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The Parables of Jesus Part 5
Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15 - He who has ears, let him hear! Is your soil prepared for His Word to flourish?
“That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they would see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.””
Matthew 13:1-23 NASB1995
“He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”
And He *said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.””
Mark 4:1-20 NASB1995
“When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
Luke 8:4-15 NASB1995
Warning: This is a long devotional! The parable of the sower, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, is one of the most important parables that Jesus taught. I decided to include not just the parable verses, but also the follow-on verses with the the real meaning of the parable that Jesus later tells his disciples (and close followers, as noted in the Gospel of Mark). Back when I wrote on the parables unique to the Gospel of Luke, I had an explanatory section on parables. Since this parable is the first one that is actually called by that term in the Gospel of Matthew, I think this definition from Precept Austin is a decent attempt at describing this preaching technique, as a reminder:
A parable is a story that seeks to drive home a point by illustrating it using a familiar situation of common life. A parable is a teaching device in which a principle is concealed and a truth revealed, giving the hearer first sight then insight! It is like a mirror and a window, where we see through to truth about God, but like a mirror it forces us to look at ourselves. Paul made a similar statement writing that "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.." (1 Cor 2:14+)
One would think this parable would be pretty simple and straightforward to understand, but my research suggests otherwise. I found this insight, again from Precept Austin:
While many call this the "Parable of the Sower," it is more accurately titled "Parable of the Soils," for there is only one sower with one seed but there are four soils. The sower and the seed remain "constant," while the quality of the soil varies and is the final determining factor of whether the seed will produce fruit. The corollary is that the skill of the sower or the quality of the seed are not the primary determinants of whether or not the seed will germinate and bear fruit.
The seed is, of course, the Word of God and the Sower is the person who is disseminating that Word to someone else. The Sower should know the Word and not distort it or change it or embellish it, but sow it as simply and humbly as possible. The “soil” (the hearer) responds in four different ways to that Word:
Seed sown by the wayside, snatched up by birds or trampled underfoot:
This “wayside soil” (or person) is hard-hearted and refuses to listen to the Word and the enemy races in and grabs the seed before it can even rest on the soil (heart). The Word never penetrates and is quickly taken away. Many people in our culture today absolutely refuse to listen to anyone or anything that preaches the Word of God, preferring instead to react with laughing emojis and snarky comments about “flying spaghetti monsters” or pontificate (with never-ending links to atheist literature) about how Jesus never existed. That same high-minded “bravery” never seems to manifest itself with Mohammed and Muslims, for some reason.
These “soils” have their fingers in their ears, their callous hearts locked away in impenetrable fortresses, and their minds set on hatred of the Word and the idea of God, relishing their darkness, their “personal truth” and their “superior intellect” (I should know - I used to have my heart locked away, too, but I was finally able to listen!). The enemy rests easy when the Word comes to the wayside. But don’t be fooled! These same hard hearts are not just armchair atheists prowling the internet but can be also found sitting next to you in churches on Sunday and they were, of course, prominent in religious positions during the time of Jesus. Satan uses ill-will, inattention and ignorance to blind us to the Word. Here is short commentary from Enduring Word:
The wayside soil represents those who never really hear the word with understanding. The Word of God must be understood before it can truly bear fruit. One of Satan’s chief works is to keep men in darkness regarding their understanding of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Seed sown on rocky ground, where there is very little soil; the seed springs up quickly, then dies just as quickly in the heat:
The “rocky ground” recipient of the Word hears the the Word of God and is filled with joy in that moment. They accept the Word and race to the altar to commit their lives. Then when the first tribulation comes along or someone sneers at their belief or they actually are persecuted for believing, they walk away, unable to take the heat. Again, from Enduring Word:
This soil represents those who receive the word enthusiastically, but their life is short-lived, because they are not willing to endure tribulation or persecution… because of the word.
[Charles] Spurgeon made a good point: “I want you clearly to understand that the fault did not lie in the suddenness of their supposed conversion. Many sudden conversions have been among the best that have ever happened.” The problem was not their sudden growth, but their lack of depth.
“Tribulation is a general term for suffering which comes from outside; persecution is deliberately inflicted, and usually implies a religious motive. Falls away is literally ‘is tripped up’; it is not a gradual loss of interest, but a collapse under pressure.” (R.T. France)
We recently took a very comprehensive evangelism training course sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It was interesting to find out that Reverend Graham and the many evangelists who worked with him spend many years finding ways to make those spontaneous conversions stick, with follow-through contacts being made and using local churches to reach out to everyone who gave their name at the call. Graham was very concerned about the rocky soil. Can your faith withstand these immediate pressures? Ponder this example, from Precept Austin:
A college professor asked, “How many of you in this class believe the Bible is the Word of God?” He said it with such a sneer on his face that none would raise their hand except for one Christian young man there in that class. And he knew that he must be true to his Lord and Savior, and so he lifted his hand and confessed that he believed that the Bible was the Word of God and that he loved the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Then that professor began to cut this young man down.
