Parables: What Do They Mean?
Mark 4:1-2; 33-34
Jesus began to teach using parables. Prior to this point in His ministry He taught openly for all to hear, but most of the people didn’t want to hear the truth. (Not so much different from today.) What had happened is that the Jews, for the most part, had rejected Him and His message. They had said that He did miracles by the power of Satan, not by the power of God! Note: Mark 3:22.
He now turns His attention to a more personal and individual approach to reaching people. Only those who really wanted to hear would inquire and find the truth. Note: Mark 4:11-12.
None of the parables are found in John’s gospel, some of the parables are included in all three of the others, and some are found in only one or two. This morning we will begin our study with the parable of the sower. It is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is of extreme importance to our study because it is the first parable that Jesus taught, and it is the key to understanding others.
I. The Parable of the Sower. 4:1-20
A. The parable.
1. Jesus began the parable with the word “Hearken!”… He closed with the word “Hear.”… What lies between these two words is very important.
2. The parable is about a farmer who went out to plant his fields.
a. The farmer doesn’t change; neither does the seed
b. Only the soil changes.
c. The emphasis, then, is on the soil.
d. Looking closely, we see other “characters” in the story:
1) The birds “came and devoured” the seed scattered along the path.
2) The sun “scorched” and “withered” the plants which sprang up in the shallow soil.
3) The thorns “grew up and choked” the plants which sprouted
in the third group.
4) In all three of these groups, the seed failed to produce fruit.
e. There was a war going on, a conflict which hindered the purpose of the farmer and his seed.
f. But there is a fourth group: good soil.
1) Here the seed “sprang up, increased and produced. some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred”. 4:3-8
2) Jesus drew His illustrations from the land and the lives of people about Him.
3) The farmer scattering seed was a familiar sight in Palestine at that time and still is.
a) Often the farmer tied a sack of seed to the back of his donkey which walked along beside him.
b) Since the land used for planting varied-some soil rocky and hilly, some soil rich and fertile-the farmer tried to give the seed every advantage.
c) The birds were always circling, ready to devour the seed, so the farmer tried quickly to plow the seed under, preserving as much as he could.
d) In very rocky soil, he wasn’t always able to do this.
e) He planted at just the right time so that the rains would water the seed, but the rains also watered the thorns and they could choke out the life of the tender plants if weeding was neglected.
3. The twelve listened very carefully to what Jesus was saying.
a. They knew that Jesus wasn’t just telling an entertaining story.
b. They wanted to understand what He was teaching-so they asked Him about the parable.
c. He not only interpreted the Parable of the Sower, but gave three other illustrations of the kingdom.
d. Jesus wanted to be sure those who asked understood.
B. The Secret.
1. Jesus began his answer with some startling words:
Mark 4:11-12, ” And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”
2. Once again Jesus divided the people into two groups: those outside and those inside.
a. Those outside didn’t have the secret to the kingdom.
b. Those inside did.
3. What did those on the inside do that those on the outside did not?
a. If we glance ahead at the interpretation Jesus gave of the Parable of the Sower, we see that all four groups heard the Word.
b. It’s doubtful that the crowd gathered on the lake shore would have stayed around had they not been able to hear at all.
c. But, Jesus taught that once people hear the Word, they must respond-and not all respond positively.
d. Those who are sincere want to know more; they ask for more understanding.
e. When they understand, they must obey.
f. Remember how Jesus identified His family?
Mark 3:35, “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”
4. Quite simply, Jesus said the secret to coming into His kingdom, to be a part of His family, is
a. To hear the Word
b. Ask for more understanding
c. And obey what the Word says.
C. The Interpretation.
1. Jesus explained that just as seed is sown in four different kinds of soil, so His Word is heard by those who respond in different ways.
a. Some people hear the Word, but do nothing, or they reject what they hear because of unbelief.
b. Others listen for a short time.
1) They are joyful and excited about this “new doctrine.”
2) But when obeying the Word becomes difficult, they lose interest and no growth occurs.
c. Still others hear the Word and get actively involved in learning:
1) But other interests take up more and more time.
2) Finally, the Word is crowded out of their lives completely.
d. Only the fourth group gives the Word of God top priority and grows steadily.
2. It’s easy to apply this interpretation to other people-to see unbelievers in groups one, two, and three and ourselves in group four.
a. But the parable is also a picture of our growth as Christians.
b. Let’s look at it again from this perspective.
1) If we’re like those in group one, we hear God’s Word when it’s read but our minds wander and we quickly forget what we have heard.
2) If we’re like those in group two, we may hear God speak to us through His Word, but we ask no questions.
a) There is no earnest search for understanding.
b) No sincere desire to learn something more.
c) And no growth occurs.
3) If we’re like those in group three, we’re too involved with other things to take time to respond to God’s Word when we hear it.
a) Social life, recreational time, even families and church work-all these can choke out God’s Word in our lives.
b) The Word is only on the printed page.
c) It never becomes a process actively working in our lives and it never produces fruit.
d) It doesn’t change us, and growth necessitates change!
4) But, if we’re like those in group four?
a) We’re hungry for the words of Jesus.
b) We want to be with Him and His Word every day.
c) We are listening, asking questions, getting answers, and applying His Word to our lives.
c. The disciples were like this.
1) They followed Him around day and night.
2) They were constantly asking questions:
a) “What is this? A new doctrine?”
b) “What does this parable mean?”
c) “Don’t you care if we drown?”
d) “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?”
e) “How can we feed this large crowd?”
f) “How can we follow you when we don’t know the way?”
g) “How do we pray?”
h) “Teach us. Teach us.”
3) The disciples learned to hear with open ears, to ask with searching minds, and to obey with teachable hearts.
4) And so can we.
The Lord Jesus taught in parables to hide truth from those who would not believe Him (Mt 13:10-17). A parable requires some consideration. Those who don’t care about the truth will not go to the trouble to understand a parable and will also stumble at its meaning, because they will try to understand through their own thinking rather than seek God’s help. On the other hand, the one who wants to know the truth will humbly and persistently seek out the meaning. Which group are you included? I encourage you today to come to church regularly, read your Bible prayerfully. For those who have not received Christ yet, now is the time. Tomorrow may be too late.