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

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

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Mark
Ref: Mark 4:1–20

There seems to be little doubt that Jesus loved telling truth through stories. In one of his most well-known stories, Jesus told of a farmer who was out planting crops. It may seem like a pretty trivial analogy at first, but when we realize the truth of the story it's powerful enough to change our lives.




(Mark 4:1-20)

(Pastor Davey did not read this part of the sermon)  Mark, chapter 4, for our scripture reading.  As you’re turning there, please stand for the reading of the scripture.  Mark, chapter 4, starting at verse 1 through verse 20.  “And He began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto Him a great multitude, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.  And He taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in His doctrine, ‘Hearken: Behold, there went out a sower to sow: and it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.  And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth: and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth; but when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.  And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.’  And He said unto them, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’  And when He was alone, they that were about Him with the twelve asked of Him the parable.  And He said unto them, ‘Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.’  And He said unto them, ‘Know ye not this parable?  And how then will ye know all parables?  The sower soweth the word.  And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.  And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.  And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word.  And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.  And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.’”  Please remain standing.

(This part of the sermon by Pastor Davey)  Everybody loves a story.  I think, Russell Conwell (?) proved that to be true when he told one particular story, I believe, nearly 6,000 times.  And, in the process, made himself eight million dollars.  It was a story, that perhaps you have heard, it was entitled, “Acres of Diamonds.”  It’s the story of the farmer in Africa, who had heard that other African settlers had discovered diamond mines and so, he sold his little flea-bitten farm and took off looking for a mine.  And he ended his life tragically, one day, by killing himself. And the result was, he never found a diamond.  But the man who bought his little farm, one day, was out at his stream and he discovered a stone in the stream that flowed through his property.  And it turned out to be an extremely valuable diamond.  And he found that his farm, after further searching, was, literally, sitting on one of the riches diamond mines in all of Africa.  It’s fascinating to hear a story.  And everybody seems to lean a little more forward when you tell a story.

Well, you know, you come to the life of Christ, at this point, in Mark, chapter 4, and He takes a dramatic turn.  He will begin now, teaching by using stories.  We call them parables.  A parable is a simple transliteration of the original word “parabole,” which means to “cast along side.”  It means that you take something of an earthly matter, and I think the best definition that I’ve ever heard is that, a parable is nothing more than an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  You take something natural and you, by that story, teach something eternal.  Now, Jesus will begin, from this point on, to teach by using parables.

Notice Mark, chapter 4, verse 1, as the story opens.  “And He began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto Him a great multitude, so that He entered into a ship”.  It’s fascinating to think that the podium that Jesus used was a ship.  Perhaps, a little fishing boat that, because the crowd was so great, was pushed off shore just a few feet.  And Jesus was sitting there, at the front, and from that He taught the multitude.  And He used the parabolic method.  Notice verse 2, “And He taught them many things by parables, and said unto them” - by parables - “His doctrine.”  Now, I want to suggest to you, perhaps, a couple of reasons why the Lord would begin teaching by parables.  I think one of the clearest reasons is because He’s teaching now in the open air.  He is no longer in the synagogue.  And, you know, in the synagogue you can’t very well get up and leave but when you teach to the open air, anybody can leave whenever they feel like it.  And, I think that, Jesus wanted to captivate the hearts of those who were listening.  So He used something that you and I enjoy very much and that’s a story.  We’ll learn, later on in the passage, that He would teach in parables to hide the mystery of the kingdom.  Now, we need to understand, dispensationally, that the Jewish leaders had rejected the kingdom offer.  And so, because they had rejected, the truth of the kingdom would now, to them, become a mystery.  Now, for those that would receive, it was not a mystery.  A mystery is only something that was closed to those who had not followed  Christ.  The disciples were following Him so, to them, He explained the mystery.  So He taught, I think, by parables because people could walk away.

