The Parable of the Sower
This is the message that I used at this morning's service at Shepparton Baptist Church. Enjoy!
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. .......... 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 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.’[a]
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 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. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 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. 22 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. 23 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.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®
This morning, we will continue following the lectionary for our bible passage. Well…mostly…The lectionary suggests we stop at verse 8 and continue at verse 13. Once again I’ll be a Baptist rebel and read through from verse 1 to 24. In this passage we see Jesus beginning to talk in parables. There are a lot of ideas around about what a parable is and what it isn’t. Some say that a parable is similar to a riddle, that it is an analogy or that it even isn’t necessarily the truth. Other’s will say that a parable is meant to make things clear while another will say that a parable is meant to make things more difficult to understand. In some ways, these ideas are all right but at the same time, they are also wrong. I don’t know about you, but I think a parable is a fantastic way for Jesus to get His message across to his hearers (and us, the readers). But is it only me who gets a bit confused about these parables about sowing and reaping? Are we the seed, the ground, the farmer, the rocks, the weeds, the sun, the rain? For me anyway, I tend to get a bit confused as different parables direct us to be a different part of the story. This morning let’s concern ourselves with just this parable and we will get to see where we fit in what Jesus is trying to tell us.
We will focus on two ideas from this text. Firstly, Jesus explains what the purpose of a parable is, so we will take a look at that. Secondly, we will take a look at the meaning of this parable...the parable of the sower.
Verses 1-3 set the scene for this next discourse. If we continue to read this chapter we will see that there are seven parables in it. Some commentators suggest that this is a deliberate gathering together by Matthew of various parables that Jesus said to make a point. Which means that Jesus didn’t tell these together. Verse 3 tells us otherwise “Then he told them many things in parables....” It seems pretty clear by this verse (and verse 53 which closes out the parable section is also pretty clear that Jesus told these together).
From the second part of verse 3 until verse 8 we read the actual parable followed by Jesus’ explanation of the reason why he speaks in parables (which includes his purpose). Verses 18-24 are His explanation on what the parable actually means.
We will come back to the actual parable itself but first I would like to look at the reasons behind why Jesus speaks in parables.
The purpose of the parable.
The disciples of Jesus come to him and ask “why do you speak to the people in parables?” The sense here is not just a one off but may be better put as “why do you keep speaking to the people in parables”. It’s not just on this occasion that Jesus does it. It’s a regular feature of his teaching. Verses 11 & 12 seem a little unfair when you read them initially. It’s almost as if Jesus is actually trying to be unfair. To speak so that they don’t understand. Now, I don’t think Jesus was trying to do that at all. There is a serious point to be made about faith and the gifts that we received from Jesus.
There wasn’t much difference between what the disciples called “them” and the disciples themselves. They were all born in a similar region, they probably had a similar education. There is one huge difference though. Because the disciples believed in this Jesus, they had been blessed with an understanding that the others didn’t have. God had given them a gift. It’s this gift that Jesus talks about in verse 12. Those that have been given the gift of understanding the message of God will receive more understanding as they listen and learn. Those that haven’t received this gift cannot learn more.
When I was 21, I was given a bible. I tried to read it then but it made absolutely no sense to me at all. It was just a jumble of words and ideas that were completely beyond my ability to comprehend. They were just words on a page from a distant past. That’s not to say that I didn’t read books from the past. I had always read a lot and I had read books from the distant past. It wasn’t just a lack of intelligent comprehension that was missing. It wasn’t until I was eagerly seeking Jesus that the words in this book began to make even some sense.
It’s a bit like reading another language. When you first look at it, you may appreciate the style but you really have no idea what it says. It’s not until you begin to learn the language that you begin to understand. We begin to understand the bible not by what we learn but by the gift of understanding that God gives us. It’s as we use this gift that we can begin to gain deeper understanding (or from verse 12 whoever has will be given more).
Jesus is making it extremely clear that there is a difference between the person who believes and the person who doesn’t. That’s why a parable reveals and also conceals at the same time.
The truth is revealed to those who have made a commitment to Jesus. A quote from Leon Morris sums it up very well “The word of God is always effective: it brings enlightenment or judgement – enlightenment to the disciples, judgement to those who rejected Jesus. It was in this sense that it was the divine purpose that they should not understand. If people rejected the Christ and set themselves in opposition to God, how could they understand the teaching that came from God through the Christ?”
