Home > Reflection > The Parable of the Four Soils – Mark 4: 1-20

The Parable of the Four Soils – Mark 4: 1-20

V1Jesus began to teach beside the Sea of Galilee’.

Galilee was an inland lake. The crowds were so big that Jesus had to get into a boat and teach from it. The boat was his pulpit. It doesn’t matter where you speak from. Buildings are not that necessary! Look at John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who like Jesus preached to the crowds wherever he went. Don’t get hung up on buildings, they are not the Church. We are the church – the people, not the buildings.

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Jesus made much use of ‘parables’: ‘Earthly stories with Heavenly meanings’ or a simple story that holds a spiritual truth. Note: Mark records fewer parables than Matthew.

Four types of soil described in this ‘Parable of the Sower’

  1. Hard soil on the path edge. Seed remains on the surface
  2. Rocky ground without much soil – little depth for growth
  3. Thorny ground – good soil but infested with weeds
  4. Good soil – fruitful and yielding a variable harvest

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V10 – Jesus was now alone with his disciples. They were confused and didn’t understand his words to them. He speaks of the ‘mystery’ of the Kingdom: The powerful manifestation of the reign of God in human lives, often attended by mighty works. This is Good News – the Gospel.

V13f – Jesus explains the parable to his disciples:  It’s about the sower, it’s about the seed and it’s about the soil.

Seed is the promise of a future harvest. This was an agricultural economy. Life itself depended on the seed that was sown. The sower depicted here is Jesus himself. The seed is the Word of God – the gospel, the message of the good news from God himself. The ground described here is people – you and I – our hearts and our lives. Jesus is asking how we receive the word of God into our lives.

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V15 Hard path = Unresponsive person – someone guilty of being frivolous with God’s word. Treating it lightly and of little value. A spirit of indifference, and sometimes of hostility to God.

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V16-17 Rocky soil = Impulsive person – acting on the spur of the moment without fully thinking through the implications. Note the word ‘immediately’. Their enthusiasm soon wanes. The presence of trouble and persecution badly affects them. Tom Wright translates this as ‘short-term enthusiasts’ or fair-weather folk, unwilling to suffer and persevere. It’s striking how trials and hardships can confirm the faith of some but then dent that of others?

NB: Plants need the sun to grow but that same sun can kill if they have very shallow roots.

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V18-19 Thorny ground = Preoccupied person – Good but infested soil is a danger to plants and to the harvest. The same is true of our hearts and lives. Worries and wealth can thwart the impact of the gospel message. Notethe desire for other things’. Addiction – some things in our lives are entirely legitimate but the ‘desire’ for them can be at the expense of everything else. Thorns choke. We all struggle at some level with this issue. Possessions, prestige and pleasure can all choke us spiritually.

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V20 Responsive person – good fertile soil, well prepared hearts. Neither shallow, hard or preoccupied, but receptive. These people hear because they want to hear. They reflect on what they hear. They put the gospel into practice and bear fruit. Gradually, the Kingdom of God comes in their lives. Spiritual fruit-bearing is the mark of a true believer in Jesus. Do note there are differences in the degree of fruitfulness here. We are not all equally patient, caring, loving, loyal, courageous and prayerful. We are all different.

Do not put pressure on yourself to produce more than you are able. You cannot be another Christian. You are you. You are accepted in God for who you are. He loves you – very much. Be fruitful and you will grow deeper into God. Spirituality is a journey we are all on. Be unwavering to the cause of Christ. Desire to grow.

The growth in fruitfulness – 30x, 60x, 100x – is all about maturity. As we develop in God, so we grow spiritually. You will not be the same tomorrow as you are today. Yes, there is the probability of going backwards as well, but if we stick close to Jesus, we will continue to grow in Him. You cannot see yourself developing Christianly, but others see it in you.

A farmer friend of mine said that he stores enough seed potatoes in his barns in NE Scotland – without planting them – to feed his whole family and his local community for a year, but if he plants them, he is then a major supplier of salad potatoes to the major supermarkets – and thus can help feed a nation!  It’s like that with us. We must sow the seed of the word of God in order to feed our nation. It needs to hear the word of God and to understand more about Jesus and his Kingdom.

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Not everyone we speak to will respond positively, but do not keep the message of the Kingdom to yourself.

In Isaiah 55:11God says … so is my word that goes out from of my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’.

This passage is not just about people outside of the church. This passage is about all of us. Every time we hear the word of God – or read the scriptures – we each have these same four options. What kind of soil will God’s word find in our lives? This is a daily choice for every one of us here today. We must face the fact that keeping our faith alive is a matter of clearing the weeds and tending the soil – every day.

Let’s pray for grace – and for God to help us to grow daily.

This sermon was given on Sunday 24th May 2015 at the Church Centre, Liphook in Hampshire. 

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  1. May 24, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks Eddie – plenty of food for thought there; and love the pics.

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