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by | Feb 2, 2023 | Kingdom

KINGDOM: Hearts where the Kingdom takes root (Matthew 13:18-23)

by | Feb 2, 2023 | Kingdom

Hear then the parable of the sower:

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, MATTHEW 13:18

I love it when an author, speaker, or songwriter explains themselves.

To hear what was going on in the mind of the one who penned something or said something or expressed something, to know what they really meant and how they went about weaving together parts of speech, imagery, and emotion to communicate it… it’s a delight, like savoring every juicy bite of a perfectly cooked steak with just the right marinade.

When that person is Jesus, all the more delectible.

That’s what we have here, Jesus’ explanation of a parable He told a few paragraphs earlier (Matthew 13:1-9).

He’s unearthing its meaning for the benefit of His 12 disciples, as a demonstration of what He said in 13:11, when they asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables. (see my previous interaction with that passage).…

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”


I feel that the rest of Matthew 13 is one of the most intriguing and delightful sections of all the gospels. It’s a section crammed full of what has come to be known as “Kingdom Parables,” stories Jesus told, directly to His 12 disciples, to explain the different nuances and truths of the Kingdom of heaven. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this section of our study because of the rich insights it yields. I’ll admit right up front that one of my frustrations with this section as a whole is that Jesus doesn’t break down an explanation of every parable He tells, as He does with this first one (the parable of the sower). I wish He did, but then again, scripture is divinely inspired in the form we find it, so I need to console myself with the truth that God gave us exactly what we need in this section.

Maybe He’s treating us, along with His 12 disciples, like competent students in His “school of the Kingdom.” He demonstrates the principles of interpreting parables by explaining the parable of the sower, then expects us to use them as we hear the following parables. I’m going to take that approach and see where it gets us, paying attention to how Jesus identifies the characters in His stories, how He draws our attention to the important details and leaves out others, and how He applies the lesson to our understanding of the Kingdom. I may find a model for better understanding the parables to come.


We’ve all had the opportunity to listen in to one side of a telephone conversation. You understand the subject-matter for the most part, some of the details of who and what is being described or communicated, but there’s a lot you don’t understand. Sometimes, even using your best Sherlock Holmes-ish skills of deduction, you can’t even figure out who is on the other end of the call.

We would have that kind of experience in this study if we barrel right through the passage before us (Matthew 13:18-24). That’s because Jesus is going to refer to things He already said in the 12 disciple’s hearing, which is recorded earlier in this chapter. Without hearing/reading it for ourselves, we’ll only be hearing part of what He’s saying, and will only get part of what He means to communicate.

So, I’ll be jumping back and forth between Matthew 13:1-9 and Matthew 13:18-23 in a “here’s what Jesus said” and “now, here’s what Jesus said about what He said” fashion. I hope it’s not too confusing.

But a couple more things before we get to that:

First, Jesus calls the story we’ll be looking at, “The parable of the sower.” He’s not talking about a person who uses needle and thread; that would be a “sewer,” or “seemstress,” or “tailor.” He’s talking the process of planting seeds in a field, which in His day was called “sowing the field.” In our day, we call it “farming.” And what do we call the person who does the work? A farmer. In His day, that person was referred to as the “sower.”

Second, this parable is also recorded in the gospel of Mark, chapter 4, verses 1-20 and in the gospel of Luke, chapter 8, verses 4-15. Though it’s tempting to add a few slight variations from those passages to our consideration in this study, I have chosen not to do that, and for a couple of reasons. One, the additional information we get from doing so is scant and won’t change how we understand Jesus’ main points, and two, it would be even more challenging and potentially confusing to add a third and fourth set of passages with which to do our “what Jesus said” and “what Jesus said about what He said” scriptural gymnastics. What we have before us in Matthew 13 is sufficient, in my humble opinion.

OK, now we can dig in. (See what I did there?)


A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:4

Let’s be clear on what’s being described. A farmer goes out to plant his field. In Jesus’ day, the process was pretty simple; the farmer would carry a bag or bucket of seed through the field, clutch handfuls of seed from it, then scatter it around him as he walked.

Remember your last excursion to a beach. If you were to pick up a handful of sand and let it run through your fingers, you’d be doing what a sower did for the most part. The only addition would be to swing your arm side to side as you stroll down the beach. In this way, the sower would scatter seeds throughout the field. It’s imprecise and a bit random, but it’s the best they could do short of taking the time to place the seeds one-by-one into rows.

In Jesus’ story, some of the seeds flung from the sower’s hand landed on the path alongside the field. Picture a typical path. It’s hard, somewhat smooth, and often a different shade than the softer ground surrounding it. Place the path next to a cultivated field and this would be even more the case. Seeds that drop on the path would be easy for the birds to spot and scoop up; no dirt clods in the way, the seeds are likely a contrasting color, it’s easy for them.

