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The Wayside Heart
Every once and a while I like to return to the parable of the heart soils. It has SO many applications and truths that run its length and breadth that it would be near to impossible to exhaust all one could learn from it.
So today that is waht we are beginning is a review of these hearts.
Parables were by nature intended to leave an impression and encourage further, deeper thought and consideration. In fact, nearly ⅓ -rd of Jesus’ teachings were in the form of parables.
The parable of the heart soils is very useful in identifying our heart responses to God as we pursue greater intimacy with Him.
The setting for this parable was no doubt a visual one as well. Jesus was on the shore at Galilee where nearly all Galileans were either fishers or farmers.
The grain fields near the Sea of Galilee with adjacent compacted, well traveled country roads were a common sight. So no doubt that was the vista providing the literal backdrop for Jesus’ parable.
Grain was among the many crops grown in this region. The climate of Galilee is tropical. The rich red soil was very fertile and the most productive areas were those surrounding this fresh water lake. The word “sea” is unfortunate and misleading. The water of this lake was fed from the north by the Jordan River, and from the east flowed rain and melted snow water from the Golan Heights.
In Jesus’ time, barley, wheat, olives, figs and grapes were all part of the abundant produce of this area.
The four basic heart categories are:
- The wayside heart – which we will call the hard heart. Depending on the example Jesus may have had before Him in the countryside, this may or may not have actually been part of the field itself. It may have been part of the compacted earth of a well trodden road which ran between the fields. If so it was a type of country road upon which people and perhaps even wagons might commute. However, it is more likely that this is referring to narrow pathways which ran between fields and served as part of the division of land between farmers. As such, it was well worn, beaten down and largely exposed earth. We will see an illustration of this in a video today.
- The stoney heart – which while that sounds like a clear reference to a hard heart, Jesus’ later clarification reveals that it was simply a mixture of clumped up soil with some rocks in it. The intended meaning of “stoney” here is actually shallow. You can readily see that this heart doesn’t sound “stoney” at first in that it IMMEDIATELY, receives the Word with gladness.
- The Thorny or weed filled heart – Palestinian weeds like those mentioned in Jesus’ parable had thorns and could grow up to six feet tall and possessed a formidable root system.
- The Good heart – Now this was something Palestinians knew well. This area is of course part of the fertile crescent and the rich red soil along the Galilee was exceptional for growing.
Now, you know that all parables can only be taken so far – they are mere metaphors afterall. However, there are times when one can learn more when you expand upon the metaphor.
Clearly in Jesus’ parable, the soils represent the overall heart of various persons but the audience He was addressing.
Our purpose in studying this parable is slightly different from Jesus’ initial purpose in teaching it.
The audience of Jesus’ parable were being introduced to the kingdom of God through His teaching. A kingdom where hearts were the land the King ruled in and over.
In our case, we are already part of the kingdom of God. So while its truths are still applicable, its application is slightly different for us.
In Jesus’ parable, each soil represented one human heart in which the reception and submission to the kingdom of God would either take root or fail to.
For our purposes, these heart soils represent different responses of our hearts to the inroads of the Kingdom of God.
Our hearts already belong to God and therefore are already part of the kingdom. That being truth however, does not make us immune to the truths of the parable.
There are times when our hearts, even in Christ, grow stagnant, unresponsive and unproductive to the teachings and influences of the Spirit of God within us. As such, it could be argued that we stand to glean even more from this parable than Jesus’ first audience.
Let’s refresh our memories of the parable by reading it from its three locations in scripture. I will include a little more of Matthew’s version since it helps us by providing just a little more of a backdrop for our imaginations.
Matthew 13:1-9, “(1) On that day after Jesus went out of the house, He sat by the lake. (2) And such a large crowd gathered around Him that He got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. (3) He told them many things in parables, saying:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.
(4) And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.
(5) Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. (6) But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered.
(7) Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them.
(8) But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty.
(9) The one who has ears had better listen!”
Luke’s account is found in Luke 8:4-8,
“(4) While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from one town after another, He spoke to them in a parable:
(5) “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled on, and the wild birds devoured it.
(6) Other seed fell on rock, and when it came up, it withered because it had no moisture.
(7) Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up with it and choked it.
(8) But other seed fell on good soil and grew, and it produced a hundred times as much grain.”
As He said this, He called out, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”
Finally Mark’s account of this parable.
Mark 4:3-9, “(3) Listen! A sower went out to sow.
(4) And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. (5) Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. (6) When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root, it withered.
(7) Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. (8) But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some yielded thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” (9) And He said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”
First off the parable is about the heart’s response to the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said as much later during the evening in question when replying to the disciples’ question regarding the meaning of this parable.
“You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of God”,
but for others they are in parables, so that although they see they may not see, and although they hear they may not understand.”
Now, no doubt in the translation I read these accounts from, Jesus employing the words “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” stood out to you and rightly so. It is an uncommon set of words to translate what normally is represented with the words, “let them hear”.
This common translation sounds more to modern English readers like a statement of permission than Jesus evidently intended.
