The third type of soil in Matthew 13 stands for a strangled heart – a heart strangled by things. The Lord describes those things as thorns and says, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” We know this was true in Jesus’ day because of our Lord’s many warnings against riches: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
On one occasion a rich young man turned away sorrowfully because Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor and he was unwilling to do it. If that was true in Jesus’ day among people whom we would regard for the most part as quite poor, how much truer must it be in ours. We are choked with riches – we who have cars and houses and boats and bank accounts and all the modern gadgets of our materialistic culture.
There is this point too: Riches do not choke a person all at once. It is a gradual process. Like the weeds in Christ’s parable, riches grow up gradually. Slowly, slowly, they strangle the budding of spiritual life within. Beware of that if you either have great possessions or are on your way to acquiring them. Above all, beware if you are saying, “I need to provide for myself now. I’ll think about spiritual things when I am older.”
Jesus warned against that in another story about a man whose fields produced such a good crop that he tore down his barns and built bigger ones, saying to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Jesus’ words were, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
The last type of soil is the one to which the entire parable has been building. It is the open heart, the heart that receives the Gospel like good soil receives seed. This soil produces a good crop, says Jesus, “yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Notice first that only a portion (in the parable, one-fourth) of the preaching of the Gospel bears fruit. We should remember that even Jesus did not get all people to believe on Him, though many did, and if this is so, we must not think we have failed when people reject our message. On the other hand, we should be encouraged in our witnessing by knowing that some will believe.
Second, the only sure evidence of a genuine reception of the Word of God in a person’s life is transformation, usually seen in spiritual fruit. Although we are not saved by our good works, the total absence of them indicates that we have never been truly saved.
Finally, the presence not the amount of fruit is the important thing.
It is only the open heart that receives the preaching of the Gospel and is saved. Not the hard heart. Not the shallow heart. Not the strangled heart. The only heart that ever receives the truth of the Gospel and is saved is the heart that opens itself to Jesus and His teaching.
Which leads to this most important question: Do you have an open heart? Are you receptive to God’s truth? Have you allowed the teaching of the Bible to settle down into your life so that you have turned from sin, placed your whole faith in Jesus, and begun to produce the Holy Spirit’s fruit? Perhaps you may think it too late. It is true that you can do nothing, any more than soil can change its nature. But although you can do nothing, there is one who can: the divine Gardener. He can break up the hard ground, uproot the rocks, and remove the thorns. That is your hope – not you, but the Gardener. Notice what God said through the prophet Ezekiel, who wrote to the hard-hearted of his day. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes…”
The rich young man turned from Jesus sorrowfully because he was unwilling to sell his riches. He seemed to be open to the Gospel. He had even asked Jesus how he might be saved. But riches were choking him, and he was unable to leave them in order to become Christ’s disciple. Jesus remarked on how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom, and the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” They were beginning to recognize the serious nature of the problem.
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” In other words, said Jesus, “With God all things are possible.” And so they are! Not just for someone else either. They are possible for you, if God does the work. What you need to do is turn to Christ and allow Him to give you an open heart that will receive the Gospel. Admit that you have a hard, calloused, grasping, covetous, or even frivolous heart, and ask Him to save you anyway.