The Parable of the Sower
Brad Mills / General
Luke / Parables / Luke 8:4–15
The dangers of falling asleep in church are often exaggerated when we read the story of Eutychus in Acts 20. In fact, falling asleep in church is quite common, and it rarely leads to any serious injury. I appreciate what Kent Hughes says about it:
Falling asleep in church really does not concern me. It can happen for any number of reasons, both good and bad. What does concern me are the thousands who warm a pew every Lord’s Day with their bodies awake but their souls asleep. Some churchgoers pay more attention to television commercials than to the Word of God.
Luke opened this chapter with a description of the women who joined Jesus and the twelve as they traveled from town to town proclaiming the kingdom of God. Jesus is still in the early stages of his ministry, but we already see a tireless commitment to his mission.
In out passage this afternoon, we get a glimpse into an important style of teaching that Jesus is well known for. Jesus often spoke in parables. And this particular parable has universal application. It doesn’t only apply to the first time we heard God’s Word proclaimed, but every subsequent occurence. Every time we gather as a church, as a family, as an individual believer, the truth of this parable applies.
Read Luke 8:4-15.
1. The Parable Told (4-8)
Parables were not unique to Jesus. The prophets spoke in parables at times in order to illustrate some spiritual reality. Sometimes their parables clarified the truth, other times the parable obscured the truth. The purposes of parables varied.
You will recall one of the more memorable parables in the Old Testament was spoken by Nathan in order to rebuke David for sleeping with Bathsheba and then having Uriah killed in battle. The truth that Nathan was vividly illustrating David’s sin was kept hidden until his closing rebuke.
But, certainly, Jesus told a lot of parables and they have been the source of much debate ever since.
4 This parable is also found in Matt. 13:1-23 and Mark 4:1-20. The other accounts reveal that the crowd is so large that Jesus decides to step back into a boat and push away from the shore. The landscape and his position on the water would have allowed everyone to hear him much more clearly.
This was quite possibly the most impressive crowd that had gathered so far in Jesus’s ministry. But rather than being impressed, Jesus takes time to question the hearts of his hearers. Had they come out for the right reasons?
Imagine hearing this parable for the first time. You might be thinking about the sower’s inefficiency. Why would he be so careless in distributing the seed?
But, in fact, this would have been consistent with the farming procedure in ancient Palestine. Jesus often taught in a way that called attention to their surroundings. The original audience might have even been observing a farmer sowing his fields in this fashion precisely. So Jesus uses the occasion for a hidden purpose.
1. Path (v.5) – trampled underfoot, devoured by birds.
2. Rock (v.6) – withered without moisture.
3. Thorns (v.7) – choked.
4. Good Soil (v.8) – grew and yielded a hundredfold. This is well over the typical harvest of a seven to tenfold return.
What’s the point of this? Who was interested in learning more? It seems only the disciples pursue understanding.
By stating that only those who had ears to hear would hear, Jesus is acknowledging that some were unable to hear, and that his true disciples needed to pay close attention.
The lesson here is that we should seek to understand our Lord’s teaching. Interest in the truth of God’s Word is a sign of maturity. When you read something that you don’t understand, are you quick to move on? Do you distract yourself with something else, or do you pray and seek the Scriptures and other teachers (books or people) who might point you in the right direction?
› However, it may be surprising to learn why Jesus spoke in parables…
2. The Parable’s Purpose (9-10)
9 When the disciples asked the meaning of the parable, Jesus begins by explaining why he speaks in parables. Some have suggested that parables were to help everyone understand, even children.
Is Jesus teaching difficult truths in the form of a story to make it easier to understand?
10 The secrets of the kingdom have been spoken plainly to those to whom the kingdom has been given. Notice, the emphasis there is upon the giving of the kingdom, not its being received. God is sovereign over who the kingdom is given to.
For everyone else, the secrets are meant to keep the secrets hidden from their understanding. Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s own mission. Right after Isaiah is given the magnificent vision of the great throne room of God, he receives the following commission:
Isaiah 6:9–10 ESV
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
This passage is found six times in the New Testament and each time it refers to the hardened hearts of the Jewish audience.
