MAIN TEXT: MARK 4:1-20
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. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 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. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.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, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. 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. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 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. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 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. But 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.”
In Mark, chapter 4, we come to one of the largest teaching sections. Mark is a short, fast-paced telling of Jesus life. Mark is working to tell his audience who Jesus is and what Jesus did.
With this in mind, he doesn’t spend a ton of time on detailed teachings of Jesus, except for here in Chapter 4 and also in Chapter 13. There are other sections of Jesus’ teachings throughout Mark, but not nearly as much as the other three gospels. So, when we do come across a teaching section, we know that Mark has focused in for a reason.
In today’s portion of Scripture Mark uses a reference to a body part to make an important spiritual statement. Biblical writers have often used body parts to illustrate biblical truth. (Isaiah 52:7, James 3:6, Matthew 6:22, Matthew 10:30, and Mark 4:9)
Our text today is about ears and how well our ears hear biblical truth. Mark is showing that there is a connection between our ears and our heart. In verse 3 Jesus says, “Listen!” In verse 9 He says, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!” In verse 12 He speaks of those who “may listen, yet not understand.” And in verse 20 He speaks of those who “hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop.”
Today’s portion of Scripture is a parable. We get our word parable from the Greek word, parabole. This word means “to lay something aside something else”. It’s simply a way to make a comparison. It’s using a simple truth to help someone understand a spiritual truth. Something that compares one thing to something else.
We Must Spread the Gospel That People Might Hear the Word (4:3-9)
The parable we have before us today is a critically important parable for Jesus’ disciples and followers to understand. As Christ followers, we are called to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).” This parable gives us the definition of how people will respond to the gospel and why. As the gospel is proclaimed, or as represented here, as the seed is scattered, it is important for us to understand the responses that we will be confronted with.
This is a simple story that the audience Jesus was speaking to would have understood. As an agrarian culture, it would have been a common sight to see a farmer sowing seed by taking the seeds out of the bag by hand and then scatter them all over the ground. This farmer would then plow up the soil after the seed was scattered. As the seed was scattered and the ground was plowed, there would be a difference in the growth based on the type of soil it landed on. In Jesus’ illustration, there are four types of soil: the path verse 4), the rocky ground (verse 5-6), the soil with thorns (verse 7), and the good and productive soil (verse 8).
The proclamation of the gospel is the seed being sown. It will fall in different places, receive different responses, and eventually the gospel will experience a tremendous harvest.
Our parable today begins with Jesus commanding them to listen, and He also closes urging them to pay attention. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words, “If you can hear this, listen to it. Pay attention to it.” Yet, only some in this crowd gathered are able to truly hear and understand what He is saying.
If We Do Not Listen to the Word, We Will Not Benefit (4:10-12)
Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples and followers why others may hear the parable, but they are unable to understand it. The ones who have ears to hear were the ones who believed in Him. He answers by telling them they “have been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.” In other words, He is saying, “You have been given the ability to see who I am, but for those who are unable, they will only hear parables and not be able to understand.”
It is an important message to hear. The understanding of the truth is not for everyone, it is for His followers, those who have ears to hear and are listening. Those who are hungry to understand more of who He is. They love His words. They heed His words. They find understanding and satisfaction in who God revealed Himself to be. It starts as a seed, and flourishes into mature fruit.
The Fruitfulness of the Gospel Depends on the Hearer’s Receptivity (4:13-20)
Jesus then begins to explain the parable, but not without a little bit of a lecture. He explains that they must understand this parable to understand the other parables he will give. So He breaks down the four different soils for them.
The soil of some hearts is hard (4:14-15)
The path represents people with hard-hearts. The gospel comes to them, and immediately, Satan comes and takes away the Word that is sown. Maybe they are resistant, inattentive, or unresponsive, whatever it is, they are deaf to hear the gospel.
The soil of some hearts is shallow (4:16-17)
The next soil, rocky ground, is welcoming of the seed. People represented by this soil hear the Word and receive it with joy. Unfortunately, their faith is shallow and has no roots. So when tribulation and persecution come (notice Mark says when, not if), they immediately fall away.
The soil of some hearts is distracted (4:18-19)
The soil that is among the thorns represents someone who receives the gospel better than the first two types of soil. Unfortunately, they eventually get distracted by life. Worry, wealth, and desires for other things overcome their excitement and growth. It is a partial commitment, but in reality is not a commitment at all. Things of this world, their life, becomes more important to them than Christ and His world.
The soil of some hearts is fruitful (4:20)
The final soil is very different than the first three. It represents those who hear the gospel, accept it, and bear fruit. Worry, wealth and earthly desires don’t distract them. When tribulation and persecution come, they are not deterred. They are willing to humble themselves to the gospel. They’re willing to be broken and contrite in heart. They desire to be freed from the dominating power of sin. They want a life of righteousness and holiness. This is the good soil.
Good soil is not natural. If you leave the ground to be itself, it will be rocky. It will be weedy. The stone has to be picked out. The hard soil has to be broken up. The weeds have to be taken out. Only God can do that.
So what should we do?
We should cry out to God like David in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We take our hearts to God, we beg Him to purify our hearts. And we trust that He will do His work in us. He will deposit His Spirit in us and produce fruit through us for His purposes, some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold and some hundredfold. It begins with hearing the gospel, and applying the gospel to our hearts, and then bearing fruit of the gospel in our lives.
Hear. Listen. Bear fruit.
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Mark 4: 1-20
Why do you think the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers to refer frequently to body parts?
Is one kind of soil prevalent in our culture? Is there a particular way we should present the word of God that might make people more receptive?
As with the “path”, is Satan also responsible for the failure of the other kinds of unfruitful soil?
What part do we play in being good soil for God’s Word? What can we do to grow in holiness and to produce fruit by making disciples?