Scripture: Mark 4:1-20
In this morning’s text from Mark chapter 4 we will hear the first of Jesus’ many parables. Matthew and Luke’s Gospels include the most parables. Mark chose a smaller amount to include and John has none at all.
A parable is a short fictional story with symbolic meaning. It literally means to put something alongside another thing to compare or clarify.
Many have described it as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. There were two levels of meaning – the literal story and then the figurative or spiritual meaning.
Jesus was a master story teller. He used common everyday objects and examples to teach people deeper spiritual truths. In fact, thirty percent of His words recorded in the Gospels were in parables.
Jesus said that understanding this particular parable about the Sower and the Seed was the key to understanding all of his other parables.
We are continuing our sermon series from the Gospel of Mark titled The Crown & The Cross.
Jesus is presented as a man of decisive action with a clear message and mission, and the reader is called to actively response to the message.
Mark divides Jesus’ life into two parts: his identity as Messiah and King over all things in chapters 1-8a (the crown) and then we see His purpose in suffering and dying on the cross in chapters 8b-16.
Jesus drew people into the parables, imagining themselves in the story and compelling his listeners to respond to the events of the story by making a judgment about the characters and in doing that they realize that they must make a similar judgment in their own lives.
As you listen to this parable ask yourself: What kind of soil am I? What happens when I hear God’s Word? How does my heart respond?
Listen for key words or ideas that are repeated. Don’t forget to say immediately out loud along with me as I read.
› READ Mark 4:1-9
Parable of the Sower & the Seed (vv. 1-9)
Jesus was again being pressured by the size of the crowds. And this time, He jumped into the waiting boat and taught the people safely from the shoreline. It says he taught many things using parables and then Mark chose this specific one about the Sower and the Seed.
Did you catch the repeated words or ideas? Listen! at the beginning and then again “If you have ears – hear this!”
The Sower was sowing the seed by hand. Tossing it on the ground as he walked around the field. There were four distinct types of soil the seed landed on.
- The path – hard ground
- Rocky ground – rocks under shallow soil
- Thorny ground – weeds
- Good soil
If we just take the story at face value – we could take away the importance of sowing seed on good soil and not wasting it on the other three. We could also say it’s important to remove the rocks and thorns so you have more good soil. We know that the sun and rain come from God. We can’t make anything grow without Him.
READ Mark 4:10-11
Purpose of the Parables (vv. 10-11)
When they were alone with Jesus, the disciples (12 plus many other disciples) asked Him about the parables. These are the insiders. As we saw last week, they are the ones in the true family, but they just didn’t understand the parable. Then there are the outsiders – the Pharisees and Scribes – the people who refused to listen and even accept the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah.
In verse 12 it sounds like Jesus is saying he is purposefully hiding the truth from some people. Jesus said He came to seek and save the lost. Earlier he told the pharisees that only sick people knew they needed a doctor. The self-righteous did not think they needed to be saved. Their hearts were already hard.
Understanding this quote from the prophet Isaiah requires a discussion later in the chapter. In verse 22 Jesus says, “Nothing is hidden except in order that it should be made plain,” The parables are not meant to prevent understanding; rather Jesus’ teaching is “hidden” in parables in order to reveal the truth to those who would listen with the right hearts. Verses 33, 34 provide a summary of the whole approach to parables: “With many such parables he was speaking the word to them even as they were able to hear.”
Baker’s Bible Encyclopedia gives some good guidelines for understanding the meaning of a parable. Sometimes Jesus explained it, but other times we are left to wrestle with the meaning.
How to Interpret Parables
Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Guidelines for Interpreting the Parables)
- Analyze the parable thoroughly. Note the characters and movement of the story, its climax, and the repetition of key words or ideas.
- Listen to the parable without any preconceptions as to its form or its meaning. Attempt to hear the parable as if sitting at the feet of Jesus without knowing the parable, its meaning, and Christian theology.
- Look for help in the surrounding context but realize that the original context for many of the parables has not been preserved. Often the parables appear where they do in the Gospels because of the arrangement of the Gospel writers.
- Notice features in the parable that reflect the life and thinking of the 1st-century world. An understanding of cultural and religious factors and an awareness of OT ideas reflected in a parable will greatly assist in its interpretation.
