The Parable of the Sower - Bob Sawvelle

Have you ever rebuked God?

Before you answer, consider Peter’s correction of Jesus in Mark 8:32, “…Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” (NKJV) Scandalous! Peter, rebuking Jesus—why? I’ll get back to Peter and this question in a moment, for now, let’s look at mystery and truth briefly.

All truth is wrapped in mystery until revealed by God. The parable of the sower wrapped in mystery the truth of the Gospel of the Kingdom and who Jesus was. But, as we discussed last week, those who were filled with skepticism, unbelief, and hardness of heart, could not understand the truth of the parable. Thus, the truth of who Jesus is and the message He proclaims remains shrouded in mystery.

Jesus told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know…” (Mark 4:11). The acceptance of the message Jesus proclaimed enabled the disciples to understand the truth hidden in the parable—that Jesus was the son of God, and not everyone would receive the message He was “sowing.” Upon that revelation–that Jesus is the Christ–more truth could be understood. The parable of the sower demonstrates to us that God reveals truth to create growth and expansion of His Kingdom.

In Deuteronomy 29:29, we read,

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (NKJV)

There are mysteries that will remain hidden in God—that is where faith comes in. We love and trust God, despite not understanding all the “whys” of life—some things remain as mysteries.

Yet, this verse also tells us that there are some mysteries that God unveils for us and our children. Revelation is generational! We have a responsibility to “hear,” as Jesus said as He gave the parable of the sower. To hear, as we discussed last week, is literally to “stop, listen and look!” God was revealing the mystery of the ages through Jesus—yet many were simply not “hearing” or “seeing” what was obvious.

So, it is for many today. The truth of Who Jesus is is rejected by most. But more than the foundational truth of Jesus, there are other truths believers tend to overlook or ignore, because we are not really “listening” or “believing” in our hearts. The result” truth remains hidden in mystery, yet God is attempting to reveal it to us.

Proverbs 25:2 reads, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” God conceals much, but what He reveals, we have a responsibility to “search out.” In case you didn’t know, in Christ, you are not only a child of God, but He has called you a “king and priest!” Revealed truth is an invitation to greater encounter and understanding of God and of His mysteries. God hides revealed truth in mystery, until the seeking heart pursues God to understand.

Let’s examine the progressive nature of truth and of God’s Word more closely through the interpretation of the parable of the sower.

Interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:13-20)

Jesus states an important truth about this parable, in verse 13, “If you can’t understand this parable, how will you understand the more difficult?” This parable provides insight into the progressive nature of God’s Word.

The progressive nature of the parable demonstrates that possessing the “mystery” in no way guarantees proper alignment with truth, God’s promises, or expectations.

To understand the parable, Jesus tells His close disciples plainly that the sower sows the word (verse 14). Jesus is the sower, and the word He sows is the gospel of the Kingdom (Mk 1:15), which will later become the Church’s message of salvation and healing in Christ (see Col. 1:5; 1 Thess. 1:6; Jam. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:25).

The parable highlights 4 different human responses—these can be distinct categories of people, but they can also represent responses of the same individual at various times. Let me say this again, the parable describes distinct categories of people, but it can also describe “progressive” responses of the same individual at various times. The parable represents the gospel message, but also applies to all revelation God makes available to us.

The Wayside (path that’s hard) Vs. 15

The ones on the wayside (path) are those in whom the word meets with no interest or receptivity. Like seed on a hard-trodden path, the gospel (word) has no chance to sink in. Satan (the accuser), snatches it away—perhaps through distractions, fears, offense, unbelief, or faulty human reasoning.

Ok, remember Peter rebuking Jesus? And my original question, “Have you ever rebuked God?” Let’s look at that passage more closely:

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:31-33 NKJV)

The short answer to why Peter rebukes Jesus is that he rejects the word about Jesus’ coming death. Jesus has just told the disciples that He must be rejected, suffer, and die at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes. Oh, and on the third day, rise from the dead. Peter had enough – it was time to set Jesus straight, and help Him get His priorities right.

