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May 27, 2018

Spiritual Agronomy

Passage: Matthew 13:1-23

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Parables That Change the World

Keywords: barrenness, fruitfulness, god's word, receptivity, response, soils, agronomy, heart-soils


Everyone has responses to the Word of God, both Christ-followers and Christ-rejecters. Our response every time we encounter God's Word will determine the kind of soil our soul becomes. We must address the issues that render God's Word fruitless and press into the things that bring fruitfulness. This message addresses those.


Spiritual Agronomy

Matthew 13:1-23

May 27, 2018

INTRO:  Parable of the Pilot & Passengers

            This weekend several of our Moody Aviation pilots graduated.  By the way, CONGRATULATIONS and well done on a lot of hard work, long hours and stressful tests and flights.  We’re proud of each of you and grateful to God that there are students like you who work as hard as you all have in order to be trained to help others get the Gospel of Jesus to the far ends of the earth. 

            So, in the spirit of aviation, I would like to tell you a “Parable of the Passengers.”  Everyone’s job here this morning is to figure out what this parable means.  Ready? 

            “One day, a young pilot went out to fly.  He got in the Cessna 180, did all his pre-flight checks, taxied down the runway and took off into beautiful blue skies of the Pacific Northwest.

            No sooner had he gained 1,000 feet of altitude then the plane started bouncing about pretty violently.  The pilot requested permission to climb to 5,000 feet in search of smoother air.  Granted by air traffic control, he rose to 5,000 and found that, while less bumpy, his passengers were still reaching for the airsick bags.  After passenger #1 lost his lunch, the pilot requested permission to climb to 7,500 ft. altitude.  Gaining permission again, he did just that.  The flight got smoother still.  But now passenger #2 had bagged her lunch as well. 

            Finally, desperate to give his passengers some type of positive flying experience, the pilot requested permission to go to 12,000 feet. Again the request was granted and the altitude change received.  Finally smooth air was found and enjoyed by all.

            Just when they were all beginning to enjoy the ride, the pilot announced that they would need to begin their descent and return to the airfield as they were running low on fuel.  So, through the various and increasingly turbulent layers of air they descended.  And by the time the wheels hit the tarmac on landing, passenger #3 had donated the remains of his lunch to the new, emerging “Feed-the-Bag” lunch program. 

            He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

Now, if I were to ask you, “Tell me what that parable means,” what possible interpretations might you be able to suggest for it?

[Glean ideas.]

So which one is “right”?  That depends upon what I say is “right,” right?  J  I made up the story, so I get to make up the meaning too.  You may argue that your interpretation sounds more interesting or is more colorful or whatnot.  But if you want to understand the truths I was trying to teach by this parable, you have to know the meaning I assigned to it, no?  BTW, I haven’t decided yet what it means…but thanks for all the great ideas!  J

            The same is true of all parables.  The meaning the authors of the parables assign and intend are THE only meaning that carries weight.  So it was with Jesus’ parables. 

             Today’s parable is what I’m calling the Parable of Spiritual Agronomy. 

ILL: My serious interest in college looking at becoming an agronomist through the WSU B.S. in Agronomy.  What is agronomy?  “Agronomy is the science of soil management and crop production.”  It’s really what every farmer and gardener is in the business of doing when the farm or garden.  You don’t plant 5,000 acres of wheat on the Palouse so you can see how much of the seed you can have fail in any given season.  You manage both the soil, the seed and the harvest so as to maximize the use of seed to produce the best possible harvest. 

            (Note about how farming and tractor/combine technology has changed:  Probably 2 acres/day in Jesus day.  Was 20 acres a day with mule teams 100 years ago. Now a combine can harves 200 acres/day while using satellite technology to map every part of the process from planting to fertilizing and harvest, adjusting all to different parts of the field with different productivity rates.)

            So let’s read this parable and Jesus’ interpretation of it in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 

Now skip to vs. 18.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

            Once you know what the different parts of this story refer to, it’s not hard at all to figure out the basic meaning of this parable, is it? 

