In Matthew 13, we have a sermon that Jesus preached from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. There was a crowd gathered on the beach to hear Him give four of the seven parables which He called the secrets, or mysteries, of the kingdom of heaven. Some of these seven parables contain both prophecy and a foreview of history that would follow in the present age in which we live.
Jesus said the meanings in the parables are only hidden to those who don’t listen, but can be understood by those who do. We need to pay close attention to these parables that can unveil the events to come between our Lord's first coming and his second. Jesus points out there are powerful forces that are at work to produce the events which are recorded in history books and on the pages of our daily newspapers. To understand the times we live in, we need to know what these parables mean. As we go through them, I hope you will be able to understand what He is saying in regard to the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
The first story is about a man who sows seed more or less at random, so that it falls in many different environments. Matthew 13:3-9: "Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: "Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
When He finished there were people waiting for an explanation, not understanding that the parable He told them was happening right in front of them. At that time, the disciples came and asked Him "Why do you speak to them in parables?"
Jesus explained that God is operating on a fundamental principle in human history. Matthew 13:11. "..... it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Matthew 13:12a; “For him who has, to him more will be given,” and in 12c; “but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
Our first thought is that it doesn’t seem fair, but when the Lord said "For him who has," he was speaking about possessing the truth that he had acted on. You never really have truth until you have acted on it. It doesn’t do any good just to accept it as a fact, and then never make use of it. What Jesus is really saying is, "Those who act on the truth will be given more; but those who don’t will lose it and also the capacity to receive the truth." He said to the disciples, "To you it has been given to know" (Matthew 13:11b).
His disciples had faithfully followed Him and demonstrated that they wanted to know the truth so He proceeded to explain this parable.
Matthew 13:18-19. "Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19. 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 he who received seed by the wayside.”
He doesn’t tell who the sower is, He begins with the seed. It can be anyone who sows the seed but the important thing is that Jesus said the seed is "the word of the kingdom.” The “word” is the existence of an invisible spiritual kingdom around us that governs all our lives and each one of us needs to relate to that kingdom.
God wants us to know that all of life is not contained in what we can see and touch and taste and hear and smell. Those senses are very much a part of our lives but there is more to our being than that. There is an invisible kingdom beyond what our five senses reveal to us. It is a very important kingdom because the answers to the spiritual problems with which we wrestle are hidden in that kingdom. It’s essential that we understand that this kingdom does exist and that the word of the kingdom is the invisible source of all that man needs and is searching for in life. The “word” of the kingdom is the good news of the gospel.
In Romans 1:16-17, the apostle Paul wrote that there are the two things men desperately need and he wasn’t ashamed to tell them what they were. The first is the power of God to save them and the second is the righteousness of God which comes with salvation. Romans 1:16-17. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes,” and, in verse 17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;”
Every person in the world today needs to seek that power of salvation. It’s the power to cope with whatever life throws at us. It’s the secret to the power that enables us to act correctly and to handle life adequately.
The righteousness that comes with our salvation gives us the freedom to accomplish what God wants us to do. When the individual has his internal problems solved, he is released from, and no longer under, the burden of guilt. No more limitations and self doubt. He is free from sin and guilt, and that is what is promised in the gospel.
That is the good seed that is being sown throughout the world for the entire length of this age. As believers in Christ, we are to be sowing the seed of the word of promise of the power and the righteousness of God. The soil that this seed is sown in is the human heart, and that seed is to be sown in human hearts everywhere. It may be a simple Christian testimony. It may be in an elaborate sermon, or in a book that someone reads. It may be a single phrase in a conversation. If it takes root, it changes that whole life.
This parable includes seed sown on four kinds of soil and Jesus likened this to four conditions of the human heart when presented the word of the kingdom, the gospel.
Jesus takes up the first in verse 19, "When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes (the birds in verse 4 are a symbol of the evil one) "and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path."
This first individual is self centered and has a hard heart. The word is presented but they don’t understand it. It’s not that they couldn’t understand, it’s that they don’t want to. The material things of this world are more important to them than the things of God.
Their thoughts and concerns don’t go far beyond what they can see and hear and smell and touch and taste. We might call this the humanistic heart.
When that person rejects the word, Satan comes and immediately takes it from that man’s heart in such a way that it never comes back, leading him to think that the world remains the way he has conceived it to be.
Sometimes the word of the kingdom makes a momentary impression on that kind of heart, and suggests the possibility of an entire world he has never thought of, but he refuses to consider it and Satan comes and takes it away.
