United Church of God

Parable of the Sower

You are here

Parable of the Sower

MP3 Audio (16.89 MB)


Parable of the Sower

MP3 Audio (16.89 MB)

Parables are a widely used teaching tool in the scriptures. This Bible study on the parable of the sower is the first of a forthcoming series to expound the meaning of selected parables of the Bible and how to apply the lessons in our lives today.


Lessons from Bible Parables: Parables of the Kingdom, part 1 - Parable of the Sower Bend 2-4-12

Introduction – Today we begin a brand new series on the subject of Bible parables. In this session we will analyze some of the parables of the Kingdom listed in Matthew 13. We will follow the same format as in our previous Bible study series, “Lessons of the Letters.” 1. Read the text to understand what it says. 2. Explain what it meant to those to whom it was given. 3. Determine how we can apply the teachings in our lives today. Matthew usually uses the term “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God,” probably in deference to the Jewish readership that his gospel message targets. NKJ Matthew 13:31 ¶ Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …. NKJ Mark 4:30 ¶ Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 "It is like a mustard seed…. Matthew records 7 parables relating to the kingdom of God, or as he calls it, the kingdom of heaven. He also sets the stage for by quoting Jesus’ explanation of why He spoke in parables.

NKJ Matthew 13:10-17 ¶ And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" 11 He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 "For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 "Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.' 16 "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 "for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

NKJ Mark 4:10-12 ¶ But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 "so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.'" “These verses are among the most difficult in the entire Gospel…. Taken at face value, the statement seems to be saying that the purpose of parables is that unbelievers ("those on the outside," v. 11) may not receive the truth and be converted…. “Perhaps the best way to understand v. 12 is as an authentic saying that simply teaches that one reason Jesus taught in parables was to conceal the truth to "outsiders" (which I take to mean "persistent unbelievers"). Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus' parables were not always clear. The disciples themselves had difficulty understanding (cf. Mark 7:17).

So Jesus taught in parables (at least on some occasions) so that his enemies might not be able to comprehend the full significance of his words and bring false accusations or charges against him. He knew that in some cases understanding would result in more sin and not in accepting the truth. Furthermore, it is not foreign to the teaching of Scripture that God in his wisdom hardens some (again, I understand these to be "persistent unbelievers") in order to carry out his sovereign purposes (cf. Rom 11:25-32). Marshall strikes a good balance when he says, "By this method of teaching in parables Jesus not only invited his audiences to penetrate below the surface and find the real meaning; at the same time he allowed them the opportunity--which many of them took of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the real point at issue" (Commentary on Luke, p. 323)” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary). Why is this said to be “among the most difficult in the entire gospel?”

Simply because it contradicts the assumption of mainstream Christianity that God is trying to save the world today, and that there is no opportunity for salvation beyond this life. It is not difficult for us to understand, because we understand this vital truth that God’s plan of salvation extends beyond this life via the resurrections (plural).

The Parable of the Sower NKJ Matthew 13:1-9 ¶ On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. 3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: "Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 "And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 "Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 "But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 "And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 "But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" NLT Matthew 13:1 ¶ Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. 2 A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. 3 He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:"Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn't have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand." • So we will heed Jesus’ admonition to listen and understand. • You listen, and I will hopefully help you understand. This parable is the only one in the chapter that doesn’t begin with the expression, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

However, verse 19 tells us that it deals with how different people respond to the gospel of the kingdom. NLT Matthew 13:19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don't understand it. “The background for this well-known parable, drawn from a typical scene in the Palestinian countryside, is a field through which a well-worn path runs. Sowing would occur in late fall or early winter (October to December) in the rainy season, looking for sprouting in April or May and a June harvest. The use of seed as a figure for God's giving life has OT roots (Isa 55:10–11). The point of the parable of the sower is to illustrate the various responses to the message of the kingdom of God” (N.E.T. notes). NLT Isaiah 55:10-11 "The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

“Here is a picture which anyone in Palestine would understand…. “What in all likelihood happened was that, as Jesus was using the boat by the lakeside as a pulpit, in one of the fields near the shore a sower was actually sowing, and Jesus took the sower, whom they could all see, as a text, and began: "Look at the sower there sowing his seed in that field!" Jesus began from something which at the moment they could actually see to open their minds to truth which as yet they had never seen. “In Palestine there were two ways of sowing seed. It could be sown by the sower scattering it broadcast as he walked up and down the field. Of course, if the wind was blowing, in that case some of the seed would be caught by the wind and blown into all kinds of places, and sometimes out of the field altogether” (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay). If this was the case, it was even more effective than simply making up a story, because the situation at hand provided a visual aid that would engage both the eyes and ears of the audience. Matthew 13:4 4 "And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.