Peter couldn’t grasp the mystery of the ages. Simply, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Peter, like many in Israel, were hoping for the nation of Israel to be restored to political influence and power to overthrow the Romans. Peter didn’t want to hear Jesus talking about rejection and death—how would Jesus take His role as a political Messiah, restore Israel, and drive out the Romans? Peter not only rebuked Jesus for “wrong” thinking, but he was offended at “God” for not working according to his human reasoning and wisdom.

Jesus never came as a “political messiah,” He came to inaugurate God’s Kingdom on earth.

You and I have never done this, right?

As I pondered this passage last week, I realized that on more than one occasion I have “rebuked Jesus.” You might be thinking, “What, rebuke Jesus, why, how?”

Our faith is wrapped in mystery—we simply don’t understand all of God’s ways—no matter how closely we know Him. After all, He is God, and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

For many, especially those of us who live in the western world, we tend to rely upon reason, logic, and human wisdom. Generally, these are all good problem-solving qualities—unless God’s wisdom supersedes your analysis of situations. You and I are to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5 NLT). Our understanding is finite, God’s knowledge is limitless.

Like Peter, perhaps more than we realize, we “rebuke God” when circumstances don’t go according to our human reasoning and plans. So, as I pondered this passage last week, I realized, “I’ve been offended at God on more than one occasion when plans didn’t turn out according to my reasoning, and I have attempted to correct God!”

Once, I was so upset with God (I was blaming God for challenging circumstances we were experiencing after returning from the mission field), I decided I was going to go fishing for a while on Sunday mornings.

I thought to myself, “If God wants to talk with me, He can talk with me on the beach while I am fishing!” I was offended at God because circumstances hadn’t gone the way “I thought” they should. I was leaning on “my understanding,” not God’s. This lasted for about three months—I even caught some great fish during this time, but I was miserable. The Holy Spirit eventually asked me, “Are you ready to be back in God’s house where you belong?” Humbly, I said, “Yes Lord.” His grace and patience with us is truly amazing.

I’ve learned over the years that the problem isn’t with God, it’s with me and my perception of circumstances. When I stay close to Jesus, remain deeply in love with Him, there is little room for offense to take root in my heart and hinder my relationship with Him.

Many today get offended at God for many reasons. Perhaps a traumatic event, tragedy, divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, or death of a loved one. Often, we blame and become offended at God for circumstances that go contrary to our human reasoning, just like Peter. Eventually, Peter denied the Lord. Truth is wrapped in mystery, but we frequently want answers “now,” and often try and “set the record” straight with God when it doesn’t go our way.

Satan, who is our real enemy, will try and “steal” the truth of the goodness of God from you. If Satan can get you to be “offended” at God, he has you. It’s the beginning stages of walking away from your relationship with God and the call of God on your life. You stop listening to God and the “truth of His Word” is unable to bear any fruit. By the way, Psalm 27 is really great, David writes quite a bit about trusting in the goodness of God.

Satan is our real enemy, not God (see John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8). Here’s the great news: Jesus has defeated him on Calvary—Col. 2:10,15. The path then can represent a heart of unbelief—or a hardened heart. Mark 6:1-6 explains that many heard the word, but were offended at Jesus, and as a result no miracles occurred in Nazareth—the word was “stolen” from them through offense.

The Lord spoke to me regarding this reality, “Some in the body of Christ are losing the answers to their problems because the promises are being stolen from them through unbelief, offense, and hardness of heart!” Don’t let the enemy rob you of your promise and the harvest God desires!

Stony Ground (shallow soil depth) Vs. 16-17

The second category represents those who initially receive the “good news” or “truth” with enthusiasm. But, through underlying hardness of heart, the word doesn’t penetrate deeply. Their allegiance to Christ is too shallow to sustain them when trials or persecutions come. Instead of “counting it all joy” and persevering, they fall away (skandalizomai), a word meaning to stumble or be tripped up. It is the same word used when Jesus was arrested in Mark 14:27,50.

Many new followers of Christ walk for a while passionately with Him, only to soon fall away. Even mature believers can stumble over new “truth” and “revelation” that God reveals through His Word and Promises. When new revelation is received, it may bring a trial or contrary circumstance, which causes some to stumble and abandon revealed truth.

