“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #16)
“Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12, N.K.J.V.)
The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15) is one of Christ’s better known ones. It also goes by the title The Parable of the Soil. The latter is perhaps more accurate because the heart of the story centers around the soil rather than the seed. The story’s lesson is that the same seed sown in different types of soil produces differing results.
If you’ve ever spread any type of seed by hand, you can relate to the story. As the sower walks along randomly broadcasting his seed, the seed falls upon four types of soil: hard ground, stony ground, thorny ground, and good ground. The story’s symbolism is easy to understand. The sower is either Jesus (in the immediate context) or anyone who presents the gospel (in the larger context). The seed is God’s word, specifically the gospel. And the different soils are the different types of people who hear the gospel.
The seed that falls upon stony ground takes shallow root in the thin layer of soil that barely covers a slab of rock under the surface. An upstart plant is produced that looks fine for a little while. It won’t take long, though, for the plant’s inadequate root system to cause the plant to wither and die under the sun’s heat.
This type of soil illustrates people who hear the gospel and immediately respond to it in an enthusiastic way that seems sincere, but in reality the response is superficial. Such a person gets stirred by a gospel presentation, makes a salvation “decision” that is emotional rather than spiritual, lives in line with the decision for a while, and then abandons the decision the first time difficulties arise because of it. Summing up the situation, the person never experienced salvation at all.
The seed that falls upon thorny ground also takes root and produces a plant that seems ideal at the start. But it doesn’t take long for that little plant to get choked by the more dominant thorn plants. The thorn plants steal all the surrounding nourishment and eventually block out the sunlight. Under such conditions, the plant can’t grow and produce fruit.
This type of soil illustrates the person who hears the gospel, makes a decision for Jesus based upon it, and lives in line with the decision for a while. Eventually, though, the person allows life’s thorns (i.e., the cares of the world, the pursuit of worldly riches, and the person’s own desires) to cause him to revert back to his old life. There is honest disagreement among reliable commentators as to whether or not the thorny ground represents a genuine salvation experience — albeit one that leads to an immature, backslidden, carnal Christianity — or yet another failure to ever get saved. The imagery can be sensibly taken both ways.
As for the seed that falls upon good ground, that’s the only seed that produces unquestionable salvation marked by lasting plants that bear fruit. Depending upon the richness of the soil, some of the plants bear thirtyfold fruit, some sixtyfold, and others a hundredfold. This illustrates the people who hear the gospel, get saved by placing their belief in Jesus, and spend the rest of their lives bearing fruit for Him.
Okay, perhaps you noticed that I left out the seed that falls upon hard ground. I did that on purpose because I want to spend more time with it. You see, that’s the part of the story where Jesus specifically mentions the work of Satan.
Jesus doesn’t actually use the word “hard” to describe the ground in question. Instead, He describes it as ground “by the wayside” (N.K.J.V.). The Greek word used is hodos, and it means “way” or “road.” The image is that of either a footpath through the rows of a sown field or, more likely, a footpath at the edge of the field. Such a path features soil that is well worn and packed. In other words, it’s hard. Any seed that falls upon such ground doesn’t stand a chance. Rather than receive the seed into it, the hard crust of the soil will repel it. So the seed will just lie there, never taking root, until the birds spot it and eat it.
By Christ’s own interpretation, the birds of the story symbolize Satan, with the plural “birds” evidently referring to the fact that Satan accomplishes the thievery through his army of demons. Through them, he races in immediately and steals the seed (the word, the gospel) from the hardened person’s heart before the seed can take root and the person can believe in Jesus for salvation. Please note that Satan doesn’t steal salvation that already exists. No, he doesn’t have that much power. But what he can do and does do is steal the seed that he knows can lead to salvation.
Of course if you are reading this and you have never experienced salvation by placing your belief in Jesus Christ, you need to be aware of what Satan is doing to you anytime you hear the gospel. He is stealing the gospel from you as quickly as he can lest it produce Christ’s desired effect in your life. You’d do well to remember this whenever someone tells you about Jesus. If the message doesn’t resonate with you at all, you can consider yourself robbed once again, robbed of the precious word of God that if acted upon could have resulted in your salvation.
But what about the person who is already a Christian? Does the Parable of the Sower (or the Soils) have nothing to say to that person? Surely it does. Even though our text verse indicates that the parable has to do with the gospel and salvation, the symbolism of the “seed” (the “word”) can also be rightly applied to any “word” from the Lord that comes the Christian’s way.
That “word” might be one regarding prayer, Bible study, church attendance, giving, evangelism, confession, repentance, or a hundred other Christian topics, but the point is that once the Christian receives it the effect it will have depends upon what type of soil it encounters. Is the ground hard? Is it stony? Is it thorny? Or is it good?
Needless to say, it’s the good soil that will produce the right result. So each of us would do well to examine our own life and be honest as to just how receptive we are to a fresh word from God. Since the Lord is faithful to sow His seed, and since the seed itself is perfect, the breakdown we are seeing in the process must be the result of our problematic soil. And unfortunately all indications are that Satan knows more about the condition of our soil than we do.