The Sower, Seed, & Soil

Mark  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Have you ever noticed how good of a listener you can be when the subject matter interests you and how poor of a listener you can be when you really don’t care what’s been shared? For me, I’m not a gamer. I didn’t grow up playing video games and so I really have zero interest in them. But my son loves them and is always wanting to talk to me about what he’s doing. And he’s a long talker when it comes to games. It’s a struggle for me to pay attention and not be easily distracted. I’ve gotten pretty good at just nodding along and saying, “that’s cool” every other minute or so.
Now, any time my wife is talking to me I’m locked in, deeply engaged in every word coming out of her mouth.
Now we laugh there because you know that’s not true because we’re all guilty of not always being fully engaged with your spouse, or your friends, or your family. There are many times in fact when I’m looking right at my wife speaking, nodding along, and don’t hear a word she’s saying cause my mind is elsewhere.
Now, imagine with me for just a minute. Now, we don’t have this option here in Bloomington/Normal, but imagine after the service this morning we all took a drive down to the airport to go skydiving. So, we’re going to hop on a plane, take it up to 15,000 feet and jump out.
But first we enter a classroom where an instructor comes in to teach you all you need to know before you jump out of that plane. Do you think in that moment you would be engaged and listening to every word coming out of their mouth?
Would any of you be on your phones scrolling through social media and just nodding along but not really listening to anything being said? I don’t think so. I think we’d all be glued to every word and asking them to repeat what they said multiple times so that we make sure we’ve got it. Why is that? Because to not listen to those instructions would be incredibly foolish, reckless, and life-threatening.
In the text before us this morning from Mark 4, Jesus calls on this crowd to “listen.” He says it at the beginning of verse 3. “Listen to what I’m about to say to you!”
In verse 9 he says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
We have here, the God of the universe in human flesh saying, “listen to what I’m about to say.” When God speaks, we should listen, we should hang on every word that’s coming out of his mouth because every word is life-giving and to disregard God’s word is foolish, reckless, and life-threatening.


But isn’t that what we see in the text before us today? A large crowd of people once again. Some theologians think this may be the largest crowd yet that has pressed in near to see Jesus. And so, here we most likely have thousands of people who have all come to see Jesus and Jesus gathers them all near him, he even gets into a boat probably for a couple reasons 1) because the crowd is so large and pressing in he does so for safety, to give a bit of breathing room and space but 2) probably so the crowd could gather all around the shore and hear him.
And so, with this captive audience, Jesus begins by saying, “Listen!”
“Hear what I want to teach you.” “Hear what you need for your life.”
But the crowds just never really wanted to actually listen to Jesus. The crowds never have an interest in the person of Jesus and his teaching, and again, like we talked about last week, they just want the miracles, they just want the show. “Wow me.” “Entertain me.” “Heal me.” “Give me what I think I most need.”
And here Jesus is about to say, I’m going to give you, through my teaching, through my word what you truly need. And it will radically change your life for the better if you’ll listen. This word I’m going to give you will save your soul. So, hear me.
But very few will actually hear him. Yes, they might hear the audible words, but they’re not listening. And because they fail to hear him, because they fail to listen and respond, they miss out on the joy and new life that Jesus offers them through the power of the gospel.

Big Idea

True followers of Jesus hear, respond to, and spread the hope of the gospel understanding the obstacles, threats, and opposition to kingdom advancement.

Main Aim

Here we have Jesus, the Son of God. Immanuel, God with us. The eternal Word made flesh teaching and proclaiming the hope of the gospel, speaking to the crowd in parables in which if they would only listen and meditate upon the parable itself they would find truth which would result in their eternal salvation and restoration back to God the Father.
And so the question before us this morning is, will we listen as God speaks to us through his word and then if so, what is he saying?
This morning then, we want to look at what Jesus is saying through a parable regarding the sower, the seed, and the soil.


But first, let’s look at why Jesus uses parables to teach. Have you ever wondered that? Why not just speak plainly and clearly Jesus? What’s with the stories?

Why parables?