For example, many in the body of Christ enthusiastically embrace the message of divine healing. Perhaps they spent much of their Christian walk unaware or unbelieving of this truth. At some point, the truth of divine healing “progressively” begins to unfold in the heart and faith arises for others to be healed through prayer ministry. However, some of these same people often “fall away” from the message of healing if a loved one dies unexpectedly. The truth is now “snatched” away by the enemy and unfruitful.

Among Thorns (Cares choke the word (promise)) Vs. 18-19

Those sown among thorns are those who do let the word sink in, but also allow other preoccupations to begin to crowd in and compete for priority. The cares of this world refer to legitimate day to day concerns experienced through life, families. The danger is to allow these legitimate concerns to take over and suffocate one’s devotion to Jesus.

Consider what Jesus said in Matt. 6:31-33, “Don’t worry, what shall we eat, drink, wear…unbelievers seek (strive)…Father knows, seek Him first, all these things given to you.” We are to seek first God’s kingdom, trusting God for needs to be met.

Or look at the deceitfulness of riches. We can’t serve God and money—God must be first. Paul writes Timothy, “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare…” (1Tim. 6:6-10) Or the desires for other things choke the promises of God. John writes a sobering truth, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of Father is not in him.”  (1 John 2:15 NKJV)

Good Ground (Some 30, 60 (bumper) and 100-fold (miraculous Gen. 26:12)) Vs. 20

The Good soil of your heart, hears the word, accepts it, and bears fruit. Although it’s the seed itself which is actively at work (Jesus explains in Mk 4:26-29), each progressive step requires a determined cooperation on your part to produce harvest.

“Accept it” in the present tense means to “continually receive it” and to “continually bear fruit.” Again, the progressive nature of truth revealed.

Jesus said in John 15:8,16, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, so you will be my disciples.”  “…I chose you…that you should go and bear fruit and it remain.”

The Father desires for us to bear fruit— for example: 1) Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) 2) Operating in the Power and Gifts of the Spirit (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:6-9) 3) Reaching the lost and making disciples 4) thus expanding God’s Kingdom. God wants the promises He has spoken over your life to come to pass and bear fruit. It’s not enough to listen to God’s word and promises, you must hear and believe them, and take them into your heart and allow them to transform your life.

Proverbs 4:23 states clearly, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT) We have a responsibility to keep our hearts free of offense and bitterness—toward others and God. It affects how we “hear” God’s promises and how we “receive (faith)” God’s promises. To bring forth much fruit, a heart full of love for God and His word are needed.

The Unfolding Nature of Truth

We observe in this parable, and in other passages, that Truth often unfolds in three aspects. In the Tabernacle of Moses, we find the outer court, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Israel’s’ progress was three-fold: out of Egypt, through the Wilderness, and into the Promised Land. Likewise, in the annual feast of Israel the progression is: Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles. God’s word is milk, bread, and meat.

In the parable, it unfolds 30, then 60, and finally 100-fold. What is “100-fold?” 100 times as great or as much. The subject of this parable is not the ground. The subject is the Word of God, and the object of this teaching is to see the Word produce to its fullest potential, or 100-fold. It is the responsibility of the hearer to move out of the 30-fold realm into the 100-fold. This teaching shows the law of increase, here’s how:

We measure everything we hear.

When I hear the Word regarding my situation, I determine whether it is received or not, and to what level it is received. I measure everything I hear. The Word of God responds to how I hear and “measure.” Mark 4:24 says, “The way “you” hear it, the way “you” measure and respond to it is the measure that it works in your life. You cooperate with God and His Word for increase.

God’s Word brings forth progressively. 30-fold grasp at first, which can lead us to a 60-fold understanding. As we press on in Christ, we can move into a 100-fold comprehensive of the word.

Note, the good ground is the heart, not the head. Often, we give mental ascent to the word or to a truth, but it’s not living faith in the truth. Truth in the mind is good, but it’s in the heart that truth becomes empowered reality.

Holy Spirit must unveil truth to us. The Spirit’s unveiling of truth turns intellectual understanding into living reality with God.

Bob Sawvelle

For more on this subject, listen to A Study of the Book of Mark, Part 11 from Passion Church:

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