The Parable of the Sower is a challenging parable. Jesus indicated that the purpose of parables was to distinguish between those who are part of God’s kingdom and those who are outside the kingdom (4:10-12). The essential point is that for those who are truly outside the kingdom, these parables are a judgment on those who think they have it all figured out and keep hearing the Word but are not really listening (4:12). This parable is a key parable to understanding all the parables (4:13).
The critical point is that the parable distinguishes between those who truly hear the Word of the Kingdom and those who do not. That sounds pretty straight forward; either you get it or you don’t. However, Jesus points out that even though his men have been given the “mysteries of the kingdom” (4:11), they do not immediately get it (4:13), and so Jesus must explain the purpose of the parable (4:14-20).
But a better way to understand the nature of these parables is that parables are given to those outside the kingdom because of their unwillingness to respond to what God has already communicated to them (4:11-12). They are the outside ones whom have heard but not listened, they have paid attention but have not grasped the intent of the Word spoken. They have seen Jesus but rejected him, his message and his works.
In the human messiness of life, figuring out those who truly hear and do not hear is complicated. Some seem to hear the message, but Satan immediately snatches the word from their heart, and it affects nothing – they did not hear and accept the word (4:15). The next one is very complex. The seed sown on the rocky places are those who hear the word and receive it with joy but they have no firm root in themselves so when affliction or persecution comes they fall away (4:16-17) – again I believe the point is that they may have initially appeared to receive the word but since they had “no firm root in themselves” it is not sustainable – they too did not really hear and accept it in a way that stuck. The one whose heart is compared to a thorn’s hear the word BUT the worries of the world and deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it does not produce fruit. One may be tempted to say that this is only a matter of fruitfulness, not whether they actually heard and received the Word, but notice the last illustration from the parable in verse twenty:
The last scenario reveals “the ones on whom the seed was sown on the good soil; they hear the word and accept it (in contrast to everyone else) and bear fruit, thirty, sixty and a hundredfold (4:20). The difference is only in this last scenario do people have a heart that is considered “good soil”. These are the ones who actually hear the word and accept it. The question is this: is there a difference between truly accepting and receiving the word and bearing fruit? Many of us would say yes! But are those really two different things or are they one and the same?
Everything about what Jesus seems to say is that only those who truly hear, receive, and accept the Word will bear fruit. Jesus does not say those who really hear and accept the word should bear fruit, or that should be the goal after receiving the word, or eventually we hope they bear fruit; bearing fruit is the essential evidence of truly hearing and accepting the word. The others, even though their situations are very “back and forth,” and complex scenarios that sort of look like they received it, do not demonstrate evidence they have truly heard the word. It is as if Jesus was saying, “If you don’t bear fruit you did not hear or receive the word”.
As uncomfortable as it is, I believe the text is indicating that only those who bear fruit are the ones who truly have heard, received, and accepted the word of the kingdom.
Sincerely in Christ – Pastor Brad.