HAVE YOU EVER started to take a test in school—and instantly wished it was an open-book exam?
You and your peers heard the teacher talk earlier in the week about the material, but her lesson hadn’t yet gelled in everybody’s thinking—including your own. Maybe it was an English test or a math quiz. You and your fellow class-mates heard audible sounds, but you didn’t yet comprehend; you didn’t get it—yet. You wanted the open-book, but your instructor didn’t give you that option.
Rabbi Jesus had been teaching a fundamental lesson in His sea-side classroom (Mat. 13:1-2). Unfortunately, many of His pupils heard His message, but they too failed His exam. “Hearing they heard, but did not understand…” (cf. Isa. 6:9-10). Ironically, He not only gave everybody the examination, but He specifically gave the twelve the answers too (vv. 18-23)—He gave them an open book exam.
He had been talking to the multitudes about different types of soil: wayside, stony, thorny, and good (vv. 3-9). Most assumed Jesus was talking about simple agrarian truths (i.e., first-century gardening practices). THEY GOT IT, or so they thought. They often observed their friends and neighbors with a seed-sack on their shoulders, scattering seed on the ground in their community, and so what the Lord said made sense.
Peter, James and John and the rest of the disciple-dozen knew Jesus wasn’t talking about literal soils as such and that He was teaching parabolically, but they failed to understand the deeper (and real) message itself.1 Lord, “what does this parable mean?” (Luke 8:9) they asked. “Give us the open book test with the answers, please.”
Jesus complied. Wayside soil represented closed hearts which couldn’t see beyond the obvious literal message. Stony soil represented hearts that eagerly received the Seed/Word with joy, but because they hadn’t sufficiently matured and grown in the faith (cf. Simon the Sorcerer—Acts 8:14-25), they didn’t produce fruit when hardship arose. Thorny soil represented hearts that received the seed, but also failed to produce fruit because they were distracted by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth. Finally, the good soil represented hearts which not only received the seed, but it produced abundant fruit—some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty (v. 23).
Dear Christian, may I ask a personal question? Could you pass the Lord’s open-book exam? Someone will object, “Preacher—I get it! This parable is easy to interpret. Good soil bears fruit.” Well—yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you fully appreciate the message, brother—even with Jesus’ explanation. You see, the ONLY way to know whether or not you possess the proper heart soil and grasp the Lord’s teaching is when it is internalized, and you actually start bearing soul-fruit.2
Yep—it’s that simple and yet that challenging. A Christian can talk all day and night long about what Jesus meant in the parable, but if he doesn’t practice it—he obviously doesn’t get it; his heart is either like the wayside soil, the rocky soil, or the thorny soil.
Good hearts receive the Word of God and produce bountiful fruit. Good heart soil is productive (Mat. 28:18-20).
Dear child of God, can you pass the open-book exam? Are you scattering precious seed? Are you bearing abundant fruit? Are you teaching others about the Jesus of Calvary and guiding them to the cross? Think about it.