That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Jesus left the house where he is staying and went to the seashore. A crowd gathered around him. They treated Jesus as a celebrity. People crowded around Him. They wanted to be near Him. They wanted to tell their friends, “I saw Him.” “I heard Him.” “He spoke to me.” They were star-struck. Jesus needed some space so the crowd could, see and hear Him. He stepped into a boat. From there they could hear Him. Matthew tells us Jesus told them many things in parables. So it appears Jesus taught more than Matthew recorded. Jesus taught in parables. They heard the parables but did not understand them.
Many claim Jesus used parables as illustrations. They clarified His point. In some cases that may be true. But not always. Jesus said he spoke in parables not to reveal but to conceal. Only those whom God had chosen would understand the truth. This is a hard saying. And many refuse to believe it. But it is what Christ said. (v 11-13)
The parable of the sower is an allegory. Everything in the parable is a symbol. The soil, seed, birds, thrones, and sun all represent something else. We do not need to speculate about its meaning. Christ tells us.
The crowd gathered from all over. They were in suspense. They were waiting to hear Jesus speak. But they were unwilling to receive His teaching. The parable teaches the word of the Kingdom goes far and wide. But it isn’t always effective. Its effectiveness was not a reflection on the sower. Nor was it a reflection of the power of the word. Its effectiveness is a reflection of the receiver.
This should comfort us in our work for the Kingdom. When we tell others about the gospel some will accept it and some will not. We are not responsible for the growth of the seed. Our job is only to spread the seed. Making believers is above our pay grade.
It is difficult to escape the allusion to election. The ability to understand God’s message, let alone respond to it, is the gift of God.
Jesus closes the parable with the words, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
This statement had two purposes. First, not everyone has ears to hear. That is, not everyone is capable of receiving Christ’s message. They may all have ears. But some are deaf to the words of the Kingdom. It is God who causes men to hear (Psalms 40:6) The second purpose was to awaken His disciples. He was shaking them awake saying, “Hey, pay attention to this teaching.”
Why is it some cannot hear? Scripture tells us here and elsewhere, it is the Lord who causes some to hear and others to be deaf. No one accomplishes this on his own. God bestows mercy according to His will. He chooses whomever He wills. (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Isaiah 27:11; John 15:16; 15:19; Romans 9:15-16; Romans 9:18-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Many object saying, “That’s not fair!” Rather than imposing our sense of justice on God, we should let God, through the scriptures, tell us what is right. Remember who we are. We are sinners. We have a warped sense of justice. Who are you, a sinner, to tell a Holy God what is right? (Romans 9:18-24)
Some may say this teaching is inconsistent with the prophets. “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right. (Isaiah 45:19;). David’s proclaimed, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105)
God’s word is always bright. But men chose to close their eyes to it. Why? Because we want nothing to do with God. (Romans 3:10-18) We cast a veil of evil over God’s light. But praise God for His mercy. He chooses to remove that veil for the eyes of some. Paul affirms this. (1 Corinthians 2:10) The Gospel is hidden from those Satan has blinded. (2 Corinthians 4:3.) David’s and Isaiah’s reference refers to those whom God has chosen.
Do not miss understand. God’s word is not obscure. Men hide it. We hide it because we refuse to see it. We are the ones who veil the truth.
The disciples thought like us. Their concern was the people would not understand. They were with Jesus all day, every day. And they did not understand. They complained that Christ used language that was not beneficial. Christ’s response was, “Yep, your right.” He could have explained the parable to everyone. But he did not. He explained it only to his disciples. Those He chose.
Jesus told them only the elect are to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was fulfilling the covenant promises. The New Testament links Jesus’ ministry and message to the Old Testament promises (Romans 1:4; Hebrews 1:1-2). But this knowledge was withheld from many. Understanding and faith are gifts. (Ephesians 2:8-9) God gives them according to His will. The rest receive justice. They are blind.
We should note the disciples received God’s grace because of God’s mercy. It was not because they choose Christ. (John 15:16) We all deserve justice. But He has given mercy to some. But we do not believe we are sinners. We believe we are basically good. But we have all betrayed God. We have all committed cosmic treason. (Romans 2:12; 3:23; 5:12)
God’s giving mercy to some, does not mean He must give mercy to all. (Romans 9:15-16; 9:18-19, 1 Corinthians 12:11, Exodus 33:19, Exodus 34:6-7, Isaiah 27:11.Micah 7:18)
The topic of predestination and election is a controversial topic with many. But here Jesus is clear. Some receive mercy others receive justice. And the scripture is clear elsewhere as well. We reject this teaching because think it is unfair. We impose our sense of justice on God. We need to allow God, through the scriptures, to teach us. Instead, we twist the words of scripture to match our corrupted sense of right.
Jesus seals His teaching on this by quoting Isaiah. The doctrine of election is not new. It was not unique to Augustine, Calvin, or Luther. It was not even new to the New Testament. God has always hardened and softened hearts according to His will. (Exodus 4:21;7:3; 14:4,17; 33:19; Romans 9:15-16)
What is the bottom line? For those Jesus called, parables deepened understanding and fostered a relationship. But to those who had no relationship with Him, parables increased confusion. So parables both enlighten and conceal. The ungodly miss the deeper meaning. Their lack of a proper relationship with God darkens their thoughts and hearts (Romans 1:21)
Matthew leaves out Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples. Marks allows us to see it. (Mark4:13). There Jesus said (paraphrase), “If you don’t understand this parable, how will you understand any parable?” Jesus accused them of being slow. We have the benefit of Christ’s explanation. So the mean is obvious to us. Even so, many of us are as slow as the disciples.
The seed that fell on the path was the word falling on the deaf ears. That is on someone who did not understand. We must take care. We must study to understand Christ’s words. Lest, like the seed in the parable, Satan comes and takes it from us.
Christ talked about two more types of people. Both appear to have the gift of grace. This illustrates the debate about eternal security. Some state you can lose your salvation i.e. backslide. Others claim “once saved always saved.” In other words, God will not allow His elect to be lost. This is a definitional debate.
Christ is clear in this parable. He explained there are some who receive the words of the Kingdom. They even receive it with joy. But then they whither away. Or they allow other things to take precedents. Were they ever saved? It depends on your definition of terms.
But the seed that falls on the good ground produces. Many have thought this is a test to see if they or someone else was a good Christian. Did they produce? The short answer is, no. This is not a test. First, what is Jesus say? It is the seed that produces. It is not the soil. The seed that fell on good soil produced. The seed represents the word of the Kingdom. The soil represented different types of people. Again it is God alone that produces. We contribute but we are not the source nor cause. It is more like we are a catalyst. We contribute but we are not the cause.