The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9, 13-20)


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.”

Explanation

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.

Challenge

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!

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Teaching in Parables (Mark 4:1-2, 10-12)


Jesus begins to teach the crowds with parables rather than directly. These stories could be understood by true salvation seekers, but casual listeners and critics failed to grasp the spiritual truths they communicated. 

The Text (Mark 4:1-2, 10-12)

4 And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. 2 Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching…
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,

And hearing they may hear and not understand;

Lest they should turn,

And their sins be forgiven them.’”

Explanation
Mark does not record as many parables as Mark and Luke, but he did include a few as key examples of this form of Jesus’ teaching. Sitting was the common position that Jewish rabbis used when teaching; it was also probably necessary for Jesus here because of the rocking of the boat in which He sat. The Master has begun now to teach in parables, which were long analogies that were usually given as stories. Parables seemed to be about simple, concrete topics like farming, debts, and family life. The images and examples were clear and would have been easily understood by Jesus’ first century Jewish and Galilean audiences. However, the parables were really supposed to be heard as earthly illustrations of heavenly concepts. The parables are about what life in the kingdom of God is like and how people enter it. They are often focused on the nature of salvation and sometimes include surprise twists and endings. Those who truly wanted to find out the meanings of the parables would get the main points, but those whose hearts were still hardened by sin and unbelief would miss them. They might get the points of the parable intellectually but they would fail to see how they applied to their own lives.

Challenge
I never realized the difficulty that people had in understanding Jesus’ parables until I started teaching. I would read a parable like the one from tomorrow’s devotion, the parable of the sower, and then ask the students to explain the main point of the story. And a bunch of them would miss it. I would then try to break it down in parts, asking them to identify what each element of the story represented (the sower, the seed, and the soils for example). And many of them would misidentify each symbol, too. This happens every year with the parable of the sower in a lesson from my curriculum on short essay key words (we write a lot of short essays in my history class). Students are asked to “interpret” the parable of the sower but many (in some classes most) of them can’t. This is even after I show them that Jesus told us what each symbol in the parable meant! How does this happen? What I have come to realize is exactly what Jesus says in verses 11-12: If your heart has not yet been regenerated (born again), then the parables remain mysteries. It takes a combination of a saved person explaining the parable and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit applying it personally for a lost person to have a chance of getting the point. And if their hearts aren’t yet open to the gospel, the listeners still won’t be reached. This is a tough teaching, but it reminds us of what Jesus will show us in tomorrow’s devotion. All we can do is be faithful sharers of the Word; God is the only One who can change people’s hearts and give true spiritual understanding.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel 

Resistance vs. Submission (Mark 3:28-35)


In today’s passage, Jesus shows us the importance of submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit and doing His will. Continued opposition and resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit is dangerous because it is a warning sign that a person might be lost and without Christ’s forgiveness.

The Text (Mark 3:28-35)
28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”


31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”


33 But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Explanation
The sin Jesus discusses in verses 28-31 has been called the “unpardonable sin.” Jesus’ critics had been calling His work in casting out demons as being the work of Satan rather than the work of God. This showed that their hearts must have been very hard and evil. To see the good and perfect work of God’s own Holy Spirit and call it the work of the devil showed a dangerous level of spiritual darkness in their souls. It is hard to imagine exactly how this unpardonable sin is committed today. However, the point seems to be that if a person continually resists the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and keeps refusing to come Christ for forgiveness, his or her heart may become so hard that he or she is no longer capable of hearing His call for salvation.

The second half of this passage actually builds on this idea by showing that instead of resisting the Holy Spirit’s work, Jesus’s true disciples will submit to Him in obedient faith. Jesus’ family again enters the picture. They seem to still be trying to stop His ministry, to get Him to settle down and stop causing controversies with His miracles and convicting messages. Jesus responds by saying that His human family (His physical relatives through Joseph and Mary) are not as important as His spiritual family (His disciples). As He will later challenge His disciples more directly, Jesus is saying here that obeying God’s will must be the top priority for everyone in the kingdom of God, requiring us to love God more than our earthly families.

Challenge
If you are worried that you have committed the unpardonable sin, that is a good sign that you haven’t. This strong teaching by Jesus should be a warning to us to stay sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. However, if you know that you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, then this passage is not directed at you. Just keep on walking with Jesus and trusting in His grace and mercy each day. The people who should be concerned by this passage are those who do not care about hearing and obeying God’s voice. The longer that a person resists the Spirit’s call for salvation, the harder it becomes for that person to get saved. Recent research shows that in the United States, between the ages of 5-13 there is a 32% chance that a person will accept Christ. From ages 14-19, that chance falls to just 4%, and from age 20-death, the chance is only 6%. The human heart that refuses the gospel grows harder and harder with sin as a person ages. That is why it is such a big deal that we had so many of you get saved this past spring! Middle school is a critical time when students’ hearts are mature enough to understand the concept of surrendering control of their lives to Christ but still soft enough to receive the gospel in faith and repentance. We are praying for your hearts to remain soft and surrendered to the sanctifying work of God’s Holy Spirit this coming school year. 

In Christ,

Mr. Reel 

Binding the Strong Man (Mark 3:20-27)


Today we read about more attacks against Jesus’ ministry. He is being called insane at best or a servant of Satan at worst for His work in casting out so many demons. Jesus reminds us that He works for God against the forces of Satan, which means that today our evangelism and personal growth in Christ is still a matter of spiritual warfare

The Text (Mark 3:20-27)
20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”


22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”


23 So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

Explanation
Opposition to Christ’s ministry comes now from His own family and childhood friends. Thus, “His own people” want Jesus to stop preaching and teaching and doing miracles. They try to restrain His activities, hoping that Jesus will go back to being the simple carpenter. Meanwhile, some religious leaders come from Jerusalem to Galilee just to attack Jesus. They claim that Jesus’ power to cast out demons comes from Satan, who was also called “Beelzebub,” or “The Lord of the Flies,” in Bible times. These scribes apparently also want Christ to stop His ministry activities, especially His war against the demons.

