Matthew Bible Study (The Gospel of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven)

Matthew 13:18-23, Sower Responses


We are in the middle of a teaching that Jesus is giving. In Matthew 13 we are reading Jesus proclaiming a series of parables. Jesus told a parable about a sower at the beginning of Matthew 13. The story he told pictured a sower casting seed on all kinds of ground. The sower was not discriminating where he cast the seed. In doing so the seed fell on different types of ground which yielded different results. Jesus ends his story by asking who wants to understand what he just said. “Whoever has ears, let them hear!” (13:9).

Jesus’ disciples wanted to know why Jesus was telling perplexing parables. Why would you tell parables when teaching the crowds? Why not make things simpler? Why not make things clearer? Why do you teach in parables? Jesus’ answer is essentially that he is challenging dull hearts. The people’s hearts are dull, ears are closed, and eyes are shut. So Jesus is speaking in this way to see who will come to him to learn what he saying. Who will listen and seek to learn more? Who will say this is confusing and be dismissive? This is where we are in Jesus’ teaching. This explanation is very important to understanding the explanation that Jesus is about to give to his disciples about the parable of the sower. Look at Matthew 13:18-23 and let us consider what Jesus meant people to grasp when he told this parable.

The Path (13:19)

In Jesus’ story, the sower cast seed and some of that seed landed on the hard path. Jesus explains in verse 19 what he is referring to with this part of the story. When someone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in the heart. Now we have learned from Jesus’ explanation as to why he tells parables that Jesus is not speaking about people who just can’t understand what Jesus is saying. Rather, those who do not understand are those with the dismissive heart. These are people who think they see but do not see. These are the people who think they understand but do not understand. These are the people whose hearts are dull but they do not know that. Jesus taught complex things and the complexity causes some to be dismissive. Jesus is referring to that kind of ground in verse 19.

Now we are understanding what Jesus is doing. Jesus is wanting his listeners to consider their response to the sower. Jesus is going to challenge us to be honest in our evaluation of our spiritual lives. He wants them to think about what the seed is doing in their lives so that they can know what soil they are and where they stand regarding the kingdom. The first picture is challenging. If you allow the difficulties of God’s word and complexities of his teachings and books to be a cause to not listen, then you are this kind of soil in verse 19. There is something happening spiritually. You are allowing the word of God to be snatched away by the evil one. God is taking his seed and placing it on your heart. But you are not allowing the seed to sink in but to be quickly taken away.

So I want us to make some spiritual evaluations of ourselves regarding this soil. Are we turned off by the amount of material in God’s word? Are we not interested in understanding what are on these pages of God’s word? Are we uninterested in opening God’s word and learning what it says? Are we content to think that we know what it says and do not want to dig any deeper? Are the hard teachings and complex books of the Bible something that makes us not want to read it, study it, or come together to learn it? These are symptoms of this kind of ground. This is a dismissive heart that does not want to dig in and understand. The seed is snatched away and nothing comes from it. You think you belong to Jesus, but you really do not because the word is not sown into your heart.

The Rocky Ground (13:20-21)

Jesus also described the seed being cast on a rocky ground where there was not much soil (13:5). Please notice what Jesus says about this heart. This one hears the word and immediately receives it with joy (13:20). This seems like everything is going to go well. They heard the word and they responded to the message joyfully. But something happens. In verse 21 we are told that the plant does not have a root and only endures for a short time. What happened? Two things can happen. This person encounters suffering and trials or experiences persecution for the cause of Christ. When life gets difficult, they leave their devotion to the Lord.

Now it would be easy to look at everyone we know in our lives who have shown this to be true. It is sad and absolutely heartbreaking. So many leave the Lord when life gets hard. But I want to talk to us. Why does this happen? I want us to see the picture Jesus uses. They do not have a root. A root is critical to the life of a plant. No plant can endure without a strong root system. To avoid this outcome, we need to have roots that grow deep and wide. Jesus says in verse 5 that they have no depth of soil. Everything about God is surface level. The knowledge of the Lord remains shallow and, because of this, when the sun beats down, the plant does not survive.

