The Parable of the Sower

13:1 On that day after Jesus went out of the house, he sat by the lake. 13:2 And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore.

The parable of the Sower occupies an important place in our Lord’s teaching. (a) It is one of the longer parables; (b) It comes with our Lord’s own explanation; (c) It was spoken at a critical time in his ministry, when his hearers were being challenged to respond decisively to his call; (d) It may be seen as a key to the other parables.

Mt 13:1–15 = Mk 4:1–12; Lk 8:4–10

He got into a boat – The Received Text inserts the definite article, ‘suggesting that there was a definite ship known to, or owned by, the disciples during Jesus’ ministry. This would make sense given their background (cf. Matt 4:22; Jn 21:3). This fits with Jesus’ request for a small vessel to be ready for him (Mk 3:9), and Jesus using a ship owned by Simon in Luke 5:3, which might well be ‘the ship’ later referred to in 8:22.’  But, given the weakness of the textual reading, it would be wrong to draw this inference from it.

13:3 He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 13:5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. 13:6 But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. 13:7 Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. 13:8 But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. 13:9 The one who has ears had better listen!”
Return from exile?

Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15

For N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God), this parable ‘tells the story of Israel, particularly the return from exile, with a paradoxical conclusion, and it tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, as the fulfilment of that larger story, with a paradoxical outcome.’  Wright notes

(a) the similarity in form to Dan 2:31-45, where the different parts of a statue represent the various stages of earthly kingdoms.  In the parable, the four soils represent contemporaneous, rather than successive, features.  Then

(b) there is a fairly close parallel between this parable and that of the wicked tenants (Mk 12:1-12 and parallels): if that parable tells the story of Israel, then we can be confident that this one also does so.  And

(c) the ‘seed’ is a clear metaphor for the true Israel, now being sown again in her own land, her exile over.  The parable shows that the responses to this will be varied: the opportunity will be wasted for some, fruitful for others.

Seeing a link between Isa 55:10-13 and Jesus’ teaching here, Wright says: ‘The sowing of seed, resulting in a crop that defies the thorns and briers, is a picture of YHWH’s sowing of his word, and the result is the return from exile and, indeed, the consequent renewal of all creation. At the heart of the story is the cryptic announcement that the time foretold by the prophets is at last coming to birth…Israel’s God is acting, sowing his prophetic word with a view to restoring his people, but much of the seed will go to waste, will remain in the ‘exilic’ condition, being eaten by the birds, or lost among the rocks and thorns of the exilic wilderness. The eventual harvest, though, will be great. We are here not far from Jesus’ story about the great banquet. The party will go ahead and the house will be full, but the original guests will not be there. Judgement and mercy are taking place simultaneously.’

In his popular work, Mark for Everyone, Wright says: ‘People were expecting a great moment of renewal. They believed that Israel would be rescued lock, stock and barrel; God’s kingdom would explode onto the world stage in a blaze of glory. No, declares Jesus: it’s more like a farmer sowing seed, much of which apparently goes to waste because the soil isn’t fit for it, can’t sustain it.’

The parable, then, is not merely a message about the different responses that preachers may expect when they proclaim God’s word.  It is, rather, a comment ‘on what was happening as Jesus himself was announcing and inaugurating God’s kingdom…Jesus is giving a coded warning that belonging to the kingdom isn’t automatic. The kingdom is coming all right, but not in the way they have imagined.’

Wright concludes: ‘For us today, the parable says a lot about how the message of Jesus worked among his hearers, and about what that message was (the dramatic and subversive renewal of Israel and the world). But it also challenges our own preaching of the kingdom. Is what we’re saying so subversive, so unexpected, that we would be well advised to clothe it in dream language, or in code? If you were to draw a cartoon instead of preaching a sermon, what would it look like? Who would you expect to be offended if they cracked the code?’

Snodgrass (Jesus and the Restoration of Israel) agrees that some of Jesus’ parables – most notably, that of the wicked tenants (Mt 21:33–46/Mk 12:1–12/Lk 20:9–19) – do tell the story of Israel.  That the present parable, in the view of Snodgrass, also does so receives confirmation from texts such as Isa 6:9-13, where the Lord is depicted as sowing his seed and the return from exile ensures, and Isa 55:10-13, in which ‘the holy seed’ describes Israel’s remnant.

We appreciate Wright’s insistence that this teaching must be interpreted in the light of its original setting, and therefore agree that it is first of all about the in-breaking of God’s kingdom through the ministry of Jesus.  However, he has not persuaded us that the return-from-exile motif is as pervasive is he thinks it is.

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All the gospel accounts agree that this was the first parable spoken by Jesus. Indeed, here begins a phase when the parabolic method became Jesus’ primary means of teaching, Mk 4:33-34. Accordingly, the disciples expressed their surprise and puzzlement over this new form of teaching, Mk 4:10.

It was springtime by the Sea of Galilee. Great numbers came enthusiastically to hear our Lord preach, v2, but would they remain faithful? The seed was being faithfully sown, but what would the harvest bring? We can picture Jesus sitting in the prow of a boat, pointing his hearers to the fields where the green corn shoots a promising a rich harvest. But how much of the seed scattered by the sower would be fruitful?

Our Lord, knowing that many who thronged to him would, sooner or later, neglect, or misunderstand, or reject his message, gives a solemn word of warning in the form of a parable. Cf. Lk 8:18

The elements: the seed (representing the word of God, Lk 8:11); the Sower (representing Christ, Christ, cf v37, and by extension his ministers, 1 Cor 3:9); the soil (representing 4 types of human heart with 4 different responses to the word of God). The main thought: the growth of the seed depends on the quality of the soil. That is, the results of the hearing of the gospel depend upon the condition of the human heart. Not all hearers of the word profit by it.

‘So intent is the farmer on a harvest that he sows in every corner of the field “in hopes that good soil might somewhere be found,” said Justin Martyr in his retelling of the parable over a century later (Dial. Trypho 125.1–2). Even so, rocks, thorns, and adverse elements render three-quarters of the labor lost.’ (Edwards)

It should be noted then, that the effectiveness of the gospel does not depend (only) upon the efforts of the preacher, but upon the disposition of the hearers. The pulpit is criticised often; the pew seldom. It is good for ministerial students to be taught how to preach, but also good that our congregations be taught how to hear. The preacher is called to sow the seed of the word indiscriminately, and does not hold sole responsibility for its effects. There is a common call of the gospel to the many, and an effectual call to the few, Mt 22:14. We should be be surprised by a relative lack of success: three types of soil were bad, and only one good, cf Isa 53:1.

