Matthew 13:1-23 Part 1

This is an introductory sermon to the subject of parables in general, and the parable of the sower in particular – a parable which has to do with the Sovereignty of God and the state of men’s hearts.  What happens way down there in the deepest recesses – the darkest places, the most secret places – of the “psuche” (the self) when the Word is preached?  The Word of God is a two-edged Sword – sharp and swift to pierce even down to the separation of bone and marrow, soul and body – does it always have an effect?  Does it always have the same effect?  What are the mysteries here?  What are the mysteries of the Kingdom?

Our Biblical presupposition with which we begin is this – “God does what man can’t do!”  God works by His Spirit through His Word to bring sinful men – dead men (and women and children) – to repentance and faith.  And it is a gift of God!  “Unto you it is given to believe on Him,” writes Paul in Philippians one, verse twenty-nine.  “By grace are you saved through faith,” he tells the Ephesians, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  And Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, writes, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”  You and I can’t make sinners repent and believe in Christ by our words; but God works faith and repentance in men’s hearts by His Holy Spirit, through His Words!  We must be faithful in making the Gospel known, while, at the same time, being sure that such labor will never be in vain.  But there is no magic in methods!  When we speak God’s Words to others, our trust must be in God Who raises the dead in Christ.  He is the Almighty Who turns men’s hearts, and He will bring men to Himself in His Own time….  That is a certainty; and it ought to give us great confidence when we’re preaching and teaching and counseling and exhorting others to turn from sin and believe Jesus.

And that confidence should give us great boldness, shouldn’t it?  So often we find that people’s first reaction to our approach concerning Christ is apathy – or even contempt.  And that shouldn’t surprise us at all!  It’s only to be expected from those who are bond-slaves to sin.  Neither should we be discouraged.  Our first reaction to being ignored, or to being mocked, is embarrassment and a sinking of the heart.  And we become discouraged.  But that has to be put down and defeated, because of that great confidence we have in God as He gives to men as He wills!  When we meet rejection, it isn’t a rejection of us – but it’s a rejection of Christ!  We bring the Words concerning the greatest gift to men – the Gospel of salvation!  But it is God Who gives the gift of faith and repentance.  And there’s no other reason, other than our own sin of faithlessness to His Word, there’s no other reason why our confidence in Him should not result in boldness in speaking his Word.

And that confidence ought not only to give us boldness, but it ought to give us patience as well.  We shouldn’t be disheartened when we find that our efforts are met with no immediate response.  God will bring men to Himself in His Own time!  By His Spirit and through His Word!  And we ought not to think that He’s in as much of a hurry as we are!

We live in a modern time in which we want to see quick results; and that’s very pragmatic, isn’t it?  We want immediate results, because it’s our labor!  We’re impatient towards everything that takes time and sustained effort!  And we resent spending time doing things thoroughly.  And when things don’t proceed, we’re likely to lose interest and go do something else.  But that’s a deadly mistake with reference to speaking God’s Word to others.  God doesn’t promise results – at least not according to our time-tables.  What He does promise is that your labors in the Word are not in vain, and that He will give faith and repentance to whomever He will!  And that takes the pressure off of you to produce results, certainly quick results, and it provides more reserves for perseverance and love and care about those around you!  The idea that one five-minute conversation about Christ that’s of a very serious nature will cause men and women and children to be driven to their knees in soul-wrenching confession isn’t realistic Biblically!  And when it doesn’t happen, it’s not your place to consider it a failure!  The work of bringing the Words of God to bear on society demands patience and tenacity – knowing that God’s promises will, of a surety, be remembered every time.  Patience.

And also, not only does this confidence give us boldness and patience, but it must also spring forth in prayer.  Remember our teaching on prayer, and the examples that are provided every Lord’s Day – one of the key components is confessing our helplessness and dependence, and begging God to do what we cannot do.  And, as we saw a minute or two ago, we are impotent as we approach others with the Word of the Kingdom!  We depend wholly on God to do with our witness what He wills.  He is able to give people new hearts, and we can’t!  Not even if we say everything right!

And these things ought to drive us to our knees in prayer for those to whom we’ve spoken – and to beg God for others to whom we might speak His Words.  James says, “You have not, because you ask not.”  You see, God intends for us to pray.  And He very likely will withhold blessings until we start to pray!  He tells us to recognize and confess our impotence, and to tell Him that we rely on Him alone, and plead with Him to glorify His Name!

And, you see, when God does begin to grant faith and repentance through our efforts, then we won’t be tempted to be proud of our own gifts and our own persuasiveness and our own wisdom!  Do you see that?  If we confess to Him that we are unable to deliver even one soul from hell, then when God does it, we can’t claim that we did it!  And we’ll know the One to Whom thanks should be given that someone has entered into the Kingdom of the Heavens.

