The Parable Of The Sower


“Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables.” Mark 4:1-2

The parable Jesus is about to speak about is unusual in the fact that Jesus Himself explains the meaning of it.

Can you imagine what a sight that must have been? What a pulpit that must have been to use, the Master teacher sitting on a boat because His following was so large. And Jesus says, “Listen” and then goes on to share the parable with those listening.

‘Listen, a farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:3-9

Notice how Jesus starts the parable and how He ends the parable. He starts by saying, “Listen” and ends by saying, “He, who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It didn’t just mean listen to what I’ve just said, it means to think about it, and paying attention to what I’ve just said.

And it’s after Jesus shares the parable with the people that He says to them, “Do you want to know a secret?” He says, “I’ve shared a secret with you about the kingdom of heaven.”

“When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'” Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?’ Mark 4:10-13

Jesus said He speaks in parables so that He can reveal secrets about the kingdom of heaven. And the parable He just shared did exactly what the parable was designed to do. It split the people into two groups, those who were interested in truth and those who weren’t.

Because a large crowd isn’t surrounding Jesus anymore, the text says that “When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him.” There were only a few that asked Him what the parable was about. Matthew tells us there were only a few people who were really interested in these truths, Matthew 13:10.

And so what Jesus is saying there when He quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 is that ‘My people can see and perceive, My people can hear and understand but they just don’t want to’.

He’s saying they don’t want to turn to God and be forgiven because their hearts are so far away from Me. He says My people have always seen, they’ve always heard but My people don’t want to listen and understand, because they are too stubborn, Isaiah 29:13.

A couple of chapters later Jesus says, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Mark 7:6-8. And it’s then, that Jesus asks those who are listening in Mark 4:13, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?’

Jesus is saying this secret about the kingdom of heaven is so easy to understand. He says it’s so plain and obvious and yet none of you can understand it! He’s telling them that they need to be able to understand this parable so that they can go on and understand other parables He will teach them.

It’s much the same as what Paul says to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2. The great call of Scripture is for growth, for you to grow spiritually.

The minute you were born again in the waters of baptism, you should be starting to grow spiritually. And the more you study the Word of God, the more you understand and grow, but we need to grow.

A lot of kids in the world today are born with a disease that stops them from growing both physically and mentally. But sadly the same goes for some Christians, not physically or mentally but spiritually, Hebrews 5:11-14. Notice how the Hebrew writer describes how we become mature, “By constant use and training”.

Studying isn’t easy sometimes but it’s something that all Christians need to do, they need to train themselves to do it. The desire for understanding the Bible will drive you forward to understand even more of the Bible.

That’s what Jesus’ disciples did, they wanted to understand more and so Jesus gave them even more solid food, Matthew 5:6 / Luke 24:27.

So we find that these few people who were listening to Jesus didn’t understand what the parable of The Sower meant, but they had the desire to know and so Jesus explains it to them. He says, “Here’s a secret about the kingdom of God”.

“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” Mark 4:14-20

Jesus taught and explained the parable using an everyday life event, He uses the illustration of a farmer sowing his seed. Have you ever wondered why some people become Christians and then a little later they fall away? Have you ever wondered why some people aren’t Christians?

We have people who come into our assemblies, they hear the Gospel of Christ being preached, they know what they need to do to become obedient to the Gospel, and yet, nothing ever seems to happen.

How come we don’t get people coming to Christ when the Gospel is preached as it was during Biblical times?

Well, maybe the best way to answer that question is by letting Jesus ask the question He was asking. How could the scribes and Pharisees misrepresent God the way they did?

How could the disciples and those listening not totally understand what Jesus was teaching?

The way the Word is being sown or being preached isn’t the problem, the problem is the way people receive it. In other words, those people who are honestly searching for the truth, it’s those people whom the truth will become much clearer.

Jesus says that people are like the place where the seed lands, Mark 4:3-8. He’s talking about 4 different soils, which represent 4 different reactions or responses when people hear the Word of God.

We need to remember whom the Word of God is being preached to, it’s being preached to sinners. People whose hearts have been hardened with sin over the years.

And so Jesus said that the birds are a picture of the devil himself, who comes down and takes the seed away, Mark 4:15. But the reason the devil can so easily take it away is because the Word of God has no impression on these people at all.

They’re so hardened in sin, they don’t even understand the significance of the words being said. In other words, the path is hard, the seed has got nowhere to plant its roots.

They hear the gospel but don’t hang around long enough to find out what it means to them. Because when people are hardened with sin, they always think that whatever’s being said doesn’t apply to them.

And then Jesus goes on to describe another reaction to the Gospel, people who hear the Word of God, accept it with gladness and joy but they have no root in themselves, Mark 4:16-17.

And so Jesus says that they are OK for a while but as soon as any persecution or worry comes along from being a follower of God, they just give up.

So the Word that was planted in them at the start just springs up very quickly but the soil was lacking, Mark 4:5. And so when the sun comes out, it’s quickly burnt up because it has no root and lacks moisture, Luke 8:6.

