I have written about the Parable of the Sower previously in a piece entitled Increase Your Yield, but, as always with God, I am discovering more all the time. In fact, if you considered the parable itself to be God’s word, like the seed it describes, then it is safe to say that this particular seed has produced, and continues to produce, a bountiful harvest.
I don’t want to restate all I wrote about in Increase Your Yield – I figure that if you are vaguely interested in the subject, you will read it (perhaps again) yourself. However, I would like to point out that much of today’s church have a tendency to view the parable as being solely about what happens when people first hear the message of Christ’s salvation. The message of salvation is just one of the seeds which the farmer sows. The trouble with such a shallow, one-dimensional perspective of the parable, is that it has a tendency to make people, wrongly, assume that because they ‘get it’, it must mean that they are planted in good soil. It promotes a false view of salvation which is inconsistent with the rest of the teaching contained in the New Testament. If our understanding of the parable is just that, then it means providing we hear and understand the message, we are saved. Nothing else needs to be done. I think what is actually taught consistently by Y’shua and His disciples is that salvation (or deliverance as some translations offer as a more accurate rendering) is something that needs working at. Conversion is a one-off event. Salvation is more like a journey.
I am learning that with everything that God says there can be multiple layers of wisdom built into a single verse or passage. Everything in scripture, ultimately, points the reader to the person of Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name – if you want a detailed explanation on how we got from Y’shua to Jesus please read my article entitled Lost in Translation). Everything we need to know about the nature of God is to be found in the person of Y’shua. There is nothing that exists beyond Y’shua that we need. So, when we come to scripture, we may well read the same passage several times and yet, be able to take away from it a new aspect each time. It is an old analogy, but I like to think of scripture as being like a jewel which, as you turn it in your hand, each facet reflects the light back towards you to reveal a different feature.
With the Parable of the Sower, I have found that God has drawn me back again and again, as if to say, ‘look again, what do you see now?‘, and this piece only reveals what I can currently see in that jewel.
It is well worth reminding ourselves, at this point, what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says on how God speaks to us in these days:
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;” [Hebrews 1:1-2 NKJV]
As the introduction to the letter says, God used to speak to Isra’el via the prophets. Now, however, He speaks to all through His Son. Therefore, because we know that Y’shua is the word made flesh (John 1), and we know that He, the Christ, has the fullness of the deity (Colossians 2), what is revealed to us through the person of Christ and the words He spoke, is the complete and final revelation of God. There will be no new revelation; just a deeper and greater understanding of God as we draw closer to Him by way of a personal relationship. With this in mind, we should be able to gain a deeper understanding of the way in which God’s word comes to us, as His children.
As always, with any scripture, it is essential that the original context is maintained. To take a verse or passage out of its original context is risking building upon an incorrect foundation. With the Parable of the Sower, there is an important context – a series of events that lead up to Y’shua speaking it out. But before we get to the context, I want for you, for a moment, to consider what it must have been like to have been there. In Matthew chapter 13 we learn that Y’shua came away from someone’s house and went and sat down beside the sea. When ‘great multitudes’ of people arrived, presumably to see a miracle, Y’shua got into a boat and sat down, whilst the multitude stood on the shore. If they were after miracles, they were to be disappointed. Instead Y’shua told them a short story that even his disciples failed to grasp.
Of course, we have the advantage of being able to examine what He said; to dissect every phrase; and pull apart each word, to find the answers. But imagine actually being there. Imagine not knowing anything about the parable beforehand. Imagine standing on the shore whilst this miracle-maker of a man sat in a boat. Imagine hearing the parable just once. Then imagine Him leaving without first giving an explanation. Can you imagine that? It wasn’t like a sermon in today’s church. No one had their Bibles open, trying to follow what He was saying. No one was taking notes. Afterwards, if you hadn’t being paying attention, you might not have any true idea of what was said, perhaps some vague notion of some of it. And then He was gone. You may have been one of the multitude left standing on the shore in bewilderment.
