The Parable of the Sower: Story and Lesson

The Parable of the Sower was told to the crowd that had gathered around Jesus. Jesus tells the story of a sower who scattered seeds on four different types of soil. The first type of ground was hard and the seed could not sprout or grow at all and became snatched up instantly. The second type of ground was stony. The seed was able to plant and begin to grow, however, it could not grow deep roots and withered in the sun. The third type of ground was thorny and although the seed could plant and grow, it could not compete with the number of thorns that overtook it. The fourth ground was good soil that allowed the seed to plant deep, grow strong, and produce fruit.

Moral of the Parable of the Sower

Jesus used this parable to explain to his followers and the disciples how there are different responses to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The sower in the parable is Jesus and the seed is the word of God (both Jesus's spoken word and today the Bible). The hard ground represents someone with a hardened heart full of sin that hears the word of God but does not accept it. Satan is able to keep this person from growing at all. The stony ground is someone who shows interest and awareness in the Gospel, yet his heart isn't fully convicted so that when trouble comes to his faith is not strong enough to stand. The thorny ground is a person who receives the Gospel but who has many other idols and distractions in life - worries, riches, and lusts, which take over his mind and heart and he cannot grow in the truth of God's Word. The good soil is someone who has heard and received the Word of God and allows it to take root and grow within his life. This person represents true salvation that bears good fruit.

Jesus spoke the Parable of the Sower to teach how important the state of our heart is to receive the Gospel and how our salvation is proved by our choices and actions after hearing the Gospel. Read the full Bible passage of this story below and find related articles, videos, and audio sermons to help your understanding of this biblical lesson.

What Happens in the Parable of the Sower?

In His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds who gathered to hear Him teach (Matthew 13:3). Parables are stories used as illustrations to teach a deeper truth that becomes understandable to the audience, and this—the parable of the sower—is the first time Jesus used parables in their full sense as He taught. Previously, He taught in the synagogues and some of His teachings were parabolical in essence (Matthew 7:24-27). Those to whom He often spoke parables were outside the kingdom (Mark 4:11), for the realm of parables transcends the ordinary life to the spiritual. Ordinary life consists of daily, often rote activities, even vocational tasks. When we add a spiritual aspect to our activities, we sense the need to do everything from faith (Romans 14:23). The parable of the sower is one He shared while He sat in a boat just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds were such that He had to separate Himself so all could hear His message (Mark 4:1). He sat as He spoke, as did Jewish teachers of the day, therefore alluding to His authority as a teacher and also preparing His audience for the lessons (see Luke 4:20).

The synoptic gospels each contain Jesus’ teaching of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8). In it, a sower goes out to sow (that is, one who sows seeds, e.g., a farmer). As he sowed, some seeds fell on a path and were trampled underfoot (Luke 8:5) and birds came “and devoured them.” Other seeds “fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil.” They sprang right up yet were scorched by the sun because of the lack of soil (no roots), and no moisture (Luke 8:6). Still, other seeds fell among thorns and were choked by them (Matthew 13:7). But the last seeds about which Jesus spoke fell on “good soil and produced various amounts of grain.” Jesus followed this parable with an interesting statement: “He who has ears, let him hear.”

What Is the Main Message of the Parable of the Sower?

Scripture is the best interpreter of itself, and Jesus Himself explains the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20, and Luke 8:11-5 (He was the only One to use parables). By using an agricultural metaphor, which is how most of his audiences made their living, the spectators would grasp the story as Jesus led them to consider the spiritual meaning within the illustrative narrative.

Following is a list of the meanings of each term within the parable.

The sower – Jesus Christ

The seeds – The Gospel of the kingdom-the Word of God

The bird – The evil one

The soil – The world, those people who are presented with the Gospel of the kingdom.

Parables always relate to truth. It’s no different with the parable of the sower. In the verses immediately before the explanation Jesus gave, His disciples asked Jesus why He used parables. Jesus told His disciples the secrets are plain to them because they are already of the kingdom, but regarding those “outside,” He used parables because the people are dull to the plain words of Scripture. They need illustrations (stories) to make them understand (Matthew 13:13-17). This explains His last statement during the discourse, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Also see Isaiah 6:9-10)

The hearer can do one of four things with the biblical truth:

Reject it.

Get emotional about it and fall away as soon as he faces objections.

Accept it but dismiss it as the world and its cares and the deceit of money take hold of him.

Take in the word fully and obey it, therefore growing both personally and by the fruit he produces when he shares the gospel.

So then, the main message is faith and the growth of it (or lack of it) when one is presented with the Word of God. 

What Is the Significance of the Four Types of Soil?

Each type of soil represents one’s spiritual state, or rather, one’s readiness to receive the good news offered by Jesus. We are all culpable when it comes to accepting the Word; we have a choice of what to do with what we hear.

Any good farmer knows his soil must be tilled, fertilized, and watered before it can receive seeds and be a means of growth. Soil, as used in this parable, is people. 

The first person is hard (“tramped underfoot”), therefore the word will not “sink in.” Once we impart Jesus’ meaning into “soil,” we know hard, tramped on soil (people) will not receive the good news of the kingdom into their soul. It’s like when someone tells you to “talk to the hand.” That’s immediate rejection. They may be present when the Gospel is proclaimed, but they do not hear it; it does not in any way permeate their soul. It’s easy then for the evil one to come to snatch it away—as if it was never there—for hardened ground leaves no imprint.

The second soil (person) is rocky, unable to be tilled. He receives the word with joy (excitement and emotion) but does not let it root (no depth). He is like the man described in James 1:23-24, a hearer only but not a doer. He meets “tribulations and persecutions because of the Word” (the seeds) and then falls away (rejects the faith). The gospel brings no fruit in him because He does not yield to it; he has not read or studied the word, nor let it build his foundation.

The third soil (person) is thorny. He hears the Word, but the thorns (the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches) are his undoing. They choke the word right out of him, and he is unfruitful.

All three of the above soil types describe people who do not fully hear the Word, for to hear it is to understand (believe) it, obey it, and live it.  

The good person (soil) not only hears the Word, but he also understands it. In the parable, to understand the Word is to believe it and obey it. This person “bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23). He takes what is sown in him and shares the gospel of the kingdom with others, many coming to faith because of his obedience as God works through him.

How Can We Get onto the Good Soil?

It’s not a matter of getting onto the good soil; it’s being the good soil! Romans 1:20-21 tells us God’s invisible attributes (His eternal power and divine nature) are clearly perceived by all, and we are without excuse when we do not recognize His presence. The regenerative work of the Holy Spirit prepares the soil—soil in which the Gospel is received, obeyed, and grown (John 16:8).

Once accepted, the Gospel can thrive within us as we become “doers” of the Word (James 1:22-27) and not hearers only. Along with doing comes daily (sometimes hourly!) prayer and reading and meditating on the Bible. Add to that the command to meet together as the church and “stir up one another to good works” (Hebrews 10:25), and also to abstain from willful, habitual sin (Hebrews 10:26).

Oh! That we would obey the Lord and share His message with a lost and dying world (Matthew 28:18-20). We may see fruit while here on earth, praise God. But it may not be until heaven that we see the fruits of our labor for the gospel. Either way, God gets the glory. 

Photo credit: © Unsplash/Timothy Meinberg