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Different Responses to the Gospel
The Gospel of Mark 4:14-20–the interpretation of the parable of the sower
Students, do you have friends at school who say they know Christ, but something about them makes you wonder if it’s true? Couples, do you have family members who go to church, but you are uncertain whether they’re truly born again? Men, are there guys at work who talk about the Word, but there’s still a question mark in your mind as to whether they’re saved? Ladies, do you know other women who are really nice, but they really don’t live according to the Scripture?
I am sure you know people who claim to be Christians, but don’t go to church, cheat you at work, lie about others, laugh at lust–and you wonder about their faith? Today Jesus takes the question mark out of your wondering in Mark 4:14 to 20, by explaining the parable of the sower. These verses explain what is really going on in their hearts, and help you examine your own heart as to your salvation. Now to embrace this parable, you must also believe four doctrinal truths:
#1 True Christians are faithful, and follow Christ progressively
#2 There is no assurance for anyone who lives in disobedience
#3 We can’t judge a heart, but can evaluate behavior
#4 And there are phony, self-deceived, make-believers in the church
WHY IS THIS PARABLE IMPORTANT? There are four P’s not found in your outline:
#1 Predict the future–to know in advance how people will respond to the Gospel
#2 Protect you from hurt—you are prepared in advance, when 10 to 30 years later someone walks away from Christ
#3 Perceive the real reasons–trials and/or other loves, not you, when they leave the church
#4 Produce fruit—to challenge you to be fruitful, not average, but exceptional
So as we continue in our verse-by-verse study of the gospel of Mark–in verses 1 to 9, Jesus told the parable of the sower. In verses 10 to 13, Jesus told us the purpose of the parables, and now in verses 14 to 20, Jesus teaches us the explanation of the parable. Read the parable with me from your outline notes.
Mark 4:14 to 20, “The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
Now look back at verse 13, “And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?’”, meaning this parable is the key to all parables. What do I mean? Parables take a familiar event from everyday life, and with it teach a spiritual truth. This parable describes the different responses to the Gospel, using a farming analogy. As seed is sown in a field of soil, the same seed responds differently to the different soils found in that field. So God’s Word sown in different hearts causes dramatically different responses. This points to . . .
A The importance of hearing
A key feature of the parable of the sower is listening. The Greek word for hear occurs ten to thirteen times in chapter 4. The Lord describes four different kinds of soil, but these soils are different than what you have in your backyard, because each of these soils listens–they hear. The dirt in my backyard doesn’t hear me at all. But each soil in this parable listens.
These four main soils listen differently. They all hear the same truth, but they all hear it uniquely, and thus respond to it differently. The first three types of soils–three types of hearing . . . 1) where Satan steals the Word (v. 15), 2) those who burn away, (v. 17), and 3) those choked out by worldly desires (v. 18-19). These three are each described in the aorist tense that describes a general take it or leave it, superficial kind of hearing. Satan, persecution, and the worries of the world spell disaster for those who give the Gospel this kind of a superficial hearing.
But in verse 20 there is a different kind of hearing. The aorist tense is replaced here by the present tense, signifying an ongoing hearing, as opposed to a superficial hearing. People engaged in the fourth kind of hearing “hear with their lives…they receive the truth and bear fruit.” Hearing, receiving, and bearing fruit are the marks of a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ. What kind of hearer are you? And what, exactly, are we supposed to be listening to?
B The seed sown is the Word of God
The same parable, Luke 8:11 says, “the seed is the Word of God.” And Mark 4:14 affirmed the sower sows the word—that’s clear! In every telling of the parable of the soils, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, each put the emphasis on what is being sown–the truth of God’s Word, not who the sower is. The sower in this parable could be anyone who ministers, and anyone who presents the Gospel to others.
The seed is the Gospel of salvation described in God’s Word. It is the good news that Christ died for our sin on the cross, and rose from the dead, like Mark 1:15 says, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This Gospel, contained in the Word of God, is the seed being sown. But the Lord tells us not everyone responds in the same way to the message of the Gospel. People hear God’s Word differently, and this is described by the different soils.
