The parables of Matthew 13 are given by our Lord to describe the character of the kingdom between His rejection and His return. They describe the church age as we know it, this period of time that is called the mystery form of the kingdom. Christ is still the King. His kingdom is here.
It's the part of the kingdom, however, that was not seen in the Old Testament. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur. I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Since 1943, millions of people have taken a test called the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. It's a series of questions designed to determine which of 16 personality types a person has. But while it might be interesting and even helpful to understand your personality better, it's actually far more important for you to know who you are spiritually. So today on Grace to You, I invite you to consider four different kinds of people, four spiritual personalities, you could say.
Which one describes you? Find out as John MacArthur looks at four responses to the gospel in his continuing series titled The Parables of the Kingdom. And with that, let's get to the lesson.
Here's John. In looking at Matthew 13, we begin an in-depth look at the parables of this marvelous chapter. I confess to you that I've waited a long time to dig into these parables because of their tremendous importance to us in this age. The parables of Matthew 13 are given by our Lord to describe the character of the kingdom between His rejection and His return. They describe the church age as we know it, this period of time that is called the mystery form of the kingdom. Christ is still the King. His kingdom is here. It's the part of the kingdom, however, that was not seen in the Old Testament.
The King was rejected. He will return to establish His prophesied kingdom. But in the meantime, there is this mystery form, unseen in the past, that we know as the age of the church. And we ask the question, what will this period be like? How will it be? Will the gospel be preached? Will it be heard?
Will it be believed? All happened to the kingdom in this period. And our Lord gives the answer to His disciples in a series of seven parables. They are given in this chapter and wonderfully explained to us the very time in which we live.
Now as we pointed out to you, the Lord knows how to take the natural world and wield it as a weapon of great precision in instructing regarding spiritual truth. He takes something they could understand, lays it alongside something they did not understand, and the one explains the other. And that is what a parable is.
It is a comparison. Each of these stories is filled with profound spiritual truth. And I have found that the longer you look at them and the longer you study them, the more rich and full they become. Now the statement at the beginning there in verse 3, Behold, a sower went forth to sow, opens up our understanding of this particular parable. Jesus is on familiar territory as He speaks in this regard because there was much agricultural life in that part of the world. Everybody understood the sowing of seed.
Everybody understood what was involved in that. It may have been that as Jesus was off the shore of the Lake of Galilee in a boat seated there, teaching the multitude gathered on the shore that they could have looked off in the distance and seen this very thing taking place. They could have been watching a man going up and down the furrow sowing seed. They would drape over the shoulder a bag and the bag would be full of seed and it would have an opening. And as the furrows had been prepared, the man would reach in and take out the seed and with his hand he would broadcast it.
That was the original meaning of that English word, to broadcast. He would scatter the seed into the furrow and he would do it with ordered steps in a straight line. And when he reached the end of the line, he would turn to start the other way, never miss a step, and continue throwing the seed. And that was how the field was sowed, by throwing the seed, the broadcasting method. As he throws that seed, Jesus indicates there are four kinds of soil on which that seed will fall.
Let's look at them. First is what he calls the wayside soil in verse 4. And when he sowed, some of the seeds fell by the wayside and the fowls came and devoured them. Now in Palestine, which was just literally crisscrossed with fields, the fields were usually long, narrow strips and men could cultivate those fields. The strips were separated from other strips and other fields by paths, the path as being about three feet or so wide, narrow paths. Those were used by the farmer to get in between the fields, to get to whatever field he wanted to reach.
And no doubt, this is what the Lord has in mind when he talks about the wayside. The dirt would then be packed down, beaten hard, uncultivated, never turned over, never loosened. And by all of the continual pounding and pounding and because of the dryness of that part of the world, it would be compacted to the point where it was like a road.