Jesus is saying this, there are hearts out there that will receive the truth with great readiness and joy as Luke 8:13 tells us. And He says it’s not until the heat gets turned up, that these people fall away.

It worries me when people become Christians without even studying the Word of God first. People need to know and understand Who and what they are committing to, Luke 14:26-35.

Because Jesus says, that whenever the heat of tribulation or persecution comes along because of the Word of God, their delight in the truth just withers away and dries up.

And so Jesus goes on to describe another type of response to the Gospel in Mark 4:18-19. In the case of the seed that fell among the thorns, there’s nothing wrong with the soil.

It’s not too hard like the seed that fell along the path, there’s enough soil for the seed to take root, unlike the seed that fell on a rocky place.

It’s not the soil that’s the problem, it’s what is in the soil around it. It’s the environment in which it’s living is the problem. One of the ways that Satan likes to attack God’s people is with worry, worry is the greatest joy stealer there is.

Jesus says there are 3 things that steal your joy as a Christian. He says there are 3 things that can stop you from becoming a fruitful follower of the Word.

1. “The cares of this world”.

People are so caught up in this life that they forget about the next. They worry about their jobs, they worry about their homes, and they worry about having enough money to get by. Jesus says you shouldn’t be getting distracted by anything, He’ll take care of all your worries, Matthew 6:25-34 / Matthew 6:33.

He says, listen, you’re a Christian, you don’t need to worry about these things, 1 Peter 5:7, just leave the worrying to the unbelievers.

2. “The deceitfulness of riches”

The world’s biggest con these days is this, ‘get rich fast and you’ll be happy’. Whether that comes in the form of a new car or a new home, it doesn’t matter.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but over the past few years, the ‘National Lottery’ has now got even more chances for you to win every day of the week.  They now have a daily ‘National Lottery’ draw.

And that’s because they realise that in a world that’s so commercial, people are lusting after the quick fix answer to their problems or a get me rich fast answer to your problems.

But Jesus tells us that, that’s not the fruit of the Spirit like we find in Galatians 5:22-23. He says that those riches are the fruit of the world. He says people are being deceived into thinking that material goods are the answer to life.

The only answer to this life is Jesus Christ Himself and if you want answers about this life then you need to look to Jesus, John 14:6. Because He’s the only one who has the answers for this life.

3. “The pleasures of this life.”

Everyone likes to have fun and there’s nothing wrong with that but the problem comes when the fun becomes more important than godly living.

There’s nothing wrong with playing cards but the problem comes when you start gambling and your gambling habit takes over your life. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink, but the problem comes when the drink comes more important than God himself.

God has given us the gift of pleasure, which in itself can be innocent. But we need to remember that the world’s idea of enjoyment is totally opposite to God’s idea of enjoyment.

These 3 things or these 3 thorns that we have just mentioned are constantly in the environment that we live in every day. And what they do is smother and choke the Word of God. And so Jesus says, the reason that these people don’t bear any fruit is because of these thorns.

He says, they look promising, they look like they’re going to bear fruit but they never do and so they end up choking to death. He says the thorns soak up all the moisture and riches that are in the soil and so the world ends up with all their attention and God just gets the dregs of whatever is left. They are starved of the truth, which is found in the word of God.

Then finally Jesus speaks about the good soil, Mark 4:19-20. Jesus says, “This is the soil I’m looking for, this is the kind of response to My words that I’m looking for.”

This soil is the total opposite of the three other soils mentioned. These are the people whose hearts are soft and tender, they received and cherished the seed, when it was planted.

These people soak up the Word of God and gain strength from it and go on to produce a crop of ‘thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown’. Luke 8:15.

They can see the world’s riches for what they really are, they guard themselves against worldly pleasures. And they cast all their anxieties onto Him because they know He cares for them. They produce much fruit and it’s these people who are the long-distance faith runners, who are faithful to the end.

And it’s to those people who Jesus says, “Do you want to know a secret?” Mark 4:11. Don’t be surprised when people don’t want to hear about Jesus.

Don’t be surprised when people become Christians and only last a short time. Don’t be surprised when people look like they’re going to be great ambassadors for Christ but they fall away.

The secret is this, don’t give up planting the seed, but persevere, you never know what kind of response you’re going to get. God’s Word doesn’t vary but man’s heart does. The nature of the response is dictated by the nature of the heart that receives it.

The biggest mistake we can make as Christians after studying this is to look around us and say, “Yes, I know people who fall into one of those categories”. “I know someone who didn’t last long as a Christian”, that’s not the point of the parable.

The point of the parable is to get you to look at yourself, is your heartfelt response to the Gospel described in this parable?

And let me just say that it would be very foolish for anyone to stand and say, “Yes, when the seed fell on me, it fell on the good soil.” Because you can’t answer that question until the day Jesus returns or the day you die, 1 Corinthians 10:12.

Let’s not judge each other with this parable. But let’s continue to encourage each other to remain faithful to the end and trust in God to help us produce the fruit He requires.