But, I think, Jesus Christ’s most popular method, as you know if you study the life of Christ, was not necessarily giving answers but giving another question.  You know, the people would come up to Him and they would ask Him a question.  Oh, He was irritating, He would turn right around and just ask another question.  But yet, He wanted people to think.  You see, He didn’t want to give out truth in such a way that people could be mental midgets.  He wanted them to wake up and listen!  In fact, in verse 3, that’s the way He begins.  My translation reads, “Hearken: Behold,” literally, “Listen!  Look!  I want you to wake up!”  Jesus never wanted to take away from people the mental sweat of thinking.  And He says, “Listen and look!”

Perhaps, as He was sitting there, He saw, off in the distance, some farmer sowing seed.  And He says, “Look at him.  Behold, a sower is going out to sow seed.”  “And it came to pass, as he sowed,” - verse 4 - “some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.”  Now, the way side is nothing more than the hardened pathway.  Now, there were several ways that you could sow seed, there in Galilee or, in fact, in that entire region.  In the primitive days, the first way was, of course, to have a bag at your hip and you would reach in and you would gather a handful of seed and you would throw it out.  Now, wheat and barley, as it was sown by hand, did not grow in straight rows, like it does today, because we have machinery that’s planting the seed in straight rows.  There, they simply cast the seed and just a multitude of wheat and barley would grow wherever it landed.  They didn’t have the technology that we have.  Or, if a farmer wanted to be a little quicker, he’d put a bag of seed on the back of his donkey and cut a little hole in the bottom of the bag and he’d start driving that donkey all over his field.  And, as he would move and jostle, the seed would fall.  Well, these patches of ground, in that day, were criss-crossed with tiny pathways so that the farmer could walk along the pathway and throw seed on his little tiny plot, his little garden.  But, of course, as he threw a handful of seed, some of it would, probably, fall on the beaten pathway.  Beaten hard by the feet of passing people.  That pathway that had become like cement.  So the word was sown on, or the seed was sown on but it never got in.  On but not in.

There is a second kind of soil, notice verse 5, “and some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth”.  This is the kind of soil that receives the seed.  It does get in but, because there is no depth, it is not able to go down.  Therefore, it’s sown on but not able to go down.  Now, in a moment, we’re going to look at the interpretation of this parable as He gives it to the disciples.  But, in Galilee, you ought to understand, that most of the land was nothing more than a thin layer of soil, a thin covering, a skin of soil on limestone rock.  And the only thing that the farmer could do was either try to find a place where he could hack into that rock and, perhaps, clear a tiny plot or, what they usually did, was they added soil to deepen it so that there would be enough for roots to grow.  You see, the problem with the hardened soil was that it had to be plowed.  The problem with the stony soil was that it had to be deepened.

Now, notice the third one, verse 7, “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.”  The word “choke,” means to, literally, “strangle.”  You see, if a farmer was lazy, in Galilee, what he would do when he wanted to plant crop is he would see all of the weeds.  I don’t know how many of you have had a garden but, for some reason, you never have to sow weeds.  They’ll grow.  You never have to fertilize them.  You don’t have to talk to them and nurture them and water them.  They’re coming up anyhow.  And so, if he wanted to do the quick job, he would simply burn off his field and it would look clean.  Maybe he wanted to sell it and he was deceitful.  The problem was that there were still roots under the ground surface so that, when seed was sown on the soil and it got into the soil, it was not able to grow because the roots would strangle it.  It has the idea of a compressed, almost a claustrophobic, type of situation.  The seed is strangled, it’s choked.  Picture yourself standing in the middle of an elevator and the Washington Redskins getting on.  You know, you can’t even ask for an autograph, you’re so squished.  I wouldn’t ask for an autograph, though!  It’s the idea of clouding that seed so much that it cannot come up.

Now, notice verse 8, “And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up”.  The words “yield,” and “springing up,” and “increasing” are present tense which means, they continually grow, they continually bear fruit, this is a constant process.  The good soil produces the kind of fruit that’s constant.  It’s flourishing.  “And brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.”  The fascinating thing that you and I need to understand, before we go any further, is that no good ground in Galilee was naturally good.  There wasn’t any soil that was naturally rich and fertile.  It had to be worked by the husbandman or the farmer.  And the applications are going to come, as we get later on in the passage, but it’s so obvious that you and I are soil.  And there is no way, apart from the work of the farmer, the person of Christ, that we will ever become good soil, fertile soil.  It takes a diligent man to keep the field so that it can produce fruit.