Verse 2,
Mark 4:2, “And he was teaching them many things in parables.”
Jesus often used parables to teach (35%). So, what is a parable? Simply put, a parable is a way to lay one spiritual truth alongside another for comparison. And so, he uses parables to teach spiritual truths to the people if they would be willing to listen and hear him.
Now, we’re probably most familiar with parables that are told as stories to teach a truth such as the parable of the prodigal son or the parable of the good samaritan. Jesus would use those stories to teach a truth about the character and nature of God (God is love/prodigal son), and so again it’s a way to compare spiritual realities.
But think back to a couple weeks ago when we walked through Mark 3 and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said in verse 23 of chapter 3, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
Now, that may not sound like a classic parable as we typically know them, but what Jesus is doing is laying side by side spiritual truths. He’s making a comparison. Well, in a broad sense, that’s what a parable is.
Parables have been used all throughout Scripture. Jesus was not the first one to use parables to teach.
In 2 Samuel 7, king David had committed adultery and murder. He had grievously sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, and God. And so, the prophet Nathan comes to David, who thinks he’s covered his sin, covered up his tracks and Nathan, knowing the sin of David uses a parable to confront him.
He comes to David and says, let me tell you a story.
2 Samuel 12:1-4, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
Do you hear the spiritual truth in that story of the sin of David?
Well, David didn’t at first. He grew enraged and said, “Bring that man to me! He will die for what he’s done!”
And I love Nathan’s response to David, the king. Nathan says,
2 Samuel 12:7, “You are the man!”
I share that story from 2 Samuel for a couple reasons. 1) to show that parables were nothing new in Jesus’ day but were a common way of teaching, but 2) to show that the purpose of a parable was to teach a spiritual truth to those who were willing to listen to it.
And that really is the purpose here of Jesus’ use of parables. You have to listen and you have to desire to seek truth and respond to it.
It’s why Jesus says in verse 3, “Listen!” and in verse 9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
It’s also what we see in verses 11 and 12,
Mark 4:11-12, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
Now, don’t take what Jesus is saying here as a means of hiding the gospel from people but what he’s doing is quoting Isaiah 6. Isaiah was called by God to preach repentance to God’s people who were in sin but they didn’t listen. They rejected the message and the messenger and because of it, they brought upon themselves judgment and condemnation.
Jesus is saying, listen, the people know that the Scriptures testify about me. That my life is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. They’re seeing the power of God at work in me as I heal, cast out demons, as I teach and perform miracles. And yet, the people by and large are rejecting me and they’re rejecting the message. And because of it they are bringing upon themselves judgment from God.
And so, Jesus teaches in parables as a way to filter out those who do not belong to him or to filter out those who just want the show but not the message. How? Well, who’s he speaking to now in verse 10 after he just taught this parable?
Mark 4:10, “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.”
Just a few who remained to hear more and his disciples.
Where did the crowd go? They left. Maybe some were disappointed that they didn’t get to witness another miracle. Others left because they didn’t get what Jesus was saying and they weren’t interested in digging into his teaching.
But a few remained with his disciples and it’s then that Jesus unpacks the parable to them? Why? Because they asked. Because they were listening. Because even though they didn’t understand, they wanted to know more. Because they were after the person of Jesus, not just his works. That’s why Jesus taught in parables.
And so, are you here to listen? Are you here to dig into these transformative spiritual truths of Jesus? What do we learn from Jesus through this simple parable?
Well, the parable is broken into three sections. The sower, the seed, and the soil.
Let’s listen to the parable one more time and then we’ll break it down.
Mark 4:3-8, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
Let’s look at,

The Sower

There’s a type of farming called “broadcast sowing.” Now, when we think of the word “broadcast” most of us probably think of radio. “Broadcasting.” Well, the concept is the same. A radio DJ broadcasts their voice out to as many who will tune in and listen. Well, here, a farmer would take seed and cast it broadly over the soil to cover as much area as possible.
Probably, the easiest way for us to picture this type of seeding is what we typically do when seeding our lawn with grass seed. I doubt any of us when planting grass seed take each individual seed and plant it in carefully designed rows in the soil. No, we grab a handful and cast it to cover the ground.
That’s broadcast sowing that Jesus is talking about here. Some of the seed will end up on the sidewalk where it won’t grow, some will end up in rocky soil, maybe some among weeds depending on where you are seeding, but the hope, if you’re being intentional with it is that much of the seed will end up on the good soil and thrive.
So, the sower in this parable is the one who spreads the hope and message of the gospel to all who will hear and listen. Our responsibility before God and charge from him is not to change people’s hearts, we cannot. It’s not to try and guilt or manipulate people into believing, it is simply to share the message of the hope found in Jesus.
Gospel proclamation.
The kingdom of God grows and multiplies through the power of the gospel going forth and changing people’s lives. It’s the gospel that changes people, our responsibility is to spread it. To sow it.
Secondly, let’s look at,

The Seed

The seed is the word, it’s the gospel. That’s verse 14,
Mark 4:14, “The sower sows the word.”
Now, why does Jesus use a seed as a picture of the gospel? Why not something that seems more powerful? Why not a hammer or an anvil or a bomb? Why a seed?
I think to show that we’re changed, not through force or coercion, or manipulation but rather through transformation.
You see, a seed is powerful when placed in the right conditions.
If you’ve ever seen a Redwood tree in the pacific northwest, they’re just massive trees. Hard to describe without seeing them. I mean, I can say, they’re big but until you stand next to one and look at it, you just don’t fathom and massiveness of the tree. Well, the seed itself is about the size of a tomato seed. It’s incredibly small. But under the right conditions it grows into something that is unbreakable.
We also know that a seed will grow only if it has a deep root system.
And so, for us to grow in grace and in our sanctification there needs to be depth. There needs to be a rooting in God’s Word, there needs to be a linking of arms with other brothers and sisters in Christ so that we grow together.
We know that a seed, once it has blossomed can multiply and reproduce.
A hammer does not have that ability. A hammer is a tool of force but a seed can reproduce and multiply. And that’s how the kingdom of God spreads. It spreads through people who have been changed by the gospel, develop a deep root system in God’s Word who then multiply and continue to spread the hope of the gospel to others.
Lastly, we see,

