Mark Part 5: Parable of the Sower

Mark Part 5: Parable of the Sower


We have been going through our series on the book of Mark. Mark is one of the 4 gospels, one of the 4 stories of Jesus’ life in the New Testament. While Mark wasn’t one of the 12 apostles, he most likely wrote down the events of Jesus’ life as told to him by Peter.

From Mark we have already seen how:

  • Jesus is the Messiah or “chosen one”
  • Jesus has the power to heal
  • The Pharisees started in love with God, but over time lost sight of what really mattered.
  • Jesus selected 12 very different, unqualified, and rejected people to be His apostles.

Today we are going to start looking at Mark 4 and Jesus’ use of parables in His teaching.


Mark 4:1-20 Questions

Compare Mark 4:15 with Matthew 13:19

  • What is the same?
  • What is different?
  • Why do you think “not understanding” is compared to “the evil one snatching away the seed”?

Why do you think there are different types of soil? What do you think makes the good soil different from the bad soils? How do you think “bad soil” could become “good soil”?
Parables are short stories used to illustrate a message. How many like when a speaker or teacher uses a story or illustration to make their point? Or are visual learners? Or prefer to watch video then read books?
Right, when we can see or grasp a concept, it makes it easier to understand. Jesus masterfully used examples from everyday life at that time to explain his teachings.
At that time in the first century, almost everyone was a farmer. So the images of a farmer sowing seed, of birds stealing seed, of good soil and bad would be very common to everyone Jesus was speaking too.
Has anyone here ever lived or worked on a farm? Or does anyone here really enjoy gardening?
I never lived or worked on a farm, but my dad always loved having gardens as I was growing up. Many summers we would go out and plant all manner of vegetables. I can remember even when I was like 5 going out and picking sugar snap peas and eating them still dirty. We had gardens while I was growing up, and I can also remember helping Val and Benji with their gardens.
Side note: ask Val why it is super important to wash the lettuce before you serve it to your guests.
My enjoyment of gardens was short lived however as I soon realized the amount of work that goes into them. You gotta prepare the soil, plant the seeds. And neither of those are that bad. What sucks is weeding. And weeding. And weeding. Constantly.
Constantly you have to be out there pulling weeds and getting rid of things that will harm your plants. It’s a ton of work, amplified by my dads ambitions for a giant garden. One time our garden was like 5 by 20 feet.
Here is a life hack- they have vegetables at the grocery store.
Maybe you enjoy gardening maybe you don’t. Either way, we can all imagine and agree that to be successful at it requires a ton of effort.
And all of Jesus’s listeners would have understood this. Farming was common to them. Maybe less so us.
In studying this parable I came across someone who tried to write a modern version of it for us. It’s called “The Parable of the Youtuber”.

Jesus said, “Once there was a youtuber who scattered videos across the internet. One day he uploaded quite a few videos. Some of them were watched for a few minutes, and then people were distracted by other items in their news feed and all his hard work was lost amidst the chaos. So, the video blogger decided to specifically target his video to one or two specific social media sites and they were shared very quickly. However, while they received a lot of views early on, within a few weeks they were ignored because there were other, flashier LOL cat videos out now. And, so, the vlogger decided to try some of the more difficult places on the internet. Yes, he would put his videos in places where there was much controversy and see how they would do. Unfortunately, the videos did not do much better in these spots because all the trolls blasted them in the comments section. And so, finally, the blogger decided to specifically target these videos to those he knew would be interested in them. Instead of placing them everywhere, he said to himself, “I know these folks are the ones who are really interested so I am going to share with them.” Eventually, the videos grew over a period of months and years, and he found that he had 10,000 shares, a 1,000,000 shares, and then he realized his videos were going viral all over the world.”
Those who are willing to listen and watch, let them listen and watch.

