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Luke 8:11-15 & Matthew 13:18-23 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:58 mins 2 secs

Fruit and the Parable of the Sower; Luke 8:11-15; Matt. 13:18-23


The parable of the sower is generally misunderstood and has become a major battleground in the whole issue of what is faith, what is salvation, what constitutes fruit-bearing and work and maturity and production in the spiritual life. The normal interpretation that you will get on this passage is that only the last soil is a believer. This relates very much to the subject we have been studying in James, which is the relationship of faith and works. In almost every discussion that we read on the subject Matthew 13 comes up. So we need to look at this and analyse it, bot in terms of its context, i.e. the context of Matthew, how Matthew is presenting the message of the kingdom and the rejection of the kingdom, the gospel that is being proclaimed by Jesus Christ as it had been by John the Baptist, and the synopsis of "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus has come as the greater son of David to present the messianic kingdom to the Jews, and they have rejected it back in chapter twelve. So up to that point one of the major terms we find in the Gospel of Matthew is the word KERUSSO [khrussw], which means to preach or to proclaim. This word becomes absent after chapter twelve. Up to that point Jesus is pr4oclaiming the proximity of the messianic kingdom, but in chapter twelve they accused Jesus of doing what He does in the power of Satan, that He was demon possessed. And so Jesus no longer proclaims and he begins to teach in parables—PARABOLE [parabolh]. This is a word that was not used prior to chapter thirteen and now becomes used many times following chapter thirteen. We saw the same thing in John's Gospel where there came a point in Jesus' ministry where both the leadership in Israel and the people reject the gospel, and so Jesus shifts His agenda, shifts His plan. No longer is he offering the kingdom to the people because the negative volition is obvious and is becoming entrenched as they reject Him, and He begins to teach and train the disciples in private to prepare them for their role in the coming church age.

In Matthew 13 the content revolves around the statement that Jesus makes in verse 11. He gives the initial parable of the sower and then:  Matthew 13:10 NASB "And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' [11] Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.'" He is telling us that revelation and the understanding of revelation is going to be limited. He is going to be explaining new doctrines and truths that man cannot on his own cannot understand, his intellect is limited by his spiritual condition, his spiritual death. And so He is going to make new particulars known about the kingdom of heaven, particulars that were never revealed in the Old Testament, and are referred to as mysteries.

As He gets into this discussion He prefaces His teaching on the kingdom of heaven on the parable of the soils. He speaks this to the multitude and he is going to introduce the concept, the key points in the metaphor for understanding all of the following parables. But this particular parable does not begin with the phrase, "This is like the kingdom of heaven." The reason is that the issues in the first parable are obvious to one and all, it has to do with rejection of the message and why the message has been rejected. We can imagine that the disciples, just as is seen in John, have given up their jobs, are following Jesus, are convinced that he is the Messiah. They have seen the signs, they know who he is, they completely trust Him but the people and the nation's leaders have rejected Him. So the question on their mind is, where to go from here. What is next? Why has this happened? Why have they rejected the Messiah?

There are three points to be made in relation to context. First, in contrast to the parables that follow the kingdom is not likened to any truth, and doctrine in this passage. It doesn't begin with the phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is like," as the other parables do. The Lord very carefully introduces each of the other parables with that formula, so it is safe for us to conclude that the parable of the sower—sometimes called the parable of the soils—makes the point that the sower is God in His sovereignty and that even in the midst of rejection of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ still controls history in spite of the fact that there are different responses to the message. So the Lord introduces kingdom principles, but what is in the first one is not new. This is information that has been going on throughout the whole Old Testament: different responses to the message. Second, there is no new revelation and the response simply relates to the everyday response that has been going on throughout human history to the gospel. Third, there is a careful arrangement of these parables which indicates that this is the introductory one. The eight parables are carefully divided into two equal sections by the Lord's departure from the house to the sea shore in Matthew 13:1. Then He takes leave of the crowd to go back into the house with His disciples in Matthew 13:36. So Matthew very carefully constructs what happens.

The Matthew account and the Luke account are different. Jesus didn't just give this message one time. The disciples heard these message from Jesus in many different contexts, so the context for Matthew is here, the context for Luke was a little different, but by comparing what Luke says with what Matthew says we are going to get a very clear picture of what the Lord intended to communicate. By Matthew's arrangement we see the relationship between all of the parables, and there is a very careful balance and it seems that Matthew is relating it more historically in terms of the event.

