Parable of the Sower / Matthew 13 / Pastor Terry Defoe / Preached at Zion Lutheran Church, North Southey, SK
1 That same day, Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (New International Version © 2011)
The Christian church has always had a message to share with the world. The church has shared that message in various ways, down through the years. But the essence of the message remains unchanged. This morning, we’re going to have a close look at the parable of the Sower and the Soils, found in Matthew’s Gospel. There are two things I’d like to accomplish this morning. First, we’ll deal with the parable and seek to unravel its meaning. And secondly, we’ll talk about ways to apply its truths in our lives today. I pray that God would bless our consideration of his precious word this day.
Jesus of Nazareth was many things. He was a physician – a physician of both body and soul. He was a religious leader – he was a prophet among the people of Israel. And He was a teacher as well. It’s that role – Jesus as teacher – that we’ll be looking at this morning. Whenever I think about Jesus the teacher, I'm amazed by the effectiveness of his teaching methods, and by the number of people who gathered around to hear him. There’s no doubt about it. Jesus of Nazareth was a Master Teacher. And He got his message across using several different teaching methods. Jesus sometimes used a boat as a floating pulpit. Sometimes, He used the shore along the Sea of Galilee, as an outdoor auditorium.
There was definitely something special about Jesus' teaching. He had an amazing way of holding a crowd's attention. He was able to engage people’s interest. Jesus' teachings – His explanations of God's truth – stayed with people long after His words fell silent. In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that the crowd "listened to him WITH DELIGHT!" Listening to Jesus definitely wasn’t a chore. In Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus tells us a story – something, of course, that He often did. In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus explains an important spiritual truth by talking about what happens when seed is sown into different kinds of soil.
In the parable before us this morning, the first kind of soil that Jesus describes is along a well-trodden path. Here, the ground is hard because it has been walked on by many people. Seed sown into this type of soil doesn’t germinate. It’s vulnerable to hungry birds looking for a free lunch. The second type of soil that Jesus describes is thin and rocky. It offers the prospect of rapid growth. But, because it’s superficial, the roots of the young plants have no way to establish themselves. When the hot sun shines, the young plants wither and die. The third type of soil Jesus describes comes with competition for the seeds that are sown. This third type of soil already has plants growing in it – they just happen to be weeds and thorns – and these other plants have established first priority on the soil's nourishment. As the new plants seek to establish themselves, the well-established plants choke them out. As a result, the new plants wither and die. That third type of soil doesn’t give the seeds a chance to mature.
Of course, there’s a fourth and final type of soil that Jesus describes in his parable. This fourth type of soil is good soil – it’s rich and deep. It offers the young plants excellent growing conditions. As a result, the germination and the growth of those seeds is rapid and complete. And it’s not long before the seed multiplies many times over. One seed produces thirty. Some produces sixty. And still others produce one hundred seeds. In this fourth type of soil, optimal conditions produce optimal growth.
You know, Jesus told many parables during his ministry. If you tally them all up, you'll find that Jesus told at least 40 parables over his three-year ministry. Jesus used parables as an effective teaching tool. But only in a few cases did he give his own personal interpretation of those parables. Fortunately, our text for this morning is one of those special parables. This morning, we have the advantage of knowing exactly what Jesus wants us to know. In Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus' disciples puzzled over the meaning of this parable. And that, of course, was nothing new. The disciples were often confused by what Jesus had to say. It’s important to remember that the Bible teaches that human beings – without the enabling of the Holy Spirit – cannot understand God's Word. The Apostle Paul says, in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 14:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (N.I.V.)
When you think about it, we don't need to know the Scriptures from cover to cover in order to be saved. Thankfully, we don't need to be a professor of theology before God will admit us into heaven. What we do need, however, is a teachable attitude. What we do need is a willingness to learn, as the Holy Spirit leads and guides. What’s most important for us is a relationship of faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and the Lord of our life. Jesus said that the best kind of faith you can have is the faith of a little child. When you think about it, the faith of a little child is characterized by pure trust. The intellectual, cognitive part of their faith is added later. As Christian believers, we don’t know everything there is to know about God and his will. But, we do know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. And that is enough. We have lots of time to learn the rest of God’s truth as we worship with God’s people and study his word.
Jesus told his disciples that the sower of the seed in His parable represents those who proclaim God's word to the world. Jesus Himself sowed the seed of God's Word in his own ministry. And His disciples took up where he left off. And down through history, countless people in the Christian church have done the same. And we thank God for their faithfulness. The seed, according to Jesus, represents the Word of God. The seed represents the precious message God has given his people to share with all who have ears to hear. God wants everyone to hear his message. And he wants everyone to respond – in a positive way – as the Holy Spirit enables them. We’ve already seen that, in the parable before us this morning, Jesus describes four different kinds of soils. Those soils represent four different kinds of people – or, to put it another way, they represent four different responses to the preaching of the Word.
