Category Archives: THE PERSON OF CHRIST: His preaching. Part 1 The parable of the sower.

The parable of the sower is the key to the other parables of the Lord Jesus.

THE PERSON OF CHRIST: His preaching. Part 1 The parable of the sower.

 PART 1 THE SETTING IN WHICH THE PARABLES WERE FIRST SPOKEN

Luke sums up the public ministry of the Lord Jesus in the words, “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach”, Acts 1:1. His ministry consisted of both miracles and doctrine. The fact that “do” comes before “teach” shows that the doctrine of Christ was supported by His miracles, and they gave authority for His teaching. It is also true that His doctrine was illustrated by His miracles, as is seen especially in John 5 and 6.

At the end of His ministry the Lord referred to both His words and His works in John 14:8-11: “Philip saith unto Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake.” John 14:8-11.

Notice the following things that are brought out in this passage:

1. The subject is that of knowing the Father, as indicated by Philip’s request.

2. The Lord Jesus expresses surprise that even though Philip had been with Him during His ministry, he had not come to know the Father.

3. The secret to knowing the Father is in knowing the relationship the Son has with Him. The Son is “in the Father”, which means He has identity of nature with the Father, so that what the Son is perfectly expresses what the Father is. Not only is the Son in the Father, but the Father is “in the Son”, meaning that the identity of nature between the Father and the Son results in the full endorsement by the Father of all that the Son does as He expresses what the Father is.

4. As a result of the foregoing, The Lord Jesus can make two claims. The first, to do with His words. He does not speak “of Himself”, as if He is the independent source of the doctrine He made known. Rather, because He is one in nature with the Father, when the Son speaks it is as if the Father speaks. Second, (note the colon after the word “Myself”), the works He performed before men were works the Father was doing, so one in essence are they. Notice that in the last part of the statement the idea of the Father being in the Son is intensified, so that He dwells in the Son, for the Father is fully comfortable and at ease in the Son- there is nothing to disturb His rest.

5. Because when the Son speaks the Father speaks, we should believe His words. If we are not able to do that immediately, then we should believe Him for the sake of the works. In other words, respond to the testimony that His miracles give to His person.

The word parable comes from the Greek word “paraballo”, “para” being a preposition meaning “by the side of”, and “ballo” being the verb “to throw”. A parable, then, is a form of speech where a familiar thing is thrown alongside an unfamiliar thing. So in the parable of the sower the familiar thing is the sight of a farmer scattering seed on the ground, whilst the unfamiliar thing is that the seed is the Word of God and the ground is the heart of man.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that the spoken ministry of the Lord Jesus always consisted of parables. A reading of Matthew chapters five, six, and seven will show that He began by speaking precepts. Then, when the nation hardened its heart against Him, He spoke in parables. Finally, when they were determined to crucify Him, He spoke with prophecies, for the nation would have to wait a long time before the setting up of the kingdom for which they longed.

There is a connection between these three forms of teaching, however, for the precepts were the setting out of the principles of His kingdom; the prophecies told of the circumstances in which that kingdom would be set up, and the parables told out the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, giving explanations as to why the kingdom had not been set up, and the conditions upon which men may be in that kingdom.

So it is that in Matthew 13:34-35 we learn that the parable ministry of the Lord Jesus had been foretold in the Old Testament, and Matthew quotes from Psalm 78:2 to show that. The psalmist said, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world”. The reference to the foundation of the world is very apt, for we learn from Matthew 25:34 that the Kingdom of Christ has been prepared from the foundation of the world, but certain things about it were not disclosed either at that time or subsequently. Once the nation of Israel showed that they were not prepared to recognise their Messiah and give Him His rightful place over them, the appropriate time for the setting out of these secret things had come.

The parables of the Lord Jesus, then, were spoken in response to the unbelief of Israel nationally. We may trace the signs of that unbelief in Matthew’s gospel.

In chapter 10 He sent forth the apostles to preach with the words, “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me”, Matthew 10:40. Such are the issues involved in rejecting Christ and His apostles.

In chapter 11 He rebukes the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, and issues an invitation to the individual, rather than to the nation.

In chapter 12:1-8 He is found walking through the cornfields, and compares Himself to David who, although anointed to be king, was on the run to escape from Saul. The true King, anointed by God at Jordan, is now rejected and begins to be persecuted. We see this clearly in subsequent verses, where he heals a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. This would remind those present of the incident in 1 Kings 13:1-10, where King Jereboam had stood in the temple and sought to burn incense. A man of God spoke a word of judgement about this, and King Jereboam put forth his hand against him, only to find that it dried up, and he could not move it. Such was God’s reaction in that day to those who opposed the man of God and the Word of God.

