The “Son of Man” is sowing the “seed” of the gospel in the world, where it grows unseen until the end of the age – Mark 4:1-20.
The first parable recorded in Mark is that of the Sower. The proper understanding of this parable is the key to understanding his other parables. Its key point is that the kingdom of God began to invade the present age with his proclamation of the gospel by Jesus, the “Son of Man,” and ever since, it has been in the process of spreading in the world.
What is a parable? The Greek word rendered “parable” means “something that is thrown alongside, to cast beside.” It is a saying or image that is laid alongside something else for clarification and comparison, a pictorial lesson given by analogy.
His parables were comprised of stories drawn from everyday life and often featured jarring images to grab the attention of his 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 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 thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. And he was saying: He that has ears to hear, let him hear!”
In the story, the stress is not on the actions of the “sower” or on the kind of “seed” he used, but instead, on how the seed interacts with different types of soil. The “sower,” the “seed,” and the method of sowing are the same with each soil type. What happens to the “seed” once it contacts the “soil” is the focus, and the “seed” falls on four types – hardened, rocky, thorny, and fertile soil.
A harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundredfold is extraordinary. This is an exaggerated figure to catch our attention. With the Kingdom of God, regardless of how insignificant its beginnings the results will exceed all expectations.
MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM. The disciples then asked why “outsiders” receive parables without explanation, but insiders receive parables with explanations? But parables separate the insider from the outsider; they both reveal AND conceal. They bring blessings to some and 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 be forgiven.”
This saying 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.
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 or mysterious, but to something hidden that now is disclosed (mystérion – Strong’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 and their hardness of heart.
In Isaiah, the prophet received a vision of Yahweh sitting on his throne, and there, the prophet received his call to bring the words of God to Israel. He was warned that the people of Israel would not heed his words, and therefore, judgment would inevitably follow. Yet, a remnant would heed God’s words.
EXPLANATION. The parable concerned the process of the Kingdom expanding in the world, and how men would respond 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 besides 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 afterward, 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 by a ragtag group of poorly educated Galileans appeared weak to the human mind, if not futile. But that 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 respond 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.