- Note how the parable fits into the purpose and plan of the entire book. If the parable is present in the other Gospels, note its location and how it has been shaped to fit into the purpose of each Gospel writer.
- Determine as explicitly as possible the message of the parable in the teaching of Jesus. There may be several points that need to be made in a given parable.
- Note where the teaching of the parable conforms to the teaching of Jesus elsewhere. Jesus’ nonparabolic teaching may provide the key for or strengthen the interpretation of a parable.
- Give due emphasis to the “rule of end stress.” Usually the climax and the most important part of a parable comes at its conclusion. Consequently, the focus of the interpretation should be there as well.
- Determine what principles are present in the parable that reveal the nature of God, his kingdom, the way he deals with humanity, or what he expects of humanity. These principles will be of particular relevance for 20th-century persons, and the parable will remain as one of the most effective means of communicating them to modern society.
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Parable. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1609). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
READ Mark 4:13-20 There are some more immediatelys here!
Parable Explained (vv. 12-20)
Jesus said if you don’t understand this parable you won’t understand any of the others. Let me explain it for you.
Jesus provides a key to understanding the parables, inviting listeners to examine their own hearts and to respond to his message.
The Sower is sowing seeds – that’s God’s Word. The sower is sharing the Gospel, The message of the Kingdom of God with different kinds of people who respond differently.
Jesus doesn’t explain who the Sower is, but it is clearly anyone sharing God’s Word. It was not just Jesus but it is his disciples then and even now.
The seed that fell along the path, hard packed soil, was quickly eaten by birds. The seed could not get into the soil.
Jesus said these are hard hearts who hear the Word but immediately dismiss it and don’t take time to let it sink in. Satan, presented by the birds, is active in takes the word away. Satan was described in Genesis as a liar and later as the father of lies. He constantly makes God’s word sound foolish or illogical. The philosophies and ideologies of the world, Satan’s domain, are counter to God’s word. The further a culture gets from biblical thinking and biblical foundations the harder hearts become.
The seed that fell on rocky ground was in shallow soil. It was warmed by the sun and fed by the rain and it quickly sprang up. You may have noticed some of those weeds that spring up seemingly out of nowhere and quickly take over. Some weeds can grow 2-3 inches over night!
Jesus explained that the shallow hearts are so excited they received the good news with joy. They want to be saved, they want God’s blessings, they love the happy people at church. But their faith is shallow. It’s not rooted in the rest of the word. When trials or persecution comes along they immediately fall away. This is evidence that there was no true repentance. No change of heart brought by the Holy Spirit. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is not merely saying the right words. It is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call as we talked about last week.
Other seed fell among thorns or weeds. Thee grew up faster than the seed and it choked the new plant until it died.
Jesus explained that the thorns and weeds represent the cares of the world. Satan makes wealth and prosperity look like the solution to all our problems. But those desires for things of this world can take the place of our desire to be with Jesus. To know God. To choose to obey Him over our jobs, our family, our education, pleasure,
Other seed fell on the good soil where it produced grain, grew and multiplied 30, 60, 100 x.
Jesus said these hearts hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit. People who are ready and willing to hear God’s Word will accept what He says as truth and what is best for them, and then as a result they change. They know God by spending time in His word and in worship and prayer; they obey God and there are positive results: they have peace by living in God’s Will; they make biblical choices which result in glorifying God; they share the Gospel and make new disciples;
Are you a listener? A hearer of God’s Word? That mean’s you read your Bible. You come to worship services. You join a bible study or Growth Group.
How would you describe the soil of your heart?
Is your faith shallow, rocky, crowded out by the world, or is it good soil that produces godly lives?
Do you share the Gospel and God’s Word by talking about your faith in Jesus Christ to the people in your life? Family, Friends, Neighbors, Co-workers
We are called to spread the Word, but we are not responsible for the results. The Holy Spirit prepares good soil in the hearts of those who will received and be saved. Be faithful in sowing the seed of the Gospel and pray for good soil.
If you’ve never responded to God’s Word and the Spirit’s calling are you ready today?
To become a follower of Jesus Christ, you first recognize that you are a sinner who is not in a relationship with God, you confess your sins and ask Jesus to forgive you and save you. You accept His death on the cross as payment for your sins and then you accept the gift of eternal life through his resurrection. You can become a child of God. Contact me if you are ready to take this step of faith.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.