Jesus had not always used parables in his ministry. Jesus explained that His use of parables had a two-fold purpose: to reveal the truth to those who wanted to know it and to conceal the truth from those who were indifferent. In (Matthew 12), the Pharisees had publicly rejected their Messiah and blasphemed the Holy Spirit, thus committing the unpardonable sin. They fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of a hardhearted, spiritually blind people (Isaiah 6:9–10). Jesus’ response was to begin teaching in parables. Those who, like the Pharisees, had a preconceived bias against the Lord’s teaching would dismiss the parables as irrelevant nonsense. However, those who truly sought the truth would understand.
Mark’s Gospel is about the Kingdom of God, and in chapter 4, Jesus specifically begins to expose exactly what this kingdom is like.
The parable of the sower (4:1-9) is often interpreted in a way not tenable in the ancient world. Our modern world of combines, fertilizers, massive irrigation, and land-leveling equipment can make almost any soil farmable. In the ancient agrarian context, such was not the case. The shocking dynamic of the parable is that soil has no choice in what type of soil it is. The sower is indiscriminate, wasteful, or perhaps optimistic; soil types are entrenched in their own ways. This inevitably leads to questions about free will: do we have any?
Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower highlights four different responses to the gospel. The seed is “the word of the kingdom.” The hard ground represents someone who is hardened by sin; he hears but does not understand the Word, and Satan plucks the message away, keeping the heart dull and preventing the Word from making an impression. The stony ground pictures a man who professes delight with the Word; however, his heart is not changed, and when trouble arises, his so-called faith quickly disappears. The thorny ground depicts one who seems to receive the Word, but whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts; the things of this world take his time and attention away from the Word, and he ends up having no time for it. The good ground portrays the one who hears, understands, and receives the Word—and then allows the Word to accomplish its result in his life. The man represented by the “good ground” is the only one of the four who is truly saved, because salvation’s proof is fruit.
Two point can summarize the Parable of the Sower:
- A man’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart.
- Salvation is more than a superficial, joyful, hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it.