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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching: ‘Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow’”—Mark 4:2–3 (NKJV)
This passage marks a new chapter in the ministry of Jesus. Up to this point, He had been very active in proclaiming the good news that God’s kingdom was at hand. For the Jewish masses, this news ignited the centuries long-held hopes that God would finally fulfill His prophetic promises of restoring their nation to its former glory. They would no longer need to live in fear of invasion or bear the scorn of derision. The shackles of their foreign oppressors would be broken, the Lord would exalt them to a place of prominence, and all the earth would submit to them.
Now, Jesus wasn’t the first person to proclaim the kingdom of God was about to come. But what set His message apart was the undeniable fact that He did things nobody before Him did. This man publicly and routinely performed miracles that authenticated His teachings in an unprecedented way. His ministry of miraculously healing the sick and delivering those who were demon possessed raised the bar of expectation to a whole new level! Many had come with false promises in the past, but this could truly be God’s messenger sent to initiate His kingdom. So, when people heard the teachings of Jesus, it was filling them with the expectation that a glorious new era for Israel was just around the corner.
But Jesus was speaking of something much bigger than that. He understood the greatest enemy lies within, not without. The real problem wasn’t the rift between Israel and Rome, but the rift between humanity and God. Sin infected the human race, putting us under the sentence of God’s eternal judgment. All people were at war with the holy and righteous God who must judge sin. That was the obstacle Jesus came to deal with so a glorious era of forgiveness with God could commence. His kingdom would come, but a deeper deliverance had to happen first.
All this to say, we’ve come to that pivotal point where expectations and reality are about to collide! Jesus would continue to teach the truths concerning the divine work God was about to accomplish. However, it wouldn’t fit the mold of what most were expecting to hear. He wouldn’t be the traveling miracle worker who filled Jewish ears with what they wanted to hear. He would be the Man with a message that challenged everyone’s understanding, which is why He began to use a new method of teaching in parables.
The word “parable” literally means, “to throw alongside”—the idea being that something material (which is easy to comprehend) is thrown alongside something spiritual (which can be hard to comprehend). Parables are a lot like teaching illustrations that pastors or preachers use to shed light on deeper truths. Jesus knew His hearers would need help in understanding the spiritual realities He was about to proclaim, and parables have the power to do that.
Jesus begins by sharing a parable that involves seed and soil. Most of us are familiar with the details and even the interpretation. The seed represents God’s Word or the truths of God. This seed (God’s truth) is sown onto four different types of soil: hard, shallow, filled with thorns, and good soil (or open). As expected, there’s a different reaction to the seed based on the condition of the soil. The seed doesn’t fully produce when the soil is hard, shallow, or thorny. Only the good soil proves productive as seed is sown into it.
Jesus tells us the different soils represent the hearts of people. Some are hard, some are shallow, some are filled with thorns (or mixed), and some are “good” in the sense they are open to receive. So, if we were to summarize the parable, we could say “A person’s heart determines how they respond to God’s truth.” But Jesus tells us something else that’s critically important to understand: “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13 NKJV).
Jesus is saying this parable conveys something that helps us understand what’s happening with all the other parables. It’s like a legend on a map that unlocks meaning.
How’s that? Well, the parable of the seed and the soils is actually a picture of what will happen as Christ continues to teach truth through the parables. Remember, the essential meaning of this parable is that there will be different reactions to God’s truth based on the condition of someone’s heart . . . and that’s precisely what we see going forward with each parable! Some heard them, received them, understood them, and the truth proved productive. But for the majority of those who already had an idea of what they wanted to hear from Jesus, the parables weren’t received and didn’t produce anything.
This is why understanding this parable is so important—it reveals what’s going on inside of a person as each parable is shared. To take it one step further, a person’s reaction to this parable indicates the condition of their heart, whether it’s hard, shallow, mixed, or open. Every individual is represented in one way or another by one soil or another.
When a parable (or God’s Word in general) is shared, what’s the response? Does it bounce off without effect, does it fail to take root, does it get choked out by a mix of other things, or does it find a place to sink in develop and flourish? The answer reveals the heart. This applies to us and everyone else.
You may be asking, “Wait a second! Shouldn’t we avoid making judgments about other people’s hearts?” Interestingly, many of the hearts that didn’t receive the truths as Jesus publicly taught them eventually would in the Book of Acts. This shows that soils can change! If we see a reaction that seems to indicate the truths we’ve discussed, it becomes our God-given call to recognize it and pray that God would work in such a way that the soil is made ready to receive the precious seed of His truth.
“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”—1 Peter 1:23 (NKJV)
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.