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This passage is not about the sower – who is not expressly identified here; it is not about what method or style the sower uses or what type of personality or powers of persuasion the sower uses … It is a given that the sower is sowing the seed

This passage is not even about the seed – which is the Word of God – it is assumed that the seed is genuine and pure and unadulterated and effective. This is not about adapting our message or refining it to be more palatable …

This passage is all about the difference in soils. We need to first examine how it is that we receive and respond to the Word of God. Then we need to make sure we can pass this Evangelism 101 course in terms of how the gospel message impacts ourselves and then others.


A. (:4a) Teaching Setting

“And when a great multitude were coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him,”

Jesus was attracting large crowds of people; they were a mixed bag in terms of the preparation of their heart to receive the good news of the kingdom of God

B. (:4b) Teaching Method = Parable

“He spoke by way of a parable:”

Two contrasting goals: revealing truth and concealing truth – enigmatic presentation

But what is a parable?

MacArthur: Any kind of analogy, any kind of illustration, any kind of comparison fits into the broad category of a parable.

Constable: Parables are illustrations that teach truth by comparisons (Gr. parabole, lit. “something thrown alongside,” similitudes). Some are long stories, but others are short similes, metaphors, analogies, or proverbial sayings (cf. 2:19-20, 21, 22; 3:24-25, 27). The popular definition that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, is essentially accurate as far as it goes. The use of parables for teaching was a common rabbinic device that Jesus adopted and used with great skill. . . . Matthew recorded Jesus giving two groups of parables on this occasion: four to the multitudes (Matt. 13:3b-35), and four to the disciples (Matt. 13:36-52). Mark recorded only Jesus’ parables to the multitudes.

Wiersbe: A parable begins innocently as a picture that arrests our attention and arouses our interest. But as we study the picture, it becomes a mirror in which we suddenly see ourselves. If we continue to look by faith, the mirror becomes a window through which we see God and His truth. How we respond to that truth will determine what further truth God will teach us.”


(:5a) Preamble

“The sower went out to sow his seed;”

Importance of this fundamental parable — need to understand the main point here

Function of the sower is to sow – viewed here as sowing directly (rather than through intermediaries)

Indiscriminate sowing – not like a farmer at all – but with the purpose in mind of producing a fruitful crop

Broadcast method of sowing — not planting individual seeds … but walking down paths in a field and casting seed everywhere

A. (:5b) Seed on the Road

“and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up.”

Jeff Miller: A first-century path alongside—or through—a field was composed of dirt that was well-worn and firmly-packed from high volumes of foot traffic, virtually impenetrable to scattered seed.

We can throw some grass seed on our lawn and see some of the same activity – where the seed lies on ground that has not been prepared and dug up … the birds come along and say “Thank you very much for the easy meal”

B. (:6) Seed on Rocky Ground

“And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.”

Lots of rocky ground in Palestine

MacArthur: What we’re talking about here is limestone bedrock below the level of the plow. The plow goes in but below that there’s limestone bedrock. That stuff exists all through the land of Israel. It is…in fact, the rabbis used to say that when God dumped the rocks on the earth, He made a mistake and dumped all of them on Israel. It is a very, very rocky place and much of that rock lies below the surface, below the plow and what happens is, the seed goes in, it finds the soft soil, it starts to get life, the ground is warm, there’s moisture and water there and it starts to grow, the roots can’t go down because they hit bedrock and so whatever nutrients are there, whatever elements of life are there shoot the plant upward. And that’s why it says it immediately sprang up.

Emphasis here = No root

C. (:7) Seed Among Thorns

“And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out.”

Emphasis here = No fruit

D. (:8a) Seed on Good Soil

“And other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.”

The distinctive nature of this soil is that it is the only one described as “good” because it is the only one that yields lasting fruit

(:8b) Postscript

“As He said these things, He would call out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

How do the 3 unfruitful types of soil represent the 3 great enemies of the Christian:

Wiersbe: Each of the three fruitless hearts is influenced by a different enemy: the hard heart—the devil himself snatches the seed; the shallow heart—the flesh counterfeits religious feelings; the crowded heart—the things of the world smother the growth and prevent a harvest. These are the three great enemies of the Christian: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:1-3).”

