What Does the Parable of the Sower Mean?
The parable of the sower is one of the most powerful parables that Jesus taught when it is understood correctly and one of the most damaging when it is not.
There have been many unscrupulous teachers of false doctrine that have used this parable to get people to “sow” seeds (money) into their ministries and pet projects. Never was Jesus teaching that if you planted seeds of money into a ministry that you would get a 30x or 60x or 100x return.
So I thought that I would take a moment to break down this parable and what it means and hopefully by doing this I would save some of you the heartache and disillusionment that comes with the result of that false teaching.
The Parable of the Sower Mark 4:1-20
Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed
1 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
3 Ingredients to Understanding the Parable of the Sower
- The sower. A sower is an old English term meaning someone who plants. The sower is people like you and I who plant seeds in other people’s lives.
- The seed. The seed is what is planted. Now many would say that the seed can be anything you plant but Jesus was specific in His definition of what the seed was. In vs. 14 He says that the seed is the word of God taken to someone else.
- The Soil. The soil is the hearts of people who the word of God is given to. It is not a ministry or a pet project but it is the hearts of individual people that we speak the word of God to.
Applying the Principles of the Parable of the Sower
To understand the parable of the sower you need to understand the farming techniques of the days of Jesus.
In our western civilization we prepare the soil prior to planting the seeds. In the times of Jesus and even in many parts of the middle east today they spread the seed before the soil is prepared.
That is why Jesus gives 4 types of soil that the seed falls on. In this parable, Jesus does not tell the sower to judge the soil or decide what soil is ready for planting and what soil is not ready.
He says that the sower sows the seed. It is not our job to judge, discern, or decide what soil is ready for a seed to be planted. It is our job to sow the seeds regardless of soil condition.
We also need to understand in this parable that when Jesus said that the sower or the planter takes God’s word to others, He was not talking about the Bible although the can be included in this process.
You need to take off your modern thinking cap for a second and place yourself in the days and times that this was being spoken. There was no printing presses, there were no computers with Bible programs or online Bibles.
The people Jesus was talking to were primarily illiterate and the only copies of the Scriptures were in the Temple and Synagogues.
The Greek word used for the English term God’s word was “Logos“, which means spoken message. The seeds that we plant are the message of God to individual people.
So what is the message of God?
It is found in the Bible. It is God’s heart towards that individual person.
To the broken it is the promise of restoration, to the captive it is the message of freedom, to the sick it is the message of wholeness, to the guilty it is the message of forgiveness.
So when we “plant seeds” we are planting God’s message into the hearts of people. It is the concept of us being the messengers giving an oral message directly from the King to one of the people the King loves.
Finally we need to understand the types of soil. Not so we can decide whether or not to plant the seed, but so we understand why not all seeds produce a harvest. There are 4 types of soil that we plant seeds into.
- Seed that falls by the wayside. The wayside was the beaten path around the field. It is the ground that has been hardened and trampled on by the feet of people. This soil, or otherwise known as a human heart, has been walked on until it has become hardened and impenetrable. These hearts have been hardened because of the years of being walked on by people. This seed falls on soil that is skeptical and cynical and those attitudes are birthed by Satan himself and it is snatched away due to those attitudes.
- Seed sown in rocky soil. This soil is similar to the wayside. Instead of the seed being snatched away by Satan, it has no place to dig deep roots in the heart of this person because this person’s heart is wounded and damaged with areas that are hard and inflexible to the change needed to be good soil. Because of this, at the first sign of persecution or trouble, this person falls away from faith because they have no ability to stand up against the crowd. They are the typical people pleaser.
- The seed that is choked out of fruitfulness by thorns. This heart is one that is in good enough shape that it produces a living plant that survives. Yet because of other priorities in it’s life it never produces any fruit. It cares more about the basic mundane things of life, or focuses on getting rich, or places other desires above the desire to do what it was meant to do which was produce fruit. Since it’s priorities are out of alignment, this seed never get’s to the point to producing other seeds.
- The seed in good soil. This seed sprouts, grows and produces more seeds. It produces a harvest. It hears God’s message to them, accepts that message and allows that message to grow and change them, and finally it takes that message and gives it away to others. It reproduces and it effects people all around them. They start to speak the message of God, (what Jesus would say if He were standing right in front of them), and they start the principle of the parable of the sower once again.
The parable of the sower is powerful.
When you understand the parable of the sower you can see why it can be so powerful.
You have heard of youtube video’s, blog posts, news items, and other things going what is called today “Viral”. Where it takes on a life of it’s own.
You can be part of the process of taking what God is speaking, His message to this world, and cause it to go viral!
The parable of the sower talks about those that produce fruit producing 30 times, 60 times, even 100 times more than they started with.
If each and every one of you shared what Jesus would say to those around you, those on your facebook pages, those in your community, God’s message of love, forgiveness, acceptance, restoration and wholeness would go viral in no time!
Now that is something to think about!