As the Word of God proceeds and reaches the hearts of people, there are different responses and specific causes for each response. In Matthew’s Gospel Ch. 13 (also MARK 4; LUKE 8) our LORD describes these causes and effects for us.
Its worthy of note that of the four different scenarios depicted only one of these brought forth good fruit; in all of the other cases, the seed was unfruitful. This should be a warning and an admonition for us as God’s children, particularly for those just starting out in the faith ("babes in Christ" 1 COR 3:2; 1 PET 2:2). We must make sure that we tend the ‘garden of our heart’ to be sure it is properly tilled, weeded and protected from those elements that would prove detrimental to good and healthy growth.
So we shall have a look at this parable to see what the LORD would teach us on this crucial matter. Before we do, however, consider the fact that this is the first time that our LORD used a parable; He never did this before this point, and when addressing the people from this point on, He spoke only in parables. This was a curiosity even for His disciples that approached Him on this issue:
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
To which the LORD answered in the following six verses:
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
The LORD told His disciples that the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are given to them, but not to these others. Seems a bit unfair, that the LORD would choose only these and not the rest of those that heard His words, doesn’t it? But the next verse is very telling:
12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
“Whosoever hath” – has what, one might ask? In answer, let us say a willing heart and a hearing ear; one who is receptive and even more so, seeking for the truth of God’s Word. The LORD spoke elsewhere by the prophet Jeremiah:
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
The fact that “this people’s heart” has grown hard and unyielding meant that they did not hunger for the truth; particularly the religious leaders who were content with their own version of the religion of the Jews (thinking that they were justified by the Law which God intended to show mankind his sinfulness!). Isaiah (“Esaias” in the KJV) spoke of this very thing, as we read in vs. 14 – that the people would hear, but not understand, and shall see but not perceive. They had spiritual blindness as a result of spiritual apathy and laziness, with no care or concern for heeding and learning the Word of God.
So for those who had such hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), they would be given, they would be filled. For those who had no such spiritual appetite, they would be left with nothing but blind eyes and dear ears (spiritually speaking).
It’s often been said that parables are teaching tools to bring greater depths of understanding, and that is true but provisionally: it only brings greater depths of understanding for those who have a desire and love for the truth of God’s Word! For those who don’t, these are merely stories but with no real significance.
Yet what about MATT 13:17? It says there that there were many prophets and righteous men that sought those things which the disciples sought, but did not find them; alas but that the KING of ISRAEL had not yet arrived earlier so that these men of God would know such things that the disciples came to know. Yet all things in God’s good time! When the LORD returns, sets up His kingdom, and resurrects the just from the dead (including these prophets and righteous men) then they shall know everything that they hungered for themselves!
So then, let’s now proceed with an examination of this parable:
The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And 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 sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
No doubt that among a crowd of such proportions there were heart conditions of many assortments; some genuinely were hungry for the Word of the LORD; others perhaps were merely interested in a curiosity but with no such zeal for the LORD. Indeed, among the mass of people, there were represented these four classifications of heart conditions which the LORD was about to elaborate on.
He speaks of a sower (husbandman or farmer), sowing (planting) seed and as he did so, the seed met with these different situations: some were eaten by fowls of the air; others fell on shallow, stony ground but withered away; still others fell among thorns which choked the life out of it; and finally some of the seed fell upon good soil and brought forth good fruit.
The seed is profitable for the work of the Gospel, in bringing salvation to souls, and also for the continued work of the Spirit in the lives of believers once they are born again.
So whether one is new to the faith or a saint of many years, we all need to take heed, be watchful over our hearts, apply them to wisdom and ‘tend the garden’ of our spiritual lives.
The LORD then declares,“Who has ears to hear, let him hear,” which He says repeatedly throughout His ministry (MATT 11:15; MARK 4:9,23; 7:16; LUKE 8:8;14:35 as well as several times in the book of REV 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).
Once He completes the parable and explains the reason why He speaks in parables to the disciples, He then explains the meaning behind it beginning in verse 19; let’s go over each scenario one at a time:
SCENARIO #1) STOLEN SEED –
The LORD said that some seed fell by the wayside and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. Here is the spiritual meaning:
~ 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
First of all, in each case, the sower sows seed and this is representative of the Word of God, as described elsewhere in Scripture:
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Seeds are fascinating devices of God’s creation; encoded in these little capsules is the genetic information which is entirely complete for the reproduction of that particular life form, whether you’re talking about palm trees or poodles; humans or hogs or hay. In relating the Word of God to seed which when planted in the ground begins to germinate and become active in the production of life, we understand that this Divine Seed will produce in the heart that is receptive and seeking, Divine Life akin to that Life that is in the LORD Jesus Christ; in fact in essence it is the same Life!
