Jesus used parables to teach about His kingdom. Often He would say, “The kingdom of God is likened unto …” and then would name the particular parable He taught to teach about the nature of His kingdom. The parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:2-9, and Luke 8:4-8 is not specifically referenced as “the kingdom of God is likened unto a sower,” but that the parable was meant to illustrate some aspect of the kingdom is clear. First, after He had given the parable and the disciples questioned Him why He taught in parables, He responded, “Unto you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but to them it is not given” (Mt. 13:11) thus tying what He had just taught about with the kingdom. Second, in His explanation of the seed sown by the wayside He said, “When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one and snatcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (Mt. 13:19). The seed the sower planted was the “word of the kingdom.” Yes, the kingdom is likened unto a sower that went forth to sow.
Matthew groups together seven parables and records them in Matthew 13. They are the parables of the sower (13:3-9), the wheat and the tares (13:24-30), the mustard seed (13:31-32), the leaven (13:33), the hidden treasure (13:44), the pearl of great price (13:45-46), and the net cast into the sea (13:47-50). These parables teach how the word is received, how the kingdom grows, the worth of the kingdom, and sometimes that the bad are attracted to the kingdom as well as the good. The parable of the sower teaches that the progress of the word in the hearts and lives of men is affected both by the attitude and ability of those who hear that word.
The parable contains three “S’s” — the sower, the seed, and the soil. The sower is he (she) who scatters the seed, anyone who spreads the word. In the aftermath of the great persecution which arose after the death of Stephen in Acts 7, the historian tells that “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Perhaps the sower is a preacher formerly delivering a sermon to an audience. It also might be a mother who tells her children a bed-time Bible story.
The seed in the parable is the word. Matthew calls it the “word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:19). Mark said, “The sower sows the word” (Mk. 4:14), and Luke wrote, “Now the parable is this, the seed is the word of God” (Mk. 8:11). This is a fitting parallel for just as physical seed has life in itself, so does God’s word. Jesus said His words are “spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63). Peter wrote, “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God that liveth and abideth forever” (1 Pet. 1:23). James urged that we “receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls” (James 1:18). The psalmist said, “This is my comfort in my affliction. Thy word hath quickened me” (Psa. 119:50).
The soil is the heart. Matthew wrote of the first soil, the seed which fell by the wayside, “Then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (Mt. 13:19). Luke describes the fourth soil, that sown in the good ground as “these are such as in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, hold it fast” (Lk. 8:15).
There are many lessons to be learned about the kingdom from this parable. First, the word is quick and powerful (Heb. 4:12). It — the gospel — is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16). It can quicken new life if allowed to have its influence in our heart. Today, when there seems to be a famine of people responding to the gospel, man’s inclination has always been to leave the word for human inventions to attract people to services. Such is a tragic mistake. Only the word can convert the soul. Rather than turning to other avenues to attract souls, more emphasis must be put on the word. Now is the time to emphasize the trustworthiness of the word by speaking of fulfilled prophecies, by showing that what God said about events and people actually did occur. Not one soul will ever be converted without the word, so in Paul’s instructions to Timothy we must “preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).
The parable shows that so long as the world stands, men will react to the gospel in different ways. Some will scoff at the word, not allowing for a single moment that it could be true. These are the seed sown by the wayside. Then there will be those who gladly accept and obey the word, but their faith is short-lived and opposition causes them to turn from what they had so gladly received. These are the seed sown on stony ground. There will be some who obey but have a divided heart: too many ambitions, sorrows or trials of life crowd out the word and while they don’t cease completely, they are ineffective. These are the soil in which thorns and thistles choke out the seed. But, there will always be some who are single-minded and who, having found the hidden treasure, never lose sight of the kingdom’s worth and persevere to the very end. These are those of the good ground who have honest and good hearts.
Not only does the parable teach of the personal accountability of man, it teaches that man may be limited by his own abilities in the fruit he bears. Those in the good ground brought forth fruit “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Mt. 13:23). God is just as pleased with him who is only able to turn one talent into two and who does, as He is with him who is able to turn one talent into five and does!
God someday will judge all men and punish with everlasting punishment those who know not God and who obey not His gospel (2 Thess. 1:3-9). The fact that God will judge us and condemn us if we disobey Him demonstrates that man is able, of his own will, to accept or reject God’s invitation. Man is a “free moral agent.” There is no way that God could be a just God if He sent to hell one soul that rejected Him only because He had so willed that he should do so. Jesus wept over disobedient Jerusalem; He could have and would have saved her but He declared, “Ye would not” (Mt. 23:37). There is no Calvinist, living or deceased, that can reconcile his doctrine that God wills certain people to be lost who cannot do but what they do with Matthew 23:37.