The Parable of the Sower
Today we come to the first of seven parables that Jesus told His disciples, which is recorded for us in the 13th chapter of Matthew. The parable is given to us in verses 1-9 and the interpretation of the parable in verses 18-23, so if you would like to read along with me as I read, please do so.
Matthew 13:1-9 (Jesus begins speaking in verse 3.)
1The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
2And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
3And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Matthew 13:18-23 (Jesus speaking)
18Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
A book, which was written by John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, has influenced Christianity. Maybe people don’t read the book now, but in times past, it was read almost as much as the Scriptures because at one time in the Christian schools it was required reading in high schools and in colleges. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress to illustrate the Christian life as he saw it, to show how difficult it is at times for Christian people, as we make our Christian journey from this earth to Heaven.
God’s Word is powerful and John Bunyan realized that, for it was in hearing this parable that we are studying today that this man came to know Christ as his personal Savior.
Before his conversion, John Bunyan was referred to as a most godless man, a blasphemous man, one of the most wicked that ever lived. No one seemed to have any hope for him to be saved, but one day he heard the parable about the sower that went forth to sow.
These words seized upon his heart and he said to himself, “Even the devil knows that if a man believes the Word he’ll be saved.” He believed it and he was saved; he became the author of Pilgrim’s Progress and had a tremendous testimony for God in his age, and it continues to this day.
The Parable of the Sower was told by Jesus on a special day of His life and ministry. When the crowds were gathering to hear Him in the earlier verses that we read, we learn that in order for Jesus to deal with the masses of people, he got into a boat and He pushed out from the shore, while the people stood on the banks of the shore of the lake and stood to listen as He sat in the boat teaching them. He began to tell them some of the stories recorded in the 13th chapter of Matthew.
He was telling these stories trying to help them understand what life was going to be like on this earth, after He had gone back to Heaven…what will transpire during the formation of the Kingdom while the King is up there and we are down here. The first story that Jesus told is one that is before us today.
While I studied these parables, I was thinking maybe it happened like this: Jesus, looking up, maybe happening to see a sower of grain scattering his seed while the birds were flying around behind the sower.
There, while teaching from the boat, Jesus was sowing the seeds, the Word of God, and His disciples were to follow His example, sowing the Word of God, after He was no longer on earth. Jesus took the “Parable of the Sower” and He applied it to the situation which He faced with His own disciples.
Now if you have read this carefully, as we read together, you will have noticed that there are three sections to this parable, three things of importance. First of all, there is the sower, then the seed and then the various types of soil. Notice that the soils are the main focus of this parable.
The sower, we are told, is the Lord Himself. In order to understand this parable, you have to understand a sower, during the lifetime of Jesus on earth. The people did not plant their crops as we do today.
What they did, was to take a bag of seed and throw it over their shoulders and they would walk out into the area that was to be sown and the farmer would take handfuls of the seed from the bag and throw it. Back then, it was called “broadcasting the seed.”
They did not even cultivate the ground, as we do. They would sow the seed and then have someone come and scratch it into the ground so it would have a chance to stay there and germinate. The Bible says that teaching the Word of God is like taking the seed, the Word of God, and scattering it everywhere.
Jesus is the Sower and the seed, of course, is the Word of God. Like natural seed, it has life in it. Like natural seed the Word of God produces fruit.
God’s Word says in:
Isaiah 55:11 (Jesus speaking)
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Like natural seed, the Word of God has to be planted and cultivated and watered, in order for it to produce. Like natural seed, the Word of God is powerful. You might ask, “Is natural seed powerful?”
Have you ever noticed a sidewalk exploding upward, and a tree coming right up through the middle of it? How did that happen? Well, years ago some seed was in the ground and when they began to develop the area, they came along and poured concrete sidewalks on top of where the seed has been planted, on purpose or accidentally.
Somehow moisture got to that seed, and it began to grow, and as it grew, it became a tree and in the tree there was power and it grew larger and began to uproot the sidewalk, and pretty soon what you have is a tree growing right up through the concrete. See, the power was in the seed.
The power of the Word of God is like that. That’s why we are told that the seed is God’s Word. It’s interesting, when you study history, how often God’s Word has been just like that.
I read once where someone was given a tract to read and they didn’t want it, so they threw it out the window. Someone along the train tracks picked it up and read it and was converted. God’s Word will change people.
Let’s study the various soils. In this passage of Scripture we are told that there are four different kinds of soil upon which the seed fell, when it was sown.
First, let’s review the soil which was by the wayside. See Matthew 13:4 above. When he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside and the fowls came and devoured them. Now, wherever you find the soil mentioned in this parable, it’s always a reference to the human heart. The sower is the Lord. The seed is the Word of God and the soil is the heart of man. Notice Matthew 13:19, above.
Here in our country, if you’ve ever flown over farmland, you’ll notice how carefully the farmland has been divided. It looks so organized, but in Palestine, it was not quite like that. It was not organized like the farmer of today plants his crops.
There were no fences to separate the land. There were sections that belonged to one man and another section to another man and it was separated by the footpaths, probably around three feet wide which went between the sections of land.
Jesus was saying that when the sower went forth to sow that as he threw the seed out, some of it fell on the hardened footpath. It had been trodden down for years and it was very hard, probably as hard as concrete and the seed just lay there on the top of the ground. The Bible says that the birds came and ate it. The birds, here, represented the devil.
Sometimes when the Word of God is taught, it falls on callous hearts and it never does get down into the heart…just sorta lays there on top. When that happens, it is only there for a short time. Satan then comes and steals it away, and it’s gone.
