The Sower

And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4)

Although the subject is the distribution and success of evangelism, evangelism by the church was NOT the primary subject, but rather, the distribution of Truth in every respect, into the world, by God Himself, the Sower. In a parable, Jesus describes the characteristics of each of four types of hearers, and by what means three became fruitless. Finally, he instructs all can hear, to hear. Not only must those who are given the gospel message needing to hear correctly, but there is a strong admonition to understand why the profound power of the gospel could be overlooked by not choosing HOW one hears.

The message is plain: Everyone hears, but only those who pay attention and “give ear” by paying close attention and following up with thought will be those to whom ‘it is given”, that is who profit from what is said or taught.

And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: (v10-11)

In a more intimate setting hungry hearers, seeking to understand in full, seek clarification. The classic reading suggests that only 12 disciples are present to hear the more intimate and comprehensive message, which is coming, while this phrase provides for the disciples and those that are will the disciples. We can imagine Mary Magdalene, and others who were with the disciples in their brief earthly connection with Jesus to a part of the slimmed down audience now.

That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? (v12-13)

The reward and eternal benefit of hearing with appropriate valuing of the Word and resultant pursuit of meaning is actually the main focus of this entire discourse.

Luke, in 8:18 records this warning with maximum impact: “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” ..

“How you hear” – the quality of hearing, the effort and engagement invested in hearing, and whether it is sufficient to obtain the content of the Word! Jesus rightly warns then that, should they neglect to obtain the value of Truth, it is not simply a lost opportunity, but that all else which one may think to possess and be assured of will be LOST without being built on the foundation of the Word, particularly THIS Word.

Going forward we would be failing, if we did not know by this time that the remaining parable will be directly about how WE respond to the revelation of God’s word: the scripture and voice of God, in Jesus Christ who is the Living Word.

The sower soweth the word. (v14)

We know this from scripture: despite abundant religions, God’s true presence and purpose in the world is revealed only by His own deliberate purpose. By nature, apart from God’s intent to reveal Himself and His will, there is no natural understanding of God in the mind and heart of man. So, the Word is God’s intent to bring a harvest at length back to Himself.

Failures of Hearing #1:
And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. (v15)

“By the way side”: Commentators and popular readings have this as meaning “By the side of the road”, from Greek “para ho hodos” (παρα τη οδον) but there is no “side” in the original. The clear meaning then is not seed falling along the side of the road, but seed falling on the road. In verse 4, where the parable is taught, the word again is ‘hodos’, however the full phrase is ‘para hodos’ (near the road) which might be why some entertain the “side of the road” meaning, however it is plain and obvious that seed falling on or near the road will be trodden underfoot and fail to grow much at all. Such seed will be impotent lacking the accommodation of “good ground”. It will be swept aside. In fact, the fouls of the air do not look in the bushes for food. They swoop down to land on the road where there is food in plain sight.

The condition refers to a life where continual earthly pursuit and a lack of regard for the word deprive the Word of the heart and sadly the converse. The heart is therefore deprived of the benefits of the Word. We must notice that Satan is at work in supporting a level of activity that leaves no time for the heart to receive and dwell on things of God.

Notice that, unlike the following, the scripture does not say the wayside hearers were glad. Apparently, for these there is no personal impact which causes them to hold fast to the Word, either.
Failures of Hearing #2:

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. (v16-17)

So many ministers have wept with the encounter of these “stony ground hearers”, indeed it is the landscape of ministry in a time of great personal liberties where the forging of character is minimized by the presence of satisfactory wealth.

The multitudes who heard Jesus’ sermons in his earthly ministry come to mind. Some persecution thinned the crowds considerably. The “gladness” can be called superficial, as it is apparently insufficient to retain the plant which is the gospel and ultimate promise of Life. This fact suggests inspecting the phrase “have no root in themselves”.

We might paraphrase carefully and say “they did not own it”. To own something, is to have it merge with yourself, giving up space for it to grow within you. To allow a root to grow seems require something more than immediate approval and encouragement by the Word. The root reaches to where nourishment and stability for continued growth will be provided.

Failures of Hearing #3

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. (vs 18-19)

Within the limited ground of the human heart, competition for space can make the seed of saving truth secondary, superseded, and smothered by other uses of the heart. Jesus mentions “cares”, “deceitfulness of riches” and “lusts for other things”. Each of these are entertained by and compete for the limited ground which is the very heart of man. Jesus also taught that “Where a man’s treasure is, there shall his heart be”. The is about the priority in life: The focus of life which dominates the heart and mind. Make no mistake, the teaching here is that the salvation gift of God is not intended, guaranteed or possible to be successful when it is not the hearer’s first, most treasured and tightly held to priority.
Clearly, we are to understand that hearing is the intended means for blessing providing the Word to the decision-making capability of the human mind, but that the choice of HOW to hear and respond is ours alone, and individually.

Fruitful Hearing:
And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. (vs 19-20)

The word was not intended to condemn, and Mark’s simple representation here demonstrates: For the intended purpose of the seed, the sower only requires the ground to Hear and to Receive. So, contrary to the Calvinist heresy, it is possible to receive, or not to receive. “Receive” is originally ‘paradechomai’ (παραδέχομαι), or as Strongs defines “to accept near, that is, admit or (by implication) delight in:”, so one must not only hear well, giving place and diligence to know the message of God, but also delight in and savor the Truth. We cannot bypass Jesus profound declaration “I am the way, the truth and the life”.

When we pray and engage in sincere surrendered communication with God, we are loving truth. When we study and receive the Word of God, we are loving truth. When we do the will of God which His spirit has brought to our thoughts, we are loving truth, and when we do not, we are making it increasingly unlikely that the seed will produce the fruit of life, in ourselves and others, now and in eternity.

Good ground is defined with greater detail in Luke 8:15 “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

Comparing Mark 4:20 with this rendition in Luke’s gospel, we see that to RECEIVE the seed is to KEEP (or ‘seize and hold fast’) the seed. Luke adds a detail we ought to consider and value here. Those which are “good ground” are considered by God to have “honest and good heart”.

We do not believe in man’s goodness, no. As Jesus said, “There is one good but one”, and we do not believe that any ever born who do not need true salvation for eternal life but we do believe in the honest and good heart. This is what God is seeking when he sows the seed of the gospel into the human race.

The response to the gospel is the single and only qualifying evaluation which God uses to initially separate man, and take further steps towards our hope. A more impersonal picture is present in the parable of the nets.

Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
(Luk 5:4-11)

God is seeking a harvest. The honest and good heart is caught in the net which will lift a soul from the timely constraints of this life. Not all of them are clean fish, but God is not sorting out the catch until we join Him on shore. Neither should we.

Preach the gospel!