The man in the synagogue had a withered hand, and as such was a figure of the nation; yet in grace the Lord Jesus healed him when he obeyed His command, submitting to His authority. This was the reaction of King Jereboam too, for he had repented of his action, and his hand had been restored. Would the Pharisees, who sought to oppose the Lord Jesus, also repent? Sadly, the answer is in the negative, for we read “they went out, and held a counsel against Him, how they might destroy Him”, Matthew 12:14.

At this point Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42:1-4, in which the prophet describes the Messiah as God’s Servant, (rather than the Pharisees being the servants of God); that He was chosen, (rather than voted against in the Sanhedrin); He was God’s Beloved, (rather than hated of the Pharisees); that God was well-pleased with Him, (whereas the Pharisees were highly displeased with Him). In this way the prophet foretold the conflict between the opinion of men about the Lord Jesus, and the verdict of His Father.

There follows the account of another miracle, this time of a demon-possessed man who could neither see nor speak. The people responded to the healing of this man by calling the Lord Jesus the Son of David. This marked Him out as the Messiah, and enraged the Pharisees who were nearby. They responded in panic, and attributed the miracle to the power of Satan. The Lord Jesus showed the folly of such an idea, for if a demon is cast out by Satan, then he is destroying himself. To attribute the miracles of the Lord Jesus to the power of Satan is an affront to the Spirit of God by whom they were really performed. To continue in this sin is to put ones-self outside of the range of forgiveness until such times as it is repented of.

Sadly, the Pharisees persist in their blasphemy, for they now ask for a sign from heaven, verse 38, implying that the other signs were not from God. There shall no sign be given to such men, except the sign of the prophet Jonah, the man who went with a message from God to the Gentiles, after a death and resurrection experience. The message is clear; only if they believe on the Lord Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God, can they come into the blessing of salvation.

It becomes evident that the demon-possessed man, blind and dumb, who had been healed, was a symbol of the nation. It was the nation that was being controlled by Satan, and hence were blind to His glories and dumb in His praise. So it that the Lord Jesus leaves them with the reference to a man who has had a demon expelled from him, but that demon returns after a while with seven others, and so the last state of the man is worse than the first. When God banished the nation of Israel to Babylon, they learnt at first hand the wickedness of idol-worship, for it was nothing less than the worship of the Devil. This expelled from their hearts the idolatry that had caused the captivity. The Lord is warning them here that if they allow Satan an entrance into the nation again, (as they were by plotting against Him and attributing His miracles to the power of Satan), then the last state of the nation, under the Antichrist, will be far worse than its state under the idol-worshipping kings of Judah.

The final incident before the parables of chapter 13 are spoken concerns His near relations, who asked to speak with Him when He was in a house teaching the people. Their request provides Him with the opportunity to formally break from the nation. He exclaims, “Who is My mother? And who are My brethren? And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, “Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother”, Matthew 12:48-50. In this way the Lord Jesus distanced Himself from every natural relationship, and showed that only those who have the life of His Father, and who are therefore in the family of God, have any connection with Him. Significantly, He stretched forth His hand; but how different this was to King Jereboam as he stretched forth his hand. He stretched it forth to point the man of God of God out for ill, whereas the Lord Jesus points out those who are in the good of the blessing of being His brethren.

How is this relationship, which is far superior to natural relationships, obtained? The answer is through the doing of the will of the Father. But how do we know what that will is? When we look in Luke’s parallel account we find the answer, for there the Lord says, “My mother and My brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it”, Luke 8:21. As James would later write, “Of His own will hath He begotten us, by the word of truth”, James 1:18. And Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever”, 1 Peter 1:23. We should not confuse the seed Peter refers to with the seed of the parable of the sower. Believers are born again, but that birth does not bring them into another natural generation, but a new spiritual one, which has not the corruption of sin about it. The means by which this happens is through the word of God, which has life-giving power, being itself living and abiding.

Now this is contrary to Jewish thought, for they believed that to be of the seed of Abraham was enough to secure a place in the kingdom of Messiah. And they also believed that kingdom would be brought in by force, as He overthrew all opposition, and as Warrior King assumed the throne. In the parables of Matthew 13 however, we learn the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, verse 13. Now a mystery in Scripture is truth that God has withheld until the appropriate moment comes for it to be disclosed. And when it is disclosed, it is only those who are initiates into the mystery who know it. So we now look at verses 10-17, where these things are made clear.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW CHAPTER 13, VERSES 10 TO 17

13:10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

13:12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

13:13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

13:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

13:17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

 PART 2 THE REASON FOR THE PARABLES

13:10 And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?

