Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away...
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
Matthew 13:5–6, 20–21
Whom have you respected most in your life? Likely it’s the kind of person who’s done two things for you. On one hand, they’ve provided you with great hope. On the other, they’ve spoken with great candor about the way things are. Those who do the former without the latter set you up for disappointment. Those who do the latter without the former set you up for cynicism.
The Lord Jesus does both for us. He awakens us to the prospect of being fruitful in Him—of His manifesting something enduringly and undeniably good in us and through us as a result of following His Word. That’s why He intimates His identity as the sower. His intention is to bring forth something abundant in us because what He places in us has inherent potential for doing just that. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
But He also alerts us to what impedes that fruitfulness. He speaks of a kind of receptivity to His Word that is doomed from the beginning. Just as a seed sown in a shallow layer of soil on a bed of rock soon withers in the very sun meant to nourish it, so the heart without rootedness in the whole counsel of God will soon find His enlivening promises implausible when struggle inevitably comes. If I assume His Word affords a trouble-free life, my trust in that Word fails when life becomes anything but trouble-free. Jesus is not out to sell us a bill of goods. Just as there is to be an expectation of fruitfulness, so there must be an expectation of struggle. In fact it’s in the struggle itself that the Lord does His best work (James 1:2). To be ignorant of or resistant to the truth of struggle is to be in thin soil. Or as Jesus puts it, to have no root in oneself (v. 21).
Jesus says that to hold to His Word is to expose yourself to tribulation or persecution of some sort precisely because of that obedience. There’s a cost to speaking and demonstrating unqualified allegiance to the Lord. Being dressed down, overlooked, ridiculed, or worse—Jesus offers no illusions about what often comes with obedience. “In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our aim in life is not to have our obedience cost us, but, in seeking to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9), to be open to the cost of obedience.
What has been your response if obedience has cost you? A measure of sorrow followed by contentment—or a chronic, perhaps even subconscious, bitterness? Jesus’ candor gently reminds us of what is to be expected in following Him.
With his candor comes encouragement too. He did not tell this parable to his disciples to define categories of people, but to describe situations in which fruitfulness might be squelched—in them and in us. Painting such vivid pictures of fruitlessness paved in their minds the way toward fruitfulness. The cautionary tales served to highlight the high road.
Have you feared the cost of obedience? The reward of His pleasure will make the cost seem like a pittance. Have you become discouraged at your response to the cost? The grace of His cross screams that fruitfulness may indeed follow rootlessness. May our respect for Him grow even more as these truths become more real to us.