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Prophetic Studies: The Parable of the Sower

by Robert Garrett

In previous lessons we examined the fundamental guidelines that the Bible gives us for understanding the prophetic Scriptures concerning the kingdom of God. Today we want to look at Matthew chapter 13 where Jesus gave us seven parables which in verse 11 he said these were the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Now there is no difference between the phrase kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. Both mean the same thing as you can see by looking up parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

Now it is helpful to note that sometimes when the kingdom is mentioned in Scripture it is in a very narrow sense meaning the Church as in Colossians 1:13.  Other times it refers to the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel such as Isaiah chapters nine and 11, Luke 1:30-33 and Acts 1:6. At other times the kingdom of God is the whole earth and even the entire universe because God has always had a kingdom.

 

Psalms 93:2. Your throne was established long ago. You are from all eternity.

Psalms 103:19.  The Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all.

And Psalms 47:2.  How awesome is the Lord most high, the great king over all the earth.

The context will establish just want part of God’s kingdom is in view.

These parables in Matthew 13 are the mystery aspect of the kingdom.  That is they are revealing to us an aspect of the kingdom that was not prophesied.

Bear in mind that the disciples’ understanding of the kingdom was that God would restore the kingdom to Israel and that the Messiah would rule from Jerusalem over Israel and all the nations of the earth. For that is what the Old Testament prophets had foretold.  That was their expectation and they were expecting Jesus to bring this about. But, according to verse 35 Jesus is here revealing something about the kingdom that had not been prophesied. These were things hidden since the creation of the world. But he is now revealing them. That is the meaning of the word “mystery” in the Bible.

It is unfortunate that he NIV confusingly translates the word as secret in this chapter, but almost everywhere else properly translates the word as mystery. It is the Greek Word musteria from which our English word is derived. Its meaning is given several times in the New Testament. An example is Colossians 1:36.  The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.

Therefore, in these seven parables Jesus is revealing to us this phase of the kingdom which had not been foretold by the Old Testament prophets. It is therefore unexpected and, as we shall see, in direct contrast to the kingdom of prophecy.

That does not mean that the kingdom of prophecy is thereby cancelled or transformed into something else. The kingdom of prophecy shall, indeed, come exactly as prophesied, but not until this mystery phase of the kingdom has run its course.

It should be obvious that these parables are describing present day conditions, that is, the progress of the gospel over the centuries since the Church began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two right up through today.

The disciples were expecting Jesus to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of the restoration of the kingdom, reign on David’s throne over Israel and over the nations of the earth.

In giving us these parables, Jesus is showing us that something else must take place. That is, the formation of the Church through the preaching of the gospel, the body of Christ to be formed before the kingdom could be restored to Israel. This was the plan, the eternal purpose and will of God. This is described for us in the following passages in Ephesians.

Ephesians 1:9-10. He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times would have reached their fulfillment to bring all things in heaven and on earth together unto one head even Christ

And Ephesians 2:15. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, that is, out of Israel and the Gentiles.

And chapter three verse 46. The mystery of Christ which was not made known to man in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

And also Ephesians three verse nine to 11.  To make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery which for ages past was kept hidden in God who created all things.  His intent was now that through the Church manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These seven parables which are the mysteries of the kingdom are revealing to us what is to take place in the interval between the first coming and the second coming of Christ.  The preaching of the gospel and the formation of the Church, the bride of Christ.

Now let’s look at the parable of the sower.  Mechanization of farm machinery as we know it today has only taken place within the past 200 years. In Bible days planting was done completely by hand.  Wheat and other small grains were never planted in rows. The seeds were broadcast. Hands full of seed were thrown out, scattered to fall as they may upon the prepared field. The very nature of this kind of planting meant that some of the seed would fall upon the pathways and the edges of the field with their weeds or thorns or stony areas.  So we have the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 verse three to nine.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  He who has ears, let him hear.”

But Jesus did not leave us to our own devices. He explained the parable in verses 18 to 23.

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  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.  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

 

Notice that the harvest, the end of the age is not mentioned. Emphasis is on the progress of the gospel in the hearts of men. The seed is the message about the kingdom. It is sown in the heart. The seed is good, but it is the character of the soil upon which the seed falls which determines the result. The parable also reveals the destructive activity of the evil one.
Let’s take these up one by one.  Verse 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.”

 

The message goes out from the pulpit, on the street corners, in people’s houses, over the radio and television. Thousands, yes, millions have heard the message of the gospel.  But Satan is also active and he is successful in reinforcing the unbelief of the hardened heart.

 

Notice that here in this parable about the kingdom of God that the devil is active. He snatches the Word out of some and persecutes others.  This is in direct contrast to the kingdom of Isaiah 11 where it is said of the Christ that with righteousness he will judge the needy. With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. And the Christ will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth.  With the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.  The wicked there is singular and refers to the antichrist, the lawless one of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 who is yet to be revealed, but whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. This is the beast of Revelation 13 who is finally cast into the lake of fire by the second coming of Christ as described in Revelation 19.  And then and only then during his reign as described in Revelation 20 will Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

The gospel has been here now for 2000 years and Isaiah’s prophecy has not been fulfilled. Untold millions are still in darkness without hope, without the knowledge of Christ in God. And we see increasing darkness and ignorance of the Word of God in the USA and the rest of the western world.