The one who is unconcerned has a calloused heart. The fault is not with the seed nor is it the fault of the sowers. The fault is in the heart of mankind. The hardhearted ones are people who are indifferent to the Word of God. In fact, they may hear the Word of God on a regular basis, but it never affects them.
The second kind of seeds, in this illustration, are sown on the stony ground, and that represents the casual heart. We read about that in Matthew 13:5-6, above.
Now, let’s look at verses in Matthew 13:20, 21 above.
In Palestine there are places where there is a thin layer of dirt over a bed of limestone. Much of Palestine is like that. Now the seed falls into the thin layer of dirt and the Scripture says it takes root and it begins to germinate but because the rock is right beneath the thin layer of dirt, the roots have no place to go. The plant is frustrated and it pushes itself straight up, and there is immediately an explosion of foilage and people come along and say, “What a wonderful plant that it; that’s going to be marvelous,” but when the sun comes out and the sun begins to do its work on that plant and because there is no depthness where the plant can get moisture, the sun dries it up and the next thing you know it’s withered and dead. Jesus said there are some people like that.
Have you ever seen someone that seems to have an experience with the Lord and for a short while they seem to blossom, and then some months later, you wonder where they are and they’re back where they were, doing the same things as before. What happened?
You see the seed was sown, but there were no roots to stabilize the plant and when they need to give a testimony or when trials come, they aren’t grounded and they have no strength.
Luke quotes Jesus’ words in:
Luke 8:13 (Jesus speaking)
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.
Jesus was telling the disciples that this was the way it would be between His going back to Heaven and His coming back to earth.
Luke 8:6, 7 (Jesus speaking)
6And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
7And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.
The first soil is the calloused heart and the second soil is the casual heart and the third soil is the crowded heart.
In Matthew 13:22, above, Jesus is saying that when you sow seed, if you’re not careful, you’ll sow it in an area where weeds are growing. When the seeds begin to grow, weeds will begin to grow and weeds have a much better ability to grow quickly in mass production, and if you don’t deal with the weeds soon the good seed is choked out.
And what are the weeds? In this passage, we’re given two definitions: deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world.
Mark, in the New Testament, adds a third soil:
“thorns”…the lust of other things and Luke, the physician, adds a fourth “thorn”…the cares, riches and pleasures of this life.
The thorns represent the weeds that choke the Word of God, preventing a harvest from taking place. The third hearer’s passage is not hard-hearted like the first and he isn’t soft hearted like the second, but he’s divided in his heart.
His heart is crowded and he represents a man who comes to hear the Word of God. Maybe he sees a lot of educated people, white collar workers, and he might think I’d like to be a part of that since it seems this bunch is successful. Maybe it’s where they teach motivational classes and he comes forward and they put him to work, speaking or whatever.
After he goes back to work on Monday, he finds out it isn’t as easy as it was yesterday with the motivated group. He wants to make money. He still has to take care of the everyday affairs called “life”. You know, for all of us, that’s a major project, isn’t it…taking care of the everyday necessities of life.
Have you ever thought about how much time it takes, not to do anything special, but just to live, just to make it, get bread on your table, make sure the car is running, bills are paid? If you’re not careful, the cares of this age begin to choke out the Word of God, so that it can’t “grow” in your heart and produce “fruit”.
Now God is not saying anything about it being wrong to be rich. He spoke against the deceitfulness of riches. Everyone knows that riches promise a lot that they can’t deliver.
We see in the first soil, that the enemy is the devil. The enemy in the second soil is the flesh…can’t take the persecution. The enemy in the third soil is the world and its system: the pleasures, the riches, the cares. They are the enemies when you “sow” the Word of God.
Jesus is saying that when you preach the Word of God, you’re not going to have a massive response. Not everyone is going to receive it. There will be many who look like they are receiving it, but time will tell.
Now before we go on to the next soil, let me point out something. It is important to note that none of the first three soils or hearts represented by the first three soils underwent genuine salvation.
The proof of salvation is not listening to the Word or emotionally responding to the Word. The proof of salvation is in the fruit. Jesus said in these two verses:
Ye shall know them by their fruits.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
If there isn’t any fruit, then there isn’t any true spiritual life. There were and are some who had some outward expressions of having some involvement with the Word of God, but they were not genuinely born again, not redeemed. Where’s the fruit?
Now we come to the fourth soil, the converted heart.
Matthew 13: 8, 9 (Jesus speaking)
8But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
The interpretation is given by Jesus in
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
This soil represents the converted soul and allows its truth to sink down into the soul and he genuinely is saved.
Isn’t it interesting that just as there are three levels of not believing the Word of God, represented by the hard heart, the casual heart and the crowded heart, there are three levels of productivity in the heart of the person who does believe.
In the believer there is no level where the converted heart produces no fruit. All Christians have some level of fruit being produced/revealed in their lives. That means that they are not all ministers, not all musicians nor missionaries, but the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of their lives, the fruit of the “giving,” the fruit of their life some way demonstrates that there’s sincerity inside their hearts.
If we live consecrated lives and are obedient to His calling, that’s all He asks of us as His children.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
1 Corinthians 3:6, 7
6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
In England there’s a beautiful church with stained glass windows and below one of the windows is a plaque which reads: “Dedicated to Mr. Samuel Burnette who sowed in East London for 50 years and feared not to sow in spite of the birds.” What a testimony!
When we think about one-fourth of the seed that falls on good ground and the “birds” are after it, and the “flesh” is after it, and the “world” is after it…all these enemies are after “the sowing”! All we can do is say in our hearts, “Lord, in order to be fruitful, I must be faithful and keep ‘sowing’ until Jesus comes.”
Where there is true fruit, there is life and where there is life, there is the seed for more fruit.