"While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:  "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.  Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." When he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 
He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, " 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'
 "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.  Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.  The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop... 18Therefore consider carefully how you listen."
One of the greatest gifts that God has given us in life is the gift of listening. Listening is the key to success and perhaps even survival in most relationships - as Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Groggy Froggy, Waily Quaily and Lucille Goose found out. We have all seen those beautiful double-page magazine ads in which reputable business systems companies claim that they will teach the members of your firm how to listen. They suggest that the art of listening leads to business success. I don't know if they can deliver what they promise, but I am convinced that every year many businesses will fail, not because their product is faulty or their service poor, but because management and workers are not listening to each other, or more importantly, to their customers. I am convinced that every year many marriages fail because two people, though lovers, do not know how to listen to each other. Even those who look so strong and adequate may be struggling to communicate their feelings, "Help me. I'm frightened. I'm lonely." Every year there are parents and children who will begin an irreparable breach because of feelings that can't be put into words, or because they are unwilling to listen to each other. Family members speak past each other and a relationship crumbles.
A recent research project indicated that the loneliest group of people in our society are not the unmarried or the recently bereaved, but teenagers. In too many homes there is not enough time given to listening - listening for that deep loneliness and provide a climate for communication. The same is true in the Church. At Christ Church, we affirm the ministry of every believer and the value of every individual. That makes us responsible for the well-being of our friends around us, but also for those we do not yet know - because whether lost or found, people matter to God.
Another pastor Bruce Evans has described someone you may know:
Who'd have known she was coming unglued?
Every hair was neatly placed, no slip showed, nor thread hung;
Colours blended as did words, pleasing both eye and ear;
Style embraced form, concealing and revealing female ripeness;
Delicate perfume, yet firm, intertwined and matched the carefully wafting, casual conversation; No blood, no sweat, no tears.
So who would have known a lost soul plods the walls of hell's depression while years of building lay in heaps unseen?
She was so appealing. Who'd have known she was coming unglued?
Maybe you identify with that description. Find someone today who will listen. Learning to listen to our friends and families and, beyond that, to God, is essential to any good relationship. But its vital if we are to inherit eternal life. "Therefore consider carefully how you listen" said Jesus. Jesus was the greatest communicator. He knew more than most that telling stories is the best way to communicate truth to a receptive, apathetic or even hostile audience. So lets see what we can get out of this particular story.
1. The Parable Introduced
The disciples were perplexed because Jesus taught in parables, and on this occasion had to ask Him for an explanation. His reply seems to suggest that He used parables in order to hide the truth from the crowds, but just the opposite is true, and Luke 8:16-18 makes that clear. His teaching is a light that must be allowed to shine so that people may be saved. But our Lord's parables will only arouse the interest of those actually listening.
1.1 The Parable is a Picture
A parable starts off as a picture that is familiar to the listeners.
The word parable means "to cast alongside." A parable then is a story that teaches something new by putting the truth alongside something familiar.
The people knew about seeds and soil, so the Parable of the Sower interested them. The parable as a picture.
1.2 The Parable is a Mirror
As you carefully consider the picture within the parable, it becomes a mirror in which you see yourself, and many people do not like to see themselves as they really are. Those who were indifferent or proud would shrug it off. This also explains why some of our Lord's listeners became angry when they heard His parables, and even tried to kill Him. The parable is a picture and a mirror.
1.3 The Parable is a Window
But if we see ourselves as needy sinners and ask for help, then the mirror becomes a window through which we see God and His grace. To understand a parable and benefit from it demands honesty and humility on our part, and many of our Lord's hearers lacked both. The Parable introduced.
2. The Parable Explained
Jesus describes a farmer who sows seed on four different kinds of soil, an analogy so basic and simple, and yet so hard for some to understand. Initially, the Sower is Jesus Christ, but the sower represents anyone who share the Word of God (John 4:35-38). The seed is the Word of God, for, like seed, the Word has life and power (Heb. 4:12) and can produce spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). But the seed can do nothing until it is planted (John 12:24). When a person hears and understands the Word, then the seed is planted in the heart. What happens after that depends on the nature of the soil. The human heart is like soil: if it is prepared, it can receive the seed of the Word of God and produce a fruitful harvest. Jesus described four different kinds of hearts, three of which did not produce any lasting fruit. The proof of salvation is lasting fruit and not merely hearing the Word or making a profession of faith in Christ.
2.1 The Hard Soil : Luke 8 5, 12
This soil represents the person who hears the Word but immediately allows the devil to snatch the seed away. How did the heart become hard? The "wayside" was the path that ran through the common field, separating the plots; and the foot traffic hardened the soil. Whatever goes into the ear or eye finally enters the heart, so be careful who is allowed to "walk on your heart." There are those who have become like the asphalt or concrete of our highways. They see and experience something of the wonder of God.
They hear the message and see it lived out and yet they say, "It can't be so. It's too simple. It's too easy. Their cynicism results in a hardness of heart, and the word cannot find a lodging place.
