The Parables of Jesus
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.
When he said this, he called out, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
This is commonly known as The Parable of the Sower, but youll notice that I have changed the name. I am calling it The Parable of the Soil. The reason I have done this is because we are told nothing about the sower in this parable except what he did which is sow seed. But we are told a great deal about the soil and I am convinced that the whole purpose of this parable is to press home how the seed, which is the Word of God, not so much how it is sown or who sows it, but how it is heard, responded to, and the results it produces in the life. That is why Jesus ended the parable with these words, He who has ears to hear let him hear.
Now the big question that we must ask ourselves as we are confronted with this parable is, Has the Word that has been sown in my life born any fruit? Because the Gospel is not a theory. It is not some great or grand idea that somebody invented. The Bible describes the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation. If it is so that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, then there has to be some evidence in our lives. There has to be a salvation that issues out in holy living. There has to be a salvation that issues out in effective witnessing and service. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament.
Let me give you a couple of texts to show you how this is taught by two writers of the New Testament. Turn to 1 Peter 1:13-16:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.
The gospel must produce holiness of living.
Then turn back to 1 Corinthians 15 and you will discover that the Gospel must also produce effective service. I read in 1 Corinthians 15 these words of the apostle Paul. He is talking concerning himself. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Paul says,
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them...
And then he adds,
...Yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Of course, these two cannot be separated.
We will look at the parable, expound on it, and then see what God is trying to tell us today living in the 20th Century, which is the same as what Christ was telling to that great multitude which gathered to hear Him 2,000 years ago. The first thing we see as we look at the parable is that the common denominator is the seed. You will also notice that the seed was sown in four different kinds of soil. What is that seed to which Jesus was referring? He tells us what that seed is in Luke 8:11 because, after He gave this parable, in Luke 8:9, the disciples came to Him and they said, What does this parable mean? Beginning at verse 11 in Luke 8:11-15, Jesus expounds on this parable. Not only do we have the parable, but we have Jesus interpretation of the parable.
In verse 11 He says,
This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.
And God sows that seed by various means. He uses the radio; He uses the preaching of the word, He uses witnessing, but the seed is the Word of God. I read in John 1:1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Then in John 1:14a, we read,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
So the Word of God is Jesus Christ, and if you turn to Hebrews 4:12 we are told something about the power of this Word. I want you to listen to this one:
For the word of God [which is Jesus Christ] is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
This is why I said that the Word of God is not some theory. It is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Of course, in the days of Paul, in the days of the New Testament, they didnt use machine guns; they used swords to fight, and this was a two-edged sword so that you could use it both ways. And the Word of God is like a two-edged sword that penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, dividing what is of God and what is of man, what is of the Spirit and what is of the flesh. That is what the Word does, because it discerns and separates the two. So the seed that Jesus was referring to here in this parable is the Word of God.
The soil that is spoken about here represents the hearts of men. Look at the context. This was almost like an evangelistic effort, because in Luke 8:4 we read that a great multitude came to hear Him, plus people from all the various cities around that area. The soil represents the hearts of the hearers, and you will notice that He divides the hearts of men who hear the Gospel, the Word of God, into four camps. I have classified each of these camps as follows:
A farmer went out to sow his seed [which is the word of God]. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.
I call this heart a hard heart and you will see why in a few moments.
Some fell on rock [or on stony ground], and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
I call this the shallow heart.
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.
This is the divided heart.
Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. When he said this, he called out, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
As we come to the end of the parable, we see a field of wheat without any weeds. During one summer, just before the harvest, you could see several kinds of wheat fields. Some of them were pure wheat. Others had green clumps sticking out. Do you know what they were? They were weeds. Thats the divided heart. But at the end of the parable, we see a wheat field or a corn field, and the stalks are full and fat with grain. They tell me they had a bumper harvest that year. The soil is well tilled and watered, and what a beautiful sight for the farmer.
