You can see that the title is ‘The Parable of the Soils’ rather than ‘The Parable of the Sower’. In fact the parable in Matthew 13:1-23 is focused on the condition of the soils and not on the condition or the characteristics of the sower. The parable of sower/soils is a very popular one unfortunately often times the crux of the parable’s message is either misconstrued or mitigated. Not only did the Lord Jesus Christ teach the specific characteristic of the genuine child of God through this parable but also He did establish a method or means to discern and distinguish the genuine children of God from that of the impostors or the deluded ones. Yes!! There are people who delude themselves into thinking that they are in fact believers (Christians) but sadly they are not. That should pose a warning for all to have check on our salvation intermittently. In this parable we will be able to see how the Word of God gets despised and resisted by the stone-hearted sinners, how the impostors participate in the fellowship of God’s children (church) while inwardly they are still not regenerated or saved by the Spirit of God and how the cares of this world eclipse the Word of God in certain men and finally how the Word of God works in a fruitful hearer.
Let us look at the first three verses now: Matthew 13:1-23: (KJV)
1 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.
‘On the same day’ in verse 1 indicates the day when Christ healed a man with a withered arm (Matt 12:9-14), when He was falsely charged of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Matt 12:24) and when His mother and brothers came to see Him. So His narration of the parable of soils preceded such incidents (Chapter 12). John Gill, a prominent Bible teacher and theologian of the 16th century, considers this city to be Capernaum since it was by the sea coast. The reason that Jesus went out of the house could have been probably because of the huge pack of people. We read that ‘great multitudes were gathered together to Him’ in verse 2. Surely this multitude should have composed of people with diverse interests like the ones who desired to witness yet another miracle, who desperately needed a healing to save a family member, who needed some word of consolation or comfort from Him, who expected to hear His word, who strived to see this ‘miracle-worker’ about whom the whole region was talking about and of course should have comprised of the hypocritical Pharisees who were ravenous as wolves to spot a chance to indict Christ of treason and blasphemy.
Jesus got into a boat and sat. ‘Sitting’ was a Jewish rabbinic tradition whenever they wanted to dissertate about an important topic. So while Jesus had Himself seated in the deck of the ship the multitudes stood on the seashore to hear Him comfortably.In verse 3 we read that Jesus “spoke many things to them in parables”. The English word ‘parable’ was derived from the Greek word ‘parabole’ (pronounced as par-ab-ol-ay’). This means ‘to lay alongside’, ‘to cast alongside’. In order to explain an incomprehensible feature or concept, a fictitious story or a mundane activity is narrated alongside to help the recipient understand that imperceptible feature or concept. The recipient was able to understand the fictitious narrative or the mundane story. Based on that understanding he was able to relate to that incomprehensible concept. In this case, the Kingdom of Heaven is a mystery (Matt 13:11) which cannot be understood by the depraved human mind. So Jesus elucidated the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven using these parables.
‘Behold, a sower went out to sow..’ – Jesus said ‘Behold…’, which meant that the matter that entailed is of immense importance and so it deserved acute attention. Jesus was going to dispense to them the wisdom of God, something that those people have never heard before, something that is concerning the Kingdom of God and something that concerned them. While Jesus was still preaching the people could have scanned the distant farmlands and seen a sower sowing seeds. The sower was sowing seeds and what did this seed denote? When we read Mark 4:14, Mark states that the seed that the sower sows is the Word of God which is the Gospel.
The different Soils (Matthew 13:4-8): We read that as the sower broadcasts the seed, it fell on different kinds of soil.
Some fell on the wayside. This wayside soil was the path that fenced the fields. Travellers used these roads for travel. This soil was constantly trampled by the travellers. Due to this the soil was hard and packed. Evidently the seed that fell on this type of soil did not penetrate instead it only bounced. The soil was untilled, hard and dry. The seeds that fell on this type soil and just lay there were devoured by the birds.
Similarly some seeds fell on stony ground. Stony ground does not presuppose that the farmer was in fact sowing in a field filled with rocks and stones. He would have removed all the stones and other objects long before while tilling. The “stony places” refer to the strata of lime stones that were present underneath the layer of the ground. Palestine was rampant with limestone strata that lay hidden just a few yards from the ground. Initially the seed had enough soil and it started to develop foliage. Eventually when it started to develop roots it reached the limestone strata (“where they did not have much earth” v6) and thereafter the plant was unable to reach the moisture because of the impeding limestone. So when the sun was high and due to lack of moisture and lack of firm grip by the roots (“because they had no depth of earth” v7) the plants withered away. The promising growth was not actually what it seemed to be on the first place.
