13 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. 2 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.
3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 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. 12 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. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 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;
15For 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.’
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 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. 20 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. 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. 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.”
What is a parable? If you have grown up in church you have heard Jesus’s parables your entire life. They may even be so familiar that you have forgotten the essential nature of the parable. It is a mystery. An enigma. A riddle. It is something intentionally unclear. As we have gone through the Gospel of Matthew, we have seen that Jesus has been ministering to Israel, and though crowds and multitudes show up wherever He goes, His ministry has had only limited success. The people of Israel are refusing to heed His very clear words, so Jesus instead speaks to them vaguely, in concealed speech. In riddles. So, as we look closer at this passage, think “why is Jesus doing this?”
Parable of the Soils (1-9)
“That same day” means there is no break from the events of chapter 12, which is a clear indication that everything that Jesus said and did, the fight He had with the Pharisees, and the condemnation He lays down against them and unbelieving Israel, all of that should be on the front of our minds as we hear what Jesus is doing next. He leaves the house and gets on a boat just off the shore so that He can teach the crowd. And He begins to tell them many things all wrapped in parables.
The first parable that He tells them is a man going out into a field to sow seed. Some of the seed fell on the packed down dirt of a walking path, which was eaten by birds; some fell on rocky soil and it didn’t have soil to take deep root and was scorched. Some fell in soil that was full of thorns, and the thorns overtook it. Some fell on good soil and it produced fruit, a hundredfold, sixty, and thirty. And He finishes the parable to them saying “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And that was that. No explanation of what things meant. The multitudes were just supposed to figure it out for themselves.
Parables as Judgment, Interpretation as Mercy (10-15)
Where else in the Bible do we see a mysterious, strange, unclear thing given to someone that he is totally unable to interpret the meaning of? Usually these mysteries are not given to someone in speech but rather in dreams. When the disciples ask Him why He is speaking in parables, what does He tell 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.” That word “mystery” is used in only one place in the Old Testament: In Daniel Chapter 2. And what happens in that story? The great Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, has a dream of a metal colossus, made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron that gets smashed by a stone that grows into a mountain that covers the earth. Nebuchadnezzar is terrified of this dream and none of his sorcerers and diviners can tell him what it means. Their gods are totally silent. He is furious and is going to kill all of them when one of the exiles from Judah comes and gives the interpretation. He tells him what it means. He reveals the mystery. The parable that God gave Nebuchadnezzar in a dream is also about the kingdom. First it is Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, then the Persians who replace him, then the Greeks who replace the Persians, then the Romans who replace them. Then a big rock comes, and becomes a mountain that covers the whole earth. What is that? The kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is the great parable giver. He is the One who gave Nebuchadnezzar the parable-dream, He is the One who gave Daniel the dream which made him able to reveal the mystery. Now, Jesus has appeared, in the flesh and is giving the people of Israel a parable just like He gave Nebuchadnezzar. The giving of a parable is itself an act of judgment. That is what the quote from Isaiah is making clear. Hearing you will hear and not understand and seeing you will see and not perceive. Why don’t they understand? It is not, ultimately, because the message is unclear to begin with. Jesus had been teaching for a while now, demanding that Israel repent. They love having Jesus around when He is healing the sick people and giving sight to the blind and raising the dead, but when it comes time to do what Jesus says all of a sudden nothing He says makes sense. So Jesus says, if you refuse to understand when I am speaking clearly to you, I’m going to speak unclear things to you. It is the opposite of what our impulse is. Someone refuses to heed the preaching of the gospel, which is just must mean I am not very good at communicating and I need to speak more clearly. I better make it even more clear. Jesus is not like that. Not at all. For those who have the willingness to listen and obey, more will be given to them. For those who do not have the willingness to listen and obey, what they had will be taken from them. What’s He talking about? What is being taken away? Himself. His Words. They don’t want to heed what I am saying? Then I am going to make it even harder for them. It is an act of judgment upon unbelieving Israel. I am doing this “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.” He does not want unbelieving Israel to heal the wound lightly. He is interested in their full loyalty and nothing less. Remember chapter 12! Jesus tells them that His true family, His true in-group are those who are loyal to Him, those who hear Him and obey Him.
We should not look at what Jesus is doing here as “Jesus is being mean to those poor Israelites who would totally believe if He would just explain it to them.” No, the reason He keeps the secret from them is precisely because they won’t believe. They refuse to believe Him. Remember, these are people who have watched Him literally raise the dead, and they still refuse to believe Him. So He is already acting in judgment upon them. They are the out-group. He is dividing Israel between His people and those who are not. The act of giving the parable is already of division of sheep and goats, or as we will see later, wheat and tares.
A Parable About The Very Judgment That Parables Represent (16-23)
For the disciples, however, it has been given to them to know. Jesus tells them they don’t even realize what they are getting. They have no idea how great and awesome it is to be given this. The prophets and righteous men of old would have loved to see what they see and hear what they hear. Even they were not given it. But the disciples have been given it.
He explains to them what the parable means. He is acting like Joseph or Daniel here. He is interpreting the mystery to them. The parable is about precisely what we have been talking about. The word of the kingdom is being preached and hard-hearted people REFUSE to understand it. They do not want to believe it. So when the seed of the word is sown, satan comes and takes the word away. That is what the seed that falls by the wayside means. The seed on the stony ground is a little bit different. Those are people who hear it for a time, they hear what Jesus is saying, and it makes some sense to them, but they don’t last. As soon as they actually encounter resistance for believing, they return back to their ways. As soon as the going gets tough, they return to unbelief. The crowds would show up wherever Jesus went. A lot of them would listen to what He says, but end up in a place no different than the people who just flat out refused from the start. The next group, the seed among thorns, is those who heard the word and fall away because they love the world and their stuff more than Jesus and His Kingdom. All three groups, ultimately hear and do not understand and see and not perceive, but for different reasons. Only the good soil is what bears fruit. And some bear different amounts, but they all bear fruit. That is what understanding the word means. It does not mean simply intellectually making sense of the meaning. It means hearing the word of Jesus and doing what He says. That is what bearing fruit for the kingdom means.
Our own culture is much like Israel in Jesus’s day. Many people do not listen to what Jesus says, not because we don’t have a lot of churches preaching His words, or because our society is just too stupid to get what He means. We have a tremendous amount of hard-heartedness. It would be easy to assume, well people just aren’t going to believe, nothing we can do. But the very end of Jesus explanation of the parable defies that thinking. Despite the bad soils, the seed that bears fruit bears a lot of fruit. One seed becomes one hundred or sixty or thirty. That means a lot more of God’s word is being thrown around liberally looking for soil. And when it finds it each of those seeds is going to bear that kind of fruit. It tracks back to the dream-parable of Nebuchadnezzar: the kingdom that knocks down the great world empires is just a stone at first, but it is a stone unlike any other. It is a stone that grows into a mountain that covers the earth. How does that happen? By seeds going into the soil and bearing fruit. By giving your entire life to being that good soil which gladly receives the seed and bears fruit. We don’t know what kind of soil a person is, quite frankly, and the day that we are celebrating today, Pentecost, was a day where much of soil of Israel was tilled and weeded. Many of the people who did not heed Jesus’s words or did but fell away, now heard the words of the Spirit in the mouths of the Apostles and they received it and bore fruit. So it is with our own day. We should want God to till the soil and prepare our people to hear His word and obey Him. We should be praying for this. Because we know one day God will bring it about. We know one day the mountain of God’s Kingdom will cover the earth, that the earth shall be as full of the knowledge of God as the sea is full of water, that one day the entire earth will be a field of good soil bearing a bountiful crop.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!