An interesting question is whether the seed (Word) planted in rocky ground or among thorns represents the beliefs of those who were saved and then turned away from God, or the beliefs of those who were never truly born again (John 3:3-8).
This is a crucial issue, for how we respond to the Good News of the Gospel is the most important decision anyone can make, one that will affect our eternal destiny. Those who repent from their sins and place their trust in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will spend eternity with Him in glory, and those who reject this truth face eternal punishment in hell.
In this parable, Jesus uses the sower to represent one who spreads God’s Word; the seed as a symbol of the Word itself, and the soil as the state of the heart of the one who hears the Word. Mark 4 and Matthew 13 have nearly identical accounts of the parable and its explanation, emphasizing the importance and veracity of this passage in Scripture.
Jesus describes four conditions of the soil, or of the heart, when confronted with the Word. If the seed falls alongside the furrow that the farmer has prepared, birds will eat the seed before it can even germinate (Mark 4:4). This represents the person who hears the Word but is immediately distracted by one of Satan’s lies (Mark 4:15), which replaces the truth of God’s Word. Clearly, this person rejected the Word and was not saved by hearing it.
The second condition of the heart is like that of stony ground (Mark 4:5-6). Seeds planted here sprout quickly because they are in shallow earth, but the rocky ledge beneath the seed prevents it from rooting. In the heat of the sun, the shoot withers away because it has no root to nourish it with water.
By using the word “likewise” in His explanation of the stony ground (Mark 4:16-17), right after He explains the seed sown by the wayside, Jesus implies that the person whose heart is rocky ground also undergoes no permanent change after hearing the Word. They react at first with gladness, but the Word has not taken root in their heart, and the Holy Spirit has not indwelled them because they “have no root in themselves.”
Such a person might be pleased to hear that Heaven could await them, but they do not repent of their sins, trust Christ as their Lord and Savior, or enter into a personal relationship with Christ. We speak of such a person as having a “head knowledge,” but not a “heart knowledge” of the Gospel. They may call themselves Christians and may join a church, but if it becomes politically incorrect or dangerous to do so, they will renounce the “faith” that they never had in the first place (Mark 4:17).
They may even believe that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead, but that truth does not change their life in any meaningful way – they are not a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). They could be happy with the idea that Christ died so that they could have a “get out of hell free” card, but they see no reason to labor for His Kingdom.
A Biblical example of such a person could be King Agrippa, whom Paul “almost persuaded” to be a Christian (Acts 16:28). Sadly, you can’t be almost saved any more than you can be almost pregnant, and a person who is almost Christian is doomed to eternity in hell.
The third type of soil or heart condition described by Christ is the thorny soil, in which the thorns rapidly overtake the good seed of the Word, choking it so that it cannot grow and bear fruit (Mark 4:7). In this situation, the Word never has the chance to affect the hearer, because worldly cares, such as the love of money or power, crowd it out (Mark 4:18-19).
The rich young ruler, for example, asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, but it was clear that he believed he was righteous in his own merit and that wealth was his god, leaving no room for the true Savior (Luke 18:18-25). Jesus explained that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25).
Another example was Judas, who may have latched onto Jesus because he thought the Messiah would overthrow Roman rule, but his greed (John 12:6) and desire for military power outweighed any alliance he felt to Jesus. The devil entered into Judas (John 13:2), and he was described as the “son of perdition,” (John 17:12) confirming that he was never saved.
Jesus will disown those who hear His Word but have hearts like stony or thorny soil, even though they may have done good works in His name and may even have shared the Scripture with others:
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
It is not enough to believe that Jesus was a good man, that He died for our sins, or even that He rose from the dead. It is not enough to call ourselves Christians, join a church, or be baptized. We must trust Him, and Him alone, with childlike faith and love (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14-15), as our Lord and Savior.
As our former pastor used to say, the distance between knowing about Christ and knowing Him as Savior, Spouse, Brother and Friend could be as little as 15 inches – that length representing the distance from head to heart. Only when we accept His precious gift of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) will the Holy Spirit of Christ indwell our heart (Ephesians 1:13-14).
That state of heart is represented by the good soil in the parable of the sower, in which the seed of the Word grows to maturity and allows the hearer to bear fruit in an increase 30 to 100 times over the seed that was sown (Mark 4:8,20). Ask any farmer what it takes to have good soil, and he will answer that it must be plowed up to remove rocks and weeds and to allow nourishing air and water to penetrate it. Similarly, our hearts must be thoroughly worked over before we ache and groan with despair over our sinfulness, and before we realize that without our Savior, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Trials and heartache often precede coming to the end of ourselves, making our hearts fertile and ready to receive His saving grace.
The good soil is the only one of the four heart conditions that bears fruit, confirming that this is the only condition resulting in true salvation, in being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). Jesus tells us that we can know others by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7:16-20).
Although we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are saved not to sit idly by waiting to go to Heaven, but to do good works, because faith without works is dead (James 2:20,26).
Once we are genuinely saved through faith and the Holy Spirit has taken root in our heart, we can never lose our salvation (Romans 8:35-39) even though we may go through barren, rocky or thorny patches. Born-again Christians may grow cold in their faith, backslide and become disobedient, or become unproductive for Him.
Nonetheless, He will never leave nor forsake His children (Hebrews 13:5), and He is there waiting like the prodigal son’s Father to run to us and shower us with love once we take the first step back to Him (Luke 15:20). If we repent of our sins, He will renew our faith and revive our hearts (1 John 1:9; Psalm 51:8-12).
May our hearts be like good soil, ready to cultivate His Word and nurture our growing faith to maturity, so we can sow more seed and bear much fruit! May we sow light for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart (Psalm 97:11).
May we learn and follow the law of the harvest, that we will sow what we reap, either to the flesh bearing sorrow (Proverbs 22:8), or to the Spirit bearing eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8). May we sow God’s Word boldly, without waiting for perfect conditions (Ecclesiastes 11:4), and bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6) so that the harvest of souls brought to Him will be great!