Some seeds fell among thorns. ‘Fell among thorns’ does not mean that the seeds fell somewhere apart from the field. Weeds are indigenous to a place. They are neither planted nor watered but they grow naturally. Initially when the farming land is cleared of all the weeds they cannot be completely eradicated. For the weed’s seeds or roots remain deep down under the ground. So when the farmer waters the seeds that are sown, the indigenous weeds also receive the same nourishment and they grow along with the crop. As we already noted that the weeds are indigenous, they swiftly adapt to the soil’s condition and they proliferate the entire farming land. Eventually the good crop is suffocated by the proliferation of the weeds and they die.
Some seeds fell on good ground. This soil is soft and penetrable unlike the wayside soil, deep and moist unlike the stony soil, does not have any other vegetation unlike the weedy soil. Since this soil is soft, penetrable, deep, rendering moisture to the roots and does not have any seeds or roots of the weeds, the crop quickly grows and produces fruits hundredfold, sixty and thirty.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” – These words of Jesus were an invitation for the thirsty soul that strived to draw living water from the eternal fountain, the Lord. It is not about mere audibility when Christ said “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” but the call extends to the inner man. The facets such as the purpose of this particular parable, its allegory, the truth all ought to be comprehensively understood by the inner man. Christ knew that this parable shrouded the intended meaning. All the common crowd could listen was a normal, daily-activity of a farmer and nothing extraordinary. But it was only His disciples and a few with them who could infer and sense that there was something uncommon about Christ’s narration that moment and that it did contain an allegory. Many a times we too flippantly browse the pages of Scripture or blithely listen to a Bible study or a sermon utterly lacking the zeal to pursue the God-intended meaning. Many a times we satiate ourselves with explanations that cannot even fit the fringes of the genuine meaning that is intended.
In verse 10 and Mark 4: 10 we see that only the disciples and a few along with them came to Jesus and asked why He had spoken in parables. We should keep in mind that a great multitude gathered around Christ and that is the reason He went to the seashore but now they were gone. Jesus very evidently explains in verse 11 in Matthew 13 that they who sought Him had been enabled to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven whereas to the others that grace has not been endowed. In Hebrews 12:2 where we read that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith. Our faith is inaugurated and is consummated solely by the unfathomable and irresistible grace of God. There is nothing good or worthy in us that make us want God in our lives on the contrary we were once revelling in enmity and rebellion against God and it was Christ who died for us while we still enemies (Romans 5:10) and reconciled us unto Himself. The God who inaugurated our faith is faithful and sovereign enough to complete it until the day of redemption. (Eph 1: 14). So the condition of the people was a practical demonstration of the parable itself. Just as the wayside soil which is hard and packed many were not invigorated by the mystery of the parable but rather chose to be complacent. Jesus also cites from Isaiah 6:9 and 10 which lucidly explains their condition.
The Explanation of the Parable:
The seed is the Word of God (verse 19).The sower is Christ (verse 37) and also anyone who preaches the message of Christ (the Gospel). The soils are likened to the different kinds of heart of the hearers. They soils help us understand the way each heart responds to the Gospel. We shall see the four different kinds of responses as our Lord explains to the disciples the mystery of the Parable of the soils.
The Wayside Heart:
Just as the wayside soil is hard and impenetrable so is the wayside heart. The Word of God never penetrates this kind of heart. The message never sinks in. It just bounces off with repugnance or utter hatred. The message is thoughtlessly thrown away just as the seed bounces off when it falls on the hard-packed wayside soil. The best example would be the Pharisees. The Pharisees always followed Jesus but did not share the intention of His disciples. They always were desperate for a chance to indict Jesus of treason and blasphemy to get Him out of their way. So long as they crouched behind Him they never in the least bit were swerved or intimidated by His message. They were stiff-necked and their hearts were brazen towards the message of Christ. The Word of God never seemed to work in them in the least possible way but they were infuriated when they heard the message of Christ and charged Him of performing miracles by the power of Beelzebub. So the wayside heart never received the Word on the first place. The birds are likened to Satan. Satan swiftly acts to take the Word off the heart when it lies there with no care or attention. This is the response of wayside heart.
