Luke 8:4-8 (ESV)
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:
5 “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 8:9-15 (ESV)
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,
10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
13 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.
14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
What I love about the parable of the sower is the simple way it explains how people respond to the preaching of God’s Word. To any Christian who preaches, teaches, has a Bible study with anyone, is in a Bible discussion with anyone, invites someone to church, etc., our Lord is telling us ahead of time that there will be four different types of responses to our efforts. Even more specifically, he’s letting us know that 3 out of 4 of those responses will not be what we or the Father want (cf. Matt. 7:13-14).
In this post I would like to briefly examine the first response, the one in which seed falls along the path, is trampled underfoot, and birds end up eating it. Christ explains that this represents “those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). Matthew’s account has him saying, “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. This is what was sown along the path” (Matt. 13:19). Mark’s account says, “And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them” (Mk. 4:15).
How does Satan have the power to “take away the word from their hearts”? Answer: they give it to him. We can do this too. The devil does not have the ability to force any of us to do wrong (1 Cor. 10:13). However, each of us has the ability to choose whether or not to serve God (Josh. 24:15). Many of us choose to follow our own desires, which Satan uses to successfully tempt us to sin (James 1:13-15; cf. Gen. 3:4-6). Paul gives us an example of this:
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Also, take note of Matthew’s account which says that “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” because the one who heard the word of the kingdom did not “understand it” (Matt. 13:19). Two points should be remembered from this.
First, the seed was actually sown in the person’s heart. When we share God’s Word with anyone – Christian or non-Christian – it goes into their heart. The question now is what kind of heart they have. The description of the 4 different kinds of hearts people have is the point of this parable. In this case, it is a heart which desires what Self wants instead of what God wants, as described above.
There is a reason for this, which is the second point we should remember from this passage. This person heard God’s Word…but did not understand it. The fact that they did not understand it is why they focus on what they want instead of what God wants. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about the lack of understanding that causes one to ask questions out of a desire to learn more so that one could follow God with a proper understanding (cf. Eph. 5:15-17). After all, the disciples did not understand the parable…but they WANTED to understand it, they WANTED to learn more (Lk. 8:9; Matt. 13:10; Mk. 4:10). Why? Because they WANTED to serve Christ. No, the lack of understanding that Jesus is talking about here is a lack of comprehension of how serious and needed the message from God which they are hearing from you really is. This lack of understanding comes from a lack of faith and, as noted above, a hard, stubborn heart which is focused on the desires of SELF rather than the desires of God. It is this lack of understanding which those who crucified Jesus had (1 Cor. 2:6-8). It is this lack of understanding – not understanding that one’s real purpose is to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13) – which many in the world have. As a result, they are not interested in what God’s Word says and thus reject it.
So when you invite someone to church or a Bible study and they continually say no, this is probably why. When you are talking with someone religious about biblical matters and they outright reject something you show them from Scripture which contradicts their own beliefs, this is probably why. This is the first of the 4 different kinds of responses to scriptural teaching, and the first of 3 which will ultimately not produce what you or the Lord wish for that person. We will examine the others in future posts, Lord willing.