PARABLE OF THE SOWER AND SOILS

Mark 4: 1-20

BRIEF INTRO: I am not sure how much time has elapsed until Jesus arrives by the sea, but that is where we now find Him as we begin chapter four. Jesus is now teaching by the sea, “and such a very great multitude gathered to Him” (v.1). The crowd was tremendous, so much so that Jesus needed to get into a boat to give Himself some space and, conveniently, a platform to preach from.

I do not think that we need to apply some sort of reason or meaning behind Jesus sitting to teach other than what would be the most obvious. I have learned in my study that sitting was the normal or “typical” rabbinic position when teaching. But we can also understand that the boat was likely moving back and forth in the water.

So, with His disciples by His side and the vast crowd gathered around Him, Jesus, sitting in a boat, begins to “teach them in parables” (v. 2).

4 Again, He began to teach by the sea. Such a huge crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat on the sea and sat down, and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. 2, And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,

FOCUS ONE: Why parables?

This is not the first time that Jesus spoke in parables (3:23). But in all the instances that He does, He has a particular reason for doing so! We find ourselves with two questions to ask and answer before we dig into the teaching itself:

  1. What is a parable?
  2. Why does Jesus incorporate them into His teaching at times?

A parable is a rhetorical device used to explain the truth. It is a manner of teaching that is meant to stimulate a person’s thinking, make important points, and move the listener toward a rational, reasonable response.

So it should make sense then that Jesus uses parables to draw people to the truth. But why then do we read in verse eleven that there are some people (outsiders) that are NOT meant to understand His teaching?

From other places in scripture, we know that His parables were not always clear; the disciples had trouble at times understanding their meanings, such as we read in Mark 7:17 and our current text. But, we also read (vv.11-12) that there will be those that will not understand them. People who will not have ears to hear or eyes to see (v. 12).

So, before we seek to understand the parable itself, we must first come to grips with their purpose in the teaching of Christ. “*So Jesus taught in parables (at least on some occasions) so that His enemies might not be able to comprehend the full significance of His words and bring false accusations or charges against Him. He knew that in some cases understanding would result in more sin and not in accepting the truth.”

Our context is about Jesus beginning to unfold “the mystery of the Kingdom.” The “mystery” is revealed in greater detail to those who believe but is hidden to those who do not believe, reject Christ, and reject His gospel. A mystery, in this sense, is simply something that was previously hidden but has now been revealed. I believe the sense is that of continual willful rejection, not ignorance.

So, as He begins to teach using this parable, we must recognize these two distinct groups within the crowd. Those who have ears to hear (people who listen, understand, and have faith) and those who do not!

3 “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundred times as much.” 9 And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, [a]let him hear.”

FOCUS TWO: The parable employed


We notice that Jesus emphasized the importance of paying careful attention to what He is saying twice. He says “listen to this” in v. 3 and “He who has ears to hear” in v. 9. It is not wise to take the words of the Lord superficially. In this case, the importance is that all the other parables coming next can only be understood rightly if the people grasp the truth of this first one. “Do you not understand this parable? And how will you understand all the parables” (v. 13)?

Before we can correctly comprehend and apply this parable, we need to figure out from within the context what the main point is.

The sower and sowing—are not the main point. He only uses one short sentence: “The sower went out to sow” (v.3). That does not mean that the sower is unimportant. Christ Himself sowed the seeds of the gospel of the kingdom, then His disciples, and now those who have come to faith through them!

The seed — is not the main point of the parable either. We read of the seed being scattered, scattered in various places upon different soil. BUT THE EMPHASIS IS ON THE SOILS.

The soils are the main point!

Someone goes out and sows the seeds on various soil types (beside the road, rocky ground, among the thorns, on good soil), and those soils, all but one, prove to be “fruitless.” There is only one soil mentioned in this parable that the seed grew in and produced fruit! And that is the last one that was mentioned.

14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 And in a similar way these are the ones sown with seed on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and yet they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution occurs because of the word, immediately they [a]fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown with seed among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the [b]world, and the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter and choke the word, and it [c]becomes unfruitful. 20 And those are the ones sown with seed on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred times as much.”

