Matthew 13 contains seven parables about the kingdom of heaven. There’s the parable of the sower which we’ll study this evening. Then there’s the parable of the weeds, and of the mustard seed, and of the yeast, and of the hidden treasure, and of the pearl, and of the net. And so, here we have God’s Anointed King, the Lord Jesus Christ, teaching his people about his kingdom which he has come to establish on the earth.
The parable of the sower is divided into two with the parable itself in verses 1 to 9 and its explanation in verses 18 to 23. Sandwiched in the middle is the Lord’s teaching about the secrets of the kingdom. And we’ll start this evening with the secrets of the kingdom in verses 10 to 17. And here we learn that evangelism is both completely impossible and absolutely certain. It’s completely impossible and absolutely certain.
Verses 10 to 17
We read in verse 10 that the disciples asked the Lord why he speaks to the people in parables. And he begins to respond to their question by saying that the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. It’s been given to the disciples, but it has not been given to those who were not his disciples.
The Greek word translated ‘secrets’ should really be translated ‘mystery’. And when the Bible uses the word ‘mystery’, it’s referring to something which we could never know unless God revealed it to us. We could never work it out or discover it on our own and we could never understand it by ourselves. God has to reveal it to us. He has to make it known to us. And so, what is the mystery of the kingdom which God has revealed to his disciples? It’s the knowledge that God’s Anointed King has finally come. And the Lord Jesus is that King.
So, he’s the King. But not everyone understood. In fact, most people did not understand or believe that he was the King. Wasn’t that the point of chapters 11 and 12? He went around preaching the good news of the kingdom. He went around setting people free from sickness and from evil spirits. And yet, many who heard him and who saw him did not believe in him. And that’s because people will not understand or believe unless God reveals it to them. Knowledge of the mystery has to be given to us by God. Unless he gives it to us, we will never understand or believe.
And the Lord goes on to say in verse 12 that whoever has received the knowledge of the kingdom will be given more. Through the reading and preaching of his word, God will reveal more and more to them. But whoever does not have, even what little he has will be taken from him. In other words, though they may hear the reading and preaching of God’s word, God will use his word to harden them. Though seeing, they do not see. Though hearing, they do not hear or understand. So, lots of people saw the Lord Jesus and the things he did. Lots of people heard the Lord Jesus and the things he taught. But though they saw and they heard, they did not believe. In fact, the more the Pharisees and teachers of the law saw and heard, they more they disbelieved. Their opposition to him grew. It intensified. Their hearts became harder. But the disciples grew in their understanding. So God uses his word to reveal his truth to some and to harden the hearts of others.
And the Lord went on to quote from the prophet Isaiah who spoke about people who were ever hearing, but never understanding; who were ever seeing, but never perceiving. And it’s because their hearts were hard. And because their hearts were hard, their eyes and ears didn’t work properly and they couldn’t understand what they were seeing and hearing. If they could understand, then they would have turned to God for healing. But they did not understand, because their hearts were hard.
And the Lord Jesus quoted from Isaiah to make the point that the people who saw him and who heard him were just like that. They saw the things he did; and they heard what he said. But they did not understand. And they did not understand because their hearts were hard. If they could understand and if they turned to him, then he would have healed them of their sin. But they could not understand, even though they saw him and even though they heard him.
And our hearts were hard. Our hearts were hard, because by nature we’re sinners. And when we’re born, our hearts are naturally hard. And so, we would never have believed if it were not for God’s kindness to us, because he gave us the knowledge of the mystery when he changed our hard hearts and enabled us to understand and to believe and to trust in Christ for salvation. It it were not for God, who graciously and freely gave us the knowledge of the mystery, then none of us would have believed. We would have been like those who were ever hearing, but never understanding; and who were ever seeing, but never perceiving.
And that’s why I say evangelism is completely impossible and absolutely certain. It’s completely impossible because people will never understand and believe unless God gives them the knowledge of the mystery of the kingdom by changing their hard hearts. Nothing we say or do will make a difference. But evangelism is absolutely certain because when God gives people the knowledge of the mystery of the kingdom by changing their hard hearts, then nothing will stop them from believing.
The Lord says to his disciples in verse 16 that their eyes and ears are blessed. God blessed their eyes and ears because they’ve been able to see and hear what the prophets and righteous men of the past longed to see and hear but did not. The prophets and righteous men longed to see the fulfilment of God’s promises in the coming of Christ. They didn’t see it, but the disciples did. Why did the disciples see it and not the prophets? Because that was God’s will and he’s the one who determines all things including who will believe and who will not. He’s the sovereign Lord who determines all things and we are totally and utterly dependent on him for all things, including our salvation.
And so, when we pray for the Lord to bless the reading and preaching of his word, we’re asking him to bless our eyes to make us see and our ears to make us hear and our hearts to make us believe.