C The soils represent the hearts of those who hear
The soils where the seed falls in this parable represent the “hearts” of those who hear God’s Word–we know, because Matthew 13:19 says, “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.” The soil is the person’s heart–who they really are. So the Lord is giving us a clear lens to see how your friends and family respond to the offer of salvation in Christ alone.
This parable is to help you examine your own heart first, but it is also the lens you must use to look at others you love. It is the lens that leads you to pray for them, to talk with them, to exhort them, and to encourage them–to tell them the truth. The twelve and the other loyal followers of Christ do not fully understand the parable, but it is so important to all of us, the Lord takes the time to fully explain each reaction.
Now Christ’s disciples and you will understand why the spiritual leaders in Israel were rejecting Christ, and why some of those following Christ were walking away and no longer following Christ. Now it is explained in detail so that you here today would understand why people you love reject Christ, and why some who claim to know Christ walk away from Him, or no longer obey Him. This is why some people come to church only once every four weeks, or why some of your Christian friends at school are filled with lust, anger and selfishness, but go to church with their parents regularly–why some who you ministered with for years simply walked away, still calling Christ their Master, but not serving Him at all.
Do you get it? The seed is the Word of God, the Gospel of salvation. The soil is the human heart, and the point of the parable is this–the result of hearing the Gospel always depends on the condition of the heart of the hearer. So here are the four main ways people respond to the Word of God. Examine your own heart, but also think of a few you love, write their names, and today discover if you or they are . . .
#1 The unresponsive person Verse 15
Mark 4:15, “These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.” This response to the Gospel was a door slam–no response at all. The Greek word immediately seems to press for a quick reaction.
In order to fill the field full of seed, as the sower sows, some of the seed spills over on the walking paths. The walking path ground is very hard ground, like a dirt road. When the seed hits this hard soil, it doesn’t penetrate, but sits on top, making it an easy banquet for awaiting birds. The Lord is telling us this person is unresponsive or indifferent. You’ve all heard this person. I don’t need Christ—“go ahead with your own life, leave me alone” (Billy Joel). Don’t tell me what to do, there are many ways to God—it’s a hard response.
In verse 4, when Jesus told the parable He said, “Birds came and ate it up.” But now in verse 15, “Immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.” Matthew 13:19 adds “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it.” Because the Word fails to penetrate their inner being, immediately Satan takes it away. The Gospel finds no entry point. They don’t understand, like Luke 8:12 says, “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.” They don’t believe.
There are many who hear the Gospel, know its truths, but don’t see the need. Christ is an idea, not their creator–a religion not a relationship, a god but not their master, a key figure but not the only savior, a teacher but not the truth. Satan snatches away the seed from this kind of heart. But note, Satan snatches from the unresponsive heart, not the responsive heart. These people are not excused from personal responsibility. God is sovereign in salvation, but people are responsible to hear. Jesus has been commanding everyone, have ears to hear–listen!
But this person listens to the Word of God with indifference. How does Satan snatch the seed? Satan uses false teachers who promote spiritual error, and a weak gospel that contradicts the Gospel. He uses fear of what other people might think if they become a Christian. Satan uses pride to blind people to their sinful condition and their desperate need to be forgiven. He uses prejudice, stubbornness, procrastination, the love of the world, love of sin, and every other combination of those ploys and snatches the Word away. (MacArthur, 357)
First Corinthians 4:4 reminds us Satan “blinds the minds of the unbelieving, that they may not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.” Could this be you? Do you know anyone like this? An unresponsive, superficial hearer–the Gospel is shared, but it hits the hardhearted soil and is snatched away. The next two responses are at first really exciting and super encouraging–but later they lead to sadness and difficulty for a lot of Christians. So be prepared–could this be you or those you know?
#2 The impulsive person Verses 16 to 17
Are you impulsive? In the parable, Jesus describes the shallow response in verses 16 to 17, “In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”
This is an impulsive response to the Gospel. These are your friends who prayed the prayer, walked an aisle once. Verse 16 says these are the ones who immediately “accept Jesus”–at a point of need, or hurt, or emptiness they respond with joy. They hear about the God-man Jesus dying for sin in their place, offering love, forgiveness, purpose and fellowship–it sounds desirable. It seems like Christ is their answer.
