In Israel of Jesus day it was common for Rabbis to walk around or through a town or village teaching various points of the law or theology. Groups of people, including crowds, would walk along with these Rabbis in an attempt to catch some great point or teaching. Jesus was walking along side the seashore and a huge crowd had gathered to hear him teach. The crowd was so great that it "pressed against Jesus" almost pushing him into the sea. Jesus commandeered a boat, pushed out from the shore, and then sat down to teach.
For the record, sitting is the official posture for teaching. The Rabbis and teachers would "walk and talk" until they gathered a crowd and then they would sit. In the synagogue on the Sabbath, some one would be invited to read a portion of the Old Testament, replace the scroll, sit down, and then they would "teach" or offer an exhortation on the passage that had been read. Even the Pope when speaking "authoritatively" for the Catholic Church sits to speak official and "binding" doctrine or theology, they call this speaking "ex cathedra." They "claim" papal authority and infallibility when the Pope "speaks from the chair." (Even though this position or truth has no biblical basis to support it.) Why preachers stand today to preach or teach is a mystery to me.
This parable is found in the following Gospels:
- Matthew 13:1-9
- Mark 4:1-9
- Luke 8: 4-8
The comparison is two fold; the Kingdom of Heaven or God is compared to a field and the seed is compared to the gospel, or the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven or God. Just as every farmer or sower expected a harvest from the sowing of the seed; there will be a harvest of souls that will populate or inhabit the kingdom of Heaven.
No farmer or sower realistically expected every individual seed that he sowed or planted to take root and produce a crop or harvest. They might have desired this to take place but they knew that they had to sow an abundance of seed in order to expect a harvest of varying proportions.
The Kingdom of Heaven or of God is no different. God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, never expected that every "seed" sown in the Kingdom of Heaven would take root and produce a harvest. In other words, not every single individual who hears the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven will result in a "harvest." This is somewhat shocking (unless one is thoroughly familiar with the depravity of mankind) to fathom. Who would not want to take advantage of the good news of the Kingdom and be a part of it?
Jesus, quite possibly watching this very illustration taking place in the fields near the seashore explains why the the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven does not result in a perfect crop every time it is "sown." He uses the "laws" or realities of an everyday farmer sowing his seed and why various seeds result in a harvest and why various seeds do not. Jesus does this by illustrating what happens to some of the seeds by using four different types of soil that the seed falls into. Mind you, the method of sowing on many occasions at this time was what we call "broadcasting." The seed is contained in a bag draped on the sowers shoulders and the sower reaches into the bag, grabs a handful of seed and tosses it out in a broadcasting motion upon the ground. So, where does the seed land?
First - some seeds fell outside the edge of the field on unprepared ground and the birds came down and ate the seed right away. This seed never had the opportunity to take root and grow.
Second - some of the seeds lands on "stony places," verse five. There is very little soil on top of the stones, yet the seed in the soil begins to grow. Of course when the sun was at its highest place in the sky it burnt the little plant and killed it. There was not enough dirt or soil to establish and nourish the plant.
Third - some of the seeds lands in a little more dirt, but dirt that is filled with weeds, verse 7. The weeds already more established sucked the nutrients out of the ground leaving nothing for the fledgling seedling to draw from and so the little plant died.
Fourth - most of the seeds fell on ground that have been previously prepared by the farmer or the sower. This was called good ground. It had been broken up, stones and weeds have been removed, and even nutrients may have been worked into the soil. Naturally in soil or dirt like this the seeds would flourish. With time, good sunshine, and water the seeds would produce a good healthy crop of varying proportions, verse eight.
Now, even though Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" many people including the immediate disciples of Jesus did not understand what he was teaching. Of course, we see the same thing today; the majority of church people do not get this parable or any of them for that matter. As a result, we have the teachings of Jesus either ignored, redefined, or tragically misinterpreted.
Verse ten tells us that the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he spoke to the crowd in a parable. Jesus answer is somewhat shocking don't you think? He basically answered the disciples by saying in effect, I am teaching them this way so that they don't understand what I am saying. How long would I last as a teacher at your church if every time I taught I taught in such a manner that gave you no understanding? Exactly!
Briefly, let me share the meaning and purpose of this parable. In most of our bibles this section of scripture is usually entitled, "The Parable of the Sower." This may not be a bad "title" after all. However, many evangelical "interpreters" of this parable purport that this is not the purpose of Jesus to teach about the sower. They put forth the hypothesis that Jesus is actually talking about the soil, more specifically the four types of soil which the gospel is "sown." They strongly suggest that we call this "The Parable of the Soil or Soils." The emphasis is then placed on the soil and what to do about it. These same "interpreters" then liken the soil to four types of "hearts" that hear the gospel message of the Kingdom of heaven and how they respond. From this view they want to teach why some men accept the good news and why some reject the good news of the Kingdom of heaven. Is this the correct purpose of the parable? No, the emphasis or teaching is not the sower or the soil.
First of all, what do the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven illustrate? That's right, the Kingdom of Heaven. The parables deal with the Kingdom of Heaven and explain some feature or fact concerning the Kingdom of Heaven. Even though a good farmer certainly prepares his soil well prior to sowing his seed, we can not as heralds of the good news do anything to prepare the depraved hearts of man. Note that the only seed that took root and produced a harvest was the seed that fell on the good or prepared ground. Only God can prepare the heart for the gospel to take root and produce a harvest. Even the hearer cannot prepare his or her own heart to take hold of the "seed" and cause the seed to grow and take root. This is not the purpose of this parable.
This parable is used by Jesus to encourage his disciples who were growing somewhat disillusioned and discouraged by the opposition to Jesus. They observed the growing hostility to Jesus and could not understand why there was so much opposition to his preaching and teaching. This parable was used by Jesus to either answer a direct question or an unspoken question in the hearts of the disciples of why with so much effort and energy was there seemingly so little result?
The meaning of this parable becomes, no matter how much seed seems to be "wasted" in the end a great harvest will be assured. The point of this parable is found in verse eight of our Matthew text -
"But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop; some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (Matthew 13:8, NKJV) No farmer would refuse to sow his seed because he knew that some seed would be wasted and never produce a harvest. The farmer knows that even though some seed is wasted and will produce nothing, much seed will nevertheless produce a harvest.
Disciples then and now cannot be discouraged or refuse to sow the seed, the good news of the Kingdom of God because much of the seed is wasted and results in no harvest. The first three soils explains to us why some seeds do not produce a harvest. But the truth is much seed will produce a harvest and the Kingdom of Heaven is certain. There will be people in the coming Kingdom of God as a result of sowing the seed, both then and now. The effort will be worth it. The Kingdom will become a reality even beset with opposition and hostility.
An application for today and the preaching of the gospel is very apropos! Not everyone whom we preach the gospel to will respond into a harvest. Much of our seed is wasted. Some of the seed is wasted outside the four walls of the church when we share the gospel and the "birds" come and steal away the seed. The good news falls on deaf and depraved ears, or hearts, and men do not respond to the preaching.
Some seed is wasted inside the four walls of the church. Some men hear the good news and like what they hear, especially if we mislead them with promises that are not inherent within the gospel. They may respond, sing the same songs as you, listen to the same messages, and may even offer some praise and "worship." When trials or persecutions affect them, they fall away and leave. This symbolizes they were never truly believers. Others may even go further in looking, acting, and sounding like believers but when temptations such as money, power, opportunities, sensuality and such fall upon them, they too fall away. Again, symbolizing they were never truly believers. Others, whom God has prepared their hearts, by breaking up the hard ground of their heart and producing the harvest within them believe, produce a harvest, and endure until the end.