Title: Parable #1: The parable of the Sower
Scriptures to Read: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15
A parable defined
A parable is a figure of speech in which a moral or spiritual truth is illustrated by analogies drawn from everyday life and experience. Parables are based on the principle of going from the known to the unknown and from the figure to the reality.
One major point
Each parable makes one major point, and it might have some sub-points.
Understanding a parable
Before we can understand the reality described by a parable, we first need to understand the figure drawn from everyday life and experience. In other words, the known must be understood before the unknown can be understood. We need to understand the literal figure before we can understand its spiritual significance.
Symbols used by Jesus
In these parables Jesus uses a number of symbols. The meaning of some of these symbols is already known from the Old Testament, but some of the symbols are brand new and those He defines Himself. When these same symbols are used in later parables we know what they mean based on His own previous definition of them.
The Parable of the Sower
The figure of this parable has more elements than most. What is the figure Jesus draws from everyday life, and what are its elements? The elements appearing here are: the seed, the four different soils, and three different forms of opposition to the growing of the seed: the birds, the rocky places, and the thorns.
And what are the realities represented by these elements of the figure?
1. The seed, we are told, is the word of God.
2. The soil into which the seed is sown is the heart of the one who hears the word of God. And there are four different preparations of the heart and four different responses of the heart to the Word of God.
3. The birds represent Satan and his agents who snatch away what has been sown in his heart (Matthew).
4. The rocky places represent a time of temptation (Luke), or affliction or persecution that arises because of the word (Matthew).
5. The thorns represent worries and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke), and the worry of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew), and the desire for other things (Mark).
The major point of this parable is sowing the Word of God
This is an example of a parable with several sub-points, each of which Jesus explains. But before we delve into the sub-points it is important to remember that each parable has one major point. What is the major point made in this parable? Jesus gives the answer in verse 11 of Luke’s account: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.” The major point made by this parable is that the period of the mystery kingdom will be characterized by the sowing of the seed, which is the word of God. He goes on to say that this seed, the word of God will find four different preparations of the soil; meaning four different preparations of the heart and consequently four different responses. It will face three different forms of opposition. These are the sub-points He makes, but the major point is that during the age of the mystery kingdom God, He will plant His word in the hearts of men.
Four soils (hearts of the hearers) and four different responses to the Word of God
Now we’ll look in turn at each of the four different soils and the four different responses to the seed that is sown.
1. The first response is called the wayside response.
They hear the word of God, but their heart is like the soil beside the road. The word does not penetrate the heart because Satan comes and snatches the seed away. Luke tells us that the end result is: “they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 4:12). So this refers to people who have actually heard the gospel but choose not to believe.
2. The second response is the rocky ground response.
When these people hear the word, they receive it with joy, but they have no firm root. They do believe (Luke 4:13), but “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.” (Mark 4:17) And the reason they fall away is that “they have no firm root” (Matt. 13:21). These people do believe and as a result they are born again. But they never mature in the faith. They don’t go from milk to meat. They are never rooted in the Word of God. They are wishy-washy, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, and usually going from one supernatural event to another trying to meet their spiritual needs. They lack knowledge, and they never produce the kind of fruit that believers are supposed to produce.
3. The third response is the thorny ground response.
These are also people who believe. But “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Unlike those whose hearts are not rooted in the word of God; the ones whose hearts are like thorny ground are unfruitful because they are dominated by the cares of the world. They may even know their Bibles well, but the word is choked by their concern for the things of the world and by the deceitfulness of riches.
So there are two different groups of people who are saved. Both receive the gospel. But some do not mature because they are not well grounded in the Word. And others do not mature because they fail to apply the Word in daily living. On the one hand we must study the Word of God, but knowledge alone does not provide spiritual maturity. There must be the application of what we learn to daily life. This group are also unfruitful, and they are unfruitful because they fail to overcome the world.
4. The fourth response is the good ground response.
These are the people who believe and are rooted in the word of God, and they overcome the world, and as a result they are productive in their spiritual lives. Luke says “they have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).
Three different forms of opposition to the Word of God
Notice also that there are three different forms of opposition to the seed, which is the word of God:
1. In those with hearts like wayside soil it was opposed by the devil.
2. In those with hearts like rocky soil it was opposed by persecution that arose because of the word.
3. And in those whose hearts are like thorny ground it was opposed by the cares of the world.