The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20)

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The Parable of the Sower

Mark 4:1-20

Key Verse 4:20

“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop-thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Good morning and welcome to SWS. Thank God for protecting each of you and bringing us all to worship together and specially to hear His words this morning. Last week we heard the special message delivered by P. Philip not to fear and not to give in to conspiracy theories. Instead we must trust God and live by gospel faith even as the Corona virus pandemic continues to escalate. We can rest assured that our lives are in God’s Almighty hands – He watches over us and does not slumber or sleep. Today we return to Mark’s gospel to learn from Jesus the important role our hearts play in fruit-bearing. We examine different types of hearts-soils according to the parable of the sower and learn how our heart-soil impact our lives. No body began their natural lives with a perfect heart. Even King David the man after God’s own heart once prayed ‘create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.’ As we examine our hearts before the word of God this morning let us come humbly and prayerfully and ask God to give us right hearts and right attitudes in any and every situation so that we can bear fruit that last and fruit that bring God glory.

Part One. Jesus taught the people in parables (1-2)

Jesus’ Messianic ministry was characterized by his teaching, healing and disciple making work. On one occasion, many people had gathered to hear Jesus teach by the Lake. The crowd on this day was so large that Jesus had to teach from a boat on the lake to keep the people from crowding him. He got into a boat and sat in it, while the people stood along the shore at the water’s edge. In Mark 1:22 the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee because of this. People wanted to hear Him teach; they wanted to get a miracle and have their problems solved. Everyone had a reason for coming to Jesus. Wherever Jesus went people thronged to be with him. What could Jesus do for this crowd of people? Verse 2 says, “He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said…Listen!”

On this occasion Jesus taught the people many things in parables. He could have used plain language to describe the kingdom and its characteristics, but instead He relied on parables – for he taught them by parables. What are parables? According to the Oxford dictionary, a parable is a simple story to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels. The word Parable is derived from the Greek word Parabole, which means to put things side by side. Each of the 40 parables of Jesus in the Bible was designed and told to convey one truth about the kingdom of God using earthly stories to illustrate spiritual realities. That is, most parables make only one major point. With these guidelines in mind lets tackle the parable of the sower together with the help of the Holy Spirit and by listening carefully to what Jesus said. 

Part 2. The Parable of the Sower (3-12)

In verses 3-8 we read, “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed…some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear let them hear.”

Jesus began and ended this parable with a call for careful attention (3 & 9) which suggests its meaning is not self-evident, and we see this in verse 10-12. When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. Jesus told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 

“’they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”

This is a very tricky verse to understand. Did Jesus really intentionally keep the meaning of God’s words hidden so that people will not be able to repent? Are outsiders only going to get parables while Jesus reveals eternal (kingdom) truths to the twelve? 

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9, where God was explaining to Isaiah that people would not believe even though Isaiah preached faithfully. The bad result in Isaiah time was not because of God’s will but because the people were unfaithful. Confronted with similar situation in His ministry, Jesus resorts to using parables. By using parables Jesus intentionally divided the people into two groups – Disciples, and other people who are outside. 

Mark has presented the outsiders as hostile to Jesus and His ministry in several instances (Mark 2:7; 24, 3:6; 22), but Mark does not portray the insiders as wiser than the outsiders – merely less hostile, and more interested. Also, we see that insiders could not understand the parable either, until Jesus explained it to them. To whom did Jesus explain the parables? Just his twelve favorite guys? No, not by a long shot. Look at verse 10 again. When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. Note that Mark includes “those around” for this was not an exclusive circle. If you had walked up to listen to His explanations on this occasion, Jesus wouldn’t have driven you away! If you wanted promotion from outsider to insider, all you had to do was gather around Jesus. 

Part 3. The Parable Explained (13-20) 

Look at verse 13. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” Without Jesus explaining the meaning of this parable, we too can only speculate about the details, but thankfully Jesus made everything clear – clear as crystal. In verse 14, the farmer sows the word. This is how the Christian life begins; the power of God’s word is sown into a life, and the heart of that person if it is fertile ground for the seed of the word, great things happen. Each time God wants to change my life, He always sent His word through shepherds, Bible teachers, or a book – especially the Bible. God’s word is powerful enough to change people (Ro 1:16). God always uses His word. There is no other way to correct a person or change a life, redirect a home, and mend broken people. For example, God may be speaking into your heart right now to cause a new beginning in your life. As you hear the word of God, you are taking in the seed of life, the seed of the divine nature, and the incorruptible seed of God’s Word. This seed is the Word of God. This seed is Jesus Christ Himself. As it is written in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). There is nothing wrong with the seed. The Word of God is perfect, incorruptible and eternal. What matters more in this situation is your heart condition and my heart condition. On what kind of ground does the seed of the Word of God fall? What kind of ground is your heart to the seed of the word of God? Let us humbly examine the Bible together to learn more about the four heart soils Jesus dealt with as He taught the people by the Lake side.   

