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Interesting paradox in the Galilean ministry of Jesus Christ – huge crowds were attracted to Jesus and His amazing healing miracles … but very few became committed disciples who understood and followed His message. How could this be? What if we commissioned fruit inspectors to look into the hearts of all the professing Christians throughout the many church services in our country this morning? What would they find regarding the genuineness and health of the fruit? Is there really spiritual life present? No root . . . No fruit; No fruit … No life

MacArthur: The crowds were, however, superficial and exploitive and they were a hindrance, though at the same time they were an opportunity. True believers were this little group of twelve Apostles and other believers who, when all is said and done, after the resurrection only numbered 500 in Galilee and 120 in Jerusalem. It raises the question, “Why so few?”

Only 2 passages in Mark’s action-oriented account that contain extended teaching by Jesus – here in chap. 4 and in chap. 13. So this content must be viewed as fundamental and of primary importance to Jesus as He is beginning the more intensive phase of the training of the 12 for future ministry. That ministry is summarized in the Great Commission – with evangelism being the key starting point.

This passage is not about the sower – who is not expressly identified here; it is not about what method or style the sower uses or what type of personality or powers of persuasion the sower uses … It is a given that the sower is sowing the seed

This passage is not even about the seed – which is the Word of God – it is assumed that the seed is genuine and pure and unadulterated and effective. This is not about adapting our message or refining it to be more palatable …

This passage is all about the difference in soils. We need to first examine how it is that we receive and respond to the Word of God. Then we need to make sure we can pass this Evangelism 101 course in terms of how the gospel message impacts ourselves and then others.


A. (:1) Teaching Setting

“And He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very great multitude gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.”

Summary of ministry in Galilee as we have studied previously

– priority of teaching ministry

– necessity of teaching in outlying areas (by the sea) rather than in cities and synagogues

– logistical complications due to the surprisingly large crowds – provided for opportunity,

but presented difficulties

important to sit down if you are teaching from a small boat; position rabbis usually took when they were teaching

B. (:2) Teaching Method = Parables

“And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,”

Moving into a section that will feature the parables of Jesus

Two contrasting goals: revealing truth and concealing truth – enigmatic presentation

Jesus is going to explain more about why he uses this teaching method after he introduces the details of the parable

But what is a parable?

MacArthur: Any kind of analogy, any kind of illustration, any kind of comparison fits into the broad category of a parable.

Constable: Parables are illustrations that teach truth by comparisons (Gr. parabole, lit. “something thrown alongside,” similitudes). Some are long stories, but others are short similes, metaphors, analogies, or proverbial sayings (cf. 2:19-20, 21, 22; 3:24-25, 27). The popular definition that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, is essentially accurate as far as it goes. The use of parables for teaching was a common rabbinic device that Jesus adopted and used with great skill. . . . Matthew recorded Jesus giving two groups of parables on this occasion: four to the multitudes (Matt. 13:3b-35), and four to the disciples (Matt. 13:36-52). Mark recorded only Jesus’ parables to the multitudes.

Wiersbe: A parable begins innocently as a picture that arrests our attention and arouses our interest. But as we study the picture, it becomes a mirror in which we suddenly see ourselves. If we continue to look by faith, the mirror becomes a window through which we see God and His truth. How we respond to that truth will determine what further truth God will teach us.”

MacArthur: Psalm 78 introduces a parable, a dark saying, a hidden saying that is then the basis of a judgment pronounced on Israel.

Now if you follow that idea along in the Old Testament, I’m going to tell you something you need to think about, you can look at it when you read your Old Testament in the future, parables in the Old Testament are connected to judgment. Parables in the Old Testament are connected to judgment. Psalm 78 is that illustration. It is a dark saying, it is a hidden saying, it is a parable. It’s stated to be a parable in verse 2, the parable is given and the parable then is a picture of Israel’s judgment. When you come to 2 Samuel chapter 12, Nathan tells David a parable, a parable about a man. A man had some sheep, a neighbor who stole his sheep, etc., etc., and that is a parable that ends up in a pronunciation on David. In Judges chapter 9 verses 1 to 21, Gideon’s son Jotham tells a parable to the men of Shechem because they had chosen the murderous Abimelech to be their king and killed all his brothers. And the parable is told and t hen it is explained as divine judgment coming on those sinful people.

In Ezekiel chapter 17, chapter 24, you have Ezekiel giving a parable that is explained as a judgment. In Isaiah chapter 5 and chapter 6, you have Isaiah giving the parable, it begins in chapter 5 about the vineyard and the question is even asked, “What is this vineyard and who is he talking about? And what’s going on here?” And he pronounces the Babylonian judgment on Israel, their captivity when they were hauled into Babylon is the meaning of the parable. . .

