Matthewby Mike Raiter
I wonder if the disciples were sometimes confused about all that was happening. On the one hand, vast crowds were flocking to hear Jesus and see His signs, while on the other hand, opposition was becoming more intense. People seemed to be responding to Jesus in such different ways. This is true even today. Why are people's responses to Jesus so varied?
Because of opposition from the Jews, from here on Jesus would teach in parables. In this chapter, Matthew gives us a sample of Jesus' parables about the kingdom of heaven. The first parable addresses the question of the different responses to His preaching (vv. 18-23).
Jesus describes preaching God's Word as being like a farmer sowing seeds. People's hearts are like the different kinds of ground the seed falls upon. You can put a name to each of these people. Mary hears the Word, and immediately a voice whispers, ″This isn't for you,″ and she walks away (v. 19). Tony enthusiastically hears and responds, but then he gives up as family and friends ridicule him (vv. 20-21). John hears the Word, but louder voices like the call of career and wealth drown it out (v. 22). Beth hears the Word, trusts Jesus, and lives a life of joyful obedience that blesses many (v. 23). These are four different ″soils″ which reflect four different responses to God's Word.
Why did Jesus speak in parables? In part, it was to help people understand spiritual truths. Stories aid understanding. Yet Jesus also told parables so that some would not understand (vv. 10-12). We have just seen that some Jewish people have already made up their minds against Jesus (Matthew 9:34; 12:14, 24). Despite the undeniable evidence, they have hardened their hearts. They will not understand, so now God has made it that they cannot understand (vv. 13-17). There is a point where God's patience with steadfast unbelief runs out.
Through parables, Jesus is telling ″the secrets of the kingdom″ (v. 11). By definition a secret is not known to everyone. Those who have closed their ears do not hear. Those with open ears hear the secret and pass it on. Such people, says Jesus, are incredibly blessed (v. 16). Let us thank God for giving us His Word, and let us resolve to keep our hearts receptive to it.
Think of people you know who have not responded to Jesus. Can you identify them as one of the ″soils″ that Jesus describes here? How would you continue to minister to each of these different kinds of people?
There is a sober warning in these verses against hardening our hearts. How can we ensure that our hearts remain tender and responsive to God's Word? How can we pray for those who appear to have closed their minds to the good news?