First, the Pathway heart-soil (15)

Some people are like seed along the pathway, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear God’s word, Satan comes and takes away the seed that was sown in their hearts. Satan does not give this people even a small chance to process the word sown into their hearts because these hearts are impervious to God’s word. Its like trying to plant corn in the drive way. The seed will not penetrate through concrete. There is no opportunity for conviction or repentance because the birds of the air come and steal the word as soon as this person hears it. For example, when God commanded Pharaoh, let my people go! Pharaoh rejected the word of God more than ten times – He said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?”. He hardened his heart like a pathway soil until all Egypt was ruined, and the army of Egypt perish along with Pharaoh in the Red Sea. People with pathway soil are stubborn, unyielding and difficult. A person with this heart condition needs spiritual rebirth because, the god of this world has blinded their eyes to the glorious message of Jesus Christ. As a result, these hearts remain hard, unfeeling and reject the Word of God. But there is God’s hope for this heart. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” This is God’s promise… 

They said that the Corona virus made it possible for Christians in the Wuhan area of China to preach the gospel more openly to their countrymen. How could this be in a communist country like China? God works in mysterious ways (Who would think that God will use the Corona virus to spread the good news?). We can partner with God in this work and pray that He use even the Corona virus pandemic as opportunity here in America and throughout the world to soften the hearts of people so that the gospel may more effectively reach the ends of the earth.

Second, the Rocky heart-soil (16-17)

In verse 16-17 Others like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When troubles or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Rocky heart soil is superficial heart. The underlying rock is shallow, just beneath the surface soil. As such, the seeds that fall here have little room to germinate into maturity and produce fruit. The underlaying rock is rigid, impermeable and maintains its shape and form. Cultivating this stony ground comes with great difficulty and effort; it is noisy and raises a lot of dust. Worse still, when a seed falls into a heart soil like this, this it lacks necessary media to grow in. There is no soil depth to hide and germinate in until it can develop a root system to take up moisture and withstand the scorching heat of the summer sun. Everything in a shallow heart-soil is exposed and open to the surface. Its emotions are on the skin – it is easily excited and easily disappointed. 

God was not happy with the Israelites that came out of Egypt. At Mt. Sianai, they promised to obey the LORD and His servant Moses, but when they got to the edge of the Promised Land and heard a bad report from 10 spies in Number 13, the entire community decided to turn back and return to Egypt. God was not pleased with that generation – everyone 20 years and older could not enter the Promised Land – except Caleb and Joshua. 

The Rocky heart is superficial and shallow and cannot sustain meditation on the word of God, because there is no space for storage and incubation of kingdom ideas. There is no depth of thoughts, no depth of insight and no personal internal effect taking place in this heart since the word of God has not taken deep root. The seed of God’s word must take deep root in our hearts and the word of Christ must dwell in us richly. The seed of God’s word must penetrate deeply into the heart-soil. It must penetrate even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it must judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts and uncover everything before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account (Heb 4:12-13). 

When the seed of God’s word penetrates into the ground of your heart, it decays and dies to form new life (John 12:24) and shoots out a root system for anchor and a stem with life-sap and green leaves that can photosynthesize to provide nourishment to the entire plant. This is how the process of maturity and fruit bearing takes place. This process requires time because it does not occur at once, like in people with Rocky heart soil. 

In verse 17, we see the result of a hasty process. Since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. This is the bane of shallow heart soil Christians; they have no root, no anchor and no basis for their faith. There is no inner source of strength as they keep looking around on external circumstances and bowing to whatever is convenient.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20). Do you have personal conviction based on your study of God’s word over time that makes it difficult for any wind of doctrine to blow you off? Can you face trouble and persecution because of your faith in God’s word and remain intact? The superficial heart stands with Jesus for a while, but there is an end in view for this faith, fire, and fervor of the superficial believer. 

Wherever the seed of God’s word is preached, we must expect persecution from the world system and from Satan. The scorching summer heat must come; will you be able to persevere and endure with God’s word? In the face of opposition will you stand faithfully with Jesus based on the word of truth, because no truth is learned until the time of trial comes and we still hold faithfully to God’s word. No matter the initial zeal and gladness, unless we develop deep root in Jesus and His word, we will not bear any fruit in our lives. 

Third, the Thorny heart-soil

Look at verse 18-19. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. This is a serious condition for many Christians. Let us examine this type of heart soil carefully and prayerfully so that if we find our hearts like this and need help from God we can humbly acknowledge and ask Jesus’ mercy. People in this category are entangled. It reminds us of Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” 

The person in verse 18-19 hear the word of God and get it. They get an understanding, they get deep insight into the word; they are convicted by the word and may even have revelation knowledge of the word. They grow and take root and have deepness of soil. They have moisture and perhaps manure to make the word grow and prosper, yet something still goes wrong. Weeds and thorns choke the word of God from this heart. Do you remember Samson? He was anointed by God with super human strength and could kill 1000 enemy soldiers in a single battle, yet he could not maintain the anointing and deliver victory after victory for God and Israel. Samson became entangled with a woman called Delilah in the Valley of Sorek. His love for Delilah a woman from an enemy nation cost him his strength, his eyes and the opportunity to deliver his people Israel from the hand of the enemy Philistines. 

