The Parable of the Soil
Text: Mark 4: 1-20
Proposition: The way that belief works in person’s heart has to do both with their receptivity to it and also to the revealing power of God in their hearts to grasp it.
Introduction: First invented by the Babylonians the riddle was a puzzle that seemed to defy an answer. There are riddles like, ‘You draw a line. Without touching it, how do you make the line longer?’ You draw a shorter line next to it, and it becomes the longer line.’ Or, ‘We see it once in a year, twice in a week, and never in a day. What is it? The letter “E”.’ Riddles make you think things through from a different perspective but they aren’t as useful for teaching as other devices like examples or analogies. When Jesus taught the people He also used a device that would convey truth though on the surface it would often seem simple. He used parables, accounts of everyday life and yet the message in the parable was hidden. Listen to how Mark describes this in Mark 4:1-9.
I. A Parable Is Like a Lock That Protects Something Valuable.
Can you imagine walking for miles and miles to hear someone speak and then as you stand and listen they talk about something so simple that your whole trip seems to be a waste of time? That might be how many in the crowd felt that day as Jesus simply talked about a farmer who threw some seed on the ground. They had all seen this, likely they had cast the seed themselves at some point. They knew exactly what He was describing. The seed lands on the hard path, some of it lands on shallow rocky soil and some even lands among thistle infested soil, much of Israel was like that. Then He says that some of the seed lands in good soil and it produces various results depending on where it landed. That’s it, that’s the end of the story. And story after story was like that, the crowds likely squinted at Him as this went on, some looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders and yet others leaned in as if they couldn’t get enough. I think the disciples were more than a little puzzled, Jesus miracles were incredible but so much of what Jesus taught seemed to be like a story without a point. And yet Jesus seemed to be saying again and again that there was a very real point to the story as He often concluded with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” So they come to Him afterwards and ask what it all meant. That’s when Jesus says something that is difficult to hear. He says that the disciples are being shown a mystery, something they could never have grasped had not Jesus revealed it to them. That something is the kingdom of God, the spiritual realm that exists all around them and yet to most is not only invisible but also irrelevant. He describes the hard- hearted people like the Pharisees who only wanted to bend the truth to fit their selfish needs. To these the truth of the kingdom of God is locked up in parables partly because of their unbelief and partly as an act of mercy towards them. They will be judged, as all people will, for what they knew and yet had walked away from. The parables hid kingdom truth from them because of their hard hearts and to a degree, because of the mercy of God. What they didn’t clearly know they couldn’t be held accountable for. So Jesus says to the disciples, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” If a parable is the lock then every parable will need a key and here is the key to this parable… “The sower sows the word.” The seed in the parable is a reference to the Scripture and the truth it presents. Without this key the parable is just a story about a farmer, a story about being wasteful, a story about barren land. With the key, it becomes an invitation to discover the way that the kingdom of God evidences itself in our thinking and actions and hearts, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
II. The Issue is Not the Strength of the Seed, It’s the Receptivity of the Soil.
If the seed is the Word then the soil is the mind and hearts where that Word lands. According to the parable the vast majority of people will not want to hear it, much less actually believe what they hear and take action on it. The last soil type, the good ground, represents the minds and hearts and lives of people who hear the word and let it into their beings and it bears fruit, some 30 times greater, some 60 and some 100 times greater than what they first received. So the point is about the soil but the larger truth is about having a life that is fruitful, full of the truth about this life and the kingdom of God which we are invited into. Let’s look at what the kingdom of God has as its special features. I think we see this by the failures of the first three soil types.
The first type of soil or heart is packed down hard, the word lands on that heart but lays there exposed to the birds of the air. The birds represent the agents of Satan, able to come and take away the tiny truth that is given by either accusing it, mocking it or destroying it with lies. The kingdom of God will enable you to be fruitful by giving you a defense from the schemes of Satan. It will soften your heart. The truth gets into your heart and you can see through Satan’s methods and you grow past the ruin he would have planned for you.
The second soil type are the hearts of people who hear the truth about Jesus Christ and get excited about it but they fail to sink in any roots. They don’t dig into the Word, they lack the moisture that comes from taking a stand on what they believe. It’s like they think that knowing about Jesus is the same as getting to know Him through the depths of Scripture, prayer, faith, hope and love for Him and all that belong to Him. They have no root and when the heat gets turned up, they shrivel away. The kingdom of God is a place where the more you get to know Jesus the more He changes your life from one controlled by fears and doubts to one controlled by truth, grace and hope. You will find roots, you will find the water that a thirsty soul needs and it will enable you to grow even through the times when life gets really hard. That would be what a fruitful life looks like.
The third soil type is the like a soil that is infested with weeds, the roots of weeds and the tiny seeds that flourish twice as fast as any grain. The soil here is a heart that has so many entanglements that it competes with the kingdom God in their lives. Verses18, 19 say, “…they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” This is more than just distraction from God, His Word, His Son or His body the church. The cares for this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things choke the person’s faith, choke their ability to grow as a Christian and choke any effect their lives would have had to be spiritually fruitful. The word ‘choke’ literally means to suffocate. If it seems like you’re suffocating as a Christian ask yourself if these words describe your heart. Why else would Jesus have said, ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ The kingdom of God has an understanding in it that everything belongs to God not to you or I. That is more than just a spiritual platitude, it is the reality of how we function. All that we have is because He has entrusted us with it. If you can’t take it with you when you die why on earth should you think that you can take it with you while you live. We are stewards, managers of His resources and we live well as His stewards. That understanding in the kingdom of God will release the stranglehold of wealth around your neck, it will end the suffocating feelings of being without purpose, of having all the resources to do whatever you want but no idea what that might look like. That is what a suffocating life can feel like and it bears no fruit. Manage His resources and breathe, be fruitful.
Perhaps one observation we could add is that these soil types are subject to change. You can plow up the hard path, you can water the rocky places and remove the stones, you can remove the weeds. You can change your heart, agree with God about what He sees in you. Turn from it, repent from your sin for you are accountable. Verse 22 says, “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.”