Receptivity to God’s Word

Luke 8:4-21 addresses the quality of our attentiveness to God’s Word, in spiritual matters, Bible study, worship, devotional time…

This lesson is all about the heart of the listener. The nation of Israel and the disciples could not have a better teacher. The message or seed was perfect yet there were four different kinds of responses by the hearers. This was because there are four different kinds of hearts. This parable would prepare the disciples to except the sad reality that not everyone will be receptive to their teaching. We are to work hard at preparing good Bible studies and teaching, but receptivity to God’s Word or biblical teaching is an issue of the heart. Jesus is personally challenging his own disciples to build the character quality of attentiveness to God’s word. Our Lord’s half-brother James describes the goal of attentiveness, “but prove yourself to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

Historical Background: Matthew 13:1, 3 says, “that same day Jesus went out of the house and… told them many things in parables.” What was significant about “that day?” Earlier that day Jesus had healed the blind, mute demoniac and Jesus had been accused by the national leaders of Israel of performing that miracle by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons, (Matthew 12:22–24). This is no small accusation. Jesus describes it as the unpardonable sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 12:31–32).

This is unrepeatable today unless a person saw the incarnate Christ performing miracles by the Holy Spirit and attributing them to Satan. The Pharisees’ words that day condemned them, (Matthew 12:37), and judicially as a nation Jesus would hide truth from them in parables and offer them one more miraculous sign, the sign of Jonah the prophet, (his resurrection, Matthew 12:38–40).

Satan had not hindered Israel’s receptivity to God’s word because Jesus had swept the house of Israel clean of such influences so we could receive the Holy Spirit. But with their formal rejection of Jesus, he predicts that since the house is unoccupied, it wouldn’t remain empty, but would be filled with all the previous demons and that they would each find a seven other spirits more wicked than themselves to take up residence there, (Matthew 13:43–45).

The primary command we are talking about today are “let him hear” in Luke 8:8, and “take care how you listen” in Luke 8:18.

Other Times You Find this Command in the Gospels:

  • Matthew 11:15 let him hear, Matthew 15:10 hear and understand, Matthew 13:9 let him hear, Matthew 13:18 hear, Matthew 13:43 let him hear, Matthew 21:33 listen.
  • Mark 4:3 listen to this, Mark 4:9 let him hear, Mark 4:23 let him hear, Mark 4:24 take care what you listen to, Mark 7:16 let him hear.
  • Luke 8:8 let him hear, Luke 8:18 take care how you listen, Luke 18:6 hear.

The Gospels describe how large crowds came to hear Jesus, (Luke 5:15, 6:8.) People were astonished at what they heard, (Matthew 19:25, 22:33, Mark 11:18). They would come to hear him teach in the synagogue, (Mark 6:2, 12:37, Luke 21:38), and by the seashore, (Luke 5:1). Lazarus’ sister Mary made it a priority to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him when he stayed with them, (Luke 10:39). Table fellowship with irreligious people was one of Jesus favorite places to dialogue with lost people, (Luke 15:1). Men from the city of Sychar trusted in Jesus as Savior after listening to him, (John 4:42), but everyone wasn’t as receptive. On other occasions people walked away, (John 6:60), others were offended, (Matthew 15:12), others were grieved, (Matthew 19:22), they were angered (Luke 4:28) and saddened (Luke 18:23).

1. To whom was Jesus speaking? (Luke 8:4, 9, Matthew 13:2, 10, Mark 4:1). All these verses indicate that it was a great multitude, a very great multitude, the disciples, and his followers along with the twelve.

2. Where did Jesus teach this parable? (Mark 4:1, Matthew 13:1–2). These verses indicate that he began to teach again by the sea, a very large crowd had gathered so he got into the boat in the sea and sat down, and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.

3. What is a parable? (Luke 8:4, Mark 4:2, Matthew 13:13). John MacArthur writes, “the parable was a common form of Jewish teaching, and the term is found some 45 times in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. The term is a compound word made up from the Greek verb that means, “to throw, lay, or place,” and the prefix meaning “alongside of.” So the idea is that of placing or laying something alongside of something else for the purpose of comparison. A spiritual truth would be expressed by laying it alongside a physical example that could easily be understood. A common, observable object or practice was used to illustrate a subjective truth or principal. The known elucidated the unknown.