1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father Is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Wiersbe: This parable shows that Jesus was not impressed by the great crowds that followed Him. He knew that most of the people did not really “hear” the Word and receive it in their hearts. He gave this story to encourage the disciples in their future ministry, and to encourage us today. When you consider how much teaching, preaching, and witnessing goes on in the course of a month or a year, you wonder why there is such a small harvest. The fault does not lie with the sower or the seed. The problem is with the soil. The human heart will not submit to God, repent and receive the Word, and be saved…..Faith is not a matter of IQ or education; it is a matter of humbly preparing the heart to receive God’s truth (James 1:19-21). The wise and prudent are blind to truths that are easy for the babes to understand (Matt. 11:20-26).


A. (:9) Perplexity About Parables: Why Use Parables? / What Do They Mean?

“And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be.”

Sounds like the bulk of the crowd dispersed with no understanding of the meaning of this parable

Distinction made here between the general followers of Jesus and the specific 12 Apostles

B. (:10) Purpose of Parables

“And He said, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

Def. of a mystery = something not previously revealed in the OT but now made known by God both revealing and granting understanding of the truth

Jewish understanding and expectation of the kingdom of God was not complete; there was a mystery aspect to it – certainly this whole church age in which the emphasis is on sowing the seed to all men everywhere – to create a church with no distinction between Jew and Gentile – was a mystery to OT Jews

Look at the clear distinction Jesus makes between 2 very different groups of people:

– The disciples who have been given a gift of understanding God’s truth … and by implication who receive the gift of forgiveness of sins

– Those who are outside – to whom the truth is hidden in judgment; who will not experience forgiveness of sins

That’s why it should not be surprising that of the 4 types of soil mentioned … only 1 concerns those who are saved = the only group that bears fruit

Donald Miller: The “secrets of the kingdom” (vs. 10) are secrets not because they are not announced, but because those who hear them often refuse to listen. Christianity is an open, a confessed faith. One must, therefore, take heed that he hears aright, for this makes him capable of hearing more, and thus of becoming a better witness.


(:11) Consistent Thread = Sowing the Seed

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.”

The sower is actively sowing the word – that is a given – STOP right here; is this a given for us individually … for us as a church … is this what characterizes the bulk of our activities … is everything else just there to support our main ministry in life = to fulfill the Great Commission??? Huge problem … but not the thrust of this parable

Not talking about HOW the sower sows the word – should we use tracts .. open air preaching … friendship evangelism … large stadium type crusades … etc. – should we use different types of music .. what about drama and plays …

Everybody hears the Word – not dealing with the issue of what about the heathen in Africa who have never heard the gospel

Differing responses to the Word is the issue – based on different dispositions of the heart

Stedman: The Word of God is sown by means of preaching or teaching or reading or studying or witnessing, or in some other way. The Word is dropped into hearts like seeds into soil. That Word is the life-giving element which can change the whole situation and bring enrichment and harvest into a life. Therefore the moment of the sowing of the Word is a magic hour. It is a time when the opportunity to be changed is present.

The inherent power of the Word of God:

James 1:21 “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls”

1 Pet. 1:23 “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God”

A. (:12) Seed on the Road – Hardened Hearts vs. Spiritual Life

“And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.”

Satan is alive and active; a genuine threat and enemy of the reception of the word of God

Scribes and Pharisees fall into this category – the religious self-righteous who are blind leaders of the blind

This category is impossible to penetrate at all with the impact of the gospel message

They feel they have their act together; they don’t sense any need for salvation; don’t view themselves as lost and in need of a Savior

Jeff Miller: This soil represents a hard heart that doesn’t permit the Word of God to penetrate its surface. These individuals are in control of their own lives; they have all of the answers. They are unteachable, and the Word of God falls upon their deaf ears.

B. (:13) Seed on Rocky Ground – Shallow Hearts vs Spiritual Perseverance

“And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.”

Not talking about some category of “carnal Christians” who just don’t reach full maturity

Same as John 15 – professing believers – but the fruitless branches have no life and are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned

Superficial Christianity has no roots and no persevering endurance; they never understood the costs of discipleship

that superficial, only temporarily soft, self-centered, self-indulgent, self-seeking heart.

Don’t use emotion to try to manipulate folks into a decision for Christ – you must understand this parable of the soils

Don’t just assume that every profession of faith is authentic; don’t be surprised when you see apostasy – people falling away who previously professed faith

Importance of spiritual perseverance

If your concept of the gospel is that Jesus came to take away all of your problems and give you smooth sailing through life … then you will fall away when trials or hardship or persecution impact you.

