What follows are notes and brief commentary from a Bible study that took place almost three years ago (June 8, 2011). At the time, 5-7 of us guys met together weekly, and we took turns preparing and leading these studies. I was part of the group from January 2008 – August 2013 (when my wife and I moved to Ohio). Most of the time we worked through one book of the Bible at a time, and at this point we were in Matthew.
Scripture passage for this study: Matthew 13:1-23
Verses 1-9: The Parable of the Sower
Verses 1-2: We’re told that Jesus “went out of the house.” Tracing Matthew’s account backwards, Jesus must have been in a house when the demon-oppressed blind and mute man was brought to him (Matt. 12:22). This makes sense when we see in Matt. 12:46 that at the end of this round of teaching “His mother and His brothers stood outside.” The crowds had apparently grown much larger in size, so Jesus went to the sea instead and got into a boat.
The phrase “That same day” links the parables Jesus is about to tell to the condemnation He had just pronounced upon His own evil generation, along with the affirmation that anyone (regardless of ethnicity) who did His will was part of His spiritual family. So we should look for these parables to be a response to Israel’s rejection of Him.
Verse 3: The word “parable,” according to Strong’s Concordance, means “a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude.” Jesus used this method often. He tells His audience why just a bit later.
Verses 4-9: These verses contain the Parable of the Sower. We’ll give just a short overview here, since Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of this parable in verses 18-23. Jesus speaks of four different types of reception given to the seed sown by the sower. What was sowed was identical. Therefore, the focus is on the soil, or the recipients:  this seed only lay on the surface and was devoured by birds  this seed fell on rocky ground with very thin topsoil; there was no root and they were quickly scorched  this seed was choked by surrounding thorns  this seed fell on good soil and produced fruit, but in different quantities. Not everyone would have “ears to hear,” but it was a good thing to have them.
This first parable seems to be an introduction to the parables which are to follow. Israel was frequently portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures as a vineyard. See, for example, Isaiah 5:1-7. This is probably just one of the reasons the Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them in The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45).
Verses 10-17: The Purpose of Parables
Verses 10-11: The disciples wanted to know why Jesus spoke in parables, and He promptly told them that they had already “been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” but that the crowds had not. That’s why Jesus spoke to the crowds in this veiled manner, while expecting His disciples/followers/those whose ears were open to understand and learn what the kingdom of heaven was all about.
Verse 12: There seems to be a warning here about not taking for granted what one has. Consider what Israel had: “…the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2); “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:4-5). The church in Ephesus was warned by Jesus that if they didn’t repent and return to their first love, He would come to them and remove their lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5).
Verse 13: Jesus’ Jewish audience (generally speaking) hadn’t accepted basic revelation about Him and who He was, so Jesus would continue to speak to them in a veiled manner so that they wouldn’t pick up on further truth either.
Verses 14-15: Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, where Isaiah had given this prophecy a little before 700 BC. Isaiah stated that this condition would last until “cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste” (verse 11). This was fulfilled in 586 BC when Babylon destroyed Judah and Jerusalem. Jesus suggested by quoting this passage that it was going to happen again. It did, in 70 AD. This passage from Isaiah is also quoted in John 12:39-40 and Acts 28:25-27, where Paul followed this up by saying, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
Verses 16-17: The disciples and those whose ears were opened, however, were greatly blessed, especially because the longed-for Messiah was in their midst.
Verses 18-23: The Parable of the Sower Explained
Verse 19:  The seed sown on the path (surface only) is likened to the one who doesn’t understand the message of the kingdom, and what is heard is snatched away by the evil one. The Jews, for the most part, so anticipated a political kingdom marked by Jewish superiority that they rejected Christ’s message of a heavenly, spiritual kingdom for all nations.
Verses 20-21:  The seed sown on rocky ground with very little soil is likened to the one who initially shows great enthusiasm for the message of the kingdom, but they are not rooted in the truth and so easily fall away when opposition arises. Observe how many turned away and walked with Jesus no longer (John 6:66) when He gave hard sayings and talked about laying His life down for all peoples.
Verse 22:  The seed sown among thorns is likened to the one who proves unfruitful because the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches in this life crowd out any affection for eternal life through Jesus.
Verse 23:  The seed sown on good soil is likened to those who both hear and understand the message of the kingdom, and who go on to bear fruit to various degrees.
The next post will feature notes and commentary on Matthew 13:24-58 (“The Wheat and the Tares” and other parables).