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Four Soils . . . Four Hearts

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 13:1–23; Mark 4:1–20; Luke 8:4–15

In this current age, as we await Christ’s return, we are to be proclaiming God’s glorious Word. As we do, we have the Lord’s assurance that while many will reject the truth and some will falsely profess it for a time, others will certainly embrace it in faith and follow Christ.


We arrive today again at the busiest day in Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospels. And this particular day, busy as it is, marks a turning point in the offer of Jesus to the nation of Israel.

The religious leaders have blasphemed the Holy Spirit; they have attributed the power of Christ over demons to Satan working through Christ, if you can imagine that. And with that, a point of no return has occurred as Israel’s religious leaders reject King Jesus and eventually lead the nation to reject Him as well.

From this point forward, Jesus will no longer declare that the kingdom of God is at hand, and that is because the literal kingdom offer is postponed.[1] None of this surprised the Lord, of course. In fact, just as Adam’s rebellion against God did not throw God’s plans out the window, Israel’s rejection of Christ is part of God’s plan for the ages.

Now there are two terms that need defining before we move forward. One term is dispensation, or dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is a system that is derived from consistently interpreting the Bible literally, as I am doing today.

This literal approach to Scripture leads to an understanding that there are various periods of time, or dispensations, when God and His people uniquely relate to one another. For instance, Adam and Eve lived in what we can call the dispensation of innocence, a period of time when Adam and Eve were sinless. God even took some form and walked with them in the evening. There was no death during this period—and no clothing either, by the way.

Later came what we call the dispensation of the Law with its sacrificial system and Mosaic laws of diet and Sabbath worship. Today we are living in the New Testament dispensation, a period of time we could call the dispensation of the church. And what a wonderful dispensation this is, as the Holy Spirit now indwells each of us and we can worship the Lord directly and personally without the priesthood or animal sacrifices.

And one day we are going to move into the dispensation of the kingdom, when Jesus returns with us to earth following the tribulation. And a lot of things are going to change in that dispensation. We are future kings and queens who will co-reign with Christ in His kingdom (Revelation 19–20).

Now, follow me here. Even though Israel has rejected the kingdom offer of Christ, God still has a kingdom program going on. What does the Bible mean when it talks about the kingdom of God in this church age?

Well, today Jesus reigns internally/spiritually in the lives of His followers; and one day He will reign physically/literally over all the earth in the millennial kingdom.

The second term we need to define is the word parable. Parable literally means “that which is cast alongside.” In other words, it is an earthly story delivering a heavenly truth, a story about something natural that teaches something spiritual.

Because the Jewish leaders have rejected the kingdom offer of Christ, the truths of the kingdom contained in Jesus’ parables here are going to be a mystery to them. Only people who follow Jesus will be given understanding of them.

So, what does God’s kingdom program look like today? Well, the Lord begins to answer that question as He sists in a boat and speaks to a crowd along the shore. He tells His first parable here in Mark 4:3-4:

“Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.”

The farmer’s field would be divided into plots with pathways running in between. And over time, all the foot traffic on these paths hardened the soil.[2]

Now verses 5-6:

“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.”

Jesus continues in verse 7: “Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”

Then verse 8 gives us the fourth kind of soil:

“And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Now here in verse 14, Jesus begins to explain this parable to His disciples. First, He explains that “the sower sows the word.” So, the seed is the word, or message, of God.

And Jesus explains that as we sow the seed, we can expect four different responses. We will call the first response an unreceptive heart. The seed that falls on the hardened footpaths describes those who hear the word, verse 15 says, but then “Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown.” Satan is like a bird who flies in and sweeps away the word; and frankly, this is easy work for the devil, because this is a hardened heart—it is unreceptive to the word of God.

The second response is an impulsive heart; this is the rocky soil. Jesus explains in verses 16-17:

“They hear the word [and] immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”

Their response is enthusiastic but shallow and short-lived. They expected Christianity to be comfortable. Somebody might have told them that Jesus would fix all their medical problems or fill up their bank accounts.

But then, Jesus says here, persecution arrives. Christianity didn’t solve their problems; it created problems. They eventually realize Jesus is not the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, so they walk away. They had never believed to begin with.

Now the third potential response to the sowing of the word is a preoccupied heart. Jesus describes this in Luke’s Gospel account:

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. (Luke 8:14)

The worries of the world and the magnetism of materialism become their priorities in life and choke off spiritual fruit. 

The first two responses are clearly from unbelievers. They do not believe to be saved, as verse 12 says. Others “believe” for a while, according to verse 13. But the soil in verse 14 actually has fruit, you will notice, but their fruit does not mature.

Somewhere along the line they become preoccupied with the world around them. They are saved, but because of poor decisions and wrong priorities they are fruitless. They have grown old in their faith, but they aren’t growing up in their faith. I know a lot of baby Christians who are not growing up and reproducing spiritual fruit like they should.

Now back in Mark 4, Jesus describes the fourth response in verse 20:

“But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

This is the responsive heart. In these last two soils, the same word for fruit is used in the original text. But here, the fruit is multiplying as the believers mature and faithfully bear fruit for the glory of God.

These are people who are not only growing older in the faith but also growing up in the faith.

And here is an encouragement for you today. Regardless of how people respond, just keep sowing the seed. Their response is not your responsibility. A farmer doesn’t create the seed; God does. A farmer can’t make seeds come to life; only God can. All we do is sow the seed. So, let’s be faithful in sowing the seed of God’s word today.

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), 214.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, Be Compassionate (Victor Books, 1988), 86.

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