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Tuesday
Jun252019

The Parable of the Soils I

Mark 4:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, June 23, 2019.

Today we are back in the Gospel according to Mark.  Here we are going to look at one of the parables that Christ told, the Parable of the Soils.  Jesus often used the common experiences of the first century Israelite to Illustrate spiritual truth.

As we approach this passage today, there is something we should all ask ourselves.  Am I responding to the Holy Spirit, who is drawing me to Christ, or am I simply going along with a ritual that I think I am supposed to do?  The condition and purpose of our heart are what is most important in this thing that is called Church, and Christianity.  As David said long ago, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:16,17).  He also said earlier in that same chapter, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part, You will make me to know wisdom (vs. 6).

Yes, God is concerned about our outward lives.  However, He will not settle for an outward conforming that lacks inner transformation.  It is not enough to look like Jesus when my heart does not look like his.  So, today, let us hear the Holy Spirit calling us to a deeper growth and a deeper walk with Him.

Jesus teaches the multitude

At the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, he was very popular and multitudes would crowd around to hear him teach.  This was sometimes 1,000’s of people.  Whenever we have a multitude, crowd, or even mob, it is a mixed bag.  So, it was in those days.  They ranged from people who were there seriously seeking truth from Jesus to those who were there looking for a cause to shut him up.

At this point we are told that Jesus is beside the Sea, which is most likely the Sea of Galilee.  The crowds are pressing in so hard that he gets in a boat and puts out from the shore a little bit. This would keep them from pressing in too much on Jesus, and it would allow more people to see and hear him.  The water and the ground rising up away from it would also serve as a natural amphitheater, making it possible for far more to hear his teaching.

We should take time to note that this is in comparison to his times of teaching in the synagogues (or even in people’s homes).  Jesus was not stuck to teaching in special religious places.  The synagogue would be small, restrictive to crowds, and often filled with the notable people of the village.  Jesus preached wherever he knew that people would listen.  It is important for Christians to avoid the trap of only preaching in our Church buildings.  How many people do not hear the Word of God because they would never enter a Church?  Most likely a large number.  We must go out to them.

We are told that Jesus often used parables in his teaching.  The term parable often brings the person of Jesus to mind, even among non-Christians.  IT comes from a word that means to cast or put alongside.  Thus, it came to be used of a comparison of two things.  It could be a simple simile, or a more complex story that still functions as a simile.  The parables of Christ are illustrations of spiritual truths that all believers should want to study and understand.  Many times, the explanation to a parable is given in the Bible, and other times we may receive a string of parables with only one of them explained.  It is understood that the unexplained parables are teaching a similar point and thus can be sleuthed out by those that are explained in the context.  We should also understand that parables were never intended to be allegories where every single detail has a mystical or metaphorical meaning.  There is a long history of people who have taken the parables of Christ and twisted them to mean patently false things.

Jesus did not entitle his parables.  However, believers and teachers often refer to them with titles.  The parable today is sometimes called The Parable of the Sower.  The titles have developed over the years and are not original to the stories.  They only help us to identify which parable a person is referring.

We should also recognize that sometimes a parable can be found in the other Gospels and may have details in the others that are not included in the first.  So, these are some things to keep in mind when reading and trying to understand a parable.

The parable in front of us today involves a person who is sowing seed.  The seed falls upon four different types of ground and thus has four different effects.  We are going to deal with the interpretation more next week.  However, verse 14 tells us that the seed represents the Word.  I think it is obvious Jesus specifically means the Word of God.  The sower would be anyone God sends to proclaim His Word, which in this case would be Jesus.

The main thrust of the parable centers on the different kinds of soil that the Word of God falls upon when it is spoken or broadcast.  The condition of the place it falls explains the different responses that individuals have to it.  The illustration is helping us to see the different spiritual conditions that can exist within a person’s heart.  The first soil corresponds to those who do not respond to the Gospel.  The seed (Word of God) is quickly lost to them.  The second soil corresponds to those who respond positively and quickly, but their quick growth does not last during the heat of trials.  The third soil corresponds again to a person who responds positively and yet the Word is eventually choked out by the desires of their flesh.  The fourth is the soil that responds positively and goes on to bear fruit at varying yields.  The fruit is the effect that the Word of God produces within their souls and within their lives.  The reason that I am not going to spend more time on the interpretation this week is that Jesus himself goes on to talk about the purpose of the parables before he explains its interpretation.  In fact, the explanation is given later to The Twelve when Jesus is alone with them.

