The Parable of the Sower: An Encouragement To Evangelism – Matthew 13. 1-23


Once there was a man who owned a small plot of ground. One day he said to himself what shall I do with this land, why let it stand idle? He decided I will plant a garden and I will be diligent and work hard and when harvest comes the land will yield a great portion of fruit. So he sowed some seed and watered and worked the piece of land. Eventually one day it began to grow, the man was so excited. He was encouraged to work all the harder. Every day he went into the field planting, watering, pruning and chasing away the birds and animals that would devour his work. As time went on sometimes he would be discouraged. He would look at his garden and think to himself "for all the labor I do the growth looks so sparse". Still he continued to do his job, because that's what you do with a garden. One day he looked in his garden and he saw a small healthy looking plant he had not seen before. It was a small weed. Soon the weed grew and multiplied. The man went to his garden and he was amazed at the growth and strength of this plant. It seemed to do all that you would want a plant to do and it required no help. The man began to watch its growth every day with a new fever of enthusiasm. Every morning he would race to his field and see the progress. "Wow!" he thought, "yesterday there was a few and now there are many." Day after day the garden looked fuller and fuller. He stopped worrying about the labor

he used to do "I've worked long enough" he thought "Now it's time to see some real growth". Sometimes he would take a walk and see his neighbors gardens; "Ha, they look so small." "If they had half the gardening sense I do they'd really have something going". Finally in time the big day came. It was time for harvest. The man went to his garden to gather his rewards. There it was a beautiful field of green. All those old weak plants he used to work with were long since gone. He thought "well let's get with it". He went to his plants and began to examine each one closely. Hmm no fruit on the leaves, hmm no fruit on the stock. Let's pull one up and see what's there. He dug, and tugged and pulled. Out it came; he looked at the roots, nothing there either. He stopped and sat a minute. "What's happening" he thought. Then in shock he realized his plight, "They bear no fruit!". For all their growth, the weeds were worthless. He lamented "They looked so great, oh how they grew and flourished all season". The man sat and moaned, what could he now do, harvest was over. [1]

The bitterness of missed opportunities is only overshadowed by the thought that it could have been different had other, and better choices been made. The Lord Jesus Christ used many means and methods to preach the Gospel. He healed, he preached, he taught, he raised the dead and he told stories. Stories. Stories with punch. Stories with impact. Stories that could make a major difference in the lives of those who heard Him. The Bible calls this unique genre of storytelling parables. What exactly is a parable? The technical definition of a parable is that of “an extended simile.”[2] In a parable, the comparison is clearly expressed, but the comparison itself is a story or a prolonged comparison, not merely a simile. To be sure, the parable is a story or an illustration placed along side of a truth with the intention of explaining the one by the other. Some have said that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. They are designed to communicate truth in everyday terminology. But, in the same vein, parables may also conceal truth as well.

But exactly why did the Lord Jesus Christ use the parable so extensively? There are many examples of them in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In order to answer the above question in a more in depth manner than merely surface, we need to explore a parable more carefully. Let us proceed next to do just that.

  1. The purpose of parables in the ministry of Jesus.

  2. Parables are declarations of truth in the form of a story.

For the purpose of our study, we shall concentrate on the parable of the Sower as it is related to us through the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We have chosen Matthew simply because it is the longest of the three similar accounts in the Synoptic gospels. The parable commences with the Lord Jesus saying, “Behold, a sower went out to sow (Matt.13.3). For us, we would tend to need our terms defined. Not many of us live on a farm. But this introduction has a huge attraction for those who are farmers. Jesus is relating in his introduction an agrarian process called broadcasting or taking handfuls of seed and scattering it to the wind rather than depositing it into prepared soil. John MacArthur informs us,

The Lord was using a familiar metaphor. Agriculture was the heart of

Jewish life and all Jews understood the sowing of seed and the process of growing crops. It is even likely that from where Jesus taught, the multitude could see men sowing seed.[3]

and another writes,

...from time immemorial broadcasting was the normal process of planting in the eastern Mediterranean.[4]

On the website www.bible.net, in a section unfolding the nature and essence of parables, one of the commentators’ states “that there are several things to keep in mind when reading and interpreting a parable:” These are helpful to our reading and understanding the purpose of the parable and are as follow:

  1. Preference should be given for the simplicity of interpretation, or the simple, straightforward meaning;

2. One should restrict the application of these pictures to the limits set out by Christ in the narrative...to press every detail of the story...is going to far;

3. One should have a consistent use of figures employed;

4. There will be a primary point and often secondary points made in a parable;

5. Not all the parables in the Bible work in the same way...each one has to be studied as a literary unit in its context;

6. Parables are designed to call the listener into participation, to identify with someone or something in the story.

Everybody loves a story. A story creates mystery. A story stirs us up and makes us take a second look. Jesus certainly knew this about us as people and told parables to attract and to hold his listeners.

The most famous form associated with the teaching ministry of Jesus is the parable. We possess in the Gospels somewhere between fifty-five and seventy five parables, depending on whether we define certain sayings as metaphors, similes or parables.[5]

So parables tend to put the listeners at ease. For this reason they are very useful as a teaching device. The meaning of the parable is held until the end. This keeps the listener interested just long enough so the point of the teller can be driven home before it can be resisted. Now that we have this understanding, we can continue on to the next portion of our study.

(To Be Continued...)

[1] http://www.sermons.org/s&i.html, An illustration by missionary Michael J. Carney

[2] www.bible.org: Allen Ross, Th.D.; Ph.D.

[3] John McArthur, The Gospel According To Jesus [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988], 119

[4] www.virtualreligion.net/primer/sower_2.html

[5] Robert H. Stein, Jesus the Messiah: A Survey Of The Life Of Christ [Downers Grove: IVP, 1996], 124


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