Series 42


by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portions: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-9, 11-15

It is significant that in the four Gospels thirty-five of the Lord’s miracles and thirty-five of His parables are recorded! These parables, which are unique in all literature, are miracles of spiritual teaching: words “aptly spoken…” (Proverbs 25:11) by the Man of whom it was said – look up John 7:46. These parables are word-pictures; they are like “apples of gold in settings of silver” (against the silvery background of foliage).

What is a parable? It is an illustration – ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning‘ a story that is true to life and that is told in the form of a parable, to make the truth clearer and easier to understand. We should bear in mind three principles of interpretation: (1) each parable has one main message; (2) each parable has several secondary details, each of which has a spiritual meaning which is related to the main truth; (3) each parable has details that are necessary to complete the earthly story but which have no spiritual meaning.

This parable of the Farmer, the Seeds and the Soils was probably the first of the Lord’s parables, and it is certainly a foundation parable (Mark 4:13).


1. There are three important parts that need to be clearly understood.

The whole parable has to do with the Farmer, the seed, and the four kinds of soil into which the seed fell. (1) The Farmer is our Lord Himself. Look up Matthew 13:37. When He was here on earth He sowed the seed. Today He still sows the seed through all who faithfully preach His Word (1 Corinthians 3:6). (2) The Seed is the Word of God, consisting of the Gospel and of all the revealed truth of God. What a wonderful seed it is – look up 1 Peter 1:23! It is living and life-giving. (3) The Soil is the Human Heart. Four kinds of soil are mentioned, and it is important to see that there was nothing wrong with the seed. It was the reception of the seed which was wrong, in three cases – and right in one case.


2. The different kinds of ground represent four distinct ways in which the Word is treated by those who hear it.

Whenever the Gospel (the Word of God) is preached by the Lord through His faithful servants, there are four kinds of hearers:-

  1. (1) The HARD-GROUND hearer. The interpretation is in Matthew 13:4. Here is the person who hears the Word but whose heart is hard, without depth; the Word is not received; while it stays on the surface the birds come and take it away. Many people are like that: they come to church, hear the Word, seem to like it – but the Word is on their hearts, not in their hearts. Judas Iscariot was like this (Luke 22:47-48).
  2. (2) The STONY-GROUND hearer. We read in Matthew 13:5 that the soil was too shallow, and it represents the hearer who is superficial. The interpretation is in Matthew 13:20-21. Many profess conversion; they even go on well until trouble or persecution comes, and then they give up. Simon Magus was a “stony-ground” hearer (Acts 8:9-24).
  3. (3) The THORNY-GROUND hearer. Read Matthew 13:7. This is the double-minded hearer, one whose heart is worldly and preoccupied with money (Matthew 6:24). The interpretation is in Matthew 13:22. Many today appear to receive the word, but when they allow money and possessions to rule their lives (Mark 4:19), the Word becomes choked. Ananias and Sapphira were “thorny-ground” hearers (Acts 5:1-11).
  4. (4) The GOOD-GROUND hearer. Read Matthew 13:8. This is the hearer who is honest, receptive and fruitful. The interpretation is in Matthew 13:23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15. Nathaniel (John 1:45-51), the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39), and Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2, 44-48) are illustrations.


3. What useful lessons can we learn from this parable?

  1. (1) We must pay close attention to what we hear. Look up Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8; and compare Luke 8:18. When the Lord taught this parable He knew the hearts of His hearers; He also knows our hearts (John 2:25). What kind of hearers are we?
  2. (2) Hearts need to be prepared before they can receive the Word and be saved and blessed. Just as the soil needs preparing by the farmer, so those of us who minister to souls must prepare the way by much prayer. Prayer breaks up the unploughed ground (Hosea 10:12), and prepares the way for God’s Word to be received (Acts 4:29-30).
  3. (3) Preachers and teachers should not be discouraged when results seem small. There will always be four kinds of hearers, and we have no promise that all will be saved, or that all who are saved will bear much fruit (John 15:7-8). But we do know 1 Corinthians 15:58!
  4. (4) Preachers and teachers must aim at a deep work. There is much superficial top-soil work being done today. Let us beware of this!
  5. (5) The two-fold objective of all true preaching and teaching is indicated here: (1) that souls may be saved, converted by believing (Matthew 13:15; Luke 8:12); (2) that those who are saved should bear fruit (Luke 8:15).
  6. (6) We are warned to beware of special dangers: (1) Satan is always ready to snatch away the Word (Matthew 13:19; Mark 4:15); (2) troubles are the experiences of every believer (Matthew 13:21; John 16:33); (3) all of us will have to suffer persecution (Matthew 13:21; Acts 5:4); (4) we all experience the worries of this life (Matthew 13:22; Galatians 6:5); (5) some are faced with the danger of riches (Matthew 13:22; Mark 10:23); (6) there is the danger of desires for other things (Mark 4:19); (7) there is the danger of being content with the greatest possible yield of fruitfulness (Mathew 13:23).
  7. (7) “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31).