A Seed Sown
Last week we looked at an introduction of parables. The parable of the sower is the example given as the parable to understand other parables. Jesus explained in verse 13, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” The parable of the sower is the first lesson found in the parable textbook. When learning a language, you need to start with A-B-C, Α-Β-Γ, א-ב-ג. You need to understand the basics before moving forward. If you do not understand the letters of the alphabet, how will you be able to read, speak or understand the language. The alphabet of parables is the parable of the sower. If you do not understand this parable, you will not be able to understand any parables.
I. The Sown Seed
The parable is called the parable or the sower or the parable of the soils. Personally, I think the parable of the sower is the best title. A parable often looks at contrasting situations placed alongside each other. You can focus on the similarities or the differences. The parable of the wise and foolish builder, two builders who are wise or foolish based upon the location they build the house. The parable is not actually about four soils, if you notice, only two seeds fall on soil, even the third seed, Jesus explains, falls on no depth of soil. It shows the absence or lack of depth of the soil. Before looking at the differences, we need to understand the similarities in each of the four accounts given. Jesus explains, that “The sower sows the word” (Mark 4:14). The word ‘soil’ only appears five times in this parable. However, the word sow appears twice as much. Not only does the word sow appear more but also the key to understand the parable is what the seed represents. Jesus explains the sower sows the word. The word becomes the central thread that ties this parable together. As you remember, the purpose of parables was that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4:12). Christ has come teaching with authority, and when in large crowds he taught everyone in parables. The seed is his teaching, and his teaching is found in parables.
The sower sows the same seed in all areas. There is no aspect or mention of any soil preparation. I recently did some landscaping in my yard. Under the topsoil was hard clay and before spending money on seed and straw I put down some lime to try and balance the PH level of the soil. However, the sower liberally throws the seed everywhere. He has no concern about the location of the seed. One of my painting tips is ‘put it on like you are not paying for it.’ The sower has this mentality. Would be a strange site seeing a tractor spreading seed on the road, or in rose bushes, yet the sower simply sows the same seed. Jesus tells those who have ears to hear (Mark 4:9). The word is sown, but not grown. The word is preached but not always heard. Jesus preaches and to multitudes, and many people gathered around him to hear his word, yet at Pentecost there are only about 120 people in the upper room. Hearing or listening to a sermon does not change the sinner’s heart, many people will hear but not understand. The author of Hebrews explains, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).” However, the context of this passage is about how the Israelites disobeyed God’s word and did not enter the promised land. The passage continues, “and no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13). If we emphasize the soils, we miss the importance of the seed. The same seed falls in different locations, however, there are only two outcomes. The seed produces fruit or does not produce fruit.
II. The Seed snatched by Satan (vs 4, 15) (Hard)
The first seed, becomes food for birds. The seed falls on the path and is snatched by the birds. Jesus explains that the seed that is sown, not merely thrown, but sown. The people that hear the word and Satan immediately comes and takes away the word sown in them. The word is not merely applied to the outside but is sown in them. They hear the word, but the word is taken from them. Satan is only mentioned six times in the Gospel of Mark. In the temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:13), The parable of the strongman (Mark 3:23, 26) and finally in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (Mark 8:33). The soil is not the issue in the outcome of the seed, although it might not have grown, it grew in rocks. The outcome of the seed is snatched by Satan. Satan comes into the life as the strongman over their life. John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The truth is that Satan is the thief who steals, rather than a giver. In Thomas Brook’s book “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.” Brooks explains that Satan promises to make us happy and lies, telling us that God is holding back or hiding things from us. Satan promises the best and pays the worst. He comes to steal, kill and destroy. Later in Mark, Peter will take Jesus aside to rebuke him, however, Christ turns and rebukes Satan. Christ rebukes Peter who came to rebuke Christ. Satan steals the word that was sown into a person’s heart. However, we need to know, Christ spoke in parables, that some might not repent and be forgiven. Isaiah 55:11, expounds “my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s word never returns void, we take this to mean that fruit will come. However, what it means is that God’s word will accomplish what he purposed it to accomplish. The word spoken to Pharoah, did not return void, nor did the teachings of Jesus to the pharisees. The word accomplished what God had ordained to come to pass.
III. The Seed withered by persecution (vs 5-6, 16-17) (Shallow)
The second example is the seed which falls on rocky ground, that springs up quickly. However, when the sun came up the plant withered away because it had no roots. This seed does grow, and quickly. Jesus explains that the word is received with joy. Externally the seed appears to be growing tremendously. However, the seed did not have an established root system to be able to withstand the heat. The heat from the sun, is the tribulation and persecution which shines upon them. We think this tribulation and persecution comes upon them from the world. However, in verse 17, Jesus explains it arises on account of the word.
The confusing part in this explanation is ‘endure for a while.’ That the seed has the outward appearance of growth and increasing. The reality is that it doesn’t matter what is above the soil, but below the ground. Fruitfulness is the goal of the seed however, to be fruitful you need to be root-ful. Making disciples not merely occurs in a moment, but as we know, happens over time. We also need to note the same thing they receive with joy is the same reason that tribulation and persecution arises. Charles Spurgeon said, “If you have to give a carnival to get people to come to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back.” Sadly, too many churches have changed the diet of Christians and many people walk away from the church because they have not had a biblical diet. Churches become seeker sensitive and attractional in their models. They preach a fraction of the gospel, and eventually they realize they have not made biblical disciples. However, we also need to note, the sower in the parable, the preacher of the Word at this point is Christ. Even Christ had people receive it with joy and wither away.