So far Jesus’ story makes perfect sense. The people of his day would have been saying, “I get it, that’s how it goes when you sow.” But what’s the point?


When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:19


I bet the disciples never saw that explanation coming. There’s nothing inherent in the story itself that points to the “word of the Kingdom” or human hearts, or “the evil one.” But that’s the beauty of a parable, the one telling it decides what the various elements mean and then applies that meaning to his/her listeners. Let’s look at Jesus’ explanation a bit more carefully, shall we?

It seems pretty clear that the seed being sown/scattered is “the word of the Kingdom.” What exactly is that? Common sense makes me believe it’s the message or news about Jesus being the Messiah, that the Kingdom of heaven is really a thing (as compared to the typical earthly kingdoms His hearers would have been accustomed to), that Jesus is the King of that Kingdom, that it’s a different sort of Kingdom and one that operates according to different rules, etc.

The path appears to be a human being, or one who is able to hear this message. When that message isn’t understood by the person, it’s like their heart is hard (like the hard path). This means it is not prone to allow the seed to work its way down into the soil of his/her heart/understanding. In this condition, the evil one, represented by the birds, is able to remove the seed, so there’s no hope of understanding happening in the future.

So, what do we learn about the Kingdom from this part of the parable?

1) It has to be received.

2) It has to be understood.

3) There is an evil one who can influence our ability to understand, on some level.

4) If the word of the Kingdom is not understood, there’s not chance to believe it and benefit.


Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:5-6

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. MATTHEW 13:5-6

This is the same story, different chapter. We have the same main characters and situation, but something has changed; the condition of the soil in question. This time it’s rocky soil. So unlike the hardened path, there is a bit of soil where the seeds can take root and begin growing. But because it’s so rocky, there isn’t much depth to the roots and its unable even to withstand the effects of the sun, which it normally would need.


As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:20-21

As we observed in the first part of this section, the condition of the soil is what Jesus focuses on. The small amount of soil present in this ground enables it to understand the message of the Kingdom to some degree, enough to be initially joyful about it, but it’s a short-lived joy. When tribulation or persecution come ON ACCOUNT OF the word of the Kingdom, immediately this person falls away.

It seems that Jesus is describing many who like the concept of the Kingdom of heaven and would love to see it come to fruition, but they have an inferior understanding of it. I don’t mean to sound judgy when I say that, just factual. Though they understand some of the perks and promises inherent in the Kingdom, they don’t see the depths of what it means for them and for all of humanity. They don’t appreciate the vast significance it has for their lives, their future, the future of humanity. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say they want the perks the Kingdom has to offer, as far as they understand them, but aren’t willing to give much of themselves in order to see those things come about.

I find it interesting that Jesus simply describes the condition of the soil. He doesn’t explain how it got that way. But maybe the people of his day, who were far more agrarian in their lifestyle and understanding, understood that intuitively. Farmers spend a great deal of time and energy removing rocks from the soil they intend to plant. They know that without deep roots, there is no chance that the crops they plant will survive. So, would Jesus’ hearers have naturally recognized that somewhere in this scenario, laziness or lack of diligence was a factor? Could His point have been that the people of His day, Jewish people who possessed, and had on some level been taught, the prophecies about the Messiah and His coming kingdom, hadn’t appropriately prepared the soil of their hearts for the news of its arrival? Had they not spent enough time in those prophetic books to gain a clear understanding of the value and importance of the Kingdom? Had they allowed rocks (incorrect interpretations, earthly interpretations) to clutter the soil of their hearts, so that the expectations of the Kingdom they had were easily disappointed?

I’ll be the first to admit that my last paragraph goes further than Jesus’ word for word explanation. But given His audience, their history, and the situation He’s in, it makes sense to me.


Other seeds fells among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:7

Again, the only difference in this “chapter” of Jesus’ story is the condition of the soil. This soil isn’t rocky like the one before, it has thorns, or the seeds of thorn plants present. Notice that Jesus says the thorns “grew up,” they don’t appear to have been obviously present from the start. But the thorn seeds were hidden in the otherwise healthy-looking soil.


As for what was sown among the thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful.

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:22

The person characterized here, hears the message of the Kingdom, and it’s implied that he even understands it. But the priority of his life is not the kingdom, he’s consumed by the very understandable “cares of the world” and the “deceitfulness of riches.” I think we’ll be helped by giving each of these concerns a bit of thought.