Those who have just been described as His brethren because they hear the word of God and do it, now enquire further about the things He is saying. They have a commendable keenness for the things of God, which we might well copy.

13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

The great multitudes that gathered together to hear Him would be of a mixed opinions; they would not all be believers. Only to those who receive the truth is more truth given, as verse 12 goes on to say. The kingdom of heaven is not the kingdom consisting of heaven, (any more than the kingdom of God is the kingdom consisting of God), but is the sphere of those who profess to know God. That some are in this kingdom who are not genuine believers is seen from the fact that some “sons of the kingdom” are cast out into outer darkness, Matthew 8:12. It is also seen from another angle, in that only those who are born of water and of the Spirit enter into the kingdom of God, John 3:5. So only true believers are found in the kingdom of God, whereas some who are in the kingdom of heaven are not true believers. It is this truth that is one of the major mysteries of the chapter, for the Jews thought they were in the kingdom because they were Jews. A reading of John 8:30-40 will show what their thoughts were.

13:12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

“He who has” is a man who has believed in Him, and to him further light is promised, so that he has an abundance. Those who “have not” are those who do not accept Him as the true Messiah, but simply and only believe He is able to work miracles. John 2:23-25 tells us of these people, and to them the Lord did not commit Himself. From such will be taken away that which they have, meaning that their profession will be exposed for what it is, false profession, and their claim that they believe on Him properly will be dismissed.

13:13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

This is the reason for the parable-ministry of the Lord, then, so that the truth might be withheld from those who did not see the miracles with the eye of faith, but just marvelled at wonderful acts. And did not hear His teaching with the ear of faith. Matthew had begun his account of the ministry of Christ with three chapters of doctrine, and then two chapters of miracles. They saw the actual miracles, but did not see the significance of it. They heard the teaching, but did not receive and practice it.

13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

This attitude was foretold by Isaiah in chapter 6 of his prophecy. The hearing was not followed by understanding, the seeing was not followed by perception of the meaning of what was done.

13:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

The people’s hearts were unresponsive to that which was presented to them by way of miracles and doctrine. This was the root of the problem, so it is mentioned first. Their ears were dull of hearing because of lack of use, and their eyes did not see because they had closed them. If it were otherwise, they would have been able to understand with their heart, and God would heal their disability, just as the Lord had healed the blind and dumb man. Dumbness is often caused by an inability to hear and imitate speech.

These words from Isaiah are quoted with increasing severity in the New Testament. Here, there is still the possibility of the nation being converted. In John 12:39-40 they “could not believe” as a nation, for God was dealing with them nationally by hardening their heart, because they were about to crucify His Son. Individuals from amongst them could still believe, however, as is seen from John 12:42. In Acts 28:26-27 there is the final appeal to them, as Paul expounded the prophets to the chief men of the Jews that were met with him. Some believed, and some believed not, verse 24, but nationally the people had closed their eyes to the truth. Finally, in Romans 11:9,10, the apostle Paul brings together three passages, Isaiah 6:9,10; 29:10; and Psalm 69:22,23, which call down judgement on the nation for their rejection of their Messiah. Even then the apostle makes clear that there is a remnant according to the election of grace, of which he formed part, and the nation in a day to come will be brought back from their blindness, for it only lasts “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”, verse 25.

13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

As true believers, the eyes of the disciples had been opened to see the significance of His miracles, and to hear the truth of His teaching. This meant they were truly blessed, or spiritually prosperous.

13:17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Old Testament saints, even if they were prophets, or walked in close communion with God as righteous men, had not heard the sort of teaching Christ had given, nor had they seen such miracles as He had performed. The words of the Lord Jesus as He neared the end of His Upper Room discourse were these: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father”, John 15:22-24.

Notice the phrase “the works which none other man did”. Despite the fact that both Elijah and Elisha had raised the dead, and worked other miracles besides, yet the Lord claims here to have done works that none other man did. How can this be true? The answer is that the works of Christ are an expression of the unity of nature and essence between the Father and the Son, and as such are on a higher level. For Elijah and Elisha were not expressing their oneness with God when they performed miracles. They were simply acting as God’s channel for the blessing to flow through; that blessing, and the power to transmit it, did not originate in them, but in the God who sent them. With Christ it was otherwise, for His miracles were an expression of who and what He was, as one with the Father.

