Lesson One – The Hearts of Men

The Hearts of Mankind

Lesson Aim:  To show how the various responses of mankind to the word of God are due to the condition of our hearts.

Scriptures :  Mark 4:1-29; Matt. 13:1-23; Luke 8:4-15.

Historical analysis for reading the parable.

Place:  By the lake, probably Sea of Galilee, Mark 4:1, 2.

Occasion:  Jesus was teaching the kingdom on a Galilean tour with His disciples. Luke 8:1-4.  Matthew recorded how Jesus taught these parables from a boat because of the large audience.

Time:  It was after Jesus had chosen the Twelve and organized His evangelism team.  At this time Jesus was well known throughout Israel and multitudes of people followed Him.  Matt. 13:1-3.

Audience:  Jesus’ audiences consisted of the common population of Galilee and others; however, Jesus’ disciples appear to have been His choice students.  Matt. 13:16, 17.  He often gave His disciples special tutoring.   

Aim:  Jesus explained to His disciples why He taught in parables.  His aim was to teach those who were true learners (disciples) the secrets of the kingdom of God.  Luke 8:10.  For the other people please read Matt. 13:11-17.

Hook:  If Jesus meant to hook His audience it would be found in His declaration that the only people who will be saved eternally will be fruit producers.  If this declaration did not hook the original audience, it certainly will hook many present day “number three soil” audiences who continually proclaim, “I know I’m saved because the Apostle Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God.”  Eph. 2:8.  In fact, some parables were not designed by Jesus to include a hook.  He included the “hook” when the Pharisees and Jewish leaders challenged Him openly.    


Preachers and teachers could be disillusioned with our efforts if we do not consider the parables in this lesson text.  It is important for us to understand the powerful seed of the kingdom we have in the form of the word of God.  We must learn to trust in the power of the word and not in our own abilities.  See II Cor. 4:5-7.  This seed will not be accepted by some people.  There is another group of people who will accept God’s word but they will not mature.  The Apostle Paul helps us understand our role as a sower of the seed of the kingdom.

What then is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.  I planted, Apollos watered, but  God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants  nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.  I Cor. 3:5-7


And He was saying, The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the ground; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day and the seed sprouts up and grows – how, he himself does not know.   Mark 4:26, 27

How much do most of us know about what goes on inside a seed as it brings a new plant to life?  Probably not much but we believe God will make it produce according to its kind.  There is a similarity between the growth processes of seeds and the spiritual growth processes in the kingdom of God according to Jesus’ foregoing parable.  The seed of the kingdom of God is the word of God (Luke 8:11; Matt. 13:19).  When this word is received by a certain type person, it is able to cause the person to reproduce the teachings of the word in his or her personality and activity; therefore, it can be said the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:20, 21).  For faithful Christians the kingdom is both immanent and transcendent.  It is in us and out there.

 Christians enjoy the role of being God’s fellow-workers.  We preach the word of God to the lost and continue to teach and love those who respond by their obedience to the word.  We should not think the responsibility of growth is upon the sower.  We have power to sow by God’s grace, but we do not have the power to cause growth.  So it is with the farmers.  They have been given the seed by God and the power to sow, but they cannot make it sprout.  God has reserved the mystery of growth for Himself.  One important element that determines growth of grain is the type of soil.

The earth produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.   Mark 4:28

Although the sower of the seed of the kingdom does not have the power or responsibility to determine reproduction, the one who hears the word does have a certain amount of both.  Please read Jesus’ parable of the sower carefully from the Scriptures listed in the lesson text.  Jesus tells preachers and teachers of God’s word we can expect four different response groups.  Since it was Jesus who set the number, each of us identifies with one of the four.

Group One

And as he sowed some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and devoured them.   Matt. 13:4

These people had opportunity to hear the message of the kingdom.  Their problem was they did not understand (Matt. 13:19).  We must conclude they had the power to understand, but they did not care to do so.  The Apostle Paul gave us an example (Rom. 10:16-21).  The Scripture does not say they did, but if it were not so, they would be predestined for destruction.  We know there are “vessels of wrath” prepared for destruction, but we believe they had a choice.  We believe they could have decided to accept Jesus and become “vessels of mercy” prepared for glory.  Please read Romans 9:22, 23.  The two vessels are predestined realities; however, each mature person has the power of choice.  We have chosen the vessel in which we now abide.  We can choose to leave it.