Now what is Jesus trying to tell us? Well, before we arrived at this interpretation, it is clear that what Jesus is looking for from those who hear His word is fruit, because Jesus is comparing the sowing of the gospel as the sowing of seed, just like a farmer who plants seed, is looking for fruit. But before we come to the fruitfulness that He is looking for, He gives us three main reasons why a Christian is unfruitful, why human beings who have heard the Gospel are unfruitful. We will look at each one of these hearts.
We will begin with a hard heart which is verse 5, and the interpretation is verse 12. We have already read verse 5. Lets read verse 12:
Those along the path are the ones who hear [the gospel], and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
The first thing I want to remind you of is the common denominator. Notice that the same kind of seed was sown in four different kinds of soil, so there is no difference in the seed. It is the same gospel. What Christ is dealing with here is our response to that gospel. This first soil, the hard heart, is the seed that falls by the wayside. I need to explain this because it is a little bit different than how we do it today. In America, the farmer first plows the field. He prepares the soil and then he plants the seed.
That is not how it was in Palestine in Christs day. During the off-growing season, during the time when the fields were not used, normally during winter, the fields were often used by the people as short-cuts going to the market place. So the fields were full of 15 inch paths that went across the field. When it came to planting time, they did not first plow the land like the farmer does here. They sowed the seed first, and maybe two or three days later they plowed the land. Then they waited for the rain to come and the seed would germinate. So here is the farmer, he sows the seed and some of it fell on the 15-inch pathway that was the result of people walking on it. Two things happened to that seed:
To what are these two things referring? Well, it tells us that this heart is a stubborn heart. It is a heart that is resisting the Word of God. I would like to give you a couple of texts because this refers to the impenetrable heart, a heart that the seed is not allowed to go in. We will look first of all at Marks account of this parable. All three Gospels have recorded this parable. In Mark 4:15, which is an interpretation of this first soil, Jesus uses a word here that Luke does not use:
Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as [in some translations, immediately] they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
Now we have discovered that the seed is the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. When this gospel is preached, some hearts immediately respond in a negative way and I want to tell you how Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 4. How does the devil, who is represented by the birds, immediately remove the seed? Paul tells us how he does it in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:
And even if our gospel is veiled [prevented from germinating], it is veiled to those who are perishing [or who are lost]. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers [remember, the mind and the heart are synonymous terms in the Bible], so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
In other words, the devil comes and says, No, this is a bunch of lies. Salvation isnt an easy thing. You have to earn it.
I had a phone call once from a man who wanted to put a cartoon in one of the magazines he edits. He said, One of your parishioners from your previous church told me that you had a very special cartoon that you hung in your office, and I would like you to send me a copy. Well, I left it there, so I dont have it. But it was a cartoon that I cut out from Christianity Today. It was based on a bank ad which said, Put your money in our bank, because we do it the old-fashioned way. We earn it. In the cartoon, a group of Pharisees were telling Jesus Christ, We believe in salvation the old-fashioned way. We earn it. Their hearts were hard to the gospel. They did not want to respond because the devil had blinded their eyes so that they may not see the good news.
We are told that not only would the birds devour, which means the devil takes away the good news from them by deceiving them, but we are told that the seed is also trampled on the ground. I want to give you another text about trampling. Turn to Hebrews 10:26, a verse that is greatly misunderstood by many. What does the text say?
If we deliberately keep on sinning...
This is a misunderstood statement because to us the word sin normally means transgression of the law, but the writer of Hebrews is not discussing the law here. He is discussing the gospel. He is discussing what He said in Hebrews 10:14:
...Because by one sacrifice he [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy [or those who have accepted Him].
How do I know? Because the context says so (Hebrews 10:26):
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth [or have heard the truth], no sacrifice for sins is left...
Thats the gospel. All that is left is (Hebrews 10:27):
...but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Here Paul is writing to the Jewish Christians, using Hebrews 10:28 as an example because they are so familiar with the book of Moses, the book of the law:
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Here is a person who knows the law of Moses, he breaks it and he is punished. He might have some excuse and say, I did it because I am weak. But look at Hebrews 10:29:
How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished...
