The Parable of the Sower
Luke 8:4-8 (NKJV)
The Parable of the Sower
4 And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.8 But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
A Palestinian farmer in that time would usually walk down worn narrow paths, often passing other fields before arriving at his own field. And on his way there, he carried his seed in cloth sacks typically stitch together by a heavy thread. On occasion the bag might leak, allowing some of the seed to fall along the narrow path as he walked. Also, there were times as he sowed, some of the seed would fall in areas that were not tilled or prepared for planting. But as the farmer sowed his seed,he would take a handful of seed and drop it along the prepared rows in the field. As he did this there would be seed that dribbled out of his hand and fall around his feet and in other places.
We can see that there are four conditions presented in this parable. Each condition is different and also each condition on share some important details with the others. We start by looking at what each condition has in common.
- Each condition has a farmer.
- We are not told who the farmer is.
- Jesus says some of the seed falls on the road, some on rocky soil, some in the thorns.
- Only a small portion of seed fall on good soil.
- The farmer is not the point of the parable.
- The seed is also the same for each condition.
- It is not about good seed verses bad seed.
- All seed has the potential to bring forth growth and fruit.
The farmer is the same and the seed is the same. So what is the difference we see here?
First, there is a difference in the soil.
- Our first condition is a worn path. It is not soil really as it is dense, hard packed earth that cannot be penetrated easily. And certainly not by a seed falling to the ground. Plus, anything that does fall on this, is easily seen. Therefore, you would have birds swooping down to eat and remove the seed It never gets the chance to germinate, much less be able to grow.
- The second condition we have looser soil that is more readily to accept a seed. In Jesus’ time, the Palestine region where this scene is being described by Jesus, there are many areas where the earth is actually just a thin layer covering dense limestone rock. The ground is rocky not because it has rocks in it, but because the ground has no depth in the soil. Seeds that fall on this kind of soil usually sprout up more quickly than seed planted in deep soil because is closer to the elements it needs. It is closer to water and as it sprouts, it breaks through the soil quicker and receives sunlight sooner. This has the appearance of quick growth at first. But as the root tries to take hold and establish itself, the rocky layer under the thin soil stops the growth in a short period.
- We can see in the third condition that the soil is actually fine for the seed to have growth. It is plenty deep and rich so that growth can take place. But in this condition the soil is contaminated with unhealthy vegetation as well that will choke off the growth of the seed. And since it is choked from maturing, it never reaches to the point where it can bear fruit.
- Finally, we have the fourth condition where the soil is the best, because it has been properly prepared specifically for the seed. The soil is soft and deep. There are no contaminates because they have all been removed. And the growth will produce good fruit.
As we see Jesus share this parable, we also will see the interpretation as well when the apostles inquire to its meaning. But first we see Jesus make an interesting comment as to why He is teaching in parables.
Luke 8:9-10 (NKJV)
The Purpose of Parables
9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’
So the disciples asks Jesus what is the meaning of the parable after not having complete understanding of it. They also wanted to find out why Jesus was teaching in riddles? Wasn’t He trying to teach the people? Didn’t He want the people to know and understand what He was saying? And Jesus responded that the disciples were to know the meaning of His teaching, but not everyone else. For them, the people, the truth will come in the form of parables. But for most of them its meaning will be inaccessible to them. It will interest them, even catch their attention but it will also puzzle them. And at times they might make sense of the parables. But in the end, the true meaning will escape them. Only for those whom it is intended will the truth be known. Having an understanding of this principle is important because it fits not only for this parable in Luke but in fact for the whole of the gospel itself.
The first thing we need to conclude that Jesus understood that not all people were intended to understand the Gospel. Having ears to hear requires God to act to open the hearer’s ears to pay attention to the message. So for the apostles, it had been granted to them to understand these mysteries…
Matthew 13:16 (NKJV)
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;
For the rest of the crowd, it had not been granted. And unless it is granted, they cannot understand it. Understanding God’s word is a supernatural experience. We are taught what the word means even as we read it or hear it by the power of the Holy Spirit Himself. The ordinary person can make out the English in the sentence easily enough. They can read it and come away with some kind of understanding perhaps. But the depths of it, the purpose of it, the conviction of it – those will be missing. But once understanding is granted, it is available immediately. So we have the interpretation for those who can hear…
Luke 8:11-18 (NKJV)
The Parable of the Sower Explained
11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
Jesus begins the parable’s interpretation to the disciples by telling them the “seed” is the word of God. The thing the farmer was so casually and liberally and carelessly distributing was God’s word. Right off in the parable we can see how God’s word is spread and what impact it has on those who hear it.
Why is it that people react so differently to the Word of God? In Jesus day, His words were the words of God, so in His day the issue was how the crowds and religious leaders reacted to Him personally. In our day, the Bible is the Word of God, so for us the parable explains how people react to Jesus in the form of the scriptures. But in either case the truth of the parable applies.
Now Jesus explains each of the four conditions represented by the different soils.