The cares of the world. I’ve always had the feeling that this is the equivalent of worry or anxiety, and maybe that is at least part of what it is. But the cares of the world could also be good things, responsible things, things like career and home life and education. With that in mind, I don’t think Jesus is insisting that such things are bad, but rather that they are in a position of priority that is not fitting. When the daily cares of life are more important to a person than the things of the Kingdom, those cares are going to choke out any understanding of the Kingdom’s place of impact in their lives.

The deceitfulness of riches. Again, riches are not necessarily being positioned as a bad thing. We all know that lots of money can be used to do lots of good things, even good things for the sake and advancement of the Kingdom. But we also know that when riches are a part of the equation, we humans tend to give the riches a place of prominence that is unwarranted. Jesus points out that it happens because riches can be “deceitful.” How is this true?

We tend to feel that all our problems would be solved if we just had more money. Really? Your marriage problems would be taken care of if you had more money? Your selfishness and pride, too? Let’s not fool ourselves, or rather, let’s not allow the obvious benefits of riches in some areas, convince is that those benefits extend across the board. There are some things, many things, that only the Kingdom of heaven is going to effectively address.

The soil in question in this section is filled with seeds that lead to misplaced priorities, seeds that cause the good news of the Kingdom to fade to the background over timem, until it has no more impact on our lives than a dried up plant that’s been choked out by thorns and weeds.


Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty. 

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:8

As in all the other examples, the condition of the soil is the only thing that is different, which is what yields a different result. Jesus describes this soil as “good soil.” So we can rightly understand that the other three soils were “bad” soil, bad candidates for the implantation of the word of the Kingdom. This soil contains no rocks, no thorn seeds, nothing to prevent the word of the Kingdom from being understood, nurtured, germinated, and grown over time.

Because of its good condition, this soil was able to produce in amazing proportions. If you’re not a farmer or gardener, you might only hear big numbers here, so let’s be clear. Jesus is saying that this field at the very least, produced 30 times as much grain as seeds planted, at most, 100 times the seeds planted. So for sake of simplicity, let’s use nice round numbers and assume 100 seeds were planted. Because of the good condition of the soil, the least this field produced was 3,000 seeds of grain. The most it produced was 100,000 seeds of grain.

I used seeds as the measurement of production because I wanted to remain consistent, so as not to embellish the result. But I doubt that’s how a farmer would calculate the return on his investment of seed. He wouldn’t count the seeds produced, he’d count the heads of grain or the bussels produced. So, how many ever heads of grain he’d normally expect to get from 100 seeds planted in an average field, this field would produce 30 to 100 times more than that. Jesus’ point is that a healthy field produces an abundant crop.


As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Matthew, Quoting Jesus

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:23

What makes for “good soil” in a human heart? Jesus says it’s the capacity to understand the message of the Kingdom of heaven. There is so much that we could infer from this concept based on our experiences with education and learning. A person who is able to understand has a way of thinking, an attitude about learning that sets them up for success. They want to learn, they desire to glean insight and knowledge. Why? It’s a bit intangible but it seems that a person like this recognizes that understanding the things they study will benefit them in life over the long haul. As a result, they are willing to apply themselves to the process of learning, which brings understanding.

What I’m describing is as patently true as the fact that the sun will rise each morning. It’s easy to prove. How many middle schoolers have asked a teacher or parent, “Why do I need to learn this? I’m never going to use it in my life,”? All of them. While some may be asking the question because it serves as a lazy excuse in the moment, the question itself rests on the common assumption that even their parents believe: What we learn needs to have a purpose, otherwise we are wasting time and effort to learn it.

It seems logical at this point to pose the obvious questions at the root of Jesus’ parable; “Why do we need to understand the message of the Kingdom of heaven? How are we going to use that information in life?” Those are good questions, and Jesus’ answer is pretty simple and to the point, though not specific.

The knowledge you gain about the Kingdom of heaven will enable you to bear fruit, Kingdom fruit. Though He doesn’t define what that fruit is in practical terms, He makes it clear that it can be a staggering amount of fruit, no matter the person (soil). Notice what He said about that…

He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Each person’s production is the result of understanding – truly understanding – the message of the Kingdom. And each person’s production is far more than could be expected under normal conditions, even at the low end of the yield spectrum. There’s a supernatural aspect to this growth, which makes perfect sense, since we are talking about the Kingdom of heaven.

And notice too, each person’s yield may be different. Why is this? Because each person is different, made that way by God (the King). This is not to say anything negative, just to point out that no matter the difference in results, all of us still get to be used of our King to produce extraordinary results. That is, if the soil of our hearts is “good soil.”