The Word of the Spirit when received will bring forth the fruit of the Spirit (GAL 5:22-23) and will work “effectually” in those that receive and believe:
1 THESSALONIANS 2:13
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
The enemy of the church, Satan, hates Christians and the life we possess in Jesus Christ. Further, he disdains the idea of losing his blind slaves of darkness (2 COR 4:4) to the LORD of LIGHT, and such slaves are freed when once they believe and receive the Gospel Truth – and so wherever this “Seed” is planted, he ever seeks to snatch it away as depicted by these “fowls” in the parable. Note where the seed lay: “by the way side” which suggests apathy towards the Word of God, a carelessness that would leave it there and not kept and treasured.
Fowls are typically representative of satanic/demonic forces. One of the first mentions of fowls in the Scripture was when Abram as preparing the sacrifices of animals for a covenant with God – he had to chase fowls away that would eat up the dead carcasses (GEN 15:11); in the book of Revelation we see that the false church, the Mother of Harlots, Babylon is full of such (demonic) things (REV 18:2).
May we chase away any demonic fowl that would seek to steal (and kill and destroy; JOHN 10:10a) the work and Word of God that the LORD seeks to fulfill in our lives and the lives of others!
Likewise may we be ever vigilant in our intercessory prayers for those we are seeking to evangelize because this is the very sum and substance of spiritual warfare – we are wrestling with these demonic forces (EPH 6:12) that are seeking to steal away the Word from sinners we are actively seeking to win to Christ! Note that it’s the ones that don’t understand the Word that get the seed snatched from them by the enemy; thus let us seek the LORD in prayer that those we preach the Gospel to, will receive spiritual/supernatural understanding by the Spirit of God, because left to our own carnal/natural devices we cannot understand the things of God (1 COR 2:14).
SCENARIO #2) THE SEED and STONY PLACES –
The LORD in the second scenario describes the seed being sown among stony places where there was not much earth; the seed sprang up prematurely and was scorched by the sun, not having any depth of root. Here is the spiritual meaning:
~ 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. ~
Note here that the Word of God is received quickly and with joy; there is an initial excitement for the work of the LORD being done in the life of such an individual, but there is a problem – he has no root in himself. What does this mean?
Just as it’s difficult for seedlings to flourish in stony ground without the nutrients in an adequate amount of soil, so too without a depth of the “Root of Jesse” that is, the LORD Jesus Christ (ISAIAH 11:1,10; EZEK 36:26) in our hearts, we cannot hope to endure in our spiritual life. I submit that the excited reception with joy was not a whole-hearted reception, but because of the ‘stony ground’ that is, hardness of heart, the seed becomes impotent in accomplishing what it’s meant for: spiritual life and fruitfulness in the heart of a believer.
The sufferings and injustices in life can cause us to become bitter, cold, indifferent and hardened of heart; such may even lay accusation against God for the wrongs they have suffered and in such a state, the reception of the Word of God is hardly accommodated.
Such struggles and sufferings may develop ‘trust issues’ in such hearts to the point where we find it difficult, well nigh impossible to trust in God with our very lives.
This is why its important that we lay all bitterness and heart issues that prove detrimental to our spiritual growth aside:
30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
We must ask the LORD to plow up the soil of our hearts, the fallow earth that can become as hard as rock (fallow ground is so dry and hard that any rain fall will simply run off and not penetrate the soil, thus making it impossible for it to produce growth); may the Sword of the Spirit like a hammer, break the hardness of heart and yield the soft soil to the Seed as He intends (JER 23:29; HEB 4:12). The LORD is well able to perform this work and turn a hardened heart soft, pliable and receptive – again, great cause for intercessory prayer for our loved ones, neighbors and all for the LORD to accomplish this work!
3 For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
12 Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
13 Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.
7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
(Also consider - 1 SAM 6:6; PSALM 95:8; MARK 8:17; HEB 4:7). In each case in the context of these Scriptures, the issue is that of unbelief that leads to a hardening of the heart:
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
We tend to think of unbelief as merely a weakness, but according to this verse above, it’s actually born of an evil heart – but why is this?
Simply because the same God that has made countless promises in His Word is also a God of Truth, and for any to express unbelief, is dishonoring God and thinking of Him as untrustworthy, unreliable, and untruthful.
Let us seek God for believing faith, while remembering that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (ROMANS 10:17); so let us drench ourselves in God’s Word!
The LORD is able to do His work in our hearts and then the soil becomes good; the heart is softened, receptive, yielded and willingly surrendered so that the seed will penetrate down to the necessary depths where in time, it will germinate and spring to spiritual life, with the Root of Jesse firmly planted in the depths and able to nourish that spiritual life.
Yet if that hardened heart is not dealt with, then it’s only a matter of time before persecution or tribulation arrives, and because of such troubles, the person is offended and abandons this life and relents of the work that the LORD sought to perform in them.
A lack of depth in this Root is very much the same idea as presented elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel regarding the houses built on the Rock or the sand. The house not built on the Rock (the LORD JESUS CHRIST; MATT 16:18) will fall when the storms of life – be they persecution or troubles of various kinds – arrive.
So whether Root or Rock, we must be fully committed to the LORD and allow our hearts to fully yield to Him; and if one doesn’t know how to yield, the LORD knows what you must do – ASK HIM!