The Soil

This here is what I believe to be the heart of the parable. It’s not really a parable of the sower, it’s a parable of the soil.
There’s a bit of irony here in this parable. He tells this parable to this massive crowd where the point of the parable is why they won’t listen and respond. And what do we see? The crowd leaves and doesn’t listen or respond.
Only a few remain to ask what this means.
So, Jesus unpacks why thousands of people who were just eager to be near him have now left when they didn’t get the miracle or understand the teaching.
He says there’s four different soils which represent the spiritual heart of humanity.

Soil number 1 - Hard- heartedness.

It’s seed that’s sown along the path and immediately is snatched away by Satan.
If you’ve ever gone hiking you know that the path you walk on through the forrest is compact from many people walking on it before you. A seed has no chance of entering the soil because the soil is hard, it’s almost rock-like.
And so, this soil represents people who are hard-hearted and resistant. They hear the gospel and immediately want nothing to do with it. They dismiss it, they mock it, they’re deaf to it. And it’s here that Jesus says the Devil comes and removes any traces of the gospel from their mind.

Soil number 2 - Shallowness.

This is the soil that’s rocky. The seed somewhat grows roots but it’s shallow. There’s not depth, there’s no root and therefore no strength.
People represented here respond to the gospel favorably but not because they want Jesus. Most likely because they see Jesus as a means to something else in their life that they desire.
You’ll find lots of people within the prosperity gospel camp here. They want Jesus because they think he’ll give them health, wealth, and prosperity. But they have no root and as soon as trial comes their way because of their faith, they split. People within this camp have no idea of how to handle suffering. And when it comes they shrivel up because they have no root system and in fact, they aren’t actually followers of Jesus. Suffering just reveals that.

Soil number 3 - Worldliness.

These are the people seen in verses 18-19. There is a season it seems of responsiveness to the gospel but as soon as they actually begin to hear what Jesus is calling them to they either split or I see this really in the Western church, the American church, they become Christian in name only. It’s more just cultural Christianity than it is real Christianity.
A central teaching of Jesus to his followers is “Take up your cross and follow me.” “Die to yourself and only then will you find life.” “If you want to be great, be the least.”
I’ll just say it, in the west, we’ve just somehow learned to ignore that. And somehow we’ve created a Christianity that’s comfortable when Jesus over and over again says life is not about your comfort, it’s about finding your rest in me. Find your comfort in Christ, not the things of this world.
Most Christians in the world today do not have the option of cultural Christianity like we do here. You either follow Jesus and endure suffering for it knowing that he is our joy or you don’t say you follow Jesus at all.
But again, in the west we’ve created I believe this pseudo-Christianity where we say we follow Jesus but our treasure is not Christ, it’s the things of the world.
I think this is one we really need to examine for ourselves.

Soil number 4 - Fruitfulness.

There’s only one soil that’s different than the others and it’s this last soil Jesus talks about. This is the soil that represents people who hear the gospel, respond to it in faith, they bear fruit and grow in grace. Persecution and suffering does not deter them, their hope is not in the things of this world but it’s in the person of Jesus Christ.
When they hear God’s Word, they pursue it, they confess, they repent, they turn in faith to Jesus.
This hear, is really the only one true Christian. All the others are imposters.
If we are not bearing fruit then we are not in Christ.
Jesus said in
John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Meaning this, if there is no spirit-led, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control in your life. If there is no desire to crucify the flesh, put sin to death, serve the body of Christ, spread the hope of the gospel, endure suffering with joy, devour God’s Word and be changed by it, disciple others so that they would grow into the fulness of Christ then I feel I can say with authority from God’s Word that you are not a follower of Christ but are deceived.


What do we take from this parable?
Are you listening and responding to God’s Word?
Are you bearing fruit in your life?
Are you a sower who is seeking to spread the hope of the gospel?
Are you resting in the sufficiency of Christ to change hearts?
Do you love Jesus more than the world and if so what evidence is there in your life that reveals it?


Jesus asks hard things of us. That’s undeniable. But with it he gives us the power and ability and strength to continue on. This really is a parable that does two things for us. It causes us to examine our hearts to see which soil our own hearts reflect but secondly, it causes us to rest in the sufficiency of Christ to do a work in people’s hearts that only he can do.
Our responsibility is to listen, to respond, and to be faithful to make much of our King as his kingdom spreads. Are you listening?
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