Sower, Seed and Soil (Mark 4:1-20)

Sower, Seed and Soil (Mark 4:1-20)


Mark 4:1-20

Much of what we have been through so far in Mark is a recording of Jesus’ actions. We are now reaching a stretch in Mark where he is going to record the teachings of Christ. This morning we will be dealing with the well-known Parable of the Sower. Nearly all of us here have been under some teaching on this parable. My request today is that we allow the Scripture alone to be our teacher! We must seek to rightly divide this parable for Jesus alludes to it as a key to the other parables:

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?”

Don’t be frightened, though. Jesus tells us exactly how to interpret this parable. All we have to do is listen to what Jesus says, and apply His interpretation to His parable.

Understanding the sower will radically alter the way in which we evangelize and understand what is taking place among His church in this world. I suggest keeping your finger in Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as we will be looking at their accounts.

Let’s turn to the text!

Mark 4:1

1 And He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very great multitude gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.”

Mark alludes to this happening within the same context of Jesus’ teaching on His true family. Matthew narrows it down by saying:

1 On that day Jesus went out of the house, and was sitting by the sea.”

So Jesus has just exposed to this massive crowd the identity of the true family of the kingdom of God:

34 Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this parable within the immediate context of Christ’s true family. Consider the mixed crowd hearing this:

1.) The hardened Pharisees.

2.) The fickle miracle followers.

3.) The frightened members of His physical family.

4.) The true family of God.

All four groups listen and hear His teaching. His next lesson the same day is on a sower sowing seed in various soils.

We then see this:

Mark 4:2a

He taught them many things by parables…”

The word parable stems from the Greek verb Paraballo meaning to lay alongside.[1] So in order to convey a spiritual truth Jesus lays alongside it a natural illustration. The natural truth will parallel the spiritual truth.

Now, why does Jesus do this?

There have been some who hold Jesus did this so everyone would be able to grasp the spiritual truth. I want us to look at Jesus’ answer to this, because His disciples asked this very thing. To do so we will briefly move ahead in the text:

Mark 4:10

10 And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.”

Matthew reads:

10And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?”[2]

Let’s listen to Jesus’ answer:

Mark 4:11

11 And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 in order that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCIEVE; AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND LEST THEY RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.”

I’ll ask again:

Why does Jesus speak in parables?

So those outside of His true family will neither perceive nor understand the kingdom they have rejected. This is happening in fulfillment of Scripture.[3]

Warren Weirsbe is more elegant when he says:

“…Jesus used parables both to hide the truth and to reveal it. The crowd did not judge the parables; the parables judged the crowd. The careless listener, who thought he knew everything, would hear only a story that he did not really understand, and the result in his life would be judgment. The sincere listener, with a desire to know God’s truth, would ponder the parable, confess his ignorance, submit to the Lord, and then begin to understand the spiritual lesson Jesus wanted to teach.”[4]

Let’s now look at Jesus’ parable:

Mark 4:2-9

2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 3 ‘Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4and it came about that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 And other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 And after the sun had risen it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 And other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 And other seeds fell into the good soil and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and hundredfold.’ 9 And He was saying, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

We have already addressed who has those ears: The born again family of God following Him!

As stated earlier Jesus has given everything we need today to interpret this parable. Let’s look at the key He provides:

Mark 4:14

14 The sower sows the word.”

The Son of Man is the sower. He sows the seed of the Word of His kingdom. It should therefore be understand all Christ followers assume the role of the sower when we proclaim the gospel of Christ.

Jesus then reveals what the soil is:

Mark 4:15

15 And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word that has been sown in them.”

What is the soil? The heart of the hearer.

I want to point out to some here, and remind others there is but only ONE good soil! This is not a parable about four types of believing hearts, but three types of unbelieving ones with only one representing genuine belief. Matthew 7:21-23 will be the reality of “professing” Christians whose hearts are represented by the first three soils. It is there Jesus says:

21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.22 ‘Many will say to Me on the day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRECTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

Let’s listen to the Scripture to discern the four hearts represented here.

First heart soil:

Mark 4:14-15

14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; And when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.”

What is the soil? Road side soil.

The hardness of this soil prevents the seed from penetrating its surface. Jesus pointed out the fate of the seed on this soil:

Mark 4:4

“…some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.”

Within Christ’s interpretation He tells us who the birds are, Satan.

What does Satan do with the Word that falls on hardened hearts? He takes it away!

Will the word produce fruit in this heart? No!

The word they hear is no longer in their heart. We’ve heard it been said, “You don’t know what God will do with that seed planted in their heart.” I say to that, “You don’t understand what Satan has already done with the Word in their heart.” It is gone!

Matthew says:

19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart…”[5]

Luke says:

12 …the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.”[6]

As soon as these people hear the word without understanding Satan takes it away.

Second heart soil:

Mark 4:16-17

16 And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown in the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

What is the soil? Rocky soil.

This is shallow emotional soil. It has the initial appearance of genuine faith, but both time and circumstances reveal it is dead. They hear the word which elicits emotion, but their shallow hearts do not allow the word of God to take root in faith.

In the parable Jesus says:

Mark 4:6

“And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”

We’ve heard it been said, “You don’t know what God will do with that seed planted in their heart.” I say to that, “You don’t understand what that shallow heart has already done with the word in light of the true cost of following Christ.” It is dead! The fear of affliction and persecution that is guaranteed for all Christ followers killed it.

