Luke 4:14-9:50

The Parables of Jesus
Luke 8:1-56


In chapter 8 Luke presents us an abridged version of Jesus' parables (see Matt. 13 for more of Jesus' parables). Several issues confront us as we address the parables. First, what is a parable, second, what is the content of the parables, and third, why did Jesus teach using parables? The word "parable" comes from 2 Greek words: para meaning "alongside" and bole (pron. ball-AY) meaning "to cast." A parable then is a story which is cast alongside a divine truth in order to communicate that truth to you and me. Some have defined it as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In the parable of the sower and the 4 soils, each of the elements in the parable stands for something: the sower is Jesus, the seed is the message of Jesus, and the 4 soils are 4 different types of people.

Second, what is the content of the parables? Jesus tells us that the parables contain mysteries about the kingdom of God (8:10). In our introduction to Luke we shared that the theme of the ministry of Jesus (in fact of the whole Bible) is the kingdom of God and Jesus' vital relation to it (Luke 4:43; 8:10). God's agenda is to establish His kingdom throughout the universe. Although one day God's kingdom will be universal in that every created thing will submit completely to God's rule, right now we only see God's kingdom in the lives of Christians, those who have submitted to God's rule in their lives. The kingdom though does not just simply appear. God promised that He would christen ("anoint") a special person with His Spirit called "the Christ" who would establish God's kingdom. That Christ according to the NT is Jesus. These parables then deal with the issue of God's kingdom and Jesus' relation to it.

Finally, why did Jesus speak in parables? First, in order to reveal truth to His disciples and second, in order to conceal it from those who were hostile towards Him. On Judgment Day the Jewish religious leaders will have no excuse before God regarding Jesus because they heard the truth, for example, in Jesus' parables. They may not have understood the truth because Jesus spoke in parables; however, they did hear it. If they had been Jesus' disciples, if they had not been so hostile towards Him, Jesus would have explained the parables to them. The fault lay with them, not with Jesus.

Jesus speaking in parables to some extent drove Jesus' enemies crazy. They knew that something was up; they just didn't know what it was. Some may have just lightly dismissed them as being the ruminations of a demoniac or an insane megalomaniac. Others though just might have been intrigued enough to the extent that they just had to know what the parables meant, even if it meant following Jesus. Speaking to the religious leaders in parables might seem cruel; however, if they had responded properly to the parables, they just might have been saved.


The Parable

In the first parable Jesus compares the sower sowing seed with the spread of the message of Jesus. One thing to note about parables: Jesus does not simply make up a story and then relate spiritual truth to it. He uses actual illustrations from everyday life when He speaks in parables. The actions of this sower correspond to the actions of a normal sower in 1st-century Israel.

Notice that the sower sows the seed indiscriminately. He does not test the soil first before he sows the seed. He simply scatters the seed liberally upon the ground. The reason he did this was that he did not know where the good soil was and where the bad soil was. For the longest farmers have tilled the ground, sown the seed, and then tilled it again to cover the seed with the soil. The first-century farmer in Israel though would forego the first step and just simply sow the seed; then he would cover the seed with soil. As a result he did not know where the good ground was when he started sowing. He took no chances on missing the good ground; therefore, he sowed the seed everywhere.

The seed fell upon 4 different kinds of soils: the hard path, the shallow soil, soil with thorns, and good soil. These 4 types of ground correspond to the type of ground found in Israel during Jesus' day and also in modern Israel. Except for the roads the Romans built, in Jesus' day many roads were simply beaten paths which went through fields. When there was no growth, you did not know where the paths were. It was only after the grass and vegetation sprang up that you knew exactly where the paths were. As a result, the sower would inadvertently sow seed upon this hard ground. Since the farmer was unable to till the seed into the ground, the birds came along and snatched up the seed.

The sower also sowed seed upon ground with just a thin layer of top soil. Israel is one of the rockiest places in the world. Everywhere you go there is rock, rock, and more rock. It is true though that also in Israel is some of the most fertile land in the world. Much of the fruit supplied to Europe today comes from the orchards of Israel. In the vicinity of Jerusalem though, areas with fertile soil are mixed in with areas of thin layers of top soil. You don't know where the fertile soil ends and where the thin layer of top soil begins. As a result, in order not to miss out on any of the good soil, the farmer sows even in areas where there might be just a thin layer of top soil. Although this ground produces plants, the plants don't survive long because of the lack of depth in the soil.

The third soil has depth but also has thorns and thistles sprouting out of it. When it comes time for sowing, the farmer cannot see the seeds of the thorns and thistles. He doesn't know where the weeds and thorns are going to spring up. As a result, he sows liberally in order not to miss out on any of the good soil. After a while not only do the good plants emerge from the soil, the thorns and thistles emerge also. Unfortunately, the thorns and thistles strangle the good plants, causing them to die.