1. THE PATHWAY HEARER – THE UNRESPONSIVE HEART

The seed just remained on the surface and was gobbled up by the birds.

This is a picture of the unresponsive heart, in which the word of God takes no hold. The heart has been trampled over by the traffic of many things, and the evil one has no difficulty in snatching the word away before it has any effect on the heart. The hearer sees no importance in the great issues of eternity. He sees neither his own sinfulness and danger, nor the suitableness of God’s grace offered in Christ.

Hearts may be sin-hardened – especially hardening are those self-sins which freeze the heart over with an impenetrable layer of ice: self-interest, self-advancement, self-esteem. Habitual sin tramps over the heart until it becomes as hard as pavement. Truth has no more chance of taking root there than a seed of corn has of sprouting in the middle of a busy road. Think of Judas: how tenderly the Lord spoke to him on the night of his betrayal; but covetousness and dishonesty had crusted his heart over, and he went out, coldly and callously.

Hearts may also be gospel-hardened – it is possible to sit under the sound of the gospel week after week, becoming more and more impervious to its overtures. In the words of Billy Graham: they have just enough religion to inoculate them against the real thing. For this reason God sounds a warning note in Scripture: ‘today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ The preacher can do much to prevent this happening, but seeking fresh ways of presenting age-old truths. But hearers too can take steps to neutralise this tendency, by thoughtful prayer and preparation before attending the means of grace, by engaging our attention during, and by meditation afterwards.

To be specific, what are the ‘birds’ which can gobble up the seed before it takes root in the heart? (a) Wandering thoughts; (b) Idle chatter; (c) Weariness.

‘It is not enough to sit under the means; woeful experience teacheth us that there are some no sun will tan; they keep their own complexion under the most shining and burning light of the Gospel.’ (William Gurnall)

2. THE ROCKY GROUND HEARER – THE IMPULSIVE HEART

The seed falls on soil which is just an inch or so thick and underneath is a shelf of rock. The seed appears to flourish and to show exceptional growth, but because it cannot put down roots it is scorched and finally killed by the hear of the sun. Note: that energy which was meant to strengthen and ripen the seed, scorched and destroyed it.

This describes those who readily receive the Christian message, and show great enthusiasm at first, but when trouble or temptation arise, they forsake their Christian profession and return to their former lives. They are the superficial and the impulsive hearers of the gospel. They go so far: they hear the gospel; they receive it readily. While some others are still pondering, and wondering, and questioning, these have already made their decision. But there is no root, no staying power: they are attracted by the peace, the joy, and the security which Christ offers; but they do not reckon that faith in Christ also involves self-denial and possibly persecution. So it is a case of ‘easy come, easy go’. Such people fail to count the cost, Lk 14:27-33, and so became too easily discouraged. Examples: 8:19f; 19:16-22; also Judas, 26:14-16; and Demas, 2 Tim 4:10. Christ had ‘fair-weather’ friends who shouted ‘Hosanna!’ and then just few days later, ‘Crucify!’ Think too of the relatively small proportion of those who ‘make a commitment’ at evangelistic rallies, who remain faithful.

In these people, the very hardships which are designed by God to promote Christian growth and fruitfulness, prove to be the undoing of what had appeared to be real signs of life. That which causes constancy in some, causes apostasy in others. See 1 Jn 2:19. The cross of Christ, which is the fragrance of life to some, is the smell of death to others, 2 Cor 2:16.

These hardships are identified as ‘affliction’ and ‘persecution’. Remember: true discipleship – the way of the cross – involves sacrifice and suffering. Fair winds of opportunity are quickly followed by storms of affliction, and we must be able to keep afloat in both.

We are too apt to misjudge others: we prefer the enthusiastic convert to the calm and cautious disciple, cf Mt 20:16.

We should beware of announcing too soon the results of evangelistic activity. ‘It is a serious injury to a person to receive him into the number of the faithful unless there is good reason to believe that he is really regenerate…What mean these despatches from the battle field? “Last night fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification.” I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable.’ (C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner, 2)

People without principles are like ships without ballast: they travel faster at first than those laden with cargo, but soon capsize when the weather turns stormy.

3. THE THORNY GROUND HEARER – THE PREOCCUPIED HEART

Here the seed falls on ground which has been imperfectly weeded: the roots of thorn bushes have still been left in the ground. The thorns grow up with the seed, depriving it of nourishment and preventing it from reaching fruitful maturity.

Here is a partial, incomplete, or half-hearted response to the gospel. The hearer goes just so far in Christian things, but stops short of real fruitfulness. He does not cast off his profession, but the promise of faith is killed off by preoccupation with other things.

The cares could be those of a Martha, whose world does not extend beyond her home; the riches those of a young man, too in love with his money to give it up for Jesus; the ambition that of a Pharisee, more eager for the approval of others than for the approval of the Lord; the pleasures those of any one of us in this hedonistic age: and how can true Christian faith be combined with the fashion frivolity that characterises so much of this world?

Note that these things are like ‘thorns’: they came in with the fall, and are a result of the curse. ‘They are entangling, vexing, scratching’ (Henry); they distract and divert us, they sap our energy. They do not have eternity in them, and the land that produces them will be burned, Heb 6:8; cf 1 Cor 3:11-15.

‘Whatever things pertaining to this life go so near to a man’s heart as to take up the room, time, travel and affections which heavenly things should have, they are but thorns which choke the seed of God’s word.’ (Dickson)

‘Open sin is not the only thing that ruins souls. In the midst of our families, and in the pursuit of our lawful callings, we have need to be on our guard’ (J.C. Ryle).

How many of us need to be delivered from ‘gnawing anxieties and delusary fantasies’? See Pr 30:7-9; Isa 26:3; Mt 6:19-34; 19:23-24; Lk 12:6-6,13-34; 1 Tim 6:6-10; Heb 13:5-6.

The ‘climactic focus…remains on the astonishing impact of those who are faithful. Jesus provides his followers with an important reminder of God’s continued blessings on their work, even as large numbers of people become increasingly hostile to the gospel.’ (Blomberg)

The very idea of ‘harvest’ hints at OT imagery about the breaking in of God’s kingdom, Isa 9:3; Ps 126:6.  A harvest of a hundredfold would have been regarded as remarkable, and a sure sign of God’s blessing (cf. Gen 26:12).

