The Soil and the Seed
June 10, 2012 Series: Gospel of Mark
Topic: Evangelism Passage: Mark 4:1–4:20
We’re continuing through the Gospel of Mark and we’re picking up in chapter 4. This is probably one of the more familiar parts of this gospel as well as one of the most important and it stands out because this is one of only 2 sections that include lengthy teachings from Jesus. Remember that Mark is all about action; sums things up and give us the bottom line rather than tease out the details. So when he slows down and gives us a lengthy section of teaching-it should get our attention. This is here for a reason.
Today we’re going to look at The Parable of the Sower. By parable I mean: a way of teaching that uses story telling or word pictures to make a point. In this passage Jesus is using what would have been a very familiar agricultural picture. Let’s read it together: Mark 4:1-20
Again 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. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 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. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 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, so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. 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. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 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. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 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. 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.”
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re trying to explain something about God and you just can’t seem to complete the circuit? No matter how hard you try you get the same blank stare. To you, it seems like a simple concept but to the other person, it’s like you’re talking another language.
We’ve seen a similar dynamic happening with Jesus. Ever since He came out of the wilderness we’ve been watching people respond to Him in very different ways: the Scribes and the Pharisees; the crowds; Jesus own family and His disciples. He’s been proclaiming the Kingdom of God and calling all people to repent and believe (1:14).
Jesus is the Sower in the parable; He’s been sowing. And the seed that He’s casting out is the gospel; the good news that He, the Son of God, has come as the Servant Savior. That, for all who will accept Him, He will stand in their place and bear the punishment that their sin deserves; and in return they receive the forgiveness of their sins, adoption as children of God and the gift of eternal life. He’s sowing His seed equally but people are responding in a variety of ways? Why?
This parable gets to the heart of that question; it’s because of the soil and because of the seed. People respond to Jesus differently because of the condition of their hearts (the soil) and the nature of the Word (the seed). Let’s look at both of these-start with the easy part-Jesus explains-the soil.
I. THE SOIL: THE HEARTS OF MEN
1. A Hard Heart: The Path
• Verse 4: “some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.””
• Explanation: Verse 15 “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.”
• This hard heart is indifferent to the truth. Hard hearts-like hard, packed down, well worn paths-are not able to receive seed. We see the Scribes and Pharisees here. The word has no visible impact. In this condition, Satan is free to have his way-stealing the seed.
2. A Shallow Heart: The Rocky Soil
• Verse 5-6: “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. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.”
• Explanation: Verse 16-17: “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 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.”
• The crowds. They were shallow and superficial. They we’re drawn by the miracles and excitement of healings and exorcisms. Most were in it for the good times. Like a fair weather fan-the commitment is to a heightened experience not the person of Christ. So when the drought comes and dries up the fun and the excitement is gone, the plant withers and dies because there’s no depth. That’s the effect that difficulty and trial have on the seed that is not well rooted.
3. A Divided Heart: The Thorns
• Verse 7: “Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”
• Explanation: Verse 18-19: “And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 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.”
• This heart is distracted and divided. This soil could be seen to represent Jesus family (weighed down by cares of world) who seemed to be very concerned about their reputation to the point of calling Him insane and hunting Him down to get Him out of public. But reputation isn’t the only weed we contend with. Thorns that choke the word can come in many varieties-3 categories:
o Cares of the world: Family crisis, relational conflict, sickness, change, pressure, broken stuff
o Deceitfulness of riches: Careers, the next big break, obsession with being frugal, materialism. We cannot serve 2 masters-Luke 16:13. Deceitfulness= lie.
o Worldly Desires (other): Anything we desire or love more than God will choke the word in us. But specifically worldly desires that come in through influence. Idols are formed and multiply.
4. A Receptive Heart: Good Soil
• Verse 8: “And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
• Explanation: Verse 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 the heart of Jesus disciples; a receptive and fertile and fruitful heart. A receptive heart hears and accepts and treasures the word. This seed is sown in us and roots in the depth of our heart and grows in us and produces fruit. This is why the word is described as a seed-it’s a picture of the power of the word of God. There is amazing power in a seed. An acorn has everything in it to produce a massive oak tree-but not overnight. It takes time; time to think, reflect, and ponder; allow the heart to be shaped. Fruit is endless.
Let’s pause for a minute before we move on. What condition is your heart in? It’s important that we know what type of soil our heart is because the answer is having a direct impact on your life. How do you receive the word and what fruit is it having in your life? Here are a few heart evaluation questions to ask yourself:
1. Do I desire to read and learn from God’s Word or do I find it boring?
2. Do I listen and expect to hear God speak to me through the preached Word or am I disinterested and distracted or critical?
3. Does my experience of Jesus and His word have a daily impact in my life?
There’s the first reason that people respond differently to Jesus: soil. Now let’s examine the seed.
II. THE SEED: THE WORD OF GOD
Look at verses 11-12. What we have here is known as a “Markan Sandwich”-a writing style used 9 times. Sandwiched between the bread of the parable and the explanation- Mark gives us the meat: the key to understanding, not only this parable, but the purpose of all parables.
