Mark 4: 1-20

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching, he said to them: “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 thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundred fold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “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.’”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundred fold.”

Understanding And Applying the Text

Mark tells us Jesus taught many things in parables. In eastern culture this was normal. A parable is a short story to teach a particular truth or principle.  A parable’s intent is to teach one thing. Extrapolating it beyond its point is flirting with trouble.

Rarely, is a parable an allegory. In an allegory, things represent other things in the world. But Jesus said this parable is an allegory. The seed and the soil are direct representations. The seed is the God’s word. The types of soil are types of men.

Jesus used proverbs for instruction and to illustrate spiritual things. Sometimes illustrations reveal a truth. Sometimes illustrations conceal the truth. Knowing that may lead to a correct understanding of why Jesus used parables.

Why did Jesus teach using parables? Countless times I have heard men say, Jesus used parables to clarify.

But what did Jesus say about why He used parables? Jesus said He used parables to obscure the truth rather than illuminate it. That would seem to be authoritative.

“they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Jesus used parables to conceal not reveal. Jesus was teaching them about God’s effective call. God hides His revealed truth from those He has not called.

In the first century, Palestine farmers planted crops before plowing the field. Today a farmer will plow the field, plant the seed and turn the soil over the seed. In the first century, Palestine the farmer would scatter the seed then plow the seed under.

The seeds were not planted in rows. They scattered the seeds in a haphazard manner. This process allowed Birds to eat the seeds. And the seeds fall in locations where the soil was not good. The farmer would not know the condition of the soil until he plowed it. Seeds fell places where they could not grow. Paths and thorny areas had seed plowed into them. Rocky areas only became visible after plowing.

The same gospel is sown everywhere. But it does not have the same effect everywhere. The fault is not in God. The fault lies in man. God calls all to repentance. But not all respond.

Jesus ends the parable with “He who has ears to hear let him hear. This phrase is to call attention. It is a common refrain. Mark 4:23; Matt. 11:15; 13:9,43; Luke 8:8; 14:35; Rev. 2:7. It references Psalms 15:6. There the Psalmist is talking about idol made by human hands. Statues that cannot speak, hear, see, or move. Idols are dead.

We can hear and respond only if we live. To live we must be born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8; Galatians 4:29) If you are born of the Spirit, you can hear the words of God.

The disciples did not understand the parable. When they were alone Jesus gave them special instruction. All the Gospels mention Jesus gave special instruction to His disciples.

He said the secret of the Kingdom is not for those who Father has not called. But, the secret of the God’s Kingdom is for Jesus’ disciples. The Father had called them. The secret refers to the divine revelation. It refers to understanding the Gospel. (Romans. 16:25; Ephesians. 1:9;3:3,9).

Paul called this “the mystery of Christ” or “the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians. 3:4; Colossians. 4:3; Ephesians 6:19)

Jesus revealed the Gospel to the Disciples. But He obscured the message from those outside the Kingdom. They saw it as a riddle. To them, Jesus would remain an enigma.

Before explaining the parable Jesus made a statement which is hard to understand. He states in clear unambiguous terms why He speaks 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.”

They were not given to Him by the Father. Since they were not given by the Father, they did not belong to Jesus. They chose blindness. And God gave them up to that blindness.

The parable is a moral lesson about the state of the human heart. The parable is about the God’s word coming as a fragile seed. Some reject it. Some will receive it but never accept it. Some will receive it until something better comes along. Some will receive it and embrace it.

The word is available to all. But God’s word will not take root until He softens our heart, removes the thorns and rocks.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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