"The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside." It was the Sea of Galilee, which we read of in so many of our stories. And we think of the shore bordering the beautiful plain of Gennesaret, for Capernaum was there, the town where the Lord lived. "And great multitudes were gathered together unto Him, so that He went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore." It was one of the fishermen's boats. (If possible, show pictures of the boats lying near the shore, and pictures of the green plain as it looked to one sitting in the boat.)
There was a beach of sand and tiny shells on which the water rippled. Above this was the green meadow; in those days it was cultivated with care; it was sheltered by the hills and warmed by the sun, and watered by streams from large springs. The soil was rich and the plain was filled with beautiful gardens and orchards and grain fields; it was noted for its early fruits and vegetables. There was a path along the shore, and other paths crossed the fields by which the people went from town to town, and on which traders passed with lines of camels carrying goods from the East to the Mediterranean shore. Beyond the plain were the hills which kept off the cold winds; winds; in places they were rocky, and in places green and bright with flowers. One valley with rough cliffs at its sides led up through the hills toward the Mountain of the Blessings. From this valley today great clouds of pigeons fly out and settle down upon the plain to find their food.
This view was spread before the Lord as He sat in the fishing boat by the shore: the beach, the rich meadow, the sheltering hills. And as He taught the people that day He gave His lessons in the form of stories or parables about the things which were happening around them.
"Behold, a sower went forth to sow." Every year when the autumn rains softened the ground the farmers plowed the fields; then they scattered the seeds. Some fell upon the beaten paths, for there were no fences and the paths crossed through the grain fields. When seed fell upon the beaten path it could not sink in, and the birds came and picked it up. Some seed fell in the borders of the plain where the rock of the hillsides was not far below the surface. This seed started quickly, but it could not sink its roots deep and soon withered away in the hot sun. Some fell among thorny bushes and thistles. Nowadays, when the fields are neglected, with no farmers care for them, the thistles grow everywhere, high above your head. In those days no doubt they grew in the borders, and neglected corners of the fields. Seeds which fell among the thorns began to grow, but were soon crowded out.. But some seed fell into good ground and brought forth a plenty of good grain.
The people had seen all this happening around them every year; the farmers were working in the fields near by them while the Lord was speaking; but He told the story to teach a lesson. Some of the people could not understand His meaning, but the disciples asked the Lord and He helped them to understand it. Can you see the lesson that He taught?
The Lord Himself was a Sower as He sat there in the boat. The words that He spoke were the seeds, and the people gathered on the shore and people everywhere to whom His words would come were the ground into which the seeds were falling. Were they all good ground? Are we all good ground? Do the Lord's words when we hear them always sink in deep and bear fruit? When do you think we are not good ground, but are like the beaten wayside or the stony ground or ground that is choked with thorns and thistles? The Lord wants us all to be good ground, to listen to His words, to take them to heart, and to let them bear fruit. Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Where are we at the opening of our story? Show me the place on the map, and tell me all about the boat, and about the shore and the meadow which lay spread before the Lord as He sat in the boat. Read what I have told the little children and make the scene as clear to me as you can. And tell me about the work of the farmers which the Lord made the basis of the parable of the sower. Look through the chapter to the end. What other parables do you find about the things growing in the fields and gardens? Do you remember other places in the Bible where a man is compared to a tree or to a garden? (Psalm 1; Isaiah 5:1-7; 58:11; Genesis 2:8, 9) Notice that we use the word "nursery" for the children's room, and for the garden where little trees are starting; and we call the little children's school a "kindergarten." If your mind is a garden, what are the seeds that are sown in it? What is the fruit that they bear?