SCENARIO #3) THE SEED and THORNY PLACES –
In this third scenario the LORD describes a situation in which the seeds fall among thorns and they sprang up and choked those seeds. Here is the spiritual meaning:
~ 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. ~
In this case we see that the person does indeed hear the Word, but that Word is choked out; suffocating by crowding together, strangling the Word with these thorns. Of course thorns speak of cursing, pain and sin (GEN 3:18) and in context of this passage, anything is a curse indeed that causes the Word of God to be choked out of our lives! In this case it’s the “cares of this world” and “the deceitfulness of riches”.
The entire world is under the curse of sin, and so much of what we are involved with is laborious and fraught with hardships in trying to provide a living, struggling with finances, illnesses, family strife, broken relationships, etc. and as well as these burdensome things we seek relief from them and so engage in the pursuit of happiness and ‘fun times’ with activities that appeal to the flesh – it’s the TGIF mentality where humans ‘cut loose’ and get intoxicated, seek out sexual encounters and all sorts of illicit pleasures. Sin is, according to the Bible “pleasurable” . . . but only for a season; then there comes the bitter harvest of destruction and death (in all of its forms). All of these are “cares” or distractions that keep our focus off of the Word of God and spiritual matters of the Kingdom. There are even legitimate “cares” that in themselves are not wrong, but the ‘wrongness’ is when they are allowed a place of pre-eminence over the Kingdom of God.
The LORD Jesus stated in ~
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (To hold a confidence in and avarice for the riches of this world).
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
And there is the priority for the child of God – not to allow themselves to be distracted away from the LORD and His Kingdom by the pursuit of wealth, or even anxious worrying about getting one’s physical needs met – but to make the Word and obedience to it the number one priority and consideration above all others.
Elsewhere in Scripture Paul mentions this:
1 TIMOTHY 6:9-11
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
The distractions and cares of this world that are chased by people who seek out riches and having a love of money (indeed, the very root of “all” evil the Bible says, which leads to “temptations, snares, foolish, hurtful lusts, destruction, perdition . . .” and the “piercing . . . through with many sorrows) are carnal, which we who are saints are to “flee these things” and rather follow “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” – the very stuff of the Kingdom of God!
Yet there are even so-called Christians (in the Word-Faith Movement) who claim that by faith we ought to be blessed with such worldly pleasures and treasures as these; Paul addresses this in the same passage a bit earlier:
1 TIMOTHY 6:3-8
3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
So in all three of these scenarios perils and problems arise and bring about a state of unfruitfulness in the hearts of those that God would seek blessing for, by way of such fruit (and the “fruit of the Spirit” (GAL 5:22-23) is the greatest of blessing, which is “love”; this is the “greatest of these” other spiritual treasures of faith and hope (1 COR 13:13))!
John the Baptist declared:
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Do you suppose that it’s a serious matter with God that we produce fruit for His glory? Look at the end result of those “trees” (representative of people) that don’t produce any; yes, this is a very serious matter with the LORD God!
For the saint, the production of spiritual fruit is something that brings honor to the LORD, and we of course desire that He would be pleased with us and blessed by our lives which are devoted to and saved by the LORD Jesus Christ, amen? And this leads us to the fourth and final scenario:
SCENARIO #4) THE SEED and GOOD GROUND –
The LORD then speaks of the seed falling into good ground and brings forth fruit to varying degrees. Here is the spiritual meaning:
~ 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. ~
This is one who like the other that had the stony grounded heart, heard the Word, but unlike the one where the seed lay by the wayside, understood it. They remain in the place of reception and allow the Word to do its work unimpeded by hard hearted unbelief or the multitudinous distractions of this fallen, sinful world. They bring forth fruit to different degrees – some a hundred, others sixty and still others thirty. All blessed and rewarded for their obedience to the LORD as in another passage in which faithful stewardship was praised and rewarded by the Head of the Church (LUKE 19:12–26).
Remember that the seed of the Word contains in it all of that which pertains to the Word Incarnate – the character and blessedness as found in the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. So let the seed of God’s Word be abundantly sown and do not be sparing (2 COR 9:6)!
One might not produce as much fruit as another believer, but take heart – the LORD will still reward according to faithfulness and not according to quantity, but quality.
In closing, let us consider this last passage as found in the Gospel of John:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
I am prayerfully considering a Part Two for this article that will exposit this portion of Scripture that speaks of Jesus Christ, the True Vine and His fruitful saints. Until such a time as that, may the LORD continue to bless and keep you (NUM 6:24-25); may the LORD grant wisdom in inspecting (2 COR 13:5) and tending your spiritual garden so that you may aptly weed out the thorns, dig up any stony earth, and remain vigilant in guarding your heart from the enemy who would steal the precious seed of God’s Word from your lives!
IN JESUS NAME, AMEN!
For an article that relates to our growing in the LORD and becoming more like Him, which is vital in these last days of apostasy, check out the following article by Anne Kisly at TTUF:
LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS - A FEW WORDS ABOUT CHARACTER