The purpose of parables

In verse 9, Jesus ends his parable with a statement, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  This phrase uses an obvious physical necessity to point to an inner necessity.  Of course, everyone there had ears and could most likely hear.  If they had been deaf, Jesus would typically heal them.  Just as we use the word “to listen” or “to hear” to mean more than just the act of hearing itself, so did the Hebrews.  When we say to a child, “Are you listening to me, or Did you hear me,” we clearly mean more than only picking up auditory signals.  We are pointing both to understanding of the words and also obedience or acting upon the words.  Many people hear the Word of God, but not all understand it, and even fewer will actually turn from the self-life and follow the Lord Jesus.  Jesus knew this about the multitudes.  Many of them did not understand what he taught and were not really looking for spiritual teaching.  Rather, they wanted miracles, healings, and free food.  This phrase really expresses a challenge, “Do you really want to know what I am talking about today?”

Ultimately, Jesus states that the parables only explain for those who are inside, but they are intended to cloak the truth for those who are outside.  So, who are these outsiders and insiders that Jesus is talking about?  From our passage, we can tell that at least The Twelve disciples are on the inside because Jesus gives them the explanation later.  We would also suspect that most of the multitude are on the outside.  It is helpful that the Apostle Paul also uses these terms in 1 Corinthians 5:12 and following.  There he defines the insiders as those who are believers in Jesus and therefore, part of the body of Christ.  They are inside the grace of Christ.  The outsiders are those who are not believers in Christ and are not a part of his body.  They are the unbelievers.  Paul’s usage of these words definitely fits our context.  Many people in the crowd were not actually believers in Jesus.  They were there to see a spectacle and others were there as his enemies.  So, why would Jesus teach in a way that would cloak God’s Word to those who don’t believe?

It is instructive that he quotes from Isaiah 6:9. In that passage, Isaiah had spoken the Word of God to people who had received many Words from the Lord over the course of 700 plus years.  When Jesus spoke, it was another 700 plus years on top of that.  Israel had so much Word of God that it was coming out of their noses, to use a manna reference.  Yet, many of them were not really understanding it and much less obeying it.  Those who have no shortage of the Word of God were challenged by this cryptic saying that God gave Isaiah.  Why would God say to us to keep on hearing and not understanding, keep on seeing and not perceiving?  I believe it was a direct challenge from God for them to change their ways and press in to Him further in order to understand.  It is the same reason that Jesus sometimes said things that were very hard to accept and understand.  It is a challenge to see if you will follow the Holy Spirit and truly learn what is being said, or will you shut down and turn away from Jesus? 

When he told the people that if their eye leads them into sin then they should gouge it out, and if their hand leads them into sin then they should cut it off, he is not instructing us to literally do these things.  Yet, we can get offended at the harshness of the teaching and walk away.  Alternatively, we could press in to Him in order to gain better understanding.

Another example is when Jesus told the people that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood, they would have not life in them.  Many were offended at that teaching and walked away.  We are actually told in John 6:66 that “From that time, many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.”  Then Jesus turned to The Twelve and says, “Will you too go away?”  Peter’s response is priceless.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of Life.”  We can only understand the teaching of Christ if we are willing to first believe in him, and that belief will be challenged along the way.

In some ways Christ was being gracious.  His desire was not to heap more guilt upon them, but rather to prick their conscience.  It was to cut through the thick flesh that encased their hearts and call them back to faith in God, specifically faith in the One whom the Father had sent, Jesus!

I pray that today your heart is trusting Christ.  When you read verses that seem hard to understand or to accept then don’t let the offense of your heart cause you to go away from Christ.  Rather, let Christ know in your prayers that you trust Him even when you don’t understand everything that he taught.  Ask him to help you to understand and follow him in faith.  He is faithful always to help us to grow in understanding what only the Spirit of God can teach us.

Parable of Soils I audio