He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.” Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?”
Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have. For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them. This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them:
You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;“Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear. I assure you that many prophets and righteous people wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.
and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.
For this people’s senses have become calloused,
and they’ve become hard of hearing,
and they’ve shut their eyes
so that they won’t see with their eyes
or hear with their ears
or understand with their minds,
and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them. (Isa. 6:9-10)
“Consider then the parable of the farmer. Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit.
As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”
-Matt. 13:1-23 (CEB)
A brief on the parable of the farmer:
The sower and the seeds, with the various types of soil, illustrates that the Kingdom is here now, in our time, being offered to bring people into the age to come. The mystery of the Kingdom, though, is that it can be resisted and rejected. The kingdom is here and coming, but not yet with irresistible power. This is surprising and mysterious.
God's sovereignty and our choice
The parables on the kingdom in Matthew 13, illustrate the mystery of the kingdom and how we always choose how to and how much to respond to it. There is choice and decision to enter in, and then there are ongoing choices as to how we will or will not live out a kingdom centered life.
These are about the mystery of the Kingdom. Mystery in the Bible means something that has been kept secret, about God's redemptive purposes, but has now been disclosed. It is a new truth about the kingdom of God that was revealed by Jesus, during his earthly ministry. The mystery is that the kingdom of God is here, but instead of destroying human sovereignty, it attacks the sovereignty of Satan.
The Kingdom will come (in the future) and displace every human power. But, the mystery revealed is that the King has come now, unobtrusively to men and women, as a gift, to be accepted or rejected. Even though the Kingdom greatly impacts those who receive it, others can now ignore it.
The point of this parable is not the farmer, the seeds, nor the ground. The point is, what happens to the seeds. The seeds are the kingdom and the 'what happens to them' is our lives. There is God's sovereign grace on the one hand, and our personal responsibility on the other hand.
You understand the kingdom, or you don't understand it. To gain understanding is to welcome the kingdom and become a disciple. There is no 'discipleship lite'. It has to be 'no holds barred' or it does not work. The call to discipleship is a call to leave everything for him.
Hard ground, hard heart, & the enemy
The first scenario in this story is where there is the message that is sent and received, then quickly stolen. We also find out that there is an enemy of the kingdom who works to steal the message out of peoples hearts, before it takes root.
Now, we find out that there is an enemy of God, that does not want us to receive and understand the message of the kingdom. The enemy wants to steal all the seed, but he is most effective, where it is sown on hard ground, that is not receptive to it.
While the enemy and his role is real, we still bear the responsibility for responding or not responding to the kingdom. Hard hearts are like hard ground that a seed lays on top of. We are responsible for the harness of our own hearts that can not or will not receive the kingdom.
The enemy blinds the minds of unbelievers to the gospel of the kingdom, but each unbeliever is responsible for their own hard hearts. Hearts can change and do change, but this story is a snap shot of what happens when a heart is hard to the message.
Unbelieving believers or belonging but not believing
The second scenario is when the message is well received joyfully, but it dies soon. We are not called to only receive the message and it does not work into our lives when we only receive it. We must understand it. Understand means get it. Understand means to buy into, to come under. It means to open your heart wide and let it be transformed.
This is like when the message of the kingdom is given and someone says, "wasn't that good!" You receive it, you think you believe it, but you don't or can't obey it. So you say you believe, but then you don't follow through and prove you believe, by living or doing what the message called you to.
Jesus is not an add-on, an addition, or a makeover to your life. He gets to take over, or it does not work. The kingdom of God demands that you bow and become a subject. There's a load of benefits awaiting you, but first, you must repent, then live in a life of repentance, for the kingdom to take hold and bear fruit in your life.
The way for the kingdom to take root in your life is through your obedience. Jesus said that the person who hears his words and puts them into practice will be like the house built on the rock that can withstand the storms (Matt. 7:24). It is a delusion to think that you can hear his words and know them, even know them so well that you can teach them. You have them memorized. But knowledge is not the key. Obedience is.
"Christian", in name only, but not a disciple (churchianity)
The third scenario is where the worries of life and the appeal of wealth choke out the word of the kingdom. The worries of life are when we put things and others before Jesus. If other concerns crowd out your seeking of and desiring to follow Jesus, then you will not grow as a disciple and the message of the kingdom will not take root in your life and be lost.
The picture here is of stuff in your life that is sucking up all your energy. Disciples don't worry about things like non-believers do. Disciples are not full of themselves and all about 'me'. They are following Jesus and are all about him. If this shift does not occur, it will not and can not work.
It is still true that money does not bring happiness. Money and wealth are seductive forces that promise enjoyment, but can not deliver. Contentment is a whole other thing. Love of money chokes out the life of discipleship. You can not follow money, then follow the Lord. Follow the Lord first, and then money and wealth are a tool and a blessing you are blessed with to bless others.
Following Jesus, no matter what the cost: a fruitful life
The fourth scenario is where the seed or message lands on good ground and sprouts, resulting in spectacular fruit bearing. The heart that gets it is an understanding heart. The idea of understanding is receptivity and action. The person responds to and begins a changed life, as a disciple, as a result of the gospel of the kingdom.
In the first three scenarios, no fruit resulted. But when the heart is receptive and the person obeys and acts on the word and becomes a disciple, the amount of fruit is large. You get a range of high returns, if you invest your life. But, if you don't get it or think it's good, but don't seek to live it; or if you are not willing to dethrone your self or a captivation by money, then you get nothing.
Our response to the message: Sovereign grace and our responsibility
The key here is what happens to the message, in you, when it gets to you. How will you respond? The understanding person is responsive. They take action, follow Jesus, and change their lives.
This parable explains why people respond in a variety of ways, which were illustrated in the previous two chapters of Matthew. The word goes out and some people are not able to get it or don't want it, for the variety of reasons we listed, and the enemy is active on the field of battle for souls, as well.
But the good news for the person who follows in Jesus steps and brings his message, is that some people will get it. They are receptive and responsive. They understand, and they will become very fruitful.
This message is primarily about first encounters with the message of the kingdom, but it also applies to those inside the church. Why people are unfruitful in their lives in Christ is spelled out here.