Parable of the Sower #1
(Luke 8:1-18)

Last time we discussed Jesus being anointed by the sinful woman, and how Simon the Pharisee learned a lesson, we hope, in being judgmental. Tonight we are beginning Luke chapter 8, starting with the Parable of the Sower. You may have heard many sermons on this passage, but try to get a new light on it tonight.

Jesus is becoming very popular and is continuing his ministry of preaching and healing.

Luke 8:1-3 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

This passage shows a rare glimpse into Jesus’ personal life and the people who accompanied him on his second journey through Galilee from one village to another. The "Twelve" were the 12 apostles of course, including Judas who later betrayed Jesus.

Jesus was also accompanied by several women, three of which are mentioned by name, who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases, and were helping to support Jesus out of their own pocket books.

This statement, along with a few other hints of support from friends, indicates that Jesus did not resort to His miraculous powers to care for His own physical needs. Jesus and His disciples took no money for healing and teaching, but grateful people gave them food, money, hospitality and service.

Now this was definitely an unusual arrangement to say the least, for women to accompany a non-family group on a journey, wandering from here to there. But it was unheard of for a rabbi to allow women to travel with Him as disciples.

These women must have been of independent means, and had an unusual level of freedom for that day. Some of these women were among Jesus’ most faithful followers. They stood by Him at the time of the crucifixion when even the apostles fled.

And they were indeed unusual women. Mary of Magdala, called Madalene, had seven demons cast out of her. Despite being considered immoral, the Gospels do not support this conclusion. We are not told what her sins were or what sorts of demons were cast out. But after her deliverance she was a faithful follower of Jesus and was granted the privilege of being the first to see Jesus after His resurrection.

Herod Antipas, of course, was the Judean King, and Herod’s steward, Cuza was responsible for taking care of Herod’s household. His wife, Joanna meaning "Jehovah is a gracious giver", was an important lady, but still took the time to follow Jesus. She was also present when Jesus was resurrected. All we know of Susannah, meaning "a lily", however, is this brief reference.

Luke 8:4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:

What is a parable? A parable is a story using familiar scenes of everyday life, that is a reference to a corresponding spiritual reality. It is not a point by point allegory, in which every element has a hidden meaning; rather it is like an anecdote in that it has a particular point to be made.

In the Greek it is parabole {par-ab-ol-ay'} meaning a placing of one thing by the side of another, a comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude, an example by which a doctrine or precept is illustrated, a narrative, fictitious but agreeable to the laws and usages of human life, by which either the duties of men or the things of God, particularly the nature and history of God's kingdom are figuratively portrayed, parable: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a pithy and instructive saying, involving some likeness or comparison and having perceptive or admonitory force .

Edersheim in "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" says that "Parables are the outlined shadows – large, perhaps, and dim – as the light of heavenly things falls on well-known scenes, which correspond to and have their higher counterpart in spiritual realities…Thus things in heaven and earth are kindred, and the one may become to us Parables of the other… a scene from nature or from life serves as basis for exhibiting the corresponding spiritual reality." (p.582-3)

A parable is like a joke in that it has a "punch line" identifiable to the people hearing it, which will cause them to respond, possibly with laughter, and a change of heart. As in the parable we studied last week about the two debtors, Simon "got it" right away, Jesus said he had judged "correctly", but Simon needed a little help in applying its’ spiritual meaning.

Jesus typically sets up an ordinary situation, then gives it an unexpected twist. In order to "get it", we have to know something of the culture of the day. The reason that many people today find so many hidden meanings in parables is that they don’t understand the culture and give ordinary things super-spiritual meanings.

According to John Wade in "Dear Theophilus", "A parable has been defined as "an earthly story with a heavenly truth" Each parable served at least one of three purposes. First, it might be used to illuminate a spiritual truth that otherwise would elude the understanding of Jesus' listeners."

"Second, it might help a learner remember the truth longer or more accurately. "

"The third reason that Jesus used parables paradoxically was to conceal the truth. Jesus knew that people needed an intellectual challenge in order to grow spiritually."

