We’re back in the gospel of Mark today, in chapter 4, looking at the parable of the seed and the soils, sometimes called the parable of the sower. Chapter 4 is one long teaching by Jesus centered on parables. And this teaching is a response to the rejection Jesus has just experienced from various Jewish leaders and even his family.
Such rejection raises the question, ‘Why have so many not believed in Jesus and his message of the kingdom?’ The teaching today helps explain this, and it gives a message to his disciples as well, which we will need to pay attention to.
We’ll be looking at the parable in vs. 1-9 and the interpretation Jesus gives in vs. 14-20 to his disciples in private.
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. 2And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them. . .
So once again there’s a large crowd gathered around Jesus. And it says he was teaching them many things in parables. Parables have to do with comparing two things to make a point.
3“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.
So we have a farming image, that, as we will see makes a point about the kingdom of God. These are the two things being compared.
From Jesus’ explanation to his disciples we learn that –
14The sower sows the word.
Jesus is talking about the good news of the kingdom of God that he’s sharing with everyone (1:15).
And then we come to the focus of the parable –
The four soils
The sower and the seed are all the same, but the seed lands on different kinds of soil. And these different kinds of soil represent different people in different spiritual conditions.
The first soil is that of the path.
4And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.
Jesus is here talking about ground that is a walking trail next to, or through a field. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground and so the birds eventually eat it.
And then we have Jesus’ interpretation in v. 15 –
15And 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.
These people hear the words of the gospel but they don’t sink down into their minds or hearts. Their hearts are hardened. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom. The result is that Satan takes away the seed.
So here there’s no germination of they seed. These people dismiss and reject the message Jesus brings.
And then we have the rocky ground.
5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.
The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. When the sun comes out it withers away.
Next we look at Jesus’ interpretation starting in v. 16 –
16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17And 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.
These hearers receive the message, but it doesn’t go deep into their lives; it doesn’t become firmly rooted in their heart. And so when things get difficult they fall away from the faith.
So here there’s genuine faith and there’s germination and life, but only for a short time.
And then we have the thorny soil.
7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.
This soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds or plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there’s no fruit.
Then we have Jesus’ interpretation –
18And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19but 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.
These people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” to their lives. They focus on worldly worries, trying to get more wealth and don’t have a single minded focus on the kingdom of God. These are the thorns.
The result is that the new life of the gospel in their lives is killed off and no fruit is produced. So here there’s real faith, there’s germination and life, but it dies before the time of harvest.
Notice the progression here – from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.
So let’s look at the good soil.
8And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.
Notice how the seeds here finish the process –
- they germinate, unlike the hardened soil of the path
- they continue to grow, unlike the shallow soil
- and they bring forth a harvest, unlike the thorny soil.
And then we have Jesus’ interpretation –
20But 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.
These hearers fully accept the message of the gospel.
- In contrast to the soil of the path, their hearts are not hard to God’s word. They receive it.
- In contrast to the shallow soil, the word goes deep into their lives. It is nurtured through attention and study. It is firmly rooted.
- In contrast to the thorny soil, they stay focused on the kingdom and not the things of the world: getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the busyness and going in all directions at once that this involves; seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth; and pursuing entertainment and leisure.
These people get it and mature as disciples of Jesus and are blessed in the fullness of the kingdom.
Notice the description of a bountiful harvest – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” So even though ¾ of the total seed sowed bears no fruit, here the harvest is abundant. Even though so many don’t respond to Jesus, the harvest on the final day will still be great.
This leads us to the question we began with –
Why have so many not believed?
The sower is the same, Jesus. The seed is the same, the good news of the kingdom of God. What’s different is the kind of soils that the seed lands on; the spiritual condition of people who hear the gospel.
Jesus is teaching us here that God is not forcing people to receive his kingdom. He allows us all to choose to receive it or not. And so many, if not most, will reject it. And specifically with regard to the Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus, the explanation is hardness of heart. The seed of the good news fell on the hardened path in their case. (See Mark 3:5)
And then we come to –
Jesus’ message to us
Beyond an initial reception of the gospel, which his disciples and we have done, that is weren’t not hard hearted toward the gospel, we must continue to overcome obstacles that stand in our way. What are the two enemies of disciples identified in this parable?
1) Living a shallow Christian life so that when testing comes we fall away.
2) Being focused on this life and not the kingdom of God.
And Jesus really wants us to get this message because he begins his parable by saying, “Listen” and he ends it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are you listening this morning?