The Greek term “with joy” tells us they are thankful, rejoicing and glad. Their felt needs are met, but sadly they will not endure. Days, weeks, or years later they will walk away. They may not deny Christ, but they no longer obey God’s Word. They no longer follow Christ–He’s not their Lord, they’re not His slave. They were never saved in the first place.
When Jesus told the parable back in verse 5, look at what Jesus said, “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil.” Under a thin layer of soil there was a solid foundation of limestone base-rock–and because the soil was not deep, look at verse 5, “it immediately sprang up because it had no depth of soil.” The layer of limestone, with a few inches of soil on top causes the soil to warm sooner, causing rapid growth, resulting in the seed springing up faster than regular soil with no rock underneath–so these seeds germinate fast, and the plants appear quicker.
They’re impulsive, but in verse 6, “And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.” The hot sun would beat down on the young plant, and the plant burned. This August I had a few scorched plants. They shriveled up, cooked, turned brown and died–it was just too hot. Unable to get or keep moisture in the soil, plants wither away. So now Jesus tells us why in verse 17, “and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when  affliction or  persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”
Notice they have “no firm root.” To these hearers, the Word of God only cracks the surface–their change is only surface. These are skin-deep conversions–affecting only their emotions or ideas, but it is not true. It does not transform their soul. Cosmetic conversions to Christ do not endure (see verse 17) but are only temporary. The Greek word temporary tells us this was just a momentary decision, a decisive moment to avoid danger or gain advantage, but not a life transforming commitment. Their enthusiasm for Christ cools, the emotional heat turns cold, and the idea of following Christ becomes less attractive.
Jesus says in verse 17 their faith was never real in the first place. See it in verse 17? They immediately fall away. That word is skandalizö, which is where we get the English word “to scandalize”. They get hit with a difficulty, and like a scandal come to light, they fade away. What is it that hits them? “Affliction” is literally pressed with harassment and trials–it could be finances, or the crushing trials of an unfaithful spouse or wayward child or divorcing parents, or irreconcilable relationships, or criticism from other Christians, or hits from the legal system or CPS. Ultimately it’s the difficulty of obeying God’s Word as written.
Persecution is someone you know at school, work, or family who becomes an enemy by attacking your faith in Christ. They make it miserable to live for Christ and obey His Word. Jesus says in verse 17, this persecution or affliction “arises”, the Greek word arises means “given birth”. An attack is born–so now their life verbally, financially, relationally or even physically is being hit, ridiculed or threatened with loss . . . loss of friendships, status, finances, or safety, and as a result this superficial pseudo-cosmetic Christian falls away.
As quickly as they receive the Word, springing up with joy, they just as quickly shrivel up and burn up in their phony faith. They are like a firework that lights up the sky on the 4th of July, then quickly fizzles and goes dark. Lots of Scriptures talk about how this happens, and reaffirm they were never saved in the first place, such as 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” They were never saved in the first place.
The Bible repeatedly affirms, you cannot lose your salvation, because it is not based on what you did but based on what Christ did. It’s not about your choice of God, but God’s choice of you. It’s not about your character holding Him, but God’s character holding you. As Jesus says in John 10:28, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” So when someone actually does walk away from Christ long term, it’s evidence they didn’t know Christ in the first place.
And what makes it difficult for the rest of us is that their departure may come after years of service to Christ and friendship to you before their phony faith is exposed by severe testing. Often these impulsive responders are those who’ve heard a very surface gospel–that cosmetic gospel which overemphasizes the blessings, but never the cost of the Gospel. They don’t hear about repentance, dying to self, nor carrying the cross. They rarely own the promised hardships of suffering and persecution.
One writer said, “He has come to Christ for what he thought he would get in the way of personal benefit, but when confronted with the high cost of salvation, he will not pay the price. He has built his religious house on the sand of emotional experience, and when the storms of affliction or persecution beat on his house, it crumbles and washes away. He has the foliage of a religious experience, but he has no root in spiritual reality and therefore cannot produce spiritual fruit.”