Edwards notes: ‘The parable of the sower, like the parables of sowing to follow (Mt 4:26–29, 30–32), reports astounding results in spite of inauspicious beginnings.’

4. THE GOOD GROUND HEARER – THE RESPONSIVE HEART

Such was Cornelius, Acts 10:23, and the Bereans, Acts 17:11.

According to Calvin, ‘these three gradations are tortured by Jerome in an absurd manner, as if respectively the indicated virgins, widows, and married people.’!

The responsive heart is characterised by:- (Lk 8:15)

(a) Attention: he listens to the word; he refuses to be distracted. How often our Lord and his ministers urge their hearers to ‘listen’, Mk 4:2-3; Lk 19:48; Acts 8:6; 10:33; 13:16; 16:14; Rev 2:7. Attend especially to the Scripture itself as it is read and explained; to those words which speak to your own spiritual condition; and to those things which the preacher declares with special warmth and conviction. Resist especially wandering thoughts and drowsiness.

(b) Retention: there is an inward digestion of what was heard. 1 Thess 5:21; Jas 1:21. As the seed must be able to germinate in the soil, so the word in the heart. Let both the reading and the hearing of the word be followed by thoughtful meditation. This is a neglected duty. Ps 119:97,148. Cf. Deut 4:9; 6:6-7; Lk 24:32; Acts 17:11; 27:29. Ask the Lord to help you in this, 2 Tim 1:14.

(c) Production. They ‘produce a crop.’ ‘To hear without obeying is to harden the heart.’

See Acts 16:14: ‘One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.’

On spiritual fruit-bearing, see Ps 1:1-3; 92:14; 104:13; Mt 3:10; 7:17-20; 12:33-35; Lk 3:8; Jn 15; Acts 2:38; 16:31; Rom 7:4; Gal 5:22; Eph 5:9; Php 4:17; Col 1:6; Heb 12:11; 13:15; Jas 3:17-18.

Let preachers and congregations remember that it is not the number of hearers which is the important thing (cf. v2), but their response.

Note, every believer is fruitful, although not all in the same degree. Let us all be enrolled in Christ’s school, even though not all in the same class. We are members of his body, though not all equally prominent parts of it. But let us aim for the highest degree of fruitfulness of which we are capable, Jn 15:8.

What sort of soil are you? How has the word of God taken root in your heart?

13:10 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 13:11 He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. 13:12 For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

“Why do you speak to them in parables?”

William Barclay makes the following important point:

‘The parable, as Jesus used it, was spoken; it was not read. Its impact had to be immediate, not the result of long study with commentaries and dictionaries. It made truth flash upon a man as the lightning suddenly illuminates a pitch-dark night. In our study of the parables that means two things for us.

‘First, it means that we must amass every possible detail about the background of life in Palestine, so that the parable will strike us as it did those who heard it for the first time. We must think and study and imagine ourselves back into the minds of those who were listening to Jesus.

‘Second, it means that generally speaking a parable will have only one point. A parable is not an allegory; an allegory is a story in which every possible detail has an inner meaning; but an allegory has to be read and studied; a parable is heard. We must be very careful not to make allegories of the parables and to remember that they were designed to make one stabbing truth flash out at a man the moment he heard it.’ (DSB)

13:13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. 13:14 And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand,
you will look closely yet will never comprehend.
13:15 For the heart of this people has become dull;
they are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes,
so that they would not see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

‘It is naive to say Jesus spoke [parables] so that everyone might more easily grasp the truth, and it is simplistic to say that the sole function of parables to outsiders was to condemn them. If Jesus simply wished to hide the truth from the outsiders, he need never have spoken to them. His concern for mission (Mt 9:35–38; 10:1–10; 28:16–20) excludes that idea. So he must preach without casting his pearls before pigs (Mt 7:6). He does so in parables—i.e., in such a way as to harden and reject those who are hard of heart and to enlighten his disciples. His disciples, it must be remembered, are not just the Twelve but those who were following him (see comment on Mt 5:1–12) and who, it is hoped, go on to do the will of the Father (Mt 12:50) and do not end up blaspheming the Spirit (Mt 12:30–32). Thus the parables spoken to the crowds do not simply convey information, nor mask it, but present the claims of the inaugurated kingdom and so challenge the hearers.’ (Carson, EBC)

As Mounce remarks, ‘this is the only fulfillment quotation that is ascribed to Jesus himself.’

13:16 “But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears because they hear. 13:17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Mt 13:16,17 = Lk 10:23, 24

‘They wished to see the times of the Messiah. They looked to it as a time when the hopes of the world would be fulfilled, and the just be happy. See Jn 8:5,6 “Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” See also 1 Pet 1:10-12; Heb 11:13. So Isaiah and the prophets looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as the consummation of their wishes, and the end of the prophecies, Rev 19:10. The object always dearest to the hearts of all righteous men is, to witness the coming and advancement of the kingdom of Christ.’ (Barnes)

13:18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 13:19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path. 13:20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 13:21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. 13:22 The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing. 13:23 But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
Mt 13:18–23 = Mk 4:13–20; Lk 8:11–15

The parable teaches that there would be four different responses to the Word: no response, emotional response, worldly response, and fruitful response.’ (Ryrie)

‘Whether the people are meant to correspond to the seed or to the soils is more a problem for us than for Aramaic speakers. Soil sown with seed, as a whole, is in view in each case.’ (Blomberg)

S. Kistemaker concisely captures the three main points of the passage and the three subpoints under the final point: “The Word of God is proclaimed and causes a division among those who hear; God’s people receive the Word, understand it, and obediently fulfill it; others fail to listen because of a hardened heart, a basic superficiality, or a vested interest in riches and possessions.” (Quoted by Blomberg)

The true meaning of parables ‘emerges when we view them as allegories-stories with a double meaning. Contrary to common scholarly lore, there are six impeccable reasons to believe that the parables were intended to be allegories or symbolic stories. One is the etymology of the word “parable,” which means “to throw alongside,” with the implication of double meaning. The very simplicity of the stories propels us to see a spiritual level of meaning in addition to the realistic surface. Many of the details in the parables carried traditional symbolic meanings (God as father or owner of a vineyard, seed as God’s word, etc.). Unrealistic elements in the parables also signal a deeper level of meaning. Furthermore, the religious purpose of the parables emerges only when we start to attach second meanings to the details-when we understand that the seed that is sown is the gospel, for example, and the types of soils are various human responses. Finally, when Jesus interpreted two of his parables, (Mt 13:18-23,36-43) he attached a corresponding allegorical meaning to virtually every detail in the stories.’ (Origin of the Bible)