IV. The Seed chocked by the world (vs 7, 18-19) (Divided)
The third location of the seed being sown is the seed that fell among the thorns. This seed grows and eventually gets choked by the thorns. Jesus explains that these are the ones who hear the word but are eventually choked by three things. 1) Cares of the world, 2) deceitfulness of riches, 3) and desires for other things. The world is very enticing, and no one is immune to these three thorns. Demas is mentioned in the greetings at the end of Colossians and Philemon (Col 4:14, Phm 24), however, later in his life Paul explains that he is in love with the present world (2 Tim 4:10). His once fruitful life, or apparently fruitful life in ministry, was choked by the world.
a) Cares of the world
We often think of the world as impending evil constantly placing pressure on our life. Great sins which could creep into the church. However, the world is not always a heightened reality of sins caused to make men and women to stumble. The world, most often in our lives, can be the small mundane tasks that shift our eyes from heaven and cause us to think this life is all there is. Jesus’ first example of the thorn is not adultery or murder but the cares of the world. Another word could be the anxiety of the world. It doesn’t take much for us to see this reality. Our minds often wonder, and we can become consumed by the mundane tasks of the day. Our minds wander down the road of worries and anxieties. This can choke us, maybe not to the place where we are unable to breath, but anxiety can certainty do this. The thorn of the cares of the world shifts us from the word to the world. Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” In our humble estate we cast all of our cares to him, why? Because he cares for you and we are under his mighty hand. The thorn of the cares of the world is one of the most underrated and subtle aspects of this parable.
b) Deceitfulness of Riches
As said before Satan promises the best and pays the worst. Imagine a person who has committed their whole life, every moment of their day seeking to capture and study unicorns. Their passion is there and they are devoted to accomplishing this task. However, they chase a mythical creature. You must applaud them for their commitment, but you also must point out the foolishness of their mission. Sadly, we chase our own tails, we chase dreams that are foolish, impossible or endless. The world constantly gets us to chase for more, whether that is more wealth, better health or something else. However, as the Beatles wrote, “money can’t buy you love.” People spend their whole life accumulating wealth, and riches, however, they all will pass away. James writes, “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days” (Jam 5:2-3). The interesting part of this parable is that the deceitfulness of riches. We seek to be near the thorn of riches thinking it will bring us more security. We do not put our trust in the uncertainty of riches but in God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17-18).
c) Desires for other things
Thorns come in multiples, the issue with picking blackberries in not that there is only one thorn on the bush but multiple. The world is the same way, there are many wrong paths we can take, but the path to Jesus is narrow. The third and final thorn Jesus mentions is the desires or lusts of other things. This thorn encapsulates the remainder of the thorns that choke the seed from bearing fruit. The word translated ‘desires’ can mean lusts or passions. It is true that no one really just falls away from the faith, the process of being choked by thorns happens over time. The desires of the world begin to creep into your life until finally the desires have won. The heart divided eventually is split, one side will always win. The desires of other things cause the seed to cease to grow.
Interestingly, this might be reading too much into the parable, but it is not external sin that chokes the seed. The seed choked by the world shows us that some people will hear the word but internally are drawn away to the world, the divided heart between the world and the word. Eventually the world suffocates the word in your life and the fruit is merely a thorny branch.
V. The Seed cultivated by the mystery (vs 8, 20) (Fruitful)
We can become familiar with the Bible, and that can make the extra ordinary seem ordinary to us. The amazing part of the parable of the sower is that the seed actually grows at all. If we understand our hearts, we have hard hearts, shallow hearts or divided hearts. That the seed can grow and produce fruit. The parable is not about agriculture but our hearts. Parables are often a mirror to see our reflection. The Pharisee’s might have heard this parable and thought to themselves, I tithe on all I get and fast twice a week. I am the one producing fruit. However, the key to the parable is the word. Seeds only can produce fruit according to the type of seed. The seed is the word, and it is sown and produces ‘word-fruit,’ Biblical fruit. The seed only can grow when God works within us, because God has given us the mystery of the Kingdom. The mystery of the kingdom is not a magical spell but the Holy Spirit which enables us to have ears to hear, understand and apply the word in our life to produce fruit (Acts 2:33). This fruit is the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believers (Gal 5:22-23).
Each parable holds up a mirror in front of our heart and shows us who we are. We need to ask the question, or more importantly ask the Holy Spirit to show us which soil we are and pray that we might be the good soil. Not merely hoping we are the good soil, but that we might hear the word and the word would grow in us that we might be able to produce biblical fruit in our lives. Parables can be nice stories to some people, but to the believer the parable convicts them and produces fruit. This parable teaches us about all other parables, ultimately there are two types of seed, the one that does not produce any fruit and the one that produces fruit. Let us pray that God would cause the seed to grow in our life and that we would bear fruit, and much fruit.