The parable begins in verse 3: "And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, 'Behold, the sower went out to sow …" A parable is a story, a fictitious narrative that is designed to communicate a principle, a spiritual truth. In a parable the people involved do not have names, they are not historical personages. Yet, when you look at the story of Lazarus and the rich man you have the story of Lazarus who is the beggar in rich details which makes him a real historical personage. That is the difference between a parable and a true historical event. The sower in this case is the Lord Jesus Christ. [4] "and as he sowed, some {seeds} fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. [5] 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." s far as the first soil type is concerned, it is the road, that hard pan of the road or pathway going through the field which has been trodden down and doesn't absorb the seed. Then the second soil type is rocky soil. [6] "But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. [7] Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. [8] And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. [9] He who has ears, let him hear."

It is only in the last soil that there is any production or fruit bearing. Most people go to Matthew 13 to look at this because there is a fuller account here, but we will discover that Luke chapter eight really helps us to understand things. What does this mean? Well fortunately the Lord did not leave it for us to guess. Matthew 13:18 NASB "Hear then the parable of the sower." So it is the parable of the sower, according to the Holy Spirit. [19] "When anyone [any person] 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." Here "the word of the kingdom" relates to the message that Jesus has been presenting. Matthew calls it the word of the kingdom because he is presenting Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the King of Israel. That is his theme, so he emphasizes kingdom principles. "And does not understand it" is an important word in the Greek, SUNIEMI [sunihmi], and it means to comprehend, to understand, and it refers to what takes place in the mentality of the soul. This is talking about intellectual activity, and this person does not have the intellectual activity that culminates in a complete understanding of the gospel. SUNIEMI means to understand, to comprehend, to perceive, and to have insight into. It means to be able to understand and evaluate something, to have insight into it. And what this indicates in the gospel is that the gospel has been made clear to the hearer but there is no understanding of spiritual realities. Why is that? It is because the unbeliever is spiritually brain dead. So we have the evangelist or the person witnessing who communicates the gospel. The gospel goes to the individual and because they are spiritually brain dead God the Holy Spirit will function as a human spirit in order to make it understandable to them. Then they have a decision to make. They are either going to accept it or reject it. At this point it begins to enter into the outer lobe of them mentality of the soul, called the NOUS [nouj]. Sometimes, because the innermost part is called the KARDIA [kardia], the Bible uses KARDIA just to relate to the whole soul; it is a metaphor. The heart then refers to the whole individual and he fails to understand the gospel. Not the basic mechanics of it, but he rejects it and so it is not a full understanding and it does not include believing. So he understands it at one level but he doesn't understand it to believe it, so he rejects it and there is no salvation. Everybody agrees that this first soil type indicates the unbeliever.

[19] "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom…" Hearing, AKOUO [a)kouw], indicates understanding at some level. "…and does not fully understand it," i.e. in terms of having true spiritual insight, "the evil one [Satan] comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart [KARDIA, the whole intellectual process of thinking in the soul]. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road." This is an unbeliever.

Luke 8:11 NASB "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God." Notice the difference. Matthew said it is the word of the kingdom; Luke calls it the word of God. Both passages refer to the same message but from a different perspective. Luke refers to it in terms of its source; Matthew refers to it in terms of its content. Both are accurate. [12] "Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved." From their heart is from their innermost heart, their thinking, so that is has gotten into their heart. At one level they have understood it but not to the point of belief, and since they haven't understood it to the point of belief Matthew says they didn't fully understand it. What does it mean, "that they will not believe and be saved"? You can see that it would be very easy to say that it is not their fault they didn't believe because Satan took it away before they understood it and they never had a chance. But we have to compare Scripture with Scripture and remember that in a parable we are talking with a lot of figurative language and metaphor. So we have to understand the use of language here or we'll make some serious mistakes.

The first soil which is the ground, the hard path, represents a heart without spiritual discernment because there is no spiritual rebirth. Without the human spirit man cannot understand the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14. Even though the Holy Spirit has made it understandable they reject it in terms of negative volition and they don't want to listen. So when the word of then kingdom is proclaimed there is no understanding and it says that Satan snatches away. In what sense does Satan snatch it away? We have to go to 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 to understand the dynamics. NASB "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." How does Satan blind the minds of the unbeliever? He has a cosmic system, an orderly system of thinking, and Satan is constantly promoting human viewpoint systems of thought which provide legitimising rationales to our desire to reject God. There are all kinds of ways we can rationalise the truth and reject God. So from these various false philosophies Satan blinds men to the truth of God's Word. He snatches the truth through various systems of thought that give a person the rationale for rejecting God and not believing in the gospel. The reason it mentions Satan is because he is the author of the cosmic system and he is the one who stands at its head, so everything ultimately goes back to the one who is at the head. It is Satan's system, it is his opposition to the plan and program of God. 

The second soil. Matthew 13:20 NASB "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." Notice the difference between the first and the second. The first one hears the word and does not understand it. The second one hears it and receives it with joy. If that is all we had our first impression would be that this person is a believer, and we would be right.