4:11-12-“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” Quoted from Isaiah 6:9
Each parable contains a secret or a mystery about God and His kingdom-a truth. It’s like hidden treasure and Jesus mission is to proclaim these treasures but the secret will only be revealed to some. This isn’t some cruel game where truth is like a dangling carrot that some will never be able to reach. No, the teaching of Jesus in parables reveals truth to those who are open to hear them; to those who consider them. This has to do with the soil; the heart of the hearer. 1 Corinthians 1:18- “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The truth isn’t hidden to keep people from it. The truth is hidden in order to be found. And those who are truly interested (humble, open, accepting, plyable) will find it because Jesus is the one who reveals it. The secret of the Kingdom is given by God-“To you has been given…”
So Jesus teaching in parables has 2 purposes:
a. Parables reveal truth to those who consider them and whose hearts are open to receive it.
b. Parables conceal truth from those who are hard hearted.
There’s enough clarity in Jesus teaching that those who are open to receive the truth (good soil) will understand while, at the same time, those who are hard hearted (rocky, thorny soil) will be repelled or disinterested by it and hardened even more. This can be hard to hear and even harder to say but Jesus teaching always includes an element of judgment. The word always requires a response; with eternal consequences. There is a day of judgment coming and those who reject the truth will stand alone before God. What do we do with this word?
2 points of applications-Listen and Sow:
1. LISTEN. To receive the word we have to listen. Jesus seems to be trying to tell us something here. Vs. 3, 9, 20, 23, 24. How do we listen carefully? (Parable-avoid things that hinder listening)
a. Repent. A hard proud heart can’t hear. Turn to Him; ask Him for good soil every day. Ask Him to change you and let Him till the soil.
b. Resist the devil. His mission is to snatch the seed. Every time we draw near, its war. Recognize it and then Resist him by fighting. Fight when you’re distracted, when he deceives-don’t believe lies that God isn’t good OR that other things are better, fight by meditating so that word gets deep and takes root.
c. Preparing to suffer. Expect suffering. How? Make Jesus your greatest joy. Make Him your treasure so that you can say from your heart with Paul that “to live is Christ but to die is gain”. Pursue Him, get more of Him so that your roots go ever deeper and with each passing storm you grow stronger. We aren’t guaranteed anything in this life as a Christian. We could lose anything or everything; if our hearts are more attached to something that we could lose, then we will be pulled when we lose it. Our roots are attached to the thing we love most. Make that Christ now so that you’re ready for the storm.
d. Use discernment and carefully monitor worldly influences and entertainment you allow in your lives. How can we expect to cultivate the soil of our hearts with the trash of crude humor, immodesty, sexual immorality, disrespect, rebellion, etc. etc. and expect to bear fruit? I’m not telling you to give all entertainment up. But what if I did? Is there something in you that rises up? If so, I submit to you that the world has a hook in you that you may not even be aware of.
i. John Piper: “It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch – and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity. If you really want to hear the Word of God the way He means to be heard in truth and joy and power, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise. Then watch your heart unshrivel and begin to hunger for the Word of God.”
e. Watch out for the pursuit of riches. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Check your heart. The love of riches will choke out the Word. Are you pre-occupied with having more or are you generous with what you have?
f. Listen to God speak to you through reading His word and the preaching of the word. If we don’t receive the seed it can’t be planted or grow. Listen, accept and bear fruit.
A seed not only produces a plant; it also produces more seed. It takes root and produces fruit; a part of which is seed. And it’s intended to be sown. SO SOW. Yes, Jesus is the sower but as His disciples we also become sowers of the word as we follow Him.
a. Sow Liberally. Jesus spread the seed everywhere. It wasn’t a mistake or a waste of seed that some fell on the path or rocky soil. The seed was sown, the ground plowed, and then the result came. We are to spread the seed of the gospel liberally everywhere you go and rejoice when we see the fruit.
b. Sow Confidently. Sow expecting that there will be fruit. Jesus is the one who reveals truth, Jesus draws men, and Jesus is our confidence (not us). It might seem like the parable highlights a lack of fruit but a return of a 100 fold is way more than any farmer would have expected in their best year! Sow faithfully with confidence and He will bring the return. There’s power in His Word!
c. Sow Joyfully. The seed that you’re liberally and confidently sowing is the seed that set you free. You’re not just sharing facts; you’re declaring freedom to slaves; hope to the hopeless! You have a story to tell; the story of your life is the story of mercy and power and fruit. It’s the story of one deserving death (you) who instead received life because of the death of another-Jesus Christ. And now you live with Joy unending because of Jesus. This is the product of the fruit of the seed in our lives.
Lord, soften our hearts and cultivate the soil of our hearts that we would bear much fruit! Bless your people with grace to growand power to resist sin. And may we be ever and continually ready and willing to sow your word everywhere we go; we ask you for a great harvest of souls. Amen
More in Gospel of Mark
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