Written by Paul J. Bucknell on January, 20, 2023
Luke 8:1-15 Kingdom Hearts: The Parable of the Sower
Luke 8:1-15 helps us rightly approach God’s Word. Four categories encourage us to examine and understand our responses toward God’s Word and gain a properly-responsive heart to receive God’s Word and secure a rich crop.
A) The Character of the Kingdom of God (Luke 8:1-3)
8:1 And it came about soon afterwards, that He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with Him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:1-3, NASB and following)
Worth preaching (Luke 8:1)
The kingdom of God already entered the world in power (also Matt 13:1-9. 18-23). This passage does not suggest that it is something for the distant future or heaven but for the here and now. If God’s kingdom was worth preaching, then it remains so today. We might disagree with Jesus that this is an urgent message, but perhaps, like back then, we do not understand God’s purpose in preaching the gospel. People might feel free not to believe, but do they have the freedom to believe? The proclamation of God’s kingdom is an urgent task for us due to the great need of the people and the beautiful transformation it offers. Let’s look at verses 2-3.
Worth believing (Luke 8:2-3)
The transforming power of the kingdom of God is easily seen in Luke’s simple description of a few people that accompanied Jesus. They are the transformed. First, he identifies several women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses, among them was Mary Magdalene (different from Magdala). Something significant had happened in their lives to convince them of the power of God’s kingdom and give them the desire to be with Jesus. Mary, by Jesus’ command, had seven demons cast out. She had experienced the world apart from God and desperately sought Jesus for help and peace–and found it! God works deeply in hearts, not just with the poor and destitute, but the rich. Riches do not give peace. God’s promises do.
How do you understand the corruption and sickening indulgence around you? Joanna, also named here, had great wealth, as her husband oversaw Tetrarch Herod Antipater’s treasuries. She knew it wasn’t riches, fame, or security that met human depravity's deep needs, but she discovered the peace she was looking for in Jesus. Perhaps you were inflamed with a love of the world and now wonder if somehow you can separate yourself from that which has begun to control your own life. Or perhaps you had confidence in the human race until you recently saw man’s aggression, merciless violence, injustice, or crude behavior.
With this introduction, we wonder what Jesus was saying that could bring about such transformation or why such people in significant numbers followed and listened to Jesus. Luke accurately writes about one of Jesus’ parables to clarify the nature of the kingdom of God: the Parable of the Sower.
B) A Picture of the Kingdom of God (Luke 8:4-8)
4 And when a great multitude were coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: 5 “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 “And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 “And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out. 8 “And other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:4-8)
The people sensed something had changed; many had dramatically experienced God’s power. The interest in Jesus’ words brought many people long distances to hear Him. This was not an issue of getting up an hour earlier to get to church. They walked from surrounding towns and cities and often camped out at night. Jesus knew that people had many questions about spiritual matters and were “journeying to Him.” He knew the answers and taught them( and us).
The Parable of the Sower surprisingly teaches us many things we long to understand and experience. These kingdom words describe extraordinary truths regarding how we hear the Word of God.
First, Jesus explains why everyone does not believe. There are deep ongoing spiritual struggles deep within and around each of us. The battles come to the forefront each time the Word of God is proclaimed, even as you read this. The Word of God is the truth revealed in our lives and holds forth great potential. Jesus gives great promise to the seed properly received. And so, as a follow-up question, we can ask, “Why isn’t everyone equally changed?” Or, a bit more subtle, for those who have been around the church where the Word of God has been preached for many years, “Why don’t we all grow the same?” Or “Why do some stop believing?” In essence, we quietly wonder that if God’s Word is so powerful, why does it not impact everyone or seems to lose its drawing power for some? (Some of you have been touched powerfully by God’s Word and wonder why others don’t seem to be equally touched.) Jesus tells us, but before continuing, let us observe another important teaching revealed in these words.
Jesus gets very personal. Some question predestination or, issues like, “What about those people who have never heard?” Jesus breaks through those questions with answers from our lives. As much as we might like to blame others or allow confusion to hold us back from responding to God’s Word, Jesus comes straight to us, looks us in the eye, and offers us the Word of Life. What are you going to do with it? Here are words that help you and me connect with life and God Himself. Never allow excuses to hold back your trust in God’s Word. When God’s Word comes to you, listen. Take it, hold it tight and never let it go.
This is not only about unbelievers but spiritual forces affecting us.
A talk describing unbelievers? One last important matter before going on. Some believe this parable only teaches about unbelievers who have no trust in the gospel and the struggle they experience coming to know God and gain eternal life. Indeed, this idea is included in these thoughts, describing Satan’s onslaught to keep us all in the dark. If you are not a follower of Jesus, you can come to know God through His powerful Word. But let us remember that Satan not only tries to keep God’s Word from the unbeliever, to keep him or her under his control, but he wants to keep the believer in the dark, a pawn in his hand. These words of Jesus, therefore, also describe the believer and the interaction he or she has with the Word of God.
