Bible Study

Parable of the Sower

Lt. Colonel Dean Hinson continues his theme of "Gardening with God" as he explores the first parable in Mark's Gospel. by Lt. Colonel Dean Hinson

As we continue our theme of “Gardening with God,” we come to the first parable in Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 4:1-20. This is known as the “Parable of the Sower.” Ben Witherington, in his commentary on Mark, titles it, “Sow Far, Sow Good.”

Context 

In studying this story, we need to understand its place in Galilee and in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has moved from the synagogue to the seashore, outside buildings and outside religious norms. He is seated in a boat just offshore, creating a platform for speaking to a large crowd. 

Looking at Chapters 2 and 3 of Mark, we find Jesus in the midst of controversy created by His teachings and healings. He is questioned about His ability to forgive sin while healing a paralytic (2:1-12). Eating with sinners causes religious leaders to ask, “Why does He eat with such scum?” (v. 16). Then He is challenged about fasting (v. 18-22) and Sabbath (v. 23-28) before He heals on the Sabbath, and that leads to a plot to kill Him (3:1-7). He is also accused of being possessed by Satan (v. 22). 

Jesus chooses to teach in parables. According to William Barclay, “parables place something besides something else,” creating a contrast. Jesus uses ordinary activities to illustrate a heavenly principle. A familiar story encourages listening and compels thinking from the concrete to the abstract. C. H. Dodd writes, “Parables were meant to tease a person into active thought.” 

Content

Jesus, sitting in a boat beside the Galilean seashore, probably saw a farmer and directed the crowd’s attention to this simple scene of scattering seed. The soil in Galilee consisted of basalt or volcanic rock and was very fertile. Jesus told the crowd to consider what happened when seeds fell on various types of soil. The hard-packed path allowed no penetration and the seeds were eaten by birds. The rocky soil, with dirt hiding rocks just below the surface, didn’t allow roots to develop, so those plants withered under the harsh sun. Other seeds fell among thorns and those plants were choked by weeds and produced no grain. But the seeds falling on good soil produced an abundant harvest. Jesus then said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand” (v. 9).

Listening was what the crowd had come to do. It was understanding that Jesus required. When the disciples questioned Jesus about the meaning of His story, He said, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables?” (4:13). 

Parables require the hearer to reflect to gain understanding of the story. In this case, Jesus provided the explanation, helping the disciples to understand. The seed being sown is the Word of God. The different soils represent people who hear the Word. The outcome of spreading God’s Word depends on the reception of the hearer. 

The hard-packed footpath is a hardened heart and doesn’t allow the Word to penetrate. The seed is quickly taken away by Satan. 

The shallow, rocky person received the Word with great joy but doesn’t allow roots to develop. When problems and persecution come (and they will), the lack of a root system results in the withering of commitment, and no spiritual fruit is produced. The seed sown in thorns represents the crowded, complicated cares that threaten our lives. Jesus says that worry and a desire for wealth and other things choke out the Word planted in our lives (1 John 2:15). 

Fortunately, seed that falls on good soil produces an abundant harvest. Fruit is the goal of sowing seed and the result of God’s Word sown in our lives. The Book of Acts periodically says the Word of God grew, and many became believers (Acts 6:7, 12:24, 19:20). Paul told the church in Colossae that “This Good News is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives” (1:6). As Jesus called on the crowd to understand, it takes more than hearing the Word for it to take root and produce fruit.

Connect

So, what connects this parable to our daily lives? First, according to John MacArthur, “Success doesn’t hinge on the skill of the sower.” Sowers sow seed. Amid controversy and conflict, Jesus continued to spread God’s Word to whoever would listen. Our mission is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. John Stott said that we don’t “win” anyone—as witnesses, we testify to God’s story. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see the harvest. Sowers sow and leave the results to God.

A second lesson is to make sure that we are good soil. We should examine our lives (hearts) and make sure they are not hard and impenetrable. Allow roots to grow down into God’s love to keep you strong (Ephesians 3:17). You shouldn’t allow persecution and problems to cause you to fall, nor should you allow your crowded and complicated life, desiring other things, to choke out your relationship with God. Jeremiah 4:3 says, “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns. O people of Judah and Jerusalem, surrender your pride and power. Change your hearts before the Lord.”

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches!”

Revelation 2:29

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