It was as hard as pavement. And when the farmer came along and threw the seed and it went beyond the furrow and landed on that hard surface, it could not penetrate the ground. And it would lie there on the top and birds would hover, no doubt, until the farmer turned his back and as he started down the next furrow, they would land on the hard surface and they would eat the seed. And what they did not eat, Luke says, was trampled by the feet of men who were passing through the fields. That's the wayside, the birds and the men removing the seed which cannot penetrate the soil. Then you come to the stony soil in verse 5. Some, and this would be very true because of the method of sowing, the seed would scatter and fall in different places and this one would fall in stony places or rocky places where they had not much earth and forthwith. They sprang up because they had no deepness of earth and when the sun was up, they were scorched and because they had no root, they withered away. Luke adds they had no moisture. There was no root to capture the moisture.
Now what is this? Well, it's not talking about soil with rocks in it because any farmer who cultivated a field would make sure all the rocks were out. But basically, Israel in terms of its land has running through it strains of limestone rock bed. And in very many places, this rock bed surges up to become close to the soil so that maybe inches beneath the soil there would be solid rock bed, limestone. And when cultivating the field, you might not see that or you might be unable in the cultivating process to break up that rock bed. And so right beneath the soil is this hard rock bed and as the seed falls in and begins to germinate and tries to shoot its roots down, they hit the rock bed.
They have nowhere to go. All of the moisture and the sun that's there generates life upward. So they spring up probably higher than the other grain and the other seed which is going both ways and using its energy to go both ways. This flourishes immediately but when the sun comes out, it dies because its roots are not strong enough to maintain moisture or to find moisture. And the rock bed hinders them and it dies in the heat of the summer. Now verse 7 introduces us to the thorny or better weedy soil. Weeds are in this soil.
Some fell among thorns or weeds and the thorns or weeds sprang up and choked them. Now this soil looks good. It's deep. It's rich.
It's turned over. It's tilled. It's cultivated.
It looks clean and it looks ready and the seed falls down into that area and it begins to germinate but also there are fibrous roots of weeds and they tend to choke that life out. You see, weeds are natural to that soil. They belong in that soil. They fit in that soil. They're at home in that soil. The sowing of the grain is a foreign element into that soil.
It's not natural. It has to be carefully cultivated and the weeds in their natural soil just totally dominate and strangle and choke and grow up fast and send out their leaves and shade so that there cannot be the sun or the moisture. There's not enough room for everyone to share the nutrients of that soil and so the good seed dies. Finally in verse 8 is the good soil. Other seed fell into good ground and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold and some thirtyfold. Now here is deep, soft, clean soil.
It's soft unlike the hard wayside. It's deep unlike the stony limestone ground and it's clean unlike the weed infested soil and there the seed bursts into life and it brings forth a tremendous harvest. A hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold and by the way the average would be seven point fivefold we're told.
A good crop would be tenfold so we're talking about a tremendous flourishing crop. Now verse 9 simply says, who has ears to hear let them hear. What does that mean? If you can understand this then understand it. If you can get the message then get the message. Because there's an important message. You say well who is this who can hear? Well that's why he has verses 10 to 17 there which we went into last time.
Whoever has ears to hear let him hear. Whoever can understand this, understand this and we learned last time that the only people who can understand it are the people who believe in the king, right? Are the people who are redeemed, who are in the kingdom because if you're in the kingdom the king promises to explain to you the meaning of this. You see the benefit of being a Christian is not that you get some instant academic knowledge. You get some instant wisdom so you understand everything on your own. No, the fact that you become a Christian doesn't mean you understand on your own any better. It does mean however that God promises to teach you the meaning of his word. And so now he says if you can understand then understand. And the question immediately would arise well who can understand?
And first of all he says well it's for sure one thing. The people with the hard hearts and the deaf ears can't understand. And so he quotes Isaiah there and he says down in verse 15, the people's heart is gross, their ears are dull, their eyes they have closed and so forth. It isn't going to be the people that reject me. It isn't going to be the people that don't accept me.
Who's it going to be? Verse 16, blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear. Who can hear?