And one other thing that we ought to see along these same lines is that it is in abject opposition to the Gospel that, as many say, prayer is not very useful because of the sovereignty of God!  It is many of these same ones who also say that, because God is Sovereign, preaching of the Gospel is needless!  But Scripture doesn’t indicate that at all – it is the imagination of the depraved hearts of men!

Rather, the Bible says that because of the Sovereignty of God, prayer for our discipling efforts, yea, all our efforts, is all the more necessary!  And it is for this reason that we, as reformation people, believing as we do in the Sovereignty of Almighty God, ought to be constant and faithful and earnest and persistent in prayer that God’s blessing might accompany our boldness in speaking His Word to the world.  And that we might be patient in persevering love for the world that God might turn all men to Himself – for His glory and fame in all the universe.

Now.  I think all that needed to be said – especially in the light of what we’re about to hear from the parable of the sower concerning the deception in the hearts of men.  But first, there are additional introductory remarks which need to be made, because we are about to enter a totally different genre of literature than anything we’ve heretofore seen!

We don’t know exactly how far into the three-year manifestation of God’s Son to the world they first appear in His teaching, (perhaps a year and a half) but this is the first written account of Jesus speaking in parables.  And it is very significant!  When we get to the text, the first thing I want to do is to cover the reasons why Jesus spoke in parables – one of the reasons given being written in our text this morning, which is in verses ten through seventeen.  But, before that, we need to spend some time on the subject of parables themselves so that we’ll know something about this new form of speaking that Matthew has recorded for us in the inspired text.

Now, what we need to know first is that parables are not allegories; they’re not metaphors; they’re not similes; and they’re not riddles!  For various reasons – technical reasons – parables don’t fit into any of those categories.  And it wouldn’t be especially edifying to go into all those reasons, since they’re mostly distinctions in literature types.  But what we do need to know is that neither the apostles, nor the Church after them, continued the practice!  Other than the parables of Jesus, there are none recorded in the New Testament Scripture, and there are none extant in the literature of the early Church!  It’s as if the apostles and the early Church fathers knew that the reason Jesus spoke in parables was discontinued – abrogated.  And as we’ll find out shortly, that is the case.  And they probably recognized that the parables of our Lord had an unmatched glory – in their simplicity – and that any attempt to continue preaching and teaching in that form was not only unwarranted theologically, but that it was fruitless to try to match them in any way.

The Greek word Paraballo means, in its literal translation, “to set side by side.”  Literally, a comparison.  But it will help us to understand Jesus’ speaking “parabolically,” and the very high significance of that form of speaking, if we consider the ground upon which His parabolic instruction rests.

Because that ground, or foundation, is not dependant upon the fact that the parables are different, or that it is an unusual form of literature, or that they are pleasurable to read, or that it’s a good way to instruct people!  It is certainly true that Jesus chose as the subjects of His parables the common, every day matters of living – such as, seeds and wheat and leaven, and children, and servants and friends and judges and sheep and money and eating and labor and marriage – just to name some of them.

But the power of His parabolic speaking doesn’t rest in the fact the he used the matters of life in His parables.  The mighty power of His parables consists in the truth that the whole of God’s creation and His sovereign providence over it, the whole constitution of human life and the providential regulation over each individual and the progress of society in history, spring from this One God; and all of it is maintained by Him.  This is His Kingdom!

The glorious richness of the parables causes everything we see to be transfigured before us – in that they aren’t merely what they are to our physical eyes, but that everything is pregnant with a much fuller meaning!

I’ve mentioned it one or twice before that Christian people need to see, automatically, as we go about life, the Providential loving care of God in everything around us – from the spheres of the heavenly bodies all the way to the workings of the most finite creatures; and to see meaning in them all!  Meaning – because a thinking, self-conscious God has produced them all with meticulous handiwork!  And He has reasons for it all – and His reasons are discernible to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear!  And they all have meaning – a meaning which is beyond their existence, and the meaning is given to them by God!

The parables of Jesus have a richer light to the eyes of faith.  And this is the ground upon which rests their power.  Beneath the outward everyday things of life there are greater realities!  Beneath the visible and mundane there is cosmic significance!  Beneath the temporal and special there is the government of God – there is a reasoning, working, caring, loving God Who is epistemologically aware of Himself and every detail of His creation, and Who is proceeding in history.

And everywhere we look – and everything we hear – and all that we know – everywhere we find the same perfections of God’s Being, and the same operations of His government appear!  When reading the parables with open eyes, we feel ourselves placed in the midst of a grand harmonious Divine government – a Theocracy!  And everything springs from Him and redounds to Him!

And all of these things are just constantly and naturally flowing from the lips of Jesus.  And they are suggested by the most simple and common-place incidents of every-day life.  Jesus saw, and spoke, the comparisons of eternal truth connected with these things – side by side!

