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Breaking Soil

Mark 4:1-20; Matt. 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15

As we said last time, it's time to take inventory of your spiritual life, to see where you are in the journey. What will determine your success is found in your spiritual heart. The truth is, we don't always know what's in our hearts, what's happening spiritually. "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?" describes a pre-salvation condition, but even after we come to Christ, there are still corners, rooms, areas in us that are not yet given over to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

This whole parable is tremendously revealing and will give you an understanding of what success you can expect in discipleship and ministry as well as your own spiritual life. We will refer to a number of parallel passages (Mark 4:1-20; Matt. 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15). We call this setting The Sermon By The Sea.


Mark 4:1-20 [1] Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge.

I have a little place I go to down on the bay, about five minutes from my house. I call it Shell Beach. All the waters kind of converge, and all the shells break up right down in this little spot. So I sit down there. It's a wonderful thing—when the water is calm I can literally hear the conversations of the fishermen on their boats. The water acts as a natural P.A. system. This is what was happening with Jesus on this occasion. It would have been impossible for the crowds to hear His teaching, so He got out in a little boat and the water acted as a megaphone, that natural P.A. system. Pretty soon everyone could hear Jesus speak.


[2] He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: [3] Listen. A farmer went out to sow his seed.

Who is the sower? All believers. What is he throwing out? The seed is the word.


[4] As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. [5] Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It spring up quickly, because the soil was shallow. [6] But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. [7] Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. [8] Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.

Multiplying is a key word!

I once spoke as a youth pastor at a junior high retreat with 150-200 students—wild students! I was planning to teach on this passage, so we broke the students down into small groups, had them go to each of these types of soils and observe them. It was amazing to me how they really picked up on what was going on. They kicked the soil; looked at the thorns; noticed the stones in the dirt; and then they saw the good soil. They were really enthralled with this whole process.

Even as Jesus was speaking, these kinds of soils were probably in sight of where he was talking to these folks.

The Soils

  1. Hard Soil/Along the path [v. 4] As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. The soil was packed hard because people had been walking on it. Since many feet had hardened the path, the seed didn't penetrate it.

  2. Rocky Soil [v. 5-6] Some [seed] fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow, but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and withered because they had no root. Because the soil was shallow and mingled with rocks, there was no depth, and the plant withered.

  3. Thorny Soil [v. 7] Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants so that they did not bear again. This soil must have been decent because other seeds had grown in it. Apparently the good seed was added while there were negative seeds there as well. The soil was not weeded out.

  4. Good Soil [v. 8] Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying 30, 60, or even 100 times. It produced a crop beyond what was expected.

In the Matthew 13 passage, Jesus tells the same parable, but with a little conversational interlude we don't find in the other gospels. With that as background, we will go back and look at the parable.

The Secrets

Matthew 13:10-11: The disciples came to him and asked, Why do you speak to the people in parables? [11] He replied, The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.

A secret is that which cannot be known by the exercise of human wisdom and knowledge; i.e., words, knowledge or truth from God alone. How do we get these secrets? How do we get on the inside track? How can we hear the Lord teaching?

"We don't want to hear these grand parables, Lord, we want to know what's really going on. What are you trying to say to us?" the disciples seem to be saying. You know, the Lord continues to use parables in some of our lives, because we are not listening. They are illustrations for us, sometimes tragic ones.

Truth principles:

  1. Truth must be acted upon in order to be retained (v. 12). "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." This truth applies to all kinds of soil, and is true in two ways:

  2. Truth applied grows—v. 12a. "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance." Obedience is the key to having more truth. If you want to know the secrets of God, to know God's truth, then obey what you know. Do what is before you, and as you do, more truth will be given to you. Some of us are not growing in our spiritual lives because we're doing nothing with what we have. We know it, but we're not using it.

  3. Truth rejected is lost—v. 12b. "Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." Some people believe that if you just throw out the truth, it will not return void. Certainly the Scripture says in Isaiah 5:11 that what the Lord says will be accomplished. But the Word of God will have impact on us only if we are open to it.

  4. Truth is eventually concealed from the disobedient—v. 13b-15. Not only is it lost, but eventually, if we don't apply it, it is concealed from us. "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." Wow! That sounds tough! Why the concealment? "For this people's heart has become callused: they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them."

    The Lord is not withdrawing truth from certain individuals simply because He doesn't like them. He's not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance. In fact, the truth is available to everyone. There is no secret truth for some little select group of folks. If we hear and obey, all the truth is available to us. But if our hearts are hardened, we will not be given more and more truth.

  5. Truth applied blesses—v. 16-17. "But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. [17] For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." What a wonderful day we live in! All the Old Testament prophets longed to see and hear what we can access as believers. The Disciples were the first recipients of an understanding. The Old Testament saints had kind of a picture book of truth. We, however, have the reality!