An entangled heart can be very costly? If we do not cultivate our hearts through repentance, weeds and thorns of wordiness, selflove and the love of money grow there. Thorns and weeds naturally occupy the human heart. As a result of the fall in Genesis 3:17b-18 God cursed the ground because of man…through painful toil you will eat food from it. All the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field. Thorns and thistles can grow in the heart and sharing the same nutrient and moisture with the cultivated seeds. Jesus identifies the weeds and thorns to watch out for, and they include “Worries of this life,” “the deceitfulness of wealth,” and “the desires for other things…” They are the things that come in and choke the word of God and make it fruitless. What are the worries people are facing today? These days people are mostly worried about the corona virus. They want to know whether they are at risk. They want to know how it spreads. Other want to know what symptoms to look out for. On Friday the Governor Hogan of MD announced the first fatality in our state right here in PG county. One hundred and seven people were confirmed as suffering from the disease in MD along with almost 10,000 across the nation. The question is, should we be worried? No! Should we be careful? Yes, we should be watchful and prayerful and work to mitigate the spread of this disease. But we must not worry or fear. Life is in God’s hands, so Jesus taught us “take no thought about your life…which of us by taking thought can add one foot to our stature?” God in his mercy has promised to take care of us, so let’s cast our cares upon Him knowing that He cares. The seed of victory and divine health according to God’s promise are strangled if we worry and don’t trust God. Every care and worry about life are like thorns that choke and strangle the seed of God’s word in a person’s life.

Verse 19 also mentions deceitfulness of wealth and desire for other things. The deceit of wealth and desires for other things can make it difficult to settle down and develop God’s grace upon our lives. Because of the deceit of wealth, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. Many other Christians remain shallow, empty and fruitless as the nutrients provided by God are being used up by thorns and weeds. Distractions from technology, our cellphones, internet accounts, social networks, desire for fame and fun can become a major distraction. Due to the Corona Virus pandemic our children are at home all week long. For the most part, my kids want to spending these times on their computers playing games. If you come to my house and everywhere is silent, it is not because there is nobody at home, but because my children are online – they are like the “silent generation.” As a parent I need to spend more time with them, talk with them outside of home work time, but after we spend all day working on their homework, they just want to get away and play, so I pray for wisdom to find some constructive replacement for screen time as we move forward. 

Fourth, the Good heart-soil (20)

Look at verse 20. This is our key verse. I’m going to read it, but you can please read along with me. Others, like seed sown on good soil hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. I like the way this verse is written in Luke’s gospel. When I cross referenced this verse it read, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke explains the process of fruit bearing in more detail than Mark did. None of us came to this world with noble and good hearts. When we met Jesus, God gave us new hearts. 

In 1995, God removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh through the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. I became a new creation and was born again. The work of God is mostly to hold on to God’s word of promise, retain God’s promise, and by persevere produce a crop. God wants us to bear fruit, but fruit bearing is not automatic. We need to retain God’s word, we need to wait, and persevere through many difficulties and we can do this if Jesus is at the center of everything we do. 

Because of Jesus grace I could persevere 10 years until God granted my PhD while raising 3 children and working to serve God’s ministry. I also had to persevered for another 2 years before God provided me an academic position at Hampton University. Now I pray to continue to retain the word of God and persevere until I bear fruit as a professor shepherd on my campus and advance the kingdom of God here in the USA by faith in God’s promises. 

Joseph is one of the best examples in the Bible of a man that heard God’s word, retained it and persevered until God’s word produced fruit. In the Genesis 37 God gave Joseph two dreams to show him the future. Nobody believed Jesseph. Nobody understood him. His family persecuted him and the world rejected him. He was sold as a slave, and later became a prisoner locked up in a dungeon among criminals. In the middle of all these trouble Joseph never gave up on his dreams and God’s vision for his life. He never gave in to despair. He retained God’s promise to Him and continued to serve God and the people around him faithfully. God was pleased with Joseph and God blessed his faith by raising him to be second in command to Pharaoh and ruler of all Egypt. God used Joseph to save Egypt and the world from famine and when his brothers visited him from Canaan, Joseph remembered his dream – he remembered God’s vision for his life. Joseph could persevere, and he forgot all his suffering in Egypt because God made him fruitful in the land of his suffering, yet when his brothers visited more 20 years later, he retained the word of God’s promise to him in his dream – he remembered his dream. 

As the world around us is grinding to a halt and stand still on account of the Corona virus, we can be like Joseph who retain God’s Word during a difficult time until God produce a crop in our lives even through this difficulty. P. Philip sent us a Bible challenge last week as a way to help us read and retain God’s promised though the Palmists. I hope each one of us will persevere by spending time in God’s word over the next few weeks and beyond so that we can reap a harvest of 30, 60 and 100 times what is sown. 

Key Verse: 4:20

“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop-thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”