The first time people began sharing the gospel with me, I was a college student. My initial responses were outright rejection of that message. Growing up in a liberal Jewish family, I was taught Jesus was the god of the Gentiles and had no relevance to us. However, people kept coming, and the Holy Spirit kept working on my heart. Four years passed between the time people began witnessing to me to the day I trusted in Christ in December of 1987.
My salvation journey was a process of repeated exposure to the gospel and the processing of that message over time, along with the working of the Spirit, culminating in my believing the good news and receiving Jesus!
By understanding that evangelism is a process, a process of sowing, you and I will gain confidence and be able to balance the urgency of sharing Jesus while respecting people enough to give them time, space, and margins to process the truth.
Jesus’ parable of the soils in the gospels (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15) sheds light on this reality. In this submission we’ll focus on the explanation of what the Lord is saying in the parable. In our next devotional we’ll focus on the application in our life and witness.
In Matthew 13:1-9 Jesus introduced the parable:
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
The Lord goes on to explain the parable in Matthew 13:18-23:
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
In this parable there are two constants and one variable. The constants are the seed and the sower. The soil is the variable. The seed is the word of God, which is unchanging. The sower is anyone spreading the seed, while the individual receiving the word of God represents the soil. It’s simple enough.
We’re called to sow gospel seed, which is the word of God, and that takes time. The soil is the condition of a human heart, as Jesus explained, and is where the seed lands. As one Bible commentator notes, “The soils do not represent individual moments of decision as much as a lifelong response to God’s word.”
We don’t know the true condition of the human heart. Only God does. And so, the external responses people have to the gospel may sometimes be misleading. For example, someone who responds to the gospel with, “Absolutely not” may actually in their heart be saying, “Maybe.” While someone who expresses an outward interest in the gospel with a sentiment like, “That’s very interesting. I’ll have to check it out,” may actually in their heart be saying, “Never in a million years.”
The Lord makes no distinction regarding the sower, meaning anyone and everyone who knows the Lord can sow gospel seed. This is instructive. You see, evangelism is not about personal gifting. It’s about a willingness to follow God and engage the process. Very few of us may have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but all of us have a mandate to be witnesses for Jesus.
Just before the Lord ascended into heaven, he gave the disciples, all of the disciples, these marching orders. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The fact is all of us who are followers of Jesus are His witnesses.
Will we be the kind of witnesses who are also sowers of the word of God?
When we do spread the seed of God’s word as part of our witness, we can be confident that His Word will accomplish His purposes:
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, but water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater. So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
In the evangelistic adventure, we not only sow by proclaiming and spreading God’s word, as laid out in the parable of the soils, we also can sow in prayer and good works. We’ll explore these means of sowing more next time.
We may not know the true condition of a human heart, the condition of the soil, and we may not know a person’s previous exposure to truth or Christian witness. God does! Yet we’re tasked by God to engage and sow gospel seed as ambassadors for Christ.
May we be faithful to sow by faith where God calls us. As we do, may we also be content to sow while not necessarily knowing the condition of the soil in which we sow.
Lord Jesus, please help us to be faithful sowers of the word, no matter the apparent condition of the soil. For we trust that as Your word goes forth, it will accomplish what You please. Amen.