Jesus responds to these attack by using some analogies to show that their arguments are illogical. Why would Satan want to help Jesus to cast out his own demons? Satan would want to maintain control of enslaved people; he would never want to allow Jesus to set souls free from demonic possession or influence. Satan is the enemy of God and people. The reason why Jesus has to cast out the demons to heal some people is explained in verse 27: He has to first bind the strong man (the demon/Satan) before he can enter the house (the afflicted person who needs to be saved).  

Challenge
The gospel of Mark records a lot of spiritual warfare. We have already seen several instances of Jesus confronting angry and scared demons and casting them out by the power of God. We will see more of these examples as we keep studying Mark. Notice that the battles are always fought over control of human beings, their bodies and minds and souls. The time of Christ’s earthly ministry was certainly an intense period of spiritual warfare because Satan was trying to stop God’s plan of salvation for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Satan failed and Jesus won the victory for all who would believe in Him!

But the cross did not end the battle for human souls. While Satan is defeated, he still works through his demons today to try to keep lost people from placing faith in Christ and being saved and saved people from enjoying abundant life in Christ. Think about how often the epistles (the letters to the churches that make up the end of the New Testament) describe saved people as having been rescued from the kingdom of darkness or Satan and delivered into the kingdom of God (check out Colossians 1:13-14 and Ephesians 2:1-4 for examples). In Ephesians 6:10-20), Paul tells us that our struggles as Christians are not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We must realize that trying to win people to Christ and trying to walk with Christ in joy ourselves are spiritual efforts that will face opposition from the forces of our enemy. That is why we need to stay in the Word of God and prayer each day. We need the power of Christ to be victorious over evil, and we access that power as we stick close to Him. Praying for spiritual victories in Jesus’ name for you today.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel 

The Calling of the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19)


In today’s passage, Mark tells us about Christ’s choosing of the 12 apostles. Some have already been mentioned, while others are mentioned for the first and only time in this gospel. While Jesus no longer appoints apostles today, He still calls all of us to be His disciples.

The Text (Mark 3:13-19)
13 And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. 14 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon,to whom He gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.

Explanation
By this point in His growing public ministry, Jesus now has many “disciples,” or followers. Some of these would stay with Him as sincere students of His teaching and become Christians after His death and resurrection. Others would walk away at some point before or after Jesus’ trip to the cross, unwilling to commit themselves to the high cost of being His disciple. As His following grows, Jesus now picks 12 men to become His inner circle of closest disciples. 11 of these 12 men would become the “apostles,” or founders of the church; one of them, Judas Iscariot, would betray Jesus to His enemies and never come to repentance, tragically choosing to commit suicide rather than being restored to Christ. During the rest of Mark’s gospel, the 12 apostles will learn the ropes of ministry. They will stay close to Jesus, listen to His teachings, watch Him work miracles and interact with all kinds of people.  They will be challenged to do their own preaching and healing in His name. They will learn from Him the meaning of the cross and then see Him crucified. In all, Jesus will pour about three years of daily discipleship into these 12 men to prepare them for the work of ministry that lay ahead.

The 12 disciples were just ordinary men when Christ called them to service. They were not religious leaders or wealthy elites; they were just regular working people. But when Jesus picked them, they said, “Yes” and followed Him wherever He led. At times they sinned and failed to be faithful to their Lord. They often struggled to understand Christ’s teachings. But they pressed on after Jesus and kept coming back to Him after each failure. Judas Iscariot did not, but from his words and actions in the gospels, we see that He had never really given His heart to Christ. Judas followed Christ for the wrong reasons, seeking earthly gain from Jesus instead of spiritual salvation and a relationship based on grace. Mark lists all of the apostles by name and emphasizes the special importance of Simon Peter and then James and John by listing these leaders first. Even within the 12 apostles, there seems to have been three groups of four and even ministry pairs for when the disciples were sent out to preach and do miracles.  

Challenge
 There are no apostles today. The 12 apostles plus later Paul were appointed for a very specific task, the founding of the church after Christ’s ascension (return) to heaven. They were empowered to heal and cast out demons to demonstrate the power and approval of God on their unique ministry.   Samples of the type of ministry they did are recorded for us in the book of Acts. They either directly or indirectly (by lending their memories and authority to the authors) wrote the books of the New Testament. When they died, God did not need to replace them because their work was finished. The church was established and God had finished writing the Bible.

But today God still calls men and women to become His disciples, and it still takes mentoring and time for God to make us into His disciples. After calling the 12 disciples. Jesus spent three years training them. This was intense, daily training in how to live the Christian life. We had many students make first time decisions or recommitments to follow Christ this spring. That surrendering of the heart to God is the first step; what we need now is follow-up discipleship. To grow in Christ, you need to find Christian mentors to help you as you learn to read the Bible, pray, and hear from and obey the Lord. You will struggle like the 12 apostles, and you need encouragement and help from experienced disciples to stay on track. If your parents are mature believers, then they are the first people that you should look to for guidance in your walk with Christ. If you can get to church regularly, it would be great to find adult mentors like small group Bible study or discussion leaders. Finally, as a Christian school, we can and will offer more discipleship opportunities like the lunch time Bible studies. I believe that if you really want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, God will honor that desire and provide mentors to help you. But you have to want and take advantage of those opportunities when He presents them.  Still praying for your growth today.  Blessings.
In Christ,

Mr. Reel