“He lasts only a short time” – ‘All pangs are not the pangs of the new birth. The tree may blossom fairly in spring on which no fruit is to be found in harvest.’ (Thomas Boston)

“Hears…and understands” – ‘The challenge of the parable of the sower is focused on one word, the word which explains what is lacking in the first three soils and what is present in the fourth, the fruitful one. ‘When any one heareth the word of the kingdom,’ says Jesus, ‘and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.’ And then, at the end, ‘he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.’ The word, precisely because it is a word, does its work not by bypassing human understanding but by enlivening it. If the word of God is to produce the mission of God it must and will do so through the understanding of the people of God.’ (N.T. Wright)

The Parable of the Weeds

13:24 He presented them with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. 13:25 But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 13:26 When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. 13:27 So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ 13:28 He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ 13:29 But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

Bruner points out that this ‘this parable takes over where the first parable left off: on the good soil. This enemy also “sows” seed. This means that Satan, too, works through the power of the word; he, too, uses a message and words (cf. the Temptations).’

Taylor and others remark that this parable should be read alongside that of the net (Mt 13:47-50).  They both deal with the co-existence of good and evil in the present world, and both teach the final separation of the two.  The first teaches the impossibility of such a separation before the appointed time, whereas the second affirms that it will certainly take place.

Carson: ‘The parable of the soils shows that the kingdom will produce an abundant crop in spite of hard hearts, competing pressures, and even failure. But one might ask whether Messiah’s people should immediately separate the crop from the weeds. This next parable answers that question negatively: there will be a delay in separation until the harvest. This parable also explains how it is possible for the kingdom to be present in the world while not wiping out all opposition.’

France remarks that, although this parable is generally understood to be referring to a mixture of good and evil in the church, this would not yet be an issue.  The primary reference, therefore, must be to such a mixture in the world.

‘So the canvas is broader than the specific issue of church discipline. Jesus announced God’s kingdom, and this would lead many of his hearers to expect a cataclysmic disruption of society, an immediate and absolute division between the ‘sons of light’ and the ‘sons of darkness’, as the men of Qumran put it. Yet things went on apparently as before. It was to this impatience that the parable was primarily directed. God’s kingdom does bring division, and that division is final, but while it is already present in principle, its full outworking is for God to bring about in the final judgment, not for man to anticipate by human segregation.’ (France)

France observes that, just as the following two parable refer to the hiddenness of God’s kingdom, so does the present one.

Why does there continue to be evil in the world? Why doesn’t God just sweep it all away? When, and how, will it all end?

Why does there continue to be evil in the church? Why are there so many hypocrites, so many contradictions? Why do large sections of the so-called church believe so little and deny so much. Why doesn’t God root out all the error and immorality and make the church as morally pure and as spiritually powerful as it ought to be?

To what extent should those who regard themselves as true followers of Jesus Christ take steps to distance themselves from those with whom they differ?

Jesus told this parable to encourage and inform his followers that continued existence of the false along with the true, the evil along with the good, is part of God’s plan. There is indeed to be a final separation – but in God’s time, not ours.

He presented them – the people, not just the disciples – with another parable.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man’ – as in other cases where this formula is used, the comparison is not so much with the noun that follows but with the whole parable. Thus we might render it: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like this: a man…’

“Weeds” – probably darnel, a poisonous plant virtually indistinguishable from wheat until the ears appear. It was an offence in Roman law to sow darnel among wheat as revenge, which suggests that this kind of thing actually occurred. In the last century, a field belonging to Dean Alford (author of ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’) was maliciously oversown with charlock, and he was able to claim heavy damages against the offender. The stronger roots of the darnel would become tangled with those of the wheat, making selective weeding impossible.

Jesus explains that the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom, the true followers of Christ. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, the lost. While God is calling sinners to himself, Satan is labouring to keep men in their sins. The weeds may at first be virtually indistinguishable from the wheat in the field. But as they grow towards maturity, their lack of useful fruit becomes apparent. ‘By their fruit you will recognise them’, Mt 7:16.

‘Most worthy of notice is the plainness with which the doctrine concerning Satan and his agency, his active hostility to the blessedness of man, of which there is so little in the Old Testament, comes out in the New…As the lights become brighter, the shadows become deeper.’ (Trench)

Mounce: ‘Jesus had already encountered strong opposition. In Matthew 12:34 he called the Pharisees snakes. Would it be unreasonable for him now to tell a parable that points out that this same kind of opposition would continue until the day of judgment, at which time a final separation would be made?’

“Where did the weeds comes from?” – ‘This is the problem of evil, perhaps the most frequently raised problem in the church. If God is a God of love, why is there so much—why is there any—evil in the world? And more specifically (and closer to our parable), if God is building a church in the world, why are there so many evil persons in her?’ (Bruner)

“An enemy did this” – ‘The words “An enemy did this” leave much unsaid. We would like to know much more about this enemy: where he came from, why he is an enemy at all, and so much else. But Jesus is content with defending God’s honor and indicting the true agent of evil. Believers should usually not venture much further into the metaphysics of evil than Jesus does here…Jesus’ four words, “An enemy did this,” perform the same defense of God’s honor as Gen 1’s creation climax, “Behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31), which means “no evil was laid upon the world by God’s hand” (von Rad, Gen., 71).’ (Bruner)

Let both grow together until the harvest – for to separate them prematurely would be to damage the good plants. Good and evil grow alike, often inter-twined, often inseparable. Together in the workplace, in the neighbourhood, in the school and college, in the home, yes and in the visible church. Both good and evil are ripening, maturing, growing. Cf Jas 1:2-4,13-15. Sometimes the question is asked, Will the world get better or worse in the days to come? The answer is – Possibly both, for they do not exclude each other. Where the kingdom of God is most active, there will the wickedness of Satan be stirred up with the greatest ferocity. Mt 24:24 ‘For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.’ 1 Pet 5:8 ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’

‘Luther’s broad, inclusive church galled his more radical Protestant contemporaries, but Luther said he learned from Jesus’ parable that “the church cannot be without evil people. Those fanatics who don’t want to tolerate any weeds end up with no wheat either” (WA, 38, 560, 33 [1538]).’ (Bruner)

‘No progressive Christian likes this postponement of justice to a “next life” (“pie in the sky”). But Jesus unapologetically refers disciples to a divine justice at the end of history. If Jesus was not ashamed of a final judgment, why should his disciples be? If there is a last judgment, there is surely no impertinence in referring to it.’ (Bruner)

‘The Old Testament commonly uses the figure of harvest for the last judgment (Jer. 51:33; Hos. 6:11; cf. Rev. 14:14–16).’ (Mounce)

Let us not be too discouraged when we see the cause of God opposed in the world. Indeed, such opposition is strong evidence of the presence of true and vital Christianity. When the church is at ease in the world; when Satan can’t even be bothered to try to counterfeit the real thing – that is when we need to start worrying.

