Sowers, Seeds, and Soils
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Mark 4:1-20
November 03, 2019


Our text for today contains not only the first parable Jesus is recorded to have told but one of the most recognized parables. Whether you call it the parable of the sower, the parable of the seeds or the parable of the soils it is a parable quickly recognized by just about anyone who has spent time either in church or reading the Bible.

Although we may want to call it the parable of the soils, since it seems that the soils are the most prominent topic in the parable. When Jesus explained its meaning in Matthew 13 he called it the parable of the sower - so we’ll go with that!

We are going to look at Mark’s recording of the parable in Mark 4:1-20

“Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.

And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.

And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
The sower sows the word.

And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.

And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

This is the Word of God

There are a remarkable number of observations which can be drawn from this parable.

The thing is, it is fairly easy for us to figure out what this parable means - to figure out what it is that Jesus was teaching when he concluded his short story with these words:

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It is easy for us to understand what Jesus meant because beginning with verse 13 he tells us what he meant!
What remains for us is to figure out how this applies to our lives today.

There are really three elements of this parable
The sower, the seed and the soil.

The sower, even in Jesus’ explanation, is unidentified.
But due to the identification of the seed, we can draw a pretty solid conclusion.

The sower is anyone who spreads the word of God.
It is Christ.
It is Peter and the rest of the disciples.
It is any preacher who faithfully preaches from scripture.
It is an evangelist.
And if we are obedient to the gospel mandate which rests upon all believers - it is us.
For every believer is called upon the spread the gospel.

The second element of this parable is the seed.
Here Jesus is clear.
The seed is the word as Mark tells us.
Matthew adds it is the word of the kingdom.
Luke identifies it as the word of God.

This parable is about the dissemination of the Gospel
The planting of the gospel in the lives of mankind.

Because the third element of this parable is the soil.

The soil refers to people and their response to the word of God.

And we are given four different types of responses to the word of God. Responses which Jesus compares to different types of soil

The hard soil, the pathway which is so hard that it prevents the seed from being anything other than bird food.


The rocky ground, with so little good dirt that the seeds quickly grow up since there is no room for the roots, but it also quickly withered for the same reason. It had no depth. No roots.

The third soil is actually fairly good soil. Unfortunately it is so good that it is infested with weeds. With thorns. A plant can grow there, but it does so alongside the thorns and cannot produce fruit.

Then the fourth type of soil is the fertile ground where plants produce grain. Thirty-fold, sixty-fold and 100 fold.
Now, this parable is cause for celebration among many - in the past it has been for me.

After all, once I heard the word of God, it became implanted in my heart and over the years it has grown within me. My life has been transformed.
And although I am not sure how to count the fruit, there has been an increase in evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my life over the years.

Yet as I read this parable, I am not convinced that the intended lesson we are to take home is pride in being good soil.

Rather we must see that we all have areas in our lives where each of the types of soils are evident.

So let’s look at these four responses to the word of God and ask ourselves where the description fits us.

Ray Stedman who wrote this about the parable of the sower: “I used to read this story as though these various soils were four different kinds of people, who remained the same all through their lifetimes. But I have come to see that what our Lord is describing here is not four types of persons, so much, but conditions of our heart at any given moment. Whenever the Word is being taught, people are in one condition or another. We have all been callous, at times. We have all been impulsive in our reaction—emotional and shallow.
We have all been overly worried about other matters. And we have all had times of being open and responsive to the Word. The question is how are we receiving God’s Word at this moment?”

This is, I believe, the most important take home from this passage.

Notice that the focus is not on the seed. The focus is not on the sower. Both are critical, obviously. The focus of this parable is on the soil

There is a direct correlation between the condition of the soil and the growth of the seed. In this parable, the soil is representative of our hearts.

We are the soil.
And the condition of our heart can change.
It can change from day to day or from topic to topic.

We can be hard soil resistant to the word of God.
We can be rocky soil, quickly excited and just as quickly disheartened.

We can be thorn infested soil so distracted in life that the word of God doesn’t bear fruit in us.

And we can be good soil. Bearing great fruit.

The different types of soils Jesus speaks of are not just illustrations of people on their way to accepting Christ. They are illustrations of us.

Pictures of our response to the word of God.

Each type of soil brings to mind a question for our consideration.

1. Is my heart hardened to the word of God?

Hard hearts are not limited to atheists.
To people who reject outright everything about our faith.
Our hearts are hard when we reject portions of the truth.

When we shroud our sin in spirituality.
We’re not gossips, we’re just sharing prayer requests.
We not lusting, we’re just appreciating God’s beauty.

Often, but not always, when we start to think the message doesn’t apply to me we are exhibiting a hard heart.

The scripture teaches tithing but not to me.
The scripture teaches all of us have a spiritual gift, but I don’t feel like discovering mine.
The scripture teaches that all of us are to make disciples. But that is just for the professional Christians You know, pastors and missionaries.

When we push back against the teaching of scripture we must ask ourselves if in this area our hearts have become hardened.

