Jesus Christ arrived on earth many hundreds of years after the prophet Isaiah foretold of His coming. Jesus often referred to Isaiah’s words when sharing the concepts of the kingdom of heaven with His disciples.
Great multitudes often gathered by the shore of the Sea of Galilee to hear Him speak. On one occasion, there were so many people that Jesus got into a boat and pushed out from shore. His words carried out over the water as a sort of natural projection system, so that all in the large crowd were able to hear Him.
But Jesus had the same problem that Isaiah did – although the crowd heard His words, many did not truly “hear” or follow them. They did not comprehend His message or, if they did, did not want to pursue what He was saying.
Jesus later explained this to His disciples:
13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled… Matthew 13:13 NKJV
Many of those who came to see Jesus would for one reason or another reject His words. He would later weep over Jerusalem because of the consequences of their rejection – their defeat and the destruction of their temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
But many people did believe. In order to provide these seekers with the best opportunity to receive the good news in their hearts, Jesus taught them in the form of parables. A parable is a short story that contains a deeper spiritual concept or principle that is revealed in the heart through the action of the Holy Spirit. By gently feeding them spiritual concepts in story form, people were able to understand and assimilate the principles of the kingdom of God in small steps – a “bite-size” format that would be less likely to harden their hearts against His teaching.
Many of Jesus’ parables drew from the agrarian lifestyle of the time that most people in the crowd were well familiar with. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, the Parable of the Sower describes how some might respond to His message.
3 … “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 13:3-9 NKJV
Jesus later explained to His disciples that in the story, He was the Sower giving out the seed, the word of God. The four types of soil represent the four different conditions of the heart for those who heard the word.
- The seed scattered on the wayside, the hardened paths where people walked through the fields, represents the word presented to hardened hearts. The devil comes along and steals the word away before it can take root.
- The stony places represent areas of thin soil over shallow bedrock. This represents the hearts of those who hear the word and, at first, have some capacity to understand it and grasp it with joy. But as soon as the negative consequences of being a believer show up, they are quick to abandon the word and to go their own way.
- The thorns represent the cares of this natural world and the deceitfulness of riches. They consume our thoughts and imaginations and choke out the spiritual so that the blessings of the word are lost.
- The good soil represents hearts that receive the word with joy and stick with it despite the difficulties it presents and the lures and temptations of the world. God uses these faithful hearts to share His word with other hearts, producing a great harvest of disciples. The word continues to spread throughout the world and the kingdom of God grows by leaps and bounds.
This parable clearly has as much application for us today as it did to Jesus’ disciples two thousand years ago. We all get to choose whether or not we will receive the good news of God in our hearts, and if we do, what steps we will take to seek to follow God. If we do, the Lord will bless us and use us to encourage others and to grow His kingdom, bringing forth an eternal harvest around the globe.
Parables present the kingdom of God as a seedling rather than as a forest of spiritual principles. They give us the opportunity to hear, consider and comprehend God’s word in a way that won’t overwhelm our mind and spirit. The stories leave us with much to contemplate and to seek God about, asking for help in understanding and applying them to our lives today.
Father, speak to our hearts the words of Your kingdom. Teach us Your truth that we may grow in the Spirit and stay faithful to You. Grant us life from above so that we may plant and nurture others in Your kingdom. Grant us the strength to turn away from temptation and to produce a great harvest. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.