You may have an excuse for breaking the law, but you have no excuse for rejecting the gospel because it is a gift, and if you deliberately, willfully reject the truth after you have heard the gospel,
How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished [listen to the next words] who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Notice the past tense.
That blood sanctified you, but you counted it as something useless. You trample underfoot the gospel, you count it as a common thing and insult the Spirit of grace. I hope there is nobody reading this with a hard heart, who has rejected the gospel.
But now we must move to number two, back to Luke 8:6:
Some fell on rock [or on stony ground, in some translations], and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
Now notice there is a difference here. In the first heart, the seed was snatched away immediately. In the second heart, the shallow heart, there was germination. The soil was there but it was very thin. The seed germinated but the roots were not allowed to go down deep because there was a thick layer of rock just below that thin layer of soil, and the roots could not go down. The result was that, suddenly, that seed which had germinated, withered away.
Look at Christs interpretation of this parable. Verse 13:
Those on the rock [or the stony ground] are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
Notice they receive the Word with joy. I would like to read both Matthews and Marks account. Lets start with Matthew 13:21. Lets see how Matthew puts the same parable:
But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word [because you have accepted the gospel you are facing crisis, you are facing opposition, you are facing criticism], he quickly falls away.
This is what Matthew tells us. He gives us a little more detail. In Mark 4:16-17, we read Marks account of this parable:
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
In other words, the moment you become a Christian, the moment you rejoice in Christ, I can guarantee you, the devil will make life hard for you. The question is, can you endure it? Will you hold on? Unfortunately, this group the shallow heart does not hold on. Outwardly, they look all right. For a while theres a great response, but that response is only a covering. Beneath is solid rock which cannot stand persecution and opposition so you give up.
That moves us to the third soil. I would like to emphasize the third soil because I believe the greatest danger we face as Christians is the third soil. Look at Luke 8:7:
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.
Verse 14, the application:
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by lifes worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
Have you seen the progression? Jesus is describing not only four groups of people but hes describing a progression. The first soil, which is the hard heart, the seed is snatched away immediately. The second soil the seed germinates, but it does not last very long; it dies suddenly. The third seed goes one step further. It germinates; it shows life; it even shows some development. There is a promise but it never reaches maturity. The seed got in; the seed went down but it could not develop fully and produce fruit, because there was a rival crop. Something came in and choked the good news out of that person.
One day a young boy, 13 or 14 years old, a young teenager, was returning home from school. This is up in the highlands of Kenya, called Keyse. He was dissatisfied with his religion. He was a Roman Catholic and he was dissatisfied with the rituals. It brought him no joy, no peace, no hope. He was returning home at sundown. The sun set and it was getting dark. He looked up and he prayed, God, is there not something better than this? Is this the way that You want me to go, simply following rituals or is there a better way? Can you lead me to it? He was praying while he was walking, and suddenly as he was walking out in the country there on the pathway, he saw a little piece of paper torn away from a magazine. He looked at it and he picked it up. It was just a small piece of paper and all it had was an address on it. He did not know what that address meant, but it was the address of the Review and Herald. How that paper got there, he does not know to this day, because the nearest Adventist church was 50 miles away. There were no Adventists living there.
But there was this little piece of paper torn from the Review with the address, and he felt impressed that God was answering his prayer so he wrote a letter to the Review and Herald. He said, I dont know who you are or what you publish, but I have a great burden, and he explained his story. Could you help me if you have any material or books that will teach me how to walk the way of God and give me some Bible lessons? The Review and Herald published his letter, and you dear people from this country flooded him with literature: Signs of the Times, Message Magazines, Bible Readings for the Home all kinds of books. So much so that the officer at the post office called this boy and said, Would you please tell these people to stop sending? Youre cluttering our post office. It was a small post office in a little village out there.
