Matthew 13:1-2 – That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.  And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down.  And the whole crowd stood on the beach.

Notice that the scene has changed, but it is still the same day as the events of chapter 12. After the confrontational teaching with the Pharisees, I would have been ready for lunch and a nap, but not Jesus! He moves onto the next opportunity to share about the kingdom of heaven.

That opportunity takes place on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, where the crowds of everyday people have come to hear the teaching of Jesus. Unlike the religious leaders, they are willing and even eager to hear what Jesus has to say.  Here Jesus can share without the interruption and controversy caused by those who oppose him.  The parables that Jesus shared with them are still powerful teachings relevant for today. 

How do you picture this scene by the seashore? In a perfect world, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. The water of the sea is smooth and calm; the reflection of the sun makes it look like glass. A refreshing breeze blows as Jesus sits down in the boat and begins to speak. Everyone is happy, content and attentive.

But in the real world, the scene would also include biting insects, smelly people, emerging sunburn, tired adults and bored children!  Jesus did not allow any of these distractions to stop him from sharing his message.  We should take our example from him – if we wait for the perfect circumstances to share the gospel we will wait forever! 

Matthew 13:3 – And he told them many things in parables, saying, “A sower went out to sow.”

The word parable is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to compare together’.  Parables use natural objects to illustrate spiritual or moral subjects.  These teachings could consist of either real or fictitious people and events.

Parables had been used by the Jews (and other people groups) as a method of teaching/communicating for hundreds of years.  They can be found throughout the Old Testament.  For example, in 2 Samuel 12 we find Nathan the prophet using a parable to confront King David about his sinful relationship with Bathsheba.  Parables were still a common method of teaching/communicating at the time of Christ.

Here in Matthew 13 we find seven parables.  The last three are shared only with the disciples, but the first four are taught to the crowds of common people.  The first concerns a sower or what we would consider a farmer. 

What comes to your mind when you think of a farmer planting crops? Do you picture some of the vast fields found in parts of Ohio and other Midwestern states? Do you see clear fields with perfectly tilled dark earth and evenly spaced rows formed with a tractor and planter?

What comes to your mind when you think of a farmer planting crops?  Do you picture some of the vast fields found in parts of Ohio and other Midwestern states?  Do you see clear fields with perfectly tilled dark earth and evenly spaced rows formed with a tractor and planter? 

If so, you need to know that farming in the Holy Land was much different than what we might expect. Obviously, there were no tractors.  The farmer may or may not have had teams of oxen to assist him with the labor.  The land was not perfectly cleared and tilled; in fact many times a road ran through the field.  The soil could be very rocky in places; rock an inch or two under the topsoil would not be seen by the person who is planting.  For these reasons, when a seed fell on good ground and brought forth an exceptional bounty, it was due more to chance than the skill of the farmer.

Although we commonly refer to this teaching as the parable of the sower, the main figure in the parable is not the farmer or the seed, but the soil.  The same farmer plants the same type of seed, the only difference is the soil in which the seed falls.

Matthew 13:4 – And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.”

Some seed fell ‘along the path’ or your translation may say ‘fell by the way side’.  This refers to the hard path running through the field, which had been compacted and compressed by hundreds of people and animals walking over it.  Because it was packed down and not loosened up by the plow, there was no chance for the seed to sink into the earth.

Matthew 13:5-6 – “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched.  And since they had no root, they withered away.”

There were also places where stone was concealed under a thin layer of soil.  When a seed landed here, it would sprout, but it could not lay down roots.  Without a strong root system, the plant could not get enough moisture to sustain itself.  As the sun beat down upon it, it would shrivel and die.

Matthew 13:7 – “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and chocked them.” 

Now this part I understand perfectly!  Anyone who has a flower bed or a back yard garden knows that weeds seem to spring up overnight.  Even though you didn’t purposely plant them, they seem to thrive.  They are the first thing to sprout after a rain and the last thing to fade during a dry spell.