According to all three gospel accounts, the words of Jesus carried the force of the third person imperative which makes this a command intended to wake them up and call them to action.
So this was clearly an important teaching!
Not that any of Jesus’ teachings were not, but this one carried perhaps even greater than normal import, which is hinted at by Jesus’ comment about this parable later that evening to His disciples as found in Mark’s account.
He said, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parable?”
So Jesus seems to be implying that without grasping the meaning of this teaching, understanding any other parable would prove difficult if not impossible. THAT would make this parable very, VERY important indeed.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus spoke this and many of His teachings in parable form. He told His disciples that He often taught in parables so that, “although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven.”
This was a quote from Isaiah 6:9 and is not spoken to create blindness, but to accommodate it. Thus parables both conceal or reveal depending on the receptiveness of the hearers.
So this week our focus will be upon the first heart Jesus mentions. That of the wayside heart.
Jesus defines this heart as being “the path”. While many inferences could be superimposed upon this word choice I want to be careful not to read too much into it.
Yes, it is true that the word fell on hearts which seemingly represent road which connected one place to another. You could easily envision a well trodden country lane which was not part of the planter’s field at all. If this is what He meant, then these hearers were not really invested in what was being done in the field.
It seems clear enough how this might apply to MANY in the world, but how might this be understood as speaking to those already IN the kingdom?
Well let’s read Jesus’ description of the meaning of these words to His disciples.
In order starting from Matthew, then in Luke and then in Mark…
Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path.”
Luke 8:12, “Those along the path are the ones who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”
Mark 4:15,“These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: Whenever they hear, immediately satan comes and snatches the word that was sown in them.”
So what conditions of heart would be suitable to result in this theft of the word from their hearts?
Well 5 things are mentioned…
- These people hear the word – it actually enters them.
- They fail to comprehend its meaning.
- Satan, being a thief and liar is drawn to their unguarded and undiscerning heart.
- He is said to “take away” the word or “snatch it” from their heart.
- His intention is to stop faith and consequently salvation.
We will address each of these 5 points independently.
The first was…
These people hear the word – it actually enters them.
So sticking with Jesus’ exact wording, this applies to those who hear the word. If I’m not taking this too literally, this means that His words actually enter their hearts.
So while they ARE hard hearted, this implies they are not hardened entirely, revealing differing levels or degrees of hardness. We will address this next.
The ideas we have of sowing seeds in the western world creates some misunderstanding of what Jesus was truly saying here. The notion being expressed in Jesus’ parable is “scattering seed”. It is a rather haphazard method of sowing by today’s standards.
I think most people, not being themselves farmers, think of sowing seed as sticking your finger into tilled, rich soil and planting A seed, in A hole which is then covered up and watered.
While that is not entirely unlike the process used today, it is a far cry from the farming practices Jesus was describing in this parable.
For one, in today’s world, we first clear land, fence it off, till the ground, sometimes even water it ALL BEFORE we plant seeds.
In ancient Palestine, the process they employed would have seemed crude by our standards. Their methods however did have some very good reasons which will be covered in a video I have which illustrates their methods of farming.
Their fields contained rocks and roots of some trees. Fields were not always clearly separated between farmers and seed was scattered on the surface of the ground BEFORE tilling. In fact it was the tilling process itself which wound up planting or covering the seed with soil.
I did some searching for videos to illustrate the difference between these two methods.
The first video I will show you is of one which I felt most clearly represented our modern methods of sowing seeds.
The second is the best video I could find which represented the method of planting Jesus spoke of here.
To avoid any copyright infringements the audio of these videos will be absent from the recording but will appear as links in this specific spot of the post of today’s message on the website.
So I will now play those videos and if you are following along by audio or video on the website, simply pause and play the links provided and then resume the recording.
FIRST VIDEO – Farm Basis’ video
SECOND VIDEO – Understanding the Parable of the Sower
The second point was…
This heart fails to comprehend the parable’s meaning
This is an ongoing problem with humanity.
From a human perspective there are at least two different varieties of hardened hearts but both share a common core cause for that hardness.
In every case it is important that we do NOT see these people as victims – ESPECIALLY when the person in question is ourselves! That is destructive. It hinders progress and is itself an egregious lie.
To believe that truth which sets people free is simply beyond some people’s ability to comprehend is to ultimately lay the blame at God’s feet. NOTHING could be further from the truth! That would be to say that God willingly created people who are incapable of understanding.
Quite to the contrary, God has gone on record as saying that it is not His will that ANY should perish but that ALL should COME to the knowledge of the truth.
The simple truth is that the most common type of hardened heart is one that WILL NOT listen! They have their own thoughts, their own ways and are actively seeking to avoid submission to their Creator at all costs! For these the love of self and all selfish pursuits eclipse any thoughts of God as sovereign or someone to Whom they will owe an account. These have forsaken a love for the truth.
They represent the GREATEST portion of humanity. They are the people of the broad way.
Isaiah 42:18-25 says,
“(18) Listen, you deaf ones! Take notice, you blind ones! (19) My servant is truly blind, my messenger is truly deaf. My covenant partner, the servant of the LORD, is truly blind.