FOCUS THREE: The parable explained

In verses 3-8, Jesus sought to teach the crowds of people by employing imagery that would be relatively normal in their rural life in Palestine. In our following verses, 14-20, Jesus explains the parable to His disciples and others who are around Him (v. 10). It is evident that the twelve did not understand the meaning of the teaching, and so, with much patience, He explained His words to them so they could grasp hold of the truth He shared. Truth relating to the “kingdom.” This parable is about How the kingdom grows, so it is vital to understand this one or the others will make no sense (v. 13)!

The sower is not identified, but the context indicates that He most likely represents Jesus and/or those who will sow (herald) the kingdom’s message (gospel).

The seed is the word (the gospel) as we see in other places: 1:15, 45; 2:2; 6:12).

The soils represent different people’s reception of the word. The parable teaches them and us that in our faithful witnessing for Christ, we will come across various types of “hearers” in whom the seed has been sown. It is also made clear in His explanation that there will be many people who give a negative response to the seed sown.

Those pesky birds (v. 4)! They represent Satan, who actively seeks, at all costs, to “immediately” take away any coherence of the word given. In effect, these people have no response to what was sown. Read verse 15 over again so that you don’t miss the unveiling of what they represent.

Then there are the “rocky ground” hearers. This group is said to have no depth of soil; no firm roots. In other words, they receive the word in a “shallow” manner. There is no real depth to their understanding or profession. Since their “roots” are shallow and not firm, they last only a short while. Like the seeds landing on rocky places would suffer trials (sun scorching them), these types of hearers of the word are only for a short while because when troubles come or persecution, they quickly fall away (v.17).

The third type of soil (hearer) is said to be like the seed among thorns. These people “hear,” BUT are preoccupied with the things of this world. Their desires for other things, things they give priority to, eventually “choke” out the word that was heard. Sadly, Jesus says of them,” and it (word) becomes unfruitful (v. 19).

But lest we despair and lose hope, He gives us the encouragement we need to persevere in spreading the gospel seed! Any farmer rejoices at having “good soil” to plant in. Such soil produces crops! Often many fold more than he could wish for. So it is with the good soil that receives the gospel seed!

Please recognize that this is the only type of hearer that truly benefits from the gospel. The only ones that are genuinely regenerated! The other three soils are representative of those who flat out reject the gospel, those that are shallow-minded and so hear it, understand it, but turn away from it. None of those people were ever adopted into the family of God. The only ones who will be justified in Christ and adopted into the family of God are those that “hear the word” AND “accept it.” Such people WILL bear fruit in keeping with their repentance (v. 20)!

This is how the kingdom grows.

Be encouraged, dear Christian. We have been told, straight out from the Lord, that many people will not listen to what we have to say, or they may express some superficial sense of belief that, in the end, will reveal itself for what it truly is. Even so, our encouragement comes from the fact that there are people out there who will listen, accept it, and be born again by God’s grace!

So don’t lose heart; don’t give up. Keep on sowing!

*The Bible Expositors Commentary on spreading the gospel seed!

FOLLOW ME

MARK 1:16-20

BRIEF INTRO: It’s funny how I can, at times, look at a portion of scripture and, at least in my thinking, not see too much. What I am reading appears to be pretty straightforward, no doctrine to unfold, no theology to research and unpack, and the application is clear enough. But, I have learned over the years to “think again,” that is, I had to discipline myself to prayerfully look at the verses and meditate on what truth’s I could grasp from some seemingly “unimportant” text.

Such is the situation before me. These verses in Mark 1:16-20 appear, on the surface, to be all those things I just stated above. But thankfully, the more I reflect on these verses, or I should say, the main point of these verses, I have been blessed by the Holy Spirit as He has opened my mind and heart to some truths I needed to be reminded of. I think we all can benefit from such reminders. So, let’s get to it!

16 As He was going along the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “(Follow Me,) and I will have you become fishers of people.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 And going on a little farther, He saw [a]James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, [b]who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went away [c] (to follow Him).

