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Observing God’s Mysterious Strategies Matthew 13:18-23

Observing God’s Mysterious Strategies

Matthew 13:18-23

The Bible Teaching Commentary

Paul J. Bucknell
Explanation of the Parables

Viewing the Surprise Harvest (Matthew 13:31-32) | Video
Observing God’s Mysterious Strategies (Matthew 13:18-23) | Video

global perspectiveDescription: Gaining a solid perspective on the irregularities of church growth around the world by analyzing the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:18-23 and suggesting positive steps to move forward.

When we look at the world in which the Lord is growing His church, we can easily be puzzled.

Do you want to know?

The Lord wants us to know the answer. We know this not only by His giving us the Parable of the Sower but in that Jesus also gave us an explanation of the parable.

Jesus wanted to warn the church, but also to help them know that if they ever found themselves somewhat off the path, that they could change direction and be reinvigorated.

This has happened during the revivals that broke out in different parts of the world and likely to happen at least once again. We need to continue seriously seeking the Lord on the behalf of others drifting from their first love and ourselves if necessary.

NT Biblical resources on our NT LibraryThe Christian training resources on the web here is only a small portion of the great media-enriched resources that we have both on the OT and NT. Click here or on the picture to look at our New Testament resources. This is just the beginning of our huge library of quality biblical training materials–always filled with many applications.

The kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament fluctuated up and down, depending on who was king. Those like Josiah could steer the kingdom back into righteousness and find God’s blessing, even though things had become so desperately dark.

We will first look at a (1) Biblical Explanation for this and then a (2) Global Interpretation. We will first allow those biblical truths to correct our vision and then gleefully observe the world through God’s glasses.

A Biblical Explanation

Observing the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

18 Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 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.

20 And 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; 21 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 13:18-21).

22 “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 riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 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 13:22-23).

The parables of Jesus are intriguing. They answer a lot of important questions that we are asking today. The Lord wants to reveal these truths to us so that we can be more strategic and deliberate in our service.

The parable of the pearl of great value teaches about the inner changes that occur when a person becomes a believer. The parable of the mustard seed addresses the question,

“What should the church look like in our modern and traditional societies?”

Another parable helps us better grasp how God is accomplishing His worldwide work of building a church. We know from the Parable of the Mustard Seed that nothing shall stop that great work, but the Lord wants us to know how to best accomplish that marvelous work.

The Parable of the Sower sows strategic insight that helps us answer a lot of difficult questions and motivates us to make a significant difference.

How can the church grow so rapidly in some areas while experience such slow growth in other areas?

Why is the church so weak if Christ is so strong?

Our understanding of these questions are directly linked to understanding some major mission and church issues. Jesus really wants us to know. In this case, He actually even interpreted the Parable of the Sower so that we would get it! Out of a need to focus, I will assume we are familiar with the parable and only generally introduce it.

Overview of the parable of the Sower

Let’s first observe what is being taught. Again, we will only quickly summarize the four different scenarios.

seedsThe sower went out and sowed seed in four places. Jesus explains through the farming illustration what happens in each case. The seed is symbolic for the Word of God. So he gives us the picture of how people respond to the Word of God.

Road: Exposed: Evil one snatches what has been sown in heart.

Rocky: Vulnerable: Hears the word, receive with joy, no root, falls away in affliction.

Thorns: Starved: Hears the word but worry and riches choke the word.

Good soil: Responsive: Hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit.

I know our first response might be to think that this parable describes why unbelievers reject the Word of God or come to know the Lord, but clearly Jesus is not saying this. In Matthew 13:9 Jesus says ‘when anyone hears the word of the kingdom.’

We often think of the Word of God only in regards to salvation but the Word of God comprises the many truths spread throughout the Old and New Testament that is used to build up the people of God.

The underlying question is, “Why is the seed sown but not grow into a healthy plant?” This is the rigorous question I bring to the plants that I plant in my backyard. I have expectations. I want and seek growth and fruit!

When this expected growth does not happen, thenI go through a number of mental exercises trying to figure why it did not grow, or why it was so stunted (like our green peppers this year) or what disease might have got to them.

I expect all my plants to grow up big and healthy, bearing fruit in time. When this happens, my wife and I are so happy and contented. I love to hear the words, “There are so many beans!” or “What are we going to do with all the tomatoes?”

