Mark 4:1-2, 10-12… 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. 2 And he taught them many things in parables… 10 And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning 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.”
Jesus went back to the sea (of Galilee) where the large crowd followed to hear him, and he taught them while sitting in a boat. But now Jesus’ teaching has changed a bit. He’s no longer teaching them in a straight-forward manner; now he’s using “parables.” A parable is a story that illustrates a point. Jesus used them to teach spiritual truths, but he also used them to confuse those who had rejected him. It’s no fluke that Jesus begins to use parables immediately after his powers were attributed to Satan (cf. Mark 3:22-30) by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus had told them that this was an unforgivable sin (3:29-30). Therefore, given that they had rejected him, Jesus was now rejecting them. They had made their choice to reject, and thus blaspheme the Holy Spirit, they had sinned beyond repentance (cf. Heb. 6:4-6), and their sin was one that would lead to eternal death (cf. 1 John 5:16-17). So Jesus rejected them through the use of parables where the truth of the illustration would be hidden from them as their judgment. This is what Isaiah prophesied would occur in Isaiah 6:9-10. The hearts of His people were hardened, and depending upon one’s willingness to listen to Christ’s words, the parables were meant to either conceal the truth or reveal the truth. Jesus concealed it from those who rejected him but revealed it to the Twelve and the others who followed him with open hearts and convicted consciences.
In v. 10 Jesus is alone with his faithful followers, and they asked him why he was speaking in parables and what they meant. He was with not only the Twelve but also with others who were curious about the content of Jesus’ words and teachable as to their meaning. Jesus told them that they were being given the “mystery” or “secret” of the kingdom of God. This mystery was an explanation of how he was fulfilling the promises of the OT. His ministry was a link to the OT (Rom 1:1-4; Heb 1:1-2), and his words explained many of the promises given in the OT. Hence, he was revealing the “mystery” of the Kingdom of God to those who sought it, not to those who had consciously rejected it. In v. 12 Jesus begins to speak in parables. He does this in order to HIDE the truth from those who had rejected him and to thus fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s words concerning those who consciously reject God. He spoke in parables, “so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should repent and be forgiven.” Clearly God had eternally rejected them following their rejection of Him.
Food for Thought
Though difficult for us to comprehend, there are in fact people today who have been eternally rejected by God subsequent to their rejection of Him. Jesus made no bones about his use of parables, for they were meant to hide the truth from those who had shunned him. They received a full revelation of who Jesus was through his healings, exorcisms, and forgiving of sins. Contrary to some today who reject a false Christianity, the scribes were learned men who knew the OT Scriptures and the Messianic prophecies. Yet when confronted with the truth they consciously and willingly rejected it. So it is with many today who, after witnessing the truth of Jesus Christ; they categorically snub it. Sadly, for them the Truth will be eternally concealed.
Mark 4:2b-4, 13-14… And Jesus 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… 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 which is sown in them.
The parable Jesus shares concerns a farmer with seeds. This agricultural illustration was pertinent for the times because many of the people were farmers. When seed was sown upon the ground it awaited one of three fates: be eaten by the birds, take root quickly then die out quickly because of rocky soil, or fall into rich plowed soil and later produce a crop. The point of the parable of the sower is to illustrate the various responses to the message of the kingdom of God. In the first example, in v. 4, the seed falls along the path. In those days seeds were sown then the field was plowed. The seed spoken of here are the ones that fall along the well-beaten path. The birds would then come behind the sower, prior to plowing, and devour those seeds. Back in v. 10 the disciples asked Jesus what the parable meant, and Jesus responds in v. 13 by telling them that they needed to understand this particular parable so as to understand all parables concerned with the Kingdom of God. This is why he explained the meaning behind this story to the disciples.
The explanation of the seeds begins in v. 14. The “sower” is the one who “sows the word.” Just like the farmer was the one who spread the seed in the field, the one who preaches the word of God is the “sower.” The “word” the sower preaches in Greek (the language of the NT) is “logos” – a term used for Jesus Christ himself. So the “word” of God is the message of Christ. But just like the farmer’s seeds which fell on the beaten path and were eaten by birds, the one who brings the message of Jesus Christ suffers the same fate with some of his hearers. The preacher of God’s Word will have some listeners who hear his message only to have Satan take it away from those that hear “the word.” Satan is the personal name of the devil in the Bible, and his name means “adversary.” Since he is the adversary of God, and since he hates God’s words, and His Son Jesus Christ, he is on the alert to steal away the message of Christ from many who hear the gospel. He knows that once the message of Christ takes root it can have an eternal effect on the hearer. Therefore, he makes every effort to steal the seed of the Word that was planted by the preacher or teacher who shared the good news of Jesus Christ unto salvation.
Food for Thought
The words of Jesus in Matthew 22:14 say that “many are called but few are chosen.” The many who are called are the ones who hear the good news of Jesus Christ preached to them. They may hear it in church, on television, on the radio, or from a neighbor who shares the message of the cross to another neighbor. But just because someone hears the gospel doesn’t mean that they will accept it. These are the ones Jesus illustrates in the parable. The parables specifically hit the naysayers who not only heard the message with authority but also saw the miracles Jesus performed. The message in them was stolen immediately by the devil. Let us remember that when we preach Christ and live out our faith. Not everyone we speak to will come to faith in Christ. Sometimes our good deeds and good words will be rejected. There’s nothing we can do to change that, but that doesn’t for one moment give us the freedom to cease from sharing our saving faith. God hasn’t told us who His chosen elect children are, and since He hasn’t we must always be about the task of preaching. Knowing that salvation is in His hands is quite freeing however. It doesn’t depend on us, but God will bless us if we’ll just sow the seeds.