Jesus uses familiar objects to teach us spiritual truths. Creation has its revelatory aspect. God wants us to understand spiritual matters and has placed His teaching aids all around us! This is why and how Jesus taught the multitudes. He used parables. Those that wanted to learn could learn, could learn more.
This teaching is given in two parts, forming the second two parts of our three-part outline. The first is in verses 4-8, where Jesus tells the parable, concluding with a personal warning to pay attention. The second is found in verses 9-15, where Jesus explains the parable to his disciples and, therefore, to its readers. We should not, cannot, go away saying we do not understand. Finally, though the parable looks simple, some profound questions about spiritual life are answered here.
I like gardening. One of the reasons I started gardening was to understand better the world that God made. It fascinates me. I wondered how God could make a nice red tomato from a tiny seed, dirt, water, and sun. I am amazed. Every leaf and root holds impressive lessons for us. The more we learn actual science, the more we cannot explain design apart from its Great Designer. This is true in nature as well as in the spiritual world. There are unique and need more easily understood principles in operation behind the scenes. So, as Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
In this parable, Jesus spoke about sowing or planting seeds in a field. They did not have little packages of seeds like I bought for my tiny city plot, but a sack of seeds to sow a big field. I have so few seeds that I ensure every last one is in the right spot. (My wife sometimes disagrees with me, and we have pleasant discussions about where to put our few seeds!) These first verses only describe the places where the seed went upon being sown and how it grew. Jesus points out four places, (1) beside the road, (2) on rocky soil, (3) among thorns, and (4) on good soil. He then calls us to pay attention to these things. Despite their simplicity, Jesus emphasizes how important these essential truths are to help us understand our lives.
Summary (Luke 8:4-8)
Before going on to the explanation, let’s make a few observations. Like Matthew 13, Jesus (see verse 9) only explains when asked.
(1) The seed goes out everywhere equally. (The farmer sows the seed unintentionally on unproductive places. They happen to fall there.)
(2) The seed does not grow equally.
(3) The farmer wants all the seeds to grow and produce a great crop.
This potential motivates the farmer to work in the oppressive heat. Instead of eating all the grain, the seed, he plants some of it in the hope of reaping much more. So let us now explain the spiritual insights in 8:9-15.
C) An Explanation of God’s Kingdom (Luke 8:9-15)
9 And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be. 10 And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. 11 Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. 12 “And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And 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 fall away. 14 And 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. 15 And 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.”
Observation versus teaching
In verses 4-8, Jesus discloses the meaning behind the scenes in general revelation.
General revelation, that which we can observe in creation, is observed in verses 3-6 and can astound us with great understanding through our reasoning and testing process.
Special revelation, however, that which comes through God’s Word, enables us to peer through spiritual windows, so to speak, into the kingdom of God to understand unique insights.
Special opportunity (Luke 8:9-10)
“To you it has been granted.” Jesus allows many to hear the parable without an explanation. They see these same truths around them all the time. Their challenge becomes ours: How much do I desire to know the things of God? Will I hang around and see if I hear an explanation? Do I care? Will I adjust my life and perspectives according to what I hear? We become liable for what we know. If we know little, we will be judged a little. But if we know more, we will be held to higher scrutiny. God will ask, “What did you do with the truth of God that you heard? Did you obey?”
Let us now apply the spiritual filter to a simple field that has been recently sown. It instantly becomes a spiritual harvest of truths, helping us understand many mysterious things. Let us be like the disciples who wondered what they would conclude from Jesus’ story picture. Jesus, without hesitation, identifies what each of the significant items represents. There is one exception, Jesus skips over the identity of the sower. Perhaps it was something they, and we could understand: Those who distribute the Word of God.
The seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:11)
The Word of God is likened to the seed, “The seed is the word of God.” The gospel, the key to understanding God’s Word, is used five times in the Book of Luke, but Jesus uses the Word of God more broadly-those words that come from God to direct us to Himself and life. Perhaps it would help to differentiate God’s Word from people’s words, whether found in the news or on social media. Some of it is interesting, but much is simply chatter, not holding significant meaning. Does God’s Word matter? Jesus’ insights always make a significant difference in our lives, and this seed is distributed everywhere.
For example, in this message, we receive the seed, the Word of God. We have heard these words from Jesus. The words are the seed. God is trying to communicate with us. Seeds are designed to grow and express themselves. As you read the scriptures daily, it is the same, the Word of God, like a seed being sown in your heart, offering much potential if combined with faith. This brings us to the second point.
