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The Parable of the Sower

This article is adapted from a sermon preached by Adam Brock entitled The Sower.
Do you love a good story? There is something powerful about stories. They have a way taking something important and making it memorable and understandable.
Take for example the subject of compromise. We could tell you not to make compromises when it comes your faith, or I could tell you about how if you place a frog in a boiling pot of water he immediately jumps out, but if you place him in a room temp pot of water and slowly heat up the water he’ll boil to death. Now I’ve never done this experiment because I have a heart! But I’ve heard this story many times!
A good story has a way of illustrating truth in a way that makes it come alive. Stories stick with us because they are memorable and easily understood. Stories are important. In our passage today, we find Jesus utilizing story in order to teach truth. In fact, Jesus used stories very effectively and told them quite often. In the scriptures we call these parables.

What is a Parable?

The word parable means “to cast alongside.” This is a story or comparison that is put alongside a common occurrence from daily life, in order to teach a spiritual truth. There are all kinds of parables recorded in the Gospels, some of the more famous or well-known ones include: The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, and the Lost Sheep. These stories draw comparisons in order to illustrate a spiritual truth.

How Do We Understand Parables?

This is important because parables have the potential, and even the history, of being wildly misinterpreted. Therefore, I want to give you a few keys to understanding parables properly.

Look for the Main Point

There’s usually only one main point in any parable, at most two or three. Once you’ve landed on the primary truth being communicated, don’t look for additional layers of meaning. This was very popular at one point in time as the church sought to read parables as allegory. The problem with this is that every detail isn’t meant to hold some vast spiritual truth. They are stories meant to illustrate a point. Find that point and spend your energy apply it!

Don't Build Doctrine on Parables

Again, these are illustrations, not meant to be comprehensive or systematic teachings. Use all scripture to shape your doctrine, because hermeneutics teaches us that scripture interprets scripture. And if we over elevate one parable over all of scripture, we’re liable to end up lopsided!

Listen for the Hearer's Perspective

What would the original audience be thinking and hearing? The best way to understand this is to honor the context.

Parables Should Change Our Perspective

Parables should lead us to change our perspective. Parables should not be the source of arguments, rather it should be the fuel for application. Let’s focus on living out the truth we discover!

Why Do We Have Parables?

In short, to reveal and conceal. Why not just say whatever the main point is plainly? This was the question of the disciples in verse 10 “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” In verse 11 Jesus gives us a clue as to who parables. It reads, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has be given to you, but not to them.”
This does not mean that Jesus taught in parables to confuse or condemn people. Rather, he sought to ignite interest and curiosity within the people who willing to receive. His parables would give light to those with trusting and seeking hearts, and they would bring darkness to the unconcerned and unrepentant.
There were those in the audience of Jesus who, despite all they could observe, would refuse to see Jesus as the Messiah. The parables for these people would conceal truth from them.
There is a warning here for us as well. If you or I come to the Word of God, with no intention of ever submitting to it, we’ll never see the truth. If you will not bow to Jesus as King, he will not reveal himself to you as King.

Parable of the Sower

A more fitting title would be “the Parable of the Soil,” because it’s the soil that is the key variable in this story. The sower never changes, and neither does the seed. But as you’ll see, in Matthew 13:1-9, there are four different types of soil.
As we study this passage, we’ll also need to consider verses 18-23, because those latter verses explain the parable. That means we don’t have to wonder as to what the point is.
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9 (ESV))

The Seed

Obviously, in context of the passage, the seed is the Word of God. Much like a seed the Word of God contains life.
Farming was relatively simple in Jesus’ day. Although this parable doesn’t say anything about farming methods, from the Old Testament and other rabbinic sources we learn that at the end of a long and hot summer the farmer would go to his field, and sow wheat or barley on top of the hard ground. He would plow the field to cover the see and wait for the winter rain to come and germinate the kernels. His audience on this day would have been very familiar with seed.
Jesus is recorded in John 6 saying, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”
The Book of Hebrews says, “The Word of God is living and active…” (Hebrews 4:12)
If you want to see people saved and lives transformed, you have to give them the Word of God.
The seed is the message that God is saving and redeeming sinners through Christ!

The Sower

Who is this Sower who is throwing seed all over the place? According to Matthew 13:37 it’s Jesus. It reads, “He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.”
Everywhere He went Jesus was sowing the seeds of the Word of God, scattering it all around. What a wonderful lesson for all of us because Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIV)
 Just like we said last week, to be shaped by the Word requires us to SHARE the Word. And you and I can’t tell what the attitude of someone’s heart is going to be. Therefore, in the way of our master, we are called to just keep throwing and sowing the seed. That’s our job.
Before we examine the soil, I want you to see the encouragement here for the parent of a rebellious child, for the wife or husband whose spouse are hard-hearted towards God, and for those with friends and family and coworkers who seem apathetic to the Gospel: don’t stop sowing.
There is an adversary who is at work and there are pressures, persecutions, and worries all at work to keep them from receiving this message. Nevertheless, keep sowing the seed!

Four Kinds of Soil

Now let’s look at the soil. Jesus speaks of four different kinds of soil.

