Mark 4:1-20English Standard Version (ESV)
The Parable of the Sower
4 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 was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, 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.”
The Purpose of the Parables
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.”
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.”Accompanying John MacArthur sermons: A Survey of the Soils, A Diagnosis of the Soils Part 1 and Part 2, God's Sovereignty, the Gospel, and Sleeping Well
Accompanying David Legge sermon: A Parable on Parables Part 1 and Part 2
Accompanying Robert Rayburn sermon: The Parable of the Sower
The story itself is very simple to understand, the trick is relating the story to the spiritual truth being illustrated.
The spiritual meaning, however, was only given to the disciples. The crowd was fickle, interested only in the miracles but not the teachings of Jesus. This is 2 years into His ministry now, and so these parables, as we see in v10-13, are a judgment on them and their unbelief. From this point on Jesus only speaks to the crowd in parables they cannot understand, and only explains them to His disciples. The crowd has rejected the teaching He's given so far, therefore He is not giving them any more. But He is teaching His disciples so that they can know and understand the truth, and proclaim it after His death and resurrection. This parable is extremely important, it's a foundation parable - if they miss the meaning of this parable they miss them all (v13). This passage is the most detailed explanation of evangelism that Jesus gives in scripture, and allows us to understand and be ready for the responses we will receive as we carry out the Great Commission.
The seed is the gospel message, and the sower is every believer who proclaims the gospel (Jesus was the original sower, but He has commissioned us to become sowers as well). Those are obvious. And the soils represent the human heart.
The soil on the path was extremely hard packed - this would have been the paths around the farmer's fields where people would have walked - including the poor who were allowed to gather, like the disciples had just done on the Sabbath. This hard packed path represented a hard heart that is completely closed to the gospel - possibly past the point of no return.
The rocky soil was soil that had rock beneath it, so the root system was very shallow, and though the plant would spring up quickly, it would soon wither without a proper root system. This rocky soil represents those who respond to the gospel message emotionally, without counting the cost. They want Jesus for what He can give them emotionally, but they have not understand genuine repentance. Genuine repentance is what separates false converts from true converts. If there's no holy hatred for sin there is no real conversion. These are the people who want Jesus as Saviour but not Lord - and this is not possible.
The thorny soil represents those who want to be able to serve both God and money. These people want to follow God, but they don't want to give up anything in order to do so. This is also the prosperity gospel in a nutshell - and it's a complete and utter lie.
None of these are true conversions. True conversion is marked by repentance, and by a humble, broken-hearted love for God.
I always used to think there were only four types of soil, but MacArthur points out that there's actually six. There's the first three - all of whom are not genuine converts, but there's actually three more. Soils four through six are all good soil, but the fourth produces 30 fold, the fifth 60 fold and the sixth 100 fold.
Here is the part I found most interesting (from MacArthur):
Good soil is not natural. Hard soil is natural. Just leave the ground and that’s what it will be. Rocky soil, that’s natural, leaving it the way it is. Weedy soil, that’s natural that’s the way it is. Something has to happen to this soil. To make it good soil, the stone has to be broken up. The hard ground has to be broken up. The weeds have to be taken out. Who can do that? Only God can do that. He alone can do that. Deuteronomy 30 verse 6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart that you may live. Proverbs 20 and verse 9 says, “Who can say I have made my heart clean, pure from sin?” Nobody can do that on his own.
So what does this good soil sinner do? He cries out to God like David in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a...what?...clean heart, O God.” This is the sinner who comes to God in the invitation ofHebrews 10:22, “Draws near with a pure heart, a cleansed conscience.” This is the one of whom Jeremiah writes, “I’ll make an everlasting covenant with them, I will not turn away from them, from doing good. I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will never depart from Me.”
So James says, “Purify your hearts, you sinners.” How can you do that? You can’t do that on your own, you go to God and you ask God to purify your heart. You know, when you’re talking about a true conversion, you’re not talking about somebody who wants an emotional fix in their life or wants a new direction, or wants what their corrupted flesh wants. You’re talking about someone who wants to be rescued from the power and the penalty of...what?...sin...sin.
And the results are supernatural - 30 fold, 60 fold, 100 fold!
this is the shock factor because the average crop in Israel, from what I can find in my research.... is about 7.5, that would be a big time crop. Nobody ever heard of 30, 60, a 100 fold. So the point here is simply this, that while the results immediately on the surface look pretty bad, pretty bleak as we launch into this evangelism, the disciples are saying to the Lord, “Why are so few believing?” They see the mass of people who have rejected, they see the superficial disciples who come and leave. They see those who never break from the world and eventually turn out to be false converts, their interest in Christ is superficial. They love the world too much. They see the types like the rich young ruler and they must wonder...Is it ever going to get beyond that? Is it always going to be the little flock? The few?
Here’s the great lesson of this parable. The results are going to be supernatural...the results are going to be supernatural. All the hard ground, all the rocky ground, all the weedy rejecters of the gospel will not thwart the divine purpose. In the face of very discouraging early results, very discouraging early response in Israel, they need to know that the Lord was going to do absolutely staggering and explicable exponential things. There is, in spite of rejection, an irrepressible empowerment in these lives. They can’t see it. The disciples are timid, hard-headed, ignorant, selfish. They’re a work in progress. They can’t see it but the results are going to be exponential.
Now this is not trying to convey that if you’re a thirty-er, you should be a sixty-er. And if you’re a sixty-er, you should be a hundred. That’s not the point. You can’t determine that, okay? This is not about that. This is simply saying that God is going to do things through the lives of His people to build His Kingdom. Some are going to be less than others by His design. Okay? By His design.
It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 20 where some people worked twelve hours, some people worked, you remember, nine, some worked six, some worked three, and some worked one and they all got the same reward. When we all get to heaven, we’re all going to get the same eternal reward and it’s not about the numbers of people we influenced with the gospel, it’s about our faithfulness to the calling God gave us. And the calling’s vary...30, 60, 100. That’s God’s to determine. But backing up a little bit, there’s no such thing as...and it’s important to say this...there’s no such thing as a fruitless Christian....
We’re all sinful. We all fail. I’m sure we can diminish our fruitfulness, of course. But there’s going to be fruit born by the irrepressible power of the gospel and the dwelling of the Spirit of God that is in us. This is a promise. And it’s not trying to say, “Well, if you’re 30 be 60, if you’re 60 be a hundred.” The Lord knows what He will do to build His Kingdom. He knows the soil that is going to produce 30 and 60 and a hundred. But mark this, they’re all supernaturally powerful because they’re all beyond the capability of soil in the analogy. That’s why the only explanation for us is the power of God.
Thanks be to God for tilling the soil of our hearts and making us receptive to the gospel message, and for making us new creatures!
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Mark 4:21-34
Great, great post. That last excerpt in particular was a great reminder that all we can do is be faithful in what God asks of us, and plant seeds. God is the one that determines the yield.
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