The ground or soil is our hearts (Luke 8:12-15)
The ground or soil represents our hearts. How our hearts respond to the Word is directly linked to how the Word of God influences our lives. Our response to God is the condition of our hearts or soil. It gauges our faith and our eagerness to respond to the Lord. Did you note that everyone received the same good seed, but the effect differs significantly? The issue is not the seed but the response, as described by the different grounds on which the seed fell. The parable is primarily composed of these four different responses. The sower sows the same seed but does not sprout and grow equally. The sower, of course, wanted all the seeds to grow up, but not all of them did. Jesus begins to speak very directly to our hearts here. We can see our physical appearance in a mirror, but we need the Spirit of God to see spiritually. There are four kinds of soil that the seed landed in:
#1 By the roadside (Lu 8:12). “And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.”
#2 On the rocky soil (8:13). “And 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 fall away.”
#3 Among the thorns (8:14). “And 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.”
#4 In the good soil (8:15). “And 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.”
Jesus’ explanation ends in verse 15. The composition of the soil dictates what happens to the seed. The heart (soil) and its response to the Word of God (the seed) shape how well the seed thrives. Again, we all know what the farmer wants. He expects the seed to grow and multiply. None of us would doubt that or want anything different from that farmer. We should assume this is God’s hope for all of us to be able to hear and respond to the Word of God. The goal is the same, “grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great” (8:8). Why do people want a big crop? It speaks of food, filled stomachs, sharing, prosperity, and strength for the foundation of a society. Spiritually, this is true too. What the Word of God brings us is life everlasting. The truth of God’s Word helps us in every aspect of life and becomes the foundation of the whole person.
A sad picture of injustice
With its potential for life, a seed contrasts much with our secular society, which promotes that a fulfilled life can only be found apart from God’s Word, not in being subject to God. That approach is greatly mistaken. Jesus’ words teach the truth: a person can only find a fulfilled life as he or she allows God’s Word to fill the vacuum of the heart.
Let me give one example of societal injustice. Think of the man encouraged by his friends, laws, and society not to wed but to have careless intimate relationships, have children at random, or have them killed. These decisions not to be faithful to one woman in marriage bring about the awful situation where delinquent children, abuse, and poverty arise. Women are despised and used, and children are abandoned. Statistics demonstrate this. If we follow the lusts of our physical drive, we and those around us will end up destitute. Monogamous marriage makes a crucial difference in social issues despite what people suggest. If you care for the poor, battered women, rejected children, health issues, poverty problems, and abused children, there is no more significant and evident connection than to fatherlessness which marriage fights against.
Fatherless: twice as likely to go to jail, increase of juvenile suicides (63%), 85% of behavioral disorders, 71% of high school drop outs, great increase of delinquents (87%). How many children are killed (abortion –unwanted) because of this? In the United States, marriage drops the probability of child poverty by 82 percent.
Without God’s guidance, our society goes astray, bringing evil upon itself. God knows how He designed us to function best and shares this profound vision of what is good so we can refuse the selfishness that breeds evil.
God sows His Word to help us properly develop as believers. He tells us that marriage is good and that people should not get divorced and remarried. Society is giving all this counter advice that cripples our lives and freedom–to enslave us. God’s Word brings guidance and motivation, resulting in good, represented by a seed grown up and bearing fruit–things like good relationships, forgiveness, and mercy rather than bitterness and arrogance. Are you ready to hear God’s Word? Only God’s Word will protect and bless us.
God’s Word inspires a couple to be faithful, committed in marriage, enjoy good relationships, and care for and train up godly children. In our society, poverty, crime, abuse, and death are primarily fostered by those who do not hear God speak. Do you ever wonder how people, on the one hand, say they are concerned about the poor, abused children, and battered women but then disparage or undermine the sanctity of marriage? You should. Jesus tells us why this is so. Something else is working behind the scenes.
Jesus mentions the devil in verse 12. “Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart.” Jesus knows the devil hates God’s Word, which undermines his evil purposes. If God’s Word is known and trusted, then the devil has no power to control mankind through deceit. From the beginning, the evil one has been confusing people and causing them to mistrust God’s Word. Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden? The same serpent cleverly hides behind the scenes trying to manipulate us so that we do not trust God.
We don’t expect to find the devil in the field, do we? But Jesus knows he is there trying to confound people. Sometimes very directly, like in the first scenario. The road is a dirt or rocky path hardened by people walking and carts rumbling over it. Without faith in God’s Word, there is no place for the seed to enter the ground. It’s too hard. The result is that people do not believe and are not saved. People might be moved to believe but not follow through on that commitment. They become easily distracted, which is often due to the evil one, and the word is forgotten (the devil steals it). A person can hear the gospel but not respond to it. The spiritual world collides with the physical one.
