Reading the Parables: The Sower
In this series we have been discussing on how to read the Bible. The reason for this series is because many people find the Bible to be a complicated book full of mystical meaning, but it is my aim to wipe the dirt off the window so you can look clearly inside. The Bible contains many different literary genres, and we have discussed how to read a couple of those. (Check out how to read narratives first) Now we are focusing on the genre of parable. If you didn't read my earlier hub on general principles in parables, I suggest you check that one out too. In this hub we'll look at a parable up close. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.
I have always and will always stress the importance of context. Knowing what a story or parable or whatever is attached to historically will help you understand the meaning of the text. Before the sower parable starts the first verse of Matthew 13 says "that same day Jesus..." The same day as what? In the coming verses Jesus is going to share several parables, and something happened to make Him share those parables. It had to have been something that happened "that day". So go back to chapter 12.
In Matthew 12 we see a major showdown happening. Jesus is moving in on the Pharisees turf. For years the Pharisees have been the top spiritual dogs, and then along comes Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the one who was promised to Israel in the Old Testament. Israel had been longing and waiting for a Messiah to come and be born and be the ultimate King/Leader of the nation. God had promised them such a person, and now here He is: Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah. To show that He is the Messiah, Jesus is going around and doing things that only the Messiah can do. Performing signs and wonders and the people of Israel are starting to buy into the fact that this could be the promised Savior. The Pharisees, although they should have been happy to see the person they too had been waiting for, are jealous that they are loosing their place and prominence. So they keep trying to prove the Jesus is not the Messiah, but it keeps backfiring.
So here in the text the Pharisees ask Jesus if He can heal someone on the Sabbath (because you're not supposed to work). Jesus does not care how they define what work is and heals a man with a messed up hand (12:13). The crowd of people watching this is blown away and says "Could this be the Son of David?" (12:23) That is a messianic term. A king was promised in the Old Testament (2 Sam 7:8-16) to be one of David's descendants and set-up the mega-awesome kingdom the people of Israel had always waited for. To ask if a person was the Son of David is in effect to ask if this is the prophesied person who was going to come and be king. But the pharisees through out the accusation that the only reason Jesus was able to heal anybody was because He had power from Satan (12:24).
So what you have here is the fact that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. He IS planning on fulfilling all the promises to Israel of a King and a kingdom. He is doing things that only the Messiah can do. In seeing the miraculous works of Jesus, people respond different ways. One group believes...the other group does not believe. One says that Jesus is from God...the other says that Jesus is from Satan.
The Parable Exposed
After the major showdown in conflicting beliefs on Jesus, Jesus is going to go to the sea and be followed by a ton of people. In the wake of the recent events Jesus is going to give the parable of the sower. For brevity sake, please read it yourself: Matthew 13:3-9. Keep in mind the audience that Jesus has in mind. The obvious audience is the crowd. The less obvious audiences are the pharisees (there's always a couple of them) and the disciples as well. Once he has spoken this parable to everybody, the disciples are going to pull Jesus aside and ask the meaning of the parable.
In Matthew 13:18-23 Jesus is going to start to explain the parable. He establishes the parameters of the explanation with the statement "When anyone hears the words of the kingdom..." That is crucial to our understanding of this parable. Remember what just happened? Jesus's "kinghood" was brought into question. Jesus is out proving His identity as the promised King who will deliver the nation from it's enemies and establish a perfect everlasting kingdom. This kingdom is so prophecied in the Old Testament, I can't even begin to give you verses for that. Open the Bible at random, and I bet you'll find reference to an everlasting kingdom...but I digress. There is a debate about Jesus as king, and the kingdom in general and with this parable Jesus is explaining what happens when people hear about the kingdom.
If this parable is in regards to a prophecied kingdom message, then that is the seed being sown. Contextually that is obvious. Jesus then showcases different responses to the kingdom message. The seed (message) lands on different soils (hearers). Sometimes it lands on the road, rocky ground, among weeds, and in good soil. This is a perfect picture of what was happening at the time, and would continue to happen as Jesus's ministry went on. The pharisees, and people like the pharisees, are the road. They are hard soil and the seed isn't even going to take root. The birds (Satan) is going to eat it up before it ever starts to germinate. For other people the seed is going to spring up fast, but then they are going to wither. I dare you to read the gospels. That is exactly what happened. At one time Jesus had bookoos of people following Him, but then when His teaching became harder it says that people stopped following Him. Look it up. Then there is the weedy soil. Judas Iscariot is a good example of this soil. He followed Christ till the end. He had hopes that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was going to establish a kingdom, but in the end chose the world instead of Christ.
And then there was the soil that was going to let the seed grow and be healthy and produce fruit. This is the point of the parable. Jesus is exhorting the crowd to believe in Him as king. To trust that God will fulfill His promises of a kingdom, for in that there is great reward. Those who will believe this will be in the minority when all is said and done in Jesus's ministry. But those 120 faithful after Jesus ascended to heaven will turn the world upside down bearing enormous fruit for God.
Often this is used as a salvation passage about how people need to get saved. Contextually that is not what is going on here. Contextually we are getting a beautiful picture of God being faithful to His word and fulfilling His promises to Israel. There may be some parallels we can draw with people accepting or rejecting Christ as their Savior, but let's not miss out the surface level truth.
In the end Israel would reject the kingdom offer from God by choosing not to except the harder teachings of Christ. They would turn on Him and crucify their promised king. If you look at it humanly you would think that Israel missed out on their chance of having that everlasting kingdom deal they were promised. But God will not be made a liar. We read on in the New Testament that God has merely postponed the kingdom for now, and after the tribulation will offer the kingdom again to Israel. This time Israel will repent and Jesus will sit on the throne in Jerusalem for eternity, just like God promised David many many years ago. Although it would seem perfectly fine if God decided not to keep His promise anymore, remember this: God always does what He says He is going to do.
I recommend this book on parables because Dr. Pentecost understands the necessity of the contextual interpretations of the parables. He is very careful to unwrap these while staying true to the Biblical text.