The Lord is the farmer here. What do you think He wants to happen in His garden where the Word of God is planted? Right, He wants it to flourish and grow. Please remember this is the goal, the purpose and the hope that God has for His seed of truth. God wants growth! We perhaps could call Him a demanding farmer.

Jesus knew, however, not all plants grow up healthy and strong. Let’s look at his insight into why the Word of God sometimes is not effective.

#1 • Road (Matthew 13:19)

The first batch of seed was sown by the roadside. The soil was not turned over. The ground was hard and so even with rain, the seed is left on the surface of the soil and the birds will come by and snatch them away.

What interests us so much in this description is that Jesus says “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). Jesus is not content concluding that the problem was not the people not interested. This was a spiritual activity. Demons were at work.

The seed, the Word of God, was never understood. The evil one poised to snatch away the seed stole it from the mind and heart. At every church service, we must recognize that there is a spiritual warfare at work. When the people of God pray, the Word can more easily take root.

#2 • Rocky (Matthew 13:20-21)

In Matthew 13:20 Jesus tells us that when the seed falls on rocky places that the seed cannot properly grow. There might be a strong initial response, but affliction or persecution because of the word causes him to fall away.

The reasoning is rather self-evident. If the Word brings troubles into my life, then I will get rid of the Word! The lack of commitment means that the person is unwilling to hold onto his belief. It reveals a shallow faith. It is a convenient faith rather than a genuine one.

Hearing the Word but having no inner commitment reveals they do not really believe the Word of God.

#3 • Thorns (Matthew 13:22)

Matthew 13:22 speaks about the scenario with thorns. Surrounding plants have grown up, but the man who hears the word but with worries of the world will not thrive.

There are some plants that live but do not bear fruit. We should not be satisfied with them. They have the potential to grow to full size and bear fruit. The way we think about life will actually impact our response to His Word. We might not get the connection but that does not invalidate Jesus’ observations.

This scenario well describes one of the most crippling affects of modern societies. WE have too many things on our minds. Riches intangibly and sometimes very visibly ensnare our souls. It does it through our attention.

We can only hold one thing in our hand at a time. If we want to focus on our riches, then we will give through the deceitfulness of riches let go of our affection and need for God’s Word in order to hold on to the things of the world. These plants never do well. Let us describe this group as the Word of God not being combined with devotion.

#4 • Good soil (Matthew 13:23)

The seed planted in this soil will grow and bear fruit to different measures, some 100, 60 and 30. This is what the farmer expects, a full crop for His seed. Expectations are big. So when we see the Word of God preached but with little or no effect, we should see this as something is wrong.

We will now turn and apply this parable to the world’s situation.

A Global Interpretation

Applications of The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus is providing us inside information to help us rightly discern the church’s situation. Let us make some conclusions and highlight them with examples from the mission field.

1) The resource: the seed

Without the seed, there will be no growth. The farmer goes out and plants the seed. Without the seed, there is not expectation of growth. In fact, there will not be any growth. How can a plant grow without a seed? It can’t. Otherwise, one simply has dirt.

And so it is with the Word of God. New life arises from the word. “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

Each scenario had the seed. The difference is found in the response to the seed. All the promises are held in the Word of God and so we should unabashedly preach His Word.

When the Word comes, it unleashes great hopes for the blessing from the harvest. We need to be careful to guard the Word so that it bears its full fruit from our lives.

We first need to observe the importance of God’s Word. Many places still lack the Word of God. So many places simply do not have the Word of God.

Some do not have translations. Pastor T has just finished translating the Gospels in the Palawng people on the border of China and Myanmar. He needs US$30,000 to print 10,000 of them at $3 a piece. 1 million Palawng people are separated from God’s Word only because of a little money. Who did God give the money to fund this project?

Need the Word of God

Or what about the many poor people who do not have money for the Word of God. The Bible is translated into their languages. They have Bibles printed but because of poverty, they cannot purchase the Bible or even a part of it.

God has called His people to get the Word of God out. Ephesians 4 speaks of four positions that He has ordained to get the Word out. We might not be a pastor or evangelist, but we still have our responsibility to spread the seed.

18% of the world’s population still do not have a Bible portion in their mother tongue. May God raise up translators for this task. If He calls you, respond.