This is what the writer of Hebrews warned about Hebrews 6. He calls us for us to move beyond the elementary teachings of Christ and go forward to maturity. I need you to leave the topics that you know about Christ. I need your knowledge to grow of Christ to grow wider. I need you to grow deeper. I need you to know God deeply.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1–3 ESV)

The reason why this is so important is because the writer warns of falling away because maturity never happened. The person stayed in the basics. The person stayed in the elementary teachings.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4–6 ESV)

Far too many Christians stay shallow in their roots. Far too many Christians do not allow their roots to grow deep. Far too many churches do not help Christians grow deep roots, staying shallow in their teachings. They stay superficial with their faith and knowledge. It is great to hear the basics but it will not be enough to help on the day of suffering and hardship. Something is going to happen to you and you are not going to stay with the Lord. Your knowledge of God is not strong enough to stay with him. If we are not growing roots deep and wide, we will not endure to the end.

The Thorny Ground (13:22)

Jesus also said that the seed was cast among the thorns. Jesus explains this in verse 22. This is a person who hears the word, but worries of life and the seduction of wealth choke the word and makes it unfruitful. There are a couple of things we need to see about this ground. Jesus says that the power of the word is nullified because we are caring about this world and seeking after physical things. This is an important truth: worrying about this world and chasing after wealth kill the effect of the seed. There is no room in the heart for the growth of the seed because the heart is busy with worrying about this world and busy with the pursuits of this life. This is an important picture. If you do not see the word of God working in your life, if you are not experiencing joy in your walk with Christ, and being transformed into a new person in Christ, then the word is be crowded out by other cares and pursuits.

We care way too much about this world. We care too much about our stuff. We care too much about the affairs of this world and this country. We let too many things occupy our minds and time that keep us from spending time with God and his word. We listen more to the news than to God. We spend more time worrying about this world than worrying about our spiritual growth. We let God’s word get choked out with so many things.

Notice the outcome of this: making it unfruitful. Notice that Jesus does not say that they fall away. These do not walk away from God. But they are just Christian shells. There is no fruit. They proclaim a faith and look the part but there is no fruit seen in their lives. They can’t bear fruit because their heart is occupied with other desires and pursuits.

The Good Soil (13:23)

Jesus now ends with what he calls good soil in verse 23. This is the person who hears the word and understands it. So this takes us back to Jesus’ explanation for why he told parables. They hear and they desire to understand. They dig deeper and look to understand what God is saying through his word. Further, the person bears fruit, yielding an amazing crop: 100 times, 60 times, or 30 times more than planted. The truth we are hearing Jesus proclaim is that the seed is allowed to do its work in the heart. It is not quickly snatched away. It does not have shallow roots. It does not get choked out by thorns. It grows deep and grows wide, bearing a magnificent display of fruit. Notice that good soil bears fruit.

So here is the take away that Jesus wants us to think about today. If I am not bearing fruit, then I am one of the other soils. If the fruit of the Spirit is not seen in our lives, then we are one of the other soils. If we are not displaying fruit to the world that reaching out and bringing in others to the Lord, then we are one of the other soils. We are being asked to look at our lives and see if we are bearing fruit for the Lord. Remember Jesus explained in John 15:5 that whoever lives in him and he in them will bear much fruit. So if we are not bearing fruit then we are one of the other soils.

Please make an honest evaluation this morning of your heart as soil. Are you not bearing fruit because the seed is taken away as soon as it hits? It could be that you are dismissive to the word of God. You have no interesting in learning about God and seeking to understand his truth. The word hits you today, you shrug your shoulders, and it is back to life as normal. Please think about how Jesus is showing that you are not in a right relationship with him if this is your life.

Are we not bearing fruit because we have no depth of root? We are seem committed to the Lord but we stay shallow with him. Our spiritual life is nothing more than going to church. We want to hear simple messages and not press on to maturity. We have no interest in depth and are satisfied with our present level of knowledge. In these conditions Jesus says that we are not going to bear fruit. But also remember Jesus said that when hardships come, your faith will not endure.

Are we not bearing fruit because we are more concerned about this world and this life? If our hearts are busying with our schedules, our wealth, this country, our work, and using our free time to chase our desires, then we will not bear fruit. We will look the part but there cannot be the fruit that God is looking for because our time is spent on everything else but him. Look at your life. How do you spend your time? Does God get any amount of time in the day? Is there any praying? Is there any meditation? Is there any reading of his word? Do our hearts want him or just more physical things and entertainment? Listen to what Paul says is the problem:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3–4 ESV)

The problem is that we are not seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel. If we do not see fruit, then something is wrong. We are not seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel. Jesus has revealed to us three possible problems. I hope you will evaluate your response to the sower. Honestly own which soil you are and do something about it today. All of these conditions can be changed if you will accept which soil you are, clear out the weeds in your flowerbed, and give room for the seed to sink into your heart and grow.

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