The Path - The Hard Heart

Some of you are like this well-worn path. You’ve heard the stories, you’ve been told the good news, but it’s never traveled the 14 inches from your mind to your heart. There may be some intellectual acknowledgment, but no real-life change. You might have even gone to a school with a religion class where you aced every exam, but that doesn’t mean you’ve truly heard the Word with your heart!
Listen, having a basic understanding of theological truth is important but I like to say it like this, there must be a time the Gospel goes from “I got it” to “It’s got me!”
Did you know that Satan is working overtime to try to keep you from responding to the Truth of the Gospel? Paul warns of this in I Corinthians 4 saying that Satan, “…has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” (II Corinthians 4:4 ESV)
One of Satan’s favorite tactics is to sidetrack and divert your attention, so you won’t respond to the Word of God. The Book of Hebrews has a very stern warning about this tactic. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)
If today, you know you are guilty of being this kind of soil, a hard heart, then I’m pleading with you to stop rejecting Jesus! But in addition to outright rejection, another spiritual reality is:

The Rocky Ground - The Superficial Heart

This is the person in whom the seed appears to get in, but it can’t get down, so it has no root. This was obviously a superficial response to Jesus and His message as the context shows. True salvation is an initial response of repentance and faith followed by an ongoing response of repentance and faith. There are many in the Church who use Christian words, attend Christian services, and even read the Christian Bible, but do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
They walk down the aisle of the church and make a decision, but because they didn’t count the cost of being a Christ-follower, they quickly fall away. This is often labeled “easy believism” and it is rampant in our world today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who died in a German concentration camp in 1945, has this to say about Easy Believism, or as he calls it, Cheap Grace.
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Cost of Discipleship.
This kind of response has also been labeled, “Convenient Christianity.” They like the idea of forgiveness and the bliss of heaven and the blessings of God, but they don’t want any problems, complications, or struggles.
Here’s what I know about struggles. They will come to all of us and they reveal who we are in Christ. For some those adverse situations will strengthen them as Christ-followers. For others those unfavorable circumstance will reveal an empty, emotional decision.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not against emotions. God gave us emotions and Jesus felt them.  But I am against superficiality.
George Whitfield, the passionate and powerful preacher of the First Great Awakening, would preach to massive crowds numbering in the thousands, and people were greatly affected by his evangelistic messages. When asked how many people were saved, he would often say, “we’ll see in a few years.” The point here is not that people needed to earn their salvation but rather that it would take time for true salvation to be demonstrated. Even today, we must be careful that in our celebrating we are also discipling, lest we become guilty of cultivating superficial hearts.

The Thorny Ground - The Divided Heart

Here the seed gets in and it gets down, but it can’t get up because there is a rival crop. The thorns were there, and the good seed was there but the thorns were never dealt with and therefore they choked out the good seed and it became unfruitful. They are not superficial hearers of the Word. They receive it, but they never really repent of their sins. That is, they want to hold on to Jesus with one hand and hold on to the world with the other and they have a divided heart.
Do you know why weeds grow so quickly? Because weeds are native to the soil. In a similar way the weeds of worry and wealth and the pursuit of pleasure are indigenous to our hearts.
A genuine Christ-follower is that person who has let go of the world with both hands and taken hold of Jesus with both hands.
Have you done that? Have you given Jesus an undisputed claim upon your life? It doesn’t mean you won’t sin anymore; we still do. The difference is before I was saved, I was running to sin. Now that I am saved, I’m running from sin. There is a difference in my life and a desire in my heart to love God and serve Jesus. Is that where you are in your life right now? Don’t be attracted and yet distracted. Let go and let Jesus become the emphasis of your life.

The Good Soil - A Fruitful Heart

It’s not our job to make anything grow. It’s our job to scatter seed. When Jesus, who was the Lord of the Harvest, went out to sow, even His seed fell on hard ground, rocky ground, thorny ground. But some of it did fall on good ground.
So, the question I have for you this morning is, what kind of soil are you? I fear some are hard, some are superficial, some are divided. A good way to evaluate what kind of soil you happen to be is simply by looking at your fruit. Bad soil does not produce any fruit. Genuine faith produces fruit.
Where is your fruit? Are you just a fan of Jesus or a full-fledged follower of Jesus? Today you can choose to let God warm the soil of your heart so that you are that good soil of your heart, ready to receive the Word. Don’t forget what Jesus said, “To the one who has, more will be given.” Has what? Has a hunger to know the truth and a willingness to act upon it.
If that’s you and if you have a hunger and willingness then that seed, the Word of God will come and geminate in your spirit and bring forth life and then fruit. God loves you. He wants to save you. Please, don’t harden your heart. If you have ears, listen!
This week I read about the conversion story of Charles Spurgeon. He lived in the 1800’s and was known as the “prince of preachers.” On the day of his conversion, he had entered a church, simply to retreat from the cold and listened as the preacher quoted Isaiah 45:22 which reads, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
I share that with you because the work of salvation is so vitally important. And it’s a matter of life and death that we get it right. We must hear correctly and respond appropriately because 3 of the 4 soils do not produce life! Only one!
And so I approach this subject with caution and reverence. But at the same time, the gospel is simple. “Turn to God and be saved!”
Work to understand that fully, but right now, for the one who is far from God, the invitation is simple, “TURN TO GOD and BE SAVED!” If that’s you today, I want you to resolve in your heart right now, that you’re going to respond to the invitation to be a Christ follower. Do you have ears? You should listen!

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