I think the purpose of such an action was to separate those who understood who He is, from those who fail to understand and were just there for the entertainment. In a funny way, the same thing could be applied to today’s crowds clamouring for a glimpse of the supernatural in modern churches. When you look through the gospels, you can see Y’shua constantly whittling down the numbers of those following Him. He only wanted those to whom the message had already been revealed. Those to whom God had predestined to be His. He knew His Father’s plan. He knew that only a small number would ‘hear’ the message. After He had spoken, it was only His disciples who came and asked for an explanation of the story. Sometimes we hear a message, a word from God, which we don’t grasp or understand. If we are to be considered amongst His number, then we will need to be like the disciples and ask for an explanation. It is easy to disregard what God has said when we fail to see the true meaning first up. Thankfully, for me, I find that God keeps repeating Himself until I get it.
The account of Y’shua telling the Parable of the Sower can be found in Matthew 13; Mark 4; and Luke 8. In both Matthew and Mark, the event immediately preceding Y’shua doing church beside the sea, is when His family turn up wanting to speak to Him. We presume, by His lack of compliance to their request, that Y’shua wished not to take whatever advice they had decided to bring Him. Unfortunately for us, the addition of chapters into the gospels, separates one event from another, and we often miss what the writer was hoping to convey. Compounding this is the addition of ‘titles‘ at the start of sections of the text, such as ‘The Parable of the Sower‘, which can often steer us to the place which the publisher of the particular Bible we are reading desires. For example, in the Bible I am using for reference right now, right before Matthew 12:46-50, is the paragraph title ‘Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Send for Him‘, which implies that they were in one place and they sent someone to fetch Him. When you read the text that isn’t quite what happened. They came to where He was to speak with Him. Then, right after that paragraph is the title, ‘The Parable of the Sower’ (at the start of chapter 13). Nowhere in any of the three gospels which contain the account is that phrase used. It is something that was added later and wasn’t in the original text. It is worth keeping this in mind when reading God’s word. There is always a context to what Y’shua says or does that can be easy to miss when we are distracted by footnotes and headings.
In this particular instance the context that led up to Y’shua telling the parable and then leaving, is His earthly family turning up, wanting to speak with Him. Everywhere He went, Y’shua was dividing opinion. The crowds, because of the miracles, were convinced that He was the long awaited ‘Son of David’ (Matthew 12:23); the Pharisees were concerned about the following He was gaining and sort, at all times to trick Him or to discredit Him (Matthew 12:24); and His own people (literally His family) thought Him to be out of His mind (Mark 3:21). So, when we read in Matthew and Mark’s account of the parable, it comes on the back of His earthly family turning up where He was teaching and seeking to speak with Him, presumably to persuade Him to stop what He was doing.
It is at this point that Y’shua says clearly that His true mothers and brothers are those who do the will of God. Of course, as He had previously explained, you must first hear the will of God, before you can do it (see Matthew 7:24-27).
With that in mind, I think it is likely that part of His purpose for telling this particular parable was in order to rebuke His family, His mother, in particular, for she had known exactly who He was to be before He was even born. In other words, God had already spoken to her (see Luke 1:26-56) and she was now failing to act upon what He had said. Remember that she had no real excuse not to believe – the virgin birth; the angels; the kings bearing gifts; all these things must have been highly significant to her. And what about the miracles and healings? What about how she was at the wedding in Cana when He turned gallons of water into fine wine? When did the thorns start to choke God’s word in her life? The account even says she stored these things in her heart. And yet, when the time came, she is outside trying to persuade Y’shua to stop upsetting the order of things. Perhaps she was worried about being rejected by the Pharisees or those from her local synagogue? Perhaps she was worried about what people would think of her? Whatever it was, she chose to stop believing what God had already said to her. This is a consistent theme throughout the pages of the Bible – God speaks ( the seed) and the person He speaks to takes the matter into their heart (the soil), but when what God has spoken doesn’t come to pass in the way or timescale in which we imagine, we intervene instead of standing upon God’s word. See the account of Ishmael and Isaac in Genesis to understand what that means in practice.
The Parable of the Sower is not about God, or the validity of His word – for He is perfect and unchanging. The parable is all about the condition of our hearts when the seed first falls upon them. When we first hear the good news regarding Christ’s salvation, our hearts are usually in a poor state, but the Holy Spirit makes that single seed, that word, come alive to us. After that moment of conversion, that miracle rebirth, it is up to each of us to look after the condition of the soil – our hearts, so that when God speaks to us again and again, each word He speaks, each seed that falls upon our soil, can grow and produce a rich harvest in our lives.