1.)  WHO do the different soils represent?  (Vs. 19—People, “anyone” who “hears the message about the kingdom….”)

2.)  WHAT is the “seed”?  (“The message about the kingdom” [vs. 19], “the word” [vss. 20, 22, 23])

3.)  WHAT other images in this story have significance to its interpretation? 

  • Birds = “the evil one” who steals implantation of the truth.
  • Path = souls/hearts of people who don’t receive the word.
  • Rocky ground = people who initially embrace the Gospel/Word of God but don’t have depth of heart to carry on with it in times of trouble.
  • Sun that “came up” and scorched these plants = trouble and persecution that kill the seed’s fruitfulness
  • Soil with thorns = Vs. 22—hearts that allow “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” to “choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
  • Good soil = person who a.) hears the word, b.) understands it, and c.) produces a fruitful crop from what was sown.

So understanding the meaning of this parable is NOT the challenge for most of us.  WHAT IS???

Application to our own personal lives, right?

  • Honestly discerning which soil our hearts are?
  • Avoiding becoming any of the first 3 kinds of soils.
  • Knowing HOW to be the 4th soil/soul type so that God’s Word is fruitful in us.

So that’s what I hope to do the remainder of this morning.

Now the main thrust of this parable when it comes to PEOPLE and the GOSPEL is that there are really only 2 general categories of people being talked about as soils:

1.)  People in whom the Word/Gospel doesn’t bear fruit.

2.)  People in whom the Word/Gospel does bear fruit.

The first 3 types of “ground” are ALL those in whom the Gospel is fruit-less.  The 4th soil/soul type is the only one in which God’s Word actually does any good or becomes at all fruitful. 

            So in the clearest sense of the word here, we are talking about two groups of people:  those who embrace and assimilate the Word of God/Gospel deeply enough into their lives that it really takes hold, grows up and bears fruit verses those who hear the same Word, may even “receive” it at some level into their lives but, for various reasons, never provide the soul-soil necessary for it to grow up into what it was designed to do in the human heart. 

            BUT there is, I believe, also a secondary sense in which this parable is speaking also about every time God’s Word is sown into the life of any one of us…at any time.  If this parable only applies to the “fruitfulness” of being saved, its scope is very limited.  But nowhere does that limited application seem to be advocated in any of the 3 versions of this parable that occur in the Synoptic Gospels (also Mark 4 and Luke 8).  Rather, it is the barrenness or fruitfulness of the Word whenever it is sown in a human soul that is the focus. 

            This is descriptive of every one of us here who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, right? 

  • Some days we hear a sermon in church or on the radio and it truly changes us. It may move us to repent of and confess some sin and replace that sin with righteous living. 
  • Our daily devotional reading and prayer may cause the truth of God’s word to jump out at us from the page and lead us to start loving someone to Christ because of what we heard the Holy Spirit speak to us from God’s Word.
  • The fellowship we have with a brother or sister over coffee or on the phone about what God is teaching them and training them to be may be used by God to motivate us to growth and change.   

This battle for fruitfulness isn’t just happening when we share the plan of salvation, the Gospel of Christ with someone; it is happening every time you and I hear or are exposed to the Word of God…EVERY TIME!  It’s happening right now, right here in this room as we sit here and try to absorb the Word.  It happens every time I listen to a radio preacher expounding God’s Word.  It happens every time you have your daily devotions…or really have Christian fellowship around Christ…or in ANY WAY encounter the Word of God. 

            This parable reveals to us that there are numerous factors impacting the fruitfulness of God’s word at any given time in our lives. Those are the things I want us to look at today in relation to our own hearts—the soil of our very own lives.

            Jesus lays out here 3 heart & soul-types or experiences that render God’s amazingly productive and powerful Word fruitless

#1.)  The 1st is “the hard-packed” kind of soul.  If you’ve got a “road” or “path” soul right now, you can sit here all morning and not have God’s truth grip your soul in any way.  You will go out of here unmoved, unchanged, unchallenged, un-convicted, untouched, possibly un-converted and certainly unconvinced that your life needs to change by the power of Jesus Christ.  “Path-people” are clearly unsaved and unredeemed people. 

