Matthew 13 begins what scholars call the “Parabolic Discourse,” a section of the gospel where Jesus teaches primarily through parables. The pastor from my church growing up in Ellenboro, North Carolina often called parables “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.” The first parable we see in these verses, which is introduced in Matthew 13:1-9 and explained later in Matthew 13:18-23, is the parable of the sower. It’s a pretty familiar parable for many Christians, but as I was reading it, Jesus’ comments to his disciples sandwiched in-between (Matthew 13:10-17) really stood out to me.
If you can imagine the scene, as Jesus has gained popularity and people have heard rumors of His healing powers, the crowds are swarming! It seems that all of Israel has shown up to see the miracles. While it might appear that they are ready to accept His teaching, Christ takes the disciples aside and goes away from the crowd. He tells the disciples that though the crowd sees and hears, they don’t have spiritual sight, healing, or understanding when it comes the things of the kingdom. Just like the Israelites living in the time of Isaiah (Matthew 13:14-15), their sins and their hardness of heart have kept them from really understanding the heart of God’s message. And for this reason, Jesus begins to speak to them in parables, which the crowd doesn’t understand - rather, the parables are meant for the disciples, the ones who have heard the gospel, who are rich soil for the good seed that has been sown (Matthew 13:23).
Verses 16-17 are the most fascinating to me. While we might be in mourning for the crowd, who have just come for the fireworks and the show and have no spiritual sight, Jesus reminds the disciples of the blessing it is to see Him for who He is and to respond in faith. I have to admit that I don’t often give thanks to God for the blessing of spiritual sight and hearing. If not for grace, I could be among the members of the crowd, with a heart so hardened by sin that I refuse to hear the gospel.
The disciples are also blessed because they have seen, with their very eyes, the fulfillment of all of the prophetic hopes and longings for Israel. The Old Testament saints, men and women faithful to the Lord, pointed forward to a Savior who would come. But the disciples are the ones who got to see Christ face to face, to place their hands in His side and to touch the nail marks on His hands. And one day, we too will join this company of the saints of old, as we behold Christ and are forever transformed by His glory. Our faith will be made sight.
Matthew 13:1-23 (ESV):
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 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, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15 For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 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. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 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.22 As for what was sown among 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. 23 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.”