The Parable of the Sower



            As Jesus went about teaching, the scribes and Pharisees, after being rebuked by Jesus, hypocritically called him Teacher and asked to see a sign from him(Matthew 12:38).  What is easy for some to overlook here is the fact that they had witnessed miracle after miracle and on that very day they had witnessed three miracles.  Throughout his ministry we notice that Jesus did not do miracles to show off or simply to satisfy the crowd.  The signs and miracles were performed to confirm to his listeners that he was the Messiah, the Son of God.

            When Jesus cast out the demons, the Pharisees accused him of performing the miracle by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.  It was at this point in his ministry Jesus changed his style of preaching.  Our Lord began to use parables to proclaim his message.  The parable has been called "an earthly message with a heavenly meaning."[1]

            We might ask why he chose to use parables.  Wayne Jackson gave four reasons for the use of parables.  First of all, he used them to teach those willing to listen.  Secondly, he used parables to hide the truth from those unwilling to hear.  Those like the Pharisees hearts were so hardened they could not listen or learn because they were more interested in trying to find a way to trap him.  Thirdly, teaching with parables was a technique used to cause men to assent to the truth before they realized its applicability to them personally.  Last of all, parables made it easy for men to remember great truths.[2]

            This brief introduction brings us to the first parable recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels, the Parable of the Sower.


            The parable starts out by describing the different types of soil that the sower encountered as he went out to sow the seed. Mark recorded that the Lord said "Listen to this" (Mark 4:3 NASB) as he started the parable.  In saying this he was telling those listening to him to pay close attention.  Once he had their attention he said the sower went out to sow seed. 

            The first soil he identified was the wayside.  This refers to the hard packed soil of the paths beside the fields.  The seed had no chance of sprouting because the ground was too hard and it was trampled by the feet of men or eaten by birds.

            The second type of soil was the rocky soil.  This soil is shallow.  It may look fertile on the surface but it has no substance.  The soil is too shallow for the seed to root and grow.  The soil does not retain enough moisture needed for adequate plant growth.  Thus whatever is planted in this type of soil would be scorched by the sun and dried up.

            The third type of soil was the thorny soil.  This soil was good soil.  There is one thing wrong with it.  It has thorns growing in it.  When the sower planted the seed in this soil, the seed took root and grew.  The problem was that the thorns grew right along with the seed that was planted.  As the thorns grew, they robbed the plants of the nutrition they needed to grow and eventually choked out the good plants.  Mark records in Mark 1:7 that the thorns choked it and it yielded no crop, indicating that the plant used all the nutrition available just to grow but there was nothing left to produce a crop.

            The fourth type of soil the Lord identified was the good soil.  This soil was good, fertile, prepared, and ready to receive the seed the sower was planting.  The result of the seed being planted in this soil is that it takes root and grows into a strong plant that "yields a crop, some hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matthew 13:8).

            The Lord finished this parable with a phrase that all three Synoptic writers included in their account of His sermon, "He, who hath ears to hear, let him hear",

(Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8 NASB).  When the Lord made this statement his disciples then asked him why he spoke in parables and what this one meant.  Our Lord then explained the parable.

             We need to look at the seed and the sower just as the Lord did.  Jesus told his disciples that "the seed was the word of God,"(Luke 8:11 NASB).  When he said this we note that the basic law of creation is that the seed will produce after its own kind (Gen 1:11).  The life germ is in the seed.[3]  When the word of God is sown in the hearts of men, there is but one crop that can be expected for it to yield.  It will yield Christians and that is what makes up the church.  Without the word, there would be no Christians.

            In order for the seed to be sown, there must be a sower.  Jesus identified the sower as the one who sows or spreads the Word.  Every Christian has the obligation given by Jesus himself to be a sower of the Word.  In what we refer to as the Great Commission, Jesus said,

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 NASB)


We are to teach, baptize, and teach those who are baptized to observe all his commands.  Therefore we teach them to teach.  This is how each and every Christian becomes sowers of the Word.  Throughout the New Testament, we have examples of those who taught and spread the gospel.  The Apostle Paul used this analogy in 1 Corinthian 3:6 when he said. " I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth."

            The two things constant throughout the parable are the seed as the Word of God and the sower who is the teacher or preacher.  The difference is in the soils.[4]  We should know that God's word is constant and never changes.  The identity of the sower will change, but their responsibilities are constant.  We understand that as any gardener knows, it is the responsibility of the one sowing the seed to prepare the soil for planting and keep it clean.  The thing that does change is the soil, the hearts of those who receive the Word as it is sown.

