The Power of the Word, Part 3
Interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:13-20)
Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God in Mark 1:15, and then He began to explain the meaning of the Kingdom through parables. In this parable, Jesus described different types of soil and how these soils determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the Word sown.
The religious leaders, his family, and most of the nation were blinded to the truth Jesus was bringing. He was bringing a message about God’s kingdom being established, but His message was hidden to them, because their expectation was different.
They were expecting a Messiah who would establish a dominating kingdom that would overthrow the Romans and other Jewish enemies. Rather, Jesus was saying God’s kingdom is coming more like a farmer sowing seed, much of it apparently going to waste because the soil isn’t fit for it, and can’t sustain the truth the seed contains.
God wasn’t cruel to ancient Israel nor to humanity today. Hardness of heart causes people not to “see” and “hear” what God is revealing (see Mark 6:51-52). The Kingdom of God is concealed, not by God’s divine choice, but by human will.
For those who persist in their human reasoning or selfish ways toward God, the parables remain “opaque,” so they “see and don’t perceive… they hear and don’t understand.” God’s desire is that they would repent, turn to Him, be converted, and be forgiven. This principle applies to all revealed truth in God’s Kingdom.
Don’t You Understand this Parable?
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (Mark 4:13 NIV)
Jesus is plainly telling them, “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, and expectations.
We can understand the mystery of the kingdom (God was in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself) but knowing the foundational truth of the gospel isn’t enough to bring about one’s salvation or to progress in deeper truths of the kingdom.
God’s Word is alive and grows in hearts that are receptive to Him. Relationship is foundational to kingdom growth and cultivation of one’s heart is a vital component. God reveals His secrets to friends: those who walk with Him in sincerity of heart.
The Sower sows the Word.” (Mark 4:14 NKJV)
Jesus is the Sower, and the word He sows is the gospel of the Kingdom (Mk 1:15), which later becomes the Church’s message of salvation in Christ, for example:
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.” (Col. 1:4-5 NLT)
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21 NIV)
But the word of the Lord remains forever.” And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.” (1 Pet. 1:25 NLT)
The parable highlights 4 different human responses—these can be distinct categories of people, but they can also represent responses made by the same individual at different times. The parable represents the gospel message but also applies to all revelation God gives us.
First, the seed sown on the wayside.
And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.” (Mark 4:15 NKJV)
The ones on the wayside (path) are those in whom the word meets with no interest or receptivity. Like seed scattered 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.
Paul states, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4 NIV)
While many in our 21st century dismiss the idea of a literal “devil” or Satan, Jesus and Paul clearly referred to this spiritual being as an enemy who deceives, steals, and inflicts suffering upon humanity. As an example of how the enemy deceives, look at how Peter was influenced by the lies and schemes of the enemy when Jesus was talking to Peter and the other disciples about His upcoming death,
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mk 8:31-33 NIV)
As a result of Satan’s lies to Peter, Peter rejects the Word about Jesus’ coming suffering and death. Jesus immediately refers to him as Satan! Now Peter wasn’t possessed by Satan at this moment, but his thinking was influenced by Satan. His human reasoning and agreement with the lies of the evil one were opposed to God’s purposes. Again, Satan and the powers of darkness are real enemies, Jesus referred to him as a thief and Peter as an enemy:
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)
“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8 NLT) Peter in the following verse states, “Resist him being steadfast in the faith…”
The good news: Jesus has defeated him on Calvary. Paul writes about his defeat by Jesus,
In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” (Col. 2:15 NLT)
God desires that His people would live a blessed, abundant, and peaceful life. The enemy, however, attempts to rob and steal from us God’s promise of abundant living. Therefore, recognize Satan’s schemes, be alert, and resist him spiritually with a steadfast faith in Christ. As Paul writes in Ephesians, put on all of God’s armor and use God’s spiritual weapons to fight a good fight of faith and live as an overcomer and believe for God’s best in your life.
The path can represent a heart of unbelief—a hardened heart. In Mark 6:1-6 the people heard the word but were offended, as a result, there were no miracles—the word or gospel of the kingdom was “stolen” from them.
The Lord spoke to me and simply said, “Some are losing answers to problems because promises are being stolen!” Need faith for a promise, then faith for the answer!
Second, seed sown on stony ground.
These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.” (Mark 4:16-17 NKJV)
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. You could say, their hearts do not have the capacity to receive the fullness of the good news of biblical truth given.
Instead of “counting it all joy” and persevering, they fall away, which comes from the Greek word skandalizomai. It is a word meaning to stumble or be tripped up.
For example, skandalizomai is used with the arrest of Jesus in Mark 14:27, 50. The disciples “stumbled” and were “tripped up” and “offended” because they did not understand what God was doing through Jesus.
Sometimes new believers walk for a while with Jesus only to fall away a short time later. Maybe their old lifestyle or the pressure of culture cause them to leave their newfound faith. Even mature believers can stumble, perhaps over some anti-Christian teaching or practice like New Age spiritism.
Sometimes a new revelation is given to us, only to cause us to undergo a trial or suffering, causing some to abandon God’s Word and truth.
For example, some stumble over the message of the continuation of the Holy Spirit gifts for today. Perhaps they were raised in a cessationist (the gifts ceased) church culture only to discover later in their Christian walk that God still gives these gifts to His people and the Church. This can cause persecution by the cessationist Christian community, and some depart this truth of the power gifts for today.
Another factor is the season we are in as the Church. As the time draws nearer for Jesus’ return, our world becomes increasingly difficult, causing some to become offended, deceived, and even lose a heart of love for others.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matt. 24:9-12 NKJV)
Third, seed sown among thorns.
Now these are the ones sown among thorns; 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.” (Mark 4:18-19 NKJV)
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.
So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matt. 6:31-33 NLT)
Don’t worry, what shall we eat, drink, or wear. The unbelievers seek or strive after these things. But your Heavenly Father already knows what you need. Therefore, seek Him first, and all these things will be given to you!
What a promise! It was true in Jesus’ day, and it is still true in our day. There is the world’s economy and then there is God’s economy!
To the Philippians who were poor but generous toward the purposes of God, Paul says clearly not to worry or be anxious – this is true for us today as well:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)
I’ll continue next week with this important series, the Power of the Word! Have a blessed week!
For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message “The Power of the Word, Part 3”