(From a message given September 5, 2021 at Beatty Baptist Church)

The parable we’re about to look at is found in in Matthew chapter 13, Mark chapter 4 and Luke chapter 8. It’s considered the first of Jesus’ parables, not because He spoke it first, but because it’s the one which shows us how to understand everything else Jesus taught.

What is a parable? It’s a simple, easy-to-remember story used to help us understand something that is real. The way it works is you take what is known and apply that knowledge to what is unknown. Jesus spoke in parables to teach the multitudes and His disciples about God. Jesus didn’t give them theological lectures describing the character and nature of God. They already knew God in that way. They knew He is all powerful and all knowing, they knew He is holy and righteous, and they knew He created everything. Their minds already accepted the basic doctrines of who God is. Instead, Jesus used parables because He wanted to reach their hearts, and He wanted them to know God’s heart. His focus was heart-knowledge, not head-knowledge.

The Parable—Matthew 13:1-9

Verse 1 introduces the setting for this parable:

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And He spoke many things to them in parables, …

Jesus was in Galilee, by the Sea of Galilee, and it wasn’t long before a crowd came to hear Him speak. In fact, there were so many, He got into a boat and taught them from just off-shore. This gave Him space so all could see and hear Him. I like to think He got into Peter’s boat, because He taught from Peter’s boat on at least one other occasion 1.

It says Jesus spoke many things to the crowd in parables. In fact, He spoke seven parables at this time. We’re only going to look at the first for now.

As you read this parable, pay attention to the major elements in the story, because they play important parts in the explanation.

…He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: Behold, a sower went out to sow.

Jesus described a scene that was very familiar: someone was scattering seed in a field. It could have been a hired worker, sowing seed that the owner provided. If the field was small, it could have been the owner himself.

A sower would sow the field by scattering seed on the ground. Maybe he did it by hand, or maybe he put a sack of seed on an animal, poked some holes in the sack, and walked the animal all over the field. After the seed was sown, he plowed it into the soil.

What kind of seed was being sown? In the parable that follows, it was wheat. But in this parable, Jesus didn’t say, leaving us free to imagine any kind of seed. It didn’t matter because it wasn’t important.

Just like today, fields were sown with a single kind of seed. You don’t see corn and alfalfa growing together in the same field. That would be hard to harvest. The Mosaic Law actually forbade the sowing of two different kinds of seed in a field 2, so all of the seed in this parable is the same kind.

So far, we have one sower sowing one kind of seed in his field. All of that seed will experience the same conditions. They will receive the same sun and the same rain. The only differences will be the results due to the kinds of ground that the seed falls on.

And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.

The first seed mentioned is what fell on the wayside. This is where people walked. It could be a footpath or the side of a road. Luke says the seed was trampled under foot 3. This was not a good place to sow seed. This part of the field was never plowed so the surface was hard. It offered no protection, and it was the easiest place for birds to find something to eat. A good sower would try to avoid wasting his seed there.

Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. And when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.

The second seed fell on rocky ground. This is not soil with rocks in it; it is rock with a thin layer of soil on top. It looked like good soil, but that appearance was deceptive. This soil was too shallow to grow anything. Many of us in Beatty know this kind of soil. On the west end of my property, the dirt is only 4 inches think. Below that, it’s all caliche, natural cement, which makes it very difficult to grow anything.

After the seed was scattered on the rocky ground, the plow was able to cover it enough to protect it from the birds. And because the seed was closer to the surface, it was the first to appear after it germinated. That part of the field turned green first. Someone who was not familiar with the field might have thought that would be the most productive part of the field because it had a head start on the other parts.

But even though the seed started well, the rock just below the surface prevented it from putting down roots. The shallow soil could not retain moisture as deep soil could. So when the sun came up and things got hot, the plant was scorched, and it withered and died. The same sun that was supposed to help the seed grow into a mature, healthy plant instead killed it.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.

