The Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-23)

My daughter Alice was born with a cleft palate nine years ago. It was quickly corrected by surgery, but she still needs annual check-ups to ensure her speech, sight and hearing are developing OK. We made a trip to Alder Hey hospital this week, for example.

As Christians, we need to make sure that our own hearing is OK. Are we hearing Jesus correctly? Are truly listening to his words? Has his word in the Bible taken root in our lives?

That’s the issue in our Gospel reading this morning. The Parable of the Sower compares Jesus’s words to seeds sown by a farmer. What Jesus is saying is clear – just as seeds will only grow if you plant them properly, so his words will only change our lives if we hear them properly.

The main focus of the parable is not on the sower, or the seed, but the soil. It is all about which soil the seed lands in. Its all about the different ways that people respond to hearing the gospel message, and how the flesh, the world and the devil can interfere with God’s word to restrict its impact.

Jesus compares people to four different types of soil the seed falls on –hard soil on a path, shallow soil on a rock, soil in which thorns grow, and lastly good soil. Like the different soils, different people can receive the seed of God’s Word in different ways. And Jesus wants us to ask ourselves the question: What kind of soil am I? How am I responding to God’s Word?

The Path

The first type of soil is the path, where the soil is hard. The fields in ancient Israel were long, narrow strips divided by little paths. Over the years, the constant traffic of footsteps, hooves and wheels turned these paths as hard as concrete. So if seeds fell here, they’d never go deep into the soil – they’d just bounce off and remain on the surface. When the seed falls on this hard ground, the birds immediately come and eat it up.

Jesus explains in verse 19 that some people, as they hear his words, are just like that hardened path: “As soon as they hear it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart”.

The devil’s aim is always to stop the Gospel message from being properly heard, and to take it from people – immediately if possible. Satan loves to distract us with thoughts about work, family, finance or hobbies. If he can only distract us so that the word of God goes in one ear and out the other, he will have successfully taken away God’s message and blocked its impact on us.

You often see signs like this in car parks and other public places. They say: “Thieves operate in this area. Guard your valuables!” The devil is a thief who wants to take not our wallet, purse or car keys – but the word of God. We are to stay alert, remain on our guard and concentrate on what Jesus says to us in Scripture.

Shallow ground

The next type of soil Jesus describes is shallow. In Israel, some of the land has a thin layer of soil lying on the top of limestone bedrock. If seed falls there, the sun heats the soil quickly because it’s so shallow, and the seed responds at once. The immediate growth is spectacular. But the bedrock only a few inches below means there’s nothing for the roots to go down into, and no way for the plant to get moisture. So it quickly dies.

It’s the same with some people. Some respond quickly and joyfully to the gospel message. But then trouble or persecution come as a result – at which point they fall away, they give up on following Jesus.

To avoid being like the shallow soil, we need to recognise that the Christian life can be tough sometimes, and resolve to persevere regardless. Sometimes the Christian life is like climbing up the down escalator. We have to go against the flow. There will be many obstacles and opposition. But we must press on, helped by God’s Word to guide us, his Holy Spirit to help us, and other Christians to encourage us.

Thorny ground

The third type of soil Jesus describes is soil full of thorns. The seed that is sown in this soil is choked by the thorns. Jesus compares this to people who receive his words, but are unfruitful because they are choked by “the worries of life”.

These worries of life are the things which distract and preoccupy us so much that they grow to define us and destroy our Christian commitment. Desire for security, comfort, approval or power, maybe money, and can become stronger than the desire for Jesus. When people are like thorny ground, they don’t see that the security, comfort, approval and power that come from knowing Christ infinitely outweigh any treasure the world has to offer.

Good ground

We’ve had hard soil, shallow soil and thorny soil. Thankfully there is a fourth type of soil Jesus describes, a type of soil we should seek to emulate – good soil. In verse 23 Jesus says: “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the person who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
When Jesus talks about the fourth kind of soil in this parable, he’s talking about someone who not only hears the teaching of Jesus, but recognises its value and makes it their treasure. When Jesus and his words become more valuable to you than anything else in the world, that’s when you know you’ve truly heard him. And from tiny beginnings, as the seed of God’s word begins to grow in our lives, changes are made that last for eternity.

God’s word in Scripture is a living and active, life-changing word. To use Jesus’ metaphor, it’s a seed with a lot of power packed into it!

So let today’s parable make us treasure the word of God, the seed that is sown. It’s a seed that can change our lives for ever as we trust, follow and obey Jesus. So as we read and hear the Bible, at home, in house group or at Church, let’s make sure we accept it, welcome it and treasure it in our hearts.

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