Parable of the Sower:
Why I Need to Listen to God

Before we consider the parable of the sower, you may be interested to know that according to a recent report in Psychology, we speak on average between 125 to 150 words per minute.  In contrast, we have the ability to hear an average of 600 words per minute.  God made us to be better listeners than speakers.  

With that in mind, are you listening to God more than you are talking to God.  Are you spending more time reading and studying the Bible than you are in prayer?  

Looking at this parable closely to see exactly what Jesus is teaching, we want to look at three different parts of the parable of the sower.

  1. The Setting of the Parable of the Sower
  2. The Message of the Parable of the Sower
  3. Unfolding the Parable of the Sower

The parable of the sower is found in Matthew 13.  If I turn to Marks account, Jesus described the parable of the sower as the most important of all parables.  

Mark 4.13:  “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”  

Our ability to understand all the other parables of Jesus is dependent on our ability to understand the parable of the sower.  It is a parable about how to listen properly to God.  

Matthew 13.1-9:  On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.  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.   Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: "Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.  Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.   But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.   And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.   But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.   He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" 

1.  The Setting of the Parable of the Sower

What is going on that lead Jesus to tell this parable of the sower?  When I go back to the very beginning of the chapter, I notice where Jesus is and what He is doing.  It says in Matthew 13.1, “On the same day, Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.”  Notice that the verse begins with the words "on the same day."  That encourages me to go back into chapter 12 to find out what Jesus was doing on that day before He went to sit by the sea.  

When I go back to Matthew chapter 12 and examine the latter half of the chapter, I find that Jesus did something amazing.    

Matthew 12:22,23:  Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw.  And all the multitudes were amazed and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"

Here a man who had a demon and is both blind and deaf.  He is brought to Jesus.  Jesus heals him.  When the people witnessed what Jesus did, it says that they were amazed.  The word “amazed” is from a word that means literally, “to stand out.”  It carries the idea of coming out of your body and standing next to yourself.  We might use the expression today, "I am beside myself."  They saw what Jesus did, and they could not believe their eyes.  They were beside themselves.  

When I keep reading, I find that not everyone had that reaction.

Matthew 12:24:  Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons." 

The Pharisees are trying to discredit the miracles of Jesus and as a result, they were trying to discredit Jesus Himself.  Watch how Jesus responds in verse 34.

Matthew 12.34:  "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

Jesus calls the Pharisees evil because of how they reacted to the miracle Jesus just performed.   They tried to discredit His miracle.  Jesus responded by calling them evil.  If we skip down to verse 38, we find they responded to Jesus.

Matthew 12.38:  Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You."

The scribes and Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus got the authority to speak to them that way.  They wanted to know what sign He could give that would indicate His superior knowledge and authority.  

  • The scribes were a group of people who spent their days studying the Law of Moses.  They would come up with their own interpretations, and then they would craft a series of man made traditions based on their own interpretation of the law.
  • The Pharisees were a group of religious elitists who took great pride in living their lives, not by the word of God, but by the man made traditions of the scribes, and they would separate themselves from anyone they judged to have failed to keep those traditions.

Here are these scribes and Pharisees, and they are taken back by what Jesus said.  How dare Jesus speak to them that way.  How dare Jesus call them a brood of vipers.  Who does Jesus think He is?  Where did Jesus get the authority to speak to them that way?  That's how these scribes and Pharisees responded to Jesus.

We find ourselves in a context where there was a great conflict and confrontation between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.   That is the background of what just happened prior to Jesus telling this parable of the sower.

2.  The Message of the Parable of the Sower

What is the message Jesus is trying to convey in telling this parable?  After Jesus tells the parable of the sower, we find this statement in Matthew 13.9:  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”   We then find these words in verses 10-13.

Matthew 13.10-13:  And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"  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.   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.  Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 

Remember that in chapter 12, the scribes and Pharisees could see the miracle that Jesus did, but they did not see who Jesus really was.  They could hear the words that Jesus was saying, but they were not listening.  So Jesus applied what Isaiah said in Isaiah 6.9,10 to these scribes and Pharisees.  

 Matthew 13.14,15:  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;  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.'

Jesus said that these scribes and Pharisees who refuse to see the significance of the miracle and who refuse to hear what He has to say are just like those people in Isaiah’s day.  They are so dull of hearing and their hearts have become so hardened, that they refuse to see what Jesus was showing them.  They refuse to listen to His message even to the point where they are incapable of understanding.

In contrast to the scribes and Pharisees who refused to listen to Jesus, He turns to His disciples and says this.

Matthew 13.16:  But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.

Look at these verses again in Matthew 13 as it relates to the parable of the sower.

  • Verse 9:  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
  • Verse 13:  “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear.”
  • Verse 14:  “hearing you will not hear and shall not understand.”
  • Verse 16:  “But blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear.”
  • Verse 17:  “…and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
  • Verse 18:  “Therefore hear the parable of the sower.”

Do you see a word that is reoccurring in this passage?  As Jesus is setting the stage for the explanation of the parable of the sower, He is constantly using the word “hear.”  Then when Jesus gives the explanation of the parable, He begins each scenario by likening each kind of soil as one who hears is a certain way.

The parable of the sower is about how people listen to God.  In the context, the scribes and Pharisees are  refusing to listen to Jesus.  That leads Jesus to tell this parable that says that you need to listen to what Jesus has to say.  