FOCUS ONE:  THE OBVIOUS

At our first reading of these scriptures, we come across some simple facts:

  1. 1. Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee
  2. 2. He saw and later called two men to “follow” Him
  3. 3. These men were brothers (Simon and Andrew)
  4. 4. They were fishermen
  5. 5. Jesus calls them to follow Him and “be made,” or “have you” become something other than what they were currently: fishers of men!
  6. 6. Immediately they leave all and follow Him
  7. 7. Going a bit farther, Jesus sees James and John (brothers)
  8. 8. They were in a boat mending nets (fishermen)
  9. 9. He calls them to follow Him
  10. 10. They leave everything ( including the hired servants and follow Him)

Those facts assimilated reveal Jesus was seeking, Jesus calling, and Jesus being obeyed!

FOCUS TWO: THE NOT SO OBVIOUS

Is it mere coincidence that Jesus comes upon these men that day along the Sea of Galilee? What would compel these men to follow Him? Why would they forsake all to follow Christ? “Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed you; what then will there be for us?'”

Jesus speaks of “those He has chosen” in reference to His disciples in John 13:18. In chapter 17 of the same writing, He references the disciples as “men whom thou gavest me out of the world” (v. 6). 

It is evident from these scriptures that God had, by His foreknowledge and for “the praise of His glory,” chosen or by way of “election,” decided that these men would be disciples of His Son and ultimately fearless martyrs; for the glorious gospel of God! These men were not extraordinary by any means as you and I would think. Like you and I, they were working men, family men, husbands, fathers, etc. They were not wealthy men or intellectual types; they were not mighty men. But such are those God chooses to serve Him!

26 For [a]consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to [b]the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the [c]insignificant things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no [d]human may boast before God. 30 But it is [e]due to Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, [f]and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

Did He need them? No, but He was pleased to use them in His glorious work among men!

Another not-so-obvious observation is drawn out in this question: What was His purpose in having disciples?

This purpose is primarily expressed in Christ’s prayer in John 17:5:19. Jesus called these men unto Himself and invested approximately 3 ½ years into them so that they would, as they followed Him, experience Him in every manner of His life. By walking and talking with Him, listening to Him teach, watching Him perform many miracles, and by being with Him ALL THE TIME, they would get to know Him as thoroughly as any human being can know another! They would “come to understand that all things (the message and the mission of Christ) which Christ had were ultimately from the father.”

The ultimate purpose in calling these men unto Himself was so that they would be a witness and testimony to the gospel of Christ. So that these men, after Christ’s ascension, would continue the work that he began, the proclamation of the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 28:18-20)!

FOCUS THREE: OBSERVATIONS THAT DIRECT APPLICATION

In this section, I aim to point out several things that I hope will be “food for thought” as you close your iPad, exit your phone, or do whatever you will do when you finish reading this post.

The first item to point out is that nets are associated with fishing, NOT rods within this context and any I know of throughout scripture! This fact has important implications for us as we faithfully seek to fulfill the great commission. 

Unlike a fishing rod that is cast into the water and then yanked back hard to hook a fish, nets are CAST out and open wide (depending on size) with the sole purpose of catching as many fish as possible. Any fish in the area can swim into this net, which can mean a large number will be caught within it. The imagery we often see of using a lure and a line and then waiting for a fish to strike is foreign to the Bible.

Some fish will get away when the nets are closed and pulled back into the boat, but the net will catch many. This has its parallel in our fishing for men!

  1. We are to cast our nets (the gospel) wide to draw in as many people as possible.
  2. Evangelism can be tedious and tiring at times, seemingly lacking results. We can feel we cast our net in vain, once again. But, as we learn in Luke 5:4, we are to rest in Christ, faithfully continuing to share the gospel, trusting Christ for the results!
  3. Only when we are with Jesus may we fully know just how many men were caught in our gospel nets!!
  4. Some people will reject the gospel (fish falling out of the net), we cannot keep them in, but we can pray for their souls!

A second item that stands out to me in this text that we are looking at is that Serving Christ requires our willingness to forsake all else.

