The Sower and the Seeds
(Mark 4:3-9; Matt 13:3-9; Luke 8:5-8)
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Mark 4: 3-9
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Jesus tells this parable while sitting in a boat in the Sea of Galilee. The land gently sloped down to the water’s edge, creating a natural amphitheater for His listeners. To best understand Jesus’ parabolic method, we need to keep things in mind:
1. Jesus starts with the “here and now” in order to teach us about the “there and then.” He starts with simple things that His listeners could readily understand and leads them – and us! – to deeper truths.
2. Jesus believed that in ordinary, everyday things, people could learn to see God at work.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. . .
Rom. 1: 20
The visible world is designed to make known the spiritual things of God.
3. Parables are meant to convey a simple message; they are not allegories. In an allegory, each detail has a meaning. As we read Jesus’ parables, we must resist the temptations to assign deep, spiritual meaning to every little detail. The message of this parable is simple and uncomplicated:
The Gospel is like sowing seed: it is not fruitful everywhere. It doesn’t always fall on fertile soil.
Christ tells us about four types of “soil.” He is not suggesting that they are equal – that sharing the Gospel message will be fruitless 75% of the time. That’s reading a meaningless detail into the parable. Instead, Jesus is warning us that the Gospel seed fails to grow for various reasons:
It dries us;
It is slowly impaired.
Jesus is talking about those who reject the supernatural. He is talking about the kind of people we are going to meet who appear to be open to the Gospel message.
The Four Types
And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside;
Some other translations say the seed fell on the path. The point is: It fell on the hard, impenetrable soil, packed down by tramping feet, and wagon wheels, year in and year out, nothing could take root.
These are the people who have already made up their minds and are unwilling to entertain any concept or idea that differs from what they have already decided is true. I like to describe these folks as having “guest room minds:” already made up because they are seldom used.
Human sin does not rob the Gospel of its power to save.
"Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Without spiritual regeneration – born again – the human heart and mind are impenetrable. Because in our natural condition, we are spiritually dead, we cannot understand and accept spiritual things. The Gospel seed won’t take root.
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
I Cor. 2: 13-14
This is the same thing Jesus told Nicodemus:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3: 3-6
and the birds of the air came and devoured it.
We all know spiritually hungry people. When they hear the Gospel message, they respond positively. But then they hear about some new spiritual fad, and they are led astray. This is why Paul exhorted Timothy:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
II Tim. 4: 2-4
Too often, when Christians don’t get the response they are hoping for, they slip into the practice of what I call the theology of accommodation. Churches will tailor their ministries to the desires of the culture. They try to force the “rocky soil” to grow seed. And for a little while, they may look like their accommodation is working. But then some new spiritual guru comes to town and lures these people away.
We are not called to be successful. We are called to be obedient. Share the Gospel, and leave the results up to God.
Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 13: 48
Some fell on stony ground, where it did
not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth
There is a subtle difference between people represented by stony ground and those represented by seed fell by the wayside. Those who are like seed fell by the wayside receive the Gospel message eagerly, but are too shallow in their commitment for it to mature.
The stony ground represents people who exhibit a temporary “faith” with the promise of becoming fruitful disciples, but their shallowness allows them to be easily led astray. This type is far too common today. We all need to examine our profession of faith to see how deeply it is taking root in our daily lives.
The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.
The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 3
Too many of us are like a pastor I had lunch with. I asked if she believed Christ was the only way to Heaven. She said, “I know that’s what the Bible says, but I think God is too loving and gracious not to let everyone in.” Unless God’s Word penetrates our hearts and minds overriding all other beliefs, it will not produce a faith that will preserve.
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
James 2: 19-20
“Stoney ground” believers are not atheists or agnostics. They sincerely believe the limited Gospel that they have come to understand.
young man worked very hard to save up enough money to
take his first vacation, an ocean cruise. He carefully
pack all his clothing, and toiletries. Then, because he
would be gone for a week, he packed cheese and crackers
for him to eat.
When evening came on the first day of his big adventure, the young man noticed other passengers going in to the dining room and having a delicious dinner. He returned to his cabin and ate cheese and crackers.
The next morning, he noticed people eating a wonderful breakfast in the dining room. He went back to his cabin and ate cheese and crackers.
So it went until the last day of the cruise. By then, the cheese and crackers were quite stale, and the young man became desperate for a “decent meal.” He went to the ship’s steward and begged him, “Please, sir! I will do anything for one good meal before this cruise is finished!”
The steward looked at the young man in astonishment. “Sir, are you not a passenger? Has your fare not been paid? You are entitled to eat any of the food offered abroad this ship. Everything we have to offer became yours when your ticket was purchased.
All the young man could say was, “I didn’t know.”
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Eph. 6: 10-13
A young lady accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior at a Billy Graham Crusade. She was very excited about her commitment and couldn’t wait to tell her pastor.
A couple of weeks later, her pastor asked her if her friends were treating her any differently now that she was a Christian.
The young lady was puzzled by the question, and replied, “I not sure any of them know.”
If Christ is our Lord, our lives ought to be different. Accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior is a wonderful beginning. But if our “Christianity” stops there, without taking root in the way we live, then we are “stoney ground” believers. We need to continually grow in our understanding of God’s Word. Only then will we be able to be fruitful disciples.
And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
In this third group, Jesus puts people who could be fruitful disciples if only they didn’t let things side-track them. I had a supervisor who was the most efficient person I have ever met. One day, I asked him his “secret.” He said, “Jim, I keep things in the order God created them.”
Consider God’s priorities. They are the same for all of us!
Keep your priorities in the order God created them.
1. Take care of ourselves;
2. Take care of those dependent on us;
3. Take care of our professions.
When we keep this order straight, we are effective, fruitful disciples. When we allow this order to be skewed, we will discover that we are not doing anything very well. We will become “choked” with all the “thorns” this world throws at us.
You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.
For a professing believer to become a fruitful disciple he must take care to “weed” his “garden.” Step 10 of AA’s Twelve Steps to Recovery is:
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
A good rule for Christians is: Never have more than one sin to confess. That will probably keep most of us in constant prayer. It is the most effective way I know to keep the “thorns” of life from “choking” our spiritual growth.
But other seed fell on good ground
In fruitful disciples, good ground, the Gospel not only takes root, ever growing stronger and deeper, but also disciplines them to prevent life’s “thorns” from distracting them from Christ’s lordship in their lives.
Jesus isn’t talking about perfect people. . . people who are never tempted; people who never slip. There is no one this side of Heaven who is capable of that kind of discipline. He is talking about people who discipline themselves to keep growing and learning.
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matt. 5: 48
Understanding the Greek word used here is helpful. The word is teleios. It does not mean abstract perfection; it means end, goal, purpose. Non-believers are capable of loving their children, their mates, and their friends. But only a regenerated soul is capable of having a godly purpose. In other words, being “good ground” which produces fruitful disciples.