"We understand better and appreciate more those things we have to labor to acquire. Used in this way parables served as a tool to divide the sincere seekers after truth from those too lazy or too hostile to seek truth beyond the surface level."

From this point on, Jesus teaches almost exclusively in parables. The audience is supposed to identify with the points of reference in each parable.

Wade tells us that: "Luke does not make it clear where Jesus spoke this parable, but the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark indicate that it was on he shore of the Sea of Galilee. There the crowd so pressed upon Him that He got into a boat and rowed out a few feet from the shore. His boat became His pulpit. Sitting in it He was able to teach the crowd most effectively."

Mark 4:1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. [see also Matthew 13:1-2]

The parable of the sower was designed to separate the sincere believer from the casual follower. Jesus was very popular at this time, and had "hangers on" who were there for the notoriety of the signs and wonders.

Here Jesus begins a parable about an ordinary farmer, an everyday sight in Biblical Palestine, which not only separated the serious from the shallow, but also was a picture of their different responses to Him:

Luke 8:5 "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.

To "sow seed" means to broadcast or throw seed out into a field. It was customary in Biblical days to sow the seed first and then plow the soil. Roads and pathways crisscrossed through many small fields and the traffic made the soil too hard for the seed to take root.

Wade says: "Most of a field was broken up by plowing, but some of the seed broadcast by he sower would fall upon the paths that were packed hard by constant use. There it was not hidden in crevices as it was on the plowed ground." As the seed was lying exposed, the birds ate it up. So the sower got no harvest from that seed.

This reminds me of Psalms 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. We can only hide God’s Word in our hearts if the soil is plowed up to receive it.

Luke 8:6-7 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.

Some fell on rocky ground, and the plants could not push roots down into the soil to find moisture. Wade says: "Some seed fell on the rock; that is, a thin layer of soil on top of the underlying rock. Much of the soil in Palestine was like this, thin and unproductive."

"Seed sown in this shallow soil would quickly sprout, and it would even grow during the winter rainy season; but as soon as the rain stopped and the warm sun came out, the immature plants withered and died. "They had no moisture" because the shallow soil became dry right down to the rock."

Other seed fell among baby thorn plants. Although the good seed took root and grew, the thorns grew faster and choked out the good plants. Wade says: "Every farmer knows the bane of thorns and weeds, which always to spring up more quickly than do the good seeds. Thorns may have been perennials whose tops died back in winter but which quickly sprang to life from the roots once spring came."

Luke 8:8 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."

Jesus concludes the parable by telling of seed that fell on good soil, put down roots, grew and flourished, and yielded a crop a hundred times more than was sown. Matthew and Mark report that the yield was 30, 60 or a 100 fold.

Mark 4: 8 "Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."

Ok, so this is a very simple story about a common every day sight. Then Jesus called out, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear". Wade says: "Here He was suggesting that this parable had a deeper meaning that would yield itself to those who paid attention with an open mind."

In Luke 8:8 the Greek word used in "Jesus called out" was phoneo {fo-neh'-o} meaning to cry out or aloud, to call, to send for, summon , to invite, to address, accost, call by a name. It was a loud cry, both an invitation and a challenge to HEAR.

Well duh, everyone was listening weren’t they? Didn’t they understand the simple story about a farmer, who had good luck with some of the seed he sowed and bad luck with others? And the moral was, watch where you throw your seeds, right? Don’t waste seeds on beaten paths, in thorn patches or in rocky ground. It’s bad to waste good seed, right, wasn’t that the point?

Now this parable seems plain to us, because the meaning has been revealed and recorded for us. But try to imagine hearing the verses for the first time and puzzling over them. What did a farmer have to do with Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching and healing?

Luke 8:9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. Apparently, the meaning wasn’t clear to the disciples either, or they felt that this simple explanation wasn’t enough to merit Jesus calling out that they needed to HEAR what He was saying.

