The Parable of the Sower
Good Morning. Please grab your Bibles and turn to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 4. If you do not own a Bible, please grab one from the table in the back as our gift to you. Our joy and our prayer is for each and every person to have one.
Now, I said open up to Mark chapter 4, that’s not Romans chapter 8! No, we are taking a 1 week break from Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome and we are going to look at a passage in Marks Gospel.
This past week, as you can see by the decorations that are up, and the pictures that showed before the service, we held Operation Arctic!, our Vacation bible School. The theme and the lessons were exploring the Bible, the coolest Book on the planet. The purpose for doing this is to share the Gospel, the truth and the Good News with children in our community. We were doing our job, the job that God gave us, both as individual believers and as a church body. Right now, I want you to raise your hand if you were at all involved in VBS. That means attended, volunteered, donated, helped set up, or prayed for VBS. Look at how many hands are up.
As I was getting ready for this week, I was reflecting through the work that was going to be done and praying about the results to come. And It took me back to Marks Gospel.
Marks Gospel is a gospel of action, of movement. So now, when he slows down to look at chunks of Jesus teachings, it should be noteworthy.
Now, Marks Gospel is not necessarily in chronological order. However, some scholars estimate that the first three chapters of Marks Gospel take up a year and a half of his ministry. But here Mark slows down and shares some of Jesus teachings, of which Mark admits that these are still just a sampling. We will be looking at the first parable Mark has Jesus sharing, the Parable of the Sower. Over all we will be looking at Mark 4:1-20, but we are going to be breaking it up into sections.
First, I will read Mark 4:1 & the beginning of Verse 2:
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
When I talk to people that have gone over and done tours of Israel, that always tell some of the same stories. One of them is about demonstrations of the unique acoustics that are at play over there. Different hills and rocks and such cause such natural amphitheaters, allowing Jesus to sit on a hill and speak to thousands and have all of them hear him.
Water also makes sound carry. Jesus is being surrounded and pushed back everywhere he stops and here, he finally gets in a boat, gets a little off shore and speaks to those on the shore. The natural amphitheaters and the water allowing the sound to carry allowed this to take place.
Think about that for a moment, there’s more there than meets the eye. God could have chosen any where on Earth for civilization to pop up. Could have chosen anywhere For Israel to be given their piece of Land, anywhere for the Roman Empire to spread to and anywhere for Jesus to be born in and minister to. He also could have caused Jesus’ voice to supernaturally carry and boom so that thousands could here Jesus’ words. Instead he choose this piece of land, where the acoustics provide natural amplification and allowed Jesus words to be heard with out supernatural help, at least volume wise.
And so Jesus did address the crowd. He went in the boat to give himself some room, but he stood and he started teaching. Picking back up with v 2, Jesus relays the following parable:
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 thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
So this is maybe one of the more famous parables that Jesus tells. It appears in all 3 of the Synoptic Gospels and really kicks off a series of parables here in Marks Gospel. I want to make sure we really look at this and the explanation that Jesus will be giving because there is a lot going on here.
So he starts off with the sower going out to sow some seed. When he does this, there are 4 results that Jesus shares. First, some of the seed was sown on a path, where the ground is hard. The seed is unable to get into the ground and just ends up sitting on top of the soil and being eaten by the birds.
Next, the seed falls on rocky ground. There is some soil there, the seed sprouts quickly, shoots up fast, but has very shallow roots, no foundation. So when the sun comes out it gets scorched and withers and dries out very quickly.
Third, The seed falls among weeds and thorns. It starts to grow there, but the weeds do what weeds due and chokes out the good seed, so that it doesn’t produce any harvest or grain.
So these were the first three of the four that Jesus told us about. Notice that, despite initial outward appearances, none of these three end up yielding positive results. That’s going to end up in a pretty low success percentage. But Jesus is not done and he gives one more example.
Fourthly, the seed is sown onto good soil. It produces grain and yields a harvest that increases its yield. It increases as much as 30 times, 60 times and 100 times.
Jesus lays out these 4 scenarios and then he says something odd. He says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you?
When you are teaching someone, when you are talking to someone, do you usually say things like that? Don’t all ears hear? Shouldn’t all ears hear? Jesus is going to explain that and the meaning of the parable next.
