This morning I found myself re-reading The Parable of the Sower in Mark. I often come back to this passage to pause and reflect on its teaching.
In Mark 4 (also Luke 8), Jesus speaks to a large gathering and says…
“3 Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 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. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
What we see in Jesus’ parable is four instances and the ensuing results of each.
1. Seed falls along the path and birds come to devour it.
2. Seed falls on rocky ground and immediately springs up, however it has no roots and consequently is scorched and withers as the sun rises.
3. Seed falls among thorns and becomes choked, yielding no grain.
4. Seed falls into good soil and produces grain that grows and increases.
Jesus’ disciples quickly ask him the meaning of what he is saying. It’s interesting to note that even Jesus’ disciples fail to understand His teaching at times. Seeing their hardened hearts, Jesus begins to explain His parable…
“14 The sower sows the word. 15 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. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 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. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 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. 20 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 this first instance, Jesus explains that Satan is readily waiting to deprive us of the word. He actively seeks to steal the Gospel from our hearts. Much like the birds of the air come and devour the seed, so too will Satan, the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), come to devour the Word of God in our lives if we are not actively on guard against him.
The second instance yields a group of people who hear the word and immediately receive it with gladness and joy but because they have no root in themselves, the word endures only until trial or persecution arises in their life. To some degree, we can all relate to encountering trials and persecutions in our lives. The people in this parable are described as immediately falling away at this point. Jesus here exposes them by pinpointing their false sense of faith. The faith of people in this group becomes merely temporary, thus failing to persevere and bearing no fruit.
Unlike the first two groups of people, the people in the third instance actually hear and understand the word. It’s important to note that scripture seems to imply that there is even growth amongst this third group of people. The soil is actually good. Growth is occurring. However, we are told that these people are growing amongst thorns. We commonly know these “thorns” as being the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life. The ESV study Bible tells us that these are people who “initially embrace the message but do not persevere to maturity, fail to produce mature fruit, and remain preoccupied with the cares of their present life in rebellion against God’s true purposes.”
Lastly, we have the seed sown on good soil. These people hear the word, accept it, and allow it to bear fruit in their lives.
Charles Spurgeon, a well-known Baptist pastor, clarifies this fourth instance excellently…
“The ground is described as “good”: not that it was good by nature, but it had been made good by grace. God had ploughed it; he had stirred it up with the plough of conviction, and there it lay in ridge and furrow as it should lie. When the gospel was preached, the heart received it, for the man said, “That is just the blessing I want. Mercy is what a needy sinner requires.” So that the preaching of the gospel was THE thing to give comfort to this disturbed and ploughed soil. Down fell the seed to take good root. In some cases it produced fervency of love, largeness of heart, devotedness of purpose of a noble kind, like seed which produces a hundredfold. The man became a mighty servant for God, he spent himself and was spent.”
May we be a people that listen and hold fast to God’s word, patiently enduring and persevering, and producing much fruit by the grace of God in our lives.