Verses 1 to 9
And so, we turn now to the parable itself and its explanation. The Lord was sitting on a boat to teach the people who gathered along the shore. And he began to teach them about the kingdom. According to verse 3 he taught them many things in parables. And in the first parable, he said there was once a farmer who went out to sow seed. In those days, the farmer would walk through the field and take the seed from his bag and he would scatter it over the field as he walked. And so, some seed fell on the hard path which criss-crossed through the field. And the birds came along and picked up that seed and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground. That is to say, this was ground which had a thin top layer of soil. But underneath, there was hard bedrock. And so, when the seed began to grow, it would spring up quickly. But the plant would not last long, because the soil was shallow and the bedrock prevented its root from going down deep for water. Other seed fell among the thorns. And so, as the seed and thorns grew, there wasn’t enough room or nourishment in the soil for both of them and the seed withered. However, other seed fell on good soil and produced an abundant crop: thirty, sixty and even a hundred times what was sown.
So, there was nothing wrong with the seed. The problem lay with where it landed.
Verses 18 to 23
That’s the parable. What does it mean? Fortunately the Lord explains the parable for us.
Matthew doesn’t tell us here, but in Mark’s version of the parable, the Lord says clearly that the seed stand for the word. The seed is God’s word. And the Lord Jesus is the sower. He’s the farmer. In fact, the verb Matthew uses in verse 1 to refer to the Lord Jesus is the same verb he uses in verse 3 to refer to the farmer. In verse 1 the Lord Jesus went out. In verse 3 the farmer went out. The Lord Jesus is the farmer who went out to sow the seed of God’s word in the world. He did it in person when he was on the earth; and he still does it today through the reading and preaching of his word. He comes to us in his word and speaks to us.
But how will people respond to the word? That’s what the parable is about. And in verses 10 to 17 we’ve already been alerted to the fact that people will not understand and believe unless the Lord enables them to understand and believe. And so, it shouldn’t surprise us that the response is often disappointing. Just as the seed in the parable was wasted, because it did not grow or whatever grew did not last, so the word is often wasted, because people do not believe; or if they appear to believe, their profession does not last.
And so, the seed falling on the path stands for those who hear the message about the kingdom, but who do not understand it. He’s not referring to understanding it with the intellect. He’s not saying these people are stupid and that’s why they don’t understand. They don’t understand because their hearts are hard. And when they hear the word and don’t receive it, the evil one, or the devil, comes along and snatches away what was sown in this person’s heart.
The seed falling on the rocky ground stands for those who hear the message about the kingdom and at once they receive it with joy. So, they respond to the message. It seems to them to be the best news they’ve ever heard. And it seems as if they have been gloriously converted. But it turns out that they have no root and when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, these people quickly fall away. Notice that the trouble and persecution comes because of the word. The message that brought them joy also brings them trouble. And they do not want that trouble in their lives.
The seed falling among the thorns stands for those who hear the message about the kingdom. But the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. It does not grow, but withers. When I preached on Mark’s version of this parable, I made the point that money is deceitful because it seems to promise so much. It seems to promise us joy and happiness and pleasures and plenty. But the person who desires money and not the Saviour will end up with nothing at all; that person will even lose his soul.
And so, the Lord Jesus went out and preached the word. Some heard, but did not believe. Some heard and appeared to believe, but their profession did not last when they faced trouble and persecution because of the word; and when worries and wealth choked the word. And so, it seems the word is wasted, because the response is so disappointing.
However, when the seed fell on good soil, it was not wasted, but it grew and grew and produced a remarkable harvest. And so, the climax of the parable reassures us that despite the opposition of Satan who snatches the word away, and despite the unbelief of sinful men and women, who are put off by trouble and distracted by worries and wealth, nevertheless the seed of God’s word will ultimately be fruitful and his kingdom will be extended throughout the world. And when Christ comes again and sends out his angels to harvest the crop, it will be an abundant harvest, because in the end there will be a multitude of believers from every nation and tribe and people and language: people who heard the word and who believed.
And why were they able to believe? Why were their hearts soft and able to receive the word, when our hearts are naturally hard and unable to receive it? It was because God gives the mystery of the kingdom to some. He enables some to understand and believe. Some of those who hear are hardened. But some of those who hear are enabled by God to believe.
Evangelism is completely impossible and absolutely certain. It’s completely impossible because people will never understand and believe unless God gives them the knowledge of the mystery of the kingdom by changing their hard hearts. Nothing we say or do will make a difference. And since God is sovereign in all things, including salvation, then he has the right and authority to determine whose hearts will remain hard. But evangelism is absolutely certain because when God gives people the knowledge of the mystery of the kingdom by changing their hard hearts, then nothing will stop them from believing.
And those who believe should live lives of gratitude to God for graciously and freely taking away our hard hearts and for enabling us to believe.