Mark 4:1-2 “And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching....”
Scene of Activity
Please keep in mind.... though we’re still in the second of three phases of Jesus’ earthly ministry (the Period of Popularity), the transition to the final Period of Opposition has already begun in three ways.
1. Jesus has been officially rejected by the religious authorities in Israel.
2. Jesus’ growing fame had become a threat to the political powers of the day.
3. The great multitude coming to Jesus had become hostile and increasingly ornery.
Sensing the growing volatility of the multitude, in Mark 3 Jesus had already instructed His disciples to have a boat ready in the event the mob became pushy, demanding, even dangerous.
It seems this contingency plan would come to good use.... Mark tells us in the verses we just read that Jesus “got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea....”
Mark also notes another change in Jesus’ ministry.... he says, “Then He taught them many things by parables.” Before we begin to examine this new phase of His teaching ministry, it’s important we make a few observations about parables:
1. What is a parable....
The word “parable” simply means “to set alongside of”.... In the case of Jesus’ ministry a parable was a spiritual truth placed alongside a word picture, story, or illustration.
Please note.... a parable was not a story Jesus would place alongside a spiritual truth as is commonly believed and taught.
In many instances Jesus would tell a parable and leave out the spiritual truth altogether. He would later explain what He meant only when prompted to explain the greater lesson. At this point Jesus would place alongside the illustration a greater spiritual truth He intended to communicate.
2. What does a parable aim at accomplishing....
1. The foundational purpose of a parable was not to teach a lesson or communicate a truth.... the purpose was to judge the heart of a person. Think about it this way.... the crowd wasn’t judging the parable, but the parable was designed to judge the crowd. Let me explain how this worked....
If a person came to Jesus under the wrong pretense.... with the wrong motivations.... if they came for the wrong reasons.... they would indeed hear a good story.... they would interpret the story in whatever way they desired.... they’d leave feeling good about the experience.... But.... these people would never really know what greater spiritual lesson Jesus was communicating, because they’d never hang around to find out or ask for an explanation.
A person’s reaction to a parable revealed the true intentions of their heart. It became obvious the people who left prematurely weren’t really interested in the greater lesson Jesus desire to communicate.
If a person came to Jesus as an honest seeker.... if their motivations were honest and pure.... if they were really there to hear from Jesus and not just hear a story told by Jesus.... they would hear the parable, But.... they would be unsatisfied with their own interpretation.... they’d desire an explanation be provide them by Jesus.
A person’s reaction to the parable revealed the true intentions of their heart. If they hung around and asked for an explanation, it became obvious these people were interested in the lesson Jesus desire to communicate.
Conclusion.... How a person reacted to a parable revealed the heart of the person.... it revealed whether or not that person was a true follower.
2. With this in mind, a parable would also accomplish something else.... Jesus would use a parable to conceal the greater spiritual lesson from those who weren’t true seekers, while later reveal that lesson to those who were actually there for the right reasons.
Conclusion.... What a person received from a parable (a fun story or a spiritual lesson) completely depended upon the heart of that person.
Don’t forget the important function this would serve during this season of ministry. With a growing number of people beginning to oppose His ministry, this teaching technique was an easy way for Jesus to evaluate the multitude.
A parable revealed how many of the “great multitude” sitting in the pews were really there because they cared to hear what He actually wanted to say. A parable would provide Him the answer.
Mark continues this narrative by providing a parable taught by Jesus that illustrated the greater spiritual lesson of a parable....
Mark 4:3-9 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Keep in mind Jesus was speaking to a culture that was largely agricultural. This was a story His audience would understand and even relate to in a personal way.
To understand the story itself, you should keep in mind the agricultural methods were much different then than they are today. When we sow seed, we first rid the field of all the weeds - plow up the soil - and then sow in an orderly, systematic way to maximize production. In the first century they’d start by sowing the seed, and then they’d proceed to till the soil on top of the seed they’d already scattered.
The story in many ways described the normal process of farming.
Some of the seed was wasted, because it fell on hard ground (“the wayside” - the foot path), never penetrated the soil, and was devoured by the “birds of the air.”
Some of the seed was wasted, because it fell on shallow soil (“the stony ground”), sprung up, but was scorched by the sun and withered away.
Some of the seed was wasted, because it fell “among thorns” and was therefore choked out and lacked the nourishment to yield a crop.
