Spring is a time of renewal and growth. The harshness of winter begins to fade, and the ground becomes pliable and ready for planting. No matter where you live, spring is often a welcomed time of year. But this is especially true in agricultural communities. It is an exciting—and exhausting—time filled with new life and potential.
Jesus lived in an agrarian society and used many stories about planting and growth to help his listeners better understand God’s truth. These stories compared something familiar to something unfamiliar, helping his listeners understand spiritual truth by using everyday objects and relationships. Jesus’ parables compel listeners to discover truth while at the same time concealing the truth from those too lazy or too stubborn to see it. To those who are honestly searching, the truth becomes clear. We must be careful not to read too much into parables, forcing them to say what they don’t mean. Each parable has a central meaning unless otherwise specified by Jesus.
Throughout the Gospels we learn of large crowds gathering, trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. Some wanted to be healed and others were curious about who he was. It was during these times that Jesus would often speak to the crowd in parables. Jesus shared the parable of a farmer who sowed seeds that fell on different types of soil while surrounded by an enormous crowd—a crowd so large he had to get into a boat to teach to the people on the shore.
“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 few verses later, after the crowd had left, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples.
“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.
What does this mean for us? The four types of soil represent different responses to God’s message. People respond differently because they are in different states of readiness. Some are hardened, others are shallow, still others are contaminated by distracting worries, and some are receptive.
Jesus’ words in this parable should be an encouragement to those who are spiritual “farmers”—those who teach, preach, and seek to lead others to the Lord. The farmer sowed good seed, but not all the seed sprouted; even the plants that grew had varying yields. Don’t be discouraged if you do not always see results as you faithfully teach the Word. Belief cannot be forced to follow a mathematical formula. Rather, it is a miracle of God’s Holy Spirit using your words to produce faith in Christ.
Parables are more than just nice stories. They require us to go beyond just hearing the words. Jesus specifically calls this out at the end of this parable. Human ears may hear sounds, but there is a deeper kind of listening that results in spiritual understanding. When speaking in parables, Jesus was not hiding truth from sincere seekers, because those who were receptive to spiritual truth understood the illustrations. To others they were only stories without meanings. As his followers, Jesus’ parables should bring about life changes, helping us become more like him.
As you reflect on this parable, ask yourself:
- How has God’s Word taken root in my life?
- What kind of soil am I?
- If you had everything you could want but forfeited eternal life with God, would those things be so desirable?
Adapted from the text and notes in Matthew 13 from the NLT Life Application Study Bible.
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