4:1Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,and may indeed hear but not understand,lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
This is a BIG passage to study, but I've included Christ's explanation of the parable, so I don't have to comment there. What I want to do is talk a little about Christ's use of parables.
Sometimes we think that the purpose was to make things easier to understand. But it's clear from this passage that his parables were NOT easily understood by those who heard them. In fact, it seems that Jesus is using parables so that people CAN'T understand Him.
The people who followed Him to see the miracles and to be healed couldn't handle the implications of His being the Messiah. They had an idea of the Messiah as a political hero, who was going to free Israel from the oppression of the Romans. Christ didn't want them to think He was going to do that -- he wanted to make clear that His kingdom was not of this earth, and He was here for a totally different purpose. The twelve He had chosen had been given understanding by God, so that they could see His role (and as we read in Acts, they STILL didn't get it), so He taught them in a way that only they would be able to understand, or so that they would receive the explanation later on.
The Holy Spirit has been given so that everyone might be able to believe -- one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to help people to understand God's message. The religious leaders of Christ's time couldn't understand that message fully because they had closed their minds off to Him. They had decided what Messiah was going to be, and they weren't going to be persuaded otherwise. This is what Jesus was talking about when He talked about new wine in old wineskins -- the new message of the Gospel wouldn't fit into the Jews' existing religious program. A new wineskin had to be made, and that is what Jesus was training His disciples to do. Our mission now is to take that new wine to the world -- and give them the new wineskins to hold it as well.