Seed and Soil: What Happens When the Word Comes to Our Hearts

You, then, listen to the parable of the sower:

When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path.

And the one sown on rocky ground — this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles.

Now the one sown among the thorns — this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

But the one sown on the good ground — this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown. (Matthew 13:18-23)

When Jesus had drawn aside to speak with his disciples privately, he explained to them why he had begun preaching in parables. The reason, he said, was that the mysteries of the kingdom — that is, the mystery of the kingdom’s coming in a hidden, personal, inward way — had been given to them, but not the crowds at large.

The parable of the sower, which kicked off this discussion, actually makes the same point. The message of the kingdom goes out widely, but it is not given to everyone because not everyone receives it. Not everyone responds with faith; not everyone who encounters Jesus opens the door to him.

So after saying this, Jesus proceeded to explain the parable of the sower to his disciples. The story, simple and strikingly visual, compares human hearts to the several different kinds of soil. It shows what happens when the “seed,” the “word about the kingdom,” goes into the world.

Couched though it is in the language of agriculture, it is ultimately a drama — a story of warfare, betrayal, and love.

The Soil of Our Lives

As we noted earlier, the “seed” in the parable is the word (or message) or God. Everything Jesus ever said was seed (as are our words, in fact). More specifically, though, the parable is about the word of the kingdom — the news that God’s kingdom has arrived among us through the person of Jesus Christ.

Before going deeper into the parable, I want to make a couple of points:

First, to receive the word of the kingdom is to receive Jesus, though not always in exactly the same way or to the same degree.

For example, someone who hears the word of God’s love for them and receives it is receiving the kingdom. So is someone who is convicted of a particular sin and chooses to turn from it, or someone who acts on Jesus’s imperatives that we honor our fellow human beings, turn the other cheek, or choose not to judge others.

Of course, if we only receive these words, we haven’t received the kingdom to the same degree as someone with a fuller revelation of who Jesus is and what it means to enter a covenant relationship with him. But that doesn’t mean we’ve entirely failed to receive a seed from God and bear fruit from that seed.

Among other things, this is why we really can’t judge each other. We are each responsible to respond to what God speaks to us, to the way he calls us. But he doesn’t not call us all in exactly the same way or lead us all along exactly the same path, at the same time, in the same order. We can honor the way God is working in others’ lives without needing to fit them into our mold or timeframe.

(Among other things, I hope this is encouraging to those who, for example, have a burden for unsaved family members. They may be receiving God in the moment more than you realize. In any case, although we do play a role, he will always do a better job of saving them than we can.)

Second, the whole implication of the parable of the sower is that we have a choice as to what kind of soil we will be. If we didn’t, why tell such a story at all?

Again, the parable essentially embodies its message. Anyone who heard it and realized they lacked understanding could come to Jesus and asked him to explain (as Nicodemus did, when he couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying about being born again). Anyone who saw rootlessness in themselves could take care to grow roots. Anyone straddling the fence of love for God and love for the world could be convicted to get off of it. (Imagine what might have happened if Judas had owned up to the thorns crowding his soul.) Etc.

We are soil: we are made to receive life from outside of ourselves. We are meant to bring forth life. We are meant to be fertile ground. Every word is a seed, with life or death bound up within it. What we receive, and how we receive it, will shape our lives and our impact for eternity.

The Seed Sown Along the Path: The Place of Warfare

Strikingly, Jesus’s first illustration points to the presence of an enemy. He immediately takes us into the territory of spiritual warfare.

When the word of the kingdom goes out and is not understood — as it wasn’t understood by those who were blinded by their expectation of a militaristic Messiah, for example — Jesus said the evil one comes and snatches the word away. It no longer has the opportunity to settle in and bear fruit.

As unsettling as it is, it’s good for us to remember that every time we open our ears to the word of God, we have a real enemy waiting to snatch it away. There is warfare over every word that comes from God. Thankfully, God is almost recklessly generous, scattering more seed than the enemy is capable of clearing away.

