“All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’” Matthew 13:34; Mark 4:33-34; and Psalm 78:2 (A Contemplation of Asaph)
The first thing that begs a question in my mind is WHY? Why did Jesus speak to the people in parables?
Let’s start our journey with the definition of the word parable:
“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.'” Matthew 13:10,11,13
In a recent teaching by Stephen Armstrong of Oak Hill Church in Austin, Texas, Verse-by-Verse Ministries, Pastor Armstrong points out that there was a defining point between when Jesus taught all of the people openly and when He began teaching only in parables. It was when the Pharisee’s accused Jesus of doing what He did by the power of Satan. Jesus informed the church leaders who were making that awful accusation, that their actions were considered blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is the unforgivable sin. That’s when no more signs would be given to them except for the “sign of Jonah.”
Now that might be lost on us, but Pastor Armstrong goes on to explain that the “sign of Jonah” was a total eclipse of the sun (please listen to his End Times Seminar at Max Lucado’s Oak Hills Church, in San Antonio, TX. It is soooo good!). When Jonah preached to the Ninevites, all the way back in the Old Testament there was a total eclipse of the sun. The event was so significant to the people of Jonah’s day that it was registered in the Jewish church annals and the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ day would have been completely familiar with what Jesus was talking about.
Now perhaps they dismissed Jesus’ prophesy, or maybe His words didn’t fully register to them at the time, but for that sect of “sign seekers” to see the sun darkened at the moment Jesus died on the cross, it would have been the shuddering confirmation in their hearts that Jesus’ words were true and that they had just killed their Messiah.
I pray that our hearts are soft today to hear the word of God, so that we will not get to the end of our lives, filled with dread, when we realize God’s words are true!!!!
Our Bible text is from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I have included all three versions of the story so we can compare them and try to piece together a whole story. I happen to use the New King James Version of the Bible, but if you have a version you prefer you are most certainly welcome to read out of your own. This is one of the longer parables, especially when there is also the explanation, so today’s reading will be a little longer than most of the others. Are you ready? Here we go…
The Parable of the Sower
“On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
“And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. 2 Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
“And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.8 But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
The Parable of the Sower Explained
Jesus did everything that He did with a purpose. Everything He did was a training exercise, not only for His beloved of that day, but His beloved of this day as well. Jesus spoke in parables to see if we are teachable. The parables, like all of the word of God can be hard to understand. Some dismiss the Bible as fables, or as dusty old words with no relevance for modern day. If that’s how we approach the word of God, that is all it will ever be to us. But if we go to Him and ask for wisdom, and take the time to look deep into its mystery, like the disciples did, He will open it to to our understanding. We have prayer as a way to ask Him for wisdom, and He gave us His Holy Spirit to open our minds to comprehension. The Holy Spirit living inside of us will teach us.
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
“And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness;17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
* * *
For this parable I took out my notebook and wrote the four types of soils, and then under each type I wrote what each of the gospels said about them. Were there some details in one that were missing in another? Good detective skills will help us piece it all together for a better understanding.
(Matthew) – Parable: the birds (who are the birds?) came and devoured the seed (what is the seed?) Parable explained: the seedling (person) hears the “word of the kingdom” but doesn’t understand it; the “wicked one” snatches it away. (So Matthew understood Jesus to say that the seed that falls on this soil is the word of the kingdom, it basically falls on deaf ears, and doesn’t leave an impression).
(Mark) – Parable: ditto Matthew Parable explained: Mark heard Jesus say that if THIS parable is hard to understand, how will anyone understand the others (which is a challenge to me to always try to understand it)? Mark says the seed that falls on this soil is the word and Satan takes it away.
(Luke) – Parable: adds that the seed is trampled down (which I take to mean that it is considered to have little to no value), and the birds devour it Parable explained: Luke understood that the seed that falls on this soil is the word of God and that the devil steals it from our hearts, to keep us from believing and being saved.
Who might the birds be in your life who eat that seed every time it is planted? Who might those be in your life who trample God’s seed, and consider it of no value? Is it a teacher, a professor, an atheist friend, a book you read or the shows you watch on TV? Maybe none of your friends are people of faith and they would make fun of you for becoming a Christian? Maybe no one in your family is religious at all? Honestly, this was the condition of my heart for most of my teenage years. I believed in God, but His word was more like a good luck charm. I am grateful that the Lord was persistent to keep tilling the soil of my heart and sowing His seeds.
(Matthew) – Parable: not much earth, seeds sprout quickly, no deep roots, become sun-scorched Parable explained: this person is quickly swayed by emotion into believing, but only for a short time. Tribulation and persecution causes this person to stumble.
(Mark) – Parable: basically ditto Matthew Parable explained: basically ditto Matthew
(Luke) – Parable: Luke says “rock” instead of “stony places,” and that the seed lacks enough moisture to survive. Parable explained: basically the same as Matthew and Mark, but instead of using the word stumble, Luke says fall-away.
Have you heard the gospel and happily let it take root for a while, but then the fires and trials of life caused you to let it fizzle and die? Maybe something happened that caused you to question whether God is real? Like, why won’t He give you a baby? Or, why did He take your daddy away? Or, why did He let you be born with a defect? Or, why are evil people allowed to live and do horrible things?