4. What reasons does Jesus give for teaching in parables? (Luke 8:9–10, Matthew 13:1, 10-17, Mark 4:10–12). Jesus at this point in time began to teach in parables to hide truth rather than to make it more easily understood. Only those with tender hearts and eyes of faith would receive an explanation and understand its meaning. Here Jesus clearly affirms that the ability to comprehend spiritual truth is a gracious gift of God, sovereignly bestowed on the elect, (Matthew 13:11).

Those with hard hearts are passed over. They reap the natural consequences of their own unbelief and rebellion, spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:13). Matthew seems to suggest that the words, “because while seeing they do not see,” that their own unbelief is the cause of their spiritual blindness. Luke 8:10 emphasizes God’s initiative in obscuring the truth from these unbelievers, “but to the rest is given in parables, in order that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand, (see Isaiah 6:9). Both are true, yet we are not to think that God blinds them because he somehow delights in their destruction, (Ezekiel 33:11, 23:37). This judicial blinding may be viewed as an act of mercy, lest their condemnation be increased. Matthew 13:14–15 is quoted from Isaiah 6:9–10.

When the Jewish nation was guilty of unbelief, it was to our benefit because it brought in the Gentiles, (Matthew 13:11). (See also Acts 28:26, Isaiah 6, Romans 11).

5. What is the mystery of the kingdom of God? (Luke 8:10, Matthew 13:11, 24–50). The word “mystery” does not refer to stories like those found in modern mystery novels, whose complex plot and unexpected situations pique the curiosity of the reader.

In Scripture, the “mystery” refers to the revelation of something previously hidden and unknown. The New Testament mysteries were revelations and explanations of divine truth that were not revealed to saints under the Old Covenant.

The particular mysteries about which Jesus teaches here have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52). Parallel passages are in Mark 4:11, 30 and Luke 8:10, 13:18, or seem to be the same as the Kingdom of God, Matthew 19:23–24. One title emphasizes the king, God, and the other emphasizes the sphere of his reign, heaven. Of this Kingdom of the Old Testament gives only limited, incomplete glimpse. Some interpret these messianic prophecies in the Old Testament as pointing to Christ’s second coming and the establishment of his earthly kingdom and his subsequent eternal kingdom. Only hints were given about his present earthly kingdom that began with his rejection and crucifixion and will continue until he returns. This is the kingdom that exist spiritually in the hearts of his people while the king is physically absent from the earth. He is present with believers, but is not visible or evident in the world, except as revealed through their lives and testimony.

When the Son of God became incarnate, he was God’s unique Mediator, the divine-human instrument of rule, who in his own right deserved to establish and reign over God’s earthly kingdom. When the Son of God was rejected, God continues to rule through those who belong to Christ, those who are now empowered within by his own indwelling Holy Spirit. From Pentecost through the present day and until Christ returns, Christians are God’s rulers on earth.

To be in his mediatorial kingdom, requires intentional identity with him. For these false citizens the identity is hypocritical and superficial. For the true citizens, the identity is genuine, being based on repentance, faith in Christ, and the new life that faith in him brings, (Mark 1:15).

6. Do you think the disciples understood the mystery? (Matthew 13:51–52). The disciples respond to Jesus by saying “yes,” but from what they said and did, we know their understanding was far from perfect.

7. What does the seed represent in this parable? (Luke 8:12). The seed is called “the word of the kingdom,” (Matthew 13:19,) the “word of God,” (Luke 8:11), and just “the word” every other time, (Matthew 13:21, 22, 23, Mark 4:14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, Luke 8:12, 13, 15). The “word of the kingdom” is the good news of entrance into the kingdom by grace through faith. The “word” is able to save those who believe, (Luke 8:12, Romans 1:16). The “word” is the gospel but the text certainly has a broader application to receptivity to teaching of any of God’s Word.

8. Who is the sower? Jesus does not here identify the sower, but in the parable of the wheat and the tares, he says, “the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man,” (Matthew 13:37).

9. What does the soil represent in this parable? (Luke 8:11, 15, Mark 4:14). The soil represents the “hearers” and the hearts of men, (Matthew 13:19, Luke 8:12).

