By Diane Caston
The parable of the sower is the first of the parables in Matthew. It is an introduction to the parables and it is very familiar. After an already long day of ministry, after the continual attacks by the religious leaders, Jesus tells this parable.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.
Jesus sometimes used a boat as a pulpit. It gave Him a way to speak, away from the pressing crowds with good acoustics and a nice backdrop.
“When the doors of the synagogue were closed against him, he took to the temple of the open air, and taught men in the village streets, and on the roads, and by the lake-side, and in their own homes.” (Barclay)
Jesus ministered wherever and whenever He could.
“The teacher sat, and the people stood: we should have less sleeping in congregations if this arrangement still prevailed.” (Spurgeon)
Parables, Diane gave us an explanation of these last week. In a parable there is a double advantage. They are easier to remember, because we are likely to remember stories, but they also have a moral to the story which gives the people something to ponder. What was the true meaning?
Vs.3-9 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered, because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Jesus talked to them according to the agricultural customs of His day. They were all familiar with farming. This is the story the way that He told it.
As the sower sowed the seed it fell on four different types of soil.
1. The Wayside – the road, the path where people walked, where nothing could grow, because the ground was too hard. No seed took root there.
2. The Stony Places – where the soil was thin, lying on a rocky base. On this ground seed sprang up quickly because of the warmth of the soil, but seed couldn’t put down roots because of the rocks below.
3. The Thorns – where the seed would be choked out, no sunlight, no room to grow
4. Good ground – the soil that is fertile. A good productive crop grows in the good ground.
He reminds them this story is for him who has ears to ear, like we heard so many times in the letters to the churches. This is not really a call to listen, but a call for the spiritually sensitive to take note. In the next few verses Jesus explains why he used this allegorical story to speak to the people.
Vs.10-16 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Is.6:9-10)
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
The disciples come to Jesus after this story is told, and one of them, probably Peter asks, Jesus why He was speaking in parables. Apparently, it wasn’t that easy to figure out what Jesus was saying. Why wouldn’t He speak in a message that all could understand? And He tells them, because the secrets, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven were given to them. They were the ones who wanted to hear, to know. So, to clue them in on what He meant by this story, Jesus explained the parable to them.
The same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay; and so, the very same gospel message that humbles the honest heart and leads to repentance may also harden the heart of the dishonest listener and confirm that one in their path of disobedience.
(Barclay) “The parable conceals truth from those who are either too lazy to think or too blinded by prejudice to see . It puts the responsibility fairly and squarely on the individual. It reveals truth to him who desires truth; it conceals truth from him who does not wish to see the truth.”
The idea is that to those who are open and sensitive to spiritual truth more will be given through the parables. Yet to those who are not open – who do not have, these ones will end up in an even worse condition.
By speaking in parables Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10. The heart of this people had grown fat, the proper meaning of dull or calloused. They were too lazy to even figure out the truth.
They were lost in their pride and self-righteousness. But the disciples were blessed, they had ears to hear. So those who understand the parables are truly blessed, they benefit from the spiritual truth illustrated, and show their responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus also reveals that what they are seeing and hearing is what the prophets and righteous people and even the angels had longed to see.
Eph. 3:9-12 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
Rom. 16:25-27 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
There are some parabolic constants revealed in this story. Things that help with deciphering what the stories of the parables mean. We see:
The Seed – is the word of God
The Soil – ground the seed is sown in – our hearts
The Birds – throughout the parables represent evil
The Sower – is God
The Field – is the world
These word pictures to help explain the analogy that the Lord used.
The Lord also used examples they all knew. They were an agrarian society. Crops and livestock and fishing were the occupations of many of the people. They knew about shallow ground, rocky ground, thorns and thistles on edges of field. They could relate to these examples. Jesus then gives his disciples the explanation.
Mt 13:18-19 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The Wayside - Well-worn path – well trodden – the seed never even penetrated this ground. The Word is never really heard with understanding. The birds, a picture of Satan, snatched it right off the ground. One of Satan’s chief works is to keep men in darkness regarding their understanding of the word of God.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
Hardened people go where the world goes, walking the way the world walks, but that broad path leads to an ever-hardening heart. Satan is the one who oversees this path, all the entertainment of this world – movies, videos, music. People are handed on a menu of choices. Come on in; be open minded.
However, there are only two Kingdoms – The Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. Satan is the one in charge of current fashions, music, influence, thinking, and education, whatever is on the menu of the day. Obviously, Christians set standards that are against this influence, but the way of the world is Satan’s way.
Vs.20-21 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
The Stony Places - Shallow heart – This hearer receives the word with joy, and enthusiastically believes for a while, then tribulation comes! The meaning here of tribulation is a pressing, pressing together, or pressure. They are not willing to endure and turn away when any pressure or persecution comes because of the Word.
