The Parable of the Sower


Last time in Bible study, we covered about the first half of Mark 4, concerning both Jesus’ use of parables in His teaching as well as the parable of the sower.

A lot can be discerned about the sovereignty of God based upon Jesus’ use of parables alone, and while I may be just scratching the surface of what undoubtedly is a glacier, I would like to share a few of the insights into this passage that were brought up yesterday.

The very first thing we see in Mark 4 is that when Jesus began to teach (again, by way of parable) on the shore of Lake Galilee, His audience consisted of a great many people!

These are the same peoples who had gathered around Him in Mark 3 ((The events of Mark 3 & 4 took place within a fairly small time frame; Matthew’s parallel account makes note of this in Matthew 13:1.)), having come from a variety of places, as far as fifty or more miles away (Mark 3:7-8).

It’s important to note why the crowds were gathering around Him, and to be quite honest, I seriously doubt they were coming because they believed in Jesus Christ. Rather, these people heard how that He could heal, making Jesus into an instant celebrity, of sorts, as people flocked to Him to seek their miracle. These peoples’ faith was in Jesus as a healer of their bodies, not as the Messiah of God who was come to blot out their sins.

Did Jesus speak up and reveal Himself to them as the Christ? Quite the contrary: He charged those who did know His identity — the demons whom He exorcised — to not reveal what they knew. The “messianic secret,” as some refer to it, was withheld from the general public.

And so we come to chapter 4 of Mark, and rather than devoting Himself again to healing, Jesus begins to teach. Perhaps now He reveals Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life to these multitudes?

Not quite, and again, quite the opposite. Out of Jesus’ lips poured forth parables — allegorical stories which, while they represent the truth, were not immediately clear (if they were ever clear at all) to the multitude listening on.

That’s a bit strange, isn’t it? If God loves the whole world so much that He sent Jesus to die for everyone so that the truth and efficacy of the Gospel could be freely offered to all, why then do we see that selfsame Son actively hiding the truth from so many?

Why, that would only make sense if there are only a select few to whom God reveals truth!

And that’s exactly what we see! Jesus had just finished choosing the Twelve, to the exclusion of all else around Him, despite the great many who were following after Him, looking for their miracle. ((Always be wary of great crowds who flock to those who are promising miracles; chances are, those crowds lack biblical faith and are far more focused on this world rather than the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.))

The first parable? It’s commonly called “The Parable of the Sower”: A sower goes out to sow his seed, and as he is tossing it to the earth, it lands upon four types of ground. Some of it landed upon the path, but before it ever had a chance of taking root, those pesky birds show up and gobble it up. Some of the seed landed upon the rocky ground, and though the seed was able to quickly sprout, yet it was able to grow no root, and so it withered away in the heat of the sun. Still other seed landed upon thorny ground; the seed competed with these thorny plants for resources, but the thorny plants inevitably won the fight, causing the sown seed to die. The remainder of the seed fell onto good ground, took root, grew up, and produced fruit of varying amounts!

Jesus told that to the crowds in addition to the Twelve. The difference? The crowds were left in the dark. What truth was this Rabbi attempting to teach them? According to verse 12, He left them in the dark “lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

The Twelve, when they had the opportunity to be alone with Jesus, asked Him about what they had heard. A man sows some seed and does so on all sorts of ground; so what? I can’t say I blame them. What did this have to do with the miracles they were witnessing? And was this supposed to be profound? Even agriculturally speaking, it seemed like little more than simple observation.

Jesus, without missing a beat, challenges them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (v. 13). And so He goes on to explain this parable, a treatment that the remainder of the parables in Mark 4 do not receive.

Jesus explains that the seed being sown is the Word of God, ((This is commonly thought to be the Scriptures; I think it is more appropriate that the Word being sown is Christ Himself, who is the Word of God.)) and that the varying types of ground are various types of hearers.

What type of hearer are you?

There are those who represent the path; these are only incidental hearers of the Word. Perhaps they are “holiday” churchgoers, or perhaps they overheard the gospel being told to someone in the street. As the seed falls on the path, so does the Word fall upon these hearers. It has no affect, for Satan comes and snatches it away. It is interesting to note that of the three negative responses to the Word, this is the only one for which Satan is blamed. Quite often it seems as though Satan takes the blame for every bad thing, yet the Scriptures do not present that! Humans are quite capable (i.e., depraved enough) to be responsible for our own iniquity.

Then there are those who represent the rocky ground. As the seed sprouted quickly, so do these hearers receive the Word joyfully. These people are the religious, those who hoot & holler during church, egging on the preacher so long as he isn’t touching upon their pet sins. But just as the seedling could not withstand the sun, so too will these hearers forsake what they have heard when persecution comes. Their similarity to the rocky ground continues when we realize that the persecution reveals their hearts to be as stony as the day they first heard the Word (Ezekiel 11:19).

Third, we have those who represent the thorny ground. Just as the seeds competed with the thorns, so to does the message of Jesus Christ compete with worldly affections in the hearts and minds of these hearers. Inevitably, worldly affections will win out, for the simple fact that people love darkness rather than Light. If Jesus Christ is not in the center of your affections — if He is not the focus of your attention — what is? Whatever it is, your love for it is causing you to miss the most important message anyone could ever hear.

And that brings me to the fourth type of people, representing the good ground. These hearers not only response favorably to the Word, but they embrace it, receiving it as their own. As a seed in good soil will grow up, so too will these hearers produce fruit borne of the Word. Jesus accepts that each hearer may not produce the same amount of fruit — and that’s fine. Whether I produce a hundredfold or tenfold isn’t nearly as important as whether the Word has taken root in my heart. If it has, I have only to trust in Him, that He will continue His good work within me, refining me and sanctifying me so that I may be conformed to His image.

Which type of hearer are you? I’m not only talking about salvation here. A Christian can exhibit each of these characteristics on his path of sanctification. Are you a path hearer? Stop listening incidentally and get some focus. Are you a stony ground hearer? Check your heart condition; if you have never been regenerated and given a heart tender toward and acceptive of the Lord Jesus Christ, pray the Lord that He will exchange your heart of stone for a new heart. Are you a thorny ground hearer? Identify those things which are competing for your attention and affection and eliminate them so that you may experience the Word fully. Are you a good ground hearer? Continue to embrace the Word, ever conforming your life to it; oh, and be diligent, always on guard lest your heart take on barren, stony, or thorny characteristics.

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