They endure because they are not fully destroyed.  Unless you get to the root, weeds will come up again and again, crowding the crop, shading it, stealing moisture and nutrients from it, eventually choking it out so that your crop either dies or is barren.

Matthew 13:8 – “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

There is also good soil, which brings forth an abundant harvest.

Of course in modern times, good soil does not happen by chance.  Farmers spend a lot of time and money on cover crops, drainage, fertilizer, crop rotation and many other factors to ensure that they have healthy, productive soil before they plant the seed. 

Matthew 13:9 – “He who has ears, let him hear.”

This is an expression that Jesus uses on many occasions.  It means that the hearer must actively seek to understand what is being said, for the true meaning is partially hidden in some respect. Full understanding would require a person to listen and comprehend with his heart or spiritual man, not just with his physical ears.

Matthew 13:10 – Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”

After Jesus had shared this parable with the crowd, his disciples were full of questions.  They themselves did not understand the parable; how could the crowd understand its hidden meaning?  Why use this method of teaching with people who had never had their spiritual intellects sharpened by years of studying the law, as the Scribes and Pharisees had?

Here is why: Because parables allow people to hear the truth in a veiled fashion.  Those who truly seek to understand its meaning will have no difficulty moving past the veil to find the truth.  At the same time, those who have no interest in the truth will never find it.

Matthew 13:11 – And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

Let’s begin by understanding the phrase “secrets of the kingdom” or your translation may say “mysteries of the kingdom.”

The secret/mystery refers to something that has been concealed.  It does NOT mean that the thing is difficult to understand or incomprehensible, just that it has not yet been revealed.  In fact, it may be very plain and easily understood, once it is discovered.

In this case, the secrets/mysteries included:

  1. In this case, the secrets/mysteries included:  
  2. God abiding in the hearts of people instead of a temple. 
  3. The kingdom of heaven would be open to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. 
  4. The Messiah was going to die before setting up his physical kingdom.  Salvation (Jesus making atonement for sin once and for all and ending the need for sacrifices). 

Jesus revealed these secrets or mysteries to his disciples first, because they were going to be preaching the good news of salvation both before and after his death.  Therefore, they needed to understand the secrets so they could reveal them.  Also, they were clearly seekers of the truth; they were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  

The religious leaders and the common people were excluded from knowing the secrets because they were not prepared to receive them.  They were holding tightly to their traditions, their pride, their national identity, their ceremonies and their laws.  They would need to let go of these things before they could get past the veil and find the truth.

This does not mean that the religious leaders or the common people were permanently excluded from understanding the mysteries of the kingdom.  After the resurrection of Jesus the apostles freely spread the message far and wide, and any person could hear the gospel and believe.  In fact, many religious leaders were saved after the resurrection of Christ.

Matthew 13:12 – “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Think of it this way:  A seamstress may start out struggling to make a single dress for a client.  But the more she sews, the better she gets.  Soon she can cut, pin and sew a dress together in a matter of just hours.  Her skills improve to the point that she can now create much more difficult garments, like wedding dresses.  The better she becomes, the more people want to buy her garments and the more orders she gets.  She gains more by using what she has.

In the same way, people who understand spiritual truths and exercise or use what they know, will be rewarded by God.  He will reveal to them greater or more profound ‘secrets’ or truths along with an increased capacity to exercise their new levels of faith and understanding.

We find this to be true with the disciples of Jesus.  They believed the words of Jesus, and assisted him in preaching the message of the kingdom.  After Jesus ascended to heaven they were filled with the Holy Spirit who revealed/imparted more and more knowledge and understanding to them.  The Holy Spirit empowered them to preach to more people, more boldly than ever before.

We find this principle to be true for us as well.  For example, the bible says that all believers can hear the voice of God:

John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Yet many Christians will admit that they don’t hear God speaking to them.  The problem is not that God isn’t speaking; it’s that we must make time and effort to discern his voice.  Once we begin to recognize his voice, we can hear him much more easily and confidently.  The more we listen, the better we become at hearing him. 