So the basic truth of the parable is this, the result of all gospel proclamation by anybody and everybody is dependent on the condition of the heart. Did you get that? It depends on the condition of the heart. Don’t pat yourself on the back, it’s not you. It’s the heart and if you think you can do something about the heart, guess again because you can’t. I can throw seed, but only God can plow soil. Only God by the Holy Spirit can plow the heart. Now that’s a foundational truth to understand. “No man comes unto Me except the Father draws him.”

And by the way, in that John 6 passage, Jesus repeats that same statement in another form in the sixth chapter, and it’s worth being reminded. John 6:65, “For this reason I said to you, ‘No one can come to Me unless it’s been granted him from the Father.’” Unless it’s been granted him from the Father. So the only way that there’s going to be good soil is that it’s divinely prepared by God, chosen, prepared, the Spirit of God has come and done conviction. The heart is made ready and there’s a response. . .

So, on the one hand, our Lord speaking in parables is a judgment to the non-believers who are fixed in their rejection. On the other hand, it is an invitation to revelation to His friends to whom the great mysteries of the Kingdom will be disclosed in full so that they can have the privilege of knowing this truth and carry out the responsibility of proclaiming it.

Deffinbaugh: Our Lord’s words of explanation reveal that some decisive changes have occurred in His ministry:

• They reveal that there is a change in the message of our Lord. I believe that in the first Galilean campaign of our Lord, the emphasis was on His identity as Israel’s king. Now, the Lord’s teaching has shifted to the more intimate (secret) aspects of His kingdom.

• Our Lord’s words reveal a change of method. Our Lord is now speaking by means of parables—more indirectly than before.

• Our Lord’s words reveal a change of focus and emphasis. Jesus is beginning to spend more time with His disciples. In our Lord’s first Galilean campaign, it would seem that His disciples were not always present. From now on, Jesus pours more effort into the teaching of His disciples (not just the 12, either, but the larger group of His followers).

Scott Grant: In part, Jesus teaches in parables to avoid arrest. His preaching has already drawn the attention of powerful enemies. To continue preaching his controversial message in a straightforward manner would draw even more unwanted attention and place his mission in further danger. Therefore, he teaches cryptically, in parables, intriguing those who are receptive to his message but confounding those who are opposed to it.


(:3) Preamble

“Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow;”

Importance of this fundamental parable — need to understand the main point here

Function of the sower is to sow – viewed here as sowing directly (rather than through intermediaries)

Indiscriminate sowing – not like a farmer at all – but with the purpose in mind of producing a fruitful crop

Broadcast method of sowing — not planting individual seeds … but walking down paths in a field and casting seed everywhere

A. (:4) Seed on the Road

“and it came about that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road,

and the birds came and ate it up.”

Jeff Miller: A first-century path alongside—or through—a field was composed of dirt that was well-worn and firmly-packed from high volumes of foot traffic, virtually impenetrable to scattered seed.

We can throw some grass seed on our lawn and see some of the same activity – where the seed lies on ground that has not been prepared and dug up … the birds come along and say “Thank you very much for the easy meal”

B. (:5-6) Seed on Rocky Ground

“And other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil;

and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.

And after the sun had risen, it was scorched;

and because it had no root, it withered away.”

Lots of rocky ground in Palestine

MacArthur: What we’re talking about here is limestone bedrock below the level of the plow. The plow goes in but below that there’s limestone bedrock. That stuff exists all through the land of Israel. It is…in fact, the rabbis used to say that when God dumped the rocks on the earth, He made a mistake and dumped all of them on Israel. It is a very, very rocky place and much of that rock lies below the surface, below the plow and what happens is, the seed goes in, it finds the soft soil, it starts to get life, the ground is warm, there’s moisture and water there and it starts to grow, the roots can’t go down because they hit bedrock and so whatever nutrients are there, whatever elements of life are there shoot the plant upward. And that’s why it says it immediately sprang up.

Emphasis here = No root

C. (:7) Seed Among Thorns

“And other seed fell among the thorns,

and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.”

Emphasis here = No fruit

D. (:8) Seed on Good Soil

“And other seeds fell into the good soil

and as they grew up and increased,

they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

(:9) Postscript

“And He was saying, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

Wiersbe: Each of the three fruitless hearts is influenced by a different enemy: the hard heart—the devil himself snatches the seed; the shallow heart—the flesh counterfeits religious feelings; the crowded heart—the things of the world smother the growth and prevent a harvest. These are the three great enemies of the Christian: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:1-3).”

