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Posts Tagged ‘Parable of the sower’

We’re back in the gospel of Mark today, in chapter 4, looking at the parable of the seed and the soils, sometimes called the parable of the sower. Chapter 4 is one long teaching by Jesus centered on parables. And this teaching is a response to the rejection Jesus has just experienced from various Jewish leaders and even his family.

Such rejection raises the question, ‘Why have so many not believed in Jesus and his message of the kingdom?’ The teaching today helps explain this, and it gives a message to his disciples as well, which we will need to pay attention to.

We’ll be looking at the parable in vs. 1-9 and the interpretation Jesus gives in vs. 14-20 to his disciples in private.

Introduction

1Again 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. 2And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them. . .

So once again there’s a large crowd gathered around Jesus. And it says he was teaching them many things in parables. Parables have to do with comparing two things to make a point.

3“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.

So we have a farming image, that, as we will see makes a point about the kingdom of God. These are the two things being compared.

From Jesus’ explanation to his disciples we learn that –

14The sower sows the word.

Jesus is talking about the good news of the kingdom of God that he’s sharing with everyone (1:15).

And then we come to the focus of the parable –

The four soils

The sower and the seed are all the same, but the seed lands on different kinds of soil. And these different kinds of soil represent different people in different spiritual conditions.

The first soil is that of the path.

4And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Jesus is here talking about ground that is a walking trail next to, or through a field. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground and so the birds eventually eat it.

And then we have Jesus’ interpretation in v. 15 –

15And 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.

These people hear the words of the gospel but they don’t sink down into their minds or hearts. Their hearts are hardened. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom. The result is that Satan takes away the seed.

So here there’s no germination of they seed. These people dismiss and reject the message Jesus brings.

And then we have the rocky ground.

5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. When the sun comes out it withers away.

Next we look at Jesus’ interpretation starting in v. 16 –

16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17And 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.

These hearers receive the message, but it doesn’t go deep into their lives; it doesn’t become firmly rooted in their heart. And so when things get difficult they fall away from the faith.

So here there’s genuine faith and there’s germination and life, but only for a short time.

And then we have the thorny soil.

7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

This soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds or plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there’s no fruit.

Then we have Jesus’ interpretation –

18And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19but 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.

These people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” to their lives. They focus on worldly worries, trying to get more wealth and don’t have a single minded focus on the kingdom of God. These are the thorns.

The result is that the new life of the gospel in their lives is killed off and no fruit is produced. So here there’s real faith, there’s germination and life, but it dies before the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here – from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So let’s look at the good soil.

8And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

Notice how the seeds here finish the process –

  • they germinate, unlike the hardened soil of the path
  • they continue to grow, unlike the shallow soil
  • and they bring forth a harvest, unlike the thorny soil.

And then we have Jesus’ interpretation –

20But 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.

These hearers fully accept the message of the gospel.

  • In contrast to the soil of the path, their hearts are not hard to God’s word. They receive it.
  • In contrast to the shallow soil, the word goes deep into their lives. It is nurtured through attention and study. It is firmly rooted.
  • In contrast to the thorny soil, they stay focused on the kingdom and not the things of the world: getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the busyness and going in all directions at once that this involves; seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth; and pursuing entertainment and leisure.

These people get it and mature as disciples of Jesus and are blessed in the fullness of the kingdom.

Notice the description of a bountiful harvest – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” So even though ¾ of the total seed sowed bears no fruit, here the harvest is abundant. Even though so many don’t respond to Jesus, the harvest on the final day will still be great.

This leads us to the question we began with –

Why have so many not believed?

 The sower is the same, Jesus. The seed is the same, the good news of the kingdom of God. What’s different is the kind of soils that the seed lands on; the spiritual condition of people who hear the gospel.

Jesus is teaching us here that God is not forcing people to receive his kingdom. He allows us all to choose to receive it or not. And so many, if not most, will reject it. And specifically with regard to the Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus, the explanation is hardness of heart. The seed of the good news fell on the hardened path in their case. (See Mark 3:5)

And then we come to –

Jesus’ message to us

Beyond an initial reception of the gospel, which his disciples and we have done, that is weren’t not hard hearted toward the gospel, we must continue to overcome obstacles that stand in our way. What are the two enemies of disciples identified in this parable?

1) Living a shallow Christian life so that when testing comes we fall away.

2) Being focused on this life and not the kingdom of God.

And Jesus really wants us to get this message because he begins his parable by saying, “Listen” and he ends it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are you listening this morning?

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We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the sower this morning. I want us to focus on the central theme of the parable by asking the question, ‘What kind of dirt are you?’

I will be using Mark’s version in chapter 4, but will be bringing in Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as well. We will look at both the parable itself in vs. 2-9 and the interpretation of the parable given by Jesus in vs. 14-20.