When we look at Luke and the way this is expressed here it says that the purpose of taking away the word from the heart is a result clause, "that they may not believe and be saved." So clearly this person has not believed and is not saved. The reason this is important is because Luke introduced terminology that Matthew did not use. Matthew says, "Whenever anyone hears the word and does not understand it." That is as far as Matthew went. Luke gives us clarity; he says it is taken away so that they will not believe. Luke tells us the issue is faith. The issue with the first soil type is that this person does not believe and is not saved. Everywhere else where we have this word joy, CHARA [xara], it refers to the kind of inner happiness that only a believer possesses. This is the kind of joy that Jesus says He will share with the believer. So at first glance it would seem that if we didn't know anything else, that because he receives the word with joy we would think he is a believer. There is further support for the idea that this person is a believer.  he word that is translated "received" is also illuminating. It is the Greek word LAMBANO [lambanw] which means to take or to receive and it is used in John 1:12: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name." This is another term that is used synonymously in many passages with belief. Another passage is John 17:8: "for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received {them} and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me." It means they believed what Jesus taught them. The same thing is used in Hebrews 10:26. So what we have here is the word receiving is analogous to faith, or a synonym to faith and belief, and it is done with joy, which is an attitude that is associated in the Gospel writers with something that comes from God. It is not merely a superficial emotional response. This is the emotional conversion, the person who just gets all excited, is happy, but there is no real faith here, it is just emotional conversion, a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm, but no real faith.

We ought to think about that a little bit because there is a parallel in Luke that is going to help us understand it. Luke 8:13 NASB "Those on the rocky {soil are} those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no {firm} root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation [testing] fall away." He says they receive the word with joy, but it is not LAMBANO, it is DECHOMAI [dexomai] which is also used synonymously for belief throughout Luke's writings. This word DECHOMAI is used for believing the gospel in various passages in Acts, and remember, Luke wrote Acts. Cf. Acts 8:14 NASB "Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God." That is a summary after they heard about Peter and John going up to the Samaritans preaching the gospel and the Samaritans responded by believing the gospel. So Luke calls that receiving the Word of God. Acts 17:11 NASB "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily {to see} whether these things were so." Acts 11:1 NASB "Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God." Cf. 11:1 with 11:15-18. Receiving the Word means faith, believing the gospel. So Luke makes it clear that those who fell on rocky soil heard the gospel and believed on it and had great joy; it refers to saving faith—"they believe for a while."

1)  There is no such thing biblically as a false faith, an inadequate faith, or a pseudo faith. The Bible never uses an adjective to qualify faith.

2)  For a time—"they believe for a while"—is not an issue. Never does the Scripture say believe for the rest of your life and you will be saved. Some person may say, 'Well it was just a temporary faith, it wasn't a real faith; if it was a real faith it would have lasted longer.' Well how long is longer? How long is belief for a while? The Scripture says, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and what happens in that moment of time is so phenomenal that it can't be reversed.

3)  To produce anything in agriculture implies germination and life. Biologically speaking you can't have germination without producing life and without producing at least the beginnings of a root.

4)  That is why the translation in the NASB is more accurate. It says, "these have no firm roots." When you have that fresh seed that has just sprouted and is just putting out that new sprout and is just barely putting out a root, if it is on a thin layer of soil there won't be anything for that root to grab on to and to provide stability for the new plant. If in that early stage of life something comes along to knock it loose, then  it will be knocked off and no longer grow and come to a stage where it can produce fruit. That is the point that the Lord is making. It is not that they did not believe but that it is a temporary belief, they don't have any persistence or endurance in the spiritual life. So when testing came, rather than responding by applying the Word of God and growing to maturity, they responded by human viewpoint, and here we have the failure as a believer.

5)  So the first soil represents the person who does not understand. This does not means that the phrase "understanding" is not mentioned in the second that the second did not understand. It is very simple, Luke says they believed. You can't believe something you don't understand. When we come to the fourth soil the passage doesn't say that that person received the word with joy either, but that doesn't means that the fourth soil doesn't receive the word with joy.

6)  The issue in the parable is production in light of understanding kingdom revelation. This is why context is so important. Jesus is talking about the fact that He is no longer going to be clearly communicating kingdom doctrine, He is going to be couching it in parabolic terms so that only those who are truly positive will understand the doctrine. So the issue in this whole context is production in relation to understanding kingdom revelation. He is not teaching a parable about salvation. Salvation is clearly present but that is not the main point that Jesus is talking about. 