1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father Is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”


A. (:10) Perplexity About Parables: Why Use Parables? / What Do They Mean?

“And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.”

Sounds like the bulk of the crowd dispersed with no understanding of the meaning of this parable

Distinction made here between the general followers of Jesus and the specific 12 Apostles

B. (:11-12) Purpose of Parables

“And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return and be forgiven.’”

Def. of a mystery = something not previously revealed in the OT but now made known by God both revealing and granting understanding of the truth

Jewish understanding and expectation of the kingdom of God was not complete; there was a mystery aspect to it – certainly this whole church age in which the emphasis is on sowing the seed to all men everywhere – to create a church with no distinction between Jew and Gentile – was a mystery to OT Jews

Look at the clear distinction Jesus makes between 2 very different groups of people:

– The disciples who have been given a gift of understanding God’s truth … and by implication who receive the gift of forgiveness of sins

– Those who are outside – to whom the truth is hidden in judgment; who will not experience forgiveness of sins

That’s why it should not be surprising that of the 4 types of soil mentioned … only 1 concerns those who are saved = the only group that bears fruit

C. (:13) Perspicuity of Parables: This Parable Should Be Simple to Understand

“And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable?

And how will you understand all the parables?’”

“Perspicuity” – plain to the understanding esp. because of clarity and precision of presentation

We are accustomed to emphasizing the main truth of each parable and not pressing each detail as if it has some specific allegorical meaning … but look at how Jesus interprets this parable

Stedman: Please notice that Jesus treats it exactly as the commentator says he must not do! He treats it as an allegory. He says every detail means something. And he says, furthermore, that this is the way to handle all the parables. This is the key to understanding parables. Parables are allegories in which every detail applies, has its own import to the whole.

Evangelism 101 starts with an understanding of the different types of responses we should expect from the proclamation of the gospel message


(:14) Consistent Thread = Sowing the Seed

”The sower sows the word.”

The sower is actively sowing the word – that is a given – STOP right here; is this a given for us individually … for us as a church … is this what characterizes the bulk of our activities … is everything else just there to support our main ministry in life = to fulfill the Great Commission??? Huge problem … but not the thrust of this parable

Not talking about HOW the sower sows the word – should we use tracts .. open air preaching … friendship evangelism … large stadium type crusades … etc. – should we use different types of music .. what about drama and plays …

Everybody hears the Word – not dealing with the issue of what about the heathen in Africa who have never heard the gospel

Differing responses to the Word is the issue – based on different dispositions of the heart

Stedman: The Word of God is sown by means of preaching or teaching or reading or studying or witnessing, or in some other way. The Word is dropped into hearts like seeds into soil. That Word is the life-giving element which can change the whole situation and bring enrichment and harvest into a life. Therefore the moment of the sowing of the Word is a magic hour. It is a time when the opportunity to be changed is present.

The inherent power of the Word of God

James 1:21 “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls”

1 Pet. 1:23 “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God”

A. (:15) Seed on the Road – Hardened Hearts vs. Spiritual Life

“And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown;

and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.”

Satan is alive and active; a genuine threat and enemy of the reception of the word of God

Scribes and Pharisees fall into this category – the religious self-righteous who are blind leaders of the blind

This category is impossible to penetrate at all with the impact of the gospel message

They feel they have their act together; they don’t sense any need for salvation; don’t view themselves as lost and in need of a Savior

Jeff Miller: This soil represents a hard heart that doesn’t permit the Word of God to penetrate its surface. These individuals are in control of their own lives; they have all of the answers. They are unteachable, and the Word of God falls upon their deaf ears.

B. (:16-17) Seed on Rocky Ground – Shallow Hearts vs Spiritual Perseverance

“And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

“and in a similar way” – these first two groups are related – they are spiritually dead – bear no fruit

Not talking about some category of “carnal Christians” who just don’t reach full maturity

Same as John 15 – professing believers – but the fruitless branches have no life and are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned

Superficial Christianity has no roots and no persevering endurance; they never understood the costs of discipleship

that superficial, only temporarily soft, self-centered, self-indulgent, self-seeking heart.

Don’t use emotion to try to manipulate folks into a decision for Christ – you must understand this parable of the soils

Don’t just assume that every profession of faith is authentic; don’t be surprised when you see apostasy – people falling away who previously professed faith

Importance of spiritual perseverance

If your concept of the gospel is that Jesus came to take away all of your problems and give you smooth sailing through life … then you will fall away when trials or hardship or persecution impact you.

