Matthew 13 contains a number of parables which, when taken together, unveil “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11). The first of these parables is the parable of the sower.
Speaking in Parables
Matthew 13 starts with a crowd on the beach seemingly eager to hear what the Lord had to say. Yet the Lord spoke in parables to purposely make His teaching unclear to them (v. 13). This seems unfair. Even his disciples questioned Him about this strategy. They asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (v. 10).
When we read these parables, we are many times just like the crowd on the beach. We are unclear what the Lord was really saying. We may complain, “Lord, why didn’t You just speak in plain words?” But the Lord said of the crowd,
“The heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart.”
— Matthew 13:15
In other words, they did not want to see, hear, or understand.
This should be a wake-up call for us. The Lord makes things unclear because we don’t want things to be clear. Don’t complain to Him. The problem is with us. The Lord knows exactly where we are and speaks to us accordingly. He knows us much better than we know ourselves. We tell Him that we love Him and give ourselves absolutely to Him. We ask Him to speak to us everything that is on His heart. But instead the Lord speaks to us in parables because He knows better.
When a young man is dating a young woman, he will often speak to her In parables. He may tell her of his dream to someday live a happy life with a sweet wife and a small apartment where everything is wonderful. They would cook together, do things together, hold hands, and always be in love. If the girl has no feeling for him, she may say, “May God bless you. I hope you get it some day.” She is unclear because she wants to be unclear. But if she has a lot of feeling for this boy already, she will know exactly what he’s talking about and respond very differently.
This is what it means to speak in parables—not that the speaker doesn’t want us to understand, but that only those who want to understand will understand. Once we have decided on a course of action, anything the Lord says to change that course of action will be unclear to us.
“Behold, the sower went out to sow.”
— Matthew 13:13
The Lord’s statement here is a puzzle. Why did He say “the” sower and not “a” sower? it seems the Lord considered Himself to be the unique sower in the whole universe.
Then He continued, “and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road” (v. 4). In the original Greek, the word “seeds” is not there. Many translations leave it out while others put the word “seeds” in italics to indicate that it has been added by the translators. This is a second puzzle. We know that he sowed, and that some fell beside the road, but we do not know what he sowed.
If we can solve these two puzzles, we will begin to understand this parable.
There are many who can claim to be “a” sower, but there can be only one who can be “the” sower. Politicians try to sow their points of view, and so each is “a” sower. Teachers try to impart knowledge, musicians share their music, and advisors give their advice. There are many, many sowers, sowing all kinds of things, but each is just “a” sower. None is “the” sower.
The apostle Paul said,
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:10
Even he could not claim to be “the” wise master builder, because then he would exclude all the other apostles. He could only claim to be “a” wise master builder, one of many.
Yet the Lord said concerning Himself, “Behold, the sower went out to sow”. Only He could claim to be “the” sower. He sowed and the universe came into being with everything in it. He sowed and time began. Even we are a result of His sowing. He is the unique sower, and that eliminates all other sowers.
We may think we are sowers in our professions, but only His sowing is the real sowing. Only what He sows counts. Politicians may think they have persuaded many to agree with them, but actually it is only God’s vote that matters. What He sows determines the election results. A salesman may think his product is the best and that everyone needs it, but then a new product comes out or the economy drops, and he is stuck. Only what the unique sower sows will last. If He is not the sower, what we do is vain.
All kinds of people want to sow things into us. They all think they can bring us health, wealth, and happiness. Every commercial on TV and every ad on the internet is an attempt to sow something into us. We could have everything, but if it is not sown by the sower it has no value. Only the Lord is the sower.
The Sowing One
The Greek word used here for “the sower” is better translated “the sowing one”. This means that this unique sower is constantly sowing something into us. He is never finished. As long as we have life, He is sowing.
He is sowing at least five basic things into us. First, He sows the seed of life resulting in regeneration. Second, He sows a tender heart into us so that we can love the Lord. Third, He sows consecration into us. Fourth, He sows the desire to pursue Him into us. And fifth, He sows an appreciation of the body of Christ and of our participation in it.
Each of these steps is harder and harder, and therefore each step requires more and more sowing. As believers, it is easy to say we are regenerated, but can we truly say we love the Lord, and if so, is He our first love? To say with assurance that we are fully consecrated and pursuing Him is even more difficult, and hardly any of us can say we even understand what it means to participate in the body of Christ. Just for these five items, we need the Lord’s continual sowing our entire lives.
We like to say we have these things, and our conscience agrees. But if we check our prayer life, it is short. When it comes to the Bible, we only read it in the meetings. When it comes to spiritual books, we have no appetite. When it comes to visiting the saints, we would rather stay home. When it comes to the gospel, it is almost non-existent. If the Lord was not faithful with His sowing, our spiritual life would just fade away.
Even our human life needs the sowing one to constantly sow into us. What education we have, what job we take, where we live, what car we drive, how we use our money, and how we spend our time all need the Lord’s sowing. If He is the unique sowing one, then we will take whatever He puts within us. The result will be that we are changed. Our old manner of life will gradually end and a new life will be expressed.
The Lord said that He as the sowing one went out to sow. This was really bold. By saying this, He said that He was the unique sower and no other sower is real. Many people can sow many things into us, but none of that is real. Because He is the sower, we should let Him sow whatever He desires into our life. This is why the parable doesn’t say what he sowed. It is up to Him to decide what is best for us.
Paul wrote, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:28–29). God knows where He wants to bring us, and whatever He sows is guaranteed to work toward that end—that we be conformed to the image of His Son. He does not sow the same thing in each of us, nor does He sow the same thing in us our entire life, but He always sows exactly what we need.
When the Sower comes, He wants to sow much more into us than regeneration. His sowing is much more complete than that. If we let Him, He will sow love to the Lord into us. As a result, it becomes much harder to love the world. Then He sows consecration into us, making it much harder to serve the world. Next He sows the pursuing life into us, making it much harder to chase the world. Eventually He sows the blessing of standing as a member of the body of Christ into us. Now we are ruined for anything of this world. If He ever stopped sowing, we would never make it to the goal. On our own, we would always choose the world.
We each have only one life to live. The question is, did we choose how to spend our life, or did the Sower sow that desire into us? The answer could be either one. We shouldn’t ask if what we are doing is good or bad, but what is the source? Many things we do were not sown by the Lord but by ourselves. We make up our minds what we are going to do before we even begin to seek the Lord or have fellowship with others. Then there is no room for the Lord to sow His desire into us.
Many come to me for so-called fellowship, but I know they have made up their minds already. They have decided what they will do in advance, so it is their sowing, not the Lord’s. All they really want from me is to rubber stamp their decision. But my rubber stamp means nothing. If the Lord did not sow it, there will be no blessing, no matter how good or logical their decision is.
Because the Lord is the sowing one, we don’t get to sow. We don’t get to decide our future, saying I want to do this or go there. We only need to pay attention to what He sows and then respond to his sowing with an “Amen!”