            That doesn’t mean they are “bad people” or “worse people” than any of us.  But the spiritual soil of their lives is so packed down, so hard, so un-tilled and unprepared for the life of Jesus Christ that Satan can snatch God’s truth away from them before they even grapple with what it is or the impact it should have on their lives.

ILL:  I still have visions of my Dad, sitting at the breakfast nook table late at night, reading the Bible.  This was before He knew Christ.  He was a very religious and moral man.  But he was a sinner whose heart could not yet embrace God’s word.  God needed to do some more “tilling” of his soul. 

            By his own admission, this Ivy League-educated Doctor of Law and graduate of Harvard Business School could not understand what he was reading.  He knew English, French, German and Italian and had lived in each of those countries.  He was an accomplished pianist, a graduate of Yale Law School and one smart yet humble man.  Yet he could not grasp the personal significance of this Word even though he read it over and over again. 

            But the day his heart was open to receiving Christ, the day he surrendered his soul to Jesus and received Him as his own Lord and Savior, that day he began to have such a hunger for the Word of God that was changing him day by day that he would take copious notes in the wide margins of his Scoffield Study Bible every time he heard a sermon or radio broadcast or participated in a Bible study.  We’ve got that Bible at our family home on CDA now and it puts me to shame to see how serious and dedicated to understanding God’s Word my father was.  He was not about to let Satan, who had robbed him of 54 years of spiritual life already, rob him of a single verse of understanding God’s Word. 

ILL:  hold dandelion heads on my hand and then turn on a fan behind them…and watch what happens when seed doesn’t have soil in which to implant. 

Q:  So WHAT can we do to our soul if its condition is as hard and trampled as a beaten path? 

  • Don’t be content with NOT understanding the Gospel.
  • Don’t let the Word of God lie barren on your soul.

[Challenge to RESPOND to the GOSPEL of Christ…now!]

This also applies to Christ-followers whenever we “hear” God’s word and yet don’t “understand” it (vs. 19).  Understanding it the first step to fruitfulness.  Lack of understanding is the only step needed to keep God’s word unfruitful

            This is why sound biblical teaching does matter.  This is why not being content to just read or hear God’s Word while not understanding it is critical. This is why being part of an enlightening Bible study is important.  None of us understands all of the Bible accurately.  We must dig into God’s word, wrestle with understanding it and not let failure to understand rob us of its fruitfulness.

            Understanding isn’t just knowing WHAT it is saying.  Understanding includes knowing WHAT TO DO about it.  Understanding is knowing how to APPLY it to my own life.  Understanding is seeing the difference it is to make in what I think, how I feel, what I value, how I treat my wife, my children, my neighbors, my enemies, my world.  God’s Word is never intended to be impotent or unintelligible.  It is meant to be understood so that it can be experienced and obeyed. 

APP:  What will you do next time you don’t understand a passage of God’s Word?  Let’s not get in the habit of hearing/reading without understanding!


#2.)  Vss. 20-21:  The 2nd soul-soil is the shallow soul.  Jesus isn’t talking intellectually or emotionally shallow.  He’s talking spiritually shallow. 

ILL:  my garden starts—little shallow containers that must be watered daily…or die!  L

What are the marks of spiritually “shallow” souls? 


  • They may actually “understand” the Word.
  • They may actually be very happy to be in church, to be a part of a Bible study, to hang out with Christian people, to even feel what it is like to grasp spiritual truth.
  • They may even let the seed of the Word begin to germinate in their soul by mulling it over, thinking about how it may change their lives. They may change some of their routines to include going to church or Bible Study, being part of a small group, engaging in a 12-step group, listening to Christian radio. 