A true Christian is just the opposite–they endure persecution and affliction, just as Paul esteemed the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 1:4, “We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your [same words in Mark 4] persecutions and afflictions which you endure.” Genuine Christians endure–they remain faithful to trust and obey.
Could this be you? Do you know anyone like this? An impulsive, cosmetic hearer who responds with gladness at first, but then once the heat of following Christ really hits, they burn up and fade away, exposing their phony scorched faith? There is another response to the Gospel which is also not genuine, and it is . . .
#3 The pre-occupied person Verses 18 to 19
Mark 4:18 to 19, “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” This is the one who responds to the Gospel–Jesus says here, these are the ones who have heard the Word. They pray a prayer, walk an aisle, sign a card, or even openly profess Christ as Lord. From the outside it appears like they follow Christ, but at some point on their pilgrimage they expose they’re empty inside.
They become preoccupied with other things besides Christ. Their heart was never remade, so the seed was sown among the thorns. You didn’t see it when they “accepted Jesus”, but they were never converted, and their heart is still full of weeds. In time those heart thorns start to grow. And these thorny weeds will take over any garden–any heart.
Verse 7 said, “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.” Their heart begins to become dominated by other things besides Christ. These make-believers become distracted from Christ. They give themselves to the idols of possessions, pleasure, sex, relationships experiences, children, sports or friends—something in this world, and not Christ. He is no longer their first love–there’s no fruit of Christ in or through their life. James 2:26 says, “Faith without works is dead.” They may “feel Christ” or have experiences, but they produce no crop—verse 19 says they’re unfruitful. It was a dead faith–a phony belief, a false conversion. So they move on to another god, an idol they love more than Christ.
At first, often their thorn bushes are cut down. But you know when you pull weeds, if you leave the root it often comes back. So even though the soil is productive, when both seeds and thorns spring up, the rapid growth of the thorns always chokes out any hope of the Gospel seed taking root. What are the deadliest thorns/the worst weeds? Verse 19 lists three, “but [ONE] the worries of the world, and [TWO] the deceitfulness of riches, and [THREE] the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” They heard the Word, they understood the Gospel, they accepted Jesus, but their heart still belongs to the world. What are they preoccupied with?
ONE The worries of the world
The phony Christians are in constant anxiety, lose sleep, even brood over worldly issues. The Greek word world is literally the issues of this generation/age–politics, finding a spouse, the fear of floods, fires, and danger. They worry over everything already under God’s sovereign control.
Jesus just taught in Matthew 6:31 to 34, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 … for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Christians trust, not perfectly, but trust. But the thorny make-believer worries about the issues of the day. This fake believer wants this world more than heaven. But James warns, it’s one or the other–there is no middle ground in James 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” The thorny soil is preoccupied with worry about this world. John Piper said it so eloquently—“When you become so blind that the maker of galaxies and knower of all mysteries and lover of our souls becomes boring, then only one thing is left–the love of the world. For the heart is always restless. It must have its treasure: if not in heaven, then on the earth.” But there’s more! The next thorny bush is . . .
TWO The deceitfulness of riches
If they’re poor, they think becoming rich will make them happy. If they’re rich, they think having more will make them happy. Riches have dulled their desire for God. Money has become their pursuit, and the Gospel and God’s Word is suffocating because of the golden calf they’ve made for themselves.
Jesus also warns there’s no middle ground with money—it’s one or the other, not a little of both. In Matthew 6:24 it says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” There are only two options, you’re devoted to one or the other–either you openly hold riches and possessions before God, or riches and possessions will hold you in a death grip of control. You are open-handed with possessions, or they will possess you.
The rich young ruler walked away from Christ because of his wealth, and churchgoers today are walking away from Christ because of wealth. The Bible says if you have food, clothing and housing you are rich, and with these Christians are to be content. He who dies with the most toys, what? Wins? No . . . loses his soul and goes to hell. The love of money is a deceptive lie. It slowly lulls the churchgoer away from Christ. The love of money is a crop of weeds in a heart that eventually will choke out God’s Word, so now all you do is think money, think sales, think bargains, love deals, and pursue how to make more money than you ever think of Christ, His work, His Church and His purposes.