Mark says that the disciples asked Him privately what the meaning was. Mark 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.

Wade comments that: "Their question gave Jesus a chance to explain why He used parables. The time had come in His ministry to separate the serious disciples from the casual curiosity seekers. This was His way of challenging His followers to seek the deeper meaning of His teaching. Then He quoted from Isaiah who, even as God commissioned him to preach, was warned that most of the people would not heed him."

Luke 8:10 He said, "The knowledge of the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, `though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.' "

Jesus was beginning to receive much opposition to His teaching, and the Pharisees were "dogging him" to try to entrap Him and cause Him to fall. What Jesus began to teach openly was accepted by some, but rejected by others. This shift in His teaching to parables was to make the secrets of God’s kingdom plain to believers, but unclear to those who opposed His teaching and even accused Him of being demon possessed.

Secrets here in the Greek is musterion {moos-tay'-ree-on} from a derivative of muo (to shut the mouth) meaning a hidden thing, secret, mystery, not obvious to the understanding, a hidden purpose or counsel. Concerning God, mysteries are the secret counsels that govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly.

As Edersheim states: "As the light from heaven falls on earthly objects, the shadows are cast. But our perception of them, and its mode, depend on the position which we occupy relative the that Light" (p. 585).

`Though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.' Is a quote from Isaiah 6:9-10: He said, "Go and tell this people: "`Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

Make the heart of this people callused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." What do you think this means?

Wade comments: "Then He quoted from Isaiah who, even as God commissioned him to preach, was warned that most of the people would not heed him. In Isaiah's day, most of the people had hardened their hearts against his message from God. His further proclamation of that message served only to further harden their hearts. By quoting this passage from the prophet, Jesus seemed to be saying that many of the people who had heard Him had hardened their hearts in same way."

The parable of the sower had a "key" that was not revealed to the unbeliever, and this key "unlocked" the meaning to the parable for the disciple. Luke 8:11 "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.

Now we are beginning to see that this message is more than agricultural advice! It is a picture of the kingdom of God and how it operates. The original sower of the Word (seed) is Jesus, but also applies to those who would follow, and give forth the Word of Life. The motive of the sower is to harvest a crop, so the intent of a minister of God’s Word is to harvest a crop of believers, up to 100 times the original seed sown.

To achieve this harvest, the sower broadcasts the seed, the Word of God, into every conceivable corner of the field. The seed is thrown out, and the harvest achieved depends on the type of soil that receives the seed.

Luke 8:12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

The seed that is sown in the pathways does not result in a harvest, because although the Gospel is preached and heard by them, the devil comes immediately and steals the Word from them, so that they do not grow faith and are saved. The birds of the air are usually symbols of evil, and represent the devil stealing the Word.

To "take away" here is airo {ah'-ee-ro} meaning to bear away what has been raised, carry off, to move from its place, to take off or away what is attached to anything, to remove, to carry off, carry away with one, to appropriate what is taken, to take away from another what is his or what is committed to him, to take by force, to take from among the living, either by a natural death, or by violence, or to cause to cease.

So the word airo here used of what the devil does to the Word, has the connotation of forcefully stealing and killing the effect of the Word in your heart. Like thieving birds that come to steal your crop before it can take root, the devil snatches the Word out of your heart so it cannot save you.

Believe here is pisteuo {pist-yoo'-o} to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in, used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul, to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith.

The hearer whose heart is hardened soil, beaten down by being trod upon by many feet cannot come to a conviction and persuasion and confidence in the Lord Jesus as savior because the devil steals the Word from the impacted soil of his heart.

What are some of the reasons why men reject the word of God without ever really giving it a chance to take root in their lives?

Wade comments: "Some reject it because they reject the messenger himself. Others have become so callused by the world that nothing spiritual seems able to penetrate their defenses. But even though the devil comes quickly to snatch the word away, Jesus did not excuse these people for their rejection of it. No person can escape his responsibility to respond to God's message."