2.2 The Shallow Soil : Luke 8:6, 13
This soil illustrates the emotional hearer who quickly responds to the message, but his interest wanes and he does not continue (see John 8:31-32). In many parts of the Holy Land you find a substratum of limestone covered with a thin layer of soil. The shoot can grow up, but the roots cannot go down, and the sun withers the rootless plant. The sun represents the testing that comes to all professing believers to prove their faith. Sun is good for plants if they have roots. Then there are those impressionable ones who hear the word and have an instant and positive response. They join all the groups, buy all the books, come to all the courses. They never miss worship. But in a few years, where are they and what has happened to them? Opposition, adversity, pressure can deepen the roots of a true Christian, but it also exposes the shallowness of someone who has not yet trusted in Christ.
2.3 The Crowded Soil : Luke 8:7, 14
This soil illustrates the person who does not repent and "weed out" the things that hinder the harvest. There is enough soil so the roots can go down, but not enough room for the plant to grow up and produce fruit. The plant is crowded out and the fruit is choked. These are the people who hear the word gladly. They are sincere believers, and they make a solid beginning in the life of faith. Then God begins to bless them. They prosper. They have children and grandchildren. They succeed in their jobs, pursue many hobbies, acquire lands, summer homes, many friends. They join clubs and receive honours. The first thing you know, all these good things choke out their primary commitment. They are just too caught up in the good things of life to be concerned about the things of God. "Cares, riches, and the pleasures of this life" are like weeds in a garden that keep the soil from being fruitful. The hard soil, the shallow soil, the crowded soil.
2.4 The Good Soil : Luke 8:8, 15
This soil alone is fruitful. It illustrates the individual who hears the Word, understands it, receives it, is truly saved, and proves it by patiently producing fruit (see 1 Thes. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:22-25). Not everybody produces the same amount of fruit (Matt. 13:8), but all believers will produce some fruit. The Bible speaks of fruit in terms of leading other people to Christ (Rom. 1:13); of giving financially to God's work (Rom. 15:25-28). Christian character is described of as the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control (Gal. 5:22-23). It is the character of Jesus displayed in us. For the Word of God, Jesus himself, takes root in their lives. Suddenly, life opens up now and forever, world without end. The lesson in this parable is clear; not all will be saved. Some will be lost. And yet the Word of God, the spoken word, the Word made Flesh, does not vary, it is proclaimed, it is offered to all kinds of soil. The seed is the same, but the soil into which the seed falls is what makes the difference. And I suggest that depends on our willingness to hear what God is saying. Jesus says, "consider carefully how you listen" The parable introduced. The parable explained.
3. The Parable Applied : Luke 8:8, 18
"When he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear... Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him."
It is a serious thing to hear and understand the Word of God, because this puts on us the obligation to share that Word with others. Everyone who receives the seed becomes a sower, (see 1 Thes. 1:5-8). That's why our mission statement is to assist people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ - or to put it more succinctly - to turn pagans into missionaries. If we keep Jesus to ourselves, locked up inside us, we will lose out; but if we share him, others are blessed too. The word hear is used nine times in this section. It means much more than simply listening to words. "Hearing" means listening with spiritual understanding and receptivity. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). This parable shows that Jesus was not impressed by the great crowds that followed Him. He knew that most of the people did not really "hear" the Word and receive it in their hearts. He gave this story to encourage the disciples in their future ministry, and he encourages us today. As we introduce people to Jesus we often find he has prepared the ground ready to receive the seed. Helen Keller was like that. Though blind, deaf and dumb, when communication was finally established and she was told about Jesus, she said, "I always knew there was such a person.
There is an example in the Gospels of one person who was like all four soils. In John 4, Jesus encountered a woman at the well in Samaria. Notice the changes in her heart as she responds to his counselling. Her heart was hard at first, and John explained the reason for her hardness: "for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). The woman was surprised that a Jewish man, and a rabbi at that, would talk with her in public. She had no understanding of her need or what Jesus had to offer her. Her hard heart became a shallow heart. The Lord offered her living water, and she immediately replied, "Sir give me this water so that I won't have to keep coming back to this well. This was an emotional response that had no depth to it. The Lord knew this, so He immediately began to plough up her heart: "Go, call your husband!" This touched the most sensitive part of her life, for she had been living a dubious life. What happened next? She developed a crowded heartshe began to argue about religion. The old weeds of prejudice and worldliness began to grow. Jesus refused to get into an argument over whether Jerusalem or Samaria was the place to worship.
Her greatest need was to worship God in Spirit and in truth. At that point, the good seed that had been planted in her heart years ago began to grow. She said, "I know that Messiah is coming . . . when that One comes, He will declare all things to us" (John 4:25, NASB). Jesus then revealed who He was, she believed, and immediately she began to bear fruit. She told her friends and many within her community believed in Jesus because her life was different. "Faith comes first to the hearing ear, not to the cogitating mind," said A.W. Tozer. Faith is not a matter of IQ or education or crudulity; it is a matter of humbly receiving God's truth. "Therefore consider carefully how you listen."
I am grateful to Warren Wersbie for ideas used in this sermon.