(20) You see many things, but don’t comprehend; their ears are open, but do not hear.”
God said this to Israel through Isaiah in regard to judgment.
He had handed them over to their enemies due to their sins, but they did not realize that it was God Who gave their enemies power over them. They misunderstood His judgments.
We see an example of this among the religious elite of Paul’s day. These prideful religious leaders thought they understood the prophecies of Messiah and their bias’, calloused their hearts against the REAL Messiah when He came.
Acts 28:17-31, “After three days Paul called the local Jewish leaders together. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, from Jerusalem I was handed over as a prisoner to the Romans. (18) When they had heard my case, they wanted to release me, because there was no basis for a death sentence against me. (19) But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar – not that I had some charge to bring against my own people.
(20) So for this reason I have asked to see you and speak with you, for I am bound with this chain because of the Hope of Israel.”
(21) They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, nor have any of the brothers come from there and reported or said anything bad about you. (22) But we would like to hear from you what you think, for regarding this sect we know that people everywhere speak against it.”
(23) They set a day to meet with him, and they came to him where he was staying in even greater numbers. From morning until evening he explained things to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets.
(24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others refused to believe. (25) So they began to leave, unable to agree among themselves, after Paul made one last statement:
“The Holy Spirit spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah (26) when he said, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will never understand, and you will keep on looking, but will never perceive. (27) For the heart of this people has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”’
(28) “Therefore be advised that this salvation from God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!”
A second, yet related type of hard heart are those who have sought some sort of relation with God, but like the first group, they have their own thoughts which erect walls – separating them from the truth.
While this is MUCH like the religious leaders we just mentioned, these lack their pride and defensiveness.
In many cases, it is simply like we have recently mentioned three times now from Tozer, who said, “The world is too much with us.”
The thinking of these people is SO grounded in this natural world that spiritual truths are elusive to them. They appear as abstract things to them, when in reality – the spiritual things ARE what is truly real.
We have MANY examples of this in scripture.
In Mark 8:14-21 we see a great example among Jesus’ Own disciples. It is important to know that this whole incident was immediately after one of the times Jesus fed a multitude with a handful of bread and fish.
“(14) Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. (15) And Jesus ordered them,
“Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!”
(16) So they began to discuss with one another about having no bread.
(17) When He learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? (18) Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? (19) When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They replied, “Twelve.” (20) “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They replied, “Seven.” (21) Then He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
Then in Ephesians 4:17-21,
“(17) So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. (18) They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. (19) Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. (20) But you did not learn about Christ like this, (21) if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus.”
Now you may think that their darkened understanding and hardness is due to their ignorance. That if they just knew the truth they would not harden their hearts. However, this word for ignorance is used elsewhere and demonstrates that it is an ignorance which could be rectified if they would seek truth.
You remember in Acts 17:28-30 when Paul addressed the Atheneans regarding their unknown God he said,
“(28) For in God we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are His offspring.’
(29) So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.
(30) Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, He now commands all people everywhere to change their minds,”
So that means that their ignorance is not a result of a darkened or hardened heart, but that the darkness and hardness of their hearts is a result of their willful ignorance.
Peter addresses this in 2Peter 3:1-8,
“(1) Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), (2) that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, (3) knowing this first:
that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, (4) and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
(5) For this they willfully forget:” The KJV says, “For this they willingly are ignorant of”
“that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, (6) by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. (7) But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (8) But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
So there are types of hardness of heart, which result from pride and stubbornness. A heart that has determined it WILL NOT listen!
However, hardness of heart can also be the result of possessing and nurturing your own thoughts and biases’ without seeking God. This failure to seek God in sincerity, worshipfully and with a willingness to accept His word above our own thoughts is a fatal mistake with grave consequence.
Finally there are hearts which can harden almost exclusively through simple neglect – a failure to remember.
These are ways people embody and embrace the dangers of a wayside heart!
Such people are therefore easy targets for satan. He is able to steal effectively from the person whose attention is elsewhere.
Redirection is the NUMBER ONE rule of pick pocketing. Get the victim’s attention on something other than what you want to steal. The more abrupt and impactful the misdirection is the better.
To illustrate I have two videos which demonstrate the “art” of misdirection both physically and mentally.
Like these methods, all satan has to do is misdirect the message we hear and make it about ourselves and he’s better than halfway there!
In this environment he is able to snatch away what we do not have a tight grip upon.
Like the video said, he operates in the shadows while directing a spotlight in the opposite direction.
He uses deception and your own interests to disarm your defenses and lower your guard allowing him access to your personal space.
His intention is to call into question the validity of scripture. The usefulness of scripture. The reliability of scripture. The trustworthiness of scripture all in an effort to stop faith before it can begin. Allow NO time for considerations which could lead to trust.
If he can do that – salvation in any of its forms cannot be realized!
So what are some simple things you already know from scripture that can safeguard you from being the wayside heart?Treasuring His word in our hearts.
Meditate on day and night.
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