This third seed was plowed into deep soil. But the seed had competition. Thorns competed with it for moisture and nutrients. They also took some of the sunlight meant for the crop. Wild plants have the advantage in this situation. They are more adapted for survival. They grow without any help from man at all. A farmer doesn’t have to plant thorns—they come up all by themselves. If all a farmer wanted to do was plant a field with something that would grow well, thorns would be a very good choice. But thorns are not useful to the farmer. They don’t produce a crop. They offer no benefit whatsoever.

Ideally, the thorns should have been cleared out before sowing and plowing, but in this case it was not so.

This seed grew and survived, but it didn’t produce any fruit. In Luke’s account, it began to produce fruit, but the fruit never reached maturity 4. As such, this seed gave the farmer no more return on investment than thorns, or any of the previous seed.

But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: this indeed a hundredfold, that sixty, that thirty.

The fourth seed fell on good ground. It fell in the field proper, not on the wayside. The fell in deep soil that had no thorns or other weeds. This ground offered the ideal conditions for growth of the seed. This is the soil the farmer desired for his crop. And because the seed fell on good soil, it didn’t suffer any of the problems that the other seed did. This part of the field didn’t turn green as fast as the second seed, but the plants reached maturity, and produced a crop many times what was sown. In fact, this seed more than made up for the other seeds’ failures. This fourth seed achieved the farmer’s goal and made the sower’s efforts worth while.

Reaping in greater quantities than what was sown is a basic principle God put into this world. In 1766, a Mr Miller from Cambridge, England, did an experiment. He took all the grain produced by one red wheat plant in August and planted them that fall. When they matured, he took the resulting grain and planted them again in spring. When he harvested those, he ended up with over half a million seeds weighing 47 pounds. All of this seed came from a single grain a year earlier. 5

The multiplied fruit of the fourth seed proved there was nothing wrong with the seed or the sower. Ther fault was not with the sun, the rain, or even the birds. The fault was entirely in the ground. In fact, all of the seed could have germinated and come to fruition if they fell on good ground.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Jesus began this parable with “behold,” which means “observe” or “pay attention.” He ended it with “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical ears but of spiritual “ears.” In the Greek, “let him hear” is a single word. It is an imperative, a command. In other words, Jesus commanded them to think about what He just told them and try to understand it. If God gave you a brain, use it! Roll the parable around in your mind. Chew on it. Having the ability to think is a responsibility not to be ignored.

Pay attention to this word “hear.” It occurs 17 times in this section of Matthew.

So far, all we have is a story that the multitude was very familiar with. They knew all about sowing seed, different kinds of ground, birds, rocks, thorns, and so on. If Jesus was trying to entertain them, this would have been a failure as the story was somewhat mundane. We would never buy a book or watch a movie that consisted solely of this story.

But the crowd knew it had a meaning. The disciples knew it as well. None knew what that meaning was, and Jesus never explained it to the crowd, but He did explain it to His disciples. So let’s skip ahead to verse 18 for the explanation, then we’ll come back to verse 10 afterwards.

The Meaning—Matthew 13:18-23

Therefore hear the parable of the sower:

Jesus began His parable with “behold” and He ended it with “hear.” Now Jesus begins the explanation with a command to hear. Again, this is a call to try to understand the parable.

When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is that which was sown by the wayside.

Right away, we see that the seed is the word of the kingdom 6. In Luke’s version of the parable, it’s known as the word of God 7. The word of God is being sown in people’s hearts by a sower: someone who speaks God’s word.

The Greek in verse 3 says “the sower,” not just “a sower.” At this time, Jesus was speaking of Himself as He sowed the word of God among the multitudes in the form of parables. But a sower is also anyone who speaks the word of God. In Old Testament times, the prophets were sowers. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul described himself as one who planted or sowed the seed that Apollos watered. Today those who preach and teach the word of God are sowers. But sowers are not just preachers or evangelists. Anyone who shares the gospel with a non-believer is also a sower.

Just as a sower sows only one kind of seed, the sower in this parable sowed the word of God exclusively. God has provided His word as the only kind of seed to be sown in His field. We are not to sow any other kind. Luke ties the word of God closely to the gospel (“…and be saved“—Luke 8:12), which means the seed is sown among non-believers. But we can also apply the explanation to how we believers receive anything God says to us. Will receive what He said or will be reject it?