Jesus says:

“…when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

Mark uses the Greek word Skandalizo meaning “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey.”[7] Luke also speaks of this soil as falling away, but uses the word Aphistemi conveying apostasy.[8] To apostatize from the faith does not demonstrate a losing of one’s salvation, but never having it!

This soils does not show a spiritually immature believer possessing Christ, but rather a spiritually dead unbeliever merely professing Him! As a note it was stated several weeks ago that true persecution will cleanse the church. That is because it will definitely drive out all the individuals whose hearts resemble this soil.

Third heart soil:

Mark 4:18-19

18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

What is the soil? Thorny soil.

The seed in this soil is doomed from the beginning. This third soil is contaminated with greed, materialism, consumerism and self-indulgence. If the world offers it, you name it! The word is heard, but the world is worshiped!

Jesus says:

7…the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.”

Why doesn’t this soil produce fruit? It strangles and kills the seed.

We’ve heard it been said, “You don’t know what God will do with that seed planted in their heart.” I say to that, “You don’t understand what the love of self and the world has already done with the self-exterminating call of Christ.” It is killed!

Christ says to this heart, “You must die to self!” The possessor of this heart says, “No! I will not die to that which I love, me!”

Jesus says:

38And he who does not take His cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.”[9]

This soil does not want to glorify Christ, because self-gratification is its only focus.

Do we see that the first three soils in this parable do not depict believers, but unbelievers?

In these three soils the seed is either dead or gone. If the word is dead or gone it is incapable of producing life within the heart! This should draw up a question:

What makes soil produce life?

What makes soil good?

Forth heart soil:

20 And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.”

It should immediately jump out at us that all four hearts hear the word, but the forth heart has another element within it:

20…they hear the word and accept it…”

I want us to hear what Matthew and Luke say:

Matthew 13:23

23And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it…”

Luke 8:15

15 And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast…

I believe when we look at all three accounts we get a beautiful picture of what is taking place here. The word is understood, accepted, and held fast.

Let’s break these down a little further:

When Jesus says in Matthew the man “understands” He uses SuniemiSuniemi means “to bring together in the mind, to grasp concepts and see the proper relation between them.” [10]

When Jesus says in Mark “accept” He uses the word Paradechomai.[11] Paradechomai means “to receive and take upon one’s self.”[12]

When Jesus says in Luke “hold it fast” He uses the word Katecho. Katecho means to keep firm possession of in one’s heart and mind.[13]

When we look at all three of these, what do we see taking place in the good soil? Someone hears the word and grasps the truths of God and sees the proper relation between them. After bringing the truth together they receive it taking it upon them and keeping a firm possession of it in their heart and minds. The living word will then bring forth life in them:

20and bear fruit, thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.”

Good soil will always produce some level of fruit.

When we sow God’s gospel do we only seek it to be heard, but give no thought as to whether or not it is being clearly understood? Jesus told us what will happen to the word upon hearts that cannot put the truths of God together: Satan will remove it from them!

When we sow God’s gospel do we first try to manipulate the mind with an emotional experience? Jesus told us what will happen to the word upon hearts that are ruled by fickle emotions: They will accept what they do not understand, and their shallow hearts will cause the seed to die.

When we sow God’s gospel do we mix it with the world in an attempt to get a big crowd to hear and accept a message? Jesus told us what will happen to the word upon hearts that hear the word but worship the world: Their love for the world will be the very tool used to choke out the word sown in them.

When all three of these occur in evangelism something tragic occurs. It produces people who hold fast to a time in which they made a decision to accept a message they did not clearly understand. This is not a description of a babe in Christ. It describes someone who has been inoculated with enough Christianity to believe they know Jesus, but fail to understand He doesn’t know them!

What must we do? Teach the Word of God alone with the intent of being clearly understood, and not just heard!

Recognize every time we seek to manipulate emotion or mix worldly appeal with God’s gospel we declare it to be insufficient in salvation! God does not want our cleverness; He desires our faithfulness to His word alone.

Pray God will work in the hearts of the lost:

1.) Bringing them to hear of salvation from the penalty of our sins by grace through faith alone.

2.) That they may grasp the concepts of the Holy goodness of God and wretched depravity of man.

3.) Putting together in understanding God’s work in reconciling lost humanity back to Himself in Christ.

4.) Properly seeing Jesus’ substitutionary work as He bore the wrath we all deserve; shedding His blood to cover our sins and rising again to give us life eternal.

5.) May they see God’s love towards them in Christ alone; accepting His finished work and taking upon themselves His righteousness.

6.) Firmly possessing their faith in Him Who has begun a good work in them, and will perfect it until the day of Christ!

7.)  Since it is now Christ who lives and reigns in us He will bring forth His fruit:

“…thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.”

Galatians 2:20

20I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”


[1] Unger’s Bible Dictionary; Page 823

[2] Matthew 13:10

[3] Matthew 13:13-14,34-35

[4] Be Diligent (Mark): Serving Others As You Walk With The Master Servant, Warren Weirsbe; Chapter 3

[5] Matthew 13:19

[6] Luke 8:12

[7] http://biblewebapp.com/study/

[8] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 868

[9] Matthew 10:38-39

[10] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 4920

[11] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 3858

[12] http://biblewebapp.com/study/

[13] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 3858

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