Well, he took this material and he read it and he studied his Bible and gave his heart to the Lord. He accepted the teachings of this church. Then he began to teach others, and within a year he had 50 people who had joined him and they were worshipping every Sabbath. Then he discovered that there was an Adventist church in that district and he got the address of the headquarters. He wrote to them saying, Can you send a pastor? We have 50 people to be baptized. The President said to one of the pastors, You go, and please check. I dont think they are ready for baptism. But when the pastor came and examined them, they knew their Bibles; they knew everything. So he had a great baptism service.
The young boy went to his father just like the prodigal son, and said, Father, I want my inheritance now. The Keyses are mainly farmers and the parents divide the land among the sons, so this boy got the piece of land that was designated for him. He did not sell it and spend the money on himself. He took this land and he built a church and donated it to the cause of God. Then when he finished his primary education he came to our secondary school and then he went to college. Thats where I met him. He took theology and he graduated. He came to Uganda because our theology course was offered at our college there. Very sincere; I wont say very highly academic, but he was very sincere and very dedicated. He was determined to be a great worker for God. What wonderful promises.
Just after he graduated he saw an ad in the newspaper from the University of Nairobi, offering scholarships even in the department of theology. He said, Now I can get some more education free of charge. So he saw me one day and he said, Do you think that I should apply? And I said, No. He asked me why. I said, Because I happen to know the professor of the department of theology there, and he is very liberal. But he did not understand what I meant. He thought I did not want him to progress in education, so he applied and got the scholarship.
There he was exposed to what is hitting a lot of our young people: the historical, critical method of studying the Bible, where the mind is elevated above revelation, where human experience is made the measuring stick of truth. Gradually, he became intellectual and he began to look at the Bible as written by some poor old people thousands of years ago who did not have much intelligence and did not live in the scientific age.
He began throwing his books away, one by one. He left the church and worked for the government as a teacher. I visited him and he said, Ah, this is something for my mother and father who are uneducated, who cannot read and write. You are now talking to an educated man. What a tragedy! The seed had been sown; it had germinated; it had developed. But sad to say, something came in and choked out the life of the gospel in this young boy.
Do you read what the text says? Cares, riches, and pleasures. We are living in a country where we are always bombarded with this. Young people, you are always bombarded. Once I took a week of prayer and four girls came to see me. They were all seniors and they said, Pastor, this is the first time in our four years at this academy that weve had a week of prayer where the speaker spoke from the Word of God. I asked, What did the others do? Well, they tried to entertain us. I am not here to entertain you, because the devil is here to entertain you. There is nothing wrong enjoying or having a good time but it is wrong when you allow the cares, the pleasures, and the riches of this world to snatch away the life of the gospel in you.
We are told in the Bible (Ephesians 4:30):
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
This is one of the greatest temptations in this country. We dont have these temptations in communist countries where your life is in danger all the time, where you struggle to survive. But in a country where we have lots of material things, there is great danger.
I am going to be honest with you. According to a very conservative report, it is estimated that there is a minimum of two million former Seventh-day Adventists living in the North American Division. They were once members of the church, and this, of course, is true, unfortunately, of all other denominations. People are leaving the churches. They are leaving Christ because they think the world is a better place. Their life is choked out and this is the greatest danger we face in this part of the world.
Now I want to go to the fourth soil. The same seed is sown in the good soil. Here we have a wonderful picture of the good soil. We have seen the first soil is a hard heart. The second soil is a shallow heart. The third soil is a divided heart, where the seed lacks room for growth. But now we have an open heart that is receptive, a heart that is teachable, a heart that is submissive.
Here is the difference between legalism and the gospel. Legalism is only concerned with outward conformity and outward performance. The gospel does not begin with the outward performance. It goes deep down to the very core of your being, the heart, the inner man, and it transforms the heart. And then it begins to grow, and eventually, outwardly it produces the fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering. That is what Christ is looking for in every believer.
Lets look at the words of Jesus Christ. Turn to John 15. Christianity is not simply a mental assent to truth. Christianity is the power of God in your life. Christianity demands that, if it has taken a hold in you, and is growing in you, and controlling you, it has to bear fruit. There is no maybe. Of course, Luke says a hundredfold, but if you look at the other accounts of this parable you will notice that it says thirtyfold some, sixtyfold others, and some a hundredfold.
