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AN OLD LESSON HEARD AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
Mark 4:3-9 “Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow. (4) As he sowed, this occurred: Some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (5) Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it sprang up right away, since it didn’t have deep soil. (6) When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it didn’t have a root, it withered. (7) Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce a crop. (8) Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop that increased 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.” (9) Then He said, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!” [HSCB]
In verses 13-20, Jesus explains what He said here. The four kinds of soils are, of course, four different kinds of people. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, they all “hear” the Word – – they each receive seed. What makes them different is the depth to which they “receive” that Word. The question we have to wrestle with is – – Which soil best represents the condition of your heart?
I want to focus on only one type of soil, because I think it’s the one that Christians tend to skip over quickly, thinking, “Well, I’m beyond that.” And that soil is “Soil #1”:
Jesus talks about seed that is sown, being broadcast by hand over a field. Some of that seed falls “on the path.” A first-century path alongside—or through—a field was simply a stretch of dirt that was well-worn and firmly-packed from lots of foot traffic. It became hard enough to be easy to walk on. But any seed that happened to fall on it couldn’t penetrate the ground at all, and the birds would come and snatch it away. The ground remained unfruitful because it couldn’t accept the seed.
This soil represents a person whose hard heart won’t allow the Word of God to penetrate its surface. This person is firmly in control of life; he has all of the answers. He is unteachable. God’s Word cannot penetrate, because this person won’t let it.
Now, it’s common to equate this soil with a person who never accepts the word of God, who is too hard in his heart to listen, much less take it in. That person remains lost, set in his sin, outside of God, because he refuses to be teachable. But those of us who HAVE at some time accepted the Word and turned to God for life should listen just as carefully as anyone else, and maybe even more so.
I can imagine that, over time, the paths around the fields might tend to widen into the edges of the field – – especially the more well-traveled paths, as folks walked by in bunches, and got a little careless in keeping strictly to the roadway. They might even trample down some of the new seed or new growth that runs yo to the edge of the path. The owner of the field would have to pay attention to that, working hard at keeping that soil loose and ready to take in the seed and let the produce grow at all times.
We, as Christians, can become a little “set” in our ways, can’t we? We come to decisions about various spiritual issues. We take positions based on the understanding we have at the time. We begin to grasp a certain spiritual concept – – or, at least, what someone has taught about a certain spiritual concept – – and once we have, we’re often the most unchangeable, unreachable, inflexible, unteachable people around. We have our understanding and our conviction, and since we know we’re right about it, why would we listen to anything else?
What we sometimes fail to recall is that even many of God’s greatest leaders still had plenty to learn as they went along – ESPECIALLY in the matter of rightly applying the truth of God to their own behaviors and attitudes. Moses received and gave the law – – and failed to enter the Promised Land because he failed to keep it in charge of his heart. David was on almost intimate speaking terms with God – – and often failed to live out the truths he taught to others. Zechariah was part of the most highly educated class of God’s servants, the priests – – and yet failed to believe God’s word spoken directly to him about having a son. Peter got a personally designed and delivered message about the nations’ equality in God – – and yet failed to offer that equality to Gentiles in public gatherings.
We HAVE to do whatever it takes to keep the soil of our heart ready and able to accept better and deeper understanding from God about things we’re sure we already know. God’s message is NOT changing – – but our understanding of it is never perfect, and understanding the letter doesn’t always guarantee understanding the way it should be working in us, developing us, changing us.
No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, no matter how biblically educated and spiritually mature you think you are, work hard at keeping your heart ready to learn from the Word of God.
As you study the rest of the soils, and what Jesus says about them in the second half of the story, keep this one thing in mind: the difference between being one of the three failing soils and being the soil that does what it’s made to do lies in how the soil is both prepared AND KEPT. If you really want to be influenced by the Word of God the way you know you need to be, and if you want to CONTINUE to be influenced by the Word of God the way you know you need to be, you MUST work at keeping the soil of your heart ready and able and willing to hear. When you stop working at that, you will start to move away from God.