The Sower, the Seed, and the Soil – Part 2
Text: Mark 4:1-20
Main Idea: Saving faith is manifest in persevering faith and persistent fruitfulness.
I. The Parable (Mark 4:1-9)
II. The Point (Mark 4:13-20)
If Jesus Christ came to seek and save those who are lost, why do so many people reject the gospel message OR abandon the gospel after they profess faith in Jesus Christ? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have witnessed your parents, spouse, children, and close friends flat-out reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. And at the same time you have watched in agony and unbelief as your “once believing” parents, spouse, children, and friends—people who received the gospel with gladness and appeared to be growing in Jesus—utterly abandoned the faith they once professed.
Why does this happen? Do these failures mean the church is failing? Even worse, do these failures mean there is something wrong with the gospel itself? No, they do not because the parable of the seed and the soils warns us that temporary affinity for Jesus is not the same thing as saving faith in Jesus.
Main Idea: Saving faith is manifest in persevering faith and persistent fruitfulness.
We spent most of our time 2-weeks ago exploring the purpose of parables (10–12). So this morning we are going to take a couple minutes to review the parable itself (1–9) and then we are going to spend the rest of our time unpacking Jesus’ point verses 13–20.
The Parable (4:1–9)
A Short Review
The first thing we see in the parable is that the farmer isn’t trying to preserve his seed. Rather, he is spreading his seed on every corner of his property because he wants to have an abundant harvest of grain.
Yet, as we turn our attention from the farmer to the seeds and the soils we discover that only one seed out of the four survives to “produce grain”—that’s only a 25% success rate. So in this Jesus wants us to see is that, even though there is only one kind of seed, there are four different kinds of soils… but these four soils only produce two results—harvestable grain or no grain.
But, problem in the parable in verses 1–9 is that Jesus doesn’t tell us who the sower is, nor does he tell us what the seed and the soil are! Apart from the explanation, which he provides in 13–20, this parable is nothing more than a general observation about first-century farming. The only thing we can determine from verses 1–9 is that:
- Nothing is wrong with the seed!
- The seed’s growth and fruitfulness depend on the soils condition.
Let’s turn to the “answer key” in verses 13–20
The Point (Mark 4:13–20)
Notice as Jesus transition from the parable in verses 1–9 to his explanation in verses 13–20 he makes it clear that this parable is about his preaching ministry because he tells us that “the word” is the “the seed.” Four times “the word” is heard, and four times “the word” is sown. So “the seed” is “the word” and “the word” is nothing less than the gospel message that Jesus has been preaching from the beginning of his ministry.
Mark 1:15 The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Furthermore, in verse 13 Jesus tells his disciples that this parable is the key to understanding his entire ministry. The clear implication is this, Jesus’ gospel ministry (and by extension the church’s gospel ministry) will be marked by both failure and success… and that some of the failure will come from their most promising prospects.
The Soils (Mark 4:15–20)
The Path: These are people who hear the gospel but they don’t really listen. And it is not that the gospel is incomprehensible but that it is all-together boring OR wholly offensive to the listener’s self-worth and worldview. They are hard to the gospel, in that; they ignore it, they judge it, or openly attack it because they are doing just fine on their own, they do not need a crucified savior.
The Rocky Ground: These are people on whom the gospel produces temporary impressions, but not deep, lasting and abiding faith in Jesus. They take pleasure in hearing sermons in which the gospel is faithfully displayed. They can speak with apparent joy and enthusiasm about the sweetness of the gospel and the happiness which they experience in listening to it. But, their Christianity has no more life in it than a cut flower because it has no roots. Their affinity for Jesus quickly withers away when Jesus becomes unpopular or too costly follow. Notice in the text, that their immediate reception is matched by their immediate apostasy.
The Thorny Ground: These are people who listen to the gospel and to a certain extent obey it. Their understanding agrees to it. Their judgment approves of it. Their conscience is affected by it. Their affections are in favor of it. They acknowledge that it is all right, good and worth receiving. They even abstain from many things which the Gospel condemns, and adopt many habits which the Gospel requires.
Their condition is ever-promising but at the same time never progressing because they love the things of this world more than they love Jesus. In fact if we look closely at the text, Jesus doesn’t describe the seed’s growth. He describes the seeds death. First, “the word” is being continually choked out by the world, riches, and desires for other things. The seed is not thriving it’s being choked out. Second, proves unfruitful is in the present tense as well, denoting the sad truth that, even if the green sprout is visible, it is perpetually unfruitful. And unlike “The Path” or “The Rocky Ground” these people often stay in the church their entire life… even though there is no spiritual life within them and they give no evidence of spiritual fruit.
The Good Soil: These are the people who truly come to faith in Jesus Christ. They believe the gospel implicitly and obey it thoroughly. And the fruit of the gospel is evident in their life: They truly hate, resist, and renounce their sin. They truly love, trust, follow, and obey Jesus. And the fruit of the Spirit is clearly manifest in their daily lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Are they perfect…No.
Even though the actions of the thorny ground, the rocky ground, and the good soil are described by two present tense verbs. The good soil verbs emphasize healthy growth and harvest, in that the soil whole-heartedly accepts the gospel seed and persistently bears the spiritual fruit of the gospel. (Matt 7:18–20)
Matthew 7:18–20 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
So how are we supposed to apply this imagery?