Particularly relevant warning to those believers in Jesus’ day who were facing persecution for their new faith

Deffinbaugh: These folks respond positively to the word because they think that it is a kind of “prosperity gospel,” a gospel which promises only good times, blessing, happiness, and bliss. The quickness of the response is an indication of their lack of depth, or their lack of perception as to what the gospel really means. And, let me quickly add, this is not due to our Lord’s misrepresentation of the gospel. It is the result of selective hearing, of hearing only the good and pleasant things, rather than hearing of the costs involved in discipleship, of which our Lord often spoke.

C. (:18-19) Seed Among Thorns – Distracted (Preoccupied) Hearts vs Spiritual Devotion

“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

Not willing to pay the price of discipleship

MacArthur: This is a double minded person whose repentance is not complete. This is the person who wants salvation, wants Christ, wants the Kingdom but wants the world and wants riches and wants things. Pretty obvious. This is the double minded. He wants to serve God and money and Jesus said, “You can’t serve God and money.” This is the rich young ruler, remember him in Luke…in Matthew 19? Comes to Jesus, “What do I have to do to enter the Kingdom?” And He says, “Give up all your money because that’s obviously the idol that rules your heart.” And he was not willing to do that. And he was also not willing to admit his own sinfulness. He wanted to hang on to the illusion of his own pride and his own riches.

Literally when it says at the beginning of verse 19, “worries of the world,” it is literally the distractions of the age…the distractions of the age. Whatever they are, whatever occupies the age…this is the preoccupied heart. This is the heart that unfortunately loves the world and all the things that are in the world, according to 1 John 2, and therefore the love of God is not in him. This is the heart that is the enemy of God, James 4:4, because it loves the world. This is the kind of heart that says, as Jesus points out in Luke chapter 9, “Yeah, I’m going to follow You, Lord, I‘m going to follow You but I can’t follow You now, you know, I’ve got to go home and wait till I get my inheritance from my father so I have some money. Well I can’t follow You now, I’ve got to go home and say goodbye to everybody so I can raise some money to take with me.” And Jesus says, “No, no, no, if you look back you’re not fit for the Kingdom.”

These are those who are under the terrible temptation of the love of money becoming the root of all kinds of evil, 1 Timothy chapter 6. These are people consumed with the stuff of the world.

D. (:20) Seed on Good Soil – Fruitful Hearts

“And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil;

and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

3 Present Participles – ongoing activity characterizing their interaction with the Word:

– Hear

– Accept

– Bear fruit

Van Parnak: Location: the good ground, free from the characteristics of the other three.

1) Unlike the wayside, it is plowed up.

2) Unlike the stony ground, it is deep.

3) Unlike the thorny ground, it does not favor weeds.

Hendriksen: The importance of spiritual fruitbearing, as the mark of the true believer, is stressed even in the Old Testament (Ps. 1:1-3; 92:14; 104:13). This line of thought is continued in the gospels (Matt. 3:10; 7:17-20; 12:33-35; Luke 3:8; John ch. 15) and in the rest of the New Testament (Acts 2:38; 16:41; Rom. 7:4; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; Phil. 4:17; Col. 1:6; Heb. 12:11; 13:15; James 3:17,18).

Different amounts of fruit

What is your Goal in life? Should be to be fruitful to the maximum extent possible

Back in those days a healthy crop yield would have been tenfold … so this amount of fruitfulness is astonishing

MacArthur: That’s not natural. Good soil is not natural. Hard soil is natural. Just leave the ground and that’s what it will be. Rocky soil, that’s natural, leaving it the way it is. Weedy soil, that’s natural that’s the way it is. Something has to happen to this soil. To make it good soil, the stone has to be broken up. The hard ground has to be broken up. The weeds have to be taken out. Who can do that? Only God can do that. He alone can do that. Deuteronomy 30 verse 6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart that you may live. Proverbs 20 and verse 9 says, “Who can say I have made my heart clean, pure from sin?” Nobody can do that on his own.


Jodi Harper Application: Our county government has an office that tests soil. You can dig up a few handfuls of dirt from your yard and send it to them. They will put it under their microscope and see what it contains. In a few weeks, they will send you a report of how good your soil is for growing things. You will find out if there are good nutrients in your yard, or if you need to add something to make the soil just right.

May we not be found to be hard-hearted and impenetrable; or shallow; or distracted and preoccupied when it comes to obedience to God’s Word.

May the Lord grant that we are fruitful in our response to the Word of God.