Finally, the seed falls upon the good soil, soil with good depth of soil, soil that has been broken up and cultivated, and soil which has no thorns or thistles. At the time of harvest each plant which springs up from a single seed yields a hundred-fold harvest.

Explanation of the Parable

At this point Jesus pulls the disciples aside and explains to them the meaning of the parable. He informs them that this parable concerns the mysteries about the kingdom of heaven. The primary issue it addresses is the reason many reject the message of Jesus, while others do accept it. Why is this an important issue? Remember that we claim that the kingdom of God is a universal kingdom and that Jesus has come to rule over the entire universe of mankind. Some object that if Christianity is a universal religion, then so many should not have rejected Christ. Why has the vast majority of mankind, especially the Jewish nation, rejected Jesus as the Christ if Jesus is supposed to be the universal Lord? Is there something wrong with Him? Is Jesus truly the Christ?

First, notice that whereas many have rejected Jesus, many have accepted Him. Today over 2 billion people confess Jesus to be God the Son. With regards to the Jews, throughout their history they rejected God. There are notable exceptions among the Jewish people who did accept God; yet these people are exceptions and not the norm. As we studied 2 Kings, we saw that the Jews rejected God time after time after time, etc. Their accepting Jesus would be more damaging to the claim that Jesus is the Christ than their rejecting Him.

Second, this parable shows the reason many, including the Jews, rejected Him. Just like in the parable the problem is not with the sower and with the seed but with the ground, the problem is not with Jesus nor His message but with the hearts of the people. Just like there is good ground and bad ground, so there are good hearts and bad hearts. Just like the response of the ground to the seed shows you what kind of ground it is, so the response of the people to Jesus' message shows you what kind of people they are.

In this parable notice the liberal scattering of the seed. The sower is not frugal with his seed, scattering it only upon ground he knows for sure is fertile ground. Rather he scatters the seed everywhere to make sure that he does not miss any of the good ground. Since he cannot see the good ground with his eyes, he scatters the seed liberally in order not to miss out on any of the good ground.

In the same way Christ wants to spread His message liberally through you and me so that He can reap the largest harvest possible. Throughout my ministry God has shown me the significance of this principle. When I first became a minister, there was a family in our church who had 2 sons. The father had played on the Oklahoma football teams in the 50's which had won the national championship in back-to-back years. Everyone made out all over the oldest son. The older son was everybody's idol. The younger son John was loved but for all practical purposes overlooked. One day while I was playing the piano, he stood beside me and started singing the song I was playing. I couldn't believe it. He had a most beautiful male tenor voice. I started working with him in private since he was shy and helped him gain confidence in using his talent. When Christmas approached, I was able to get him to sing in the annual Songs of Christmas program at our church, a program in which anybody who wanted could sing their favorite Christmas song. I chose for him the Imperials' Immanuel, a song which was not only beautiful but also dramatic and covered a wide range of notes, ending with a great flourish. I knew it was ambitious, but I believed John could pull it off. Until that night I was the only one who had heard him sing that song.

The night of the program the music minister buried John's song in the middle of the program so that it could be forgotten and leave room for the better songs to close out the program. His poor dad, big Jim Davis, big football player, sunk down into his seat because he just knew that John was going to be awful. By the end of the song though this dad sat straight up; he couldn't be any prouder of his son than he was at that moment. John knocked the song out of the ball park. It was incredible. Nobody from that congregation remembers any other song from that night, but they do remember John's rendition of Immanuel. John now is one of the lead singers for the praise band at Lake Pointe Baptist Church in Rockwall, performing before thousands of people each and every week. Most of us would have reached out only to the older, more popular son. Lying in the wings though was a fine young man God wanted to use for His kingdom. All it took was sowing liberally to find this young man. You don't know which is good ground and which is bad until you've sown everywhere.

Notice the 4 soils. The first is the hard path which the seed cannot penetrate; since the path is so hard, it leaves the seed exposed. The birds of the air swoop down and devour the seed. Jesus claims that this ground represents hard ground, while the birds represent Satan. Notice that Jesus does not make excuses for the hard ground. There are wonderful Christian psychologists working today who are doing an invaluable service for Jesus. Yet today we have many secular psychologists who are psychologizing away people's bitterness. They had a hard childhood--and they probably did. Maybe they're just skeptical intellectually since there are so many different religions out there--and there are. The sad thing is that many secular psychologists and amateur psychologists are psychologizing people into hell. Jesus does not excuse the bitter hearts. These people still don't receive the message of Jesus; Satan still takes away that message; and they still don't get to enter into the kingdom of heaven. If a person is bitter, he needs to go to Jesus and deal with it so that he can receive the message of Jesus.

The next soil has little to no depth. The plant springs up but dies quickly because of lack of depth to the soil. In the same way some people have little to no depth spiritually. They are quick to attach themselves to Christ, and yet after a while their fervor for Christ cools off. When I was a youth director, we had 120 in SS, 100 on Wednesday nights, and 80 each Sunday evening in church. It was a wonderful ministry. Yet I was not foolish enough to think that each and every young person there was serious about Christ. Some came because FBC Lancaster was the happening place. Those kids are not necessarily walking with the Lord today.

