Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 13, 2017
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.” 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.
— Luke 8:4-15, ESV
My grandfather had a saying about simple things. He would just say, “It’s as plain as dirt.” Pop grew up in an era when most people lived on dirt roads, had dirt yards instead of grassy lawns, and farmed or at least tended a garden, in the dirt of course, for food. Life was simpler then, dirt was everywhere, and it was all very plain.
The environment in first century Palestine would not have been much different. As a matter of fact, if you go to modern Galilee, still a largely rural region, you can stand in one place and easily identify all four kinds of dirt, or soil, mentioned by Jesus in this parable. God wanted to make the gospel simple, as plain as dirt, to those He chose and who would choose to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Gospel as Plain as Dirt
The gospel is the good news that tells a person how to enter into and live forever in the kingdom of God. The door is Jesus, access is gained through repentance and faith, and inside one finds forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Jesus spent approximately three years preaching the gospel before He went to the cross to purchase the gospel and rose again the third day to guarantee the gospel. How you hear and respond to the gospel determines your own eternal destiny. Nowhere is this any plainer than in this parable. As a matter of fact, it’s as plain as dirt.
Some people hear and respond to the gospel like a dirt road, packed hard by frequent travel. The gospel seems to bounce off their heads like a rubber ball off a cement wall. The devil keeps them preoccupied with things other than the gospel, so the gospel does not seem to sink in, take root, and produce fruit. It’s as plain as dirt, right?
Others hear and respond to the gospel in a shallow, insincere way, like a seed thrown in an inch of topsoil on top of limestone. It enters into the mind, but the heart underneath is hard and impenetrable. Therefore, the heart remains unregenerate and the will manufactures no fruit. It’s as plain as dirt, right?
Still other soil seems better, accepting the word with a glad heart of desire to do the right thing. But competing desires exist in the form of thorns, worldly riches and pleasures that tempt us for our time and treasure. The weeds win out, the heart bleeds but does not beat for Jesus, and still there is no fruit. It’s as plain a dirt, right?
Finally, good soil is found that receives, believes, and conceives fruit because of the word of God and the gospel. The mind believes and the heart receives and the will is activated by love and obedience for the giver of the good seed on good soil. Is this the best way to receive the seed, or is this the only way? It’s as plain as dirt, right?
The Disciples Didn’t Get It
It’s as plain as dirt, right? Wrong, according to the twelve dumbfounded disciples who were the first followers of Jesus Christ. None of them raised a hand to ask questions of the Teacher in front of the crowd, embarrassed as they were by their ignorance. But after the crowd dispersed, they came to Jesus privately and admitted they couldn’t interpret the gospel on their own.
They’re not alone. To this day, there are four different interpretations of the four soils, three out of four which are wrong. I’ll try to explain all four, then point you to Jesus’ crucial explanation of the one perfect fit.
Some say the parable teaches that all people will be saved. It does not matter how you respond to God’s love, God loves everybody and would never send anybody to Hell. A slightly different version would be to say all Jews go to Heaven, since the word of God came to and through them. Or, a modern application of this error would be to see any person in any kind of Christian country or organization or church is a receptor of gospel salvation. No one who takes the Bible with any degree of seriousness can claim universalism or nationalism or baptismal regeneration as a means of salvation.
Interpretation number two takes three of the four soils into the kingdom of God. Only the most hardened, sin-beaten, dirty rotten scoundrels are excluded from the kingdom of God, while everyone who has made any kind of profession of faith in Jesus is going in. It does not matter if the profession of faith is not practiced. Who needs the church, spiritual disciplines, or the evidence of good works to get into Heaven? Just pray that sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus into your heart and you are set for life. I wouldn’t stake my soul on this soil, would you?
Interpretation number three takes two and leaves two, and you know which two they’re talking about. The hard-hearted and insincere are excluded, while those who struggle with Jesus and the world, and those who overcome the world through Jesus, are both considered kingdom dwellers. An alternative to this view claims the third, thorn-ridden soil had salvation but lost it, but this flies in the face of better theology which shows that salvation, when it is genuine, cannot be lost. But, it can be faked, as the third soil does, until the fork in the road appears and they take the one most traveled.
This brings us to the fourth view, the one with the best evidence of rightly hearing and accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is seed, there is root, and there is fruit, all three for the first time in this fourth soil. This minority on the narrow road are the true followers of Jesus Christ and legal citizens of the kingdom of God. They are not without flaw, and different levels of fruit are produced in broader tellings of the parable, but they all fit the bill. This seems as plain as dirt to me, but what does Jesus say?
Christ’s Key Explanation
The key to this parable is found in four tiny little prepositions in Jesus’ preaching and teaching of the parable. In the first sowing of the seed, it fell “along” the path, never entering into the soil. In the second, it went “on” the rock, but not in the soil. The third, “among” thorns, but not in fruit-producing plant soil. Only the fourth penetrated “into good soil” and “in an honest and good heart.”
There is a great difference between being “along” the side of a house, “on” the roof of a house, “among” a neighborhood of houses, and actually being “in” the house. Only in the last soil does the word of God and the gospel get in. Only it is called good, and only the good soil represents good souls who find a permanent home in the kingdom of God.
Look around and you can see that most people are not into Jesus, the church, the Bible, discipleship, and kingdom work. Most have never made any kind of profession of faith. Most who have made professions of faith split as soon as they got their drivers license. Many more quit on God as soon as problems or pleasures seem bigger than Him. What’s wrong with the people pictured in the first three soils of the parable?
They are not into Jesus because Jesus has never gotten into them, into their mind and heart and will. Real repentance runs deep and true faith takes root and bears fruit. This is the meaning of the parable, the gospel, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Christ, in this parable alone, makes the gospel as plain as dirt.
The Gospel for Today
Times have changed since my Pop was a boy, but the gospel has not. It is still as plain as dirt. So let me close with some gospel advice for all the dirty people out there.
If you find yourself in one of the first three soils, you had better drop down into the good dirt immediately. Open your eyes and ears. Ask God to replace that hard heart with a new heart for God. Do not put your hand to the plow and turn back to this present world. Believe and bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
If you are confident you are planted in good soil as a true believer in Jesus Christ, then start sowing. The best fruit you can bear is bearing witness to the gospel so that others might hear, believe, and be converted. We are the sowers, preachers and parishioners, of the word of God and the gospel. God is sovereign, but if we do not sow, the kingdom will not grow.
It’s as plain as dirt.
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