The meaning of the parable
Now that we have an idea that a parable has a couple of purposes (that is to reveal to those with a commitment to Jesus and conceal to those that don’t), we need to have a look at the actually parable and see what it is telling us for today.
Now, I am sure that there are people here that have probably preached on this passage before, or at the very least taught it to children at some point. The beauty of this particular parable is that Jesus actually tells us what it means. There is not too much that can be disputed here because of that. But let’s just go over it again and see whether there is something that you can associate with today.
It makes it pretty clear what happens in each given circumstance but let’s re-read verses 18-23.
There are a couple of distinct perspectives to take on this. One is that all people are the receivers of the message about the kingdom of God. But the message is received in such different ways.
The challenge for us is as we receive the message about the kingdom, we need to ensure that when we receive the message of the good news of Jesus that we are like that good soil. Ready to receive, ready to nurture the message and for it to grow in our lives. There are things we need to be on the alert for. We need to be alert for a lack of understanding. This means that we are to continually seek to gain deeper understanding of the Word of God. We can’t assume that we already have all the answers. We can’t assume that what we learnt 5, 10, 15 years ago is enough. We need to be thirsty for a deeper understanding.
We also need this message of God to be so deep within ourselves that it takes root. To only have a superficial faith means that when trials come (which they will), we will not have what it takes to get through. Our faith in God will wither and die. There are many people who we could think of right now who probably fit into that category. Those that had a faith but as soon as things got tough, they lost sight of what God was up to in their lives.
Worrying about the things of this world will also cause us to lose the message. The more we focus on the things that concern us, the more they control us. Those that seek the dollar will eventually lose sight of the message of God. The good news of Jesus. The amazing grace that is available to us all.
We are to receive the message and nurture it in our lives. We are to be the good soil that has all the right stuff to make it grow. I don’t know that the end of verse 23 is talking about how many we will convert but I think it’s talking about the strength of our faith. As we hold on to the message of Jesus, as we nurture it in our lives, as we water it, feed it, focus on it, our faith grows depending on how God gifts us. That is not to say that we don’t share this. Part of the natural outworking of this is that we will share the message with others.
How can we love someone and not share what is the best thing that could happen to them? If we profess to love them, we want the best for them (not just in the future but for them right now). As part of our love for God and others, we will naturally share our love by sharing the message of Jesus (whether in word or deed).
The other perspective for me is “what are we as followers to do when we see a seed falling in the wrong spot?” I don’t think we should take this parable as purely focused on us as individuals. We need to also think about this as part of a community (both a church community and the wider community).
It is our responsibility to be working the “ground” so to speak, to be preparing it to receive the message of God. It’s our responsibility to be teaching, leading, loving and caring for people so that the seed doesn’t fall in the wrong place. That these people are prepared to receive and understand. That’s what love is. That’s what Jesus did for us. It’s our role to keep on with the work of Jesus in all that we do.
So, to conclude this morning, we need to be preparing the soil inside ourselves and within others to ensure that the message of God, the good news of Jesus is ready to be received and understood.
We can only do this is we are pressing into Jesus. We need to pray. To pray with all our might. We need to pray as often as we can. To commit the things of this world to a God who transcends it. If we don’t pray, we will end up as the seed that fell amongst the thorns or on the path. If we don’t pray for others, they won’t be ready either. Prayer is vital. How often do you pray? Again, prayer is not just an individual act, it’s also an act of community. How often do you pray with this community? Just on a Sunday? There are more opportunities to pray together than a Sunday. We need to pray together. We will not be prepared if we don’t.
We also need to be reading the word of God. We need to gain fresh understanding of what Jesus has told us. If we don’t read our bibles, we will be lost. We will not know the truth even if it hit us on the head with a lump of wood. Read it every day, reflect on what it is saying. Read some other books from trusted theologians to get their understanding of it. Meet together to discuss the bible. Do some training. College is a great way to engage both your mind and your heart in what the bible is saying. Again, this is not just a personal thing. We need to do this together. It’s vital.
So, let us be a people who prepare the soil in our own lives and the lives of others to receive and understand that message of God. The good news of Jesus.