Because Jesus said that understanding this parable was key to being able to understand all the other parables (Mark 4:13), we should not look at any other parable until we understand this one. It appears twice in the scriptures: once in Matthew 13 and once in Mark 4.
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Matthew 13:3-8
Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. Mark 4:3-8
Thankfully, since understanding this parable is key to understanding all the other parables, Jesus took the time to explain it.
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But 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. Matthew 13:18-23
And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? 14 The sower soweth the word. 15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the wordâ€™s sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. Mark 4:13-20
We need to remember that when the gospel is preached, there will be those who do not respond and there will be both true converts and false converts â€“ the net will catch every kind, both good and bad.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: 48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. Matthew 13:47-48
In this parable, we see 4 types of people that heard the gospel: the way side hearer, the stony ground hearer, the thorny ground hearer, and the good ground hearer. How did each of the hearers respond and which of the hearers were soundly saved?
The easiest to understand is the good ground hearer. This person obviously was saved because he brought forth fruit. Continuing the analogy of sowing seed, farmers first prepare the ground before sowing the seed. Farmers work to ensure that the ground is in optimal condition to produce the best results. Good ground will obviously produce the intended results.
The way side hearer is someone who has not been prepared at all. Because of the lack of preparation, Satan quickly comes and takes the seed away. When a farmer is sowing, occasionally some seed is spilt. Since this seed does not fall on prepared ground and is just laying on the surface, the birds easily spot it and come and devour the seed. The way side hearer is not saved.
The thorny ground hearer is someone who cares more about worldly things â€“ riches, fame, power. Notice the parable says these worldy cares choke the word and the word becomes unfruitful. It says the word becomes unfruitful â€“ not the person. The worldly cares of the thorny ground hearer prevents the word from producing fruit â€“ from producing a conversion. It does not say that the thorny ground hearer was saved and then became unfruitful. The thorny ground hearer is not saved.
Finally, we come to the stony ground hearer. Notice this hearer receives the word immediately with joy or gladness. This hearer also endures for a time â€“ Iâ€™m not sure how long a time is â€“ it could be one month, one year, five years, twenty years â€“ I donâ€™t know. Because this hearer receives the word and endures for a time, we have this hearer in our churches today. Is this hearer a true convert or a false convert? There are a couple of clues to help us determine this. The first clue is that they immediately received the word with joy or gladness. In Acts 2, we see those that were added to the church gladly received the word. We are also told that these converts in Acts are true converts. But there is a difference between the gladness of those converts and the gladness of the stony ground hearer. In Acts, the gladness came after they were pricked in their hearts. Their gladness did not come immediately. It followed conviction and sorrow. Enduring for a time is the second clue to understanding what type of convert the stony ground hearer is. Consider this:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1 John 2:19
If the stony ground hearer was a true convert, he no doubt would have continued in spite of the persecution. The stony ground hearer is a false convert. These false converts are in our churches today. These false converts have never been convicted of their sins; theyâ€™ve never experienced the godly sorrow that works repentance unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).
So what are we supposed to learn from this parable? Was Jesus just trying to teach us that when we preach the gospel that there would be unconverted, false converts, and true converts? There is something even more important. Because it is only the good ground hearer that is a true convert, we need to do all we can to make sure that the hearers are good ground hearers. We need to break up the fallow ground. Like the converts in Acts 2, we need to prick their hearts with the conviction of sin. We need to tell people the bad news before we tell them the good news. We need to preach the law which brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7) and the law will bring the hearer to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Only when the ground has been prepared in this manner will the seed be able to fall and produce fruit.