“In Palestine the fields were in long narrow strips; and the ground between the strips was always a right of way. It was used as a common path; and therefore it was beaten as hard as a pavement by the feet of countless passers-by. That is what Jesus means by the wayside. If seed fell there, and some was bound to fall there in whatever way it was sown, there was no more chance of its penetrating into the earth than if it had fallen on the road (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay). Matthew 13:5-6 5 "Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. Matthew 13:6 6 "But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.

“The stony ground was not ground filled with stones; it was what was common in Palestine, a thin skin of earth on top of an underlying shelf of limestone rock. The earth might be only a very few inches deep before the rock was reached. On such ground the seed would certainly germinate; and it would germinate quickly, because the ground grew speedily warm with the heat of the sun. But there was no depth of earth and when it sent down its roots in search of nourishment and moisture, it would meet only the rock, and would be starved to death, and quite unable to withstand the heat of the sun” (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay). Matthew 13:7 7 "And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.

The thorny ground was deceptive. When the sower was sowing, the ground would look clean enough. It is easy to make a garden look clean by simply turning it over; but in the ground still lay the fibrous roots of the couch grass and the bishop weed and all the perennial pests, ready to spring to life again. Every gardener knows that the weeds grow with a speed and a strength that few good seeds can equal. The result was that the good seed and the dormant weeds grew together; but the weeds were so strong that they throttled the life out of the seed” (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay). Matthew 13:8 8 "But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

“The good ground was deep and clean and soft; the seed could gain an entry; it could find nourishment; it could grow unchecked; and in the good ground it brought forth an abundant harvest” (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay). So before we begin gleaning lessons for our lives, let’s read the whole account from The Harmony of the Gospels by Orville Daniel (QUOTE, handout): NIV Mark 4:14 The farmer sows the word. • “word” = “message” (Gr. logos – more than a single word) NLT Matthew 13:19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don't understand it.

The context of Matthew’s account shows that this “word” is the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God. 1. Seed sown by the wayside/on the path: NIV Matthew 13:19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. NKJ 2 Corinthians 4:3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. Revelation 12:9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world….

Do these passages refer only to those whom God is not calling to repentance and salvation? Consider this quote from Barclay: “There is the hearer with the shut mind. There are people into whose minds the word has no more chance of gaining entry than the seed has of settling into the ground that has been beaten hard by many feet. There are many things which can shut a man’s mind. Prejudice can make a man blind to everything he does not wish to see. The unteachable spirit can erect a barrier which cannot easily be broken down. The unteachable spirit can result from one of two things. It can be the result of pride which does not know that it needs to know; and it can be the result of the fear of new truth and the refusal to adventure on the ways of thought. Sometimes an immoral character and a man’s way of life can shut his mind. There may be truth which condemns the things he loves and which accuses the things he does; and many a man refuses to listen to or to recognize the truth which condemns him, for there are none so blind as those who deliberately will not see.

Anyone of us can and likely has at one time or another shut our minds to truth that God offers—doctrinal truth or corrective information relating to our personal minds. I have seen it happen! In fact I have seen it happen in my own life! 2. Seed sowed in stony places • What is the problem with stony places? Limestone rock is hard and impervious, so plants can’t sink down roots deep enough in the thin layer of soil and thus can’t endure drought or withstand heat. Heat is symbolic of tough times—persecution or severe trials. • “in the time of testing, they quickly fall away (Luke 8:12, Matthew 13:17 NIV).” Many have departed from the truth over the years for this reason.

“There is the hearer with the mind like the shallow ground. He is the man who fails to think things out and think them through. “Some people are at the mercy of every new craze. They take a thing up quickly and just as quickly drop it. They must always be in the fashion. They begin some new hobby or begin to acquire some new accomplishment with enthusiasm, but the thing becomes difficult and they abandon it, or the enthusiasm wanes and they lay it aside. Some people's lives are littered with things they began and never finished. A man can be like that with the word. When he hears it he may be swept off his feet with an emotional reaction; but no man can live on an emotion. A man has a mind and it is a moral obligation to have an intelligent faith. Christianity has its demands, and these demands must be faced before it can be accepted. The Christian offer is not only a privilege, it is also a responsibility. A sudden enthusiasm can always so quickly become a dying fire” (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay). Sound familiar? Again, I have seen this happen many times over the years.