Let's look now at the second kind of soil as Jesus explains it in Matthew 13:20-21: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21. yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
This is a heart that is looking for the “quick fix,” a sure and easy way to enjoy life in this world with no real desire to live a life where the future life in the kingdom is in sight. It’s a life lived for the things of the present with no look to the future. That idea is likened to a few inches of shallow, thin topsoil over a layer of bedrock, indicated by the phrase "he has no root in himself."
A shallow life is never one content with anything for very long. It may include going from church to church searching for the truth but never recognizing the truth when they heard it. When they are presented with the least bit of evidence that there is something eternal that is invisible and much deeper, they panic and leave.
When the gospel does appeal to them they receive it and embrace it with joy. But when tribulation and persecution come, they are gone immediately. Like the seed on the stony ground, their enthusiasm withers and dies.
This illustrates the danger of a shallow heart. The devil mislead the first man of this kind, and the flesh misleads this one and makes it very difficult for him to receive the word of God which can change his heart.
Then there is the third type of heart: Matthew 13:22: “Now he who received seed 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.”
One of my favorite Christian writers said “It is not that he is uninterested; he is interested in the gospel. It is not that he is shallow; he isn't. He is very capable of thinking in depth. The trouble is that he wants it all. He wants the fruitfulness of life that comes from the gospel, but with it he also wants everything else. He wants the so-called "finer things" of life. We describe him as trying to keep up with the Joneses. (That means buying things you don't need with money you don't have to impress people you don't even like.) He wants a fine home and two beautiful cars and a wide social life. The result is that he has no time to think about the word, no time to receive it and meditate. He is too wrapped up with the cares of this world and the pursuit of things.”
That is what is happening with people today. They want it all. They want everything that the world can offer and everything God can offer. But the remarkable thing about the word is that God will never settle on those terms. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you," (Matthew 6:33). "What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
Now we come to the fourth soil, the good soil: Matthew 13:23. “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
This kind of soil is likened to a heart that is open and receptive to the salvation message, called here the word of the kingdom. He understands what the word is, and he receives it gladly. His life is not shallow, he is sincere in his dedication to God and grows spiritually and bears fruit. His growth overcomes the thorns and thistles of life, and brings forth fruit many times over.
The Lord outlines three steps here: receiving the word, understanding it, and bearing fruit. I think the progression suggests phases of the Christian life. John speaks of believers: first little children, then as young men, and then as fathers -- a three-fold progression through the Christian experience. The amount of fruit that is produced is indicative of the depth of one’s service for Christ. And, in Romans12:2, Paul speaks in this way about fulfilling the will of God: "...that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
Only one of these four hearts is genuinely Christian, the fourth one. Although they are involved, Sowing is not salvation. Hearing of the word only is not salvation. A lot of people hear, but they don’t take it to themselves and become Christians. The sprouting of the seed is not salvation. There are many who profess in this way, Jesus said, but they are not Christians. Salvation is seen when the fruit comes. When the will is genuinely yielded to the lordship of Christ, and the word is acted upon, it will grow and fruit will appear.
A very important point is that the Lord is describing hearts, not lives. He is not saying that if a man is like a certain kind of soil his life is unchangeable forever. That heart can be changed. Circumstances of our life can cause us to have a change of heart. It’s possible for an individual to pass through all four of these conditions.
What Jesus really wants to know is, "What is your heart like when it hears the word? What are you like when the word of the kingdom, with its promise of power and of righteousness, falls on your heart? What is your heart like then?" God is able to change it, whatever its condition. He is the Creator and He is able to break up the hard heart. Ezekiel:11:19: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:”
God is able to slow up your too busy life so that the wonderful, living, life-producing Word of God can take root in your heart and change you and show you that the power and the righteousness of God is yours for the taking.
This parable is a picture of this present age and the sowing of God’s Word. This has been going on all throughout the age of grace and is still going on. I cannot guarantee that when the ink dries on this paper that the opportunity to accept Christ as your Savior will still be available. Don’t delay, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Salvation alone can prepare you for the prophesied Rapture of the believer.
The world, the flesh, and Satan, the enemies of the gospel, are working hard. Satan lies to us, telling us that life consists only of what we feel and sense around us and there is nothing beyond that. Satan is out to deceive and destroy us. He wants you for company in hell.
The flesh wants us to relate only to the passing moment, the things that touch our emotions and places our attention on them so directly that all we are concerned about is that moment in time. The cares of this life that center our attention on things instead of people, on material wealth instead of personal fellowship and spiritual relationship, those are the flesh at work.
But when we look to the word of God, the question each of us has to ask ourselves is, "What is my heart like now?"
And with that our Lord leaves this parable with us, asking us to answer that question from the depths of our hearts.