4While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 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. 6Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still 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."
9His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, "The knowledge of the secrets 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.'
11"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those 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. 13Those 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. 14The 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. 15But 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.
16"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him."
19Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."
21He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." (NIV)
1. Hardened hearts cannot receive the Word of God (v. 5, 12).
- Since many people walk along a path, the soil would inevitably become hardened - this represents a heart unreceptive to God's word.
- It should not surprise us that Satan has the ability to "take away" the word. This can be attributed to the power he has over the whole world and the people within it (2 Co 4:3-4; Eph 2:1-3)
2. Shallow hearts cannot receive the Word of God (v. 6, 13).
- The lack of moisture is due to the fact that the rocky places did not have much soil; therefore, even though the plants sprung up quickly, they did not firmly take root (Mt 13:5-6; Mk 4:5-6)
- Similarly, there are many who immediately receive the Word "with joy" (Mt 13:20-21, Mk 4:16-17), but when they go through trials and opposition, they reveal that they were never serious disciples to begin with. It's hard not to conclude that they were looking to the Word for little more than comfort, pleasure and/or deliverance.
3. Choked hearts cannot receive the Word of God (v. 7, 14).
- Choked, that is, by a life of worry, a life of pursuing riches, or a life of careless pleasure.
- Worrying people cannot receive God's word because they don't trust God with their lives or in their circumstances, like the people described by Christ in Matthew 6:31-32.
- What's more, worry is useless because people cannot control their lives any more through it (Mt 6:27).
- Pursuing riches is incompatible with pursuing God (Mt 6:24). Giving one's ultimate attention to money results in grief and heartache (1 Tim 6:10) for some, and for others, in a deluded mind that decides to take life easy, only to come face-to-face with God's judgment sooner or later (Ps 73; Lk 12:14-21).
4. Only open and sincere hearts can receive the Word of God, and produce spiritual fruit as a result (v. 8, 15).
- One might say regarding v. 15: "a noble and good heart? But I thought no one was good!" (Rom 3:10-18; Mk 7:20-23)
- A footnote from the NET bible is helpful here:
"Re: v. 39: In an ancient context, the qualifier "good" described the ethical person who possessed integrity. Here it is integrity concerning God's revelation through Jesus." (NET Bible)
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer 29:13)
Of course, some can only do this because of God's prior work in regenerating their hearts - making alive what was once dead (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Eph 2:4-7; Titus 3:3-7).
"by persevering, produce a crop" (v. 15) - the fruit-bearing life of a Christian is not without much struggle (Mt 26:41; Eph 6:10-18; Heb 12:1-13).
Discussion Question #1: In light of this passage, how would you assess your own fruitfulness? Even if you can confidently say that, by God's grace, you find yourself among "the good soil", in what ways would you benefit from hearing Christ's warnings about the reality of trials, and the dangers of worry, wealth and pleasure?
Discussion Question #2: How would reflection on this passage encourage you when you find that not everyone with whom you share God's Word responds equally well?
5. Parables have a way of capturing the attention of those who believe, while driving further away those do not (vv. 9-10).
6. Jesus commands all to be careful in how they hear the Word of God, because it functions as a light that reveals people's hearts for what they really are (vv. 16-18).
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" (Ps 139:7)
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb 4:13)
Discussion Question #3: What are some of the ways in which we can prepare ourselves to hear God's word, whether through, for example, a sermon, an audio message, a devotional time, etc.?
7. Jesus considers those who hear the Word of God, and put it into practice, to be His true family (vv. 19-21).
- This is not to say that Jesus didn't care about his own family, but that his work of the kingdom took priority over everything else - and his goal was to do nothing less than "purchase" a spiritual family of God with His own blood (Ac 20:28).
Discussion Question #4: What encourages you and challenges you about Jesus' words in verse 21?