The harvest is not yet. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one are both are maturing towards their final destiny. But man is not able infallibly to separate them, and God is not willing to do so – yet. So be patient. Be patient, you who would like to escape from the evils of this present world. You can spend our life as hermits, yet still never find the peace you seek. Be patient, you who would like to see a perfect church here on earth. You can spend your lives as spiritual nomads, going from one church to another in order to avoid even the smell of unorthodoxy, or the scent of worldliness, or the odour of moral laxness. Yet you would live out your days in bitter disappointment. We are here taught to expect this very situation, to expect weeds as well as wheat. Be patient, you who see evil apparently triumphing, and the cause of Christ subject to so much persecution, rejection, and ridicule. Remember that God has fixed a time when good and evil will be finally separated and judged. And God’s time is the best time.

‘The Scriptural teaching regarding discipline is not hereby overruled. Quite the contrary. If the spirit of loving patience is exercised, personal discipline (1 Cor. 11:28), mutual discipline (Matt. 18:15, 16; Gal. 6:1, 2), and church discipline (Matt. 18:17, 18; Titus 3:10, 11; Rev. 2:14–16), will all be strengthened and ennobled. Even in the case of church discipline one of the chief purposes is “that the spirit may be saved” (1 Cor. 5:5).’ (Hendriksen)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

13:31 He gave them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 13:32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.”

Mt 13:31,32 = Mk 4:30–32
Mt 13:31–33 = Lk 13:18–21

Some have been bothered about the accuracy of this statement (cf. also Mk 4:31). The mustard seed is a very small seed, but it is not as small as, say, a poppy seed. How then could Jesus say that it is ‘the smallest seed you plant in the ground’? In answer, we should note

(a) that it was not Jesus’ purpose (or the Evangelists’) to teach botany, but to make a point about the kingdom of God. We have no reason to suppose that they knew anything other than the ‘scientific’ knowledge of their own day.  It is sufficient to say that the mustard seed was renowned for its small size.

(b) If we want to push the point home further than this, we should note, second, that Jesus refers to the mustard seed as ‘the smallest seed you plant in the ground’; that is, it is the smallest seed that is commonly planted. Indeed, Jesus may have been standing near to a garden, where the cultivated, or black mustard might have been planted. Furthermore, Jesus is making a contrast between the size of the seed (which is very small) and the size of the resulting plant (which is a shrub some 3 feet high with branches capable of bearing the weight of small birds). The kingdom of heaven is like that: it started off with just Jesus and his disciples, but grew into a worldwide movement that would bear the hopes and fears of Gentiles as well as Jews and would last for thousands of years. (Adapted from HSB)

The Parable of the Yeast

13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.”

The Purpose of Parables

13:34 Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds; he did not speak to them without a parable. 13:35 This fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

‘When you begin with a people who have not heard the gospel, and whose attention you have to win, you can hardly go too far in the use of figure and metaphor. Our Lord Jesus Christ used very much of it; indeed, “without a parable spake he not unto them;” because they were not educated up to the point at which they could profitably hear pure didactic truth. It is noticeable that after the Holy Ghost had been given, fewer parables were used, and the saints were more plainly taught of God. When Paul spoke or wrote to the churches in his epistles he employed few parables, because he addressed those who were advanced in grace and willing to learn…We are to be bound by no hard and fast rules, but should use more or less of any mode of teaching according to our own condition and that of our people.’ (Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students, p354.)

‘Similes were also largely employed by our Lord Himself.  He put truth into such a form as would be most likely to arrest the attention of men, and touch their hard hearts, and reach their seared consciences.  He taught scarcely anything to the great mass of the people except by this method of instruction.  “Without a parable He spake not unto them.”  After the close of His open-air addresses to the multitudes, His disciples came to Him, and He opened up to them the inner meaning of His public discourses, and gave them deeper spiritual truth than His ordinary hearers were able or willing to receive.  We may conclude, therefore, from our Lord’s use of the parable, that it is a most important mode of teaching, and we cannot do better than employ it ourselves wherever and whenever we can.’ (ibid. p465)

Explanation for the Disciples

13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 13:37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 13:38 The field is the world and the good seed are the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 13:39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 13:40 As the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers. 13:42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The one who has ears had better listen!

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” – ‘One of the most significant details in the parables is the way key images that in the OT apply exclusively to God, or occasionally to God’s Messiah, now stand for Jesus himself.’ (Carson)

‘How grand is the view here given by the Great Preacher of His own majesty, as Bengel remarks! The field of the world into which the seed of the kingdom is cast is “His field” (v. 24); the angels who do the work of separation at the end of the world are “His angels;” and as it is “the Son of man that sends them forth,” so in “gathering out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity,” they do but obey His commands (vv. 30, 41.)’ (JFB)

“The field is the world” – Some older expositors (e.g. Taylor) insist that this is not to be understood literally, but rather in connection with the reference to ‘the kingdom of heaven’, interpreted as the church.  Most modern commentators, however (e.g. France), do understand this to be a reference to the world at large.

Regarding the mixture of good and evil within the church, Taylor points to the Philippian church, where there were those of whom Paul wrote, with tears, that they were ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ (Phil 3:17-21).  Even within the group of the twelve disciples, there was, of course,  Judas.

