Have you ever gone through a period in your life where people and loved ones tried to warn you away from a dangerous path or help you through a damaging addiction? A period where you didn’t want to listen to anyone because you knew everything and you had it all figured out? When people spoke into your life during those seasons, you physically heard the words, but you weren’t listening. To piggyback on a popular phrase of Jesus, you had ears, but you didn’t have ears to hear.
In Matthew 13, Jesus is explaining to his disciples why he spoke so often in parables. It was because people’s hearts become calloused (Matthew 13:15), a situation that persists even to today. We all have friends and loved ones that at one time believed or were active in church but now want nothing to do with it. We all have that family member that we’ve been planting seeds of the gospel in for years, seemingly to no avail. It’s because hearts become hardened. We don’t always have ears to hear.
In the famous Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus gives us insight into three reasons why people’s hearts can become hardened and calloused against the things of God. The first reason is when people don’t understand the gospel (the hard path or soil). The word Jesus uses is “understanding,” which is different than “knowledge.” Too many times preachers will preach for knowledge and not understanding. They’ll teach in a way that makes sense to them but not the audience (which is the unpardonable preaching sin). Preachers can be like that college professor that you listened to, and you were convinced he knew everything he was talking about, but after the lecture you still didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. That’s teaching for knowledge, not understanding, and churches can be very guilty of that. All Christians have a part in this first soil as well. When we live hypocritical lives, when our actions don’t line up with what we say we believe, we make it hard for people to understand what we’re saying about God.
The second reason Jesus gives why people’s hearts can become calloused is because they have no roots. There is an initial burst of joy when hearing the gospel, but it quickly fades when trouble and persecution comes. Roots has to do primarily with relationships. If a person believes but has no relational roots to the body of Christ, there’s nothing to support them and hold them steady when the storms of life come. When people feel isolated and convinced that faith is a solo mission, they’re setting themselves up for failure. If a church focuses on services and Bible knowledge to the detriment of relationships and biblical community, we’re creating environments where people’s hearts can become calloused and hard.
The third soil (thorns) has to do with the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Many of us are familiar with this reason. We have family and friends that don’t hate God and they don’t hate the church, they’ve just got better things to do. They’ll get to God when they have a chance, but there’s so much fun to have in this world, they see this world as their home and God simply gets squeezed out of their lives. They might say they believe in God but in reality they believe in their wealth, and because they’re wealthy they don’t feel like they need God. Their hearts have become calloused.
The Parable of the Sower is a brilliant story on so many levels, especially revealing why people’s hearts can become hardened against the gospel.