BUT then comes “trouble or persecution because of the Word.”  Notice the cause of the problem now?  It is because of “the Word.”  Q:  How does letting the Word grow in you bring “trouble or persecution”?  Give us some examples.

  • Purity—you no longer enjoy dirty jokes or entertainment so your friends start razzing you about being a “holy Joe”.
  • Marriage—your spouse begins to resent that you are changing.
  • Work—you no longer participate in doing things “under the table,” illegally or unethically. At the least you will be sidelined and ostracized.  You may lose contracts and deals.  You may be passed over for promotions.  You may even be fired. 

“Trouble or persecution” can happen in a hundred different ways when you start letting God’s word take hold of your soul. 

            Shallow-souled people won’t take the “heat” for being a follower of Jesus.  They would rather be barren spiritually than lose friends.  They would rather be top salesman than 2nd.  They would rather keep the job than have to go looking for a new one.

            The immediate effect is their spiritual lives wither and die.  They may even keep some of the outward signs of flourishing Christians—language, church attendance, giving to good causes.  But they have no depth to their souls.  And the Word will not bear fruit in them. 


  • What “trouble” in your life right now is threatening to derail you spiritually? Is there some sort of pressure that is causing you to wonder if it is worth it?  If you should stop “playing the game”? 
  • Is there some form of “persecution” you are feeling at work? School?  Home? In the community?  On social media? 

What can we do with “shallow soul-soil”? 

  • Bring in more dirt!
  • Add more water!

#3.)  Weedy Soul-soil:  Vs. 22“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Here’s one certainly all of us can relate to—“worries of this life…deceitfulness of wealth.” 

APP:  I want you to write something down right now.  Find some paper and a pen.  (I’ll wait!)

  • What has you worried right now? What is stealing emotional energy?  Maybe sleep?  Your peace of mind or heart?  What are you afraid you won’t be able to take care of?  Accomplish?  Survive?  Write it down!
  • What is deceiving you right now? We don’t know, usually, do we?  Why?  Because the nature of deception is that the deceived don’t know they are being deceived.  It is only the most extreme fool who says, “Well, I know this man or woman is deceiving me, but I like it and am willing to suffer future ruin and pain for continuing to hang out with them…or marry them…or partner up with them in business…etc.” 

Jesus narrows deceitfulness here to “the deceitfulness of wealth.”  Wealth seems to have especially deceptive abilities, doesn’t it? 

First, what is “wealth” here?  Anything a person can own…or claim to possess:  a million dollars, a cat, a car, a piece of clothing, a higher-paying job, a better-tasting meal.  Wealth isn’t just what “the other guy” has that we don’t. It’s anything material, physical or tangible that promises to bless us in ways only God can.

In what ways can physical things/wealth deceive us?  What are some of the “lies” that stuff perpetrate on us?

  • The more you have, the happier you will be…the easier life will be…the better your health will be…etc.
  • You just need this thing to be really content.
  • Your happiness problem is a money/car/relationship/house/ vacation/etc. problem.

The problem is, the more stuff we fill our lives with, the less room we actually have for life with God. 

ILL:  We experience this on the human relational plain all the time.  We have a finite capacity for healthy human relationships.  If I have a wife and 10 kids and really am the husband and dad I should be to them, I’m not going to be able to have 10 really good friends with whom I go sailing or golfing or bar-hopping or shopping every week.  Either my friendships will suffer or my children and wife will suffer. 

            The same is true for “stuff”.  I can tell you that you won’t be able to have or even do all the stuff you want to in life. 

  • I can’t collect antique cars as a hobby and use the same money I spent on the cars to provide wells in Africa or scholarships for students at Moody or sponsorships for needy children in Central America.

This is why having more money is more challenging than having less.  The more money and stuff you have, the harder it is for that money and stuff not to have more of you! 

ILL:  Invite a volunteer to come up.  Keep handing them objects until they can’t hold on any longer and certainly can’t focus on drinking a cup of something. 

