Matthew 13:1-23 – A Chapter of Parables

A CHAPTER OF PARABLES

It is important to note that Matthew 13 contains eight parables in which Jesus explains the Kingdom of Heaven.  We will only look at the first of these parables in this section.  While it is commonly referred to as the parable of the sower, the application seems to be more on the four types of surfaces or soils that the seed falls upon.  Many modern commentators have therefore entitled this teaching as the parable of the soils.  This parable answers many common questions that Christians have concerning other people that seemed to be Christians at one point, but have fallen away from their faith.  How can this occur?  Were they ever really saved?  The answers to these questions can be gleaned from this agricultural depiction of how God saves people.

 

THE PURPOSE OF PARABLES

I would agree with the many who espouse that Jesus was a master communicator who used stories to teach deep spiritual truths.  However, I would not stop there in my understanding of why Jesus taught in parables.  In fact, Jesus Himself gives us the reason in this chapter of why He taught in parables.  His disciples are obviously confused by the cryptic teaching of Jesus and outright ask Him why He is speaking so metaphorically (vs. 10).  The answer is twofold and lets the reader know that there is an “us” versus “them” reality in the Kingdom of Heaven.  First, Jesus says that to some the mysteries of the kingdom are being revealed.  Second, parables are taught to keep those not being saved in the dark about the person and work of Jesus.  While it may be hard to understand, it was God’s intention to leave some out of the loop.  This actually fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah 6:9-10, which Matthew quotes for us in this text.  We need to build into our theological grid that God doesn’t save everyone and turns many over to their own depravity (Romans 1:24; 28).  It should also encourage us who believe that God has revealed His glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus to us so that we can be saved (Proverbs 20:12; Acts 13:48; Titus 3:5).

 

JESUS EXPLAINS THE PARABLE

You can never have more confidence in the meaning of a parable than when the teacher of the parable tells you the exact meaning.  This is one of those times where we can definitively say we know what this parable means because Jesus thoroughly explains it to us.  The sower is not specifically defined, but could mean God, Jesus, or any Christian evangelist who proclaims the gospel.  The seed is clearly defined as the word of the Kingdom, or for our purposes the gospel (vs. 19).  Then the four soils are explained.

The first soil is not a soil at all, but a hard surface or path.  When the gospel is proclaimed to this kind of person it cannot penetrate their hardened heart, but remains on the surface where it is easily snatched by the enemy of our souls.  If you have ever wondered why some people can immediately reject the gospel with no thought, it is because their hearts are hard.

The second soil mentioned is the rocky soil.  Have you every wondered why some seem to have a salvation experience only to turn from it at the first sign of hardship or persecution?  We have come to call this “false conversions” in the evangelical world.  People get caught up in the emotions and good feelings of many evangelistic services, but soon fall way when the way of Jesus becomes difficult and the good feelings are no more.

The third soil mentioned is the soil that is surrounded by thorns.  Like the rocky soil, their appears in the thorny soil to be some semblance of conversion and belief in God.  However, this apparent faith is choked out by the thorny cares of this world.  Many people when forced to choose between the will of God and their own desires simply cave into their own wants and cravings.  Ultimately, the true Christian chooses the ways of God and not the paths they are naturally inclined towards.

Finally, we get to the fourth soil that is the makeup of a true Christian.  This heart is prepared to hear the gospel and receive it.  This true hearing is then confirmed through the bearing of gospel fruit.  To be clear, in the ancient world, a harvest where seed brought forth a ten percent yield was considered a wonderful blessing.  Therefore, the meaning of this text is not that there are some Christians who have little fruit and others who produce a lot of fruit.  Rather, the correct interpretation is that every Christian will bear great fruit, while others will bear even more.  This parable leaves us with the idea that every Christian produces a gospel harvest that they in no way have the power, in and of themselves, to produce.  God does more with us than we could ever do without Him.

 

Study Questions

  1. Why is it difficult for Christians to understand that we have enemies that the gospel is hidden from?
  2. Discuss what is happening when a person will come to church, pray a prayer, get baptized, and then be gone in three months with no remorse.
  3. Why does this parable end with the super fruitfulness of those who are truly Christians?
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