I confess that when I finally believed as a young mother it was a very emotional experience. I was filled with joy and gladness, but those emotions soon came crashing back to earth when I started thinking about the persecution that would be coming for me. It caused me to go through a hard tribulation of self-conciousness and shame. I knew my salvation was real; everything changed inside, but I was also battered by Satan over all the sins of my past and what a worthless person I had been. Those sins truly haunted me, and I was embarrassed to show my face outside my house for fear of the finger-pointing by people who knew me at my worst. I wanted to, I guess, reject everybody before they rejected me, and kept a hard shell of Spiritual privacy on my heart for a long time, but the Lord has been faithful to complete His work in me and to turn my fearful heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Tribulation builds character (Romans 5:3-5), and is a refining fire. His perfect love has cast out a motherlode of fears. And praise the Good Lord, my family loved me and stuck by me, and most of them who weren’t saved even came to know Jesus as well. I can thank the Lord for keeping me from being like a dog who returns to her own vomit. The seed may have been sown on rocky soil, but the Lord transplanted me, and kept me alive with abundant water until I could put down deeper roots. Praise God Almighty He set me free!!!!
(Matthew) – Parable: seedlings choked from thorns Parable explained: the seedlings live – they hear the word, but are more concerned with making money, which is the thorn in their life that causes him/her to be unfruitful.
(Mark) – Parable: choked and fruitless Parable explained: the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things are what choke the word that is sown in this person’s heart, and make them unfruitful.
(Luke) – Parable: thorns sprang up and choked it Parable explained: these seedlings hear and even go out (to be fruitful), but are choked by cares, riches, and pleasures of life so that the fruit on their branches never matures.
Has the word of God taken root in you, but the cares of life have you choked back from growing and maturing? You love God, and go to church, but not all the time. You don’t have time to read your Bible, or pray really, because you work full time and have family responsibilities. Maybe none of your friends or family are people of faith and they keep you busy with other things?
This one might be, oh who am I kidding, IS my biggest struggle! I’m glad I don’t live in the city where there are endless things to chase after and want. I get myself in enough trouble as it is. I am often distracted by the cares of this world (what I will eat, what I will wear, getting my house clean and my laundry done), and by the lust for riches (purchasing lottery tickets instead of giving to ministry), and the Lord knows I am a seeker of pleasure rather than a seeker of Him way too much of the time. My life has a weed problem, and it is my least favorite chore, but if I don’t get on top of it when I see it getting out of hand, it will eventually choke out all the life in me, and I will never mature past infancy in Christ. Even worse, when I finally get to heaven I will have little to no fruit to bring to God’s table. 😦
(Matthew) – Parable: yielded a crop 100-fold, 60, and 30 Parable explained: hears the word, understands it, bears fruit 100-fold, 60, and 30.
(Mark) – Parable: the amount of fruitfulness is reversed, 30, 60, 100 Parable explained: hear the word, accept it, bear fruit in the same reversed order.
(Luke) – Parable: only uses the 100-fold yield Parable explained: Luke almost always has more details. He understood Jesus to say that this seedling hears with a noble and good heart, doesn’t forget what he hears, and bears fruit with patience.
I am soooooo blessed that someone had the courage to sow God’s seed in my heart and grateful it took root. My whole life honestly changed the day I received Christ! I love the word of God and study it often. I pray continually. Almost all of my friends are Christian. But when I look around I’m not sure that I have any evidence of fruit. I’ve never personally led anyone to the Lord and am worried and discouraged by all my dead branches. Perhaps I just need the Lord to prune me? Gosh, will there be anything left when He is done?
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8 NKJV
It might be a slower process than we would like – attaining to the perfect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control that the Lord is growing in us, but if the Holy Spirit is alive in us and allowed to have dominion in our hearts, He will constantly cultivate us towards the fullness of all those beautiful traits..
The FRUIT of the Spirit is:
and Self Control
~ Galatians 5:22-23 ~
He who began a good work in us will see it on to completion. A tiny mustard seed of faith WILL GROW into a giant tree that the birds of the air can nest upon.
I pray this study will bless you and strengthen you in your inner person.
Let us not look around at others and compare. Let us just keep feeding our Spirit and putting down good deep roots! When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and full of His life in us, those fruits will mature and drop off onto the soils of the earth all around us, and sprout and grow in the hearts of others. We may never know the impact we’ve had on people’s lives around us, and that’s okay. I’d rather be surprised by the abundance of fruit when I get to heaven than puffed up with pride thinking I deserve something that I really had nothing to do with.
But while we are on this earth, and when we feel His Spirit prompting us to love others, to give to others, to be kind to others, to have patience for others, to bless and not to curse… let us let His Spirit have His wonderous way. Those are His seeds we sow, and His fruitful harvest to come.
“So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank you for Your word and for the Holy Spirit whom you gave to me, who helps me to understand what I read in Your word, and gives me the power to live it. Thank You for cultivating the soil of my heart, watering me, giving me food, loving me, protecting me, and always being with me on this road of life. Praise you Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Give me the heart for others that You have for them. Help me to be full of Your Spirit, and fruitful, that one day I may come to Your housewarming with a basket full of fruit to share with You. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” – James 1:22-25