In the parable, the sower scatters his seed indiscriminately, even in places that aren’t receptive to the seed. Now we see the reason. The different kinds of ground represents the various ways men receive the word of God into their hearts. Because the sower, the one speaking the word of God, can’t see the hearts of individuals, he scatters it everywhere. He can’t tell who will receive the word and who will not. The sower is, in a sense, blind. So he speaks the word of God to everyone.

The first seed fell on ground that was not receptive at all. It was hard and unplowed, so the birds ate it before it had a chance to germinate. The germination of the seed represents the beginning of understanding of the word of God. These people fail to understand what God says. Indeed, they have no desire to do so. Just as the ground was hard, these people have hard hearts that don’t want to listen—that refuse to listen.

In Jeremiah 4:3, God called Judah to “break up your fallow ground, and don’t sow among thorns.” This tells us the condition of our heart is our responsibility. We are not to let our hearts get hard to the things of God. God speaks the things of life to us, and if we are not receptive to those things, then Satan, represented by the birds, takes it away and the seed never has a chance to germinate, meaning we can never begin to understand it. Satan does not want us to understand God’s word, so he takes it away as fast as he can.

One example of this kind of ground in the New Testament are the scribes and Pharisees. They were completely hardened to what Jesus said. They heard Jesus speak, but their minds rejected it.

When telling the lost about Jesus, we can’t see Satan take away the seed from their hearts. Remember, we’re blind sowers. There is a tendency to think we can reach the lost by constantly inundating them with the gospel. Take a lesson from farmers. They sow the seed, plow it in, then wait patiently. You can’t expect a harvest if you keep sowing and plowing. You have to let the seed you have sown rest so it has a chance to grow. After you tell the lost about Jesus, wait a bit. Allow time for the seed to grow. Let God do His work. Rely on Him to provide a harvest. If the seed doesn’t grow over time, then try sowing it again or move on to another part of the field.

That which was sown on stony places, this is he who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately he stumbles.

This ground represents someone who has superficially received God’s word. He is a professor. It appears to himself and those around him that he understands and believes. He has joy. He thinks of the good things that are coming to him, the blessings and the promises, but he’s ignorant of the difficulties that will come to him because of the word. And when those difficulties come, he falls away.

In the parable, the same sun that was supposed to help the plant grow instead killed it because it had no root. Notice it’s the same word that immediately brought this person joy that also immediately caused him to stumble (vss 20,21). This is because he did not truly receive it in his heart as in good soil, but only superficially. He received God’s word as seeing through rose-colored glasses. He thought only of the good parts, the happy parts, while not realizing tribulation is part of the same package. In this parable, the sun represents affliction and persecution. Just as the seed needs the sun to grow, we all need trials to grow.

These second-seed people only believe for a time, and then fall away when trials come. Trials can take various forms. They can be physical, emotional, financial, and so on. And they test the person’s faith, whether it’s real or not. James Vernon McGee said, “For them the Word is not mixed with faith at all. Faith is best seen in trials, and these trials showed that the person had no faith.

An example of this kind of ground are the superficial followers of Jesus in John chapter 6. They believed to a degree (John 6:14,61), and yet they didn’t really believe in Him (John 6:36,64). In verse 66, it says they followed Jesus no more because they could not accept the difficult things He said.

And that which was sown among the thorns is he who hears the Word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and he becomes unfruitful.

The third seed represents those who are somewhat receptive to God’s word, but they are also just as receptive to what the world has to offer: the “nice things,” fleshly desires, ways of thinking, pride, worries, and so on. In the parable, thorns compete with the seed for water, nutrients, and sun. So thorns are anything that competes for God’s word in your life. They can be things, thoughts, even how you spend your time.

In the Bible, thorns represent a curse, not a blessing. When Adam sinned, God said the ground would yield thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). Moses told the Israelites in the wilderness that if they would not drive out the Canaanites as God commanded, they would be thorns in their sides (Numbers 33:55). Hebrews 6:8 says that “what bears thorns and thistles is worthless and very close to being cursed and being burned.”

