The Parable of the Sower

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3Then He told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9He who has ears, let him hear."

10The disciples came to Him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

11He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13This is why I speak to them in parables:

"‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’

14"In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

"‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15For 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.’

16"But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

18"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

(This study is continued from the previous issue. In that issue we dealt with the reasons Jesus was speaking in parables, i.e., verses 10-17. In this issue, we will look at the parable of the sower, and its interpretation)

Chapter 13 contains seven parables about the kingdom of heaven. As we will see, all of these parables contain a common theme. They all speak of the division of men into two sorts of people: those who belong to the kingdom of heaven, and those who do not. The parables point out that these two sorts of people dwell together, intermixed, until the end of this age, when a separation of the two sorts of people will take place.

The first parable speaks of how the division comes about: the differing responses to the Gospel message. Jesus tells the parable: "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. He who has ears, let him hear" (vss. 3-9).

In the previous issue, we talked about the difficulty of coming up with a proper interpretation for the parables of Jesus. For this parable, we are blessed to have an authoritative interpretation from Jesus Himself, which makes my task of discussing this parable very easy: "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 his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (vss. 18-23).

The main point of this parable is that the preaching of the Gospel message can "produce different results in different hearers" [Morris, 335]. Interestingly, the differing results in this parable have nothing to do with the skill of the preacher. "Even if preaching were in itself perfect, it would have a very different effect upon different classes of hearers" [Broadus, 294]. In fact, in this parable, not much at all is said about the preacher. Only this: "A farmer went out to sow his seed" (vs. 3). We know only that this preacher was diligent in his work, for he sowed his seed everywhere, far and wide, in good and bad soil, hoping to produce results.

The first result Jesus speaks of is represented by the seed falling on the path: "As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up" (vs. 4). Of this seed, Jesus says: "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path" (vs. 19). Notice that the birds represent the evil one, the devil. The birds are given the opportunity to snatch up the seed because it fell on soil (in this case, a hardened path) that was not amenable for the seed to take any root, let alone flourish.

Note also that the "evil one" here is not part of the parable, but part of the interpretation. In other words, the devil is a real being, and Jesus treats him as such. In this case, the devil actively, and successfully, "snatches away" the seed of the Gospel sown in the unbeliever’s heart.

The second result of the preaching is represented by the seed falling on rocky places: "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" (vss. 5-6). Of this seed, Jesus says: "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once received it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away" (vss. 20-21). It seems that this hearer was willing to take the good that comes with the Gospel, but not willing to pay the price that comes with it. Persecution, the testing of faith, will come to all believers. So, believers must be ready and willing to endure the trials and persecution that come from their faith. As Jesus told us: "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:38).

Note here that the joy (and whatever amount of faith that accompanied it) initially produced by the hearing of the Gospel was worthless. Untested faith is worthless faith. Tested faith is proven faith.

The third result of the preaching is represented by the seed that fell among the thorns: "Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants" (vs. 7). Of this seed, Jesus says: "The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" (vs. 22). The faith of this hearer is choked out by the things of this world. "We may really like the Gospel, and wish to obey it, and yet insensibly give it no chance of bearing fruit, by allowing other things to fill a place in our affections, until they occupy our whole hearts. Alas, there are many such hearers! They know the truth well: they hope one day to be decided Christians; but they never come to the point of giving up all of Christ’s sake" [Ryle, 143]. Note that it is the "deceitfulness" of riches that is the barrier to faith. Riches deceive men because they promise all happiness and all contentment. Yet riches never deliver on this promise. In fact, the woes and miseries of the rich are well-documented (perhaps, too well) in the newspapers and tabloids every day. We must all see through the deceitfulness of riches, so that we may turn to Him who truly can give us happiness and contentment.

The fourth result of the preaching is represented by the seed that fell on good soil: "Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (vs. 8). Of this seed, Jesus says: "But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (vs. 23). The preaching, thankfully, does yield a good result in some. However, "even of those who truly understand and receive the word, some exhibit better results than others…. That which yields a less abundant harvest is still called good ground, seeing that it does produce a real crop…. Yet we should all desire and strive to be not merely of those who bring forth, but of those who bring forth a hundredfold" [Broadus, 293].

The truth of the message of this parable is strikingly demonstrated over and over, wherever the word of God is preached. Some will be deeply moved and in tears at hearing the glorious Gospel; others, hearing the same words, will scoff. These reactions, as the parable points out, have little to do with the preacher himself. The sower, the preacher of God’s Word, can "scatter the seed committed to his charge, but he cannot command it to grow: he may offer the word of truth to a people, but he cannot make them receive it and bear fruit" [Ryle, 142]. In fact, as in the parable, the reaction has much more to do with the "character and preparation of the soil" [Broadus, 290], than with the skill of the preacher.

We praise You Father that, by Your Spirit, the seed of the Gospel that was planted in our hearts has produced fruit, that we have responded to the Gospel message and have come to a relationship with You. Continue to work in our lives, that we ourselves may sow seed that yields a bountiful crop. Help us to be faithful servants, and may You be glorified in our lives. In the name of Jesus we pray these things, Amen.

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