The seed falls on other ground too. In the second scenario, many rocks prevent the roots from going deep. The plants cannot stand firm. Though they receive the Word joyfully, they have not found a deep commitment to the Lord. They believe only if it does not threaten their lifestyle. People believe, and are sometimes wrongly told, that belief is a simple understanding of forgiveness and nothing more. They hear nothing of repentance and following Jesus.
More and more believers worldwide are being challenged by opposition and persecution. One pastor in India told me that the other pastors had accepted the challenge. They will go on. This was after one of the evangelist’s young boy was found choked to death, along with increased threats and opposition. But not all are ready to live out their faith, “They believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.”
In the third scenario, the seed fell among the thorns. They received the seed, like the others, but their interest in the Lord’s word began to lessen as they started focusing on the things of this world. “They are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life and bring no fruit to maturity.” How do we live in such a way that, though we have the things of the world, they do not enchant or distract us? I think the point is that unless our hearts have made an excellent place for that seed to grow because we want it to grow, it will not. The seed doesn’t just happen to grow.
I acknowledge that it becomes a continuous challenge in our busy modern society to pause and reflect on God’s Word. If I want a good garden, I need to eliminate the weeds because they interfere with my goal of a productive garden. Worries keep people from God’s Word because they focus on their concerns. Those that are rich protect their riches and make more. Be wise, yet do not become preoccupied. God’s Word offers so much more. These are the devil’s traps he regularly uses with believers and unbelievers to keep God’s best from us.
The devil’s involvement was mentioned early on, but he stays with believers and works differently. He “tempts” us with worldly and fleshly attractions and thoughts. He feeds them to our minds to link us with these sinful desires.
The good soil (Luke 8:15)
We naturally focus on the seed that grew and bore a hundredfold crop. This is what we want. “And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” I told you this gets very personal. Your choice to obey God’s Word will prosper you. You can put God’s will and the needs of others ahead of your selfish preferences. This decision will keep popping up when you read or hear His Word because this is the spiritual mirror that helps us see who we are and what God wants.
Please observe the blessing that follows those who obey the Word of God–they grow to maturity and bear fruit. The same is true with a seed. If you told me that this tiny seed would grow big and bear much fruit, it sounds like a fairytale, but upon repeatedly observing it, you want to plant a garden and profit from this mysterious principle. The same is true spiritually.
Jesus says three things are necessary to have such a harvest. The heart that responds has “heard the word in an honest and good heart.” In other words, they want to hear God’s Word. They do not use devious schemes to get ahead. Honesty deliberately dodges deceit. Honesty puts others ahead of self, while dishonesty places self-interest before others. They have a (1) good heart, (2) seek God’s wisdom and ways, and are (3) eager to incorporate His Word into their lives. When we fail to live according to God’s Word, our lives begin to suffer. (I am not stating that all suffering comes from disobedience, but much does. Some comes through pruning, which only makes us more effective, fruit-bearing.) When we eagerly seek God’s wisdom and Word, we more often adopt it, setting us up to marvelously reap from His Word.
This simple parable unfolds many spiritual insights.
(1) God’s Word is needed and to be trusted. Most importantly, God causes great fruit from hearing and obeying God’s Word. We do not need to experience things to know things, but we can trust His Word and therefore avoid evil. You miss out on nothing.
(2) God’s Word leads to salvation. Watch out for the struggle to believe in Christ for salvation. Jesus is not just another god to adopt for security but the Lord of the universe demanding our soul, heart, and mind. The heart of the gospel is that God has given His Son to love us. Love is the backdrop of salvation.
(3) Responsiveness to God’s Word must be monitored continually. Believers constantly struggle with what they will do with the Word of God. Do you want the Word of God? Most Christian growth is composed of learning to hear and obey the Lord. Read the Bible more, and you will grow more. If you sense the Word not connecting with your soul, repent and confess any known sin, and humbly ask Him to teach you as you eagerly seek His Word again.
Spiritual Life Questions on Luke 8:1-15
- Why doesn’t everyone believe?
- Why isn’t everyone equally changed?
- Why does some stop believing?
- What are the four soils to catch the seed?
- Do you think the farmer always wants a rich, full harvest? Why? What does that spiritually mean?
- Explain the first soil, including what it represents and the spiritual lesson.
- Explain the second soil, including what it represents and the spiritual lesson.
- Explain the third soil, including what it represents and the spiritual lesson.
- Explain the last picture, including what it represents and the spiritual lesson.
- Consider your life and which best depicts your struggles. Pray about your concerns.
- How do you respond differently in your daily reading of God’s Word?