Parable of the Sower

OVERVIEWThe “Son of Man” is sowing the “seed” of the gospel in the world, where it grows unseen until the end of the ageMark 4:1-20

Harvest - Photo by Joao Marcelo Marques on Unsplash
The first parable recorded in the
Gospel of Mark is that of the Sower. The proper understanding of this parable is key to understanding the other parables of Jesus. Its key point was that the kingdom of God began to invade the present age with his proclamation of the Gospel and has been in the process of growing ever since - [Photo by Joao Marcelo Marques on Unsplash].

What is a parable? The Greek word rendered “parable” means “something that is thrown alongside, to cast beside” (Strong’s - #G3850). It is something that is laid alongside something else for clarification and comparison, lessons taught by analogy.

His parables were pictorial stories drawn from everyday life, and often featured jarring images to grab the attention of the audience. Generally, his parables illustrated one or two points of comparison. They were a regular feature of the teaching of Jesus, and the most frequent topic was the “Kingdom of God.”
  • (Mark 4:1-9) - “And, again, he began to teach by the sea; and there come together to him a very great multitude, so that he, entering a boat, was sitting upon the sea, and all the multitude were near the sea on the land. And he began to teach them in parables many things and was saying to them, Hearken! Lo, the sower went forth to sow; and it came to pass, as he sowed, some, indeed, fell by the pathway, and the birds came and devoured it; and some fell on the rocky places where it had not much earth, and, straightway, it sprang forth by reason of its not having depth of earth. And when the sun arose, it was scorched, and by reason of its not having root, it was dried up; And some fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and fruit it yielded not; and other fell into the good ground, and was yielding fruit, coming up and growing, and was bearing, thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold, And he was saying, He that has ears to hear, let him hear!
A better title for the parable might be, the ‘Parable of Different Soil Types.’  The stress is not on the actions of the “sower,” or on the kind of “seed” sown, but instead, on how the seed interacted with different types of soil. The “sower,” “seed,” and method of sowing were the same with each soil type. What happened to the “seed” once it contacted the “soil” was the focus, and the “seed” fell on four types: hardened, rocky, thorny, and fertile soil.

A harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundredfold in Galilee would be extraordinary. This was an exaggerated figure designed to catch our attention. With the Kingdom of God, regardless of how insignificant its beginnings, the results exceed all expectations.

The Mysteries of the Kingdom. The disciples then asked why “outsiders” receive a parable without explanation, but insiders receive parables with explanations? Parables separate the insider from the outsider; they reveal AND conceal. They bring blessings to some, but judgment to others.
  • (Mark 4:10-12) - “And when he was alone they who were about him with the twelve questioned him as to the parables; and he was saying to them: To you, the mystery has been given of the kingdom of God, whereas, to them who are outside, in parables are all things coming to pass, that they may surely look and yet not see, and surely hear and yet not understand, lest once they should return, and it be forgiven them.
The saying of Jesus alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah:
  • Go! And say to this people: Hear on but do not discern, see on but do not perceive; stupefy the heart of this people, and their ears make heavy, and their eyes overspread, lest they see with their eyes, and with their ears should hear, and their heart should discern and come back. And they be healed.
The contrast is between those who follow Jesus and those who do not; between those who do hear the parable and receive its explanation, and those who do not.

This was the pattern in his teaching ministry. Some Jews reacted in faith to the good news, but others were blinded by unbelief and rejected it. The failure of some men to understand was a sign of divine judgment on their hardness of heart.

Parable of the Sower
Jesus declared, “
To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God.” The Greek noun rendered “mystery” does not refer to something esoteric, weird, or mysterious, but to something hidden that now is disclosed - (mystérionStrong’s - #G3466). The unveiling of the mystery is “given.” It cannot be acquired through human effort or intellect. It must be received from God. The “mystery” is revealed to those who follow him and hearken to his words.

The word “parable” occurs twelve times in Mark, each time in a context of opposition to Jesus. By means of parables, he revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to hearers, but he also exposed the opponents of the Kingdom.

In Isaiah, the prophet received a vision of Yahweh sitting on his throne where he received his prophetic call to bring the words of God to Israel. He was warned the people of Israel would not receive his words; therefore, judgment was sure to follow. Yet, a remnant would heed the words of Yahweh.

Explanation of the Parable. The parable concerned the process of the Kingdom expanding in the world, and the response of men to it. It was being implemented through gospel proclamation; first by Jesus, then by his small group of disciples.
  • (Mark 4:13-20) - “And he said to them, Know you not this parable? How then will you get to know all the parables? The sower sows the word; and these are they beside the pathway where the word is sown, and as soon as they hear, straightway, Satan comes and snatches away the word which has been sown into them. And these are likewise they upon the rocky places sown, who, as soon as they hear the word, straightway with joy receive it, and have no root in themselves but only for a season are afterwards, when there arises tribulation or persecution by reason of the word, straightway, they find cause of stumbling. And others are they who among thorns are sown; these are they who hear the word, and the anxieties of the age, and the deceit of wealth, and the lusts about the remaining things, entering in, choke up the word and unfruitful it becomes. And those yonder are they who on the good ground are sown, who, indeed, hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.
The proclamation of a message by a ragtag group of poorly educated Galileans appeared weak to the human mind, if not futile. But the small beginning would initiate something far greater; however, the results could not be seen at the time the “seed” was sown. In the end, the proclamation of the gospel would bring in the long-promised Kingdom of God and everlasting life for all who responded in faith.

The parable is about the four different ways in which the word of the Kingdom is received. The division of responses into four groups is not intended to provide statistical information on what percentage of people accept or reject it. The seed sown on the hardened soil meets with no response and is rejected. Some seed is received initially with enthusiasm, but then forsaken when circumstances become challenging.

Some receive the seed, but then it is smothered by the competing forces of this age. The seed that fell on good soil represented those who hear and receive the gospel, act on it in faith, and then bear fruit.

Jesus faced outright rejection by some, initial acceptance by others who were not prepared to pay the later required costs, and acceptance by still others who later recanted because of the deceitfulness of riches. It is the same for every man who heeds the call and begins to sow the good seed of the kingdom of God.




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