Particularly relevant warning to those believers in Jesus’ day who were facing persecution for their new faith

Deffinbaugh: These folks respond positively to the word because they think that it is a kind of “prosperity gospel,” a gospel which promises only good times, blessing, happiness, and bliss. The quickness of the response is an indication of their lack of depth, or their lack of perception as to what the gospel really means. And, let me quickly add, this is not due to our Lord’s misrepresentation of the gospel. It is the result of selective hearing, of hearing only the good and pleasant things, rather than hearing of the costs involved in discipleship, of which our Lord often spoke.

C. (:14) Seed Among Thorns – Distracted (Preoccupied) Hearts vs Spiritual Devotion

“And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”

Not willing to pay the price of discipleship

MacArthur: This is a double minded person whose repentance is not complete. This is the person who wants salvation, wants Christ, wants the Kingdom but wants the world and wants riches and wants things. Pretty obvious. This is the double minded. He wants to serve God and money and Jesus said, “You can’t serve God and money.” This is the rich young ruler, remember him in Luke…in Matthew 19? Comes to Jesus, “What do I have to do to enter the Kingdom?” And He says, “Give up all your money because that’s obviously the idol that rules your heart.” And he was not willing to do that. And he was also not willing to admit his own sinfulness. He wanted to hang on to the illusion of his own pride and his own riches.

Literally when it says at the beginning of verse 19, “worries of the world,” it is literally the distractions of the age…the distractions of the age. Whatever they are, whatever occupies the age…this is the preoccupied heart. This is the heart that unfortunately loves the world and all the things that are in the world, according to 1 John 2, and therefore the love of God is not in him. This is the heart that is the enemy of God, James 4:4, because it loves the world. This is the kind of heart that says, as Jesus points out in Luke chapter 9, “Yeah, I’m going to follow You, Lord, I‘m going to follow You but I can’t follow You now, you know, I’ve got to go home and wait till I get my inheritance from my father so I have some money. Well I can’t follow You now, I’ve got to go home and say goodbye to everybody so I can raise some money to take with me.” And Jesus says, “No, no, no, if you look back you’re not fit for the Kingdom.”

These are those who are under the terrible temptation of the love of money becoming the root of all kinds of evil, 1 Timothy chapter 6. These are people consumed with the stuff of the world.

D. (:15) Seed on Good Soil – Fruitful Hearts

“And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”

3 Present Participles – ongoing activity characterizing their interaction with the Word:

– Hear

– Hold it fast / Accept / Retain

– Bear fruit / Persevere

Van Parunak: Location: the good ground, free from the characteristics of the other three.

1) Unlike the wayside, it is plowed up.

2) Unlike the stony ground, it is deep.

3) Unlike the thorny ground, it does not favor weeds.

Hendriksen: The importance of spiritual fruitbearing, as the mark of the true believer, is stressed even in the Old Testament (Ps. 1:1-3; 92:14; 104:13). This line of thought is continued in the gospels (Matt. 3:10; 7:17-20; 12:33-35; Luke 3:8; John ch. 15) and in the rest of the New Testament (Acts 2:38; 16:41; Rom. 7:4; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; Phil. 4:17; Col. 1:6; Heb. 12:11; 13:15; James 3:17,18).

Different amounts of fruit

What is your Goal in life? Should be to be fruitful to the maximum extent possible

Back in those days a healthy crop yield would have been tenfold … so this amount of fruitfulness is astonishing

MacArthur: That’s not natural. Good soil is not natural. Hard soil is natural. Just leave the ground and that’s what it will be. Rocky soil, that’s natural, leaving it the way it is. Weedy soil, that’s natural that’s the way it is. Something has to happen to this soil. To make it good soil, the stone has to be broken up. The hard ground has to be broken up. The weeds have to be taken out. Who can do that? Only God can do that. He alone can do that. Deuteronomy 30 verse 6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart that you may live.” Proverbs 20 and verse 9 says, “Who can say I have made my heart clean, pure from sin?” Nobody can do that on his own.


Jodi Harper Application: Our county government has an office that tests soil. You can dig up a few handfuls of dirt from your yard and send it to them. They will put it under their microscope and see what it contains. In a few weeks, they will send you a report of how good your soil is for growing things. You will find out if there are good nutrients in your yard, or if you need to add something to make the soil just right.

May we not be found to be hard-hearted and impenetrable; or shallow; or distracted and preoccupied when it comes to obedience to God’s Word.

May the Lord grant that we are fruitful in our response to the Word of God.