The Parable of the Commencement of the Kingdom
Parable No. 1 - The Sower and the Seed, v. 1-9, 18-23
It is recorded of the Lord, ‘Jesus [went] out of the house’. This may well symbolize the Lord turning away from the house of Israel before revealing, in parables, the new and unique form of the interim kingdom.
‘And sat by the seaside’ is suggestive that having turned from apostate Israel our Lord is resorting to the Gentiles. The imagery of the sea is a picture of the Gentile nations, Isa. 57. 20. This parable is not introduced by the phrase, ‘the kingdom of heaven is like unto’ because it is preparatory to the establishment of the kingdom. It sets out the means of its inauguration by the preaching of the word of the kingdom.
We are not explicitly told who the sower is either in the parable or its interpretation. The following parable identifies the sower as the Son of man. It seems a reasonable assumption that this is the case here. ‘Son of man’ is a title use on only three occasions outside of the Gospel records. It emphasizes Christ’s manhood and His Messianic role. It is linked with Israel and the nations, not with the church. The sower is thought to be Christ. However, the seed of the word of the kingdom was sown by the Twelve and the Seventy primarily but they were acting under the auspices of Christ.
The seed, described by Matthew as the word of the kingdom, is described by Luke as the word of God, Luke 8. 11. Elsewhere it is described as the gospel of the kingdom. It was preached from the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry through the book of the Acts until the gospel of the grace of God took precedence. It will be taken up again during the Tribulation, Matt. 24. 14. The character of the sower and the condition of the seed are not in doubt. The variable factor derives from the nature of the soil.
The soil depicts the heart of the recipient of the gospel seed. The seed is universally sown, not just on the good ground. The results vary as the conditions of the hearts of mankind differ in their responses to the message, cp. verses 4 and 19.
1 The Wayside Hearer HARDHEARTED – No Understanding – Satan
The seed fell by the wayside and the birds came and snatched it away. This hearer’s heart failed to understand the significance of the message. Then along came Satan and robbed the hearer of the seed of the gospel.
2 The Stony Ground Hearer FAINTHEARTED – No Root – Self
This seed fell on stony ground such as a rocky outcrop. Without any depth of soil for the roots to take hold and absorb food, the sun scorched the new growth and it quickly withered. Some appear to receive the word joyfully but, under persecution, they have no firmness and they flag. They are offended because life is not a bed of roses. They are called upon to suffer for Christ’s sake, and are not prepared for the cost, cp. verses 5, 6, 20, 21.
3 The Thorny Ground Hearer HALFHEARTED – No Fruit – Sin
The seed falls among thorns. The thorns grow and develop choking the growth of the seed. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches overwhelm the fruitful development of the gospel seed. Mark adds, ‘and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word’. Luke introduces the ‘pleasures of this life’, cp. verses 7 and 22.
4 The Good Ground Hearer
WHOLEHEARTED – With Understanding – Spirit of God
The seed germinates, grows and bears fruit. There are different degrees of fruitfulness even in the wholehearted hearer; 100-fold, 60-fold and 30-fold. The degree of fruitfulness in the life of a believer varies with the degree of commitment. By their fruits ye shall know them. Spirituality in the believer’s life is seen in the display of the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5. 22, 23.
Each of the Synoptic Gospels records the parable of the sower but they end distinctively.
‘Who hath ears to hear, let him hear’, Matt. 13. 9 – The Means of hearing.
‘Take heed what ye hear’, Mark 4. 24 – The Material we hear.
‘Take heed how ye hear’, Luke 8. 18 – The Method of hearing.
This expression peculiar to Matthew is used fourteen times in the New Testament and always by our Lord Jesus Christ. It appears seven times in the Gospel narratives and seven times in the letters to the churches, Rev. 2, 3. The importance of hearing is stamped upon our chapter.
Mark underscores the value of this parable. ‘Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables?’ Mark 4. 13. The understanding of this parable is basic to the appreciation of the remaining parables.