Jesus tells us that the converse is also true.  If a person has spiritual truth or understanding, but does not exercise it, disuse will eventually cause it to wither away and die.

Matthew 13:13 – “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

The Jews understood the natural meaning of the parable, but did not comprehend its spiritual significance.  They were blind to the spiritual aspect of the proverb because they were not honestly seeking the truth. 

In this case, Jesus is being merciful to them.  If he told them the plain truth, they would have cast it back in his face and condemned themselves.  However, veiling spiritual truth within the parable allowed the truth to at least penetrate into the minds of the hearers where it waited like a seed that has not yet sprouted.  Perhaps one day the soil of their hearts and minds might allow the seed to sprout, grow and bring forth fruit for the kingdom!  

Matthew 13:14 – “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘you will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”

This quote is taken from Isaiah 6:9-10.  The character and mindset of the Jews at the time of Christ were identical to the mindset of the Jews in Isaiah’s day.  Specifically, they ‘closed their eyes’ or ignored the truth and rejected divine teaching.  They refused to acknowledge or accept any truth that was contrary to their opinions and desires.

The apostle Paul quotes this same scripture in Acts 28:26 where he charges the Jews with obstinate malice, and says that they were blinded by the light of the gospel because they were bitter and rebellious against God. 

Keep in mind that none of us are immune – this terrible condition could be fulfilled in us as well, if we are not careful to heed the message of truth that God has given to us!

Matthew 13:15 – “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’”

When a sinner looks on the truth, it brings about conviction.  Conviction then brings about repentance and conversion.  Since the Jews refused to look on the truth, they prevented themselves from experiencing conviction and repentance, which would have led to healing for themselves (as individuals) and for the Jewish nation.

It was, and still is, God’s desire to be in fellowship with man.  God has done everything necessary to make this happen; man has only to turn to God and accept his provision.

Take a moment for introspection. Is there any area of your life where God is nudging you to change? Has he convicted you about lust or your mouth or some other area of personal holiness?  Why not surrender to the Holy Spirit today?  Even though that sin seems acceptable (or even desirable) to you, it is really a snare and a trap. 

Also, let us not neglect to pray for our nation.  We know God wants to bring about a healing for our land (2 Chronicles 7:14), but it will require us to cry out for it.  

Matthew 13:16 – “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, the disciples had spiritual eyes and ears that were open to divine truth.  Because they acted on this truth, they received an increase of heavenly wisdom every time they heard a sermon and witnessed a miracle.

I don’t know about you, but this is the group I want to be in!

Matthew 13:17 – “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

The prophets of old had only far off and sometimes obscure glimpses of the Messiah and his work on earth. 

Hebrews 11:13 – These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them from afar…

They greatly desired (the word can actually be translated coveted) to experience the time when the Messiah would come and the kingdom of Heaven would appear.

I always find this particular scripture in Matthew to be a very sobering one.  In our culture and time, access to the word of God is unlimited.  In our time, access to the very throne room of God Almighty is open to us 24/7.  Yet many Christians never find time to pray or read the word.  This is both sad and shocking.  I’m sure it renders the prophets of old speechless.  I can picture them weeping with grief over our indifference to the treasures that have been put before us.  Let us awaken and diligently pursue our God!  If we seek him, he will be found by us!

Matthew 13:18-19 – “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  This is what was sown along the path.”

Jesus now gives to his disciples the spiritual truths that were veiled in the parable of the sower.   We are so familiar with this scripture that we wonder how they could not have understood it, but remember, this was all new during their lifetime.

Basically we see that the seed is the word of God.  The sower is the preacher or follower of Christ who shares the gospel.  The soil represents the hearts of men.

The hearts of some men are like the soil on the hard packed road/path.  Years of trampling over or ignoring spiritual things has made them hard hearted.  The word never penetrates their heart at all; it bounces off and is then snatched away by Satan.