But this line of the parable should remind us to be vigilant and attend to the seeds given to us. Ignorance is not an irreparable condition, after all. We can become more attentive. We can study and learn from wise teachers.

Above all, we can pray. We can ask for the spirit of wisdom and revelation. We can ask that the ground of our lives be protected and the enemy’s wings clipped. We can ask that our loved ones be protected. We can, and we must.

The Seed Sown on Rocky Ground: The Danger of Rootlessness

In the second illustration, a seed falls on rocky ground. It starts to take and immediately springs to life, but without deep roots, it can’t withstand wind and weather. The first sign of trouble pulls the whole thing out of the ground, and away it goes.

Sadly, we’ve probably all seen this on a kind of macro level — where someone responds enthusiastically to the gospel but later falls away entirely. (How many summer camp converts have gone this way?)

But again, this parable shouldn’t be read as applying only to “salvation,” per se. It’s about every word that comes to us from God, every word about the kingdom. We might ask if there are rootless, rocky parts of our hearts; particular seeds that have never been allowed to take root.

I suspect some of us have strong roots of doctrine but weak roots of trust — or the opposite. How many of us have heard that God loves us, unconditionally and almost unfathomably, yet that truth has never really begun to take root?

How might our lives change if these words were allowed to go deep?

We can start today. Take a Scripture that both draws and scares you because of how it speaks to the desires of your heart. A Scripture that hints at a depth of love from God, or a magnificence of purpose, or a painful, all-encompassing beauty to his grace, that you are afraid to entirely accept.

Write it down. Commit to meditating on it, maybe memorizing it. Commit to believe it. Ask God to send its roots deep.

The Seed Sown Among Thorns: Where Your Treasure Is, There Your Heart Will Be

Third, Jesus said that some seed falls on thorny ground, where it is choked out by the “the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth.” I can’t help suspect that in today’s world, this is the most common fate of the words of God. (Of course, its presence in the parable suggests that may have been just as true in Jesus’s time — there’s some comfort in that, I suppose.)

Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

The irony of attaching ourselves to stuff — valuing it in ordinately, identifying with it, measuring ourselves by it — is that we are consumed on the one hand by worry and on the other hand by the constant seduction of “more and better.”

God created material things and gave them to us as good gifts, but we quickly turn our relationship with things upside down. Rather than good gifts that we receive and use to serve God’s purposes, stuff becomes a master that runs our lives and even dares to tell us who we are — something no one but our Maker has the right to do.

Nor does this warning about thorns extend only to materialism. Our anxieties and ambitions alike can steal the space God needs to plant his word in us and see it grow.

The good news is that we can clear out the thorns. We can make room. We may have to do it again and again.

(Who am I kidding? Of course we’ll need to do it again and again, just like any gardener knows you can’t weed once and think the ground will stay pristine forever.)

Even better, the more the kingdom takes root in our lives and begins to grow, the less room there will be for thorns in the future.

The Seed Sown on Good Ground: Becoming a Fruitful People

We face the choice every day to let the word of God take root in our lives or not. We face the choice, every day, to receive Jesus.

He offers himself to us all the time, in many different ways — a word here, a truth there, a hint of conviction, a sudden sense of being known and loved.

He offers himself to us in his written word, the Bible; and he offers himself to us in our brothers and sisters in the church, his family.

He comes quietly, hiddenly, sometimes without our even being entirely aware that he has been there. But afterward, something has changed. A seed has been planted. The potential of something new and wonderful in future is now embryonic in our lives.

We cannot force the seeds of God to grow any more than we can force an apple tree or a cucumber vine to grow. But we can honor them for what they are. We can glimpse, with awe, the life they contain. And we can invite them in. We can nurture what has been planted. We can clear out thorns and break up hard ground with humility.

When we do, what comes into the world through us will be nothing less than heaven itself.

If you derived some benefit from this blog, please consider leaving a tip. I’m grateful!

P.S. Hey, did you know that my award-winning Christian fantasy series The Chronicles of Kepos Gé was inspired by the parable of the sower? You can start reading it with book 1, Seeds, today (get it from Amazon, another online retailer, or my online store).


This is Part 224 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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