This series will largely, though not entirely, be based on the White Horse Inn series on the parables. Over most anything else, the parables are the most incorrectly preached universally. That being the case, there will be a lot of tradition that must be dispelled as we go along. Though containing moral truths, parables are not nice morality stories. Parables are pronouncements of judgment and are Christ inaugurating His kingdom. The parables of Jesus are what we will be focusing on, but these are not the first time parables have been used. There is a very helpful and powerful example of a parable being used in 2 Samuel when David is being confronted by the prophet Nathan about David’s sin with Bathsheba:
“And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to ear of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it form the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-7)
This is a useful example of a parable because it tells us a few things about what the parables of Christ do. In Nathan’s parable, we see David become furious (remember, David had spent much of his early years as a shepherd) and pronounce harsh judgment upon the rich man. David has been drawn into the parable without realizing that the entire thing is about him, and that the rich man that David so quickly condemns is he himself. This is what Jesus’s parables do; they draw us in and we envision ourselves as a character all the while unaware that the whole thing is a sort of “you are the man!” pronouncement. The difference between the parable in 2 Samuel and the parables of Jesus is that there is no Nathan to make plain the judgment. Jesus’s parables are intended to upset, disorient and divide, and they are not easily understood. As we read the parables of Christ, we are immediately identifying ourselves with one of the characters on one side or the other. There are no onlookers here, and we either get it or we don’t, we hear or we don’t, we see or we don’t, there is no middle of the road. The Lord’s parables have the power to create the world they are describing, in real time, in this way and they can only be understood when we realize that they are all about the kingdom. One last bit of information to keep in mind when reading the parables is that John the Baptist was the last prophet whose message was that the kingdom was near, and to turn and repent. The parables of Christ are not in this same line of thinking, with Christ the kingdom is now He is pronouncing judgment. These parables were also done during the later part of Christ’s earthly ministry and so the people had plenty of time to repent before Christ started speaking to them in parables.
The Parable of the Sower
“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds feel among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds feel on the good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)
We take for granted that we can read Jesus explain this parable to His disciples, but keep in mind that the “great crowds” which had gathered to hear Christ preach did not get this explanation. Solely based on the given parable we are left to debate who the sower is and what the different seeds/soil might mean. Even with the advantage of being able to read Christ’s explanation, there is still confusion today among Christians. Recently, I was asked about the identity of the sower and whether or not that was Christ or if it was supposed to be interpreted as Christians sowing the seeds of the Gospel. I think the best thing to do is to start with how Jesus Himself explained both the purpose of speaking in parables as well as the explanation of the parable of the sower.
“Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “’You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10-16)
There are a few things to point out in this section that Christ brings to mind. He tells the disciples that to them, it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, meaning that the parable is indeed about the kingdom of heaven, and also that they have been given understanding. The coming of Christ is the means of understanding; no longer are things veiled as they were in the Old Testament. Jesus also concludes his discussion of why He’s using parables with “blessed are” which is a prophetic opening (and conversely, “cursed are”) which the disciples and people of the time would have been acutely aware of. The great mystery that Christ refers to when he’s talking about what the kingdom is like is really Himself. Christ is “the one who divides the human race—even Israel, indeed, even families—and reunites people from every race and language around him and his saving work. Christ is the one who seeks and saves that which is lost. Christ is the one who claims us as his subjects, citizens, and co-heirs, with an urgent responsibility in this time between his two comings. And finally, Christ now makes himself the sacrificial meal, but will one day the Lord’s Supper will yield to an everlasting feast where the best wine never runs out and the delight of uninterrupted fellowship and joy with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as well as our fellow saints—never ends.” (Michael Horton)
Christ then goes on in verses 18-23 to explain the parable of the sower and there are several parallels which he uses.
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown In his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” (19)
“And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.” (4)
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (20-21)
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.” (5-6)
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (22)
“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (7)
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (23)
“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (8)
It’s very important to note here that Christ is not telling people to do anything, He’s talking about what is happening, that is, what God has done and will continue to do.
“In the rest of the parables in Matthew 13, the phrase is repeated, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to….” The kingdom is like a field in which the owner planted his wheat, yet Satan has planted weeds. They must grow together until the harvest, when the owner returns to separate the wheat from the chaff. His servants’ job is just to keep spreading the seed. The kingdom is also like a tiny mustard seed that becomes a giant tree in which the birds build their nests. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” At the heart of this parable, of course, is Christ’s substitutionary atonement. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” When the day arrived, the fisherman sorted out the fish, just as the farmer separated the wheat from the chaff. Or the kingdom is like yeast that works itself into the dough and makes it rise.
Clearly, Jesus is announcing that the kingdom of heaven is here, present on earth, inaugurated by his earthly ministry. Yet it is not present in its consummated form. We are now in an “intermission” between his two comings, when he is sowing his field, planting his vineyard, seeking that which was lost, gathering his treasure into his house, fishing for people, and calling his guests from the highways and byways for his wedding feast.” (Michael Horton)
The first parable of the sower is a model of what Christ is doing and presents themes and undergirding ideas which will be prominent with the rest of the parables as well. These are pronouncements of judgment, and they are about the kingdom and of Christ’s search for us, not our search for Christ.