A further insight into the uniqueness of Christ’s miracles is found in John 5:19 with the word “likewise”. It could not be said that the prophets or apostles worked miracles like God does, for they simply acted as agents. The Son is not the mere agent of the Father, but is acting in complete harmony with Him, and doing so, moreover, in manhood.

Yet another indication along this line is the use of the words “as He will”, in John 5:21. Of no mere man could it be said that he did miracles of his own will. This makes the miracles of the Son unique.

Not only were His works unique, but so were His words. He said Himself that “the words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself”, John 14:10. And again, “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him”, John 8:26. And yet again, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me”, John 7:16. Because of His oneness in nature with the Father, the Son only speaks what the Father is speaking, just as He only does what the Father is doing, John 5:19. No wonder men said, “never man spake like this man”, John 7:46.

 THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW CHAPTER 13, VERSES 1 TO 9

13:1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.

13:2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

13:3 And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

13:4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

13:6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

13:7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

13:8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

13:9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

 

PART 3 THE DETAILS OF THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER

 

13:1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.

The previous incident, recorded in Matthew 12:46-50, took place in a  house, and now the Lord Jesus moves outside to the sea shore. This has great significance, for the house would represent the House of Israel, the nation that had come from Jacob, otherwise known as Israel. The word house was used in a double sense, being the place where the family lived, but also the family itself. The word for son and the word for build are connected in the Hebrew language, so a man’s sons were the stones out of which his house was built. We see this in the expression House of Israel, meaning the sons that came from father Jacob, otherwise known as Israel.

In that house, as we have noticed, the Lord made it clear that those who were associated with Him as His brothers were not those who had a natural link, but those who had a spiritual one, as those who heard and practised the word of God. He now sits by the sea, for the district derived its name form the Sea of Galilee, being known as Galilee of the Gentiles. The towns and cities of this part of Israel were more influence by the many Gentiles that lived there, and so the Sea of Galilee is a reminder of the wider Gentile world into which Christ will send His servants to sow the good seed of the Word of God. We should notice that the first four parables were spoken by the sea, whereas for the last three the Lord returned to the house, verse 36.

13:2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto Him, so that He went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

The position adopted here facilitated the hearing of what He had to say, for His voice would carry easily to the crowds. There is a spot on the shores of Galilee where tradition says the discourse on the Bread of Life was given. A person standing on the shore can speak normally, and crowds seated on the natural amphitheatre at that place can easily hear what is said.

There was the other consideration of course, that it was safer to be in the boat a little off-shore, than to risk being trampled by the jostling crowds. The Lord never invited danger.

13:3 And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

Noticeably the Lord does not begin by using the sea as His parable, as He did when referring to His disciples as fishers of men. The expectation of the Jews was that Messiah would be a conquering hero, bringing in His kingdom by force, whereas here He speaks of seed being sown on the earth. He makes no attempt to explain the parable to the multitude. This is a test for them; if they desire to have more light, then it would be given.

13:4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

The sower makes no attempt to select where his seed will fall. The wise man said in Ecclesiastes 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they shall both alike be good”. The New Testament equivalent of this is found in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season”.

As he made his way over his field, he came across a pathway, trodden by countless feet, where the ground was compacted, and the seed could not penetrate the surface. As a result the seed remained exposed, and the birds came and ate it up. It is important to notice that in the parable the different sorts of soil are like that before the sower came along. In the application, the response of various classes of people is pictured by these soils, so the soil is their heart after they have heard the word. So we cannot criticise the sower for sowing seeds on the compacted soil of the wayside.

13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

13:6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

Patches of stony soil were likewise sown, even though there was not much earth there. This sort of soil would be known as “hot soil”, for it would be dry and poor. Seed managing to germinate there would come up quickly, since the ground was warm, but the same sun which heated the soil now burnt up the plants, for there was no deepness of earth with a reserve of moisture for the roots. There was another problem, too, for Luke 8:6 says that the seed also fell on a rock, with hardly any soil over it at all.

13:7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

Some soil was weedy and overgrown, and the thorns overwhelmed the new seedlings and choked them. The result was that no grain was harvested from that part of the field.

13:8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

The fourth kind of soil is introduced with a “but”, for now a different and better situation is in view, for the point of sowing the seed is achieved, and a harvest is reaped.

13:9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

In line with the words of verses 13-17, the Lord exhorts the people to hear what He has to say, and then respond with interest and enquiry to it. He is not simply telling an interesting story, but setting out truth, but in a way that only can be known by earnest enquirers. They all had ears to hear naturally, but not all had ears to hear spiritually.

