During His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke often in parables. The word, “parable” which is derived from a Greek word, “parabole”, has the idea of comparing things to bring forth a spiritual or moral lesson. Simply stated, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. A parable helps to convey the deeper truths of the Gospel, making them plain and clear to the hearers.
For some parables that were hard to be understood (for example, the Parable of the Sower, and the Parable of the Tares), Jesus expounded the meaning privately to His disciples – for it was given unto them “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13: 11). But other parables were so pointed that even His enemies could understand them.
Jesus’ parables – more than fifty of them – highlighted, among others, His divine attributes, the kingdom of God, the responsibility of stewardship, the need for watchfulness and humility, the importance of obedience and right conduct, the grace of forgiveness and the importunity of prayer.
Taken mostly from the ordinary life of the common people and from nature, Jesus’ parables were unsurpassed in their purity, variety and clarity. They were told “in a style of native simplicity intelligible to the child, yet instructive to men of every rank and age. In his parables, as in all his instructions, He excelled all men in the purity, importance, and sublimity of His doctrine” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
One commentator made an interesting observation about the power of Christ’s parables to convict His hearers: “… a prosier teaching might not break our stubborn will, but the sight of the father running to welcome his wayward son leaves us defenceless utterly.”
One of the parables Jesus told was “The Parable of the Sower” (Matt 13: 1-23). This parable is also found in Mark 4: 1-20 and Luke 8: 4-15.
Mark tells us that Jesus was teaching “by the sea side” (Mk 4: 1) of Galilee. In the crowd of hearers were many local farmers. Always sensitive to the needs of His audience, the Lord used the figure of the sower which was familiar to the farming community.
Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate the effects of the Gospel or the Word of God upon its hearers. In the story, “a sower went forth to sow” indiscriminately throughout the length and breadth of his field. The seeds fell on four types of soil – “by the wayside”, “upon stony places”, “among thorns” and “into good ground” (vv 3-5, 7-8).
The seed sown was God’s Word – “the word of the kingdom” (Matt 13: 19) – which may be “communicated in any manner to the minds of men, by the Scriptures, by preaching, by acts of providence, or by the direct influence of the Holy Spirit” (ibid).
The Parable of the Sower describes what generally goes on in every church. All may hear the same message, but everyone receives it differently. Let us look at the responses to the Word of God, as represented by the four types of soil:
o The Wayside Hearer
“And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up” (v 4). Jesus’ explanation is found verse 19 – “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.”
The wayside hearer has a closed mind. The Gospel makes no impression upon his soul and he “understandeth it not” (v 19a). Consequently, he possesses neither spiritual life nor light. “The fowls came and devoured them up” shows that God’s Word does not take root in his heart (v 4). As quickly as God’s Word is preached or taught, the devil snatches it away and the heart is left untouched and unmoved: “then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (v 19b).
“It takes no hold because the heart is like a highway; the surface is hard and nothing can make an impression on it. The seed cannot penetrate and germinate; therefore the ‘birds’, agencies of ‘the wicked one’ snatch it away. The truth takes no hold, the hard crust of thoughtlessness hinders reception. When once the Word is understood and received in faith, it is beyond Satan’s reach” (All the Parables of the Bible – Herbert Lockyer).
The Bible warns against those who take God’s Word lightly. God will judicially harden their hearts, blind their eyes and close their ears so that they will not be converted: “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt 13: 13-15).
Brethren, let us check our response to the ministry of God’s Word. Do we receive His truths with a cold heart or a spirit of indifference? If we continue in unbelief, God will judicially harden our hearts and we may never come to grace and salvation. Let us heed these sobering warnings from the Holy Scriptures. May we respond to God’s truths with a receptive and obedient heart. (… to be continued)