‘The harvest is the end of the age’ – and not before. The field will be purged. God’s kingdom will be purified. But not until the right time. But why are the weeds left until the harvest? The reason given by Jesus is that to do otherwise ‘might root up the wheat with them.’ And this is born out in experience. For one thing, history is littered with examples of those who have attempted to root out heresy and evil by force. It does far more harm than good. For another thing, the presence of evils such as persecution and opposition serves to refine and galvanise the true church. But another vital reason for the delay in the harvest is that God is patient and longsuffering. Every day of delay is a day of opportunity for the ungodly to turn from their wicked ways and believe in the Lord Jesus.

But don’t turn God’s patience into an excuse for doing nothing. Every day that you refuse him is a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in. History is moving towards its climax. Still less should you use God’s patience as a reason for ridiculing his apparent inactivity. 2 Pet 3 ‘You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has from the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…But i keeping with his promise we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.’

‘The harvesters are angels’ – cf Mt 24:31, God ‘will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other;’ cf Rev 14:17-20. They will work with unerring judgement, distinguishing between the wheat and the weeds, the wicked and the righteous. No pretence, no disguise, no excuse will prevail in that day.

‘We too much forget the angels. Let us not overlook their tender sympathy with us; they behold the Lord rejoicing over our repentance, and they rejoice with him; they are our watchers and the Lord’s messengers of mercy; they bear us up in their hands lest we dash our foot against a stone; and when we come to die, they carry us to the bosom of our Lord. It is one of our joys that we have come to an innumerable company of angels; let us think of them with affection.’ (Spurgeon)

They will weed out of his kingdom… – Cf. Dan 12:2, ‘Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.’

‘They will throw them into the fiery furnace’ – that this punishment is eternal is indicated by Mt 25:46, where the same word (‘everlasting’) is used of the duration both of the fate of the wicked and the life of the righteous. As the fiery furnace signifies the fierce torment, so the weeping indicates the anguish and the gnashing of teeth the despair of this punishment.

‘The righteous will shine like the sun’ – ‘These righteous people…once the light of the world (Mt 5:13–16), now radiate perfection and experience bliss in the consummation of their hopes.’ (Carson)

Those who have received grace here will receive glory there, cf. Dan 12:3, ‘those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.’ If there is an ever-increasing measure of glory now, what a glorious consummation will there be in the world to come?

‘He who has ears, let him hear’ – let him not only be attentive to this parable, but let him consider whether he is wheat, or weed. Let the ungodly tremble as they see in the parable the prospect of everlasting doom. Let them know how they are exercising God’s patience as they sow misery for themselves. And yet let them remember with Augustine: ‘Those who are tares today, may be wheat tomorrow.’ Let the Christian also ask, Have I learned the patience which the Saviour teaches here? The believer can take comfort from this parable, knowing that the angels will not proclaim terror for him, but summon him to what he has longed for. The righteous are little noticed in this world: but in the world to come they will ‘shine like the sun’. Col 3:4, ‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’

Why doesn’t God root out the weeds now?

‘The parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24–30 and 36–43) is especially important for explaining why God does not root out all evil from our world immediately. Jesus pictures the wisdom of a farmer who will not damage his crop by pulling up weeds growing near the roots of good plants. So also God wisely delays judgment that would remove all of Satan’s instruments, so that the followers of Christ and the purposes of God may reach maturity. Were God in this moment to root out all evil from the world, then not only would all institutions that are designed for human commerce, security, and health collapse, but so also would the cause of God’s mission in the world for the millions who have yet to claim our Redeemer as their own. Patience in judgment is a significant grace of God.’ (Gospel Transformation Bible)

Lessons

Drawing on Barclay (DSB) and others, we may summarise the lessons of this parable:

  1. We must be on our guard, because there is a hostile power in the world that seeks to contaminate and destroy all that is of God.
  2. We must not expect perfection, either in the world or in the church.  If we do, we shall experience perpetual disappointment.
  3. It is hard to distinguish those who belong to God’s kingdom and those who do not.  Evil people may appear to be good, and good people may appear to be bad.  We are never in possession of all of the facts.  We cannot read the secrets of people’s hearts.  And, as Augustine noted, ‘Those who are tares to-day, may be wheat to-morrow’ (quoted by Ryle).
  4. We must not be quick to judge.  Judgement will come in the end, and will be based on the whole life lived.  No one act or stage of life will necessarily determine whether a person is saved or lost.  ‘Christians who separate others from themselves or themselves from others too promptly or too severely are confronted by this inclusive parable.’ (Bruner)
  5. Judgement will surely come in the end.  We are not to regard this hope as mere ‘pie in the sky’.  We may delude ourselves that we can escape the consequences of our thoughts, words, and actions, but we cannot.  We may feel that virtue goes unrewarded, and evil unpunished, but justice will win out in the last day.
  6. Only God has the right and ability to judge.  He alone can truly discern the good and the evil.

Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven

13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.

The parables of the treasure and pearl indicate the incomparable value of the kingdom, which will cause a man to do everything possible to possess it.

13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 13:46 When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.
13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. 13:48 When it was full, they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into containers and threw the bad away. 13:49 It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous 13:50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is the seventh and last parable in this section, and draws on a familiar scene along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.

The kingdom of heaven is like a net – As usual, we should understand the meaning to be: “The kingdom of heaven is like this:….” In other words, the comparison is with the whole content of the parable, and not just the net. It is reading too much into the detail to say with Gill, ‘this the Gospel and the ministry of it may be compared to a net, for its meanness in the esteem of men; being despicable, and of no account in the eyes of the world: and yet like a net, a piece of curious artifice and workmanship, being the produce of the grace of God; in which his manifold wisdom is displayed, and is what angels desire to look into: it is designed, and purposely contrived, for the gathering in of sinners to Christ, and to his churches, though by accident, it has other uses; such as troubling of the world, as the net does the waters of the sea, and drawing out the corruptions of the men of it, as that does weeds, stones, &c. and which, like a net, can do nothing of itself, unless cast; and not then neither, unless succeeded with a divine blessing.’

The net in question was a drag-net. This was a large net with floats at the top and weights at the bottom. One end would be fastened at the shore, and the boat would drag the net in a semi-circle, trapping fish between the net and the shore. Once this had been achieved, the fishermen would sit on the shore, and sort the fish. Obviously, the good fish were kept and the bad ones were rejected.