Think especially as you read this parable of the sower of the seeds that the Lord was sowing that day in the minds of the people gathered on the shore, and sowing for us all; and think carefully what he says about the different kinds of soil. When are we like the beaten paths? When we are so busy with other things; when our minds are so occupied that we do not attend to the Lord's words. They go in at one ear and out at the other, as we say; we hear them but do not grasp and hold them, and first we know, some wrong thoughts come flying along and snatch the Lord's words away. When are we like the stony ground? When we are interested in learning what the Lord tells us, but it is only an interest of our minds; we do not take it to heart; when a little self-sacrifice, or a little effort and patience are needed to be faithful to what the Lord teaches us we find we have not that kind of interest, and let the good seed die. And when are we like the ground choked with thorns and thistles? When we really mean to do what the Lord teaches and are in earnest about it for a time, but we do not care enough; we love other things too well and let them take a stronger hold and the good things are crowded out. "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (Luke 8:15)
Can you find the prophecy referred to in verse 14? (Isaiah 6:9) It may seem hard to understand. If people would receive the Lord's teaching and be really and permanently converted and healed by it, it would be just what the Lord desired. But the prophecy is speaking of people who would not be faithful. It was better for them that they should not understand and should remain in ignorance, than that they should receive the Lord's teaching and then willfully reject it. The lesson of the parable is explained to us. With the Lord's help we can be faithful to it, we can examine ourselves and refuse to be the trodden wayside or the stony ground or the ground choked with thorns. We can, if we will, be good ground and bring forth fruit. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." We have ears to hear, for the Lord has explained to us the lesson. It is for us to take the lesson to heart and to obey.
1. "The seaside." What sea? "On the shore." What shore?
2. What became of the seed that fell by the wayside? That fell on stony ground? Among thorns? Into good ground?
3. Who is meant by the sower? What is meant by the seed? by each kind of ground?
4. What is a parable? Why did the Lord speak in parables?
With the scene before your minds, give a deeper thought to some points of the lesson.
Studying the meaning of the sea and the boat, do you see a reason for the Lord's sitting in the boat on the sea to teach the people? The sea represents the plane of natural, worldly thought, and the boat, principles of natural knowledge which serve to guide our thinking and make possible an interchange of thought. The Lord's teaching from the sea and the boat represents the fact that He came to the people in their natural state of mind and spoke to them in their own language and their own familiar forms of thought. It is significant that that day He spoke in parables of common, natural things and did not, as He had done on the mountain, unfold the inner motives of Christian life. (E. 514)
The prophecy quoted in verse 14 opens the subject of the Lord's protection of holy things, guarding against their reception by those who would only profane them and confirm themselves the more deeply in evil. The Lord's manner of teaching by parables is one means of guarding the holy truth. A child can see some lesson in a parable, and a wise man can see more. Everyone sees what he is able and ready to see, and he does not reject the rest, as he would do if it were stated in direct, dogmatic form. (P. 221-233; A. 302)
How does verse 12 apply to the subject of which the Lord is speaking? What is it which a man may have which enables him to receive more, and when he has it not he loses even that he has? The Lord is speaking about the reception and understanding of His teaching. Plainly, the needful thing is an honest and good heart, a love for the Lord's truth which will treat it reverently and try to obey it. If one has this his mind is open to receive and understand. If he has not this the knowledge which he receives verbally or intellectually will not stay; it is sooner or later taken from him, in the other world if not in this. (H. 349)
You may be interested to carry further the thought of the mind as a garden, and of the principles of truth received into the mind as seeds. You can trace the correspondence between the development of such principles to their fruit in good deeds, and the stages of a seed's growth through stem and leaf and blossom to the fruit. See "The Language of Parable," pages 184-192.
Different degrees of fruitfulness are described in verse 23. You will know that these numbers, a hundred-fold, sixty-fold, and thirty-fold, describe spiritually not merely the difference in abundance of good works, but in the quality of life. A hundred-fold stands evidently for the greatest fullness and holiness of character. (A. 2636) Sixty, like six, is associated with the week of labor, and suggests the goodness of a life which has been faithful in every labor and temptation. (A. 5335) Thirty is five (instead of ten) times six, and suggests faithfulness in temptation, but in a less degree. (A. 2276) Good life of all these kinds is acceptable to the Lord.