10. What happens to the seed as it falls on each type of soil? (Luke 8:5–8, Matthew 13:4–8, Mark 4:4–8). The first three are not Christian, no fruit means no Christian.

  • Beside the road, (Luke 8:5). The seed was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air ate it up.
  • On rocky ground, (Luke 8:6). The seed grows, breaks the ground, but withers up because it had no moisture. Matthew 13:5 says they did not have much soil, and immediately they spraying up. Both Matthew 13:5 and Mark 4:5 describe this immediate growth was because they had no depth of soil. Luke 8:6 adds because it had no moisture.
  • Among thorns, (Luke 8:7). The seeds fell among the thorns and was choked out before it could bear fruit. Mark 4:7 adds that it yielded no crop.
  • Into the good soil, (Luke 8:8). This seed was able to produce a crop. When the seed falls on the good soil, Mark 4:7 says it grew up and increased, the yield of the crop and produced 30, 60, and one hundredfold. Matthew 13:8 says that there can be good soil but it is not all equally productive. Luke 8:8 contrasts the good soil with the three previous types of soil that were unproductive and says, “and produce a crop 100 times is great.”

11. What kind of hearts does each of the soil represent?

  • A hard and stubborn heart, (Luke 8:12): A person with a stubborn heart is totally unreceptive and does not understand it and “the bird” who is called “Satan” (Mark 4:15) or “the evil one” (Matthew 13:19) or “the devil” (Luke 8:12) comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown. Luke 8:12 gives us a reason for the urgency, “so that they may not believe and be saved.”
  • A selective heart, (Luke 8:13): A person with a selective part is quick to receive the Word but due to affliction or persecution because of the Word, he isn’t merely reluctant, he immediately falls away (Matthew 13:21). The words “fall away” (scandalizo) in Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17 refers to being “offended, caused to stumble, or trip.” The word translated “fall away” in Luke’s account is a different word that is equivalent to apostasy (Luke 8:13). In a way, these people are simply trying to avoid hell, which brings them some element of joy, but they have no desire to really follow Jesus, especially during hardship. They soon believe that Christianity doesn’t work and then they think any religion will do. So they don’t walk with Christ.
  • A preoccupied heart, (Luke 8:14): A person with a preoccupied heart is distracted by worry of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, (Matthew 13:22), the desires of other things, (Matthew 4:19), and the pleasures of this life, (Luke 8:14). In Matthew and Mark the word is “choked out” of a persons life, Luke identifies the person as being choked as well. A preoccupied heart leads to becoming unfruitful, (Mark 4:19). Luke says this kind of hearer will bring no fruit to maturity, (Luke 8:14). These people are just too busy.
  • A productive heart, (Luke 8:15): A person that possesses a productive heart will hear the Word, (Matthew 13:23), accept it, and he bears fruit, (Mark 4:20), some bearing a hundredfold, some 60, and some 30, (Matthew 13:23). Luke provides the explanation for the different levels of productiveness. Luke says the “seed in the good soil is the one who hears the word in an honest and and good heart, and hold it fast, and bears fruit with perseverance.” Luke suggests four steps to being good listeners that bring forth a crop that is a hundredfold.
    • An honest heart, which is the opposite of a false-hearted, dishonest person.
    • A good heart, “good” here has the meaning in the sense of good fertile soil, it denotes a soul inclined to goodness and accordingly eager to learn.
    • Hold it fast, meaning to cling to the truths that are learned. We are all prone to hear something and then forget it. Jesus is saying we need to hold onto it. This may require note taking during a message for Bible study, going over those notes during the week, maybe memorizing a key verse from the passage.
    • Bear fruit with perseverance, which means that bearing fruit takes time and perseverance. This requires life application, action steps, accountability, prayer, and a lot of patience. The degree to which we apply these four steps will determine our fruitfulness.

12. Why are some Christians more productive than others? (Luke 8:8, 15, Matthew 13:8, Mark 4:20). According to these passages there is a difference in the level of productivity. Luke’s gospel provides the insight into why all believers are described as good soil and yet they can produce a different size crop. Luke 8:15 says, “but the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”

13. How does Luke 8:16–17 fit into the context or the flow of the passage? Jesus is teaching that when we are not obeying what we are hearing, then in reality we really haven’t listened and are actually covering our light. Therefore, the light of the gospel should not be hidden by a life of disobedience. The light of the gospel is to be put on the stand where all men can see how we obey the teachings of Christ.