Which is why Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Sidetracked professing Christians eventually show their lost heart through 1) worries over this world, 2) the deceitfulness of riches, and finally . . .
THREE The desires for other things
See it in verse 19. The Greek word desire here is lust, epithumia, strong desire for other things, like possessions, power, pleasure or prestige. Anything other than Christ–any idol will do. The desire for other things is written in verse 19 to point to what remains–anything else. It can be a position, a food, an experience, a style, an honor, fame, awards, success, ministry, position, a hobby, a habit, a salary, even a place you were from, just ask Lot’s wife–a desire for Sodom. This never happens to those from Hemet. They never look back. It can be anything other than Christ as your first love.
First John, which is written to help you have assurance of salvation, says in 2:15 to 16, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” So what happens if these thorns are still in control in the heart? If true salvation has not occurred, then these thorny weeds, verse 19 says, “enter in and choke the Word.” The verb “enter” means literally “together, travel themselves in”, telling us they work together–not merely one thorny plant, but a combination of them. Just like the varied weeds in my yard, it’s not just one thorny weed, but many–and not merely one kind, but all of them move in and strangle any heart for Christ.
This heart is full of thorny roots, and when set in motion, like a murderer who chokes his victim to death, these three thorny bushes, these three worldly influences suffocate the Gospel truth in the heart. The word choke is also used to describe drowning. This heart is drowning in worries, riches and desires for lesser things. Their passion is no longer for Christ above all.
Like Demas, seemingly a super-committed Christian, a fellow-worker with the Apostle Paul, after years of service for Christ, later left Paul, walked away from Christ, and the reason? Second Timothy 4:10, “Demas having loved this present world–has deserted me.” The preoccupied heart will soon suffocate because their heart was not transformed–so when the weeds grow, there is no room for Christ. What does it look like when it happens? Jesus says at the end of verse 19, “these worldly weeds enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
The result is a life that becomes unfruitful. This is scary–this professing Christian wasn’t unfruitful in the past, but he or she in time becomes unfruitful. They started off looking really good like Demas, but ended up walking away. This was a churchgoer who seemingly bore fruit, impacted lives, maybe witnessed to the lost, served, taught the Word, showed compassion–then over time other things took over and it all stopped. They no longer bear fruit–they either walk away, or they find a church where there’s no expectation of obedience or service. They merely attend, but no longer impact non-Christians, nor impact Christians for Christ.
Could this be you? Do you know anyone like this? A pre-occupied hearer–a make-believer who is now sidetracked? They seemingly produced fruit, but now produce none because they are given to concerns, wealth and other desires made idols. Their love for Christ has been smothered out, exposing a phony faith.
#4 The receptive person Verse 20
Mark 4:20, “And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Luke 8:15 describes this same person, “And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the Word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” The prepared hearer accepts God’s Word and embraces the Gospel. God is sovereign, but the emphasis here is the receptiveness and humility of faith to receive the Word of God. That’s good soil.
This heart is not hard, shallow or loaded with weeds, but has been prepared by God so that it’s receptive and fertile. Do you catch the vital differences? The good soil welcomes the Word immediately so that it can’t be snatched away by Satan. The good hearer welcomes the Word deeply so that it is not withered by persecution. The good hearer welcomes the Word exclusively, so that other concerns do not strangle it. Notice how the good soil responds to God’s Word in verse 20, and ONE) they hear the word, and TWO) accept it, and THREE) bear fruit. This is true of every genuine born again Christian, young or old.
ONE They hear the word
The Greek verb “hear” tells us genuine Christians actively listen to the Word. They hunger for it all the time, and they actively engage hearing, heeding, applying, living, learning, loving, delighting in and needing it. Real believers study it, read it, listen to it, meditate on it, and live it. They continually (present tense) and actively (active voice) hear the Word.
TWO Accept it
Literally it means to welcome (they want to hear) it. They receive the Word in a friendly way–they adopt it and accept it. In the same way you’d welcome a best friend arriving at your house on a surprise visit, genuine believers welcome God’s Word in their lives–the same way. And true believers even accept when the Word exposes their pride, selfish motives, wrong thinking, dangerous choices, disobedient behavior–they welcome God’s Word. They want it. When the Gospel calls them to mourn over their sin, repent of behavior, and trust only in Christ and His death on the cross for sin, they gladly receive it.