The Stony Heart:
Contrary to the wayside heart the stony heart receives the Word with ‘joy’. Sadly this joy does not perpetuate. It quickly fades away and the stony heart finds itself in the condition of the wayside heart. The ‘joy’ with which the stony heart receives can be merely emotional or euphoric but the will has not made a genuine decision to accept God and live for Him. The real joy of God ensues in a life that lasts in eternity. The brevity of this joy will also impel the hearer to actively attend church regularly, participate in fellowships, Bible studies, worship choirs, etc. He might even talk a lot about God and His love, mercy, grace and yet not be saved. All these activities are nothing but likened to the foliage that the seed develops in the stony heart. Many are deceived into thinking that they are saved just by measuring the time they spend in worship choirs, fellowships, camps and also talking about God with friends and neighbours.
Charles Templeton is not a familiar person but at one time he was presumed to eclipse the fame of Billy Graham through his conventions and evangelistic crusades. He was a friend of Billy Graham then and they both conducted evangelistic crusades throughout America at the same time. Crowds thronged for his crusades but sadly now no one ever knows him or hears him. Eventually he claimed to have lost all the beautiful relationship that he once held with the Lord Jesus. He also wrote a book called ‘Farewell to God’ in which he concluded that Jesus cannot be God. Lee Strobel, an atheist turned Christian interviewed him about the current relationship with Jesus. Lee saw a tear roll down his cheek and Templeton poignantly said that he misses Jesus now and on the other hand denied his deity. During his ministry he was plagued with doubts that Scripture was not inerrant. He believed Scripture contained errors and therefore cannot be believed and so Jesus cannot be whom He claimed to be. To Templeton the doubts that he had were like the tribulations. He never stood it but gave into it because he did not have the saving faith of Christ.
Just imagine the plight of one man who was once valiantly preaching the gospel message and now flatly denying the deity of Christ. It indeed is frightening to consider people like Charles Templeton. But Scripture says in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. If Christ begins our faith, He is faithful to complete it. He never leaves it undone or half-done. (Refer John 6:37-39, 44; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Jude 24; I Peter 1:4,5 and Phil. 1:6.) So the joy with which the stony hearts receive is compared to the foliage growth (see my previous article). ‘FOLIAGE’ growth is not an ‘EVIDENCE’ for salvation but ‘FRUITS’ are. A fruitful Christian is a genuine Christian. When tribulations and persecutions (scorching sun) come, the stony hearts will fall away or in the other sense their real condition (unsaved condition) will be revealed.
The Weedy Heart:
Just as the stony heart, the weedy heart receives the Word with joy but the cares of the world suffocate the work of the Word of God. In the case of the rich young ruler, he enthusiastically approached Jesus and inquired for the ways to occupy the Kingdom of Heaven. He boasted that he in fact had kept all the Mosaic Law. But when Jesus asked him to sell his possessions and give it to the poor. We read that he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions. The once enthusiastic seeker has now totally disavowed such a desire to inherit the eternal life. The riches that this man had accumulated had in fact obsessed his mind and choked the word that Christ had uttered from working in Him. He too was not genuinely seeking to be saved but only exhibited a mere infatuation with the things concerning God and His kingdom. His allegiance to God’s law was a sham without a nugget of truth in his claims and his mind was in fact deluged with the desire for riches. It is only the foliage that grew and not any fruits because long before the fruits showed up the crop was choked by the weeds (cares of the world). So there was only foliage in this case and no fruits.
The Receptive Heart:
The receptive heart is penetrable and not hard, soft without rocks, clean without weeds. This heart responds in a way that God intends and becomes fruitful. We see that it is hundred, sixty and thirty-fold fruitful. Christ also indicates in verse 23 that not all Christians will be equally productive. The extent of fruitfulness that a Christian exhibits in this life echoes in eternity in the form of rewards. John MacArthur adds “When a Christian is disobedient, he restricts the fruitfulness of his life”. The real evidence for salvation is to check if we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit as mentioned in Gal. 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
Parable of Soils in our lives:
This is an amazing and a wise parable that Christ had narrated regarding salvation, responses of the human heart towards God’s Word. The Parable of the soils helps us to examine our own condition and also to distinguish the false believers from the genuine ones. Let us not evaluate our salvation through visible morality like church fellowship, eager ministerial participation, and the like, though they also are aspects of genuine faith, let us first recheck ourselves that we have the fruit of the Holy Spirit described in Gal 5:22 – 23 which is the evidence for genuine salvation. Let us do what 2 Peter 1:10 says “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble”
By Vimal Anand, Chennai.