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament Luke 8:10
G. K. Beale (1991) has shown that the language used in 6:9 in particular (“listening, but do not comprehend … looking, but do not understand”) reflects the language used to describe the idols themselves as in Ps. 135:16–17 (cf. 115:5–6). The ironic point established by the use of these metaphors of sight and audition is that Israel has turned into the idols that they had worshiped.
Those to whom the kingdom of God has not been given, will hear the parable, but they will not understand it, because their idolatry has made them spiritually deaf and dumb.
And that’s actually the parable’s purpose. To keep the secret of God’s redemption from those outside of the kingdom. The fact that Jesus spoke in parables is a sign of judgment upon some of his hearers (not to help weak-minded people understand better).
Jonathan Bloom writes:
Like the prophets of old, Jesus used parables to reveal the mystery of the kingdom, to stimulate reflection on sin, to call people to repentance—and to produce the opposite among those hardened against him.
Instead of his teaching producing greater faith, for many it only served to harden their hearts all the more. This was true of the Apostles. And it true of every Christian who walks in obedience to Christ and proclaims the gospel today.
2 Corinthians 2:15–16 ESV
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
We faithfully plant the seed and water it, but only God can produce the results.
1 Corinthians 3:6–7 ESV
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
› Finally, after describing his purpose, he goes on to explain the parable.
3. The Parable Explained (11-15)
The parable warns all hearers (apostles, ministers, and everyone else) that there are many wrong ways to listen to the Word of God.
Path – trampled underfoot, devoured by birds. Jesus specifically mentions the role of Satan in preventing the Word taking effect. Satan doesn’t miss a sermon. Every Sunday there are spiritual forces at work doing their best to trample the Word of God as soon as it is delivered.
We have an example of this in the Nazareth synagogue who rejected Jesus as soon as he finished preaching from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-30).
Rock – withered without moisture. This describes those who have professed to believe and have even sprouted up with quick signs of faith, but it is all short-lived. It is an emotional and shallow faith that has no room to grow. As soon as they face testing and persecution, they give up.
Simon, the Pharisee, might have been initially interested in hearing Jesus’s teaching. But once he felt the glares of his prejudiced friends, he quickly withered.
This is why we believe the “P” in TULIP is so important. Perseverance of the Saints is a critical component of our salvation.
1 John 2:19 ESV
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
If you heart is rock hard, your only recourse is to cry out to God to do whatever it might take to break it up (pain, stress, trial, disappointment).
Thorns – choked. Worldly pressures and temptations choke out their faith. Whereas the previous soil had to do with persecution, this seed is killed by temptation to be like the world (money, fame, health, etc.).
It’s no less dangerous to be in a country where the faithful are persecuted than it is to live in a country of affluence and prosperity. Both dangers can destroy faith and prevent it from taking root.
The people of “this generation” (Luke 7:31) are too inwardly focused/distracted to engage in the kingdom that Christ is offering them. They are always searching and never satisfied. And their interest in the deeper things that Jesus is teaching are choked out by their worldly desires.
This certainly remains true of our generation. Evangelicalism has done much to prop up the numbers of the church with temporary and repetitious conversions.
How many people have gone to camp and prayed a prayer or walked down the aisle to the front, only to fall away when another passion came along?
Good Soil – grew and yielded a hundredfold. Those who receive and respond to the word that is delivered with the fruits of repentance, belief, and obedience. This is the only proper way to hear God’s Word.
The fruitfulness of the good soil could only be explained if the Word were multiplied through retelling (cf. Luke 8:16-18).
Which one are you?
Here we have the examples of the Gentile centurion who believed in the power of Jesus to heal his servant, and Levi the tax-collector who met Jesus and walked away from his corrupt business, and the sinful woman who was forgiven and wept upon Jesus’s feet, and any of the members of his traveling cohort (the Twelve and the healed women providing for them from their own means).
The world would look at these lives and say “What soil? I don’t see any good preparation in the lives of these outcasts, these sinners. They bring nothing to the table!”
And isn’t that the point? They bring nothing, but Jesus provides everything. All of the rich nutrients the soil needs in order to provide healthy growth is supplied by the sower.
God alone can prepare the soil of man’s heart to receive the seed of the Word with faith and yield the fruit of repentance and forgiveness.
WLC Q.160 What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
True faith always begins by a work of God in which faith and repentance are expressed and continue to produce and abundance of fruit!