You can hear and only you can hear. This is then given to conceal from those who don't believe and reveal to those who do because the Lord's going to teach. In Mark 4 the disciples came to Jesus and they said tell us the meaning of the parable and when he had them apart from the multitude he told them the meaning of the parable.
But only then who know the king have the promise that he'll be their teacher. He begins then in verse 18 to explain the meaning of the parable. Hear therefore, he says. So verse 9 says, who hath ears to hear let him hear.
Who is that? Verse 16, blessed are your ears for they hear. Therefore, verse 18 says, listen to what I'm saying.
You are able, so take advantage of that. Listen to what I say and I think he's talking about get the spiritual message, get the deeper connotation. Here comes the interpretation. Let's look at verse 18 and let's go right into the interpretation. Hear therefore the parable of the sower.
Now we have to ask ourselves a question at this point because it's obvious. Who is the sower? Who is the sower? Well it seems rather obvious that the sower is the Lord Jesus Christ and this is confirmed later on in the chapter as the Lord is seen in another parable doing the same thing. Verse 37 says, he that soweth the good seed is the son of man. The Lord is the original sower.
He is the one who first puts the seed in the soil. Now you say, what is the seed? Well it says in verse 19 when anyone hears the word of the kingdom. The seed is the word. The seed is the word of the kingdom. It is God's revelation. Luke 8 11, a parallel passage giving the same parable says the seed is the word of God.
The message about the king and his kingdom. It is the gospel. And the first sower of the gospel was the Lord himself.
But may I add this. Anybody who sows what Jesus first sowed is a sower. If you repeat the message of Jesus Christ you become a sower. If I repeat the message of Jesus Christ I become a sower. In Mark 4 14 it says, and the sower sowed the word. So anybody who sows the word becomes a sower. Jesus was the first sower and we who follow by giving his message also are the sowers.
So we are all the sowers who love Christ, who have received his message, who pass it on. The seed then is the word of God. We are sowing then the gospel, the message of the kingdom.
And may I hasten to make a point here. You know seed just in its natural sense, seed cannot be created. If we ever lost the seeds, if we lost seed we could never cause things to grow. We are dependent on what grows and produces more seed because the origination came from God. God originally created seed and seed reproduces itself. If we ever lost seed we'd never be able to reproduce it.
We can't create it. And the same is true in the seed of the word of God. God does not call on us to create our own message. God says take that which has already been sown and sow it again.
We are not to produce a new supply of information. We are to build upon the revelation of the word of God. And we are utterly dependent then upon divine revelation as much as we are dependent upon God creating the seed in the first place which reproduces itself and brings to us the fruit that we eat even today. So the seed is the word. The seed is the word.
And may I just add as a footnote that the word encompasses the written word but inside of it is the living word. It's as if the Bible is the husk and the living Christ is the seed within the husk. So initially it's Christ sowing the word of God containing the seed which is himself. He is both sower and seed. We are the sowers who sow the seed.
The husk is the word of God and in it contains the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the parable then is about this. It is about preaching the gospel.
That's what it's about. It's about preaching the word about the king and his kingdom. Telling men that Jesus is the king and come to bring a kingdom. Telling men what the king is like and telling men how to get in his kingdom. Telling men what his kingdom is like and what it will promise to do in life and death and eternity. It's all about the good news of the king and his kingdom. To be in the king. To be in the kingdom.
Both one and the same. So we're talking about preaching. Now we come to the soils. And here is the main import of the parable. It is how men will respond to the gospel.
When it's preached, how will they respond? Now let's talk about the soils for a minute. We've seen there are four kinds of soils.
Let me say this and I want you to understand it. All the soils are basically the same. Dirt is dirt is dirt. Whether it's hard dirt, soft dirt, dirt with rock under it or dirt with weeds in it, dirt is dirt is dirt.
It's all talking about the same part of the world. The issue is not specifically the soil. The issue is what has influenced the soil. The condition that it is in. It is to say then that all men could receive the seed. Right? All soil could receive the seed if it was broken up.
