Matthew 13:1–23. The Parable of the Sower.
Key Notes: Four degrees of "getting it"--absorption of Jesus' words. Parables illuminate and confuse.
In Matthew 13, Jesus gives us a set of eight parables describing the Kingdom of Heaven. The first parable of the sower and the seed is well-known, perhaps the most famous of all the parables. It is provocative because it describes psychological responses to the Gospel.
13:1–2 That same day Jesus had dismissed His family (Matt.12:49). He went out of the house and stood by the Lake. The crowd was so large that He sat in a boat off-shore and talked to the crowd standing on the beach. A calm lake amplifies the voice.
13:3–9 "Behold a sower went forth to sow." (KJV). He was broadcasting seed on the crowd before Him.
*Some fell on the walk-way and did not penetrate the hard ground. The birds ate it.
*Some fell on thin soil. Canaan bed-rock is limestone, often eroded with only a thin coat of soil over it. In the hot, dry season, plants that sprout on thin soil over rock will not survive.
*Seed that falls in thorns are not likely to be cultivated because the thorns dissuade the farmer. “A characteristic feature of the Mediterranean regions is the brilliantly colored blue and purple thistles which the ancient farmers knew well and hated.” (The Geography of the Bible . D. Baly; Harpers,’57; p. 86–7)
*Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
”…brown soils are found over wide areas of very level land and form excellent cereal country in the richer parts.” (Baly, p.85.)
Jesus began His discourse with the words “Behold a sower….” The last word was “hear”. It is very important.
13:10–17 “Why do you speak to them in parables?" That is critical to our understanding of the passage. Jesus’ answer is said in three ways.
The secrets of the Kingdom are given to the disciples but not to the crowd.
Those who have will get more; those who have little will lose it.
The prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled.
This prophecy was given to Isaiah (6:9–10) when he saw the Lord in the temple. It was a moment of high exaltation for the prophet, but he was at once convicted of his own sinfulness. Isaiah was purified and commissioned. Then he was given the doleful task of speaking to people with hard hearts and dull minds who were unwilling and then unable to respond to God’s call. King Uzziah had just died and the nation was spiritually cold. Ahaz would preside over more serious spiritual decay. Jesus said that the same situation was happening again. Incidentally, the prophecy of Isa. 6:9,10 is the most quoted of OT references. (Jn.12:40; Acts 28:26–27; Rom.11:8; IICor.3:14; Matt.13:14). Israel didn’t “get it” in Isaiah’s time, nor in NT times. Now they were being hardened in their unbelief.
The disciples were blessed because they did see and did hear.
13:18–23 In fact, the disciples heard but did not see quite enough. They had to have the parable interpreted to them. Jesus was happy to explain.
*The seed is the word of the Kingdom which Jesus is spreading.
*The soil along the path is the person (“anyone”) who does not understand the word, and Satan snatches it away. The word is repressed and forgotten.
*The rocky soil is the person who responds to the message with joy until trouble (a family member dies) or persecution (ridicule from an office-worker) comes. This person is one who endures for a while (Gr. “pros kairos”, for the time, temporary) but falls away (Gr. “skandalon”, trips up) as soon as trouble strikes.
*The weedy soil is the person who accepts the Word, but various responsibilities and preoccupation with riches and other stuff compete effectively and the Word does not bear fruit.
*The good soil is the person who understands, is free of obstructions and inhibitions, and produces abundantly.
That seems simple enough. But why did Jesus speak in parables? He said the crowd was taught in parables because they did not understand.
“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (13:13)
What did they not understand?
They had heard the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5–7) and were “astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who has authority, and not as their scribes.” (7:28–29)
They saw many (nine) examples, of people healed. (Matt.8–9). When the paralytic was healed and forgiven, they ” glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” (9:8)
They had the witness of twelve disciples sent into their cities to preach and heal. Matt.10
But the resistance developed and continued. Matt.11–12
John and his disciples were in doubt about Jesus’ identity. Matt.11:2–6
The cities where He had done his miracles did not repent. Matt.11:20–24
The Pharisees criticized His conduct on the Sabbath (Matt.12:2) and accused Him of demonic powers. Matt.9:34; 12:24
They asked to see another sign, a real sign. Matt.12:38
Even His family was in doubt. Matt.12:46; Jn.7:5
They doubted. They were skeptical. They were not impressed. They said “show us more”.
They did not have faith. Faith comes before understanding, as every student knows. Lacking faith, they also lacked understanding. They became unreceptive.
Parables are simple stories with spiritual lessons. They tell the truth by analogy. They may be hard to understand. The parable Jesus chose illustrates four levels of receptivity. Jesus’ audience lacked receptivity. So a parable about receptivity was told to people who were unreceptive using a medium which challenges receptivity (a parable).
They came. They heard. They saw. They did not respond. They did not get it.
They were given a parable. Parables are hard to get.
The first parable was about not getting it.
But the parables are for us to understand and use.
There are simple messages for us.
The word of God is broadcast (literally as well as figuratively). It is intercepted by some people who turn it off as soon as they hear anything like a religious word. They don’t want to think about it and they do not remember anything they heard. They are totally unreceptive. That is seed falling on the path.
Some people are delighted when they grasp the Gospel message and embrace it gladly until some obstacle comes up. An entertainer is surrounded by people who would sneer at any sign of their hero “getting religion”. Or a new believer discovers the conscience and a new awareness of sin, and looking back, thinks being a Christian is too hard. Many church members have temporary faith. They enjoy the liturgy. If they are pressured with questions about money and commitments of time and energy, they are likely to leave. One friend quit church because he had to wear itchy wool pants to church when he was young.
Even soil on otherwise good ground may be closed in by thorns. The distractions of modern life are powerful. We are not in an agricultural economy where time is measured in weeks and months. We live fast. Our opportunities are endless. People become addicted to the Internet-- a world of information. We can watch sports on TV 24 hours a day. Computer games, Sunday soccer, an endless round of activities and social engagements, a business that takes 14 hours a day. We are “going at the speed of business”. There is just no time for reflection. Fathers have 15 seconds / day with their kids. Who has time for God? The thorny entanglements are everywhere.
There is some good news. Some take the word of God seriously, apply it to their lives and grow. They are no less busy, no less stressed, than others. They have made God their priority. Blessed are their eyes and their ears. They seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. I know some of them. All else will be added to them.