The parable of the sower
Jesus comes and sits by the side of the sea, he is surrounded by “great multitudes.” So he gets into a ship and, presumably, moves a little away from the shore, whilst the crowds assemble on the shore to hear his teaching.
He begins to tell them a story; now I think there is a bit of snobbery amongst some Christians regarding the use of parables and illustrations. I am aware that illustrations and parables can be misunderstood, but we’ll come to that presently, but you’ll see that Jesus has no problem in teaching deep, soteriological and theological truths by illustration. My only cautions would be:
- Only use an illustration to expound Scripture; don’t use an illustration to expound a notion that you have no Biblical support for.
- Don’t use an illustration if there is a perfectly adequate parable in the Bible that already explains your point.
Sometimes it’s hard for preachers to stick to these rules and no doubt I have been carried away in the past! But I think they are helpful.
The first parable, (a parable is a story with a deeper meaning) begins, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow;” The picture is of a man walking across his field and flinging seed in various directions. Either sowing with both hands, or sowing with one hand, but in two different directions. Now just this simple illustration teaches us some profound Scriptural truths. Does the man want every seed to produce new life? Yes. Does every seed produce that life? No. Does God want “all men to be saved and come unto a knowledge of the truth?” Since I just quoted 1 timothy 2:4, I guess the answer is yes! Are all men saved? No, because the seed falls into different soils, representing different conditions of heart. The seed is not deficient, but the heart is. In fact the Bible says that the heart is “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9) Therefore God promises “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
I believe that God prepares your heart to receive His word, if you will let Him. The heart, in the Scriptures, is often synonymous with the mind. It’s not just the seat of the emotions. God prepares the heart to the extent in which a person will allow themselves to be drawn. The preparation of the heart, I believe, involves conviction of sin. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit would come “he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:” (John 16:8) However, whilst some respond to that reproving; that conviction, many do not. In fact, to use a Biblical phrase, they harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit. The result: We have a number of different types of heart.
- The hard heart.
- The shallow heart.
- The divided heart.
- The convicted heart.
The one with the hard heart is unique when compared to the others, in that his soil/heart is the only type where the seed does not remain, neither does it produce life. Why? Because the seed is snatched away by “the fowls,” the birds. (Read verse 19) “understandeth it not” means he does not consider it. So the seed does not remain, it does not even enter the soil/heart.
The one with the shallow heart receives the seed. The seed starts to produce life; Here is a big problem for those that believe in OSAS, particularly for Calvinists. C. Michael Patton says:
“According to the Calvinistic caste system, this person, whom Jesus admitted heard the word and then immediately received it with joy, could have only received the Word by having first been born again. But then, lo and behold, this same regenerated person had “no root in himself,” but believed only temporarily and later fell away (which Calvinists concede as an impossibility).”
My own thoughts are that this is a picture of one that had a very shallow conviction. In Luke 8 Jesus describes this as the seed falling on a rock; picture a rock with just a thin layer of soil, maybe ingrained in some of the cracks. This is a picture of the person’s heart. Here lies one of the problems with preaching a gospel that is only positive; as Pastor Shane Idleman put it “a mile wide, but only an inch deep!”If you only preach “God wants to give you a wonderful life…” A person may respond by believing on the Lord Jesus, but has he/she really counted the cost of being a disciple. The parable would indicate, no. Jesus says in Luke 8:13 “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” It is the plant with the deepest root, that can stand the greatest heat; “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3)
The one with the divided heart, again receives the seed/word and there is life. The problem this time, is that other things are growing up alongside that life. The Lord Jesus describes them as thorns.
They symbolize (verse 22) “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches.”
Maybe you wonder sometimes why I preach a lot about counting the cost, about understanding that you will meet with persecution; about separating oneself from the world and making that dividing line really firm and clear? It is because failure to grasp these important truths, may result in a person either having a weak and inconsistent walk with the Lord; or worse, may result in them falling away from the Lord; or even worse, may result in them losing their salvation all together. That is why there is an edge to the preaching at this church, why we are not looking for approval in what we teach and preach, only approval from God. People’s souls are fortified, or compromised by their understanding of these truths and we are not playing at it.