 

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW CHAPTER 13, VERSES 18 TO 23

13:18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

13:19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

13:20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

13:21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

13:22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

13:23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

PART 4  THE MEANING  OF THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER

THE ACTIVITY OF THE SOWER, AND THE WAYSIDE HEARERS

13:18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

Again the reminder of the urgent need to hear with the hearing of faith, so that the “By hearing they hear, and shall not understand” of the prophet Isaiah does not condemn them. This is only found in Matthew’s account, so the command to hear comes from the King Himself with all His authority. There is a very real sense in which every man’s heart is the same, as the wise man said, “As in water face answereth to face, so is the heart of man to man”, Proverbs 27:19. In other words, just as when you look into a pool of water you see a reflection of yourself, so when you look into the heart of other people, you see yourself there too. So the difference with these soils is their response to the seed sown.

13:19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

Notice that the seed is sown in the heart, but it is a heart that does not respond to the word of God as it should. The various soils are different sorts of heart. In Matthew the word is the word of the kingdom. In any era the Kingship of God and of Christ is set out. Even while he was preaching the gospel of the grace of God the apostle Paul “expounded and testified the kingdom of God”, Acts 28:24. In the gospel epistle, that to the Romans, he declares that the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, (that is, is not to do with material matters as such), but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”, Romans 14:17. All who enter the kingdom of God do so by way of Calvary, as Nicodemus learned in John 3.

Mark simply calls the seed the word. The servant gospel makes clear that the service of the sower consists only of sowing the word, there is no mandate to add or take away from it. The law of Moses forbad the sowing of mixed seeds; if that was true under law in the physical realm, how much more is it true in the spiritual. The preaching of the gospel is Bible-centred and Christ-centred, not sinner-centred. It does not consist of a constant stream of stories, challenges, slogans and appeals. The word of God has its own power, and we should let it do its own work by that power. Since the seed is the word, then the way to “sow” is to speak. Preaching is God’s method, the setting forth of that which “God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested His word through preaching”, Titus 2,3. We have no right to alter this, and adopt schemes of our own.

Luke makes clear that the word in question is the Word of God. The Thessalonians were commended for receiving the gospel “not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God”, 1 Thessalonians 2:13. And the apostle Peter reminds his readers that it was the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever, which was preached to them, and the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, associated himself and empowered that preaching, 1 Peter 1:12, 23-25.

Those by the wayside are those who, although they hear the word physically, do not take in the word for what it is. To such no understanding is given. How important that preachers impress upon their hearers the authority of the Word of God. And they cannot do this effectively if they question its authority constantly. Repeated alterations to the wording; appeals to “the margin”; references to “better manuscripts”; all these serve only to distract the hearers, and lessen the impact of the pure word of God.

Those who have no heart to understand the word of God that is preached to them are easy prey to the enemy of God’s truth, as he snatches from their reach that which they hear, lest they have a change of heart. The last thing the devil wants is that men “hear and be saved”, as Luke puts it. Whereas it should be the first thing we want in the preaching of the gospel, for that is how the maximum glory is achieved for Christ. We are not here to fill gospel halls with false professors, who have to be fed a diet of entertainment and socialising to keep them coming. An assembly is the “pillar and ground of the truth” in a locality, and has the solemn responsibility of maintaining the truth of God’s word amongst the people, both by lip and by life. The blessing of God is defined by the psalmist as “life for evermore”, Psalm 133:3. This may either be when sinners believe, and receive the gift of eternal life, or when saints progress in the things of God, and mature in His ways.

We should be on our guard, lest we detract from the preaching of the gospel by engaging in idle talk after the meeting, for the Devil will use that to distract earnest seekers.

Notice the three titles of the enemy of God’s truth in the three accounts. Matthew calls him the wicked one, the one who drags down. Instead of being in the lofty heights of the Kingdom of God, the unbeliever is dragged down to the Lake of Fire, simply by not obeying the word of God. Mark calls him Satan, for he is an adversary, warring against the truth of God in every way possible, fair or foul, but mostly foul. Luke calls him the Devil, for one of his strategies is to accuse God of being unjust, or unloving, or other like things, so that men reject God and His truth.