Now, in case you and I might miss the point, He goes on to explain it.  Perhaps turn a page and let’s go to verse 14,  where we read, “The sower soweth the word.”  Obviously, the seed is the word of God.  Now, there are four different kinds of responses to the sowing of the word.  You know, I’ve been debating, in my study, whether this is four individuals who respond and, I think, I’ve come to the conclusion, in fact, after these notes had been prepared, that it’s probably one individual with four potential responses.  And the reason I come to that conclusion is simply because, you and I can respond as thorny soil, as rocky soil, as good soil, as hardened soil.  Perhaps He is speaking to an individual who has sown the seed and we respond four different ways.

Notice what they are, verse 15, “And these are they by the way side,” - or on the path - “where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.”  You could jot into your notes that this is the unresponsive heart.  There was no penetration.  Unresponsive.  Hard as cement or hard as rock. You know, I have to ask myself the question, what are the factors in your life and in my life that create an unresponsive heart?  What is it in your life and in my life that when the seed of the word is sown, I fail to respond?  I’m going to give you three, and we could make it a dozen but, let’s just talk about three for just a few seconds.  First of all, an influence that can harden the soil is ungodly friends and associates.  And I mean to refer to close friends and associates.  You see, the closeness of friends impact us and they can either harden or soften.  Just as Solomon wrote in Proverbs that, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”  Your friends, your associates, those that you allow to beat a path through your life can harden the soil.  You know, especially to the younger people, we need to take stock about who we allow to invade our lives as close associates.

Number two, we could jot in the words, entertainments.  Close friends impact us.  Entertainments condition us.  Let me illustrate with my own life and my own failure.  I can remember attending college.  We have back with us, this morning, a couple of college freshmen who have almost completed their first semester.  I can remember going off for the first semester of college.  And I went to a Christian college where it was kind of a little womb and it was all protected from any outside influence.  I don’t think there was a television on the campus.  If it was, I’d believe it was probably against the rules.  So, I went for four months without even seeing a commercial.  And, of course, I was so busy, who cared?  Well, I came home during the Christmas break and I’ll never forget turning on that television and being totally embarrassed by what I saw.  Shocked!  I couldn’t believe what was on television.  Why?  Because, for four months, I’d been weaned off the thing and I had, in that process, become sensitive once again to things that I think are wrong.  You know what happens, ladies and gentlemen, with the things that we read, with the things that we see, with the places we go?  It has a conditioning effect in our lives.  We are not neutral and neither are the influences neutral.  They either affect us positively, that is, in producing fertile soil or they impact us negatively, that is, hardening us.  Wake up to the things that you are allowing to beat a hard path into your life.

Thirdly, you could jot in, a private thought life.  You know, it is so true that I am what I think when I am alone, not what I pretend to be in public.  And there are, perhaps, in my life, the old persistent thought patterns of ungodliness.  There are hard clods of cement like dirt created by bitterness or animosity or unforgiven sin or resentment.  And because I dwell, in my private thought life, on those things, that ground is so hard, I think, it would take the dynamite of the Holy Spirit to break it up so that seed could actually penetrate.  The unresponsive heart has the seed sown on the soil but it never gets inside.