I’ve heard Bible teachers define these different soils from the standpoint of which of them represent Christians or which represent non-Christians. Maybe there’s some value to be found from that approach, but I don’t think that’s Jesus’ point. The original hearers of his explanation of the parable (the 12 disciples) definitely wouldn’t have understood His words from that perspective. Remember, these are Jewish men of the first century, steeped in the Rabbinic traditions and teachings of their day, awaiting the arrival of the Messiah and His Kingdom. Here, standing just three or four feet way IS that Messiah, Jesus… and He’s explaIning to them how important it is that they do the work necessary to make their hearts fertile soil that’s able to understand the message of the Kingdom.

Their background and religious culture has created some heart-hardness they’ll need to break up. Could that have been the tendency to immediately reject what Jesus said about the Kingdom because it was so different, so opposite from what their accepted and respected religious teachers said about the Messiah and His Kingdom? I think it’s likely. And if they persisted in that response, there would be no fruitfulness in their lives resulting from the arrival of the long-awaited Kingdom.

There are also likely some rocks they’ll need to remove from their soil (hearts), so that what they DO hear can actually have a chance of growing deep roots. Roots that go way down into their souls will be needed, because the hard-hearted types won’t simply be ambivalent to the message of the Kingdom, they’ll become hostile toward those who accept it. If the disciples have any chance of enduring the coming antagonism and persecution, they’ll need to be deeply rooted in an understanding of the Kingdom that goes far beyond what they’ve been taught. If they don’t, they shouldn’t expect to produce fruit for the Kingdom.

And they likely have some thorn seeds that need to be sifted out of their soil. Are they too focused on being good, responsible Jewish boys? Or perhaps their attention is consumed by the pursuit of success and wealth and the comforts those things can bring? Both of these ambitions will choke out the word of the Kingdom if they are not dealt with, resulting in testimonies of Kingdom-affinity that are dried up and dead. No fruitfulness is to be found here, either.

This is a parable of warning, a parable that points to the costs required for those who want to truly accept and understand the realities of the Kingdom of heaven. If they (the 12 disciples – and us) are willing to jettison their previous ways of thinking and to reorient their priorities so that everything in their lives is positioned to serve the interests of the Kingdom, they can expect to produce miraculous amounts of fruit FOR the Kingdom.

It appears these 12 men did the work necessary. The message of the Kingdom and of Jesus, its King, has transformed lives throughout the centuries, to the point that the “new covenant” faith is the largest and most history-shaking-for-good on the planet. That’s a lot of fruit, and has grown from the good soil of these 12 men’s hearts.


The warning and cost Jesus explained to His 12 disciples is directly appplicable to you and me. Why? Because we too are called to understand the message of the Kingdom and to make room for it at the top of our priority lists. We too are challenged to sift the soil of our hearts to ensure that the message of the Kingdom will not only be able to germinate and grow, but that it will do its miraculous work of fruit production through our lives, according to God’s design and purpose for us, a unique Kingdom-citizen.

Prayer Response

Would you join me in this prayer?

Lord, it’s hard work to sift through the soil of my heart. Every time I being the process I seem to find excuses as to why I can’t or shouldn’t do it. Some of the time, I short-cut my assessment, calling it “good” when deep down I can feel the rocks or the seeds that could easily sprout thorns tomorrow. But as true as all of that is in my experience, in my soul I know You’ve already done a great work. You’ve come in to help me sift the soil, Your Holy Spirit daily finds and disposes of rocks, Your grace kills the seeds of worldly ambition and greed. The soil of my heart IS clean and ready to support the message of Your Kingdom because You have made it so through the cleansing power of Your shed blood. Enable me to walk in faith daily, to learn and grow in my knowledge of the Kingdom, and to spread the fruit of Your Spirit to the souls/soils I meet along the way.

Kingdom Insights (cumulative list)

The Kingdom of heaven/God was long anticipated by the Jewish people (and others)

Entrance into the Kingdom requires repentance

The entrance of the Kingdom brought the Messiah and judgment

The Kingdom began with the advent of Jesus and continues growing, even today

The Kingdom of heaven is characterized by humility and righteousness

Those who enter the kingdom must do so by the righteousness of Jesus

Kingdom citizens are to be praying for the Kingdom to come and grow

Trust enables us to focus on the Kingdom first

The Kingdom is populated by those who trust what the King says

POST 10:
Kingdom citizens should speak and act to spread the Kingdom and ask the Lord to send more workers into it.

POST 11:
The Kingdom of Heaven was present, being inaugurated in Jesus’ day.

POST 12:
The Kingdom of God always triumphs over the evil plans of the devil. Kingdom citizens should be bold and hopeful as a result.

POST 13:
The blessing of God is upon those who recognize the Kingdom

POST 14: (This one)
We are invited to enter the Kingdom and become part of its advancement, but the soil of our hearts must be ready to give it every opportunity to grow.

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