Having wealth doesn’t have to lead to a “deceived life-style”.  If you were here last week, you will remember my story about Dick Shanks.  He had lots of money pass through his hands with the 5 businesses he started.  But he didn’t let the “deceitfulness of riches” or the “worries of business” cloud his vision.  WHAT we do with what we have may well be far more important when it comes to the “weeds of materialism” than actually how much we have. 

APP:  I already had you write down the stuff that is “worrying” you so we won’t go over that.  Suffice it to say that God doesn’t want any “worries” to dominate us, even about the most basic things of life like food and clothing (Mt. 6:25-34).  But we can allow virtually everything in life to preoccupy us and cause the power of God’s word to be choked out in us. 

            But let’s think about how “stuff,” those “other things” in our lives that at least have the potential to distract and drain our spiritual fruitfulness. Identifying them is the first step.  Without that, we’ll never make progress in “pulling the weeds” of life.  But once we’ve identified them, then we can a.) start asking God about them, b.) start letting go of things that are making God’s word unfruitful in our lives, and c.) start replacing them with obedience to and engagement with God’s Word. 

So, in 60 seconds, write down as many things that come to your mind that you own that could potentially distract or keep you from obeying something God might ask you to do. 


  • I have some friends who have fishing boats. A boat can be a real time and money user.  Or they can be a tool to ministry—to kids and grandkids, to other believers, to friends needing Jesus who you get to spend time with because you invite them to go boating or fishing with you.
  • Housing: a house takes quite a bit of time to take care of.  Those of you who are homeowners know that stuff is always breaking, yards are always needing yard care, replacing roofs is always expensive, etc.  But houses can be great places to raise children, teach them responsibility, entertain friends, find rest, extend hospitality to strangers, etc.  And a house can move from being a means of obeying God’s Word to a means to avoid God’s word and obedience. 

It all depends. 

So you have 60 seconds to write down whatever God brings to mind that you own/control/are responsible for in this world’s wealth.  GO!

Now, here’s our assignment this week.  Take that list and PRAY over it this week.  Add to it as God brings more to mind.  Some of us will need a notebook!  But how about asking God,

  • “Is there anything on this list that I’m using as an excuse for not doing your will?”
  • “Is there something on this list you want me to let go of? Sell?  Get rid of?  Handle differently?  If so, WHEN and HOW will I do that?

Now you can do that little assignment…OR you can park it over in the that barren asphalt parking lot of the soul called, “Things I Don’t want God to Mess With.”  And today’s Word will be barren in our souls. 

Lastly, let me just remind you of the upside potential of obedience to this parable:  #4.)  Fruitful Soul-soil.  Jesus says in vs. 23--23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

            Jesus reinforces the importance of 1.) hearing the Word, and 2.) understanding the Word. Jesus assumes that if the soul-soil condition of our hearts is healthy, that hearing and understanding of God’s Word will automatically lead to fruitfulness.  Fruitfulness is another way of saying “obedience” in this story.  It’s “application” of the Word.  It’s letting the Word do the work of God in every part of our being. 

            How “fruitful” is God’s word lived out in a life?  Anything from 1% to 10,000% (100 times).  Remember Jesus’ story last week?  What was the percentage return on investment the “good and faithful” servants gave?  100%. 

            How does God’s Word differ in fruitfulness from our efforts then?  Exponentially! Possibly thousands of times more!  God’s Word is actually in a class all its own.  Nothing in life has the power of God’s Word in the human soul and in heavenly places. 

  • My word can’t defeat demons; God’s does.
  • My word can’t always be fulfilled; God’s is.
  • My speech doesn’t always help a situation; God’s does.

The only inhibiting factor to God’s word is…our SOUL-SOIL

  • Need to do some roto-tilling?
  • Need to apply some water of the Spirit?
  • Need to pull some weeds? Dig out some rocks?
  • Need to bring in some fresh dirt?

Don’t wait!  Start today!  He potential return forever is beyond comprehension. 


[Explain why prayer is a good response to exposure to God’s Word.]