An excerpt from chapter 1 of JESUS AND DIRT: A Fresh Look at the Parable of the Sower. Available for pre-order now, released December 1, 2016.
Chapter 1 – Path Ground
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-19
Life happens. One day at a time. It’s the same for all of us. No one is immune, no one gets extra time, no one gets their days in advance. We all grind along at the same pace. I’m convinced most people wander away from the faith one slow day at a time. There are cataclysmic shifts in churches that do untold damage, driving scores away from the church and the faith. There will be more. But I still believe the daily grind of living by faith, of choosing to live out our faith, wears away more people than church explosions blast away.
I have no research to prove my thesis. I have no data charts to bedazzle info-mongers; no statistics to quote that others will forget. I only have my convictions formed from years in the local church. And, of course, Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.
I remember when I was a small boy my parents would sometimes talk in code to hide their conversation. This especially happened at Christmas, when they were making plans for gifts, but didn’t want nosy little ears to overhear. Their conversation was for those ready to hear; it wasn’t time to reveal my Christmas gifts. I was excluded, on purpose, from the conversation.
Jesus embraced similar logic when He used parables in His teaching. There were always crowds straining to hear His words. But some of those words were not for everyone in the crowd. Some were not ready to receive them; others were. So, Jesus told stories to communicate His truths to those ready to hear.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus uses the simplest of analogies to communicate immense Kingdom truths: farming. Israel in Jesus’ day was primarily an agrarian society and many could identify with, if not understand, the word pictures He employed. After reading His parable in Matthew 13:1-9, and the explanation given in verses 18-23, the basics of the story are clear:
A Simple Explanation of the Analogy
- The Seed — Word of God
- The Sower – Jesus (and by extension, those who share God’s Word with others)
- The Soil – The hearts of men and women, with different levels of receptivity
Everyone's heart condition is represented by the types of soil in Jesus’ parable. You could say Jesus has the dirt on everyone!
Imagine a neatly cultivated field. In our day such work is performed by machines, and productivity demands that every square foot of acreage be used. No so in Jesus’ day. Tilling the ground was accomplished by hand, and paths allowed farmers and travelers, and their pack animals, to traverse between fields. This ground grew hard through ceaseless walking. The alternating cold and heat of the seasons further tempered these undisturbed paths. This is what Jesus referred to as ‘the path’.
Such ground was unprepared for seed. No prior efforts or preparations were made to make the soil ready to receive seed. Therefore, when seed fell upon this hardened soil, it simply bounced around and lay naked in the sunshine. And lying in the open it became ready sustenance for every passing bird.
This path ground is a word picture for men and women whose hearts have been hardened by exposure to negative elements. Trodden down by the harsh realities of life. Pummeled by coarse interactions with people. Baked and scorched by the hot, searing effects of willful disobedience. Our culture glorifies everything that Scripture opposes. We are bombarded with messages encouraging us to “get what’s coming to us” by any means necessary. We glorify those who “get ahead” and ignore the lines they crossed and the people they crushed.
When our efforts at sharing the Good News meet with no response it's because the ground is unprepared. There's been little or no exposure to God's Word. His Spirit is clearly not working to soften up the heart and give understanding. The person may have had no exposure to spiritual things, or repeated exposure to worldly religious dogmas until they are hardened toward anything that smacks of the spiritual.
I remember conversations with people in my early years of ministry when I discovered they had never been told about Jesus. It simply astounded me to grasp that people in the "buckle of the Bible belt" areas of our country had never before been explained the story of the gospel. And even when it was explained, their response was some variation of "so what?"
One time in particular, I visited with a family in a large hospital in Memphis, Tennessee who were waiting patiently as a family member underwent a serious surgery. The waiting area was crowded and there were many conversations going on around us. I chatted with this family, asking questions about their family member's condition, and then we gathered together for prayer. After closing the prayer I took my leave but was stopped by a man who sat a few seats away. He politely asked if I had the time to stop and answer a question, and I consented and sat down. This man looked about 40 with hints of silver streaking his thinning hair, trim, fit, and well-dressed. As we engaged in dialogue a sunny intelligence and wry sense of humor colored his words.
He began with a simple, yet polite question: "How does the act of praying with people bring them comfort?" From his sincere tone and serious countenance, I knew this was a serious inquiry and not a flip remark aimed to disparage or argue. Smiling, I politely asked if he had ever prayed with or for someone. His reply was negative, with an added rejoinder: "What good would it do?" I continued to politely ask questions and listen to his answers and it became evident he had no spiritual background of any kind. As I patiently listened and answered his questions there was no flicker of emotion, no grasp of spiritual truths. He continued to be polite but distant, engaged but unmoved. When I asked if I might pray for him he kindly refused with a tolerant smile. We shook hands and he thanked me for my time. I left knowing I had sown precious seed to an intelligent hearer, but fearing they had bounced around on the path and were soon devoured by the next book, magazine, or situation that commanded his attention. His heart was hardened by years of exposure to harsh, worldly influences, and he found spiritual topics "banal" and even "childish". Hard ground.
Path ground is not only unprepared, it’s unreceptive. Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:19 go beyond mental comprehension to include volitional acceptance. This means the person with a heart of path ground not only doesn’t understand what is heard, they do not want to hear or understand (Zechariah 7:12). Matthew 21:33-45 is a great example. In this account the Scribes and Pharisees knew Jesus' parables were about them; they understood His teaching. And yet, they still looked for ways to arrest Him! Their heart was already hardened against anything Jesus had to say. They were prepared beforehand to reject His teaching. His words didn’t change them. They couldn’t penetrate.
Jesus explained that it is as if such people never heard His words at all. The enemy comes and snatches away any knowledge or memory of God’s truth. Maybe you have said these words, or heard others repeat them: “They’ve been in church all their lives; they’ve been exposed to bible teaching; how can they live that way now?” The explanation is simple, if tragic. Such people hardened their hearts toward God’s truth, refusing to receive it, and it’s as if they never heard it. Some even sit through church services refusing to open their hearts to the Word of God. Their mind is made up; they already know they will make no effort to really listen, repent, and surrender.
I've had experiences with such people in the church. Although present for a variety of familial or other reasons, they were completely closed to any spiritual influences. I didn't encounter opposition or problems from such people; they were simply closed to any conversations or influences toward Christ. When pressed or questioned their response was quick, definite, and negative. Such people sat through Sunday School classes, worship services, revival services, and bible studies without allowing anything to penetrate. In most cases, when the familial responsibility was removed, such as with the death of a church-going patriarch, those people never returned to church. Their mind was made up long before. Hard ground.
Plow the Soil
What is the remedy for such hearts? Plow the soil.....
JESUS AND DIRT — A Fresh Look at the Parable of the Sower
Copyright © 2016 by Michael D. Stover
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.
Printed in USA
First Printing, 2016
I welcome your comments. For more information and to pre-order your digital copy for Kindle visit http://www.michaeldstover.com/jesus-and-dirt.
Scheduled for release December 1, 2016.
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