Jeremiah and the Parable of the Sower

The Sower

One of the more well-known parables of Jesus is the parable of the sower. It is a simple parable and its basic point can be explained quickly, yet it teaches an important lesson. However, it is also one in which we can draw out other points. In this article, we are going to consider this parable and build upon it with lessons learned from Jeremiah.

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear’” (Matthew 13:3-9).

In this parable, Jesus described the sower scattering seed on four different types of soils – the roadside, the rocky ground, the thorny ground, and the good soil. The seed was scattered regardless of the type of soil. However, the results were affected by the soil on which the seed fell.

Jesus then explained the parable to His disciples (Matthew 13:18-23). The seed was the word of God (cf. Luke 8:11). The soils represented different types of hearts.

  • Roadside – “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road” (Matthew 13:19). These individuals hear the word, but do not understand the message so the devil takes away the seed. They allow themselves to become distracted and preoccupied so that they pay no attention.
  • Rocky – “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21). These ones hear the word and receive it with joy, yet their response is shallow and superficial. Because of this, they fall away when things get difficult. They are not committed, but instead are short-sighted.
  • Thorns – “And the one on whom seed was sown among thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). These hearers receive the word, but it is choked out by worries and materialism in their hearts. They are worldly-minded and have their priorities misplaced.
  • Good soil – “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). These individuals hear the word, understand it, and bear fruit. This is what the Lord desires of us.

As we serve the Lord today, we are to scatter the seed everywhere. This is necessary because we do not know people’s hearts. This fact was the basis for Paul’s point about revelation in his letter to the church in Corinth: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). We cannot know the mind of God unless He reveals it to us just as we cannot know the minds or hearts of others unless they disclose that to us.

As the hearts of the potential hearers are different, the results of the sowing (teaching the word of God) will vary depending on the reception of the hearers. We are to “persuade” others (2 Corinthians 5:11), not force them to respond. Therefore, our responsibility is to plant the seed. Paul explained, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). If it is clear, despite our best efforts, that someone or some group will not be receptive, we need to “shake the dust off [our] feet” and move on (Matthew 10:14).

Lessons from Jeremiah

But what if, as we work to sow the seed, we could also affect the soil? Is there a way to turn bad ground (unreceptive hearts) into good soil (receptive hearers)? It takes work, but it can be done. After all, this is what farmers and gardeners do before planting.

When God called Jeremiah to prophesy for Him, the prophet had work to do before he could plant the seed of God’s word:

Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:9-10).

Figuratively speaking, Jeremiah had to clear a field or lot before he could plant or build. He needed to remove all obstacles and hindrances to his message. The men of Judah and Jerusalem were told to do something similar:

For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds’” (Jeremiah 4:3-4).

As we think about how this could apply to us today, maybe instead of just sowing the seed, we could also work to affect the hearts of those around us. This could potentially make them more receptive to the gospel. But how can we do this?

How to Cultivate the Soil for Sowing

As we have already noted, we cannot judge the hearts of people (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11). This is why we sow the seed everywhere. However, we can learn more about people as we get to know them. So what can we do to make the less receptive hearts more receptive to the gospel?

  • Roadside – For those who are uninterested, distracted, and preoccupied, we need to be persistent. It may be a while before they are interested. So we ought to regularly bring up spiritual things in a persistent (but not pushy) way. We can be an example showing a consistent interest in spiritual things (worship assemblies, Bible studies, etc.).
  • Rocky – For those who are short-sighted or not fully committed, we need to be honest in acknowledging difficulties we might face. At the same time, we should be ready to remind them of the trouble caused by sin, the benefits of godliness, and the hope of eternal life. We should be an example of commitment to the Lord through the difficulties that we personally face (mocking, ridicule, exclusion, etc.).
  • Thorns – For those who are worldly-minded and have misplaced priorities, we should show contentment and not be envious of others, crave material things, or be motivated only by financial gain. We are to be an example of one who puts spiritual things first – our treasures in heaven and the hope of the resurrection.

There are other possibilities as well. Why might people be uninterested in hearing, believing, and obeying the gospel? Maybe they see hypocrisy among religious people (which certainly does exist), so be sincere and genuine. Perhaps they have a past negative experience with other Christians or churches (which often happens), so be an example of faithfulness and goodness.

Other possibilities could be added to the list as well. The point is that in every interaction we have with others, we are trying to work on making them more receptive to the message of the gospel that we hope to share with them. When they are interested, we want them to know they can turn to us and trust us to direct them in the right way.

Conclusion

We are to work to plant the seed of the word of God around us. As we do this, the more we get to know people, the more we can work on cultivating their hearts. Many who may not be receptive right now could be in the future. We should try to work toward this, especially with those we know and interact with regularly.


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