- In the first condition the soil is hard-packed and is a picture of a heart so closed and hardened that nothing can or will penetrate it. Not even the Word of God will penetrate this kind of heart. And when the Word arrives, it just lies there without a place or the ability to take root. So the devil makes sure it doesn’t stay around very long. This is the hopeless unsaved sinner who will have nothing to do with God nor God’s Word and who simply cannot be impressed with the Gospel message.
- The second condition, Jesus says the rocky soil is where we find people who give an initial reaction of faith. There is a quick bloom and the appearance of a good start, but at the first sign of testing they fall away. In the case of the plant, a thin rocky soil has little chance of providing enough nourishment to keep the plant alive at the first drought when the top soil dries up. In the case of the person, we’re talking about trials. The suffering that comes upon a believer because of their faith. Faith is essential in our growth.
James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
Profiting from Trials
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV)
5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
A test is designed to reveal the truth, and the testing of faith through trial reveals the truth about someone’s faith. This second condition, therefore, is about false confession. These are the people who look like Christians but aren’t. They initially respond in some superficial way to the message of the Gospel. They make a confession and start going to church. Then something shakes the foundation of their world. Perhaps they get divorced, or lose their job, or there is a death in the immediate family. These are the kind of things that drive a true Christian to the cross seeking the comfort and strength of Jesus and will cause these fake Christians to dry up and fall away Jesus says.
So we see Jesus is teaching that the Word is being spread indiscriminately as it should be and it will be heard by unbelievers who never buy the truth of it and don’t even try to pretend – that’s condition 1. They have a hard heart and they are proud of it. But then there are times as the Word is spread indiscriminately it will be heard by unbelievers and lead them to think they understand what it means to be a Christian. So they put aside the dead works they were doing before they heard about Christ, and begin to do the works of Christianity. However, it is still just works. They go along for a time playing according to the new rules they have been given until one day it starts to lose its appeal. Then they are gone. They become someone who turns away and never looks back. These are the people who proudly say, “I used to be a Christian once.”
So if conditions 1 and 2 demonstrate the two kinds of unbelievers, what does condition 3 tell us?
3. In condition three the first thing we should notice is this is the first of the three conditions where the soil is good enough to produce a quality plant that survives the trials. The soil is not longer the principle problem. The soil is so good it is also capable of supporting all kings of unhealthy and harmful vegetation as well. So we don’t need to focus on the difficulty in starting or sustaining the life of the plant here. Now we change our focus on the kind of life the plant lives. Rather than maturing and producing fruit as we will see in condition four, this plant in condition three never reaches maturity. It is choked of by the cares and riches of this world so it produces no fruit. Just to be clear, the cares and riches of this world are not killing the plant, it still lives. But with no fruit it is just a useless plant. So here we see a Christian, but in all sense and purpose a useless one. It produces no fruit, it does no measurable good in the kingdom for it never reproduces. WHY? Because the ability to produce anything is stopped by the cares of this world. The riches, the pleasures, the distractions are just some of the things that take our attention and energy away from the production of fruit.
4. As we look at condition four we can clearly see this is the mature and fruitful Christian. They hear the Word and their hearts (the soil) is made ready for it by the preparation of the Holy Spirit. The Word germinates and causes new life and then results in a slow maturing process. Eventually, the maturity of the new plant allows it to produce spiritual fruit and many times over. It begins as a single seed, but the mature plant produces many times more than just that single seed. Likewise, a Christian who matures in his or her faith has the potential to add to the kingdom of God many times over.
Can you guess which condition best describes the Christian church today? Well for the most part is not condition one, thankfully. For that is no church at all. For many churches it could probably be condition two that best describes them. These are churches that have many unbelievers in the pews, acting out a Christian lifestyle hoping it will get them what they want. But if any trial ever comes along, they will quickly walk away from this new-found faith. And in every healthy church you probably can find a few that represent the fourth condition. These are the people who by their maturity and love in the faith reproduce many in the faith.
So that leaves us with condition three. You will probably agree this is the typical Christian experience today in the church, especially in a rich country like ours. What would a condition three Christian look like? Do you think you could pick them out in a line up? What does being absorbed in the cares of this world look like? What does pursuing the riches of this world look like? In fact, where do we think the thorns and weeds come from, except the enemy himself? I think it is entirely fair to say that far too many Christians today are a perfect reflection of condition three. And they seem to not care one bit of where they stand. The shame of it is that by the time they realize what they are sacrificing in eternity for their willingness to forego bearing fruit here, it will be too late to go back and fix that terrible mistake.
Christ is telling this parable because the crowd around Him is a mixture of all these soils (conditions) and only a fraction of His followers will ever bear fruit. And just as the unbeliever has two conditions – one that looks like an unbeliever and one that doesn’t. So does the believer have two conditions in this parable – one that looks like a believer and one that doesn’t.
Can the world tell we are believers? Many days I may have to wonder. Because so few Christians I know are not willing to turn their back on the cares and pursuits of this world to actually pursue spiritual maturity and the reproduction of their faith. So there will be a day we will meet our Lord face to face and it won’t be our bank account or our house or our award or our photo albums that will impress Him. It will be our spiritual fruit.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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