This is why we always counsel baptismal candidates to “count the cost” Luke 14:25-33 25 ¶ A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison -- your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters -- yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. 28 "But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? 29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. 30 They would say, 'There's the person who started that building and couldn't afford to finish it!' 31 "Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? 32 And if he can't, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. 33 So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

How deep are your roots? The fact that you are still here speaks well of the depth of your roots. However, the times are going to get a lot hotter. NKJ Matthew 24:12 "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 "But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 3. Seed sown among thorns

“There is the hearer who has so many interests in life that often the most important things, get crowded out. It is characteristic of modern life that it becomes increasingly crowded and increasingly fast. A man becomes too busy to pray; he becomes so preoccupied with many things that he forgets to study the word of God: he can become so involved in committees and good works and charitable services that he leaves himself no time for him from whom all love and service come. His business can take such a grip of him that he is too tired to think of anything else. It is not the things which are obviously bad which are dangerous. It is the things which are good, for the "second best is always the worst enemy of the best." It is not even that a man deliberately banishes prayer and the Bible and the Church from his life; it can be that he often thinks of them and intends to make time for them, but somehow in his crowded life never gets round to it. “We must be careful to see that Christ is not shouldered out of the topmost niche in life” (The Daily Study Bible by Barclay).

We commented on the meaning of “the deceitfulness of riches” in our previous series: NLT Revelation 3:17 You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Material riches do not necessarily mean that you are rich spiritually.

In fact the opposite is often true. NLT James 2:5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn't God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren't they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?

It is not that Christ and the Church do not want the great and the rich and the wise and the mighty …. But it was the simple fact that the gospel offered so much to the poor and demanded so much from the rich, that it was the poor who were swept into the Church. It was, in fact, the common people who heard Jesus gladly and the rich young ruler who went sorrowfully away because he had great possessions. James is not shutting the door on the rich--far from that. He is saying that the gospel of Christ is specially dear to the poor….

The point is that sickness and poverty and other hard times help us to better appreciate health and wealth. God wants us to be healthy and wealthy, but not if we place a higher priority on them then on Him and His plan. NLT Matthew 6:24 ¶ "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. How do you spend most of your free time and money?

Do you always consider how this will help you in terms of the kingdom of God? 4. Seed sown in good ground There is the man who is like the good ground. In his reception of the word there are four stages. Like the good ground, his mind is open. He is at all times willing to learn. He is prepared to hear. He is never either too proud or too busy to listen. Many a man would have been saved all kinds of heartbreak, if he had simply stopped to listen to the voice of a wise friend, or to the voice of God. He understands. He has thought the thing out and knows what this means for him, and is prepared to accept it. He translates his hearing into action. He produces the good fruit of the good seed. The real hearer is the man who listens, who understands, and who obeys.

Who does this remind you of in the scriptures? NLT Acts 17:11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. NLT Romans 2:13 For merely listening to the law doesn't make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. NLT James 1:23 For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. NIV Luke 8:15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Those who are not vulnerable to the Devil’s deception, who have roots sunk deep enough to withstand the heat of trials and persecution, who don’t allow thorns and weeds to choke out the word, but whose hearts are open and responsive to God and therefore produce abundant spiritual fruit in their lives. Conclusion – God is the greatest giver and loves to give us good things, including His kingdom. NLT Luke 12:32 ¶ "So don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

But He expects us to use what He has given us to bear spiritual fruit for eternal life. As I pointed out early, the parable of the sower is likely inspired by Isaiah 55:10-11. In case you find yourself lacking in your relationship with God, let’s read that passage in context, beginning with verse 6: NKJ Isaiah 55:6-11 Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 " For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, 11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

NLT Isaiah 55:10-11 Seek 10 "The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. This is the main point of the parable of the sower—the need to bear fruit by responding to the gospel of the kingdom. I will close by once more reading the admonition of Jesus Christ regarding this parable as recorded in Matthew 13:9, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"