4 And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable:

The word parable comes from the idea of “to set along side”; it is to set a spiritual truth along side a daily truth of living.
To illustrate a heavenly truth with an earthly story.

In this parable, Jesus
describes something they would all be familiar with:
A farmer casts seed on the ground, and the seed falling on different types of soil

There were three areas where the seed fell without lasting success:

  1. on the pathway
  2. on the rocky ground
  3. on the thorny ground.

But some of the seed did fall on good ground

d. Though this is commonly called the parable of the sower, neither the sower or the seed changes, but the difference lies in the soils

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.

Why wouldn’t the farmer only cast seed on good soil?

Some would fall on a pathway by accident (some fell by the wayside), but most of the seed was sown on ground that would be plowed after the seed was cast – so you didn’t know where rocks were or where thorns might grow

The common ground in Palestine was split into long narrow strips; between the strips there were paths which were rights of way; when the seed fell on these paths, which were beaten as hard as the road, it had no chance of getting in.

6 “Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.

There was the rocky ground.

This does not mean ground that was full of stones but ground which was only a thin skin of earth over a shelf of limestone rock.

In such ground there was no moisture or nourishment, and the growing plant was bound to wither and die.

7 “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.

The ground which was full of thorns was ground which at the moment looked clean enough.

It is possible to make any bit of ground look clean simply by turning it over.

But the seeds of the weeds and the fibrous roots of the wild grasses had been left in it.

The good seed and the weeds grew together, but the weeds grew more strongly; and so the life was choked out of the good seed.

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 good ground was ground that was deep and clean and well-prepared.

9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

The purpose of parables

Parables are more like puzzles or riddles than illustrations; they can be understood by those who have right “key.”

The disciples, who wanted the things of God, were given to know the mysteries of the kingdom – they could be spoken to plainly.

But often, others were taught with parables

i. In the Bible, a mystery isn’t something you can’t figure out. It is something that you would never know unless God revealed it to you. In the Biblical sense of the idea, you may know exactly what a mystery is, yet it is still a mystery, because you would not have known unless God revealed it

b. Jesus offered His hearers the opportunity to dig deep and find the truth, or to turn a blind eye to an interesting story. This would avoid a greater condemnation for having rejected a clearly understood truth

i. “So, that their guilt may not accumulate, the Lord no longer addresses them directly in explicit teachings during the period immediately preceding His crucifixion, but in parables.” (Geldenhuys)

c. In light of this, how blessed are those who do understand the parables of Jesus; not only do they gain the benefit of the spiritual truth illustrated, they also display some measure of responsiveness to the Holy Spirit

13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14 “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’
16 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;
17 “for assuredly, 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.
Matt 13:13-17 (NKJV)

He says that Jesus spoke in parables because people could not rightly see and understand. Matthew seems to say that it was not to hinder people from seeing and understanding but to help them that Jesus so spoke.
Matthew quotes immediately after this a saying of Isa 6:9-10, which in effect says, “I have spoken to them the word of God and the only result is that they have not understood a word of it.” So then the saying of Jesus may indicate not the object of his teaching in parables but the result of it.

(iii) What Jesus really meant is this–people can become so dull and heavy and blunted in mind that when God’s truth comes to them they cannot see it. It is not God’s fault. They have become so mentally lazy, so blinded by prejudice, so unwilling to see anything they do not want to see, that they have become incapable of assimilating God’s truth.

11 “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.

(a) The hard path represents the shut mind, the mind which refuses to take it in.

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.

(b) The shallow ground represents those who accept the word but who never think it out and never realize its consequences and who therefore collapse when the strain comes.

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.

(c) The thorny ground stands for those whose lives are so busy that the things of God get crowded out. We must ever remember that the things which crowd out the highest need not necessarily be bad. The worst enemy of the best is the second best.

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.

(d) The good ground stands for the good heart. The good hearer does three things. First, he listens attentively. Second, he keeps what he hears in his mind and heart and thinks over it until he discovers its meaning for himself. Third, he acts upon it. He translates what he has heard into action.

(ii) It is suggested that the parable is really a counsel against despair. Think of the situation. Jesus has been banished from the synagogues. The scribes and the Pharisees and the religious leaders are up against him. Inevitably the disciples would be disheartened. It is to them Jesus speaks this parable and in it he is saying, “Every farmer knows that some of his seed will be lost; it cannot all grow. But that does not discourage him or make him stop sowing because he knows that in spite of all the harvest is sure. I know we have our setbacks and our discouragements; I know we have our enemies and our opponents; but, never despair, in the end the harvest is sure.”

This parable can be both a warning as to how we hear and receive the word of God and an encouragement to banish all despair in the certainty that not all the setbacks can defeat the ultimate harvest of God.

4. (11-15) Jesus explains the parable

a. The seed is the word of God; 1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever

i. The natural tendency is for the audience to critique the preacher. But here, Jesus the preacher is critiquing His audience. How they will hear is the issue

b. Some people are like the ground on the pathway; they allow no room for the seed of the word in their lives – it never enters

i. This is Satan’s preferred result; his desire is that the word take no place in a person’s life, so they don’t run the “risk” of being fruitful to God

c. Some people are like the ground that is rocky, but covered with a thin layer of topsoil; they receive the seed of the word with a flash of enthusiasm that quickly burns out

d. Some people are like the seed that fell among the thorns; they receive the word but allow the interests and cares of this world choke it out

e. Some people are like the good ground, and receive the word with a good and noble heart, they keep the word, and thus bear fruit, thus fulfilling the purpose of the seed

f. These four categories apply to those who hear the gospel of salvation, but they also apply to those who are already saved who continually hear the word of God. How do you hear it? Do you let Satan take it right away? Do you take it but then immediately ignore it? Do you allow the cares of this world to make your hearing of the word of no effect? Or do you keep the word and see it bear fruit in your life?

B. The responsibility of those who receive the word

16 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.
17 “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.
18 “Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”

(iii) Lk 8:18 lays down the universal law that the man who has will get more; and that the man who has not will lose what he has. If a man is physically fit and keeps himself so, his body will be ready for ever greater efforts; if he lets himself go flabby, he will lose even the abilities he has. The more a student learns, the more he can learn; but if he refuses to go on learning, he will lose the knowledge he has. This is just another way of saying that there is no standing still in life. All the time we are either going forward or going back. The seeker will always find; but the man who stops seeking will lose even what he has.