Luke 8:1-21 (click to display NIV text)
May 12, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
Years ago, Woody Hayes, the famous football coach, said that “When you throw the football, only three things can happen and two of them are bad.” So he kept the ball safely on the ground. But as the years have gone by, more and more coaches have devised ways to throw the ball as much as possible, and today they seem to be the successful ones.
Jesus said that when God sows his word in hearts, four things can happen, and three of them are bad. It can fall on the hard path, the rocky ground, or the soil with weeds and thorns. But God sows as much seed as possible, in as many ways as possible. Jesus gives his life so that people might become good soil. The good soil is not of our own making. It is created by grace, by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
The context in Luke gives us some insight into what Jesus meant by “good soil.” He says in verse 15 that it is “those who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Chapter 7 ends with a story of a sinful woman who poured perfume on the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Jesus says, “Her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” I think Jesus is saying this woman is good soil and that good soil has a great deal to do with being forgiven and with showing love to the Lord.
Then chapter 8 begins with a description of a number of women who followed Jesus. They had been cured of diseases and evil spirits. Mary Magdalene had been released from seven demons. One of the women was married to the manager of Herod’s household. It was quite a group. These were some who having been healed by Jesus, did not return home, but followed him. They were good soil.
Following the parable, and the saying about putting your light on a stand and letting it shine, there is an incident with Jesus’ mother and brothers. They want to see him. Jesus says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” That is a definition of good soil. It is not a negative statement about Mary. It is saying that good soil is not a matter of your family background or of your church attendance or whether you have lived a pure and trouble-free life. Good soil is all about hearing the Word and doing what it says. No matter how broken you are, no matter what your past is like, no matter what side of the tracks you were born on, if you listen to Jesus and do what he says, you are good soil.
But who can say that? In the end this parable is all about grace and redemption and the power of Christ’s saving love in you. This is about the cross of Jesus, and its power to transform lives. You live as good soil through faith in Jesus Christ.
The first type of soil is the hard path. The men’s Bible study helped me to see that a path is created when a crowd of people walks over the soil, packing it down firmly. There is a way of life walked by many, a popular way of living and thinking that produces hardness towards God. When the Word comes, it bounces like the seed on the hard path, and then it is snatched away.
Early in the week I went to the North Woods of Wisconsin with the small group of pastors that I have met with monthly for the last 11 years: Pete Hawkinson from Winnetka Covenant and Greg Mesimore from Edgebrook Covenant. We spent two glorious days sitting on a dock watching the ice melt off the lake. The ice that was so thick just a few weeks ago was now a very thin and fragile crust. One afternoon we saw two ducks walking on it. I suppose it had become their habit to walk on the ice when it was sturdy. But now every few steps the ice would give way and a duck would fall into the lake and struggle to free itself from the ice and get back on top. Yet they kept walking, or trying to walk, even though the open water was just a few feet away. They could have been swimming in the open water, but they seemed determined to walk on the thin crust. It was quite comical to watch them.
The hard path in life is that way of life that people walk on by habit or addiction or stubbornness or pride. It is a reliance on self or the way of the world. And on that path you lose the ability to hear the word of the Lord, the call of God to “come, step into the waters of life, and be free.” Yet even though the word is not heard, still Jesus saves people from the hard path. He rescues the perishing.
The next type of soil is thin. It looks very much like good soil, but in Galilee there were places where there was limestone just under the surface. If those stones are not identified and removed, the thin soil will cause the seed to sprout and grow quickly, but in the heat the plant will wither. You have to deal with the hard things in your life that you carry under the surface, beneath your composed smile. It takes time and courage and faith to deal with the stuff that is hard and hidden in our lives, to bring it to the light for healing. Jesus says in verse 17,
”There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen.”
Jesus is able to save us from the thin soil. He is able to heal that which we try to hide. He gives us courage to face our pain, and assurance to allow him access to our wounded soul. Jesus gives us voice to talk rather than to cover up. The cross of Jesus fills us with such love that we confess the thin soil of our lives.
Other seed fell in the soil filled with weeds and thorns and thistles. Jesus says this is like the person who becomes choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. Somehow we have come to embrace the thorns and thistles that the world offers us: empty promises, harsh demands. There are so many wonderful things to enjoy in the world, why not try to experience them all? There are so many harsh demands put upon us, but surely we can meet them all and be perfect, just like the people we see on TV. The soil filled with thorns really is very good soil, it just is soil that accepts every idea, plan and promise that comes along. This soil represents people who live to please people rather than to please God.
Jesus says that those who become choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures “do not mature.” Do you know that Jesus cares about your development as a person, that he cares about your character that takes decades to develop? Do you know that Jesus cares about your soul, that he cares about your spiritual formation? It takes time for a seed that is planted to grow into a stalk and then to form grain and become ready for harvest. There is no way to rush it.
“All the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt his tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?”
The good soil refers to those who hear the word, retain it and produce a crop. As Jesus says of his family in verse 21, they are those “who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Joel Green puts it this way:
“Good soil is recognized as good only when its fruitfulness has become evident… It is hearing that leads to faith and faith that leads to behaviors consistent with the word of God.”
That kind of life requires grace, the renewing love of God, forgiveness received and extended, a willingness to change and a commitment to listen, to serve and to pray. It means keeping your light on the stand and not in a jar.
David Tiede writes, “despite all the various and persistent obstacles, the Kingdom of God will produce an astonishing yield.” The question is not whether you think you are good soil. The question is whether you are willing by faith to allow Jesus to create in you the good soil of his Kingdom, so that you will hear his word, obey it with patience and so produce fruit in your life. He calls for a commitment to grow to maturity in faith. He invites you to embrace the life of the Kingdom of God.