The parable of the sower or soils is the first parable that is recorded for us in the Gospels – this is consistently recorded for us in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospel. What makes it the “chief” or most important of them all is not just the chronological introduction of it but the fact that it is the first parable to be interpreted by the Lord Himself to the listeners. This parable is also important because of the context of its introduction – it is in the midst of Jesus’ ministry that seems to be at the apex (in terms of the crowd that followed Him). We see this in the following passages:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach.From Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel Account
Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable,
One inference we can make based on this observation of the crowd and the parable’s prominence in the three gospels is this: the lesson(s) of this parable is absolutely important for the general populace – not just the close disciples of Christ (commonly known as the Twelve). This is one passage that can be used for both believers and non-believers alike. However, we must balance our application by paying attention to the fact that the interpretation of this parable was mainly given only to the close disciples of Christ in a private setting – not a public setting. Why the seeming discrepancy? Why is the parable preached publicly but the interpretation privately given?
The Lord explicitly refers to Isaiah 6:9 in Matthew 13:13-15, Mark 4:11-12 and Luke 8:9-10 – this is not coincidence nor is this merely about the “purpose of all parables” as many bible translators and commentators would put forth. The Holy Spirit inspired this explanation to precede the interpretation of “this” parable – thus, the explanation tells us that believers would gain more, spiritually speaking, from the lessons given in this parable.
We are not going to give a lengthy exposition of this parable – this is not the purpose of this post. There are many good sermons and commentaries that give detailed explanations along with applications on the parable. Rather, I would like to focus on an application that is not commonly drawn from this parable – for believers.
The three soils, hard, stony and weedy are realities the type of hearts found among sinful men in this world – in all generations. There is no time where we find the world filled with soft, good soil that is brimming with spiritual fruitfulness. For the believer, this is a caution – that we who believe in Christ (the Gospel symbolised as seed sown on the ground) are in the minority. The caution is for us not to take this truth for granted – many are called, but few are chosen. God’s gracious dealings with believers is not a small thing – in the Grand Scheme of things, we are truly blessed – infinitely blessed compared to many who either are hard-hearted, half-hearted (stony ground) and worldly-hearted (corrupted by the worldly influences and circumstances). A first-time planter would be extremely happy that a quarter of his efforts actually bear fruit and did not perish! This should be our outlook – what wonder and joy in God saving a quarter out of eternal damnation, when the whole lot deserves to die and remain fruitless. God is able to save all – but there is the reality of sin and the needful condemnation and damnation of sinners. For God to just wipe off the effects of sins in one brief moment at the start of Man’s Fall in Adam is to ‘cheapen’ God’s justice. A king who forgives the wrongs of his own son who does vile things will be looked down – here is a king who knows no justice, trivialising wrongs. God is under NO obligation to us to clear any of our sins – the fact that He does forgive the few (in every generation) is already a great condescension and a show of His remarkable mercy on an undeserving people. To save for eternity, not just temporary, is a grace that has no words that can ever be described by our frail and finite minds.
Secondly, the description of the fruit that is borne by the seed that fell on good soil is usually downplayed by preachers. I have been guilty of doing so many times before. But let us give it the right place in the hearts and minds of believers. The passage describes it this way:
But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”Mark 4:20 (ESV)
The hope for believers is that their lives will see a supernatural increase in spiritual fruitfulness. The most “unbelievable” part of this parable would probably lie here. Many cannot believe that this can ever be true – their lives may have changed, but in accordance to this measure? Two fold increase is already a very unbelievable increase in agricultural terms. Two fold is equal to 200%. For it to be thirtyfold – we are looking at 3000% at a very minimum! Impossible is the word that keeps popping in my mind. For believers who have lived longer in this world – there are deeper challenges and troughs in their journey to the Celestial City. Sometimes, we are tempted to look at the promised increase and become depressed – because the reality is far from the expectation given. Is the Lord exaggerating? No. He is challenging us to see things in accordance to His eyes – to perceive and understand things through His mind, not ours. Thus, the disciples found themselves echoing our sentiments in other times as well – one such instance was in Matthew 19:25-26 – “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” This is faith. Believing that God is the God of impossibilities. That the very thing that we constantly despair about – our lack of humility, our secret sins, our constant weaknesses, our “life long behaviours” – can be changed. The change is not superficial or cosmetic – but lifelong – eternal! When we measure it in accordance to the effect and lasting impact it has on our soul – we can see that it far exceeds 200% or 3000%… this is an infinite percentile that does not lessen. This is a dimension that we need to refocus our spiritual, inner eyes on.
Can the Lord change our sinful nature – sanctify us in a real way – for eternity? Yes. Will the scope of the change be for every part of our lives on earth? No. For we still live in this fallen world. But the longer we live in this world, the more the Holy Spirit regenerates our being – preparing us for eternal glory at His coming or at our entering into that glory of His. This is the hope that the parable of the sower gives to us – especially those who are honest, real and seeking Jesus with all of our beings – weak, frail that may be. Amen.