We value illustrations because they can help make things easier to understand. As a culture we have come to value clear, concise information. Right? We want people to get to the point. Tell me what I need to know, tell me what I gotta do.
Especially when it comes to morality, we want things to be cut and dry, black and white. We want God to speak to us super clearly, give us the bullet points, what am I supposed to do.
Ironically, Jesus tells parables for the exact opposite reason. Rather than use illustrations to clearly explain a moral lesson, Jesus deliberately told stories that would confuse His audience.
In Matthew 13 His disciples ask Him why He is doing this:

Matthew 13:10-12
10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

Jesus said His parables had two purposes. For those who listen to Him, He says the parables are an invination to learn even more. But to people who are not listening, He says the parables will actually hide His teaching from them.
The past two weeks we looked at two different groups of people and how they responded to Jesus. Last week we saw how the disciples, although all very different, trusted Jesus and followed Him. They are the first group. Their little bit of faith and trust is rewarded, and by pondering the parables they actually get closer to Jesus and get a better picture of the kingdom of God.
We also learned about the Pharisees, the group who hated Jesus and in fact wanted to kill Him. They were constantly trying to use His words against Him. It was ultimately His teaching regarding the kingdom of God that they used to get Him sentenced to death, and Jesus knew that would eventually happen.
So He increasingly taught using parables. If people were open minded, and wanted to learn from Jesus, they could ponder the parables and discover their deeper meaning. But if they were looking to use Jesus’ words against Him, the parables protected Him cause they were not easily understood.
If someone didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah, they would think His riddles were pointless and not give them any thought. Thus the true message was kept only for His disciples.
It’s actually brilliant. Jesus was a master communicator. With the same tool He taught people how to find God and confused His enemies.
Another reason the parables were confusing is because you have to be open minded to see their meaning. You couldn’t approach them with your own bias.
You ever talk to someone, but while they are talking, instead of listening really you are just thinking about what you are going to say next?
You may be nodding or saying mhmm, but inside your just formulating your next thought. Especially if tits an argument. Or while texting, they just sent a message but you’re already got your texting bubble going, formulating your response based on what you think they will say.
You can’t do that with the parables. Cause if you try to assume what they are about, their meaning will elude you.
We talked briefly before how Jesus was different then the Messiah most people were expecting. They thought He would be a strong military political leader who would win through war, and yet what they got was a poor, suffering, prophet who said love your enemies and turn the other cheek.
Just like the people looking for a military hero missed Jesus, so anyone who wanted the parables to explain moral lessons or war plans would miss what He was saying.
Jesus was very clear that His parables were not just good moral stories about how to behave, they were actually about His primary mission, bringing the kingdom of God to earth.
His parables explain how He was doing that, but only to those with an open mind.
That brings us to the parable of the Sower, because it is really the key parable. It’s a parable about Jesus’ parables. Jesus is sitting in a boat teaching, and really He tells a story about exactly what He is doing.
He is giving God’s message, and He describes the 4 different responses people were giving Him. We already said it’s a mixed crowd. You got His disciples who trust in Him, Pharisees who want to kill Him, and people in between.
So let’s read this parable again with this understanding.

Mark 4: 3-4 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field,

He didn’t put it down carefully, one at a time. The farmer went out and threw the seed. He scattered it. He did not discriminate against the different soils, but gave all an equal chance.

Jesus is speaking about Himself. Even though there are varied types of people listening, He freely spreads God’s teaching, leaving each ones response up to them. The ball (or seed) is in their court.

Then He describes the 4 types of responses people have.

Mark 4:4 some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it.

Matthew 13:19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.

The first response is people with hard hearts. Do you think those seeds I just threw in here would ever grow? No, the floor in here is much too hard. The seed could never get in.

This seed was ON the soil, but not IN the soil. This person is too hard-hearted to let Jesus’ words sink in. They hear them, but they do not stop to consider or allow them any room in their heart. They don’t believe anything Jesus says and think it’s all nonsense. Since they don’t want to understand the parable, they can’t So the enemy comes and steals away the truth and freedom that could have been theirs, if only they let the seed in

The seed was ON the soil, but not IN the soil

Mark 4:5-6 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died.

Mark 4:16-17 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

This person hears Jesus’ words, and lets them into their heart. But it doesn’t go deep. As soon as they have problems they blame God or are embarrassed to let others know they follow Jesus. As soon as the pressure comes on, the pop.