“Tribulation is a general term for suffering which comes from outside; persecution is deliberately inflicted, and usually implies a religious motive. Falls away is literally ‘is tripped up’; it is not a gradual loss of interest, but a collapse under pressure.” (France)
22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
The Thorns - Crowded heart – This is the heart that most of us need to guard against. Most of us are not hardened or shallow, unless we’re bitter against someone who has done us wrong or against the Lord for things that have happened to us. The crowded heart is the busy heart, too many things vying for our time and attention. We must guard the good soil.
Anxious, angry, busy, upset - How quickly the work the Holy Spirit is doing gets crowded out. I.e. Social media, email, Facebook, Instagram.
NLDM “Listen, some of your families are too busy. Now, I’m not telling you how much is too much, but if you are too busy to seek the Lord and respond to Him, then you are too busy. You need to get rid of some of the clutter, some of the distractions, some of the things, whatever they are, that keep you from bearing fruit spiritually—things that are choking out the Word of God in your heart.”
Deceitfulness of riches –Riches lie to us, they cheat us, they give a false impression. There is nothing against riches themselves. Timothy tells us it is the love of money that is the problem. Riches can be a great tool. They can also be a huge snare.
How many of you have ever played the lottery or joined a sweepstake with the hope of winning a LOT of money? And what did you plan to do with that money? Feed the poor? Clothe the naked? Or do you think more about how you could spend it on yourselves? Pay your bills, buy a nicer house, a better car? Money brings more things to distract us.
James Dobson used to say that the more money you have the more things you buy that all must be maintained and cared for, and then where is your time for the Lord?
We just heard Pastor Steve talk a couple of weeks ago talk about Jesus Himself saying it would be harder for a rich man to make it to heaven, than for a camel to go through the eye of needle! That is a sobering thought! And just look at some of the rich peoples’ lives, the singers, the movie stars, the business people, the lottery winners. They are some of the most miserable people on earth.
Now we think we wouldn’t have that problem, right? Give us more money Lord, we’ll use it right! However, we are all rich people who live here in the US. Compared to most of the people around the world we are rich! Don’t let wealth distract you, Jesus is the only one who satisfies.
Was this hearer fruitful at one time? The verse implies that. Was he like the believers we studied about in Revelation in the Laodicean church, lukewarm? The cares of this age don’t compare to the blessings of the one to come. We don’t want to be distracted, to be pulled in two different directions
23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Good ground : As seed falling on good ground brings a good crop of grain, so some respond rightly to the word and bear fruit.
This soil represents those who receive the word, and it bears fruit in their soil – in differing proportions ( some hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty), though each has a generous harvest.
“It yielded a hundredfold.” That’s a huge, abundant harvest, and that’s what God wants for your life. He wants your life to bear fruit. He’s glorified when your life brings forth much fruit. And how does that happen? It happens when you’re not just a hearer of the Word, but a doer.
Therefore, hear the parable of the sower : We benefit from seeing bits of ourselves in all four soils.
- Like the wayside, sometimes we allow the Word no room at all in our lives. We don’t like what it says, so we ignore it.
- Like the stony places, we sometimes have flashes of enthusiasm in receiving the Word that quickly burn out.
- Like the soil among thorns, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches are constantly threatening to choke out God’s Word and our fruitfulness.
- Like the good ground, the Word bears fruit in our lives.
We notice that the difference in each category is with the soil itself. The same seed was cast by the same sower. You could not blame the differences in results on the sower or on the seed, but only on the soil.
This parable of the sower drives us to ask ourselves, “What kind of soil am I? How can I prepare my heart and mind to be the right kind of soil?” This parable invites action so that we would receive the Word of God to full benefit.
James 1:21-22 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Are you looking to the word for what to do, or just reading? Many people hear the word but don’t live in it. But that’s what God wants us to do.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss
“Every time you don’t do something about what you’ve heard, do you know what you’re doing? You’re wearing a path across your heart where seed will not penetrate as easily the next time. You’re getting a hardened heart. The condition of your heart at any given point is revealed by how you respond to the word of God. Don’t just listen with your physical ears. Make sure you’re listening with the ears of your heart. The seed was the same, the sower was the same, but what was different in each case was the soil. That’s what made the difference in the outcome . “Exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” Heb 13:3 I know so much more, sometimes, than I’m actually living. Or I feel when I hear it again, “I’ve heard that before. I know that.” Sometimes I find myself reading the Scripture with these glazed-over eyes: “I’ve been there; I’ve done that; I know that.” It doesn’t penetrate my heart. That’s dangerous. That’s why we need to meditate on the Scripture and make sure that every time we’re being exposed to it, we’re responding in worship, prayer, praise, and obedience. Whatever the Scripture calls for, do it (I would add, ask the Lord for the power to do it) before you move on to the next passage.”
Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.
1 Peter 1:22-25
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a
sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure
heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but
of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. The seed sown in you.
We must be in the Word, reading with ears to hear, obeying what we hear the Lord say, looking for that abundant harvest that He promises!