Not all hearing is equal. By this I am not saying that some people require hearing aids and others do not. Rather, Jesus is telling us in this parable that “hearing” ultimately falls into one of two categories—not four. Hearing that lasts and hearing that does not last. Or to put it another way, faith that lasts and faith that doesn’t last.
In fact, Jesus highlights these two categories of hearing in the Greek by using two different verb tenses that are not clearly distinguished in our English Bibles, in that, the first three soils “hear” “the word” differently than the final soil “hears” “the word.”
The hearing in verse 15, 16, and 18 are in the aorist tense. Now, you don’t have to remember the word aorist. But, you might want to circle the word “hear” in these three verses and write in your Bible, “A momentary event or action without any reference to duration.” An example of this would be the difference between a snapshot and a movie. The snapshot shows us that an event occurred but it cannot tell us how long the event lasted.
The hearing in verse 20 is in the present tense. And the present tense is more like a movie, in that, it represents an activity as a process or ever-continuing action. In fact, this is the very “hearing” that Jesus called his listeners to in verse 9.
Mark 4:9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear (let him continually hear).
The present tense “hearing” of the good soil (vs 20) is a continuing whole-hearted persevering faith in the gospel, joyfully embracing all of God’s promises to us in Jesus Christ, even eternal life. It continues despite persecution and oppression and it does not ultimately cave into the cares of this world.
And, the aorist tense “hearing” in verses 15, 16, 18 helps us see the sobering truth that some professions of faith are deficient from the start.
This is why professing Christians freely jettison Jesus during times of persecution or oppression. They abandon him because continuing commitment to Jesus is not worth the cost.
This is why people abandon Jesus in the midst of a profitable career and growing family, in that: career paths, financial security, nicer cars, bigger homes, family vacations and an ever-expanding list of extracurricular activities squeeze any need or desire for Jesus out of their lives just like a python chokes the life out of an unsuspecting rodent. No man or woman or child can serve two masters.
Gospel success is not a matter of big crowds. And saving faith is not a matter of short-lived “gospel decisions” for Jesus.
What is Jesus trying to tell his disciples? Saving faith is manifest in persevering faith and persistent fruitfulness.
Are you saying that it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation if they abandon their faith in Jesus?
No, I’m saying—with Jesus—that true saving faith is more than a temporary response to the gospel. True saving faith is distinguished over time from a temporary affinity to the gospel in that saving faith always perseveres and produces the fruit of obedience and good works.
1 Peter 1:3–6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.
First, Christians don’t preserver in Christ and produce good works according to their personal will power. Christians persevere in faith and persistently bear fruit because they are “born again.” What this term “born again” tells us is that saving faith is a supernatural work of God in which he imparts new life by the power of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the gospel.
2 Corinthians 5:17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Philippians 1:6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The foundational difference between true Christians and nominal Christians (those who self-identify as Christians but have never come to true faith in Jesus) is that true Christians are “new creations” indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirt himself.
Second, this word guarded, as we saw last week in 1 Peter, carries a two-fold meaning: to protect from attack and prevent from escape. In other words, God guards everyone who has been born again by preserving their faith in Jesus; which means that, faith is the very means by which God protects us from attacks like persecution and prevents us from abandoning him for the things of this world.
Therefore, persevering faith is not the means by which humans achieve or merit eternal security. No. Peter is telling us that persevering faith is the proof that you and I are truly born again.
Even more, he goes on to make it clear that painful trials are God ordained means by which he proves and strengthens our faith in him until he returns.
1 Peter 1:7 [you experience trials] so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that true believers will not struggle to believe when we are going through the fire of trials. No. Rather, it is a glorious promise that God doesn’t brings true believers into trails to destroy them; but, to purge their remaining unbelief and deepen their faith in Jesus so that they might have greater joy and delight in Jesus.
1 Peter 1:8–9Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
And this exactly what “the rocky ground, and the thorny ground” do not do. Their trials and testing proved that their so-called faith in Jesus was not genuine to begin with. They are still dead in the trespasses of their sins and are destined for wrath because their personal comfort and the things of this world are more important to them than Jesus.
Persevering faith and persistent fruit are not works we have to perform in our own power to protect our salvation; they are proof that we have been born again through repentance and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The parable of the soils helps us understand why some people abandon their faith in Jesus.
There is not anything wrong with the gospel seed, the problem is that the individual did not receive the gospel as their only hope, greatest joy, and supreme treasure. Rather, they merely incorporated Jesus and his gospel into their preexisting life commitments and passions. They abandoned Jesus because he wasn’t worth the cost.
We love these people the best when we realize their greatest problem is not their worldliness, their sexual sin, their addictions, or their self-centeredness. Their greatest need is not moral reformation. Their greatest problem is that they are facing eternal wrath for their unbelief. Therefore, their greatest need is to hear the clear, unadulterated, unfiltered gospel.
The gospel is simply this, Jesus lived, died, and rose again for your sin that is condemning you to eternal wrath. But God will forgive you, make you his own, and preserve you through faith until the end if you turn and trust in Jesus.
The parable of the soils reminds us that true faith in Jesus Christ always results in the fruits of joyful obedience.
Christian obedience is not the dutiful price we have to pay for forgiveness and eternal life, as if God is glorified by forced labor. No! God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, which means that Christian obedience is nothing less than the eager pursuit of increasing joy Jesus Christ.
The farmer is so intent on a harvest that he sows in every corner of the field “in hopes that good soil might somewhere be found;” (Justin Martyr, Dial. Trypho125.1–2).
Daniel B Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 554–59.
Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 514–22.