Secondly, there is the impulsive heart.  Notice verse 16, the impulsive heart, “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have head the word,” - note this - “immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time; afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.”  The word is “scandalizo,” or scandalize.  They are immediately tripped up as soon as the sun rises.  These are the believers, I think, who look at Christianity as a comfortable, enjoyable thing.  “Oh, it’s wonderful to be a Christian.  Man, I’ve never had more fun in my life.”  And, I can just hear them, you know, they’ll come up to you and say, “I just finished reading the latest best seller, The Thirty Second Devotional Guide.  You won’t believe what you can fit into thirty seconds.  I can have devotions, I can commune with the Almighty while I shave.  Man, Christianity is easy.  I never knew growing up could be so simple.  Our Sunday school class is doing a series entitled, ‘Ten Steps to Becoming a Spiritual Giant.’  Think about it, one day next month, I’ll be as mature as the apostle Paul.”  This is the kind of individual who is going to join something like the Baptist Bowling Brigade, you know.  Every week, Bible study, we meet at the bowling alley.  You know, you roll a ball and you read a verse.  You roll another ball, you read another verse.  We’re going to read through the entire Gospel of John in three years.  Wow!  I just joined the Food, Fun, and Fellowship Independent Baptist Church.  A pot luck dinner every Sunday night.  Imagine that.  You can gain weight and give God all the glory.  You know, we have believers, I think, who look at Christianity as if it were intended to be comfortable.  And I think, ladies and gentlemen, we’re feeding a younger generation the lie that Christianity is intended to be comfortable.  It is not!  It is intended to be revolutionary.  That means, the breaking up of hard soil, the yielding of cluttered corners where there are weeds and allowing Him to take them away.  That’s difficult.  It may even be painful.  The problem with the impulsive person is that there is no depth.  The Bible is simply a term.  Holy Bible, simply a term.

I was reading a book by Gary Enrigue (?), who pastors in Canada, and he told the story of his son, who, I think, has the perception of so many of us concerning the word - it’s just a term.  He was riding down the street with his son in the back seat.  And his son would see something interesting, and his son’s name was Stephen, and he would say, “Holy cow, Dad, look at that!”  And every time he saw something, and I can just dread the day my boys get to that point, they’ll do it right in the middle of a church service, “Holy cow, Dad!”  Well, he was driving along and he decided that’s enough of that.  So he stopped the car and he turned around and he said, “Son, you need to understand that we don’t use the word ‘Holy’ before anything that’s not related to God.”  And his little pre-school son said, “Oh, Dad, yea, you mean like the Bible because that’s God’s word.”  And his father kind of swelled up with pride.  And Gary said he, my son’s so perceptive, “Yes, son, that’s right!”  And so, he starts driving down the street again and in a couple of minutes he heard from the back of the car, “Holy Bible, Dad, look at that!”  Just a term and he didn’t know how it fit in.  And I think that’s the way we are, we hear the word and we don’t know how it correlates because it never goes down and takes root.  No depth.

Then there’s the third response, you could jot into your notes, the preoccupied heart.  And, I think, this is where most of us, as believers, get tripped up.  The preoccupied heart.  There is no growth.  Look at verse 18, “And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word.” - but, verse 19 - “And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”  Three things that cloud our hearts, He makes it very clear in the text.  First of all, the worries of the world.  Secondly, the attraction of affluence.  And thirdly, I think, the magnetism of materialism.  Now, you probably are thinking, “Well, wait a second, I have cares.  And there are things that I need and there are difficulties and there are worries.”  And yes, there are.  But I think, the key is, the word “preoccupation.”  That is, you sum total up the net worth of my entire living and it is for things of the world.  You see, I cannot hear the word because I am preoccupied by the world.  And that is the problem with this individual who hears the word.  It gets into the soil and it goes down and takes root but it can never come up because it’s choked by the cares of the world.

Then fourthly, the responsive heart.  And that’s the good soil.  Notice verse 20, “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word,” - you ought to underline the word “hear” - “and receive it,” - you ought to underline the word “receive” - “and bring forth fruit,” - underline the words “bring forth” - “some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.”  You see, in bold contrast to the other soils, is this fertile stuff.  The kind of soil that will hear the word as it’s sown on it.  It allows it inside.  It allows it to take root.  And it allows it to come up and bear fruit.  Now, let me give you some suggestions as to why, right out of the text, these individuals bear fruit.  And I had you underline the words.  Jot into your notes, first of all, that these are people who hear the word.  Hear the word.