Immediately, at the beginning of the class, he ridiculed the Bible. He ridiculed Christianity. He ridiculed it as superstition, and as fogeyism, and as something that was out of date, and so forth. And then the professor sort of climaxed all that he had to say by saying, “Young man, I want you to know that the Bible is a bundle of blunders and a book of nonsense. I have read it, and it makes no sense to me.” And that young man, nonplussed, said, “Sir, may I say a word to you now?” And the professor said, “What is it?” He said, “Sir, the Bible is God’s love letter to His children. If you’ve read it, and it doesn’t make any sense to you, it’s because you’ve been reading somebody else’s mail.” Amen?
Seed sown among the thorns, where the thorns rise up and choke the young plant before it could be fruitful:
If ill will and ignorance don’t work and persecution doesn’t do the trick, the enemy will throw something out there that does work: The cares and distractions of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. This is a likely trap for me, because I confess to enjoying some of the things of this world, especially God’s creation. This soil is too fertile, with weeds of distraction and prosperity crowding out the Word of God. The enemy tells these “soils” that they have to give up too much to follow God, so just find a way to be comfortable at church or even walk away like the young rich man who asked Jesus what it would take to gain the Kingdom of God and was saddened by the answer (giving up his possessions and following Jesus). Is your soil prepared and does it need weeding?
Precept Austin quotes the late Baptist preacher and writer Adrian Rogers:
And why is it that so many people—members of this congregation and other congregations—are unfruitful? I’ll tell you why. They have never let go of this world with both hands and taken Jesus Christ with both hands. Have you done that? Is He Lord of all? Many of you are not fruitful, because you’ve never been saved—you have never been saved. The seed has gotten in; but the seed has not gotten an undisputed hold in your life, and you’ve never said, “Lord Jesus, you are Lord of all.”
And, friend, if you’ve not made Him Lord of all, in my estimation, you are not saved. He cannot be half Lord. You cannot say, “There’s room in my heart for weeds, and there’s room in my heart for the seed.” No, dear friend, if you do not say, “Jesus Christ alone, Jesus Christ only, and Jesus Christ always,” I’m afraid that you’ve never met the Lord of glory. Nothing wrong with the seed; nothing wrong with the sower; the problem is with the soil.
Seeds that fall into good soil, where the Word is heard and accepted and the soil bears fruit:
Matthew and Mark both talk about a great harvest numerically in this type of soil, producing 30X, 60X and even more than 100X, which is far more than a typical field can produce for a good farmer. Precept Austin quotes Bible commentator John Phillips about this fruitfulness:
A genuine conversion is evidenced by fruit. However, not all truly saved people realize their full potential in bearing fruit. Moderate development can be seen in some lives. They love the Lord, they love His people, and they love the Bible. They are genuinely saved and take the initial steps toward fruitfulness, yet certain areas of their lives somehow remain untouched by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
Marked development can be seen in other lives. They become the backbone of a local church. They are helpful, cooperative, and zealous members of the family of God. They teach in Sunday school, witness to others about Christ, give conscientiously to the Lord's work, maintain an interest in missions, and stand behind the local leadership. Their lives give evidence that they love the Lord and are seeking to grow in grace and increase in the knowledge of God. Marvelous development can be seen in a few lives. They go all the way with God. They are Spirit-filled, Christlike, soul winning Christians. The fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control-can be seen developing in their lives.
I pray that I can knock out the weeds and truly be fruitful!
There is much more I could dig into, like the reasons Jesus gives for teaching in parables, but I will explore one more little thing from these passages: Jesus, when He finishes with the parable, says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark and Luke versions - Matthew is slightly different). Jesus said this many times in the Gospels and beyond (e.g., Revelation), particularly at the end of a parable. What does He mean by this? Here is an explanation from Gotquestions.org:
Whenever Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He is calling for people to pay careful heed. It’s another way of saying, “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Speaking in parables was one way in which Jesus sought to gain the attention of the crowds —people love stories, and the parables depicted events and characters with which they could readily relate. But unless they were willing to tune out other distractions and come to Jesus to understand the meaning of His preaching, His words would be only empty stories. They needed more than ears, however keen they were, they needed ears to hear.
My next devotional examines the Parable of the Weeds, found in Matthew 13:24-30 and adjacent to this parable.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me move from the soil full of thorns (distractions) into the good soil of true fruitfulness. Amen!
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
The personal testimony from Precept Austin can be found Here.