The doctrine of faith

1)  Faith is a mental activity that is triggered by volition. You believe with the thinking part of the soul because you have to understand the Word of God. The propositions of Scripture express facts. So we believe the Scriptures, the facts the Scripture tells us about the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth, that He fulfilled all of the conditions of the Old Testament and that He was without sin and went to the cross and died. And we believe that, we accept those propositions as true. Once we understand them we agree with them, we give our intellectual assent. Believing the facts results in a relationship with the person. We don't first believe in the person because we can only know the person by understanding the facts of Scripture and agreeing that they are true—specifically that Christ died as our substitute. As such faith cannot be emotion because emotion cannot respond to a command.   

2)  Faith is always directed toward an object which can be expressed as a proposition. Therefore faith is not a function of emotion, it is a function of reason, of cognition, of intellection. You believ with your mind only, you do not believe with your emotions or your feelings.

3)  Therefore you do not believe directly in a person or come to salvation through a relationship with Jesus. First you believe the propositions in Scripture that inform you about Jesus and His saving work on the cross. This tells us that faith is rational, it is not irrational or emotional. People believe all kinds of crazy things, and crazy things may be irrational but faith itself is an intellectual activity, it is not irrational and it is not emotional.

4)  Therefore faith is an activity of the mentality of the soul directed first and foremost to a proposition, and that is what the Scriptures present, as in Acts 16:31.

5)  Faith has no merit in itself, all the merit is in the object. It is not because I believe, it is through faith Jesus Christ has all of the merit.

6)  Faith as an intellectual activity excludes emotion, irrationalism and mysticism. Faith agrees that something is true. Emotion, irrationalism and mysticism are enemies of faith.    

One example, just to show how we apply this. There is a hymn, "I know whom I have believed." One of the reasons we don't sing that is because verse 2 reads: "I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart." That's a Lordship gospel, the idea that there is a faith in Christ that doesn't save and there is a genuine faith that does save. What the Lordship gospel people have to say in the second soil is that this is a belief in Christ that doesn't save. Yet, where in the Bible do we find any evidence that somebody can believe in Christ, in the gospel, and not be saved.

Matt 13:21 NASB "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." This continues to define the problem with the rocky soil. "Because of the word"—because he is a believer he now encounters testing, and he fails to apply doctrine so he falls away. He doesn't lose his salvation but he is no longer an advancing, maturing believer. 

[22] The third soil type: "And the one on whom seed was sown among the 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." Here we have the Greek word GINOMAI [ginomai] which means to become something you were not before—"becomes unfruitful." The implication is that there was some fruit but it becomes unfruitful because there is no application of doctrine. He does not pass the tests related to the details of life and he lets worry, mental attitude sins, the desire for the things of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, choke things out. So he is focused on temporal things rather than eternal things and therefore cannot advance beyond the testing and has no production—"becomes unfruitful." Luke 8:14 NASB "The {seed} which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of {this} life, and bring no fruit to maturity." In other words, they can't handle the tests of adversity or prosperity.

What have we seen in James? That the way to handle adversity and prosperity is through doctrine in the soul, and if there is no doctrine you can't handle the tests of adversity and prosperity. The result is that no fruit is brought to maturity. When you compare the GINOMAI in Matthew 13, which implies fruit, with the statement in Luke 8:14 that there is fruit but it is not brought to maturity, you see that there is production even in the third soil but it is not production that culminates in any spiritual growth. 

Luke 8:15 NASB "But the {seed} in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance." The good soil.

Matt 13:23 NASB "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." So the emphasis here is on production. It is the same point that James is making, that we have to have production in the spiritual life if the spiritual life is going to have any validity for us in terms of phase two spiritual growth. All four of these have heard the Word. The difference is not the lack of exposure to the message of the gospel, the issue is what they do with it—their volition. The first is negative and rejection. The second and third is positive to the gospel but negative to doctrine—failures in the spiritual life. They begin to grow and then the details of life, the adversities of life, the testings in life, choke them out and there is no advance to spiritual maturity. This is what happens to so many baby and infant believers. They never get any doctrine and they immediately get distracted in the spiritual life and get focused on all the cares of life and they never advance to any level of spiritual maturity.

So what we see here is just a reaffirmation of the same points that James is making in James chapter two: doctrine without application is dead, it has no production value in the spiritual life. What we conclude is the importance of production. If we are going to have any validity in the spiritual life, anything of lasting value, then what that demands is production. Production comes under the filling of God the Holy Spirit, continuous walk8ng by means of God the Holy Spirit, taking in the Word of God so we have doctrine in our souls, and then on the basis of that doctrine in our souls applying it to the tests of life. The result is different levels of production. Just as there are different levels of believers, some advance to spiritual maturity and just barely become spiritual adults, and others advance all the way to spiritual maturity and glorify God to the maximum.