Some of the seed wasn’t wasted, but yielded a crop because it fell on good soil.
"Let’s say you heard this sermon and didn’t care to hang around for Jesus to explain the greater spiritual lesson He intended to communicate. How might you have interpreted this lesson on your own...." (Quote from David Guzik)
The farmer would have thought, “He’s telling me that I have to be more careful in the way I cast my seed. I guess I have been wasting an awful lot.”
The politician would have thought, “He’s telling me that I need to begin a farm education program to help farmers more efficiently cast their seed. This will be a big boost in my reelection campaign.”
The newspaper reporter would have thought, “He’s telling me that there is a big story here about the bird problem and how it affects the farming community. That’s a great idea for a series in the newspaper.”
The salesman would have thought, “He’s encouraging me in my fertilizer sales. Why, I could help that farmer more than he knows if he only used my product.”
Mark 4:10-13 “But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’”
And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”
In these verses Jesus is building upon a lesson introduced to us in last weeks text.... an honest and objective quest for truth will always result in the discovery of truth. However, if you allow your preconceived prejudices to taint your quest for truth, you’ll end up arriving - not at the truth - but with more validity to your very own preconceived prejudices.
Jesus is telling us in this passage and through this parable that the “Truth of God’s Word” will only be revealed to those who honestly desire to know the truth. And as brutal as it might seem.... for those who have no interest in a sincere quest for truth, the truth will be concealed. Therefore, parables serve to illustrate the process of how we understand God’s Word.
1. Like a parable.... Truth must be revealed.
Jesus begins by making a fascinating observation.... the “kingdom of God” is a “mystery” that can only be known if God provides the key for our understanding.... He says, “to you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.”
There are two approaches to the understanding of a parable.... First, one can interpret it’s meaning based upon one’s limited perspective, or.... Secondly, one can come to the source of the parable to have its actual meaning revealed.
Jesus’ point is that our approach to truth follows the same process.... First, one’s interpretation of truth can be relative based upon one’s limited perspective, or.... Secondly, we can go to the source of truth to have it’s actual meaning revealed.
Like the meaning behind a parable, truth transcends our interpretation making it absolute and not relative. Truth cannot be discovered. Truth cannot be ascertained, or stumbled upon. Truth must be revealed by the source of what is True!
Like a parable.... the revelation of Truth depends upon the heart of the seeker.
1. Truth will be revealed to the honest seeker.
Following the parable, “when He was alone.... those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know....”
Understand.... Their sincere desire to know the truth - revealed in the reality they came to the source of truth - resulted in Jesus revealing the truth.
Don’t forget.... the revealing of truth is always predicated upon the heart of the seeker.... For this person, Jesus promises to provide the key that will unlock their understanding.
2. Truth will be concealed out of respect to those who aren’t honest seekers.
Jesus continues by saying, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand....”
It’s sad to think of the “great multitude” present that day only a few cared to know what lesson Jesus was really communicating with His story.
It was clear by their reaction to the parable (they left without asking) they came under a different pretense than a honest quest for truth. Jesus honored their position by not providing an explanation. If the heart is not in the right place, then God will conceal these greater realities.
We can’t overlook the implications of this reality.... Why would Jesus allow the “revealing of truth” to be predicated upon the “heart of the seeker?” Or maybe the better question would be.... Why would Jesus ever conceal the truth?
His answer.... “Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.”
I believe that if the “revealing of truth” was not predicated upon the “heart of a person,” then the power of God’s revelation would be so strong that no man could resist it’s transforming work.
Basically, if the truth of God was revealed to all man - independent of the desires of man - then no man could resist the truth of God. But then we must logically ask.... is that a bad thing? The answer is yes!
Please understand.... forcing someone into a position they don’t want to be in is never a good thing, and it’s never something God will do. God is a divine gentleman who allows mankind the privilege of choice.... even if man uses this freedom to reject Him.
Yes, it’s true that God desires all men to know the truth, but He doesn’t want to force truth upon any man. He doesn’t want to force His love upon the man or woman that doesn’t want it. He instead wants to draw us to the truth by His great love.
Norman Geisler once said, “God is not a spiritual rapist!”
If we desire truth - He’ll freely give it. If we don’t desire the truth, but instead want to do our own thing - He’ll respect our position and conceal the truth allowing us to continue with our own prejudices. Jesus’ point is that it all boils down to a position of the heart....
