“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5.17 KJV)
Jesus recognized that there are those who hear, and those who really hear. I enjoy the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Isaiah 6.9 in verse 10: “Their eyes are open, but they can’t see a thing. Their ears are open but they can’t hear a thing.” Do you know anyone like that? Do they live in your house? Do they wear your pajamas?
Was Jesus trying to push people away from truth with His parables? Of course not! God desires that all who want to should come to repentance. Jesus uses parables to sift out who wants to believe from who doesn’t. If He wanted to keep people out, His parables would be more difficult to understand. A child can handle any of Jesus’ parables -- if they want to. And that’s Jesus’ point when He says “seeing they don’t perceive, hearing they don’t understand.” Some people just don’t want to perceive or understand.
And Jesus drives that lesson home with a parable about dirt -- something so common that everyone has seen it, but nobody really thinks about. Let’s see and hear what the Lord says about these four dirts. Each type of soil is really a different kind of ear: closed ear, a casual ear, a cluttered ear, and a committed ear.
Closed Ear: The Word is ignored.
What makes a path hard? Footsteps. One or two steps make an impression, but an endless parade of footsteps soon makes even the most tender soil as hard as stone. What makes a heart hard as stone? The same thing. One or two shots fired in a video game leave an impression, but an endless parade of violence primes even the most gentle child to be the next school shooter. One or two love scenes leave an impression, but an endless parade of pornography renders even the most loving father unable to love anymore. Step. Step. Step. Every little footfall, seemingly innocent, working together to press down and harden our hearts.
Jesus doesn’t wilt when He names the person behind it all -- He says right there in verse 12: it’s the devil. Your sworn enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy you. Peter tells you to be watchful and alert (1 Peter 5.8); your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion, just looking for a fresh kill. But most of us are fast asleep. That beast runs hot and completely unchecked in our culture. He makes networks richer with every school shooting. He anoints sexual predators as senators and porn-addicts as Presidents. Often with the blessing of the sleeping church. We don’t seem to care anymore; we ignore truth. Why? Step. Step. Step. Step. Step.
Maybe it is time you told the devil, “This road is closed… don’t tread on me. I work for peace; I am no longer blind to the evil of screen violence. I want to know real love, not some cheap imitation in the form of digital fornication. I want my life to be a river of blessings instead of a stream of curses. I want a heart that isn’t deaf, that doesn’t ignore the word of God, but is tilled, broken, and ready to hear the Holy Spirit speak to me again.”
“He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (John 12.48)
Casual Ear: The Word is a plaything.
The resurgence of the Star Wars franchise has been interesting to me. I used to be a real fan. I spent entire summers with action figures stuffed in blue corduroy pockets, ready to make a new episode every day with my buddies in the neighborhood. We were true fans. And grown ups didn’t get it. Now I see Star Wars logos and car decals and t-shirts -- and even Christmas lights -- everywhere -- even on grown ups! For the 8-year old kid in me, it is incredible.
But I know that most people don’t really get into it. In every walk of life, there are people who get it and people who are just along for the ride. There are bikers, and there are middle aged guys who ride motorcycles. There are skaters, and there are people who like to wear the shoes. There are football fans, and there are people who like teams besides the Packers. All kidding aside, there is a word for the false-fans of the world. “Posers” is what skaters and bikers call them. The word Jesus used is “hypocrite.” There is no difference in the meaning. A poser and a hypocrite are the same thing -- both are nothing more than play-actors. It’s Shellac. It’s only skin deep. You can wear the costume and carry the props -- and even learn the lines -- but that doesn’t mean it ever touched your heart. Anyone can talk the talk, but only a few walk the walk.
Are you a fan … or a disciple? Do you love religion … or Jesus Christ? Do you know the Bible ... or are you rooted in God’s word? I know which one the Lord hopes you and I will be. May it not be said to us, as it was to Israel by the Lord: “What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” (Hosea 6.4)
Cluttered Ear: The Word is treasured among all else.
The cluttered ear is distracted by the noise of everyday life. Not necessarily by evil, like those hardened on the path. But by the everyday, normal background noise that overcrowds all of our ears. Jesus says these hearts “are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Cares, pleasures, riches… Let me ask you, when it comes to worry -- is it evil to be busy? How about riches -- is it evil to have money? Or what about pleasure -- is it a sin to enjoy a night out with your family or some good friends? Of course not -- none of these things is inherently evil... until it becomes your master.
And that is what Jesus says happens when we let His truth get choked out by the daily grind. Cares, riches and pleasure become the true lords of our lives. The alarm rings, maybe a prayer is whispered, and then it’s time for Facebook. And Instagram. And the news. And email. And … “Hmm, I didn’t even know I had a Bible app. When did I download that? Maybe I should open it up and see what it does … Nah, I have too many important things to do today. Maybe tomorrow.” And tomorrow never comes.
If you’re like me, the soundtrack of your life is a very busy one. For many of us, what should be the most important and urgent voice -- the word of God -- is just one master among many. The boss and the bills take precedence. “I’ve no time for you today, Jesus,” we say. “I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
I’ve heard it said that you can manage the demands on your life by asking two questions: how important is it, and how urgent is it? If you perceive that an activity is not important, and not urgent, you do it last -- or never. If an activity is important, but not urgent, you can schedule it for later. If an activity is not important, but urgent, you can usually pass on it. But things that are both important AND urgent need to be done first. So let me ask you, where do you think God should be in your life? Is He first on your list or last?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6.25 NIV)
“Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6.33, paraphrased by the author.)
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13.5 NIV)
Money and pleasure can’t say the same.
Committed Ear: The Word is treasured above all else.
Finally, we come to the best soil -- the committed ear where the word of God is treasured above all else.
About twenty years ago, the church used to sing a song:
“You are exalted Lord, above all else.
We place you in the highest place, above all else.
Right now where we stand and everywhere we go,
We place you in the highest place so the world will know.”
(Above All Else, Bob Fitts)
That is what the committed ear says. These are those who have not shut out the sweet song of the Spirit like the closed ear. These are those who want to go deep and drive roots into God, who are willing to put God first, and God alone first, before country or business or pleasure. This is the type of rich and fertile soil that Jesus hopes everyone with ears to hear will choose to be.
There is one final kernel of truth in this parable that I hope you caught: it is the sad statement that only a few are going to make it. Not everyone is going to be alright. I am not saying that; Jesus is. Some will win, but most will lose. Three out of four in this parable are either snatched away, wither, or are strangled. The seed is provided to every ear -- every type of soil -- but only those who receive it with a good and honest heart will live fruitful and joyful lives. Everybody gets a shot, but only those committed ears who treasure the word of the Holy Spirit -- above all else -- will make it through to the harvest.
The question is obvious: Which ear will you choose? Closed, casual, cluttered, or committed?
My prayer for you is that you will be able to say with our faithful and martyred brother Paul:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8)