Those who rejected the truth understood what Jesus was after—to heal the nation and its people—but preferred perversity/their own way.

Keep this explanation of the secrets in mind as we move on through an explanation of the soils.


The Soils Explained

Remember, the seed is the word (Mark 4:14) spread on four types of soil.


  1. Hard soil: like seed along the path—v. 18-19
    Matthew 13:18-23 "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path." Notice the person whose heart is hard soil. The message is received, but has no effect because it does not penetrate, nor is it applied. Therefore, Satan comes and takes it away.

    This happens every Sunday; it's frustrating for a pastor sometimes. You teach, and you expect that people will perceive and listen, yet you know that some don't. There's a percentage of people in every service whose hearts are hardened, and they will not receive. Don't think that if someone hears the Word, it will continue to work on them. No way! Truth rejected is lost! Truth rejected is stolen!

    Keep that in mind, parents. Keep it in mind, disciplers. When I was growing up, a lot of parents just stuffed Bible verses into their kids' heads whether they liked it or not. But if that child decided not to be open, that truth had no continuing impact. Satan came and took it away. The most important thing is to get a child to the point of receptivity, where that child loves Jesus, is open to Him and open to truth. In that context, you give him/her the Scripture, and it will have a wonderful continuing impact.

  2. Rocky soil—v. 20-21
    [20] The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. [21] But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

    He receives it with joy. The classic example is at camp or a retreat; there's an emotional experience, and relief after confession, whatever it might be. There is happiness that all these things are coming into his life. You've seen that kind of so-called conversion, and so have I. But he/she has no root; the word didn't penetrate the depth of the heart. The seed was simply added to a heart already filled with many other things.

    He can't stand the test of the sun (v. 21). But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. Everything we receive from God is tested! In fact, we don't know the impact the Word is having on us until it's tested.

      Examples of Testing:
    • The children of Israel go through the Red Sea and stand on the other side, rejoicing for three days without water. What they have received is tested!

    • Jesus has a wonderful baptism where the heavens open up and the Father says, "This is My beloved Son who I love and in whom I am well pleased." And the Scripture says He was immediately driven into the wilderness to be tested.

    • Moses gets a call, understands what he's supposed to do, and then spends 40 years in the wilderness getting ready for the call.

    Everything we receive from God is tested. Trouble and persecution come to reveal the roots, the commitment, the kind of soil in which the seed of the Word has been planted. Trouble will come because of the Word; and trouble and persecution will cause a shallow faith to quickly fade. Therefore, it's important when sharing the gospel to be sure that people respond to its truth and experience complete repentance. We can't be satisfied with someone just saying some words, and must not be overly impressed with emotion. If there are rocks in the soil, when trouble and persecution come the seeds will be blown away. As a matter of fact, it is better to let someone walk away from Christ and let them know they have made no commitment than to talk them into a commitment that is not there. No rocks, no shallowness—plant it in the best part of the heart. Prepare new converts for the sun of persecution and trouble.


  3. Thorny Soil—v. 22
    [22] The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. Now this is tough. This person receives the Word, and there's apparently genuine growth, but it's choked by the worries of lifehouses, relationships, finances, etc. Those things choke God's Word because worry robs us of faith. It robs us of the potential of listening and obeying. Worry chokes us!

    The seed can also be choked by the deceitfulness of wealth—by these lies:

    • Our security is with things.

    • Our value is based upon what we have.

    • Possession implies God's blessing.

    • We need more to be happy.

    A parallel passage, Luke 8:14, gives us another way in which people are choked. He adds this phrase: [v. 14] The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. God's not intending to rob us of a good time. He is referring to illicit pleasures: improper, inappropriate pleasures, which can choke us. You can make a firm commitment to the Lord but get involved in certain kinds of pleasures and feel your faith instantly begin to choke. Living in this type of soil, there is no growth.

    What is the solution? I Timothy 6:17-19. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. [18] Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. [19] In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

  4. Good Soil—Matt. 13:23; Luke 8:15
    The good news is that we don't have to be hard, or scorched. We don't have to wither or be choked. We can be good soil. Note the characteristics:

    • He has a noble and good heart

    • He hears, understands, and retains the Word

    • He perseveres

    • He produces a crop beyond what was expected

    In other words, he becomes a multiplier. In each Scripture below, there is a type of multiplication:

    • Psalms 1:1-4—a multiplication of success

    • 2 Corinthians 1:3-11—a multiplication of comfort

    • Galatians 5:22—a multiplication of the fruit of the spirit

    • 2 Corinthians 9:6-11—a multiplication of giving

    • John 15:1-17—a multiplication of fruitfulness

    • Matthew 25:14-30—a multiplication of talents and gifts

    • 2 Timothy 2:1-7—a multiplication of discipleship

    • Hebrews 5:11-14—a growth in maturity.


Which soil are you?

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