Matthew 13:1-23: Seed and Sower
February 7, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
One of the most well-known stories that Jesus ever told is this parable of the sower (13:3-8). It is so familiar to many of us as it is such good material for children’s teaching. It is imbibed from such an early age if we grew up in church that it is easy to miss the forest for the trees and fail to see the point.
First of all, the great crowds coming to Jesus means that he grabs an impromptu pulpit—in this case a boat—and preaches from it (13:2). They can see him, they can hear him, behind him is no distraction, and the setting (we must presume) was reasonably peaceful. Into this ambience Jesus drops a “parable.”
A parable, literally, is something that is thrown along side something else; it is a comparison. It is saying, “This, that you are talking about, is a bit like this other thing over here.” It is an aid to understanding, in some ways, though that is some of the difficulty of this passage as we shall see. The Old Testament equivalent to parables are the proverbial sayings; this is now expanded by Jesus’ divine brilliance into this, and other familiar, stories. They are stories with a point: not every detail of them can be interpreted as having significant spiritual meaning. They are not “allegories” where each component must be interpreted into some other equivalent spiritual interpretation. They are stories, comparative examples in story form, that are intended to wrest from the mind darkness, and lead it towards light—if that is what God is doing in the individual.
The story itself (13:3-8) is familiar enough and can be read by the reader. Clearly it is meant to be understood (“He who has ears, let him hear,” 13:9), but also clearly it is realized that not everyone will understand, not everyone will have “ears to hear.”
The disciples then ask Jesus why he speaks in parables (13:10)—a question many of us have wondered too. The standard answer given is that stories are easier for people to understand, and as a master (the Master) communicator, Jesus used stories. How different is Jesus’ own explanation (13:11-17)! In fact, the reason why he tells stories (fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, 13:14-15; Is. 6:9-10) is “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (13:13). In other words, parables, stories, do not themselves communicate sufficient truth unless they are clearly explained (as Jesus will do from verse 18 to those who are being called by God). Parables, then, function a bit like a sieve; they weed out those who do not understand, will not understand, and are just hanging around Jesus but have no real intention of following him or listening to him—and what is left are those who are genuinely interested, want to find out more, and to them Jesus gives the interpretation.
The parable of the sower is interpreted from verses 18-23. There are many opportunities for the seed of God’s word not to bear fruit. The devil can snatch away the seed. Lack of deep commitment can mean that when difficulty arises people fall away. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the seed of the word, so that it is unfruitful. The good soil? The good soil is that which “hears the word and understands it” (13:23).
This has two massive implications. #1 Preachers are to do what they can to ensure that what is communicated—whether the appetite is whetted with stories or not—is communicated with clarity, clarity, clarity. #2 Listeners are to ensure that they do what they can to avoid misunderstanding—misunderstanding arising not from any defect in the word/seed, but from the work of the evil one, a lack of sacrificial commitment to Christ, and the pull of the riches of this world and its cares.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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