First the reason for parables and meaning of his words. Mark continue on in v 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.”
When Jesus taught to the public, he taught in parables. He did this on purpose because once he was with his disciples, often when he was with the Twelve, he would then explain the parables and some of the disciples might even understand them.
Jesus here is quoting Isaiah here. The context of that passage in Isaiah is interesting. Its in Isaiah 6, and God asks, whom should I send , who will go for us? Now the use of the word, “us” is a different point for a different time, but Isaiah responds and says, “Send me, Ill go!”
Here is what God tells him his message to the people will be. Isaiah 6, verses 9&10:
“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand;
keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e]
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
I then read the study notes for this section and it helps connect what Jesus is saying and what God is saying to Isaiah.
My Bibles study notes say this: The proclamation of the Word is paradoxical in its effect. The prophetic word closes the way of God to those who are rebellious, proud and hypocritical, but opens it to the deaf, the blind, the humble and the poor.
That’s what we see the teachings of Jesus showing us. The parables were used to teach because some people, who were listening to Jesus, were not ready to hear. Sometimes the truth was hidden in these stories. We often see the disciples not understanding even after Jesus explains it to them.
But Jesus says here that they will make sense to those who are in the know. To those who are not in the know, no matter how clear you make it, they will not understand. To those who have hardened hearts, closed ears, the Gospel, the Word of God is foolishness. Paul tells us such in 1 Corinthians 1: 18 &19:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
We will understand nothing that Jesus says, without Jesus or the Holy Spirit giving us understanding. Proverbs tells us this, James tells us this, We just saw Isaiah and Paul tell us this and Jesus tells us this.
With that in mind, we turn to Jesus explanation of the parable, picking up in Mark 4:13-20:
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.[a] 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, thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold.”
So Jesus addresses all four of the situations that he spoke of moments ago. For the most part, this addresses 4 different kinds of people and their responses. However, we could also look at it as four different stages of life or situations where we hear the Word and our responses to it.
So first, Jesus tells us what the seed is that is being sown. It is the Word, it is the Gospel.
The first place the seed is sown is along a well walk, well-worn path. Satan has done such a good job make this path wide and easy, that when the seed is sown, when the word is spoken, there is no hearing at all, no acknowledgment whatsoever. The seeds are sown and immediately it is taken away. Jesus uses a path here in this parable, and he uses a path again in one of the other Gospels. Matthew 7: 13&14, Jesus tells us about 2 different paths in the world.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Obviously the path that these seeds were sown on was wide and easy.
The next situation is the seed sown on rocky ground, sprouting fast and withering quickly. I see this as someone who hears the word and starts to believe in their head, but has no heart change, no life change and as soon as troubles pop up, they bail. Practically, today, this could be someone who is walking along the path to, who is seeking, who is visiting church and interested in learning and seeking and something happens and turns them away.
The third is seeds sown among the thorns. I look at this and I see two specific instances that we see today. First is those who hear the word and may even intellectually believe, but at least acknowledge some validity to the Word. Yet, instead of changing their lives and handing it over to Christ, they refuse. They say, if I go ahead with this Bible stuff, with this Jesus stuff, Ill have to give up all the things I like in my life. Ill have to quit doing drugs and sleeping around, quit cheating, stealing, quit living for the world and I really don’t want to do that. 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.
The second way I see this today is when someone is interested in hearing more, in seeing just what the Gospel is all about, but they are not willing or able to remove themselves from the people around them, friends, family, whatever, and they are so afraid of what those people around them will think that you can never get them into a one on one situation long enough to give them a chance to make a true, decision based on the Gospel.
I had one of these in my life a few years ago. He was mad at God and he would attack Christianity at any and all opportunity. I was able to live my life a way that allowed me to speak into his life IF and that s a big if, IF no one else was around. As soon as someone else was around, he felt, that to keep the image up and not open himself up to ridicule or whatever, he had to go on the offense.
Again, I want to point out that 3 of the 4 situations come away with a negative outcome. Again, see what Jesus said in Matthew, For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
One of the four, the last of the four is what Jesus desires. The seed sown on Good soil, hearing the word and accepting the Word and producing fruit. Now this section, this situation, this outcome includes all of us who are called children of God. If we are believers, we are in this 4th section here.