Some basics 

The seed is “the word” (v. 14). In Matthew 13:19 it is the “word of the kingdom,” so we’re talking here about the gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

As we learn in Mark 1:15 Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus is saying that with his coming, all the promises and purposes of God are coming to completion for the salvation of the world and of all who will receive the word with repentance and faith. [In Luke it is “the word of God.” This may simply refer to the gospel as from God, or it may refer to reading all of Scripture in light of the coming of Jesus and the kingdom.]

This seed/gospel can produce this life/salvation in our lives. As it says in Luke 8:12 the purpose of sowing the seed is that people may “believe and be saved” (also v. 13) So there is no salvation without the gospel and the life it gives. We are just dirt in the imagery of this parable. But we do have to receive and hold onto the word through faith and repentance.

In this life, salvation is pictured as the seed growing in us. And at the resurrection it is pictured as the seed bearing fruit on the day of harvest, a common image for the final day.

The point of the parable is that not everyone who hears the word, receives it and holds onto it until the final day. And it’s not because there is something wrong with the seed or the sower that some don’t receive it. The only difference in each case is the dirt, or the people who hear it. Some dirt is receptive and some is not. 

So this parable teaches us how to be the right kind of dirt – that can receive and hold onto the gospel so that we have life and salvation both now and into eternity.

If you will pardon the pun, let’s dig deeper into this by looking at-

Three wrong kinds of dirt

These may characterize different people throughout the course of their lives, or it may characterize each of us at different times in our lives. In either case these are three obstacles to receiving and holding onto the life and salvation that the gospel brings.

1. The dirt along the path. From the parable we learn that the seed lands on a walking path next to, or through a field. As the phrase “trampled underfoot” in Luke 8:5 indicates, there is a lot of walking here. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground, gets walked on and the birds eventually eat it.

From the interpretation Jesus gives, we learn that these are people whose hearts (Matthew 13: 19; Luke 8:12) are hardened to the gospel. They aren’t interested in God. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom.

Because their hearts are hard, the seed of the gospel can’t penetrate. As Matthew says, they don’t understand the word (Matthew 13:19; 23). It gains no entrance into their minds and hearts. The result is that Satan takes away the seed, so that they “may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

So here there is no germination. There is no belief and thus no salvation.

2. The rocky dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is too shallow (“it did not have much soil” – v. 5). The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. (Luke has “on the rock” – 8:6). The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. (Luke has “it had no moisture” 8:6 that is, from a lack of roots.)  When the sun comes out it withers away.

From the interpretation we learn that these are people who “immediately receive the word with joy” – 4:16. As Luke puts it “they believe” the gospel – 8:13.

But there’s a problem. They have “no root in themselves” (Mark 4:17). The gospel doesn’t penetrate deep into their lives; it doesn’t become deeply rooted in the heart. And so when testing and persecution come they fall away from their faith. As Luke puts it, “they believe for a while, and in a time of testing fall away” – 8:13.

So here there is genuine faith and there is germination and life, but only for a time.

3. The thorny dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds/plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there is no fruit.

From the interpretation we learn that these people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” (4:19) to their lives. These are “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things.” These are the thorns.

The result is that these worldly concerns choke the new life of the gospel in their lives and no fruit is produced. 

So here there is real faith, there is germination and life, but the life is cut short so that there is no ultimate salvation at the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here, from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So then let’s look at –

How we can be good dirt

In contrast to the hardened dirt along the path, we need to receive the word into our lives. All the soils hear the word. But the word must be “accepted” (4:20) into our hearts and lives. The receiving here refers to accepting it in faith (Luke 8:12). It has to do with “understanding it (Matthew 13:23). Letting it penetrate into our minds and hearts. Luke says we have to “hold it fast in an honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15).

In contrast to the shallow soil, we need to let the word go deep into us. The word has to have roots within us. We can’t just receive it and that’s it. We have to nurture it; cultivate it. We need to learn it, study it, meditate on it. Then we can endure in times of testing because the word has gone deep within. It is well rooted and grounded in us.

In contrast to the thorny dirt, we need to weed our lives. The word may well be in us and growing, but if we allow other seeds in they will grow and choke out the word.

We must beware of “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (4:19). Luke has it this way, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (8:14). If these enter in they will take over and kill our life with God.

Jesus is talking about getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the business and going in all directions at once that this involves. He is talking about seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth. And he is talking about pursuing the pleasures of this life – the good things of life, entertainment, leisure. All these things come in and distract and overwhelm us so that our commitment is no longer solely focused on the Gospel and the Christian life.

We need to get these weeds out of our hearts, or whatever life and transformation we have will not last to bear fruit on the final day.

Let me end by asking –

What kind of dirt are you?

  •  Is your heart open and responsive to receive God’s word?
  • Do you let God’s word go deep into your life so that is firmly rooted by learning it; by studying it?
  • Are you putting the kingdom of God above all of this life’s activities and concerns and pleasures?

As Jesus says at the end of parable, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” – v. 9. We must listen to what he is saying! Be the dirt that receives and holds onto the word and the life it brings at all costs. Is there anything more important? And then you will bear fruit – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

William Higgins

 

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