The Kingdom Revealed and Concealed

Matthew 13:1-23

Much of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven took the form of parables. There are parables of the kingdom scattered throughout Matthew’s gospel, but there is also a collection of several such parables found together in chapter 13. This sermon focusses on the first of those parables (the parable of the sower/seed). The passage begins with Jesus telling the parable, and then before he gives the meaning of it he explains more broadly why he uses parables to communicate about the kingdom.

The parable that Jesus told was of a sower who sowed some seed, and it landed in different places – some on the path, which got devoured by birds; some on the rocky ground, which was unable to put down roots and was scorched by the sun; some in the thorny ground, which was choked by thorns; and some on good soil which produced a multiplied harvest.

The Kingdom Is Given In Parables – Before Jesus had explained his parable, the disciples asked him why he taught in this way. There are many today (particularly in the West) who resonate with this question and find it surprising that truth will be wrapped up in a story rather than just explained propositionally. Jesus explained that parables are used as a way to both reveal and conceal the kingdom. What he means by this is that parables expose the state of somebody’s heart, and invite those with spiritual hunger to press in while at the same time reinforcing the ignorance of those who do not want to know.

The Kingdom is Sown Generously – When Jesus goes on to explain the particular parable it links in to what he said about parables in general. The seed in the story represents the word of the kingdom, and in the story it is been sown all over the place. As Jesus and his disciples have been proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom everywhere, they play the role of the sower, and we likewise have been called to ‘sow’ the word of the kingdom by preaching the gospel ‘in season and out of season.’ (2 Tim 4:2)

There Are Different Responses to the Kingdom – The different soils that Jesus talks about in the story represent the different ways people respond to the word of the kingdom as it is preached. For some, represented by the path, the word is immediately snatched away and does not impact the person at all. There is another group that is represented by the rocky ground, and these people do respond to the word but never lay good foundations for their faith and so when hardship comes they fall away. A third group is represented by those in the thorns, where it is the cares of the word and riches that chokes their faith. The final group are those who hear the word, understand it and see it bear fruit in their lives, leading to a multiplication and lots more disciples.

Possible Applications

  • How Are You Receiving the Word? – This parable invites us to examine our own lives and how we are responding to the gospel. Which of the soils would our Christian life most closely resemble?
  • A Call to Sow – The story being told here is based on the idea of the word being spread generously. Those who are the good soil produce a harvest of new disciples. How are we sowing the word and making disciples?
  • Press In to Know More – The whole point of parables is to stir up our spiritual hunger and invite us to press in and know God more deeply. Do we have this spiritual hunger? What will we do with it?