THE STONY GROUND HEARERS

13:20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

13:21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

It might seem a good thing if hearers of the gospel immediately respond and believe. Yet here the Lord Jesus wisely counsels against being too hasty with regard to such persons. There is such a thing as impulsive faith, (for Luke’s account does speak of them believing), which is like a plant which grew up in the shallow, rocky soil, and the same sun that caused it to quickly grow also caused it to wither, for it had no root in itself, the root being evidence of life within. Such “for a while believe, but in time of temptation fall away”, Luke 8:13. The true believer thrives on tribulation, Romans 5:3. We might think that those of Acts 2 were like this, for they quickly responded to the gospel, but the genuineness and permanence of their faith is seen in them being “pricked to the heart”, for the word of God had produced true repentance and faith, Acts 2:37-40. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians about believing in vain, 1 Corinthians 15: 2, by which he meant believing without due consideration, and with a flippant, unthinking attitude.

Those who preach the gospel should preach a solid message, firmly grounded on the truth of Scripture, and one which appeals not to the emotions, (although the emotions cannot be totally excluded from conversion), but to the conscience, (2 Corinthians 4:2), heart, (Romans 10:10), mind, (2 Corinthians 4:4), and will, (Romans 1:5), of those listening. True repentance must also be in evidence, as Acts 20:21 indicates. There is a need to be especially careful in relation to the children of believers, who have been brought up under the sound of the word of God, both at home and in the assembly gatherings. It is all too easy for these to think that they are saved simply because their parents are, and they have come to many meetings. The children of believers are sinners like anyone else, “for there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, Romans 3:22,23.

Notice that it is persecution for the word’s sake. The word of God is an embarrassment to them, and when tested by the world in regard to it, they prefer the world to the word.

Luke uses the word “fall away”, the literal meaning of which is that they “place away” themselves, distancing themselves from the truth they professed to believe. There is nothing to stop any of the different classes of hearer mentioned in this parable, (whether wayside, stony ground, or thorny ground hearers), from changing, and truly believing to the salvation of their souls. Those who it is thought have believed flippantly, should be instructed in the right way, so that they believe with saving faith. After all, not many converts are saved the first time they hear the gospel. So they start off by being wayside hearers, and then become good ground hearers.

There may be many reasons why some, claiming to be believers, associate with believers in some way. There may be the sense of loyalty to the “church” where they were taken as children, or where they were married; the sense of loyalty to parents or grandparents; the feeling of patriotism, which is satisfied by belonging to the “Established” church; the comfort which is brought to them in times of need and bereavement; the impression of authority and knowledge which professional churchman are perceived to have; the awe that is produced by fine architecture and splendid buildings; the sentimental feelings engendered by associations with the past which “the church” represents. All these things are appreciated by the natural mind, and therefore are not spiritual at all, for “the carnal mind is enmity against God”, Romans 8:7.

The Scriptures would indicate to us that there are various sorts of faith, and we need to be aware of these differences, for they are of vital importance.

There is impulsive faith, such as we have just noticed in Luke’s account of the parable of the sower. Then there is incorrect faith. This is the sort of faith that they have who trust in themselves that they are righteous, as the Lord Jesus indicated in Luke 18:9. Faith in works, “church” attendance, or the words of a minister of religion, whether over a cradle or over a coffin; these are the things that some sinners believe in. Such people are not eternally secure. Again, there is insincere faith,the sort of “faith” that is professed for the sake of advantage, perhaps to please parents, friends, or even the electorate in the case of politicians. Such people are not saved. It is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness, Romans 10:10. The heart, morally considered, is the centre of man’s being, from which everything else issues, Proverbs 4:23.

Further, there is incomplete faith.  John 2:23-25 reads as follows: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.” He who knew the hearts of men was aware that they believed on Him only as a miracle-worker. It was Passover time, and the religious excitement of the people was at fever pitch. At the first Passover time, God had done great works through Moses- was this Jesus of Nazareth another great man of God like him? Because the people were in this frame of mind, He did not trust Himself to them. Their faith was an incomplete faith, and needed further light to become saving faith. It was not enough to believe that Jesus was a holy man of God, that He was able to work miracles, perhaps by the power of prayer, and that He was an able teacher and a fine example.

Then there is that important faith that saves and secures for ever. The Lord Jesus is too concerned about the welfare of the souls of men to leave them to think of Him only as one able to perform miracles. He went on to explain, therefore, in His conversation with Nicodemus as recorded in John 3:1-21, that the faith that saves is faith in a crucified Saviour. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3:14-16. It is as one lifted up upon a cross that we must believe on Him. The reference to the serpent lifted up in the wilderness gives the clue to the meaning of this lifting up. It was because of Israel’s sin and rebellion that God provided the remedy of the serpent lifted up, Numbers 21:4-9. And it was because of the sin and rebellion of the whole world that the Lord Jesus needed to die upon the cross to deal with sins. Faith in a crucified Saviour results in everlasting life for the one exercising it. Such is the sure promise of the Saviour Himself. Those who believe like this are eternally secure.