In John 15:5, Jesus is speaking:
I am the vine...
Remember, Christ is the Word of God, the seed that is sown.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit...
This is the open heart. Such a believer bears much fruit. It may be thirtyfold, it may be sixtyfold, it may be a hundredfold but it will always bear much fruit.
...apart from me you can do nothing.
In other words, Without Me, you cannot bear fruit, for without Me, you can do nothing.
Now look at John 15:6:
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
This is the tragedy of the third soil because it germinates, it develops, but it never grows to maturity. It ends up in the fire. John 15:7:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you...
The question is not whether you have heard the Word. The question is not whether you have received the Word. The ultimate question is: Is the Word abiding in you? Is it controlling you? Are you saying, Not I, but Christ? Thats the question.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
And by the way, when the Word abides in you, you will never ask anything for yourself, or for egocentric concern. You will ask what David asked (Psalm 51:10):
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
God, give me Your grace that I may witness for You. Give me Your love that I may reflect Your love.
Those are the kind of desires that come into you when the Word abides in you. Ellen G. White tells us His desires will be our desires, His thoughts will be our thoughts, His ambitions will be our ambitions. Why? Because the Word of God is abiding in you. John 15:8:
This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Jesus said in John 13:35:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
This is what Christ is looking for. He is looking for a people who are manifesting a life that is fruitful. When God gave the gospel first to the Jews, it was His plan and His desire that the Jews would lighten the earth with the knowledge of the God of Heaven. But after 1,500 years, Jesus could say to them (Matthew 23:37-38),
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.
Then He gave the gospel commission to the early Christian Church. We are now living 2,000 years later, and yet Revelation 18:1 has not been fulfilled. What does it say there?
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.
I want to conclude with what Gods plan is for each one of us. This is Gods desire for this church. I would like to read two texts, both from the Old Testament, both pointing to Gods ideal for each one of us, and for His church but which was never fulfilled among the Jews. It is my prayer that it will be fulfilled in the Christian church. The first one is Ezekiel 20:41. Listen to this:
I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will show myself holy among you in the sight of the nations.
The Amplified Bible version brings it out so clearly:
I will manifest My holiness among you in the sight of the nations [who will seek Me because of My power displayed in you].
Isnt that wonderful? That is what God wants to do. He wants this Church to bear fruit, and to display His power to a perishing world.
The other text is found in Micah 4:1-2:
The Mountain of the LORD.
In the last days the mountain of the LORDs temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
The Living Bible translations also puts it nicely:
But in the last days, Mount Zion, [which is the symbol of the Church] will be the most renowned of all the mountains of the world.
What Micah is saying is that the Christian Church will be the most noted one, the most famous one among all the other religions of the world. They will be praised by all nations. They will be renowned; they will be known and they will be praised.
Do you know why? Because the request that was made by the famous pagan philosopher Nietzche, will finally be fulfilled. Nietzche was the son of a Lutheran pastor who gave up Christianity to become an atheist. He was a great philosopher. Do you know what he said to the Christian church? If you expect me to believe in your Redeemer, you Christians will have to look a lot more redeemed. As long as there is jealousy, as long as there is distrust, as long as there is backbiting, we are not displaying the power of the Word in our lives.
The question that I am asking you today is: Which soil do you belong to: the hard heart, the shallow heart, the divided heart, or the open heart? Remember that when Jesus said, He that has ears let him hear, He was saying, You hearers can decide which of the four soils you would like to be. You can choose.
If you have been the first three in the past, may God give you the grace to say, Now I dont want to be the hard heart; I dont want to be the shallow heart; I dont want to be the divided heart. I want to be the open heart because the open heart is the one whose Christianity endures unto the end. If you read the parable, if you read Luke 8:l4-l5, you will notice, it bears fruit with patience. When people accept the gospel, dont expect to see a transformation outwardly immediately. It takes time for the Word to come out to the top. Give them a chance to grow. But ultimately it is my prayer that this church will lighten the world with the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.