If the people Jesus identified as number one soil had no power to understand, even though it was their desire to do so, then it could not be said, the gospel is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16, 17).  Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus is speaking of four groups of people who are what they are because of their own choices.  In other words, He is describing their condition after the fact of their exercising choice.  Also, we must conclude that every person has the power from within to change from one category to another. Jesus does not tell us why these people in group one did not understand the message of the kingdom.  We can be reasonably sure their minds were focused on things other than spiritual (Rom. 1:18-20).  These other things come under three headings according to the Apostle John.

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.   I John 2:16

The first group of people could be vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction.  This would be true only after they heard the word, failed to understand it, and then the “evil one” took the seed away.  The devil is active among men in this universe (II Cor. 4:3, 4).  The devil has the power to blind the people identified as “soil number one” until they are willing to listen to the gospel.  Of course, Satan is not satisfied to control people in the world only.  He has the power to blind again those who are soils two, three and four

Group Two

And others fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.   Matt. 13:5

Their problem was described by Jesus as “those who had no firm root within themselves.”  (Matt. 13:21).  They heard the word and received it with joy; however, when they encountered afflictions and persecutions because of the word, they fell away (Heb. 10:32-39).  They did not desire to enroll in a spiritual growth exercise (James 1:2-4).

They had weak character, but once again we must conclude, people with weak character can remain faithful if they so desire.  However, since they were created to be sons of God, they need to make spiritual growth their goal.  See Rom. 5:1-5.  The same principle applies here as it did in group one involving the doctrine of predestination.  They have the power to choose to upgrade their character and personality and remain “vessels of mercy.”  Of course, when they do they will no longer be classified as number two soil.

The word Jesus used to best explain the nature of these people was “temporary.”  Another descriptive phrase which says about the same thing is, “I want what I want, when I want it.”  People with this defect in character are prey for every product sales campaign.  They will accept anything that appeals to their immediate desires.  They do not count the cost.

The automobile salesman shows them the shiny new car and they accept it with joy.  If they had considered their financial situation and the big payment that may continue long after the car has deteriorated, they may not have responded to the salesman’s persuasive words.  They would not have made the purchase.  However, they saw one scene and it was a single picture, themselves in a new car.  This is what they wanted and it was what they accepted with joy.  The other scene; that is, the payment they would be making four years later on an old car, would not have been acceptable.  We need to make it our habit to see the end of our choices at the beginning.

This is the same way those on rocky soil accepted the message of the kingdom.  They only saw the blessings and rewards.  They did not count the cost of developing themselves as sons of God.  They did not consider how it might involve being persecuted for righteousness sake.  They did not consider how it requires tribulations to develop ourselves as sons of God.  They had accepted the opportunity to become a child of God with joy.  If they had counted the cost, they probably would never have become a Christian.  See Hebrews 12:3-13.  A person who has a temporary outlook does not look at the total scene; therefore, they may choose the lesser values of life.  They do not schedule the pain of success before the joy.  The solution to their problem would be to take more time and strive to see the end scene.  We know we have this power within ourselves because Jesus told us to do it.  See Luke 14:25-33.

Group Three

And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.  Matt. 13:7

These people heard the word of the kingdom and accepted it.  We are now considering a group of people who make up much of the religious world today.  They are still “church going” people.  They may have forgotten their former condition.

For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.  II Peter 1:9

The word of God speaks of spiritual things.  People who become concerned about goals and treasures in this world over and above the kingdom of God are setting themselves up for an attack from the devil.  The devil knows the word of God cannot produce fruit in the heart of a person who desires earthly riches.  Life’s worries, riches and pleasures choke the word.  Christians who were at one time fruitful can become unfruitful (Matt. 13:22).  They cease to be transformed to the nature of Jesus.  They are no longer salt and light in the world.  They can change but they must become interested in spiritual things rather than physical.  They will need to become more interested in eternity than time.  They will need to use their riches as tools rather than a source for security and pleasure.  See I Tim. 6:17-19.

