Today and for the next several weeks, we will look at some of the parables of Jesus. Jesus was an incredible communicator and often used parables or short stories to communicate truths.
Contrary to popular belief, parables were not illustrations designed to bring clarity. We know this for two reasons. First, the Hebrew culture was a story culture that valued discussion, oral and written history, and stories with open endings. In our culture, we value resolve. We like 30 minute increments and sermons with three points, a conclusion, and an application. But in the time of Christ, stories were often left open-ended for the purpose of discussion and conversation.
Second, when the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables, He answered them:
Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. “In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. Matthew 13:11-16
Today’s parable is a parable about hearing – it sets the scene for parables. A parable is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between God’s Kingdom, His actions or expectations, and something in this world real or imagined. Within this definition, there are two types of parables:
Narrative parables include narration and are typically set in the past.
Similitudes make a direct comparison using phrases such as: “The Kingdom of God is like…”
Many experts disagree on the number of parables and the definition of parables, but we know that parables are not moral stories like Aesop’s Fables or a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. For example, many of us have probably heard the story of the good Samaritan taught as a great story with a moral to be a good neighbor. Although that may be true, that is the least likely interpretation of the parable given the context of Jesus’ teaching.
We also know about the teaching of Jesus. From the beginning of His ministry, He proclaimed the gospel or good news of the kingdom and He taught about the kingdom more than anything else. Jesus taught that the kingdom is at hand, and that the kingdom is coming in the future (Matthew 4:17). God the Father sent the kingdom of heaven to us in the person of Jesus, and the kingdom of God is here today because we are here and the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
Of course, we know the kingdom is not fully here because Jesus is not yet ruling and reigning on earth in Jerusalem. The idea of salvation is to restore the kingdom back to Genesis and the Garden, where God is ruling and reigning and we worship and obey him. The gospel is restoration between us and God, and the gospel is God’s plan to fully establish His kingdom.
In Matthew 5, Jesus preaches an amazing sermon about the kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount. As we studied, the sermon is not about how to get into the kingdom, but about characteristics of those in the kingdom, or kingdom living.
By the time we reach Matthew 13, Jesus has a massive following. Some of His followers were true believers, some were skeptics, some were curious, and some hated Him and wanted to discredit Him or put Him to death. So Jesus begins to teach in parables to address the needs of everyone in the crowd:
That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; Matthew 13:1-3
There was a large crowd gathered. Who was in the crowd? Those who had been healed, true believers, religious leaders, those who conspired against Him, those who were truly curious, and probably a few of His family members. In order to speak to the crowds, Jesus gets into a boat and pushes off from shore to create a sort of amphitheater. Now is His chance to clarify any misunderstandings or answer questions, but that is not what Jesus does. Instead, He begins to speak in parables.
“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Matthew 13:3-9, NLT
A man goes out to sow and scatters seeds. Some of the seeds fall on the footpath, onto hard soil and become easy food for the birds. Some of the seeds fall onto soil that looks good but is shallow – just beneath the soil is bedrock, with no place for the roots to go, and when the wind or the heat comes, the plant withers and dies. Some of the seeds fall among the thorns and are choked out. Some seeds fall on fertile soil and produce a good hearty crop.
As they walk away from the crowd, Jesus’ disciples ask Him why He spoke in parables, and then He explains the meaning of the parable:
“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Matthew 13:18-23, NLT
Hard soil – The seed that falls on the footpath or hard soil represents those who hear the message but are unreceptive – they don’t want to know the truth or change their lives.
Shallow soil – The seed that falls on shallow soil appears good at first, but represents those with no depth of understanding. Without deep roots, they fall away at the first trial or hard circumstance.
Weeds – The seed that falls on the weeds is choked out by competing voices, noises, and distraction. The world drowns out the voice of God from our lives, and when we don’t pull out the weeds, they get tangled up and choke out the good growth.
Good soil – The seed that falls on good soil hears the word of God and receives it completely:
And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. Psalm 9:10
But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14
How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. Psalm 40:4
The skeptics in the crowd thought Jesus made no sense. The curious may have pondered His words. The true believers received His words as real and active in their lives. The parables of Jesus have a different effect on each listener. Which soil are you? In all likelihood, if you are a hard soil you’ve checked your watch several times and really do not care what type of soil you are.
The beauty is God’s grace, and that Jesus can soften a heart and give understanding as we ask. You are not stuck as one type of soil or another. Are you distracted by too many voices, and the voice of God is being drowned out of your life? Or maybe there is no depth to your understanding and your faith is tossed here and there because you know about God but you don’t really know him.
Jesus’ words to the crowds are the same words to us: “Let him who has ears hear!” Let him who has ears hear what Christ wants to do in your life and in His kingdom.