It is difficult for us to admit when we just don’t care what the Bible says.

I know what the Bible says about ____ but I’m going to do it anyway.

That comes from a hard heart.
Unfortunately, even mature believers can have hearts which are hardened to scriptural truth.

We are often selective in which scriptural passages we will respond to. And when we shut our minds and hearts to biblical truths we reveal that our hearts are hardened.

The second question we must ask:

2. Is my faith shallow?

The seed which falls upon the rocky soil quickly grows and then quickly withers.

The reason this happens is because the soil has not depth. It is shallow.

And we can have a shallow response to God’s word.

The word grabs us, we embrace it only to have our response to it quickly run its course.

You have observed it in others.
They are great starters but poor finishers.
They are idea people who run out of steam.

Every year they commit to reading through the Bible and by February they are a month behind.
By March they have given up.

It is easy for us not to have a well rooted faith.
To be all in until things don’t work out quite like we had hoped.

How many times have we wanted to enjoy the benefits of our faith - things like the anticipation of heaven and the forgiveness of our sins.

But haven’t wanted to do the hard work of faith like forgiving others of their sins against us?

We want a God who does what we want.
A church where all the imperfect people act as though they are perfect.
And when it doesn’t work out that way we search for a different church. One which isn’t “lukewarm.”

And it is my experience that those who claim a church is lukewarm are really taking their own temperature.

They have been passionate about something and when others don’t share their particular passion they it isn’t that God hasn’t called others to the same passion, it is that they are lukewarm.

That is one of the reasons we at Living Hope want to encourage people to embrace their passion for ministry - but not to expect other people to do what they think ought to be done.

If God has called you to a ministry, it means he has called you to the ministry, not everyone else in the church.

Unfortunately for many they believe their good ideas, their passion, ought to be embraced by everyone. And when it isn’t they lose interest.

It is all too easy for us to exhibit the traits of a rocky soil.
To go full steam ahead, until we meet a little resistance and then we just give up.

The idea here is there is no strong foundation
No well grounded root system to sustain us when the inevitable heat of day bears upon us.

Jesus would caution us against a shallow response to God’s word.

3. Is my life too distracted?

Jesus expands upon this third response with topics which hit home for most of us.

Worries, wealth and wants
The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things.

The spiritually distracted life.

Don’t ever be surprised if you have trouble concentrating when you read the Bible or hear the Bible taught. The enemy’s most effective tool is distraction.

He wants you to worry about life.
He wants you to think money is the answer to all your problems.
He wants you to read all those alluring ads which entice you to think possessions will satisfy.

Worry will destroy your spiritual health.
Money is deceptive.
Our wants can drive us away from God.

Money tells you a lie. We’ve all heard it. The lie of wealth is this: “Hey, if you get enough of me, then you’ll be happy. If you get enough of me, then all your problems will be gone.” That’s the lie of wealth.
That’s the lie of stuff!

A distracted spiritual life is not a productive spiritual life.

Those things that would keep you from doing, being, seeing, achieving what the Lord wants for our lives are encompassed here.

If the worries of life, the deception of riches or your desire for other things keeps you from obeying the word of God your life is too distracted.

Unfortunately we live in a distracted world.
But if we want to grow in our faith we must reduce the distractions of life.

So what do we do if we find ourselves hardened against scripture? What do we do if we find ourselves a bit more shallow than we’d like? What do we do if we are living a distracted life?

4. Is there a way to develop a more receptive heart?

The answer is yes.
Here Jesus gives us a framework for preparing our hearts to receive his word faithfully.

Verse 20
Those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit.
Hear the word.
Accept it.
Bear fruit.

Back in verse 9 Jesus ended this parable by saying “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then, explaining how the secret of the kingdom of God is seen by some but other only hear parables
he quotes a passage from Isaiah

“so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

Jesus is not trying to prevent their turning and ensuing forgiveness, he is instead explaining why they do not turn and receive forgiveness - they see but don’t perceive. They hear but do not understand.

Those who hear the word of God are those who have a positive response to it which is seen in accepting it - in being changed by it.

If we want to develop a more receptive heart we must both hear and accept the word.

Being called to dinner. If you hear the call but don’t move, you may as well have not heard the call.

The parable of the sower raises in our minds questions about what type of response we have to the word of God.
And it lays out a pathway for us to develop a receptive heart.

And when we do marvelous things happen.

We bear fruit. I love it that Jesus shows different levels if you will of fruit bearing.

Not everyone will bear fruit in the same way.

The climax of Jesus’ story is this incredible impact of those who are faithful. Of those who are receptive to the word of God.

There are at least 60 references to bearing fruit in the NT. From the fruit of the Spirit to the fruit in keeping with repentance.
The fruit of the kingdom and the fruit of sanctification.
The fruit of light and the fruit of righteousness

Those who are receptive to the word of God bear fruit.

This parable challenges us to respond to the word of God in such a way that we bear fruit.



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