And there are a few things I want to point out now that Jesus is done explaining the parable.
First, when you are out there, sharing the seed, sharing the Word of God, most people will reject it in one of those three ways. Only one of the four ways is a positive outcome. I cant stress this enough when it comes to us sharing the Word. Most people will not respond in genuine conversion, at least not right away. Our job as one sowing the seed is not to ensure the good fruit-growing from it. That is the Holy spirits job. Our job is to get the word out there, to get the seed sown.
Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 3: verses 6-9:
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
And here is the thing. We sowed seed this past week. You all here are well experienced with seed planting, helping out after the fire last year, the commodities food boxes each month, things like that. That seed has been and will be sown throughout Bangor and the surrounding communities. At that same time, the odds are against us seeing immediate, long term, genuine results. And whether it is there or not, is out of our control. God is the one to determine whether the seed sprouts and whether fruit grows or whether it doesnt.
The seed that we have all and will all sow throughout the community, many of those seeds wont sprout. God says “Dont worry about that, Ive got that.” Of the seeds that do sprout, not all are going to automatically come here. There are many reasons people will go to certain churches and not to others. Some of those are valid reasons, some of those are petty at best, but plain wrong in many instances.
My point is that God tells us to do what he has entrusted us to do, regardless of what the results are. He tells us to leave the anxiety, the worry, the stress behind and trust in gods goodness and his perfect knowledge, his perfect plan and his perfect will. If those who have heard the Gospel, if they respond, believe and repent, then getting them connected with a Gospel Preaching, Bible Teaching, Believer Discipling church is the number one thing. When we believe, we become part of Gods church, Gods family and so as long as we are committed to a local, discerning and orthodox church, orthodox, meaning right, historical, biblical beliefs. As long as new believers get hooked up with a church like that, they are good. My point in that is that we should not be discouraged if we are doing our job, doing what gods has called us to do and we don’t necessarily, especially early on and right away, see the numerical growth or the outward fruit of those works God calls us to do. The benefit’s of VBS, of commodities, of Fire outreach and relief, are not often or immediately seen. That doesn’t mean we stop doing it. We remember that God is in control of all of it.
Getting believers into Gods word is crucial. If there are no roots for the seed to grow and take hold, what is that root system? If there is an unrealistic expectation that there will be no troubles, that you become a Christian and you get rich and don’t get sick anymore, what is the foundation that shows us what god has and has not promised?
The Bible is where roots can take place. The Bible softens ground. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. One of the stories we shared and taught the kids this week, Matthew 7:24-27:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The Bible, the Word of God, Gods revelation of himself and Jesus Christ is that foundation. With Gods word as our foundation, when those rains come, when the thorns try to choke us and when the lack of root system causes issues, we will persevere. God will bring us through. We will not avoid hard situations and we will have the rains come, but God brings us through that with our foundation, our faith, everything still standing.
The last thing I want to point out is the mystery that RC Sproul points out in this parable. I’m going to paraphrase him here. He says, the mystery here is not moral teaching about humans hardness of heart. But instead, the mystery of this parable is the paradox that Gods kingdom, Gods reign, Gods power, is identified here with a fragile seed.
His point is that true power shows up humbly. True leaders will walk with humility. Jesus Christ is God. He is all knowing, all powerful, all everything. He is the King!
And yet, he comes down to us here on Earth as a human baby. He comes down in the must humble way possible. He comes down and he makes himself one of us. He puts off til later his right to reign on earthly as a warrior king and instead he gives up his life to die the most humbling death. The death on the cross. He does this for the forgiveness of our sins.
That is the seed that gets sown, that gets thrown on the soil. That is the seed that was planted in each and everyone of us. So, lastly, take a look and ask, question, look into yourself and see which one of these four results are you? Are you one 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.
Are you one 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.
Or, as I pray everyone here is , are you one sown on good soil, the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
I ask that you take that question seriously, dont just assume the answer, because those thorns, that rocky ground can trick us and be deceptive. They can look good and inviting and encouraging at first, but in them there is no true transformation, no true regeneration. If there is, if we have that transformation, if the seeds that are sown are sown on what God makes into Good soil, the fruit that comes out of it will be incredible and God will give the increase and fruit will be born thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”