There are numerous valuable parables in Matthew chapter 13. To give them their proper attention, we will study chapter 13 in three parts. Tonight we will start with the purpose of parables and the Parable of the Sower in verses 1-23. But before we begin, please understand and consider this: a parable is a spiritual truth revealed through the telling of a story using everyday, normal people and items.The passage (Matthew 13:1-23) starts with Jesus telling the parable, then providing an explanation of parables in general, then concluding with an explanation of the Parable of the Sower specifically.
We will start tonight with the middle section where Jesus talks about why He uses parables.
In verses 10-17 Jesus is asked by His disciples why He spoke to the multitudes in parables. Jesus’s answer is that some who hear understand immediately the spiritual application of the practical principles found in the parables. Others though, willfully remain in disbelief and the message of the parables is completely lost on them. These listeners can be identified as the scribes and Pharisees which we have read about in other chapters who, in spite of already not knowing or believing in Jesus, were inclined to believe in Him even less when they heard His parables.
By listening to and having faith in the parables, those who had knowledge (Jesus’s disciples) were to be given more knowledge through the parables and those who did not have knowledge (scribes and Pharisees), were to be even more dumbfounded by Jesus’s teachings when they heard the parables.
Now let us look at the message of the Parable of the Sower in verses 1-9. A sower would have been one that planted seeds, for crops or otherwise. A sower went out to sow seeds and the seeds fell on four different types of ground, each producing a different result:
1) By the side of the road – birds came and ate the seeds
2) Among rocks and stones – plants sprung up and grew but soon withered away under the sun because they had no root
3) Among thorns – thorns sprung up and choked out the plants
4) On good ground – the plants grew and were fruitful
In verse 9, Jesus admonishes honest listeners to pay attention. Moving down to verses 18-23, here we have Jesus’s explanation of the parable. All of the elements of the story are symbols:
Seed = God’s message of salvation
Ground = People types
Birds = Satan
Sun = Challenges to faith
Thorns = Worries of the world & trust in money
Crop = An effort of contribution to God’s kingdom and the rewards of serving God.
Jesus’s explanation is clear and simple. If the reader did not understand the meaning of the Parable of the Sower before, they certainly do now. This parable, at its heart, explains how mankind will receive the good news of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. Most will not follow for various reasons; but a precious few will hear, believe, obey and work to spread the good news.
Take note of the variety in how people will receive the Word of God. Jesus provides four different types of people, four different possible ways to react to the Holy Word. If we boil it down to percentages, this means that roughly 25% of the people that hear God’s Word will respond with belief and obedience in God and a lasting change in their life. And even among this 25%, some of them will have more to contribute than others.
It should be noted that Jesus does not say that there is an equal distribution among the different hearers, so we cannot really rely on the 25% as a definite percentage of believers. But we can infer from the parable that the majority of hearers will not be successful believers.
We can learn a few things from this passage tonight:
1) Do not be discouraged if we share Jesus with others but they do not believe
2) Our task is to share Jesus; the believing is up to the listener
3) There is value in knowing if we retain any of the qualities of the unsuccessful listeners Jesus describes: Do I tend to lose interest? Do I get distracted by material things? If so, I can pray to God about these shortcomings and work on seeking Him more decisively.
Jesus’s parables are a way to understand great spiritual truths using common stories. If we think about spirituality in these simple terms, we ingest the meaning more deeply and can begin operating with this godly knowledge.