Today’s passage is the “Parable of the Sower,” one of the best known but not always well-understood stories that Jesus told. The parable is about the different responses that people can have to the gospel. It challenges us to look at our own hearts first and then to be ready for how other people in our lives may respond to God’s Word.
The Text (Mark 4:3-9, 13-20)
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”…
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
The parable of the sower is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is one of the few parables where Jesus actually explains how to interpret it. The story is a common farming illustration that would have been familiar to Jesus’ audience. A farmer (the sower) goes out to plant (sow) seeds in his fields. This represents a person sharing God’s Word, more specifically the gospel message, with other people. Jesus Himself was the original sower, and today the sowers are Christians serving as Christ’s ambassadors. The seed falls on four different types of soil. These four soils represent the four possible responses that people can have to the Word of God. Some people hear the gospel and just don’t get it at all (the wayside). Their hearts and minds are still blinded by Satan and they cannot recognize their sin problem and need for God’s mercy and grace through Christ. Other people seem to understand the gospel and accept Christ with apparent joy, but they later give up on following Christ either because they don’t want to make sacrifices and suffer for Him (the stony ground) or because their hearts are too busy pursuing the pleasures and treasures of this world (the thorny ground). But some people get it (the good soil). They truly get saved and prove it by following Christ as His disciples for the rest of their lives. They hear the gospel, understand it, and then go on to produce spiritual fruit in their lives while humbly serving the Lord.
This parable can apply to ourselves and our ministries to others. First, Jesus challenges us to be careful how we listen to God’s Word. Even after we are saved, we still struggle to submit ourselves to the Word. We struggle to make time to read the Bible with truly open and receptive hearts (like the stony ground). We struggle to obey what we are reading when the Holy Spirit convicts us to change our lives (like the stony ground). The Word challenges us to die to ourselves each day and to let God’s desires become our desires. We struggle to keep the cares of this life (the thorns) from choking out our fellowship with and commitment to our Lord and Savior. The parable of the sower reminds us that we must keep pressing on after Christ. As we do so, He will produce spiritual fruit in us.
This parable also gives us God’s perspective on evangelism. Our job is simply to be faithful sowers of the Word. We cannot control how other people respond to the gospel. In teaching in a Christian school, I see all four kinds of soil every time that the Bible is preached and taught. Sadly, some students reject the call of Christ immediately. In many cases, I see them visibly “shut down” during a chapel message, homeroom devotion, or biblical integration lesson (sleeping, zoning out, talking to neighbors, etc.). You can never know for sure what is going in a person’s heart, but I do think that body and face are sometimes telling what is happening inside. Also very sadly, other students might have an emotional response during an altar call, but they reject the Word later, once God shows them what being His disciple will cost them. But some students really get it! They get saved with joy and press on through the challenges of living for Christ. The point is that it is not my job as an ambassador for Christ to try to control what type of soil a person will be. My job is to share the Word with love and pray for God to go to work. That means that as long as we are faithful to share the Word, we are successful in God’s eyes no matter how our audience responds. Praying that we will all have ears to hear today!