In the Gospel of Luke, we find a situation in which some men stated they wanted to follow Christ, and others had several excuses not to follow Him (Luke 9:57-62). Contrast those people to these men in our text: what a stark contrast! Christ’s answer to them seems plain enough, even for our ears today: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).

I noticed one or two other applications, but I will leave it up to you to search them out in your study. Have fun.

Who knows you?

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Long reading: Revelation 20:11-15

Devotional verse: Revelation 20:15

“And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Before the internet and cell phones, written lists were used to keep track of who was and was not invited to a special gathering. I recently read a story about a person who was refused entry into a friend’s wedding reception because her name was not written in the guest list. She tried hard to gain access but couldn’t. The names written in that book revealed who did and did not  belong at the upscale event.

In the book of Revelation we read about a similar situation. At the Great White Throne Judgement, John saw many people who were not allowed access into Heaven because their names were not written in the Book of Life. These people, however, were not only refused entry but also cast away from God forever. That is heartbreaking to those of us who know Jesus Christ and have our names written down in that heavenly book (Luke 10:20).

“God is not willing that any should perish, but have everlasting life” (2 Peter 3:9), and the only way a person receives everlasting life is by coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we still need encouragement to be a gospel witness. Christians have a message of hope, and that message is powerful because it is all about God’s redeeming grace through the cross of Jesus Christ. (GOSPEL) Who in your area of influence needs to hear about God’s forgiveness? When a person comes to know Jesus Christ as their savior, they won’t have to worry about whether or not their name is in the book. God promises that it is!

Daily prayer: Heavenly Father, we are so thankful that you have revealed Yourself to us and redeemed us by your grace. Help us to be just as generous with Your gospel to others as you have been to us. Amen.

The Gospel

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Go and spread the gospel

Over the hills and thru the vale;

It’s truth for hurting souls

Not a children’s fairytale.

O, be gentle in your speaking

But bold along the way;

For we’re not guaranteed tomorrow

And many souls are lost each day.

Speak it’s truth unto your loved ones,

Don’t burn bridges as you go;

Humbly live out the gospel for them

So it’s affects within you show.

Prepare to be rejected

That’s just par for the course;

They rejected Christ as well

O, dear Christian stay the course.

Enlist a mighty army

Going forward into war;

With the gospel as their banner

And God going on before.

Let us pray for those who listened

That His truth He does impart;

So all by grace forgiven

Will receive a blood washed heart.

Larry G. Stump Jr.

THE GOSPEL OF GOD Devotional

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Long reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

Quoted verse: 1 Thessalonians 2:13

“And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (NASB).

The Open Air Campaigners have an evangelistic ministry that has at its core the burden of preaching the gospel to lost people anywhere and mobilizing the body of Christ to do the same. I had the pleasure of learning from these men, many years ago, the skills that were needed to do well in open air evangelism. Using a sketch-board, painting a gospel message, rope tricks and other illustrations; as well as spiritual discipline, faithful study of God’s word, earnest prayer, teamwork, and compassion for the lost. But there is one thing that I learned from them that has affected my gospel witness more than anything else, and that is this: God working through His word performs His will in those who hear and believe!

You and I cannot save anyone. Our flattering speeches, or supposed superiority with words; our perceived wisdom or persuasive rhetoric, never did and never will save anyone. God uses people to proclaim His word, this is true, but He uses weak people led by His Spirit, so that when He opens up minds and hearts to His truth’s, it will always be a demonstration of the working of His Holy Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)!

This truth should be encouraging and reassuring to God’s people. Just as the word of the Lord sounded forth from these believers in every place they went (1 Thessalonians 1:8), so too it should from us. You and I can faithfully share the gospel of God with others (vs 9), confident that He will do what He will in those peoples lives that have heard the truth from us. This means that you and I can share the gospel and then go home and sleep in peace. If people are to come to faith in Christ, such faith cannot rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God!

                                                                                                                                    Larry Stump Jr.  

Daily prayer: Help us O God, to trust in your Spirit and power in the salvation of the lost. Grant to us thy peace which surpasses all understanding as we pray and seek to win souls for Christ. Amen.