it hears the word and believes it. But this time it isn’t shallow but it is strangled. It is likened to an infested soil with thorns. The seed is sown; it takes root, sprouts, but in the end it is strangled. The suffocating strangle is “by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (8:14). The coaxing of concern, the lure of lust, and the pull of passion are more desirous to this heart than Christ. Now every heart will battle with temptation, but this heart is overcome by temptation because it resides deep within the heart. On another occasion Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).

The kind of person Jesus is describing is the one who deep down has a greater love for this world than for Christ. Their main concern is to look after themselves, and not look to Christ. There was a man that the apostle Paul counted as a faithful labourer and supporter in the ministry. So much so he mentioned him as a member of his ministry team (Col. 4:14; Philemon 24). His name was Demas. However, at the end of Paul’s ministry, just before he was executed, he said something very sad and devastating about Demas, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10).

This third soil is like a person who professes to believe, but in the end, the world is what they want. They never truly desired Christ as their Lord. They may have sounded like they did. We may have been persuaded they did love him. But deep in their heart were the roots of thorns that they never let go of. In the end, the thorns sprouted and strangled the good seed. An important lesson here is that sin may give us pleasure for a moment, but it will cause pain for an eternity.

4.         THE SAVED (8:15)

The final kind of heart described by Jesus is the genuine heart. This is likened to seed being sown on good soil. The seed takes, sprouts, and bears fruit. Unlike the other soils, this soil was receptive to the message. It is a heart that recognises the need for the life-changing power of the gospel. It is the heart that sees its sin and submits to the Saviour for salvation. The outcome of this soil is that it will “bear fruit with patience”. Fruit refers to the believer’s attitudes and actions of delight and duty for Christ. This fruit comes as a result of a changed heart, and come by means of abiding in Christ.

CONCLUSION

This parable that Jesus told is very clear. It explains why some rejected Him, why some followed Him for a time them abandoned Him, and why others remained His disciples. When Jesus returns, He will send the angels to gather those who never were truly saved and they will be cast into the judgment. This is very serious. It doesn’t matter what people claim about themselves – Jesus know those who are truly His. When you look at a garden after some rainfall and sunlight, you might see some amazing growth. But not everything in that garden will survive. What looks lush on the outside will soon wither because it is not deeply rooted in good soil. Here are two lessons I would like to discuss as I bring this message to a close.

If you are one of the first three kinds of soil, repent today – stop relying on yourself and pursuing your self-interests. Proverbs 14:12 warns us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death”. Know that you cannot save yourself. Come to Christ for salvation today and find in Him the only and sure way of salvation.

If you are the fourth kind of soil, the saved, be aware of things in life that can make you stubborn, shallow, or even strangled. Continue to refresh yourself with the grace of God’s Word and pursue Christ.