The seed is IN
but not Down

Mark 4: 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.

Mark 4: 18-19 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.

This person hears and receives Jesus’ word. They aren’t ashamed to follow Him, and the seed takes root. Their problem though is that it is not the only thing that has roots in their life. Remember before when I said I hated pulling weeds? This person has tons of them. They have Jesus, but they have a ton of other things too.

They have so many other priorities that they never really grow in God or produce fruit. These could be sin habits they won’t let go of, or they could even be good things that just get too much attention. Could be anything. Sports, school, work, family, friends, video games, hobbies, whatever. Anything that takes as much space or more than Jesus can be a weed that kills the seed.

The seed is IN and DOWN but doesn’t come UP

Mark 4:8 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!

Mark 4:20 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

And of course, this last soil is the ideal listener. They hear Jesus’s words, take them to heart, and let them change their life.

ThThe seed is IN, DOWN, UP, and PRODUCING FRUIT.

When reading or learning about parables it could be easy to stop there. Okay, we got the answer, now we can move on. We solved it! High five.
Especially if we already follow Jesus, we think welp I’m already the good soil so I got this one.
But remember we said Jesus told parables specifically so there would be no easy answers. He told stories that didn’t just convey information but invite us to an experience.

Parables are meant to be thought of and considered over and over. And each time, like an onion, more layers of truth show up.

Parables force us to have a habit of open mindedness and open ears, and never thinking I fully got it all together. Never being comfortable with where I am at with following Jesus.

So lets sit with this parable another minute. Let me ask another question to my gardeners out there: once you plant the seed in the garden is all the work done?

What else do you have to do?

Once you get rid of the weeds is the work done?

No, they will come back. You have to keep weeding.

Even if you start with good soil, if you don’t take care of it, that soil will become bad.

Fertile soil will get full of weeds and thorns. They will take all the nutrients and squeeze out the seed. The seed will have shallow roots, and be burned up by the sun. The soft ground will become hardened, and seed will no longer be able to get into it.
If it’s not taken care of.
The good news today is no matter which type of soil you currently identify with, its entirely possible for you to change. Jesus didn’t say this parable to scare us or condemn us, but it is a warning.

It’s an opportunity to take stock of our lives and ask, what type of soil is my heart? Do I let Jesus’ words IN? DOWN? UP? Do I produce fruit?

What type of soil is my heart?

If our hearts are hard they can be plowed. If they are full of rocks, they can be removed. If they have thorns they can be weeded. Anyone can become good soil if only they stop to consider Jesus.
But there is a warning there as well. Just like the bad soil can become good, the good soil can become bad if we neglect it.

In a moment we will go to small groups and talk about this practically, but right now I just want to invite us to all close our eyes.

As I pray with no one looking around, I want us to just take a moment to be still and silent. Honestly consider. Which kind of soil have I been? What kind am I right now? What kind do you want to be? Consider Jesus’s words. Consider that in His grace He is drawing each one of us to be good soil.

As I pray, in your own words, ask God to help you become good soil.

Reflection Questions

ICE BREAKER: If you had to be a farmer, what would you farm?

1. On our worksheet we compared Mark 4:15 with Matthew 13:19.
  • What is the same?
  • What is different?
  • Why do you think “not understanding” is compared to “the evil one snatching away the seed”?

2. We said even “good soil” could become full of weeds.
  • What kinds of things could be considered “weeds” in our lives?
    • How do they get there?
    • How do we remove them?

3. If we don’t have “deep roots” in Jesus, problems in life could cause us to abandon Faith.

  • What are some examples of things that cause people to lose faith?
  • How do we grow “deeper roots”?

4. Some people’s hearts are too hard to hear Jesus.

  • How do people get hard hearts?
  • How do hard hearts become soft?
CHALLENGE: It can be easy to just ignore Jesus’s words or even to assume that since we are Christians we are already “good soil”. Tonight, as you go home, spend time reading Mark 4 and reflecting on this parable. Make a plan how you are going to take care of the soil of your heart.

What are practical things you can do to become/stay good soil?
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