The Kingdom Parables
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
Chapter Twelve of Matthew marked the turning point in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. As King He had demonstrated His authority by performing many miracles, vv. 9-22. Instead of acknowledging His glory, the Pharisees attributed His power to Satan, vv. 23-24, cf. 9. 34. The die was now cast. Their antagonism would only increase. Our Lord rebuked them severely, revealed the folly of their allegation, and with ominous finality He declared, 'By thy words thou shalt be condemned', v. 37. Then after warning the scribes against seeking signs, and using an approach by members of His family to explain the true nature of discipleship, vv. 46-50, He began to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom to the disciples (see previous article). While the multitude was allowed to hear some of His teaching, their understanding was limited; His main purpose was to prepare His own for what was to take place in the future, ch. 13.
Parable of the Sower, vv. 1-23
Our Lord Himself gave this title to the parable, v. 18, although in some respects it could be called 'The Parable of the Soils.' The sower and the seed are the same throughout, but the soil varies and affects the germination. To understand the parable fully, this distinction must be drawn.
Jesus put out a short distance from the shore of the Sea of Galilee in a small boat. This enabled Him to look at the multitude and allowed the crowd to see and hear Him more clearly. They stood while He sat, as teachers used to do.
The first parable was different from the rest in that there was no introductory reference to the kingdom of heaven (although verse 11 infers it). This gave it a more general application, forming a basis for what was to follow.
Details, vv. 1-9: The sower scattered the seed. Some fell on the paths which used to surround and traverse the fields. There were no fences, only stones to mark the divisions between farms. The soil was too hard to receive the seed which the birds then ate.
Some fell on stony (or rocky) places - probably bedrock near the surface because we read that there was sufficient earth on top to allow initial growth. This small amount of top soil would warm up quickly and would combine with the moisture which was prevented from draining off to cause unusually quick growth. But though the heat the moisture evaporated and the rock prevented roots from developing, causing the young plants to wither.
Thorns trapped other seed. These may have been hedges or isolated growth which had seeded through the field. Although the soil was good, the young seed was choked and starved of moisture and nutrients by the strong-growing thorns.
Some seed dropped on good soil causing germination and varying yields.
A final word in this section brings the challenge: 'Who hath ears to hear, let him hear'. This is an exhortation to heed carefully the details of the story and concentrate on understanding the meaning. It was, and is, easy to give casual attention to the narrative but miss the spiritual lessons being conveyed.
Explanation, vv. 10-17: We looked briefly at part of this section in the previous article, with particular emphasis on the purpose underlying our Lord's use of parables and the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (please refer). It is sufficient to add here that the disciples were to be greatly blessed by these truths - 'But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears for they hear', v. 16.
The teaching they received had been withheld from Old Testament prophets and righteous men though they had 'earnestly desired' (Newberry) it. Peter refers to prophets enquiring and searching diligently 'what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when he testified beforehand (predicted) the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow', 1 Pet. 1. 10, 11. The writer to the Hebrews reflected on the Old Testament saints who 'all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, 11. 13. We to whom these things have been revealed have a solemn responsibility to search out these truths and teach them faithfully to those who follow after us. Interpretation, vv. 18-23: The pronoun 'ye' in verse 18 is emphatic in the Greek, conveying the idea of a privilege conferred on them.
In the parable, the first result was a nil response. Birds ate the seed which fell by the wayside. So Satan immediately takes away the seed of the Word from unresponding hearts. They have no glimmer of understanding, no conviction of sin - only a blank, seeming inability to comprehend the message.
The shallow earth in stony places symbolized those who respond almost too readily to the Word preached. They may almost carelessly profess to receive Christ, with an immediate semblance of growth. Yet Christ does not 'dwell in (their) hearts by faith'; they are not 'rooted and grounded in love', Eph. 3. 17. The 'bedrock' of unbelief prevents the development of a 'root system' and they wither away quickly. This gives us a warning not to apply pressure on those who come under the sound of the gospel, seeking 'decisions' before there is a clear sense of need. Herein lies the weakness of much mass evangelism which so often plays upon emotions without touching the heart. Many profess faith, but do not stand.
The thorns, in our Lord's own words, depicted 'the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches'. Just as strongly-rooted thorns choked the delicate young plants, so the world's worries and wealth choke the Word in the hearts of some who profess, or would profess, salvation and they 'become unfruitful'. Hence the need to emphasize the division between the world and Christ. Those who profess to receive Christ as Saviour must, with all believers, understand that the world is Satan's domain. It can only be in contention with those who harbour it and choke the precious seed of the Word sown.
The seed landing on good soil produced lasting growth and, ultimately, a crop. The measure of fruitfulness varied from plant to plant, the same sower and the same seed producing different results. But it is important to note that no matter what fruit was borne, it was all 'good ground'. All who hear the Word and respond to it bring forth 'fruit unto God', Rom. 7. 4, 'according to the measure of the gift of Christ', Eph. 4. 7. And God says, 'So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the tiling whereto I sent it', Isa. 55. 11.
This parable, more general than those which follow, shows that God's present purpose is to sow the seed of the Word of God. This He does through His witnesses. Sadly, all do not respond who hear that Word. But of those who do, God is forming His kingdom. This process is outlined in the subsequent six parables of the kingdom.