If it was cleaned of weeds. The issue then is this. Here comes the key to the parable. The result of hearing the gospel in the life of an individual depends upon the condition of that person's heart.
Did you get that? That's what Jesus is teaching. The result of the preaching of the gospel will depend on the condition of the heart of the hearer. Now we know the soil refers to the heart because it tells us that in verse 19. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and understands it not, then comes the wicked one and catches away that which was sown in his...what? Heart. Heart is the same as soil.
You see the issue is the condition of the heart. That determines the reception of the gospel. And Jesus is saying to these disciples who at this point are saying, Lord, what's going to happen? You've been blasphemed.
You've been rejected. The kingdom cannot come. All is lost. What is going to happen now? He says, I'll tell you what's going to happen. You're going to go out just like I did and you're going to sow. And you're going to sow the seed which is the word of God. And you're going to preach the same message about the same king and the same kingdom. But Lord, what is going to happen? Oh, lots of things are going to happen.
But it's going to depend on the condition of the heart of the hearer. And I think the basic point of the parable, and get this, is to encourage the apostles. That there will be wayside soil.
You've got to know that or you could really get disillusioned. And there will be stony ground soil and there will be weedy ground soil. But there will also be good ground soil that will bring forth 30, 60, 100 fold. It's an encouraging parable. It is a parable to help them to approach the ministry with excitement, anticipation that God is going to produce results. Now the mark of salvation in the soils is fruit.
And only one out of four demonstrates it. And that's a very important point. Salvation is noted by fruit, not by foliage.
By fruit. And if you don't understand that, you get confused in the parable. So we're going to meet four kinds of hearers, four kinds of responders to the gospel. And they are characteristic of our day.
So these are the things that we're going to be able to really identify with. Number one, we call this one the unresponsive hearer, the wayside hearer, verse 19. Anyone who hears the word of the kingdom understands it not. Then comes the wicked one and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. Seed fell on the hard surface, couldn't penetrate the hard surface.
The birds hovered around, waited until the man's back was turned, came down, hit the surface and ate the seed. And the rest, says Luke, was trampled under feet. Now what is this? This is the man who is hard-hearted.
Very simple. This is the man the Old Testament would call stiff-necked. This is the man who is irresponsible, unresponsive, inattentive, unconcerned, indifferent, negligent, doesn't want anything to do with it.
Just hits him and bounces off. And Satan is seen as the birds, the wicked one who comes and snatches away. So that even as the Lord said earlier in the chapter, that which he has is lost because he doesn't respond to it. Self-destroying neglect. In other words, there's a condition of the human heart that has been so pounded and pounded and pounded with the criss-crossing of the mixed multitudes of sins that traverse the life that there's just no sensitivity at all. This is the heart that knows no repentance, knows no sorrow for sin, knows no guilt, knows no concern over things that really matter. Just allows itself to be trampled and trampled and trampled with the mixed multitude, the feet pounding away that mark the sins of life day after day after day after day.
Never broken up, never softened by conviction. Hard-hearted, callous, indifferent. I believe this could be best seen in the fool of Proverbs. The fool who hates knowledge, the fool who hates instruction, the fool who despises wisdom, the fool who is stiff-necked, the fool who is hard-hearted, the fool who says in his heart there is no God. This is the fool who will not hear, whose mind is shut, who does not want to be bothered at all, who says let us alone.
And we've all met him, haven't we? I mean, you've thrown your seed and it just bounces. Nothing.
No penetration. And it doesn't stay there very long, but Satan comes in and takes it away. He cleans it off.
You say, well, what is this? Well, this is the same as 2 Corinthians 4, where it says of Satan, who is the god of this age, that he's blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel should shine unto them. In other words, when someone does not respond to the gospel, initially when they're hard-hearted and stiff-necked, Satan just snatches it away. He just blinds them to its true value. How does he do that?