3.  Unfolding the Parable of the Sower

Having established why Jesus told the parable of the sower, let's see what Jesus meant in this parable.  The parable of the sower can be divided into four sections.

1.  Those Who are not Receptive to the Message

Matthew 13.19:  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

In verse 4, you will read of Jesus talking about the seed falling by the wayside.  In Bible times, they planted very differently than how we farm today.  Today, we get some gardening tools, and we will make nice neat rows, and we will take our seed and plant it in these rows that we have created.

In Bible times, they had a plot of land on the right and a plot of land on the left.  Right between these two plots would be a walkway.  They would cultivate the plots on the left and right.  They would then walk along the walkway (wayside), reach their hand in the bag and grab a handful of seeds and toss them onto the cultivated soil on their left and right.  

Some of these seeds would fall onto the walkway called the wayside.  Because the ground was hardened and compacted, the seeds would not penetrate the ground, and birds would come and snatch the seeds as they lay on top of the wayside.

Jesus said that there are some people who are like the seed that falls onto the wayside.  They hear the words that Jesus speaks, but His words do not penetrate their hearts.  When you put that into the context of those who confronted and argued with Jesus, you find that they did not listen to Jesus because their hearts had been hardened just as the compacted soil of the wayside.

Two thousand years later, and these kinds of people can still be found.  There are people today who refuse to be receptive of the teachings of Jesus because they have hardened their hearts against them.  Jesus likens them to the seed that fell by the wayside.

2.  Those Who Have No Root

Matthew 13.20,21:  But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles."

In Palestine, much of the soil is mostly a mixture of dirt and rocks.  You would have the top soil which you could prepare and cultivate, but this soil was laying on top of a layer of rocks.  So you could plant the seeds and it would start to germinate, but the roots would not penetrate very far until they were hindered by the rocks below.  So these plants would have a very shallow root system.  When the sun would come up, it would scorch the roots and the plant would die.

Jesus said that some people are like that.  They will hear the words of Jesus and they will immediately accept it.  They will do so with joy.  They will talk about how it is a wonderful message.  They will say that it was a great lesson.  But then comes the pressure.  Here comes the temptations.  Here comes the persecutions.  Because of the pressure, they are unable to endure the hardships that are associated with being a Christian, so they wither and spiritually die.  

Have you known those who have become Christians with great joy and were passionate and excited.  They were excited about the message they had obeyed.  They were excited about the family to which they have been added.  They were excited about the forgiveness they have received.  Then difficulties begin to arise.  Maybe it comes from members of their family that don’t understand the commitment they have made.  Maybe it is temptation.  The pressure begins to mount, and the passion that they once had begins to fade and they become unfaithful. 

3.  Those Who have No Resistance.

Matthew 13.22:  Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful."

Jesus refers to soil in which there are weeds and thorns.  Just like our soil, we cultivate, plant, and water, and we wait for the fruit to come up out of the ground.  Fruit begins to produce, but with the fruit there are also weeds that come up as well.

That’s what happened in Palestine.  They would work the ground, and the fruit began to come up, but weeds began to spring up as well.  If you did not take care of the weeds and pull them out, weeds would begin to choke those plants bearing fruit.  As a result, those fruit bearing plants would die.  

Jesus said that some people are like that kind of soil.  They respond well to what the Bible says.  They receive what Jesus has to say, but then other things begin to surface, the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.  In Luke's account Jesus includes the riches and the pleasures of life.  

Isn't it true that one can obey the gospel and be a faithful Christian, study their Bibles, pray without ceasing, and even teach Bible classes, but then some trauma hits their life and they can never be satisfied in their own minds as to why.  As a result, they become unfaithful to God.  Worry chokes out the word from the heart.  That’s the cares of this world.

Then you have the riches of this world.  Have you not known individuals who have become Christians and then because of their love for money, now they feel like they no longer need the Lord, and they become unfaithful.

Then you have the pleasures of life.  There are people who leave the Lord because they have a certain pleasurable lifestyle that would rather live.  They cannot live the way they want to live and still be faithful to Christ.  So they choose their sinful lifestyle over following Jesus.

4.  Those Who Received the Word and have Real Results

Matthew 13.23:  But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 

Jesus ends this parable of the sower on a positive note.  In this occasion you have individuals who have received the word and have real results.  

The word “bears” is in a form of the word that means a continuing action,.  He keeps on bearing fruit.  He does not just bear fruit once and then he is done.  His life is one of constant fruit bearing.

How is he able to do that?  

  • First, it says that he receives the word.  He comes to the point where he decides that this is going to be his standard for life.  This is going to be what guides and directs his life.  
  • Second, it says that he hears the word.  He makes the decision that this is the word that will govern his life, and from that decision he give his attention to the word.  
  • Third, it says that he understands it.  He connects the dots.  He puts the pieces together.  As a result, he is constantly bearing fruit. 

There are people who listen to the word.   They come to the point where they embrace the Bible as their standard for life.  They come to the point where they decide that persecution will not cause them to shrink back from God.  They come to the point where they realize that the problems of this life, the riches of this life and the pleasures of this life will never move them away from their God.  From this point forward, they allow the Bible to dictate their life.  They constantly turn to the Bible.  They constantly connect the dots.  They constantly apply the principles of the Bible to their lives, and as a result they bear fruit.  If you have that kind of attitude in your approach to the word of God, it will make your Bible classes, worship services, and home bible studies, so much more meaningful.  And so you have the parable of the sower.

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