Then verse 20.

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”

Here Jesus warns us that here in this mystery phase of the kingdom, there will be persecution because of the Word. And many who have received the Word with joy fall away under the fierce persecution that Satan brings.

The book of Acts records the persecutions that began in the early days of the Church and have continued and continue in different parts of the world today. Sadly some fall away. Again, this is in contrast to Isaiah’s prophecy for there is no persecution in the kingdom of Isaiah’s prophecy. But here Jesus describes the destructive activity of the evil one in this present evil age.

Then, verse 22.

“The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

Mark adds, “And the desires for other things come in and choke the word,” in Mark chapter 4:19.

We see that happening over and over again.  How sad it is to see church members, Christians who otherwise would be a great power for the Lord to lose their focus on Christ, to chase after wealth, to be seduced by the pleasures of this world, to live beyond their means and to drown in a morass of credit card debt, their fruitfulness choked by the desire for other things, the things of this world. They fail to set their minds, their heart, their affections on things of eternity.

Listen to this exhortation in Colossians 3:1-6.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

My dear listener, whoever you are who may be listening to these words, are you allowing the thorns of the love of money, the worries and cares of this life, the desire for other things to choke your life and service for Christ? Not only will you be unfruitful, but you may find yourself coming under the wrath of God. Oh, that we all might be like the good soil in verse 23

“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

It is important to note that the same sun which burnt the seed on the stony ground and caused the plant to wither and die, is the same sun which shone with equal force on the plants and the good soil. Not all who are persecuted fall away.  Many thousands of the Lord’s people have undergone fierce persecution, cruel unspeakable torture and suffering even unto death, yet remain true to Christ and are counted as having borne much fruit for their Lord.

This parable both describes how it is in this present evil age and also gives us warning that we should not be like the hardened path that hears the Word, but dismisses it or the rocky soil that does not give the Word deep root and withers away in times of trouble and persecution. You need not allow the deceitfulness of riches and the desire and lust for other things choke your Christian life. Those things are not fixed. They are not foreordained to make you a helpless robot.  You can be the good soil.

Over and over again we see this word whosoever in the Scripture.  Jesus said in John 12:46, “I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.”

And in John three from 14 to 17 there he says that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  And the apostle John testifies in 1 John chapter four verses 14 to 15 that whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God. And Paul in Romans 10 verses nine to 11 says that whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.  And John again in 1 John 5:1, whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.

In the parable of the sower Jesus is illustrating the different kinds of responses to the gospel. He is not fixing the outcome for you personally. If your heart is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, it need not remain that way. For the Scripture appeals to you in Hebrews 3:15. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

If you are undergoing persecution, you can be encouraged by the examples of countless thousands who have remained faithful and refused to deny their Lord in the face of the most horrible and evil tortures. Jesus did not promise us an easy life. He warned us in Matthew 24:9-10.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”

But persecution need not separate us from Christ as in Romans eight verse 35 to 39.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

We all know that sunshine is essential to the growth of the wheat. Remember, the same sun which Jesus used to indicate persecution for the seed sown on the rocky soil is the same sun which shone just as fiercely on the seed sown on the good soil. And the Scripture indicates that trials, troubles and persecutions are not destructive to the heart that is deeply rooted in Christ, but are helpful or even necessary to real spiritual growth and fruit bearing.

Consider the following verses.  Here I can only quote a key element. Please look up and read for yourself the whole passage.

2 Timothy 3:11-12.  All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

James 1:2-8.  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

And Romans 5:3-5. But we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance.

1 Peter 1:3-9.  Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

And then our Lord Jesus exhorted those who were undergoing persecution in Revelation 2:10. Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.

And it is not necessary nor is it fixed that you must allow the deceitfulness of riches and the lust and desire for other things to choke your Christian life.  Listen to these warnings and exhortations that the Scripture repeatedly gives us. Colossians 3:5-10.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these.

Romans 8:13. If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.

And Ephesians 4:21-24.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

And verse 27. Do not give the devil a foothold.

James 1:21. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you which can save you

So, in conclusion, the Christian life of the one sown on the good soil can be summed up by the words of Titus chapter two verses 11 to 14.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

So, dear listeners, which type of soil are you?  You can choose to be the good soil if you will come to him, to the Lord Jesus Christ believing that he is the only begotten Son of God who died for you, who was raised from the dead and now ever lives to make intercession for you.  If you have not yet done so we appeal to you to come to him in repentance. Confess him as Lord. Be immersed in the waters of baptism as he commanded and he will wash away your sins by his blood and give you the gift of his Holy Spirit. Then serve him. And as we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin.

Robert Garrett lives in Louisville, KY and does  mission work in Zimbabwe for  6 months  every  year. His family has been in the  work there  since  about 1930.

 




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10