“He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” Understand the “parable of the sower” was designed to illustrate this great reality.... Jesus explains....
Mark 4:14-20 “The sower sows the word.... And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.... These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.... Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke (to press, throng, over-crowd) the word, and it becomes unfruitful.... But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
Jesus begins by providing the “key” to unlock the meaning of this parable....
The “sower” is no doubt Jesus.
The “seed” is the truth.... The Word of God.... “The sower sows the word.”
The “soil” the seed is sown upon is the heart of man.
The interactions between the seed and various types of soil serve to illustrate the 4 different responses that exist a heart towards God’s Word.
1. Falls on, but not in.... “The Wayside.”
The parable described how some of the seed was wasted, because it fell on hard ground (“the wayside”), never penetrated the soil, and was devoured by the “birds of the air.”
Jesus explains.... “And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan (“birds of the air”) comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts....”
The Hardened Heart or The Rebellious Man.... When the seed of God’s Word is sown.... Because of the pure hardness of this person’s heart created by the sheer stubbornness of their will - the prideful arrogance of their self perspective - and the untempered rebellion rooted in their life, there is no way for the truth to penetrate. The Word therefore “falls on, but not in” making it easy for Satan snatch away.
2. Falls on - Goes in, but not down.... “The Stony Ground.”
The parable described how some of the seed was wasted, because it fell on shallow soil (“the stony ground”), sprung up, but was scorched by the sun and withered away.
Jesus explains.... “These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution (“the heat of the sun”) arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble....”
The Shallow Heart or The Superficial Man.... When the seed of God’s Word is sown.... Because of the initial softening of this person’s heart the seed “falls on, goes in” and springs immediate results. However, because this person has refused to allow the seed to sink deep within the fabric of their life - because their faith was shallow and superficial - the seed was unable to root itself deep enough to endure any kind of opposition, tribulation, or persecution.
3. Falls on - Goes in - Goes down, but not up.... “Among Thorns.”
The parable described how some of the seed was wasted, because it fell “among thorns” and was therefore choked out and lacked the nourishment to yield a crop.
Jesus explains.... “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful....”
The Crowded Heart or The Compromising Man.... When the seed of God’s Word is sown.... Because of the softening of their heart the seed “falls on, goes in, even works it’s way down” but is not able to “grow up” because of moral compromises. All the other junk (thorns) they’ve allowed to also root into the soil of the heart crowd out the Word of God, and rob the seed of vital nutrient necessary for growth.
4. Falls on - Goes in - Goes down, and Grew up.... “Good Ground.”
The parable described how some of the seed wasn’t wasted, but yielded a crop because it fell upon good soil.
Jesus explains.... “But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
The Open Heart or The Genuine Man.... When the seed of God’s Word is sown.... Because of their softness of their heart the seed “falls on, goes in, works it’s way deep, and grows” to yield an acceptable crop. The seed can’t be snatched away by the enemy - or withered by the heat of temptation.... and because much attention has been given to the soil of this person’s heart, there’s nothing in the way for it’s grown and development.
This parable communicated one powerful truth.... a person’s acceptance or rejection of Jesus and His Word (the seed) boils down to an issue of the heart (the soil).
Observation #1: The power rests in the seed - not the soil.
The trans-formative power of God - which is able to change a life into the image of Jesus - rests, not in the heart of man, but in the implanted Word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Observation #2: Though the power rests in the seed - not the soil, the success of the seed’s power is dependent upon the soil.
In this parable we find a wonderful picture of the marriage of God’s Word and man’s responsibility. Sure, the power rests in the Word, but our attitude towards the Word either fosters it’s trans-formative power or restricts it.
Observation #3: Though the power rests in the seed - not the soil, and the success of the seed’s power is dependent upon the soil, the true nature of the soil is revealed by the end product of the seed.
Jesus said in Matthew 7, “You will know them by their fruit....” In this passage, He might as well have said, “You will know the soil, but what is produced.”
The question I want you to consider is.... What kind of soil are you?
Are you the Rebellious Man?
Is the soil of your heart hardened to the things of God?
Are you the Shallow Man?
Is your Christian faith but a few inches deep?
Are you the Compromising Man?
Have you allowed the cares of this world to choke out the things of God?
Are you the Genuine Man?
Has the Word yielded a crop that bears much fruit?
Mark 4:9, “And He said to them, “He who has an ear to hear let him hear....”