THREE Bear fruit
True believers, good soil, true born again Christians, wheat always bears fruit. Fruit is the mark of a true believer. Without fruit in and through your life you can’t claim to be a Christian. Both Old and New Testaments tell us real believers are fruitful. Psalm 1:3, “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” Matthew 7:17, 19, 20, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. . . . 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
Then John 15:8, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” And Colossians 1:6, “Constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you …since the day you …understood the grace of God in truth.” The seed of the Gospel is planted by God in our hearts so that we glorify Him by bearing fruit and spreading the Gospel.
The good soil that receives the Word will bear spiritual fruit, but how much fruit will they yield? Verse 20, “and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Most likely this is a reference to growing grain. The average yield in Palestine was tenfold, meaning for every seed sown, you got ten grain. So thirty, sixty and a hundredfold yields were very good yields. So Jesus says, there are your regular thirtyfold fruit-bearing believers, then your double fruit-bearing believers at sixtyfold, then there are some incredible fruit-bearing believers at one hundredfold. But every genuine believer produces a lot of fruit.
Fruit is displaying Christ to others, and also sharing the Gospel. Fruit is to point to Christ, and fruit is also reproductive in nature. What is the point of an apple tree? To bear apples. Why does the apple tree create apples? To make more apples. If you don’t sow the seed, you can’t produce fruit. Could this be you? Do you know others like this? The receptive hearer hears the Word of God, accepts what the Word says about God and himself, and is transformed so that this hearer puts Christ on display, and shares the message that brings life.
So those are the different responses to the Gospel–which one are you? The unresponsive, superficial hard heart that’s snatched? The impulsive, emotional, cosmetic, surfacey response that’s scorched? The pre-occupied, distracted, sidetracked response that’s suffocated? Or finally, the successful life-changed response that’s sovereign?
#1 One of the main purposes you are here is to sow seed
Christ is preparing his men here as they go out into the world to not be surprised or discouraged by the condition of the soils. So He makes His point–the response to the Gospel of what Christ did to save sinners is not dependent upon the presentation of the sower (how you share the Gospel) or the effectiveness of the seed that’s powerful, but the condition of the heart of man. Your job is not to be a soil inspector, but a seed spreader. Just sow the seed–let people know what God has done through Christ.
What did Paul say in 1 Corinthians 3:5 to 9? “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” Sow the seed, tell them the message.
God became a man to take the divine punishment for our sin, rose from the dead, and is the only way to be forgiven. As you speak, people will respond with hard hearts, shallow and crowded hearts who’ll demonstrate their phony faith later, but there will also be responsive, fruitful hearts–throw seed. Or, hand out the seed to others to sow.
#2 Don’t be discouraged–you don’t know people’s hearts
Jesus wanted us to know how people are going to respond to the Gospel–yes there will be door slamming and there will also be the phony, cosmetic Christians who fade when it gets tough. And the phony, crowded Christian who gets distracted with stuff. Do not be discouraged, friends–many times the departure of that burned out or weeded out plant forms the fertilizer that produces a real genuine fruit bearing plant later.
I can’t tell you the number of students I pastored who walked away to enjoy the sins of the world, only to become sick of sin, and so hurt from the lies of the enemy that they came to Christ in genuine repentance, and their lives were transformed. Never give up sowing the seed–even when they walk away.
#3 Be honest and evaluate your own heart first
God makes it really clear—be honest. Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” God commands you to test yourselves. Compare your life against the parable of the soils and be honest.
Are you truly a fruit bearer–are you impacting others for Christ? Do others hear and see Christ in you? Is there genuine spiritual growth, or are you superficial or distracted? Second Peter 1:10 says, “Brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things [qualities like godliness, self-control and love], you will never stumble.”
Ask those closest to you today—“do you think I am saved . . . what things about my life raise the greatest concern . . . am I more like a cosmetic Christian, or distracted Christian . . . or a genuine fruit bearing Christian?” Listen to what they say—hear and listen. Let’s listen in silence to the Lord right now–let’s pray.