Shallow persons who claim to be Christians can be the silliest of God's creatures. Nancy's and my engagement party was thrown for us by Nancy's boss who rented out a home in Highland Park at a rate of $5,000 a month, not $500 but $5,000 a month. That was the RENT, not the mortgage payment! The home had been designed by an Italian architect in the shape of an Italian villa made primarily of brick. The home was spectacular. Some of the guests were some of the most superficial people I have ever met. The older women claimed to be Christians. They were attending a liberal church in north Dallas which promoted abortion rights. They thought the young pastor was so cute. When we sat down to dinner, I was able to steer the conversation towards Christ. Somehow or other I was able to claim that Jesus' resurrection was the proof He was God the Son. You could have heard a pin drop. My statement went over like a thud among these Christians. Surely we should just avoid these superficial people. Yet many in my youth group who I thought were just coming because it was popular to be there are still walking with the Lord. You don't know the condition of the soil until you've sown the seed.

The third soil is not only fertile and has good seed, it also has seeds of thorns and thistles in it. Jesus says that the thorns and thistle represent the cares, worries, persecutions, and riches of the world. These constitute external attacks upon a person. Jesus does not deny that there are persecutions and reasons to worry, that people can become fabulously wealthy. He does say though that if we don't process these things in our lives properly, they can keep us from being good soil. It may be tough to handle persecution, but Jesus expects us to handle it by relying upon His strength and power. It may be scary to be rich and yet risk losing our riches; however, if Jesus commands us to give up all our riches (or even just a portion of them), He expects us to do so.

The fourth soil represents those people who respond positively to the message of Jesus, confessing Him to be the Christ. He comes to live in their lives, giving them the power not only to be like Him but also to lead others into the kingdom of God. Notice that this ground confronts the same issues as the other grounds. The blistering heat which dried up the plants from the shallow ground beats upon the plants from the good soil. Good ground still confronts the issues of wealth, persecution, reasons for worry, etc. The difference is that the good ground refuses to become bitter, refuses to be shallow, and refuses to let the cares of this life overwhelm them. They respond positively to Jesus and His claims upon our lives.


The last 2 parables revolve around the word "light." In the first parable Jesus is claiming that we are the light of the world and that it is only natural for light to penetrate the darkness. He says this by using a negative illustration. Once you light a candle, you do not put it under a bushel. In the same way Christians as the light of the world are not to put their light under a bushel. It is the nature of light to invade the darkness. When it does not invade the darkness, something is radically wrong. Too many of us refuse to share Christ with others. We claim we don't know how to. That's a bogus argument. How much intelligence does it take to tell somebody that Jesus loves them and died for them? Even the Special Ministries people in our church know enough to share the gospel with others.

When we don't share Christ with others, we are not being true to our new spiritual natures. When we accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, His Spirit came to live within us. What is His agenda? To bear witness to Jesus. In fact, when the Spirit comes to live within us, He makes us witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8). That's who we are--witnesses of Jesus. What do witnesses do? They witness just like a lawyer practices law and a banker banks. When we don't witness, we are squelching our true natures.

How much effort does it take to be true to ourselves? No effort at all. I am bald. That's who I am, and it takes no effort to get bald. My genetic nature gives me chunky cheeks. It takes no effort to have chunky cheeks. In the same way it takes no effort to witness because the Spirit has made us witnesses. Instead it takes effort NOT to witness. We have to come up with all kinds of excuses not to reach out to others for Jesus: "I'm not good at it"; "People will be offended"; "That's not the way it's done any more"; etc. All that effort to deny our true selves, when all we have to do is just share Jesus with somebody.

We rightly claim that we are the light of the world by showing others our good works (Matt. 5:16). Remember though that sharing Jesus with others is a good work too. You cannot refuse to share Jesus with others and then claim that you are doing good works. Good works include sharing Jesus with others.

Finally, Jesus uses the word "light" to refer to the light of the judgment which is coming. Why is it important for you and me to be good soil? Why is it important to be the light of the world by showing others our good works? Because judgment is coming in which the light of Christ will expose everything we have ever done and will do.

Christians in the 20th century nullified the concept of judgment with regards to the Christian. They claim that judgment for the Christian is going to be nothing but positive, that only non-Christians are going to have a negative experience during the day of judgment. That teaching flies in the face of too many scriptures. In 1 Cor. 3 Paul says that for some Christians judgment is going to be rough. They shall be saved, yet only as if through fire (3:15). The idea of judgment should not scare us. It should though produce in us a profound respect for the fact that God Himself takes our lives seriously and that we should take them seriously too. It does matter what kind of soil we are. It does matter that we produce good works and that people come to know Jesus because they have encountered Him in us. Any other response means we're the second kind of soil, shallow with no depth.