Luke 8:13 Those on the rock 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.

The seed sown on the rocky soil represent those who joyously receive the Word of God, believe, trust, and place confidence in it and are saved, but they do not develop root. Notice that the enemy does not plant rocks in their lives, the rocks are already there.

And since they do not "plow up the fallow soil" of their hearts, and let the Holy Spirit rid them of the hard places, the Word cannot really root itself deep. When the hot blasts of persecution and testing come, they are unable to obtain the life giving moisture from the Lord, and they wither and die – fall away.

Testing here is peirasmos {pi-ras-mos'} meaning the trial of man's fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy, an external or internal enticement to sin, temptation, or to a lapse from the faith and holiness; or an adversity, affliction, trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one's character, faith, and holiness.

What are some of the stones we can have in our hearts? How about rebellion, bitterness, unforgiveness, disobedience or a vengeful spirit? All of these will prevent the Word from taking root and growing in our lives.

Luke 8:14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

The seed among thorns is another group of believers who hear, take root and grow, but then are smothered out by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. Now we can see how life’s worries can choke us to death – most of our diseases are anxiety-based. But wait, the goal of our society is to get rich and have pleasure!

How can these things be bad? How can they choke out the Word of God?

Luke 8:15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The fourth type of soil is the good soil – a noble and good heart, who hear, retain and persevere to produce a crop. This is a summary of the successful Christian life: hear the Word, retain it, and persevere to the end – plow up the stones, pull up the weeds, nurture the seed, and eventually produce a crop, 30, 60 or 100 fold as Matthew and Mark record. We all do not yield the same fruit.

Now let’s summarize what the parable means. First of all remember that Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." And in verse 18 Jesus says, "Therefore consider carefully how you listen." So this parable’s emphasis is on four types of HEARERS of the Word. Now the crowds were listening to Jesus words, but did they HEAR what He was saying? No, Jesus had to explain it to even His disciples.

The first type of hearer can’t GRASP what the Word is saying. The seed sown in wayside refers to a lack of understanding, and satan easily steals the seed which is eaten by the birds of the air.

What are some things that will make us incapable of grasping or understanding the meaning of the Word?

Trying to understand the Gospel on an intellectual level only – if it doesn’t fit into your thought processes, it is rejected. Trying to understand the Gospel on a "religious" level – that is, depending on your own works to save you or bring you merit with God. Being deceived or under demonic bondage can blind you to the Word. Also living for the flesh can keep you from receiving the Word – you’re not ready to "quit having fun yet".

The second type of hearer is unable to GRIP the Word. Although it is received with joy, this type of hearer doesn’t hold on to what he has heard and put down deep roots. Other things, like bitterness, rebellion, vengefulness, disobedience, and unforgiveness, represent stony ground in which the seed germinates, but has no root development, and the plant dies when tribulation and persecution rise up - are scorched and withered by the sun.

How do you keep your grip on the Word in times of testing, temptation and persecution?

The third type of hearer is unable to GROW mature fruit. The seed fallen among thorns was received and took root, but was choked by cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches, and does not bear fruit. Note that it does not say that the plant died, but it bears no fruit. Many "nominal" Christians are in this category.

How do we become productive and fruitful in the Christian life?

The fourth type of hearer GATHERS a harvest. The seed is received into good ground (GRASPED or understood), it grows deep roots that GRIP the ground and support it, it GROWS, and then GATHERS a harvest with up to a 100 fold yield.

So what type of hearer are you? Have you GRASPED the Gospel, comprehended it and accepted it in your life? Have you GRIPPED with deep roots into the soil of your heart and rid your field of the stones that would prevent growth? Have you matured and GROWN fruit? And have you GATHERED a harvest? You will be held accountable for how you HEAR the Word of God.


Remember, whenever God gives us a revelation, the devil tries to steal it from us. Guard your hearts and meditate on what you've learned!
And put it into practice!

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Original Lesson 12/14/98
Revised: May 03, 2001.