THE THORNY GROUND HEARERS

13:22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

It seems as if, as with the stony ground hearers, there was some appearance of growth with these who receive the seed among thorns, but the growth is smothered. It is not opposition from without this time, not persecution and tribulation, but cares, riches, and other things. These are things that come from within. As a result the growth becometh unfruitful. This can either mean in the case of a true believer, that the potential for fruit is not realised, and the early fruitfulness is not maintained, or that there is no fruit ever at all. We should take note of the things that choke the word, for our God is looking for fruit, as the Lord Jesus said, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit”, John 15:8, and we surely do not want to disappoint Him..

Matthew speaks of the care of this world, the overall character of the struggle for existence. Mark and Luke speaks of cares in all their variety. These have a bad effect on the growth of the seed, and choke the progress that should be made. As for believers, they should heed the exhortation of the apostle Peter, and cast all their care upon the Saviour, knowing He cares for them, 1 Peter 5:7. This is no doubt an echo of the words of the psalmist who spoke of casting one’s burden on the Lord, Psalm 55:22. As for unbelievers, those overwhelmed with cares, and who do not see the over-riding importance of listening to and responding to the Word of God, will allow those cares to rob them of heaven.

There are those, however, believers and unbelievers, who are well furnished with the abundance this world can offer. They seem to have no cares, but they fail to realise that riches are deceitful. The Jew thought in Old Testament times that abundant harvests and personal prosperity were a sign of God’s favour, and he was right, as a reading of Deuteronomy 28 will show. Now, however, things are different. So different in fact that those who say “gain is godliness” in this age, are to be withdrawn from, 1 Timothy 6:5, for they betray an ignorance of the true character of the age in which we live, with its emphasis on unseen, spiritual things. Riches may deceive a believer in thinking that he is especially in favour with God. They may deceive an unbeliever that this life and its wealth is all there is, and the things that money can buy are able to satisfy the soul. King Solomon was in position to test this out, and his conclusion, after accumulating everything the natural man would consider desirable, was that “all is vanity”. The truth is that, as the hymn puts it, “solid joys and lasting pleasures only Zion’s children know”, for they are only found in the spiritual realm. It is in the presence of God that fulness of joy is found; money cannot even buy happiness, let alone the far more desirable thing, spiritual joy. Let us heed the exhortation of the apostle, and “lay hold on eternal life”, 1 Timothy 6:19.

Notice that Matthew and Mark write of the care(s) of this world, whereas Luke writes of the pleasures of this life. This world is the current age, marked as it is by the fact that it is guilty of the rejection and crucifixion of the Son of God. Because men cast out the one who had the solution to life’s cares, then they are beset by difficulties. By these things the believer is beset also. The believer, however, has the resources in Christ to overcome the difficulties. This does not always happen, however, and they overwhelm him, resulting in disillusionment and despair. The god of this world exploits this situation, and too often succeeds in causing even true believers to be overcome by them, and they become distracted from the primary task of yielding fruit for God. An illustration of this is found in Demas, who forsook the companionship of the apostle Paul because he had “loved this present world”, 2 Timothy 4:10. The things of time and sense captivated him, rather that the things of eternity.

Luke speaks of the pleasures of this life. There need be nothing sinister or evil about these things, which relate to those natural things we may all enjoy in moderation. God giveth us richly all things to enjoy, 1 Timothy 6:17, but we need to be careful that we do not become obsessed with such things, to the point where they choke the word, distracting us from the reading and enjoyment of the Scriptures.

THE GOOD GROUND HEARERS

13:23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

If with the wayside hearer there is no growth, with the thorny ground hearer there is no greenery, with the thorny ground hearers no grain, with the good ground hearers there is growth, greenery, grain, and a full granary. This is God’s desire from the preaching of the word. He signalled this in the words, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it”, Isaiah 55:10,11.

Notice the way the three gospels put things. In Matthew, the word is heard and understood. In Mark it is heard and received, whilst in Luke the word is heard and kept. These variations are very instructive. Matthew will teach us the importance of gaining an understanding of Divine things. This can only come from the Word of God itself, or the exposition of it, and the application of the truth to our hearts by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth. The Lord promised that He would guide into all truth, John 16:13.