The first group of people Jesus describes are what I call "Path People." They hear the Word of God, but – for some reason or other – it has no impact on them. They hear God’s word, but – for some reason – the word can't find a gap in their spiritual armor. And according to Jesus, at the end of the day, "Path People" remain unchanged – unforgiven – strangers to the kingdom of God. At the end of the day, God’s word has no impact in their lives. When it comes right down to it, "Path People" have hardened hearts. In other words, the word of God just can't get through to them. And to make things worse, Jesus tells us that spiritual "birds" come along and steal any seed that remains. The seed of God’s Word just can't germinate in conditions like these. And as long as these conditions remain, faith is impossible. As long as these conditions remain, these people will remain in their sins. Jesus' death on the cross will do them no good. When you think about it, there are many "Path People" in our world today. Through prejudice or tradition or non-Christian friends, their hearts are not open to receiving Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. They will not let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts and lives.
Jesus next describes what happens to the seed that is sown into rocky soil. This second kind of soil represents individuals I call “People of Superficial Faith.” This second group is different from "Path People." That’s because the Word of God actually gets through to them – at least for a while. “People of Superficial Faith” do let God's word take root in their hearts. But, because the soil is shallow, and the sun is strong, their faith soon withers and dies. Every Christian congregation has a few “People of Superficial Faith” in its midst. Every congregation has children, for example, who were baptized in that church. And, for a while, those children enjoyed the salvation and the blessings that the Lord Jesus earned for them at the cross. But, because of the neglect of their parents, or a lack of contact with God's word and the sacrament of Holy Communion, their precious faith – germinated in baptism – soon withers and dies. “People of Superficial Faith” includes many who have been confirmed in the church. It includes those who have stood before the congregation – and God himself – and professed faith in the Lord Jesus. But soon after their confirmation, their connection with the Church was broken. Soon after their confirmation, their fellowship with God's people came to an end. For “People of Superficial Faith” the seed of God's Word withers under the hot sun of neglect or persecution.
The story is told of a young boy who was taken to the doctor’s office with a swollen eye. The doctor found a small piece of metal from an aluminum baseball bat embedded in his eye. After that small piece of metal was removed, the doctor discovered something else about that young fellow – he discovered that the boy had poor eyesight. Neither the young boy nor his parents had realized this fact because, as his eyesight deteriorated, he compensated for it.
He thought that what he was seeing was the same as what everyone else saw.
When the young boy tried on his first pair of eyeglasses, he was amazed at the difference they made. He was amazed to see that trees had small leaves, not just a mass of green. He was surprised that road signs had words on them. The same thing happens when we drift away from God – when we allow our faith to become only a superficial part of our lives – we learn to compensate and live with less and less faith, and we think that such a situation is normal. We are unaware of what we are actually missing.
The third kind of soil that Jesus describes in His parable represents a third response to the preaching of God’s word. This this group I call “People of Stifled Faith.” These individuals – like the “People of Superficial Faith” actually hear the Word of God. And, for a while, they possess true faith. But the Word of God soon encounters competition. The seed of God's Word germinates and begins to grow, but "thorns" of various kinds come along. “People of Stifled Faith” have a faith that takes a lower and lower priority in their lives until it’s finally choked out. Jesus’ remedy for this problem is to root out the "thorns" so that the seed of the Word can grow again.
There's one more type of soil – a fourth type of soil – that Jesus mentions in his parable. This fourth group I call "Perceptive People." "Perceptive People" let God's Holy Spirit work in their hearts. They don’t resist the Spirit's influence. "Perceptive People" hear the Good News of Jesus' life, and his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, and they allow that Good News to germinate and grow in their lives. As a matter of fact, “Perceptive People” never stop growing in their faith. You know, when you think about it, Christianity is – and always has been – a "Missionary" religion. Christianity thrives when believers share their faith – when they generously sow the seed of God’s Word. And there is great joy in heaven when faith takes root and grows in a just one human heart.
There's an old saying that goes like this:
Behold the Lowly Turtle: He never gets anywhere unless he sticks his neck out!"
May God help us to “stick our neck out” for the Lord Jesus. After all, when you think about it, we have a precious gift – a gift from God Himself – to share with the world – we have precious seed to sow. And if we don’t plant it, who will? By His grace, God enables us to plant and water that seed. But only he, by His Holy Spirit, can make it grow. May God always add his blessing to our sowing of the seed. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We ask that you bless our efforts to share your word with the world. We pray that the seed we sow would find receptive human hearts – hearts prepared by the Holy Spirit. Remind us of the different kinds of soils into which the seed of your Word is sown. Remind us of the different responses that occur. Bless our efforts. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.