I like, wherever possible, to provide practical examples of what I am talking about. That way people can see how spiritual things work and understand them better. I will use my own example today for the purposes of explaining how God’s word (and the seed in the parable) works in our lives.
In around 1984 (I think), both my parents, who were divorced at the time, in separate events only a couple of weeks apart, heard God’s message of salvation, from different sources, and were both converted. In the subsequent months, after seven years of divorce, my parents remarried each other and started to live lives befitting their repentance. I was around 16 years old when my Dad, who my siblings and I were living with, came back from a Billy Graham crusade and started to tell me about the good news. To be honest, it wasn’t good news to me. In fact, having been accustomed to his previous lifestyle, I found his new one somewhat inhibiting. Of course, at 16, the only thing to do was to rebel; to kick against the goads. Rather than accepting the message from God, I rejected it, even though I could see the clear change in both of my parents.
Over the course of the next three years, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the world of drugs and crime. And, despite a serious overdose which had landed me in hospital, the message of the gospel continued to fall on my spiritually deaf ears. Then, one morning in 1988, just before I was due in court for numerous drug-related offences, I read a short Christian tract called The Way Ahead which my father had left in my room, presumably in some vain attempt to rescue me from myself. I sat and read it and for the first time the message made sense. I had heard the message before, but this time, the soil upon which the seed fell had been made ready, and I believed.
I can’t explain fully what had changed in me. Perhaps nothing had. My guess is that the Holy Spirit opened my spiritual eyes and ears at the moment when the message would have the greatest impact. Or perhaps He caused a seed that had already been sown to in me to come to life.
I say these things because we know from scripture that God chose whom He wanted to reveal His message to before the creation of the world, so that meant it was always going to happen to me. Whatever took place, meant that when that seed fell upon the soil that is my heart, it found a place to grow. And for around three years, the seed grew well in me. And not just that seed of the message of salvation, but I ‘got’ the entire message. I was working full time for a church and doing well. Then something happened. And that something caused me to not trust in what God has already said to me, but instead to give into my emotions, even though I knew the truth. As a result I hardened my heart towards God and it didn’t matter what seeds were sown in my direction, they fell onto rock hard ground. It took me twenty three years to get back to a place where I truly felt His presence again. Back to a place where the rock hard ground was first broken up; then the stones were removed; and then finally the thorns were removed. Then, and only then, was the soil good once more to receive His word again.
I suspect that each of us has to journey from rock hard soil to good soil before His words, His seeds, start to produce the fruit they are designed to do. But I also suspect that we are in control of the condition of our own heart, our soil. It is up to us to ensure that the soil doesn’t dry up and become as hard as rock. It is up to us to clear the stones from the soil. It is up to us to ensure that thorns are not allowed to take hold in our hearts. We need well-tilled soil, for the seed, which is perfect, to produce the fruit it is designed to do.
The thing that interests me the most about this entire subject is, oddly enough, John the Baptist. Oddly enough, because he doesn’t appear to figure in the parable. But, he does in a way. I have always wondered why Y’shua needed someone to prepare the way for Him. I mean, after all, He is the Son of God, the creator of everything which is both seen and unseen. Why would He need someone like John to prepare the way for Him?
I think the answer is found in Luke’s gospel. Here, Gabri’el, an angel of the Lord, is speaking to John’s father, Zacharias about the boy:
“And he will turn many of the children of Isra’el to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” [Luke 1:16-17 NKJV]
So, John was the gardener, charged with readying the ground for the seed to be sown. The people of Jerusalem would have known all about John because of who his father was. They would have heard the stories, the prophecy, and knew when he turned up offering people freedom from their sins if they returned to God, the people were ready to hear it. They had been expecting a herald of the promised Messiah. And John simply broke up that dry hard ground, removed the stones and the thorns and made the soil ready for Y’shua, the Living Word of God.
Of course, because Y’shua has now returned to God’s right hand until His Kingdom comes in full, we have been given the Holy Spirit. He now prepares the way in our hearts. Just as He did with my parents. Just as He did with me. And just as He did with you.
Take another look at the Parable of the Sower. God’s warning to Isra’el has consistently been the same – If you hear My voice today, do not harden your hearts. It’s good advice. I know.
“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 the 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, let him hear.”