Well, in a lot of ways. One way he does that is send false teachers along to say all of that stuff was lies. Don't believe that stuff. Another way he snatches the seed is by the fear of man. People don't respond to it because they're afraid they might lose their reputation or they might be kicked out of their little group or somebody might think they're a religious fanatic. Sometimes Satan uses pride. People just know it all.
They just don't want to admit that they need some help, that they need some information, that there's some things they don't know. Sometimes Satan snatches it away through doubt. Sometimes he snatches it away through prejudice. Sometimes through stubbornness. Sometimes through the love of sin. The person doesn't want to give up.
Sometimes through procrastination. But one way or another or a combination of ways, when it hits that hard stuff, Satan snatches it away and the person so easily forgets that it ever came. There are many people like that. And I guess you ought to examine your heart at this point.
Are you that dry, hard road on the edge of the field? You may be on the fringes of religion and activity, but sins have just pounded and pounded and pounded down the dirt of your heart until it is utterly unproductive and unresponsive to God. There are people like that. And some of them hang on the edges very close and very shut to the truth. And so we expect that. We expect that when we preach the gospel.
Jesus said expect it. You've been listening to John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. The title of John's current study here on grace to you, The Parables of the Kingdom. John, I have to say that personally I think your teaching on the parable of the soils is some of the most important messages you've ever given. I remember back more than 40 years ago, the first time I ever heard you teach on this passage, it revolutionized the way I understand it.
I had been taught a totally different view of this, and that view is still out there. There are people who teach that each of the soils represents a true Christian, and these are just different kinds of Christians, and so there are some Christians who just don't bear any fruit at all. And it's been a key point of your teaching for decades to say, no, if you're not bearing fruit, you can't be certain you're a genuine Christian.
Right, and there are six soils mentioned there, three that don't bear fruit and three that do 30, 60, 100 fold. So clearly the Lord is distinguishing between true believers and false believers based upon fruitfulness. It's been decades since I addressed that in the book The Gospel According to Jesus. Of all the books that I've written, that book probably hit the evangelical world with the most shock because for decades there had been a gospel floating out there that said your life may not change.
You may not ever bear fruit, but you're still a Christian. And we tackled that from the text of Scripture in The Gospel According to Jesus, particularly from the parable of soils, but also from a whole lot of other sections in our Lord's teaching. This has no doubt been the most influential book I've ever written related to the gospel, and I would just encourage you, The Gospel According to Jesus is foundational. It came out, first of all, in 1988. It really marked a turning point, I think, in evangelical thinking.
Through the years it has continued to generate an amazing response and create a stir everywhere it finds its way. So if you don't have a copy of The Gospel According to Jesus, this book will show you the definitive reality that salvation makes for a transformed life and a fruit-bearing life. That's really essential. Get a copy of The Gospel According to Jesus and you can order it from Grace to You. Yes, and this book takes an in-depth look at what the greatest teacher, the Lord Jesus, said about the greatest subject, the gospel.
It will help you see more clearly than ever exactly what Christ meant when he said, follow me. To order your copy of John's book, The Gospel According to Jesus, contact us today. The Gospel According to Jesus costs $15, shipping is free. Just call us at 800-55-GRACE or go to our website, gty.org, and order this book.
You can see how the version of the gospel you believe matches The Gospel According to Jesus. Again, call 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org to order. And remember, Grace to You has thousands of free resources online to help you understand and apply God's Word. So whether you're looking for biblical insight on parenting or you have a question about what the Scripture says about spiritual gifts or perhaps you're wondering how to know if a person has been called to full-time ministry, visit us at gty.org, and there you'll find blog articles, sermons, and other Bible study tools, all of them designed to help you grasp the life-changing truth of God's Word and apply it to your own life. That's our website one more time, gty.org. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Keep in mind, Grace to You Television airs this Sunday, and I encourage you to tune in and then be here every day next week when John continues the parables of the kingdom with 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace to You.
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