By the sowing of seed – in our text this morning; in the reaping of the harvest; in the poor woman who can’t leaven her dough; the gardener and the fruitless fig tree; the fisherman drawing his net; the shepherd in search of his sheep; the laborer standing idle in the market; the steward in an account of his stewardship; the rich man building new barns; the judge administering justice; the king making feast for his son; the Pharisees going to the temple to pray.  All these things… and more!

And, you see, when Jesus observes these common things, such as a farmer broadcasting seed into his field, He looks at that, and He sees His Father’s Kingdom.  And the seed being cast into the field is the Word of God being preached!  With Divine Wisdom, our Lord sees the Divine government, a perception which we called earlier a pregnant fullness, in the commonplace activity of sowing seed!

And as we read His words here, we, too, are to learn that in Christ alone we are taught to behold in everything the tokens of the presence and government of the Father.  It is first taught here, in the parables, in its fullness, by Jesus!  He is, in actuality, exhibiting our faith in living reality.  So that, as we live in Him, we, too, may begin to see the pregnant fullness in all the common things in life, and to recognize the authority and presence and government of Almighty God – His meaning! 

This is the power of the parables – in all their simplicity.  And in our context this morning, it is given to some to hear and see and know these things.  And to some it has not been given.  They’re left in their willful sin and depravity – and even the parables themselves are used to dull their ears and shut their eyes to these great mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

Just a bit about the interpretation of the parables before we go to the text.  There is a context for the parables (which we’ve already touched on).  And that context is just as important as the context for any other passage.  There may not be an immediate precipitant – such as a question or an incident – (like the text this morning), but that just makes the broad context that much more important, doesn’t it?

Also, of all the parables Jesus spoke He interpreted only two; this one and the next one – the wheat and the tares.  And although He provides us with Divine insight into greater reality only in the broadest terms, it still gives us a lot of information about how we ought to interpret His parables.

And one of those principles of interpretation is that each parable has one leading idea to which all its parts are subordinate.  A common-place event stimulates the Divine mind of Christ, and immediately He thinks of an eternal truth having to do with God’s government of the world – and all its individuals and all its societies.  And we have to try to determine exactly what that is – and subordinate all the information to that one perception of things that our Lord has.  And I can’t tell you how critical that process is, because no passage of Scripture has ever been treated as fancifully as have the parables of Jesus.  I suppose that the “other-worldly” richness of the parables sets the imaginations free in people, and far-fetched and ridiculous allegories are constructed.  We must avoid that.  What did Jesus perceive?

Now, we’ve only got time to introduce the text this morning, and it’s very important that we begin in the middle, because that’s where the context is located.  Jesus is asked a question by His apostles, verse ten, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  And Jesus’ answer to them was that He was confirming God’s promise through the prophecy of Isaiah.  Well, what’s the prophecy of Isaiah?  Let me read it for you.  Isaiah chapter six, verses nine and ten:


And he said, ‘Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.  Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they sea with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.’”


You’ll notice immediately that this is the initial encounter with the Lord when Isaiah was commissioned as a prophet.  And his job was to go out and preach – in order that the ears of the people would be heavy; that their eyes would be shut; and their hearts would be made fat, or dull, and Isaiah asked, “How long?”  And what did God answer?  “Until all the cities are destroyed and nothing’s left except the stump of the tree” – which is the Holy Seed!

That’s the context of our passage this morning – the continuation of the blinding of Israel until God destroyed them for their blindness.  And Israel was destroyed in 70 A.D. as prophesied, and they were cut off from the covenant of God.  And what remained was the stump – the stalk of the covenant promises of God – in Christ!  Our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to the world, and the destruction of that old covenant nation was a first and necessary step, so that all the pagan, Gentile nations might receive the Gospel.  Their eyes were darkened – and they were destroyed – so that we pagan Gentiles might be saved.  And He even went so far as to offer Himself as a blood sacrifice so that His Father’s wrath towards us might be satisfied, so that we might not be eternally abandoned.

And the Gospel did go to us Gentiles – into every culture; and those of us who belong to Him and live in Him can now see with our eyes and hear with our ears and perceive with the heart, the mysteries of the Kingdom of the Heavens and it is received as a Gift.  We can see the glorious government of God over His entire creation, even in the common things of life; such as sowing seed.  We see the Word of God being preached and taught in the world.  And in some – those whom God brings to Himself in Christ – bring forth fruit – righteousness, holiness, wisdom, love, kindness, gentleness insight, obedience, humility, forgiveness, self-perception, and knowledge of God in Christ Jesus the Lord.

We’ll get deeply into the parable of the sower next Lord’s Day.  Please read it a number of times in preparation – and ponder what your long-term response has been to the sowing of the Seed of the Gospel.