‘Of at least twenty-four species of fish counted in the Lake of Galilee, many were unclean or inedible, and the net would not discriminate in its catch. Until the final day, Jesus will continue eating with sinners to seek and save the lost. (Mt 13:28-29,48-50) The kingdom had not consumed the wicked with fire (3:10-12) or come “with signs to be observed;” (compare Lk 17:20) it had invaded the world in a hidden way and would remain hidden until the end. But while the parable probably applies primarily to the world, those who apply the parable to the church are not wholly amiss: the same line between righteous and wicked will ultimately divide Jesus’ professing disciples (13:20-23).’ (IVP Commentary)

‘(1.) The world is a vast sea, and the children of men are things creeping innumerable, both small and great, in that sea, Ps 104:25. Men in their natural state are like the fishes of the sea that have no ruler over them, Hab 1:14.

(2.) The preaching of the gospel is the casting of a net into this sea, to catch something out of it, for his glory who has the sovereignty of the sea. Ministers are fishers of men, employed in casting and drawing this net; and then they speed, when at Christ’s word they let down the net; otherwise, they toil and catch nothing.

(3.) This net gathers of every kind, as large dragnets do. In the visible church there is a deal of trash and rubbish, dirt and weeds and vermin, as well as fish.

(4.) There is a time coming when this net will be full, and drawn to the shore; a set time when the gospel shall have fulfilled that for which it was sent, and we are sure it shall not return void, Isa 55:10,11. The net is now filling; sometimes it fills faster than at other times, but still it fills, and will be drawn to shore, when the mystery of God shall be finished.

(5.) When the net is full and drawn to the shore, there shall be a separation between the good and bad that were gathered in it. Hypocrites and true Christians shall then be parted; the good shall be gathered into vessels, as valuable, and therefore to be carefully kept, but the bad shall be cast away, as vile and unprofitable; and miserable is the condition of those who are cast away in that day. While the net is in the sea, it is not known what is in it, the fishermen themselves cannot distinguish; but they carefully draw it, and all that is in it, to the shore, for the sake of the good that is in it. Such is God’s care for the visible church, and such should ministers’ concern be for those under their charge, though they are mixed.’ (MHC)

The parable is illustrative of God’s judgement at the end of the age. In contrast to the parable of the weeds, it does not draw attention to the co-existence of the righteous and the wicked.

The principal truth taught by this parable is the reality of God’s judgement at the end of the age. In contrast to the parable of the weeds, it does not draw attention to the co-existence of the righteous and the wicked. In other respects, however, these two parables are closely linked, and the explanation of each is very similar. ‘The net echoes the last “act” of the parable of the weeds, the sorting out of good from bad.’ (France) According to this writer, ‘the reference, as in the weeds, is not primarily to a mixed church, but to the division among mankind in general which the last judgement will bring to light.’

‘(See on Mt 13:42). We have said that each of these two parables holds forth the same truth under a slight diversity of aspect. What is that diversity? First, the bad, in the former parable, are represented as vile seed sown among the wheat by the enemy of souls; in the latter, as foul fish drawn forth out of the great sea of human beings by the Gospel net itself. Both are important truths-that the Gospel draws within its pale, and into the communion of the visible Church, multitudes who are Christians only in name; and that the injury thus done to the Church on earth is to be traced to the wicked one. But further, while the former parable gives chief prominence to the present mixture of good and bad, in the latter, the prominence is given to the future separation of the two classes.’ (JFB)

The message of this parable is that ‘not all that are attracted by the message of the kingdom exhibit genuine discipleship and are thus suitable for participation in God’s eternal kingdom.’ (College Press)

‘Christ himself preached often of hell-torments, as the everlasting punishment of hypocrites; and it is good for us to be often reminded of this awakening, quickening truth.’ (MHC)

‘The solemn part of the judgement is, that those who are to be separated from each other were together in the Church of Christ upon the earth. And so the warning comes with terrible power, to the effect that mere membership in the church gives no guarantee of everlasting felicity. Read the concluding sections of the Sermon on the Mount, and you will understand better, perhaps, the Saviour’s meaning here. It is not enough that you have eaten and drunk in Christ’s presence, and that you have been active in working in and for the church: the question is, Are you in Christ? It is not enough that you are growing in the field of the church: the question is, Are you wheat, or tares? are you Christ’s in heart and soul and character, as well as by profession and position? It is not enough that you are enclosed in the net of the church: the question, after all, is, Are you good or bad in it?’ (Taylor, The Parables of our Saviour, 53)

13:51 “Have you understood all these things?” They replied, “Yes.” 13:52 Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.”

“All these things” – probably refers to the entire discourse. ‘Our Lord’s enquiry is an admirable example of real heart-searching application.’ (Ryle) The mere hearing of a Christian message is worthless: we might as well listen to the beating of a drum or a lecture in some foreign language. No: the mind must be engaged, the thoughts set in motion, there must be real instruction and real understanding. How many within our congregations could tell you, at the end of a day, or a week, or a year, what they had learned. It is to be feared that many of our church members are as ignorant as the heathen. The Holy Spirit generally reaches the heart via the mind.

‘Christ’s putting this question to the disciples, shows that the things delivered, had some difficulty in them; that they were of moment and importance to be understood; and how concerned he was, that they should understand them; and how ready he was to communicate the knowledge of them, which he knew would be useful to them in their after ministrations.’ (Gill)

“Yes,” they replied – And yet subsequent events would call into question their self-assessment, cf. Mt 15:15-16; 16:9.  The assertion that the present verse is a flat contradiction of Mk 8:21 therefore carries little weight.

v52 Although not usually included in lists of Jesus’ parables, this verse resembles them in both form and content.

“Teacher of the law” grammateus = lit. ‘scribe’. “Instructed” – matheteuo = lit. ‘discipled’. The learner becomes a teacher.