Second of all, these are people who receive the word.  Now, you and I speak very glibly about receiving.  We receive Christ.  We receive a parking ticket.  We receive a half a pound of hamburger at the grocery store.  We receive forgiveness.  But you see, the word is “dechomai,” which means that we receive with a warm reception.  It’s almost as if we say, “Oh, here you are, I’ve been waiting for you.”  It’s the idea of a warm reception, “I can’t WAIT to receive.”  And we hear the word and it’s like we cannot WAIT to take it in.  There’s a sense of anticipation.

I fear that many times we, perhaps, lead our younger ones astray by glibly talking about receiving Christ into our hearts.  Sometimes they don’t understand.  In fact, I just finished reading Dr. Dobson’s latest book and it’s fascinating, called, Parenting Isn’t For Cowards.  You ought to read it, if you have children.  It tells a fascinating story of a mother who was teaching her little daughter the truth about receiving Christ and trying to get into all the doctrinal content and hoping that her little child would understand.  I think her daughter was four years of age.  So finally she said, “You see, Honey, when I accepted Christ, I received Him into my heart.  He came to live inside of me.”  And, at that, the little girl puts her ear to the stomach of the mother and is very quiet.  And the Mom says, “Honey, what are you doing?”  She says, “I’m listening for Jesus.”  And the mother thought, “Now, isn’t that great.  She’s perceptive.  Picking it up.”  And so, she allows her daughter to just listen for about two or three minutes.  And finally, she says, “Well, what do you hear?”  And this little girl says, “It sounds like He’s making a pot of coffee.”  Fascinating.  You see, when we think in terms of receiving Christ, who comes to live inside, it’s much more than opening up a little red box and a little midget Christ comes to live inside and we’re safe.  No.  This is an experience that is to revolutionize us from the inside out.  We receive the word warmly.

And now, thirdly, you need to write down that they practice the word because that’s a key as well.  They bring forth fruit.  They hear the word.  They receive the word.  And they practice the word.  You know, that is the kind of net result that will come by having good soil.  That’s the spiritual aspects of a productive person.

Now, by way of application, how can the garden of my life produce fruit?  Three things.  First of all, and I think it’s been obvious from our passage of scripture, you must be open.  You see, the gate to the garden of my life cannot be locked.  Jesus Christ will not get on some bulldozer and crash through and say, “Okay, I’m planting seed.  Take it or leave it.”  He’ll never do that.  He wants to walk through a gate that’s already been swung open.  So you and I have to be open.

Secondly, we need to be eager.  I believe the Spirit of God can sense hesitation.  I think that He senses in your heart and in my heart, at different times, a reluctance to the word.  You say, “This must not be for me.  This is a little too threatening.”  And He senses it and, because He will not force you, He backs off.  So I have to be eager, “dechomai.”  I need to receive warmly, as I would my best friend into my home, I receive the word into my life.  Be open.  Be eager.

Then thirdly, be available.  And I think, as any good farmer, Jesus Christ wants to invade every square inch of the garden in your life.  Every odd corner, every ground, every piece of dirt, He wants to turn over, He wants to fertilize, He wants to water.  He wants to produce in you fertility so that you can bear spiritual fruit.  But, we have to be available.  And, I think, Christ has to have free management.  He needs to be able to plant whatever He wants to plant.  If He says, “Listen, I want to produce in you the fruit of patience.”  “Okay, Lord, I know what that means, difficulty.”  “I want to produce in you the character of holiness.”  “Okay, I know what that means.”  You see, we need to allow Him, if we’re going to give Him the garden of our lives, full management.  He has it all.  That means that He can plant whatever He wants to plant.  That also means, when He sees a weed, He can yank it out.  “Hey,  that’s going to hurt.”  You bet it will.  In fact, Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 11, says it perfectly, “No discipline” - “no chastening” - “no plowing” - “for the present seemeth to be joyous, but . . . afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness”.   

You know, the point of the parable, as any story, is simply this, are you allowing the word of God to be sown on the soil of your life?  If so, are you allowing it to penetrate, to get inside?  Are you allowing it to go down and take root?  Are you allowing it to grow up and produce spiritual fruit?                                                    






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