Mark 4:5-7, 16-19… Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and instantly 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... 16 And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, 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 delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
As Jesus continues with his parable of the soils and the seeds he pictures the farmer in vv. 5-7 as scattering more seeds. The first seeds fell along the beaten path where the birds came and ate them. This illustrates how the message of Christ is preached to some who immediately reject it. Other seeds, however, fell on rocky ground where the soil had no depth and rocks were just under the surface. Since farmers didn’t plow their land until after they sowed the seeds on the ground they wouldn’t know exactly where the rocky soil was in comparison to the rich soil. They found that out only after they plowed their fields. Now the seeds that fell on the rocky soil grew up quickly after the field was plowed. But because the soil was shallow, when the sun came up it scorched the new sprig of wheat; it withered and died. These seeds illustrate people who actually hear the Word of God and receive it with joy according to v. 16. In v. 17, however, just like the sprig of wheat that grew up quickly in the rocky soil then withered away from lack of root, these people lose their joy when trials and tribulations associated with being a Christian arise. Verse 17 says that they endure the trials for a while, but then they lose heart, and the joy they had in the beginning goes out as quickly as it came in. These people who once received the message of Truth joyfully are said to “fall away” – a Greek term from whence we get “scandal.” In other words, this group of people gives up what the once believed with great joy because they had truth without knowledge, and they were not able to endure the trials associated with belief.
Other seeds found soil filled with thorns in v. 7. Like the seeds on rocky ground, they too sprouted from the soil, but the thorns grew in around them, choked them, and kept them from bearing fruit. In v. 18 these seeds represent people who hear the “word” of God, but the worries of the world and the desire for riches and worldliness move in and take the place of Jesus in their lives. In other words, these people at some point in their lives seemingly place their faith in Christ, but then they get caught up “in the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things.” These desires replace Christ in these people’s lives, and they live out their days bearing no fruit. James 4:4 speaks of these people as “adulteresses” – those who fall away from God. James says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself and enemy of God.”
Food for Thought
True salvation in Christ cannot be lost. This parable proves, however, that some who think they have salvation actually don’t. They may come to church for a time and read their Bibles, but if believers fail to endure their trials, no matter how difficult, and if they become overwhelmed with the love of riches and other worldliness, then they aren’t true believers. Prove yourself true, however, by faithfully enduring all that God puts before you, and make strides to never let the desire for riches and fame take the place of Jesus Christ in your life. Endure!
Mark 4:8-9, 20… “And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundred-fold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear… 20 But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold.”
When the word of God is preached some people hear it and ignore it. They represent the seed the farmer sowed on the beaten path that the birds came and ate. Others hear the word of God preached, and they receive it with joy. But when trials come along and persecution steals their joy they fall away. For others it’s the deceitfulness of riches and the unquenchable desire for more and more that end up taking the priority of Christ in their lives. These people are related to seeds sown upon rocky soil and soil that produces thorns and thistles. But in vv. 8-9 there is another kind of seed that Jesus uses in the parable: the seed that falls upon good soil.
In Palestinian agriculture plowing the field always followed sowing the seeds. There was nothing about the farmer scattering seed on his field, however, that was done in a careless way – even throwing it upon the well-trodden path. He would throw it all out there, then he would plow the ground so that the seeds would fall into the soil. Farmers didn’t go to great lengths to find which soil was shallow, rocky, or rich. They would simply wait to plow and see what happened. It is vitally important to understand that plowing followed sowing in order to fully understand the parable. William Lane says, “It serves to caution the interpreter that less attention is to be given to the various types of soils, and more to the central act of sowing… In the details about the soils there is reflection on the diversity of the response to the proclamation of the Word of God, but this is not the primary consideration. The central point concerns the coming of the Kingdom of God. God is the center of the action.” For even the Apostle Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).
The final seed that falls on the rich soil brings forth wheat and yields a crop thirty, sixty, and one hundred times more than what went into the ground. In v. 20 Jesus relates this final seed and soil to “the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and a hundred-fold.” Unlike the previous seeds that sprang up quickly and then withered away, this seed produces a huge crop. This seed represents true believers. The first seed was reminiscent of the scribes and Pharisees who, after witnessing Jesus’ miracles and his preaching first-hand, they rejected it. According to the parable Satan stole the message from their hearts. And they committed the unpardonable sin by seeing first-hand and subsequently rejecting. The second and third seeds represent people who openly place their faith in Jesus for salvation. But they end up falling away because of trials and/or worldliness. The Apostle John says this about them: “They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but hey went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Food for Thought
The parable of the sower concerns the coming of the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom, however, is both present and yet future. The seeds sown concerns the preached word of God, namely the good news of Jesus Christ. But there will also be a future Kingdom of God which is parallel in the parable to the harvested seeds that produced wheat – thirty, sixty, and one- hundredfold. Who will be in that Kingdom? Only the final seed that hears God’s Word, receives it, and endures trials to the end when Jesus Christ comes back to take His children home.