14. What does Christ command us to do in Luke 8:18 (and Luke 8:8)? The command is to “take care how you listen,” and “let him hear.” Christ commands his disciples to continually give themselves to careful attention to what they hear from God’s Word in order to truly understand it and obey it. Superficial hearing must be avoided, especially in spiritual matters.

15. What is the promise of Luke 8:18? This is a terrifying verse. Jesus cautions us not to convince ourselves that we know something if we are not doing it. There is a familiar sayings, “If we are not using it we will lose it.” No, actually the text says “It will be taken away from us.” On the other hand, if we are attentive when God speaks to us through his Word and are obeying it, we will be given more.

16. What is the characteristic of every person that is truly a member of the family of God? (Luke 8:19–21). Jesus is teaching that all true believers bear fruit, even if it’s only one small shriveled up grape. If there is no fruit, there is no root. The first three types of soils bore no fruit so they represent unregenerate people. The fruit of obedience is evidence that the life of God dwells in the professing believer, (Ephesians 2:2, 5:6, Colossians 3:6).

17. What is the central truth this parable is teaching? The seed being uniform really good, the difference of crop depends upon the character of the soil that receives the seed.

The bottom line is that we are a witness in the world whether we like it or not. There are actually five Gospels, and most people read-only you. What sort of testimony do you have? Are you able to live in such a way that brings honor and glory to God, and advance his Kingdom? Are you being a fruitful Christian? Our goal is not to be a knowledgeable sinner, but to actually do and obey the Word of God that we read or hear.

Additional Commentary:

A comparison of the parallel passages in Matthew 13:3–50 and Mark 4:2–34 highlights the different emphases that the three Synoptic evangelists are able to bring out of what is essentially the same material.

The Marcan collection begins with the Parable of the Sower and its interpretation (Mark 4:2–20), to which is added the Parable of the Lamp (Mark 4:21–25) and two kingdom parables (Mark 4:26–32). The main point of this collection seems to be the concern to show how the kingdom will grow. Despite obstacles, failures, and a small beginning, through the preaching of the Word, the kingdom will grow and succeed.

The Matthean collection also begins with the same Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3–23), omits Mark’s Parable of the Lamp (but see Matthew 5:15) and the Parable of the Seed that grows secretly (Mark 4:26–29), and adds five new kingdom parables to Mark’s Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30–32; Matthew 13:24–50). The focus of the Matthean collection is on the kingdom’s membership (note especially the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Matthew 13:24–30, and its explanation in Matthew 13:36–43).

Luke, however, has gathered together no collection, electing to retain the Sower and Lamp parables only (Luke 8:4–17), to which he appends Jesus’ warning to heed his words (Luke 8:18) and his pronouncement concerning his true family (Luke 8:19–21, taken from Mark 3:31–35). The Lucan theme has nothing to do with the kingdom. Instead, its focus is upon Jesus’ word and the urgent need to obey it. 1

The Three Soils: Birger Gerhardsson (“The Parable of the Sower and Its Interpretation,” NTS 14 [1967–68], pp. 165–93) has suggested that the three soils that failed to bring forth fruit are meant to correspond to the three requirements of loyalty found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5, the “Great Commandment” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29–30; Luke 10:27).

  1. The first fruitless soil represents the person who does not “love the Lord” with all his “heart” (see Matthew 13:19 where “heart” appears).
  2. The second fruitless soil represents the person who does not “love the Lord” will all his “soul” (endurance).
  3. The third fruitless soil represents the person who does not “love the Lord” with all his “might” (i.e., wealth).
  4. The fourth soil represents the person who does “love the Lord” with all his heart, soul, and might.

