The Book of Matthew is considered by many to have five major discourses by Jesus. The first obviously was the Sermon on the Mount of chapters 5-7. The second was chapter 10 – the Messiah’s preparation of His disciples for their mission. Chapter 13 is made up almost entirely of His parables. In fact, verse 34 says that He said nothing to the crowds on this occasion without a parable.
As Jesus sat beside the sea, crowds gathered and he got into a boat and sat to address them. Jesus first tells the parable of the sower in verses 3-9. We are not told about the chronology in the text, but most surmise that Jesus spoke all of the parables from the boat, and the explanation came later, after he went into the house in verse 36 (verse 34 seems to bear that out). When the disciples came to ask Him why He spoke to the people in parables, He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-15, explaining that the difference between them (the disciples that want to learn) and the crowds (those that do not really want to understand, much less accept, the truth) is in their hearts. Those who do not understand and accept what He speaks of to them in plain speech, will never accept what He teaches in parables. This may be the point He made to Nicodemus in John 3:12.
This is followed up by the explanation of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23, which is the key to understanding all of the parables. In this case, Jesus is the sower, but it applies to us as sowers as we teach others about the kingdom. It is up to the individual receiving the seeds to prepare their ground for their proper growth – to plow up the hard ground of their hearts (Jeremiah 4:3-4).
The parable of the weeds, or tares (verses 24-30), is like that of the net (verses 47-50), and refers to the fate of those who will not accept the truth. It is not our job to gather up the weeds, lest we uproot the righteous as well. The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and leaven (verse 33) show that the kingdom may be starting very small, but will grow into something very large. The parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl of great value (verses 45-46) demonstrate that those who truly understand the value of our place in His kingdom will be willing to give up anything in this ordinary world in order to attain it. The prophecy He cites in verse 35 is Psalm 78:2. Verse 52 means that true disciples who study God’s word will use their training for the kingdom to teach others, using knowledge of the old law with the new.
One might wonder why verses 53-58 are in this chapter, but all of God’s word teaches something. The rejection of Jesus in His own hometown resulted in Him not wasting much time there (verse 58). It illustrates very well the points that He made in the earlier parts of the chapter. The hearts of the people there were hardened to the truth and they could not see. The ground of their hearts needed plowing as well.
Side note: Though the scriptures do not tell us the location at the Sea of Galilee that Jesus gave the Parable of the Sower, there is a cove that has been suggested as that location. Interesting studies have been conducted on the acoustics at that cove; and a great article with photos and a sound file made in a test is in this article at BilbePlaces.com.
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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