God’s Word for You
Luke 8:4-11 The sower sows
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 8, 2018
The Parable of the Sower
4 When a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:
What is a parable (παραβολή)? It is a comparison. The word means to throw something alongside another. In Hebrew, the word for teach is “throw,” and the idea is to throw and throw until the student catches the meaning. A good teacher throws more than one way, so that all the students can catch the meaning one way or another. For many people, a little story helps. Jesus used little stories about the ordinary to illustrate the spiritual, and this the essence of a parable. The prophet Nathan used a parable to teach King David about his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-7). Nathan’s parable was a story about a family lamb devoured by an unthinking neighbor, but the spiritual point was preached with Nathan’s index finger: “You are the man!” It worked. David’s repentance is recorded as Psalm 51.
The parables of Jesus follow the same pattern. Each has a story, short or long, with a spiritual point.
5 “A sower went out to sow his seed.
The translator wrestles with the word “sower.” We might say farmer or planter and be understood—perhaps better understood in our culture. But I have left it as “sower” because the word speiron stands for the person scattering seeds the way they did it in ancient times. One hand held an apron filled with seed, and the other hand strew the seed evenly over the soil. It was a skill we would find very difficult today.
Martin Franzmann, a Lutheran pastor of the twentieth century (1907-1976), wrote a wonderful hymn called “Preach You the Word” (Christian Worship hymn 544). Verse 3 goes this way:
The sower sows; his reckless love
scatters abroad the goodly seed.
Intent alone that there may be
The wholesome loaves that people need.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air ate it up.
Throwing the seed by hand, the sower couldn’t help but toss some on the hard path. That seed either got stepped on or became bird food.
6 Some fell on rocky soil, and when it grew, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
There was some soil even in the plowed field that had stones just under the surface. The poor little plants would send their shoots down, but not far enough. The hot weather and the lack of moisture were too much for them, and the little plants would wither and die.
7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.
Jesus tells another parable about weeds (zizania) growing with wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). Here there are thorns (akantha) that might choke the good plants. The akantha is the thorn bush that was used to weave Jesus’ crown of thorns (Mark 15:17). It grows more quickly than other plants, and uses up what little moisture is present in the parched soil.
8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It grew and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than what was sown.” When he said this, he said loudly, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant.
The good soil produced a hundred times what was sown. A little can produce much, by the grace of God. Luke tells us that when Jesus added, “He who has ears, let him hear,” he said it in a loud voice. This was the voice of command; the voice of authority. It was the voice of the teacher asking the class: “What does this mean?” But it was not until later that his disciples asked him what it meant.
10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
Jesus is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. We don’t want to be forced into some kind of interpretive gymnastics to try to make Jesus say something he is not saying, but there are people in the world, especially in the world of Bible scholarship, who don’t like to think that Jesus might say something that was meant to harden hearts. But that’s what Isaiah meant, and that’s what Jesus means. He spoke in parables so that people’s hearts would not be turned by them. The parables were meant to teach deeper subjects to Jesus’ followers including us, who have faith. What about those who doubt him or refuse to believe in him? For their souls, there is the simple gospel by itself. “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them” (Luke 16:29).
“God our Savior wants all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). When someone willfully rejects God’s grace, he can still hear the word of God. But the word of God always works; it always accomplishes something. If it is heard by a heart that is crushed by the law and receives the gospel invitation to believe and turn away from sin, it has all the power to save. But if it is heard by ears that refuse to comprehend, it will not work for their salvation. Instead, it will be for their judgment and damnation. When commentators reject this truth, they are calling down the very truth they reject to their own judgment. It’s then that we simple Christians ask, why would anyone become a pastor or a Bible scholar if you don’t believe what the Bible says? It would be less dangerous to swim with piranhas or to feed lions with your bare hands.
11 This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.
The parable is not about a certain seed-sower, such as John, nor even Jesus himself. Since the seed stands for the word of God, the sower is everyone who proclaims the word of God. The sower is every pastor, every Sunday school teacher, every mommy who opens a Bible story book and teaches her little ones about Jesus. The sower is every friend who shares their faith, whatever the soil may be like. The seed is the word of God, and therefore the sower is not the one who does the real work. The Holy Spirit is responsible for the content of the word, and it is the Spirit whose labor accomplishes what takes place.
You have been patient today, and as you see, there is much more to talk about, but this will do for now. Go and sow.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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