Mk. 4:1-34-Jesus tells 4 Parables that demonstrate how the Word of God is communicated, how people respond to it, and what it produces in them.
Mark 4:1-20-#1 The Parable of the Sower
This parable demonstrates how people respond to the Word, the Gospel in four different ways…the first three are the wrong ways to respond. Only the last is the correct way to respond.
Mk. 4:1-2-Jesus is teaching in “parables”. A parable is an earthly story, with a Heavenly meaning (“parable” means: “to put one thing by the side of another for the sake of comparison”). (Ryrie)-“Parables were told by Christ for opposite effects: on the one hand, to make the truth more engaging and clear to those who were willing to hear (Luke 15:3) and, on the other, to make the truth obscure to those who lacked spiritual concern (Mark 4:11-12).”
Mk. 4:3-Jesus says, “Listen”…meaning to pay careful attention so that you may learn something of importance. In verse 9, Jesus says that we should have ears to hear...meaning not just hearing the sound, but understanding the meaning. The word “hear” will be repeated and have significance in each of the four different parts of the parable.
Mk. 4:4-6-Person #1…The Hard Ground: the Word is rejected before it is heard (the Deniers)
The earthly story: a farmer goes out to plant his seed.
The Heavenly meaning: The Word of God, the Gospel, is like a seed that God plants in people’s hearts when it is proclaimed (:14-sower sows the Word).
Mk. 4:4-The earthly story: some of the seed fell beside the road where the ground is hard and packed down from the traffic of men…and the seed lies on top. The birds ate it up.
The Heavenly meaning: because the person’s heart is hard, unresponsive, the Word is not received and it has no positive affect upon the person. Satan quickly acts to remove it, lest it have an affect still later (:15-immediately Satan comes and takes away the Word sown in them). This person’s heart is hard because it has been stepped on, trampled upon by disappointment, sorrow, bitterness, unfairness, cruelty, or any other number of the troubles of life. Through some means of reasoning they blame God for what has happened. And now, they are not even willing to listen to the Word…turning a deaf ear. They don’t want to hear the Word. They have already made up their mind and will not even listen. Have you ever tried to tell someone about Jesus and they said, “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t believe in God”?
Mk. 4:5-6-Person #2…the Rocky Ground: the Word is one among numerous options (the Deceived)
The earthly story: some of the seed fell on the rocky ground. There is nothing but rocks here. So, there is no soil for the seed to sink its roots into. Immediately the seeds sprang up, but not down. Because they had no soil, they had no moisture for nourishment to sustain them. Consequently, they were scorched by the sun, and withered away.
The Heavenly meaning: these people have only made a cursory, superficial acceptance of the Word…an intellectual approval of its truth…but not a valid, authentic acceptance by faith. When they hear the facts, the truths of the Word…they become excited because they believe it will benefit them. The Word of God is on their heart…but not in their heart. The particular verb that is translated as “hear” suggests that they have heard the Word but not actually made a decision…they are holding it in reserve. They are thinking about it…but have not yet made a final decision. The verb is in the subjunctive (potential) mood.
“Mood is the quality of verbs which indicates the relation of action to reality…Subjunctive Mood: This expresses action which is not really taking place but which is objectively possible”. (Essentials of New Testament Greek, Ray Summers, pp. 12, 107)
Then, later, when they face difficulties that arise because of the Word (persecution that accompanies those who are followers of Christ will eventually come, as certainly as the sun will eventually rise) their half-hearted approval of the Word proves to be incapable, inadequate, and unsatisfactory in dealing with the problem. Actually, they don’t want to deal with the problem, at all. They want to discard the problem. So, to accomplish that, they discard the Word, blaming it for being ineffective, instead of recognizing that they had never fully accepted it. As long as the Word appeared to be a source of satisfaction and happiness, they were all for it. But they weren’t buying into anything that might result in difficulty and struggle. They were looking for immediate gratification, they lived only for the moment (:16-“immediately receive it”). There is no thought of commitment and dedication (:17-“immediately they fall away”). For them, the problem isn’t that there is no blessing (they know there is)…but, that there is a cost associated with the blessing that they are unwilling to pay.
4:7-Person #3…the Thorny Ground: the Word is too other-worldly (the Distracted)
The earthly story: some seed fell among the thorns (briars, bramble, plants with pointed thorns). The thorns were thick, numerous, and ultimately overwhelmed it and choked it out, so that it produced no crop.
The Heavenly meaning: The verb (a participle) “heard” suggests that the Word was something that was currently being given ongoing consideration, but only as one option among several. It has not been accepted as the sole, singular, final option…being the most important of all. But, as one value, among many. There are other factors, other considerations that are perceived to have equal, or perhaps even greater, significance in making decisions and living life. These include: “the worries of the world” (“worries” means the things of the world that we care about, stress out over…perhaps the opinions of others, peer pressure, public acceptance); “the deceitfulness of riches” (“deceitfulness” means false, counterfeit, never actually producing what is promised; “riches” means wealth, abundance of possessions); and “desires for other things” (“desires” is the word commonly translated as “lust”, craving, longing for something…and “other things” simply means anything that we want so much that our desire for it controls us). The Word is callously added to this grab bag of influences and priorities. This person is one-dimensional…living only for what the world they live in can provide for them…here, and now. They are so caught up, so preoccupied, so engrossed by these things…that the Word becomes a mere afterthought. There is no attention, no consideration of the future, of eternal matters. Only the physical. Only the pleasurable. Only the present. Thus, the Word produces nothing in them, or through them (:18-unfruitful).
Mk. 4:8-Person #4…the Good Ground: the Word is fully received and productive (the Disciples)
Mk. 4:20-These people “hear” the Word (they listen attentively), “accept” the Word (means: to receive, to acknowledge as one’s own); and “bear fruit” of the Word (the presence of the Word is obvious because the believer is continuing to grow as the fruit of the Holy Spirit is produced in his life). The seed grew up, increased, and yielded a crop...30, 60, and 100 fold. Not all will bear fruit the same, but all will bear the same fruit. (:20).
Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful to spread Your gospel...and to not stop, no matter what the reception may be. Help me to keep myself pure and unstained by the sins of the world...and from sin of my own. Please help my heart to be receptive to You and let Your fruit be produced completely and thoroughly, in and through me.