When the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God is preached in all the world as a witness, the ears that hear it are not always receptive of this priceless knowledge. In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-8, 19-23; Mark 4:3-9, 14-26; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15), Jesus reveals why, using three component elements: the sower, the seed, and the soils.
This parable describes what happens after the seed is sown, the different types of soils on which it falls, and the resultant effects. The parable's focus is not on the sower as much as on the various soils. Nevertheless, the sower—Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:37)—is not incidental, for without Him there could be no sowing and thus no possibility of fruit being produced.
1. What natural conditions regarding seed and soils is Jesus describing? Matthew 13:3-8; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8.
Comment: A farmer places seed in the ground so it will sprout and bear fruit. Some seeds fall on hard ground that the plow has not turned. Here, the seed cannot sink into the soil, and the birds easily find and devour it.
Some seeds fall on stony places, where there is little or no soil for the roots to take in sufficient nourishment for the plant. Initially, they appear to grow quicker because, with less soil to grow through, it does not take them as long to reach the surface. When the sun grows hot, however, the sprouts wither away, the result of insufficient root systems.
The seeds that fall among thorns—in a part of the field where the thorns and shrubs had been sloppily cleared but not removed—are crowded, shaded, and choked by debris.
The seeds that fall on fertile and rich soil produce a crop that varies in its yield. It is common to produce a hundred, sixty, or thirty grains for each one that is sown. Some strains of wheat will produce a crop twelve or fifteen hundred times the original amount of seed sown.
2. Does God's Word fall only on the ears of those chosen by Him? Matthew 13:4, 19; Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12.
Comment: The seed represents the Word of God communicated in various ways: in writing, preaching, and acts of divine intervention. Understanding the gospel comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit; without this spiritual power, the hearer is susceptible to having the knowledge of God stolen by Satan, the accuser and tempter.
God's Word sometimes falls on the ears of people whose heart is calloused by sin, on whom it makes no real impression. Like seed on a hard-packed road, it is consumed before it ever has a chance to develop. Such hardened people soon lose interest in Christ's good news and continue in the ways of the world.
3. Are all who are intrigued by God's Word chosen by Him? Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21; 22:14; Mark 4:16-17; Luke 8:13; 13:23-24.
Comment: The stony ground represents those who hear the gospel and feel intrigued and excited by it because it is new or interesting, yet they have no depth of understanding. Since they have not changed their minds or repented, they are not true Christians. Seeing no sin in themselves, they do not realize the true value of Christ's sacrifice. Not having internalized God's truth as a personal conviction, when they face trials and persecution, they fall—as a rootless seed shrivels before the scorching of the sun.
These people suffer anxiety from sin, and when they hear God's offer of mercy, they seem to respond properly. God's truth offers them peace of mind, pardon from sin, and salvation with eternal life. Since they think they are forgiven, their anxieties seem to disappear, and they feel a temporary peace and happiness. However, they have no foundation for permanent joy. Their gladness soon subsides, as does their desire to live righteously. Without appreciation for Christ's sacrifice and conviction to resist temptation, trial and persecution causes them to fall away. All they ever had was mere excited human emotion, an insufficient motivation to sustain a person throughout the long process of conversion.
4. Are God's chosen people above being enticed by the world? Matthew 13:7, 22; 7:13-14; Mark 4:18-19; Luke 8:14; I Timothy 6:7-11.
Comment: The thorny ground represents those who are consumed by the cares and anxieties of this physical life and the deceitful enticements of wealth. The constant pressures of ordinary life—providing for our needs, education, employment, social duties, etc.—can be distracting, causing us to ignore God and Christian growth.
The desire for wealth magnifies this distraction. Wealth is enticing but never yields the expected rewards; it promises to make us happy but, when gained, does not. Further, in pursuing wealth, we are tempted to be dishonest, cheat, oppress, and take advantage of others.
5. Does God's calling require more than just an emotional response? Matthew 13:8, 23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15; Acts 22:14; Ephesians 4:1-6.
Comment: The good ground corresponds to those whose hearts and minds are softened by God's calling and receive it genuinely. It is a rich and fine soil—a mind that submits itself to the full influence of God's truth. They not only accept God's Word—the message of Jesus Christ, as rich soil accepts a seed for growth—they also live by it and bear fruit.
In agricultural circles, it is commonly thought that three-fifths of the seed sown does not grow to harvest. According to Jesus' parable, three-fourths of the audience received seed but produced no fruit. Realistically, how much increase of spiritual fruit are we producing? Are we returning thirty-fold, a reasonable return; sixty-fold, a more productive return; or a hundredfold, an outstanding, God-honoring return?