Gerhardsson further suggests that the Matthean order of the three temptations in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11 = Luke 4:1-12) corresponds as well. He believes that it is in the Gospel of Matthew that these parallels with Deuteronomy are the clearest. 2

Mysteries of the Kingdom:

When His disciples inquired concerning the meaning of this parable, the Lord Jesus explained that the mysteries of the kingdom of God would not be understood by everyone. Because the disciples were willing to trust and obey, they would be given the ability to understand the teachings of Christ. But Jesus purposely presented many truths in the form of parables so that those who had no real love for Him would not understand; so that seeing, they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. In one sense, they saw and heard. For instance, they knew that Jesus had talked about a sower and his seed. But they did not understand the deeper meaning of the illustration. They did not realize that their hearts were hard, impenitent, and thorny soil, and that they did not benefit from the word which they had heard. 3

His followers are given the secrets of the kingdom of God, by which is meant the plain, non-parabolic word of God, or gospel; others are given parables. The reason for this is so that “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand” (Luke 8:10, paraphrasing Isaiah 6:9). There have been numerous attempts to mitigate the severity of this statement, but it should be taken at face value. The secrets of the kingdom have been given to Jesus’ disciples (and here Luke means everyone who will, or has ever, become a follower of Jesus), but for the rest (i.e., those who will not heed the word of God) Jesus’ words remain enigmatic parables so that they will understand even less (Luke 8:18). This is in essence a statement of judgment and all the more reason to listen (Luke 8:8, 15, 21). 4

“It has been given to you:” Here Jesus clearly affirms that the ability to comprehend spiritual truth is a gracious gift of God, sovereignly bestowed on the elect (Matthew 13:11). The reprobate ones, on the other hand, are passed over. They reap the natural consequence of their own unbelief and rebellion—spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:13). 5

“The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” “Mysteries” are those truths which have been hidden from all ages in the past and revealed in the NT. This term does not refer to something puzzling, but to truth known to God before time, that He has kept secret until the appropriate time for Him to reveal it. (1 Corinthians 2:7; 4:1; Ephesians 3:4-5).

Regarding the mystery in Ephesians 3:4-5: Jew and Gentile brought together in one body in the Messiah. Paul not only wrote of the mystery that, in Christ, Jew and Gentile become one in God’s sight and in His kingdom and family, but also explained and clarified that truth. He realized that spiritual knowledge must precede practical application. What is not properly understood cannot properly be applied. 6

Many specific doctrines of the NT are identified as “mysteries” (e.g., Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 5:32; 6:19; Colossians 1:26, 27; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:9, 16). 5

The Responsibility of Those Who Hear:

Luke 8:16 – At first glance there does not seem to be much connection between this section and what has gone before. Actually, however, there is a continuous flow of thought. The Savior is still emphasizing the importance of what His disciples do with His teachings. He likens Himself to a man who has lit a lamp, not to be put under a vessel or under a bed, but on a lampstand for all to see the light. In teaching the disciples the principles of the kingdom of God, He was lighting a lamp. What should they do with it?

  1. First of all, they should not cover it with a vessel. In Matthew 5:15, Mark 4:21, and Luke 11:33 (KJV), the vessel is spoken of as a bushel. This of course is a unit of measure used in the world of commerce. So hiding the lamp under a bushel could speak of allowing one’s testimony to be obscured or crowded out in the rush of business life. It would be better to put the lamp on top of the bushel, that is, practice Christianity in the marketplace and use one’s business as a pulpit for propagating the gospel.
  2. Secondly, the disciple should not hide the lamp under a bed. The bed speaks of rest, comfort, sloth, and indulgence. How these can hinder the light from shining! The disciple should put the lamp on a stand. In other words, he should live and preach the truth so that all can see.

Luke 8:17 seems to suggest that if we allow the message to be confined because of business or laziness, our neglect and failure will be exposed. Hiding of the truth will be revealed, and keeping it a secret will come to light.

Luke 8:18 – Therefore we should be careful how we hear. If we are faithful in sharing the truth with others, then God will reveal new and deeper truths to us. If, on the other hand, we do not have this spirit of evangelistic zeal, God will deprive us of the truth we think we possess. What we don’t use, we lose. G. H. Lang comments: “The disciples listened with a mind eager to understand and ready to believe and obey: the rest heard with either listlessness, or curiosity, or resolute opposition. To the former more knowledge would be granted; the latter would be deprived of what knowledge they seemed to have.” 7

1 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 125). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
2 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 128). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1397). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
4 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (pp. 126–127). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
5 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1416). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
6 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1806). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
7 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1397–1398). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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