The 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel contains a series of parables that seem to be told on the same day. My hope is for us to work through these parables together to find a connection between them and, by God’s grace through Jesus Christ and from the Holy Spirit’s counsel, grow deeper in our understanding of God’s word.
Before we get into our first parable, lets look at the disciples question in verse 10.
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” -(Matthew 13:10 NIV)
When I started studying the gospels, I wondered the same thing. Why doesn’t Jesus just tell everyone plainly? Sounds simple enough. He wants everyone to be saved right? Jesus uses a verse out of Isaiah 6 to answer their question, and it’s a very startling answer.
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.’ -(Matthew 13:13-15 NIV)
Wait a minute, is Jesus implying that He doesn’t want them to be saved? Not exactly.
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”
And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. -(Matthew 13:53-58 NIV)
I like that Matthew ends the chapter with this story of Jesus ministering in His hometown of Nazareth because it sheds light on what Jesus meant when He quoted the prophet Isaiah. Rather than opening their hearts to the Word of God, people took offense at Him. Just as the prophet wrote, their hearts had become calloused. Many folks had already made up their mind about Jesus and had no interest in understanding what He taught. Even if Jesus spoke plainly to them, disclosing the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, it would have had no affect, they most likely would have rejected Him still.
So, Jesus spoke in parables, for only those who truly desire to know and understand the things of God are willing to dig deeper and deeper until they find the treasure.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. -(Hebrews 11:6 NIV)
Now one thing to think about as you read these parables is that three of them have to deal with seed being sown or planted. Matthew’s gospel refers to the seed as “the message about the kingdom. Mark’s and Luke’s gospels refer to the seed as “the word” or “the word of God.”
Going a step further, one of Jesus’ titles in the scriptures is the “Promised Seed” or “the Seed.” These terms are in reference to the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), and the seed of Abraham, through whom we are justified and heirs to the promises made by God for Abraham and his descendants (Gal. 3:7-22). We are Abraham’s children through faith in Christ! (celebrate)
Lets also remember that John, in his gospel, calls Jesus “the Word” (John 1:1). So “the Seed” is “the Word”, hmm…
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. 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.” -(Matthew 13:1-9 NIV emphasis mine)
What’s nice about this parable is that Jesus shared its meaning with the disciples.
“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 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 trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 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. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” -(Matthew 13:18-23 NIV)
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” -(Matthew 13:9 NIV)
Seems like an odd statement to make after He tells the parable. Most everyone has ears, unless they were born without them because of some birth defect. What Jesus meant was, “Whoever is able to understand spiritual things, let them understand this spiritual truth,” for Jesus made it clear that what He really was talking about was the kingdom of heaven.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” -(Romans 10:17 ESV)
The issue with the first three “soils” was not an issue of comprehension, but an issue of faith, and each of these “soils” is an illustration of the types of people Jesus interacted with in the gospels:
- “The path” – those, like the Pharisees or some people in Nazareth, who took offense at Him, and treated Him with contempt.
- “Rocky ground” – those who would follow Him around, who shouted “hosanna” joyfully at His triumphal entry, only to quickly turn their “hosannas” into “crucify Hims”. You could also add in those peripheral disciples, who left once the “going got tough.”
- “Among thorns” – those, like the rich young ruler, who counted the cost of discipleship and decided it was too much.
- “Good soil” – those who believed that Jesus was who He said He was. Those who built their house upon the rock of Christ, who abided in Him and bore much fruit because they also possessed the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, represented by the seed in the parable, goes out to all four soils. This is because grace and salvation are offered to all. It is only through true faith that we can receive Him like the “good soil.” This is what Paul means when he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8 ESV). Salvation is not something we earn, but it is also something we cannot receive without faith.
Only one “soil” is productive, and it yields an abundant crop. It is with this understanding of faith that we are able to move forward in the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and discover a connection between “The Parable of the Sower” and the other parables. If Jesus is the “seed”, then the “seed” has been sown. What remains is how you and I will receive Him. As the refrain goes in a hymn written by Albert B. Simpson,
“What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be;
Someday your heart will be asking,
‘What will He do with me?'”
With that I urge you to receive Him by faith today!
Father, thank You for the Promised Seed, Jesus Christ. Help us by Your Spirit to receive Your Word through faith. Prune us where we need pruning. Cultivate our hearts so that we may produce an abundant crop to Your glory and honor. Give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hands to do good works. May Your praise be ever on our lips as we await Your Son’s return. It’s in His Name we pray. Amen.