            The wayside represented those who have absolutely no interest at all in the Word of God.  There are many reasons for the heart of a person to be in this condition.  Worldliness, pride, or even prejudice could be the root cause.  The gospel as the seed falls on uninterested heart and as it is rejected the devil, pictured as the birds,(Matt. 13:19), snatches the seed away.[5]

            The rocky soil represents the hearer who, after hearing the gospel, accepts it readily, but does not really count the cost.  They obey the gospel and just as quickly as they obey, they drift away.  This is due to the fact that the soil of their heart is so shallow their roots don't get a chance to grow before they wither and die.

            The thorny soil represents the one whose heart is rich and well prepared, at least on the surface.  Upon first glance one would think the word grow and prosper in this person.  They have the potential to be very productive. Yet, what we don't see initially are the thorns of worldliness and other distractions.  These thorns are below the surface deep within the individual.  As the young Christian grows, so do the thorns.  Eventually these thorns choke the very life out of the Christian.  This results in unfruitful service to the Lord.[6]  It is my belief that the church is plagued with this type of soil today.  So many Christians forget what their responsibilities are to God and let the temporary pleasures of the world take hold of their lives.  David Roper in his commentary calls this the condition of the divided heart.  We have talent and potential that could be used for God, but we allow other interests to crowd out our love for Him.[7]

            The last soil type mentioned is the good ground.  This soil represents the individual who when hearing the word, understands it (Matt.13:23).  They follow it through from beginning to end.  This person is also described as one who receives the word (Mark 4:20).  This means that the word is taken in and becomes a part of him.  In his account, Luke adds the good hearer keeps the word (Luke 8:15).[8]  Luke also characterized this good hearer's heart as being honest and good.   Those hearers with an honest and good heart are those who will understand the Word.  They will keep the word in their hearts and with patience produce fruit in their lives.  I believe all of these characteristics make up the good heart. 

            The hearer bears much responsibility in determining what type of hearer they will be.  We must prepare our hearts for the planting of the word.  This takes self-examination on our part.  We need to be observant enough that we can recognize our condition and make the appropriate changes. I believe this is Luke's idea when he includes the admonition from the Lord, "So take care how you listen."  

          I believe it is worthwhile to point out the type of fruit and the quantity of fruit we as hearers with good hearts will bear.  What do we expect to bear?  I believe we should expect to bear the fruit of winning souls to Christ.  We should see the fruit of the Spirit that Paul told the Galatian church about growing in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).  We should also bear the fruit of our lips in praise and thanksgiving to God (Hebrews 13:15).  It would be important to note that we all will not bear the same amount of fruit as this parable points out.  Matthew and Mark use the term of harvest as some will bear hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty.  Whatever ability we have we are to use it to the utmost of our ability.  This idea is conveyed in another of the Lord's parables, the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. 

            Jesus had told his disciples to listen to the parable.  Once he finished it, he explained it for them.  It was very important for them to understand this parable before he taught them anything else.  Soon they would be the sowers of his word.  They would encounter all types of audiences and some would hear and obey while on the other end of the spectrum some would persecute them due in part to the complete lack of interest in the message of God's word.  The disciples would learn to be patient, while being faithful to their cause.  It was important for them to know that the message, the seed of the

Kingdom was theirs to scatter.  It would be the responsibility of the ones hearing the message to allow it to take root and grow in their hearts and minds.

            This leaves us with a very personal question that only we ourselves can answer, what kind of soil am I?  Are my attitude and my heart receptive to the word of God?  Once I receive the Word of God, does it grow and flourish in my life and is there a

harvest of fruit?  Those questions must be answered by each and every person that expects to reap an eternal reward in heaven.


Cox, Frank L. Sermon Notes on the Parables of Jesus NashvilleTN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1954


Lightfoot, Neil. The Living Word, The Parables of Jesus, Part 1.   Austin TX: R.B. Sweet Co. Inc. 1963


Jackson,  WayneThe Parables in Profile StocktonCA:  Wayne Jackson, 1978


Roper, David L. Truth for Today Commentary, The Life of Christ, 1. A Supplement.   SearcyAR: Resource Publications, 2003


Roy, W. Gaddys.  Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus.   MontgomeryAL:   Alabama  Christian  College Bookstore, 1968

[1]Roper, David, Truth For Today Commentary, The Life of Christ1, 340

[2]Jackson,  Wayne, The Parables in Profile, 10-11

[3] Roy, W. Gaddys, Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus, 15

[4]Roper, David L.  Truth for Today Commentary, The Life of Christ 1, 357.

[5]Jackson,  Wayne, The Parables in Profile, 15-16.

[6]Roper, David L.  Truth for Today Commentary, The Life of Christ 1, 360.

[7]Ibid. 361

[8]Lightfoot, Neil R.  The Parables of Jesus, 13.


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