2) The Outcome: growth and fruitfulness

God’s Word brings growth that bears fruit. This analysis is confirmed by John 15.

“7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:7-8).

From this we can understand that when the Word of God goes out to more and more nations, that it bears fruit wherever it goes. There are a few places His Word does not easily travel, but when it does, it brings forth new life.

Worshp of Christ by Bengalis

I have seen people radically changed by God’s Word. Once when preaching an extended series of messages on marriage to the Luo people in northern Kenya, that they were largely broken. They had never heard what God’s Word said about marriage. Having heard it, many of them started to confess their sins and make new starts.

The Word of God speaks not only about salvation but all the truths of God that help us respond rightly to His majesty. 


It is for this reason we need to be diligent in getting God’s Word out there. The more we translate God’s Word, the more we can get out the Gospel. The need for evangelists, pastors and so forth are needed to spread the Word.

#3 The problems: difficulties & unfruitfulness

Jesus cautions us as to why some people are not growing. In all three cases we can say that it is not the problem of the Word of God. Sure, we might not be the best spokespeople or feel clumsy sharing the Gospel, but Jesus does not say this is a key problem. The problem has to do with the receptivity of our hearts.

In case #1 hearts are hard. There is no place for God’s Word. The heart is seen as the place where the Word is accepted or rejected. Satan just steals it as it come.

In case #2 people are not committed to the Word. The Word is there. They have heard it but do not respond. In case #2 people don’t want the Word while in case #3, people through worry and focus on material things let go of their commitment to God’s Word and hold on to other things.

Do this exercise. Grab hold of some object such as a pen or book. Concerns of the world are like letting putting one’s heart somewhere else. In order to hold the concerns of the world, one must let go of the Word.

Now let us think of the situation of the church in the world.

Receptive Hearts

People all over the world are receiving God’s Word. But upon more careful observation, we discover some people are much more eagerly receiving God’s Word. They want and desire God’s Word. I have people traveling a whole day through difficult travel just to hear messages at a seminar.

There was a group of five that traveled five days from the border of Bangladesh to the center of Myanmar. Two days were hikes through rough mountains. It is not because of the speaker. They never heard of him before.

They had great hunger for God’s Word. When God’s Word comes to them, it brings great strength and help.

Resistant Hearts

Now let us go to our side of the world. What do we find? We find that people do not want God’s Word. They want shorter services. They no longer want Sunday School classes. Already, what was once very common, a mid-week service, is gone. Sunday night services are gone.

This is not because there is no time. We have more time-saving devices than ever. We have nicer cars and better roads. We even have money for gas. The problem is we are engaged in our activities. Entertainment serves as one of our greatest distractions.

I find the problem is due to a lack of faith. They no longer believe the Word is that important to them.

The fact is that God’s Word is powerful and helpful but it is no longer penetrating our hearts.

A Little Analysis

Now let us go back to the Parable of the Sower and examine our world. On the one hand people are eager for God’s Word while others are not at all interested, though they would both affirm they love God and are His children. With help from the parable of the sower, can you see what the problem is?

One part of the world has God’s Word but is not radically being changed by the Word. On the other hand, we see God’s Word, though being scarce in some places, but the little ‘seed’ is still causing great results. The church is growing and thriving in those places.

It is not the problem of having God’s Word but that the Word of God is no longer valued or treasured. There is no room in hearts for God’s Word.

Because of this, we need to sincerely seek God for revival for those who no longer treasure God’s Word. They hear His Word but no longer is it causing fruit.

God has given me a burden to bring revival to all sorts of believers wherever they are in their Christian faith. This means that we need to revive the faith of those who have grown disinterested in God’s Word and strengthen the faith of those who have an interest in God’s Word. God wants all of us to be vitally connected to Him that He can use us to reach the rest of the world. What is so exciting is that He is doing that very thing!

This has not been a planned thing. God has been giving us training materials. As we look back, we can see how He is leading. It is so special to observe God at work.

God has been using this to bring breakthrough in the lives of those who have no interest in God’s Word. They were not thirsty, but now they are thirsty. They were stuck in their Christian growth, but now they are growing. They didn’t even think about growth.

“For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns.” Jeremiah 4:3, NASB.

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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