Yet, there is still hope for every sinner, until they die or Jesus returns. 

As we share Christ, let us be aware of this fact.  We may need to lovingly give witness to an individual many times before the seed finds a crack to fall into.  Let us not be weary in sharing the gospel.

Matthew 13:20-21 – “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”

Men whose hearts are like stony ground are those who swiftly hear and receive the word with joy.  These are people who want to add the gospel to their lives while otherwise remaining unchanged.  They do not understand that the gospel is totally transforming and life changing; it will make them into an entirely new creature.

When change begins to come in the form of persecution or trial of some kind, their faith immediately withers and dies because it is not firmly rooted in their being.  They prefer to remain in their sinful state rather than be changed.

Matthew 13:22 – “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

The man whose life is full of thorns is the one who decides to keep his eyes on this world, rather than on the heavenly realm.  Because he is so attached to our physical world, he cannot help but care deeply about earthly things.  He uses the limited resources of his mind, will and emotions to feed his earthly desires first; his spirit will receive what is left over.  As a result, his earthly desires will become strong, choking out his spiritual man and he will not produce any spiritual fruit. 

Money is one of the strongest, most vicious thorns on the plant.  Many people fall into the trap of believing that money will produce happiness and satisfaction, while solving all of their problems. 

Don’t be deceived by that lie!  Worldly riches can never satisfy the true desires of your heart.  Each of us has been created with a deep desire to be in fellowship with our Creator.  True satisfaction and fulfillment can only be found in our relationship with him. 

If you are interested in riches, make sure you are earning them in eternal realm!  Jesus said:

Matthew 6:19-21 – Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As Christians, we need to make sure our affections are firmly set on things above, not on the things of earth. 

Matthew 13:23 – “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it.  He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

What makes good soil? 

Is it a lack of rocks or thorns or heat?  Are men more receptive to the gospel if they have no trials in life?  Of course not!  In fact, troubles will often improve the soil of a man’s heart and make him more receptive to the gospel.

Good soil is the result of many factors.  First, the person must be in a position to hear the word.  They must consider it with honesty, seeking to find the truth.  They must believe what they hear.  They must consider and meditate on it, allowing it to take root and spring forth in their lives.  The more they understand and practice what they know, the more they receive.  Eventually, with patience and perseverance they will bring forth fruit for the kingdom. 

So let me offer you some encouragement: We probably all have loved ones who seem to be hard hearted.  They have rejected Christ over and over again.  But only God knows what is taking place in the soil of their heart.  It may take a lot of plowing (demonstrations of Godly love and acceptance, prayer, witness) before a seed has a chance to take root.  We should never judge them as hopeless and give up.  I know it can be frustrating to keep working without seeming to get anywhere, especially if they mock or belittle your faith, but I strongly encourage you not to grow weary and give up.  Jesus never said that farming was an easy job!  Take a moment right now and renew your commitment to continue.  One day, you will reap a harvest!

Let me offer you some relief:  Jesus says that some of us will bring forth a harvest of 30x or 60x or even 100x, but that does not give you the okay to start comparing yourself to others. Each of us needs to run the race that is set before us.  Each of us needs to continue to use the spiritual truth that we have, and as we operate in it, God will bless us with more.  Do your part and let God worry about the increase.  He loves you because you are his child, not because you produce 100x!

Let me offer you some strength:  The bible has a lot to say about bearing fruit.  For example, as Christians we should all be exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit as mentioned in Galatians chapter 5.  But fruit does not spring up over night.  It develops over time, with the right amount of moisture and sunshine and fertilizer.  As I write this, we are in the midst of a “stay at home” order by the government.  Why not use some of this time to work on your own growth?  Take an extra portion of the word today.  Get some “Son” by spending time in praise and worship.  Let’s strengthen and prepare ourselves for whatever lies ahead!

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