We are looking for commitment, a teachable heart and those who will Study to shew themselves “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
The last type of heart is the convicted heart, or convicted mind; the good soil. The individual has considered their own life, actions, sins and so on. The conviction is not just a conviction for sins; but also a conviction that there is a better way to live, maybe even a conviction that God will bring that better way. Perhaps the conviction has brought not just a desire for forgiveness, but a hunger to know God. Whatever the details, it is a heart, or soil that is perfectly suited to the seed. Both the message that is delivered and the work of the Holy Spirit are working in perfect unity (hence the importance of bringing a Biblical gospel) and the stones and the weeds are purged from the person’s mind, or heart and they receive the word and it bears fruit.
C.H. Spurgeon said, “The ground was good; not that it was good by nature, but it had been made good by grace. God had ploughed it; he had stirred it up with the plough of conviction, and there it lay in ridge and furrow as it should be.”
The result, as we read in Matthew 13:23, is a fruitful Christian life.
The parable of the wheat and tares
We have a number of shorter parables about the kingdom in this chapter as well. One such is the Parable of the wheat and the Tares. Wheat and tares look alike! In this parable we see that a field may produce both wheat and tares and there is some difficulty in identifying the one from the other. Here, unlike the parable of the sower, we have good seed and bad seed. The good seed produces the wheat, the bad seed the tares. In the parable, a servant asks the householder (who is clearly Jesus) “Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares?” (verse 27) Jesus replies, “an enemy hath done this.” Who is the enemy? The devil. Who are the bad seeds? His servants; “Children of wrath,” as Ephesians puts it; children of disobedience; or as Jesus describes them in verse 38 “the tares are the children of the wicked one;” the problem is, on the outside, they look all nice and religious; so did the Pharisees! Frankly, we are talking “church-goers!” The tares look just like the wheat! Every church and I don’t care how good their theology is, or how thorough their discipleship is, will suffer with tares. When Jesus plants his good seed; the devil is standing right next to him sowing his seed. What will happen to them? Jesus tells us in verse 41-42 (Read) Can we tell the difference at all? Well, one of the most obvious signs is described in 2 Timothy 3:5 They have ”a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…” What advice does Paul give to Timothy, regarding such individuals? “from such turn away.” They are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” So stay away from them, don’t waste a whole lot of time with them, they have been put there by the devil.
The parable of the mustard seed
We have the parable of the Mustard tree. The mustard seed being so small and seemingly insignificant, yet it grows into a mighty tree. The gospel began so small, just in Galilee and the surrounding area, yet now it fills the globe! In the same way the life of Christ may begin in our hearts and we may have much ignorance, but if we let Him, the life of Christ will fill the soul.
The parable of the leaven
Again, Jesus uses another parable on the same theme. That just as leaven is so small, yet it can fill the whole loaf; so the gospel will affect the whole world; and grace the believer’s soul.
The parable of the hidden treasure
(Read verse 44)
The parable of the pearl of great price
(Read verse 45-46) Here we have a sort of couplet of shorter parables. Again, Jesus clarifying the point of counting the cost and weighing in the balance what one may lose and what one may gain. Jesus says in Matthew 16:26 “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Questions that are rhetorical in nature!
The parable of the dragnet
We finish these parables with the parable of the dragnet. A dragnet is used by fishing vessels and literally just drags through the ocean, catching all kinds of fish and other objects. Wesley says, “Just so the gospel, wherever it is preached, gathers at first both good and bad, who are for a season full of approbation (approval, praise), and warm with good desires. But Christian discipline, and strong, close exhortation, begin the separation in this world which shall be accomplished by the angels of God in the world to come.”
What was Jesus two-fold purpose in teaching in parables? (10-17,
If I ask why Jesus spoke in parables, it’s amazing; it doesn’t matter how many times I read these verses out, or preach on them, it is almost inevitable someone will say, “so that everybody could understand what he was saying more easily?” NO! The reason Jesus speaks in parables is:
- To keep truths of the kingdom hidden from those not seeking
Truth and to illustrate truths of the kingdom to those with ears and hearts
willing to listen. Read verse 15-16.
Their unbelief 54-58
Jesus does all these mighty works, he heals the sick, casts out devils; they are amazed at his wisdom and doctrine…but…
They can’t get past the fact of, “hang on, is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?...we know his family, he’s just one of us isn’t he? You will face the same problem when you witness to your family, friends, work colleagues.
That is why Jesus says, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.” (Read verse 58)
Copyright © Paul Jennings.