If, by examining ourselves, we find we are number three soil, we must repent.  God gave us the great endowment of “self-examination.”  He also gave us the will to act.  Read II Cor. 13: 5-8.  We will need to use the Lord’s paradigm of reality; that is, number three soil Christians need to use the Lord’s “measuring instruments” in order to arrive at the true value of life (II Cor. 5:12).  They need a divine answer to the following questions:

What belongs to Christians and what belongs to God?  Luke 16:10-12.

What is the Lord’s definition of rich?  James 2:5.

What is the Lord’s description of a beautiful woman?  I Tim. 2:9, 20.

What is sin?  Rom. 14:23; James 4:17; I John 3:4.

What is the law of life?  John 1:3-5.

Some in group three may not be able to repent.  See Hebrews 6:4-6.    Even though they may hear they may not be able to repent.  The degradation of a Christian from number four soil to a lower number is a serious spiritual sickness.  It is difficult for them to upgrade themselves to group four again.  Read II Peter 2:20-22.   They can do it but they must repent.  There can be no change if things remain the same.  All Christians should “put on the full armor of God.”  However, number four soil people are the only ones who will have the faith to keep it on (Eph. 6:10-19).

Group Four

And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some  sixty, and some thirty.  Matt. 13:8

The seed of the kingdom is the word of God, but God does not want seed, He wants fruit.  For God to have fruit three things must be available:  good seed, a sower and good soil.  We believe the word of God is good seed.  Christians are the sowers.  We have considered three types of soil which are not good soil.  There was nothing wrong with the seed or the sower, the problem was with the hearts of the people.

The question we must now answer is, “What kind of hearts make good soil?”  First, all of the people who produced fruit for God chose to be good soil (John 7:17).   If God desires for all to be saved, then all can be good soil and be saved.  Read I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9.  God gave us His word as a seed so we can work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12).  The term “work out” does not contradict Eph. 2:8 when we consider James’ definition of faith in 2:14-26.  James spoke of a perfected faith.  Abraham’s faith became a part of his “self” after he demonstrated his faith.  His faith: “God had the power to do what He promised.”  Rom. 4:21.

Secondly, to be good soil, one must hear and understand the word.  We cannot have faith in something we cannot understand.  It is the way God created our learning processes.  We must understand how the thing being taught from God’s word will satisfy one or more of our inherent needs.  Only then will it be good news for us.  It is at this point we can have faith.  The definition of faith has hope in it (Heb. 11:1).  We hope the thing taught will do something for us; therefore, it must be understood.  Soil number four understood, soil number one did not.

We must be patient when affliction and persecution arise.  We keep our goal set on spiritual growth and eternal things because our hope for security and glory lies there.  When these conditions exist the seed of the kingdom will produce fruit for God in Christians.

And the one on whom seed was sown on the good ground, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty.   Matt. 13:23.

Where will we find the sowers?  There will be many sowers in group four.   We remember from our study of the first lesson in Part One how Jesus told the Jewish leadership the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel and given to a people who would produce fruit for God (Matt. 21:43).  Jesus is coming again to receive fruit producers and take us home to God.  Only number four soil people are now producing the fruit God wants.  It is the kingdom of God developing within us.  We are getting to know God by doing His will (John 17:3).  We are learning to think like He thinks.  We are learning to feel like He feels.  We are learning to walk as Jesus walked (I John 2:6).  We are being socialized (sanctified) into the kingdom of God in Christ; therefore, we have eternal life.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Who holds the secret to a seed’s ability to reproduce?
  2. Why is it important for an evangelist to understand the parables in our text?
  3. In the process of gaining more sons for God, what is God’s part and what is man’s part?
  4. List the four groups of people as categorized in the parable of the sower?
  5. Why must we believe a person has the choice of abiding in the group he or she desires?
  6. What is the problem of the people in group one?
  7. Why can group one be classified as “vessels of wrath?”
  8. What is the word that best describes the nature of the people in group two?
  9. Why did group two accept the kingdom with joy?
  10. What could group two do to correct their problem?
  11. How did group three get into the non-fruit bearing condition?
  12. What three things must exist to have good soil?

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