Summary: In the parable of the sower: 1. The seed falls onto every type of soil without discrimination. 2. The different soils represent people’s different responses. 3. In the end there is a great harvest.
Picture the scene in your mind. Jesus is teaching from a boat on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. There is a breeze blowing as he nods in the direction of a farmer in the distance. He is sowing seed in his field. As they watched the farmer at work, Jesus used the scene to teach a lesson about life. As Jesus taught, the farmer acted out his message. The sower had a bag of seed and, after reaching in and getting a handful, he broadcast it, that is, he threw out the seed onto the ground. As he did so, some of the seed would naturally fall on ground that was not suitable, along with the other seed that fell on good soil.
Fields in biblical times were not like our fields today which have been prepared by modern machinery with the crops planted in neat rows. In those days, the farmer would cast the seed all over the ground and then plow it under. The fields were in long strips with paths between them so that people could pass through. That was important in a culture where everyone walked. Sometimes the Romans built their roads next to a farmer’s field. Sometimes the land next to the field was allowed to grow wild and it was full of thorns and weeds. In the ancient process of sowing it was impossible not to have some of the seed fall, or be blown by the wind, onto these areas.
To begin with we need to understand some of the symbolism of what Jesus is saying. First of all, there is the farmer or sower. Jesus explains: “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” (Matthew 13:37). Jesus is the one who sows the seed, and the field is the world (Matthew 13:38). The seed is the Word of God, and the various soils represent the diverse responses which people have to the Word which Jesus sows. Their response determines the degree of success of the crop.
There are three things I notice in this wonderful parable of Jesus. The first is this: The seed falls onto every type of soil without discrimination. It is sown on the soil which is nothing but packed, dry earth. It is sown on soil which is full of rocks, and soil which is full of thorns, as well as on good soil. I believe that one of the things that Jesus is saying is that God does not play favorites. Even when God knows that the Word will not take root in a person’s life he still gives an opportunity to hear and respond. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Every person alive is given an opportunity to respond to God in some way. We who have the privilege of living in this place, and in this time of the world’s history, certainly have a greater opportunity, and therefore a greater responsibility, but every person is reached out to by God in various ways. He speaks to them in their hearts. He reveals himself to them in nature. The Bible says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
The apostle Peter had a revelation from God about this very issue. When God showed him that he cares about everyone, no matter what their race, nationality, economic or spiritual condition, Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). The King James Version puts it like this: “God is no respecter of persons.” That is why Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, KJV). The worst sinner on earth will be given an opportunity to respond to God — even when God knows it will do absolutely no good. The goodness of God is not determined by our response — it is founded upon his character. The seed will be sown on every type of human soil whether the seed will grow or not.
Let’s take a look at the different soils and try to understand what they represent. Which brings us to the second point: The four different soils represent the responses of different types of people. The first type of soil is the path. This could be a nearby road or a foot path through the field. In either case, the seed finds it impossible to take root. It cannot penetrate the ground which is hard and dry. It is totally inhospitable and unreceptive to the seed.