Tomorrow, God’s people will once again gather together to celebrate the annual Feast of Pentecost. For the ancient Israelites, this was a day to worship God by offering Him the firstfruits of their new grain harvest (Leviticus 23:16; Numbers 28:26). Today, this Holy Day carries the added meaning of the day when God poured out His Holy Spirit on His Church (Acts 2:1-4)—the day when we became the firstfruits of God’s harvest.
The Hebrew word translated “firstfruits,” bikkuwr, refers to “the first of the crops and fruit that ripened, was gathered, and offered to God” (blueletterbible.org). While God’s plan of salvation will one day include the entire world, He is at present only working with a small group of believers, “brought…forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18).
During His ministry on earth, Christ gave a famous parable about a sower who went out to sow. For years, I’ve read this parable solely as an explanation for why some people reject or walk away from God’s calling—but with Pentecost drawing closer, I can’t help but think there’s more to it than that. What if Jesus spoke this parable not just to help us understand others, but to help us understand ourselves as well? What if the story of the sower is a roadmap, intended to lead us from where we are to a deeper relationship with our Creator?
What if the real question to be asking ourselves in reading this passage is about the kind of firstfruits we’re becoming?
“A sower went out to sow…”
Since we’re going to be spending time examining it, let’s go ahead and start with the parable itself. Matthew’s account records the story this way:
Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Certainly not the most self-explanatory metaphor. Luke’s account has the disciples coming up to Jesus afterwards and tactfully explaining that they had absolutely no clue what He was talking about (Luke 8:9). Fortunately for them (and us), Christ took the time to explain the parable piece by piece: the seed represents “the word of God” (Luke 8:11), while each of the four types of ground it falls on represents a way in which people receive that word. But these aren’t just conditions that prevent other people from accepting God’s calling—they’re conditions that can and will creep into our lives and stunt our growth as firstfruits unless we actively seek to counteract them.
So. How do we do that? Well, let’s start with…
1. The wayside
The problem: The Greek word for wayside suggests a heavily traveled pathway. This dirt would have been so compacted by foot traffic (Luke 8:5) that, for growing purposes, it may as well have been cement! Likewise, we can be so set in our ways that God’s word literally cannot get through to us. It’s a condition that occurs when we start to believe that we either have nothing left to learn about God’s way or that we are “good enough” as we are and have no need to change. When we have the wayside mindset, it’s not difficult for Satan to snatch away God’s word from us (Matthew 13:19) because we never bothered to make it a part of us in the first place.
The solution: The University of Florida notes that one effective way to improve compacted soil involves manually breaking up the dirt and amending it with loser dirt and compost. The same is true for us—before we can allow God’s word into our lives, we’re going to have to dismantle our own ideas of how things should work. We’re going to miss the truths God is revealing to us if we’re too busy telling Him how we think things ought to be. Christ’s command to “become as little children” is extremely relevant here. Unless we become teachable and as pliable in God’s hands, we “will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
2. The stony places
The problem: Unlike the wayside, the dirt here isn’t the problem—it’s what lies underneath. Rather than rich soil filled with nutrients for growing healthy plants, this type of ground is filled with stones—rocks, pebbles, and other debris that makes growing a real challenge. Jesus explained that at the first sign of resistance, the plants growing in the stony ground withered away “because they had no root” (Matthew 13:6). If we find our faith faltering every time it’s put to the test, it may be because we’re trying to put down roots in a spiritually stony place.
The solution: A plant depends on its roots to gather nutrients and water from the soil in which it grows. The strength of God’s word in our lives likewise depends on the extent to which we feed it with nutrients like prayer, study, fasting, meditation, and fellowship. To do that, we first need to remove the rocks—the things in our lives that fill up the spaces where these nutrients should be. The more we engage in these five activities, the deeper God’s word can integrate into our lives—and the more resilient our faith will be during trials that would otherwise overwhelm us.
3. The thorns
The problem: The thorns become a problem after we’ve allowed God’s word to take root in our lives…but not exclusively. Jesus identifies these thorns as “cares, riches, and pleasures of life”—areas of life that threaten to choke out God’s calling in our lives until it can “bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). These thorns are aggressive competitors, growing at a rapid pace with the sole purpose of overshadowing and choking God’s word. Anything in our lives that becomes more important to us than our calling—whether it’s something we’re worried about, whether it’s our bank accounts, or whether it’s just something we really enjoy—is a thorn, and it will damage our relationship with God.
The solution: Having concerns isn’t wrong. Having money isn’t wrong. Having hobbies isn’t wrong. What is wrong is when these things start detracting from our relationship with God. Make no mistake: anything that comes between you and God, however innocent, will eventually squeeze the life out of His word within you. We have to aggressively weed out these thorns just as aggressively as they grow, because “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
4. The good ground
Good ground is defined by what the bad ground isn’t. The wayside was too hardened and set in its ways to even allow God’s word in; the good ground is malleable enough to accept instruction. The stony ground lacked the nutrients God’s word needed to truly take root; the good ground is filled with Bible study, prayer, fasting, fellowship, and meditation—all the ingredients required for faith to flourish. The thorny ground allowed intruders to compete and detract from God’s word; the good ground is kept clear of anything that might choke out that word.
Christ tells us that the seed that fell on good ground “yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8). If we become that good ground, then the word that God plants within us is going to become something truly incredible. And what does that crop look like? Well…
Time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
(Hebrews 11:32-40, emphasis added)
The men and women throughout the ages who allowed God’s word and Spirit to grow and thrive in their lives, who with God’s divine aid powerfully overcame the obstacles that Satan laid before them—these men and women are now asleep, waiting for the trumpet and the shout that will call them from the graves and into eternal life as a member of God’s family.
We can have that future, too. But first we have to decide whether or not we’re going to allow God’s word and Spirit to take root and grow in our lives.
The word of God isn’t difficult to come by in our world of wireless communication and cloud computing. An estimated six billion physical copies of the Bible have been distributed since the book first went to press, but it’s no longer necessary to own the Good Book to read the Good Book. The YouVersion Bible app alone, which allows users free access to dozens of Bible translations, boasts installs on over 130 million devices. Virtually anyone who wants to read God’s word can—but only a certain kind of person is going to provide ground where that word can take root and flourish. Only a certain kind of person is going to answer God’s call to become a firstfruit of His Kingdom.
The parable of the sower teaches us what we must do to become that person.
Until next time,