In Mark the word is heard and received. There must be a hearty response to the word of God. The true believer will say with the psalmist “How I love Thy law”. He will be like the spiritually prosperous man of Psalm 1 whose delight was in the law of the Lord, and in consequence, in that law he meditated day and night.

In Luke the word is kept. Jude reminds us that “the faith”, that is, the body of doctrine from God, has been committed unto the saints, Jude 3. It is not only committed to preachers, but to saints. There is a responsibility resting upon each believer to keep the faith, as the apostle Paul did, 2 Timothy 4:7. Let us be like those in Acts 2:42, who “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship”.

The Lord now details the result the sower is looking for. There are degrees of yield from the seed, however. Not that there is any fault with the seed, but the condition of the hearts of those who believe determines how much grain is produced. The soils are what they are as a result of the response they make to the word they hear. So in the case of the good soil there are degrees of response, even by believers. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian believers as follows: “the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth”, Colossians 1:5,6. They were clearly responsive to the word of God, and hence were fruitful.

These degrees of response are listed in Matthew in the order “hundredfold, sixty, thirtyfold”. In Mark it is “thirtyfold, sixty, hundred”. In Luke the result is “hundredfold”, in the telling of the parable itself, Luke 8:8, but in the interpretation there is no mention of numbers, but Luke adds two ideas, which give us the clue to the varying amounts of yield. He speaks of “an honest and good heart”, and the bringing forth of fruit “with patience”. The hundredfold which Luke speaks of, then, is the result of an honest and good heart bringing forth fruit with patience.

This leads us to enquire what an honest and good heart is, for it is the secret to the patience which produces fruit in abundance. The word for good ground in Matthew is “kalos”, whereas the good ground in Luke’s account of the parable is “agathe”. The words for honest and good in Luke’s account of the interpretation, are “kalos and agathe”. Now the Greek word kalos means excellence in nature and therefore well-adapted to its ends. In the case of soil, this would mean from a positive standpoint a good structure, well-drained, but not drought-prone, with all the necessary nutrients present..

The Greek word agathe means that which is intrinsically good, by nature good, and good in contrast to evil. It means a soil that is neither compacted like a roadway, stony and shallow, or thorn-infested. In other words free from that which hinders the production of grain.

So both these words are applied to the good ground, and both are applied to the believer’s heart. So when the parable speaks of good ground, it is anticipating that what the good ground speaks of, the heart of a believer, will be produced by the action of the word upon it. Of no sinner’s heart can it be said that it is honest and good, so that description must refer to the subsequent state of the heart after the word has done its work. Just as the compacted, stony and thorn-infested soils were not good for productive growth, and the sowing of the seed into them showed this up, so with the good soil. Its goodness lay in its ability to provide good growing conditions for the seed.

So much for the good and honest heart that Luke refers to. We turn now to the producing of fruit with patience that marked the good soil. The word used for patience has the idea of endurance and persistence, the exact opposite of the other soils, for they represented the hearts of those who, in one way or another, did not endure and persist.

The wayside heart has the seed planted in the heart, but there is the immediate snatching away by the enemy. The stony ground heart is the heart of one who believes only for a while, so here is no persistence there. The thorn-infested heart is overwhelmed by various hindrances, and there is no fruit to perfection. James speaks of the husbandman having long patience so that a harvest is reaped, James 5:7. So in one the seed goes immediately, in the second after a while, in the third, the process takes longer, as the thorns grow up, but there is no successful harvest to reward the efforts of the sower.

In contrast to this, the good soil heart perseveres in Divine things, develops a love for the Word of God; takes every opportunity to hear it expounded, and as a consequence, produces a harvest. This ideal situation is presented to us by Luke, where the yield is only a hundred-fold- a lesser yield is not contemplated. Matthew, however, starts with a hundred-fold, but decreases to thirty fold. And it is sadly possible that true believers, enthusiastic at first, can lose that zeal as time goes by. They do not become thorn-infested, allowing the things of the world to intrude, but they allow things to slide, so that the Scriptures do not seem to have the priority they once did. Let us beware. Mark speaks of the opposite situation, where early on there is just a moderate amount of interest, but this deepens and grows with the passage of time, so the ideal yield is reached at last. Interestingly, these two situations are mirrored in the spiritual history of Mark himself, who started well, a hundredfold so to speak, then lapsed, but later on the apostle Paul can say he was profitable for ministry, 2 Timothy 4:11. He had recovered lost ground. So there is always room for improvement, and there is always room for recovery.