1 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. 10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 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. 18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 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. 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. 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. 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.Matthew 13:1-23
This passage introduces us to Jesus’ method of speaking in parables. While Matthew has shown Jesus using metaphors and word pictures, this passage is intended to highlight the fact that the Gospel message is a mystery which is hidden, and can only be received by God’s inward work of grace. This is the introduction of parables, and it comes with a “footnote” of sorts as to Jesus’ reason for teaching in this way. This parable is one of the few that comes with the “cheat code” to the parable, but it also gives us a larger explanation for all the parables.
In the preceding chapters, Jesus has been busy with preaching “Repent & believe,” selecting and sending out his disciples to preach this same message, healing the sick, and casting out devils. His message was largely met with fickleness (Mt. 11:16-19) and unrepentance (Mt. 11:20-24) from the crowds; and the Pharisees response to Jesus’ ministry was the blasphemous accusation (which they proclaimed in hopes of swaying the crowds from listening to Jesus) that His power to cast out devils came from the devil (Mt.12:22-32) and His healings were unlawful because they violated the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-14).
So this string of parables are presented. The Jews expected the Messiah to come in with a bang and route their enemies. But Jesus’ parables here in Mt. 13 in particular, aim to show that the Kingdom will be inaugurated, then gradually grow into a harvest, a tree, a loaf, etc. But the Kingdom coming had inward implications. Jesus’ parable is told in order that those with hardened hearts would not understand, but those to whom faith had been given might hear and believe and thus the Kingdom would begin its unstoppable career of global victory.
The parable itself tells us that the sower casts forth his seed, and while it lands on various soils, only the good soil will bring forth a superabundant harvest. The disciples then take the opportunity to ask Jesus, “What’s up with the parable thing?” (As a side-note, we can see that even in Jesus’ ministry, Q&A was a vital component of discipleship.)
Jesus explains that parables are God’s method of showing that faith is a gift. The disciples were given the knowledge of the mysterion; whereas the Pharisees and the masses were the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the heart of the Jews had become dull, their eyes couldn’t see their nose; a veil was upon their sight, so that they couldn’t see the light that shone from either Moses’ Law or Christ’s Gospel. Parables are a part of God’s judgement on unbelievers. By contrast, the faith/knowledge which the disciples had been given was demonstrated in their desire to understand Jesus’ message.
Jesus then explains the meaning of the sower parable. The seed doesn’t grow on the footpath because the devil snatches it away; it doesn’t grow in the rocky soil because hardships come which prove that the initial growth was simply pseudo-faith; it won’t grow in the midst of thorns, for the cares of this world choke it out. Rather, the seed––the word of the Kingdom––only grows in good soil. The good soil, Jesus tells us, is the one who hears and understands. But we should remember that in His explanation as to why He taught in parables, He stated that this understanding/knowledge is given.
In other words, the type of soil you are is not for you to determine. It is God who makes the soil good. The heart of the people is dull (v15). But the disciples are blessed because their eyes see and their ears hear (v16), but their sight is entirely a gift. Thus, if you have heard the Word you are to be grateful for the good soil which God has made you. Yet there is a warning to all mankind here. The warning is that apart from this gift you are a hard path, rocky soil, or a weed patch. To put it in controversial language, this passage shows us that Jesus was a Calvinist.