“Instructed about the kingdom of heaven” – ‘That is, understands the nature of the Gospel church state, the discipline, laws, and rules of Christ’s house, the doctrines of the Gospel, the way and things pertaining to the kingdom of heaven; as Christ and his righteousness, and the regenerating and sanctifying grace of the Spirit.’ (Gill) ‘The instruction of a gospel minister must be in the kingdom of heaven, that is it about which his business lies. A man may be a great philosopher and politician, and yet if not instructed to the kingdom of heaven, he will make but a bad minister.’ (MHC)

“Like the owner of a house” – ‘as the ministers of the Gospel are, and the house is the church of God; called the household of God, the household of faith, a spiritual house, and a family; consisting of fathers, young men, and children; of which indeed Christ is properly the householder and master, but Gospel ministers are deputies and stewards under him, and under him preside over the household, and have the government of it, provide food for it, and protect and defend it; all which require large gifts and abilities, great love and affection, both to Christ and his people; much wisdom, prudence, and knowledge; and great faithfulness and integrity, courage and firmness of mind.’ (Gill)

“New treasures as well as old” – There may be an allusion to the relevance of the OT scriptures (old treasures) and to the new order brought about by Christ (new treasures). If this is the case, then this verse supports that assertion that ‘the Old Testament continues to have relevance for the disciple, but only as it is understood in the light of Jesus’ new teachings (cf. 5:17-19). Being trained in the priorities and values of the kingdom provides disciples with a hermeneutical lens through which to read and interpret Scripture. Such training is critical if the disciples are to realize their calling to become “fishers of men.” ‘ (College Press)

‘See here what should be a minister’s furniture, a treasure of things new and old. Those who have so many and various occasions, have need to stock themselves well in their gathering days with truths new and old, out of the Old Testament and out of the new; with ancient and modern improvements, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished, 2 Tim 3:16,17. Old experiences, and new observations, all have their use; and we must not content ourselves with old discoveries, but must be adding new. Live and learn.’ (MHC)

‘A minister should be like the father of a family: distributing to the church as it needs; and out of his treasures bringing forth truth to confirm the feeble, enlighten the ignorant, and guide those in danger of straying away.’ (Barnes)

This little parable suggests a number of qualities of the true scribe:- (a) he must be adequately trained; (b) he is rich in the eyes of God; (c) he has the responsibility of providing for others; (d) he must provide treasures old and new. ‘A skilful, faithful minister of the gospel, is a scribe, well versed in the things of the gospel, and able to teach them. Christ compares him to a good householder, who brings forth fruits of last year’s growth and this year’s gathering, abundance and variety, to entertain his friends. Old experiences and new observations, all have their use. Our place is at Christ’s feet, and we must daily learn old lessons over again, and new ones also.’ (MHCC)

Rejection at Nazareth

13:53 Now when Jesus finished these parables, he moved on from there. 13:54 Then he came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and miraculous powers? 13:55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 13:56 And aren’t all his sisters here with us? Where did he get all this?” 13:57 And so they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own house.” 13:58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Mt 13:54–58 = Mk 6:1–6

His hometown – Probably Nazareth is meant, even though Jesus had moved to Capernaum.

Of Nazareth, Edwards (on Mark) notes: ‘Nazareth is not mentioned in the OT, in Josephus, or in the rabbinic literature of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Outside the dozen references to it in the NT, it is first mentioned by an obscure writer, Julius Africanus, some two centuries after Jesus’ birth. No church was built in Nazareth until the time of Constantine (a.d. 325). Archaeological excavations beneath the imposing Churches of the Annunciation and St. Joseph in Nazareth have uncovered a series of grottoes that date to the time of Jesus. The resultant picture is of an obscure hamlet of earthen dwellings chopped into sixty acres of rocky hillside, with a total population of five hundred — at the most.’

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” – The parallel passage, Mk 6:3, has, “Isn’t this the carpenter?”  Of course, this is a record of what the people ‘said’, and some of them may have said one thing, and others another.  That would be unsurprising, because in that culture a son would usually follow his father’s trade.  The main point is that they all knew that Jesus had not had a rabbi’s upbringing and education.

Spong’s theory (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p137) that the change from Mark’s account to Matthew’s (which he dates fifteen to twenty years later) is due to the difficulty that the early church had with the idea that Jesus was a humble carpenter, and to growing power of ‘the myth’.  This is, of course, to build one conjecture upon another.  The comment is not, after all, a ‘biographical notes’, as Spong suggests, but rather a record of what some people were saying about Jesus.

During Jesus’ youth, Herod Antipas had hired local artisans to work on his residence at Sepphoris, just 4 miles north of Nazareth.  It is possible that he and his father had been employed on that project.

“Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?” – The implication could be that Joseph was dead. Alternatively, there may be a hint here of the virgin birth. Cf. Mt 13:55, which has ‘the carpenter’s son’, and Lk 4:22, ‘Joseph’s son’.

Edwards (on Mark) cites Bauckham, who thinks that this phrase suggests ‘may have been intended to distinguish Jesus from the children of Joseph by a former marriage.’  But, writes Edwards, this is not supported by the context, which shows that the crowd’s comments were intended to discredit Jesus; whereas ‘the meaning Bauckham suggests would scarcely have been a reason to “take offense at him.”’

“His brothers” – Again, there may be a hint here of rumours of a virgin birth: ‘obviously, he can’t be born of a virgin if he has brothers and sisters.’

Perpetual virginity?  ‘The idea that Mary remained a virgin was widely taught by the fourth century and was later affirmed by church councils. It is taught today by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy, but not by Protestants (although Martin Luther held to it). Matthew 1:25 declares that Joseph “did not know [Mary] intimately until she gave birth to a son.” The “until” most naturally implies that Mary and Joseph were sexually intimate at some point after Jesus’ birth, leading to the birth of children who would have been Jesus’ half-siblings.’ (HAC)

They took offense at him – Familiarity breeds contempt.  The word skandalizein occurs eight times in Mark (Mk 4:17; 6:3; 9:42, 43, 45, 47; 14:27, 29), and ‘in each instance it designates obstructions that prevent one from coming to faith and following Jesus’ (Edwards, on Mark).

Matthew smooths out Mark’s ‘could not’ into ‘did not’.  As Hurtado points out, ‘this is the sort of evidence that prompts most scholars to believe that the writer of Matthew wrote after Mark and used Mark’s Gospel as a source, making numerous editorial changes such as this one.’

‘God allows our unbelief to limit his activity. Mark says that Jesus “could not” do a miracle in Nazareth because of the people’s unbelief, (Mk 6:5) probably meaning that Jesus refused to act as a mere magician but demanded faith (Goppelt 1981:148). Matthew clarifies the wording: Jesus did not (would not) act because of their unbelief (Mt 13:58). Those who are hostile to God’s purposes cannot complain because they do not receive the attestations of his power that appear regularly among those who believe him. We should keep in mind, however, that the issue here is the hostility of antibelief, not a young Christian’s struggles with doubt; sometimes God does sovereignly act on behalf of his own to develop faith, not just to reward it (compare Mt 17:2-7; 28:5-10, 17; Ex 3:2; Judg 6:12-14).’ (IVP NT Commentary)

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