God’s Word for You
Mark 4:13-20 The Sower - Part 3
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 19, 2022
13 Then he asked them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand any of the parables?
Are the Lord’s words here gentle, or accusing? Is Jesus being a kind and thoughtful teacher, or an angry prophet? We can’t draw the Lord’s emotions from the context or out of the Greek words in this case. Mark only records the facts for us. But Jesus’ questions lead us to understand something important, which we’ll say in a positive way rather than a negative: If you want to understand all the parables, listen to the explanation of this one. This is the paradigm parable, the one that unlocks the others.
14 The sower sows the word.
The soil doesn’t do anything to receive the word. There are no little grubby fingers coming up to catch the seed as it is planted. The soil does nothing at all. It is passive. The sower is the one who proclaims the word, and here we are permitted to understand that although there are various sowers in our lives, there is really just one Sower. My mom and dad sowed the word, my pastor sowed, my Sunday school teachers sowed, my professors sowed, and today I myself sow as father and pastor.
15 These are the ones along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and immediately takes away the word that was sown in them.
The word sown that strikes the path can’t really take root. The devil is behind this; he is the one who tramples the path into something about as receptive as a frying pan; he is the one who flutters down like a songbird and gobbles the seed so that it does nothing in the soil. He doesn’t care too much if the soily listener hears it; he’s done a lot to beat down the soil with preconceptions. He whispers lies about all Christians being hypocrites so that even if tender ears hear the gospel and start to take it to heart, there is a shudder in the mind: Oh, no! Not for me! I don’t want to be a hypocrite! The devil’s smile is brief; this was too easy. He has more work to do elsewhere.
16 Some are like the ones sown on rocky ground: as soon as they hear the word, they immediately welcome it with joy. 17 Yet since they have no root in themselves, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately fall away.
Some people hear the gospel for the first time as adults, or young adults. The message of forgiveness and salvation is so novel to them, so marvelous, so wonderful! But their roots in this faith don’t go down very far at all. Anything that troubles them can topple their fragile faith. Perhaps this is also why Paul warned that a pastor must not be a recent convert (1 Timothy 3:6). Paul’s concern was that a new believer might become puffed up by conceit, but thin soil can also fail to nourish a new faith. These hearers are also those who become disappointed by the faults in other believers. They are quick to judge: This gospel means so much to me, how can that other Christian keep falling into the same sins every week? They become discouraged because they want the church to be beautiful and free of sin, and they don’t comprehend that in this lifetime we are at the same time saints and sinners, always in need of God’s forgiveness. We preach Christ and we are in need of Christ; we are sinners who reach out to other sinners with the word of God. Discouraged, hearers who are such rocky soil have a faith that quickly withers.
18 Still others are sown among the thorns. These are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and desires for other things enter in and choke the word, so it becomes unfruitful.
When I was a student in my vicar (intern) year in Milwaukee, an older pastor asked a group of pastors in a meeting: What keeps you up at night the most? One of the men immediately said: “The ones who aren’t there.” He meant the straying members who used to be so regular in coming to church, “but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth,” etc., enter in and choke the word, and now they become “unfruitful.” Unfruitful means many things. Not listening to the word of God. Not putting it into practice. Not coming to Christ for forgiveness. Giving up on meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Not bringing the children to church or to Sunday school or to confirmation class.
The thorns of the future also plague these hearers. What if I need care when I’m old? What if being a Christian means giving up my secret pleasures? What if my son’s girlfriend is offended because our church preaches about sin? What if, what if, what if? The devil is a master at sewing thorns. These thorns of worry become pedestals for many false gods. They choke out the word of God and replace it with “In my opinion,” or “In my experience,” or “Just in case” gods that want to transform the word of the true God into something that it is not. These are thorns that tempt people to say things like, “If God were really loving, he would…” or “he wouldn’t…” These are thorns that keep people from kneeling before God’s holy throne in submission.
20 But the ones sown on the good ground are those who hear the word, accept it, and produce fruit: some thirty, some sixty, and some one hundred times as much as was sown.”
If a hearer has good ground, it was not his choice. This was the work of God; the gift of God. If we have been blessed with good ground, and if God has produced fruit through us, then praise God and glory be to God!
This parable teaches us to keep close to the words of parables and to be careful not to stray from the main point. Here in this parable, a few items are crucial:
- The soil is passive, and the soil is the hearer
- The seed is the word of God
- The Sower is finally God
- The fruit is how I put my faith into action, and is really the whole life of the Christian.
Professor Daniel Deutschlander said: “The point is that the parable captures in an instant all of my Christian life; it’s all there from the first sowing of the seed at my baptism down to the last bit of fruit in my confession on my deathbed” (Your Kingdom Come p. 103). The Sower continues to sow his seed in your soil. Do not become discouraged, dear Christian! Receive the soil, receive it and receive it. A new sowing season is upon us. Your fruit will sprout, blossom, grow and mature, all by the grace of God.
Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest-Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend his planted word.
“Preach You the Word” by Martin Franzmann (1907-1976),
Pastor Timothy Smith