So in this parable, the concern over worldly things and riches are called thorns because they are a curse in disguise. It might not seem that way, but thorny plants start out soft when young. The plant that produces goatheads in our region, Tribulus terrestris, is a beautiful looking plant. The leaves are dainty. It produces pretty little flowers. But if you decide to grow these in your garden, it will one day reward you with many sharp pains in your feet later. I’d rather step on a Lego than a goathead.

An example of this kind of ground was Demas. He was one of Paul’s fellow workers. You see him at the end of Colossians and Philippians sending his greetings to the church. But later, his love for the world took him out of the ministry and he abandoned Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Jesus told His disciples in John 15:16 that He chose them that they should bear fruit and that their fruit should remain. Demas’ fruit did not remain because he sowed among thorns.

John wrote in his first epistle:

“Don’t love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love isn’t in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, isn’t the Father’s, but is the world’s. The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God’s will remains forever.”

– 1 John 2:15-17

So it’s not the world itself that chokes God’s word in your life; it’s the love of the world that chokes the word.

The three types of ground we’ve seen so far represent the world, the flesh, and the devil:

  • The devil takes away the word of God from the hard-hearted.
  • The flesh prevents the word of God from growing in shallow believers.
  • And thorns prevent the word of God from bearing fruit in worldly believers.

Now let’s look at the good ground…

But that which was sown on the good ground is he who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: this a hundredfold, that sixty, that thirty.

This ground represents someone who is fully receptive to God’s word. He’s “all ears” when it comes to the things God says. 8

  • This seed has been plowed into the soil to protect it from the evil one. In other words, this man has hidden God’s word in his heart (Psalm 119:11).
  • This seed has put down roots so times of trial do not kill it (Psalm 1:1-3). This man has experienced the same troubles and persecution that the second seed did, but he endured. Much time has gone by, and yet God’s word still grows in him.
  • The world does not have a hold on this man (Matthew 6:24, Colossians 3:2, 1 Timothy 6:10). He does not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15), so he produces the fruit that God desires.

As such, this ground is the only one who understands God’s word. In Mark’s account, this is the only ground that truly receives the word (Mark 4:20), and in Luke, it is the only ground that holds on to God’s word (Luke 8:15).

What is fruit? Metaphorically in the Bible, fruit is always the result of something. Here it’s the result God intends by His word. This result is always heart-centered, not just mind-centered. This parable speaks primarily of salvation. Someone sows the gospel, and people respond to it differently. Some don’t want to hear it; others embrace it completely 9. But the principles of the parable apply to how we receive anything God tells us. Will we reject what He says or will we embrace it completely? 10

As far as the farmer is concerned, he’s not worried. He receives a harvest even if some of the seed grow to maturity. The same is true of God, who said this in Isaiah 55:10-11:

“For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing I sent it to do”

Not all of the seed is eaten by birds, dies due to lack of root, or gets choked with thorns. Some always falls on good ground, grows, and multiplies. It doesn’t happen right away. There are no “immediately’s” as in the second seed. It takes time to produce fruit. Luke says this seed produces fruit “with patience” (Luke 8:15).

It takes time for God’s word to come to full fruition in a man’s life. In fact, it takes a lifetime. This parable speaks not just of salvation, but of God’s full work in your life. The seed grows and produces grain over time. If you are a fourth-seed Christian, you’ll find the amount of spiritual fruit you bear increasing as you get older. Your love for others will increase, as will your joy, peace, patience, and so on. Don’t expect yourself or another believer to be mature in these traits from the beginning. It takes time.

The Disciples’ Question—Matthew 13:10-17

Let’s go back to verse 10…

And the disciples came and said to Him, Why do You speak to them in parables?

He answered and said to them, Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance 11; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.

Superficially, this does not sound fair at all. If Jesus were talking in monetary terms, it would be like saying the rich will get richer and the poor will have stuff stolen from them. But that is not what Jesus meant.

Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: Hearing you will hear and shall not at all understand, and seeing you will see and by no means perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull, their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, that they should not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their heart and convert, and I should heal them.

Jesus spoke in parables because the people did not really want to hear what He had to say. Their hearts had grown dull. Sure, they would listen if God only spoke pleasant things and didn’t require anything of them, but they were completely non-receptive to anything else He said. They had willfully closed their eyes and stopped their ears to avoid hearing the truth. They felt they didn’t need it.

As a result, God gave them what they wanted: spiritual blindness and deafness. Whenever you see God hardening someone’s heart in the Bible, it is never against their will. Man hardens his own heart first, then God blinds him so it gets harder. This hard-heartedness prevented the multitude from seeking repentance or seeing any need for forgiveness. They didn’t think they were rejecting God’s word. They would have identified with the good ground if they knew what the parable meant. A hard heart does not feel its own hardness. As a result, what they had would be taken away, just as the birds took away the first seed. 12

But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Neither the disciples nor the crowd understood the parable. But unlike the crowd, the disciples were receptive to everything Jesus said, whether it was pleasant, difficult, or frightening. They wanted to understand, so Jesus gave them the explanation. 13

He didn’t explain it to them because they were smarter than the others or because they deserved it. He explained it to them because, as He said in verse 11, God had given, or granted that they should understand it. The explanation was of grace. Their seeing eyes and hearing ears were a gift from God. As a result, their hearts were the fourth soil, and, as Jesus said in verse 12, they would have an abundance. We know from how they lived their lives after the resurrection that they did have abundant lives and ministries.


In Mark 4:13, Jesus said, “Don’t you know this parable? How will you understand all the parables?” The parable of the sower is the key to understanding everything Jesus said, not just His parables. When He speaks in the Bible, you must have open eyes and unstopped ears. Your heart’s desire must be to understand. 14 So keep your heart soft and humble. Don’t pick and choose what you want to hear. Don’t try to fit what the world has to say in with what God has to say. Be good soil for the word of God to flourish in you. 15 Because He deserves it. He’s the Farmer. He owns the soil. He deserves a good crop from you.

Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

James 1:21

Be patient therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receives the early and late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; you being enriched in everything to all liberality, which works through us thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9:10-11


  1. Luke 5:3
  2. Leviticus 19:19
  3. Luke 8:5
  4. Luke 8:14
  5. from Adam Clarke’s commentary on Matthew 13:8
  6. Note that the seed does not represent people in this parable. Do not interpet it that way.
  7. Luke 8:11
  8. This is the characteristic of a good heart: it is entirely and continually receptive of whatever God says in His word.
  9. This is why people respond differently to what Jesus said.
  10. Just as a farmer does not sow wheat for a pretty green field, but for the grain it produces, God desires not so much a pleasant life for us but fruit. What can you do to maximize your fruit for God?
  11. “abundance” ties with the fourth seed, as “will be taken away” (vs 12) ties with the first.
  12. This parable shows you how to understand everything Jesus said. You must pay attention and seek to understand, even if you don’t want to. A parable hides its knowledge from those who don’t seek or want to understand.
  13. All categories of people in this parable hear the word, but only the understanding ones bear fruit. Note that the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quotes mentions this same word (“understand”) as applying to the heart, not the mind, and says that it leads to repentance (13:14-15). The fruit is repentance (see also 3:8). The benefit is God’s spiritual healing.
      Each type of ground may be found in a single individual. We may be receptive to God’s word when it is pleasant, and non-receptive when it is not. David Guzik wrote:
      “We benefit from seeing bits of ourselves in all four soils. (a) Like the wayside, sometimes we allow the word no room at all in our lives. (b) Like the stony places, we sometimes have “hot flashes” of enthusiasm in receiving the word that quickly burn out. (c) Like the soil among thorns, the world is constantly threatening to choke out God’s word and our fruitfulness. (d) Like the good ground, the word bears fruit in our lives.”
  14. Some helpful questions when reading any of Jesus’ parables: Is God described using a picture? What can I learn about Him and His will from this parable?
  15. You are responsible for how you hear.