The Explanation of the Parable of the Soils – Mark 4:10-20 (pt. 2)

II. We must completely accept the word of God in order to enter the Kingdom of God. (vv. 13-20)

There is a second requirement for entering the Kingdom of God, and this requirement is found in vv. 13-20.  In these verses Jesus is still answering the questions that the inner circle had for him about the parables.  In the previous verses we saw why Jesus taught in these parables, and in these verses Jesus will explain exactly what this one parable means.  As Jesus uncovers the meaning of this parable, it is clear that the second requirement for entering the kingdom of God is that we must completely accept the word of God.

Before explaining the meaning of the parable Jesus asked the inner circles two questions: “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?”  From these questions we see two things.  First, we see again the need for divine assistance.  Second, we see that understanding this one parable is they key to understanding all of the parables.  If we can look at this parable and learn to pick out the spiritual principle, then we will be able to “have the ears” to understand the rest of Jesus’ parables.  Thankfully Jesus goes on to tell us exactly what this parable means.

Jesus begins His explanation of this parable in verse 14 where He says, “The sower sows the word.”  Notice again that the focus of this parable is not on the sower, but rather on the seed.  The “seed” is the word of God.  Specifically, the seed is the Gospel message.  This is the message that Jesus had been proclaiming throughout His earthly ministry.  Up to this point this message had been met with mixed results, and now we are beginning to see why.  In order for this seed to be effective it must land on the proper soil.  If the seed is the word, then the soil represents the human heart.  Thus, for the word of God to be effective it must be completely accepted by the heart of man.  In this parable Jesus describes four different kinds of soil, or hearts, but only one is the right kind of soil.

The first soil was not the right kind of soil at all.  This soil was on the path, where the seed was not even able to penetrate the surface.  There, along the path, the seed laid exposed until it was eaten up by hungry birds. In v. 15 Jesus explains that “these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”  Here we see a picture of individuals who have hardened their heart against the truth of the Gospel.  They have heard the truth, but they reject it altogether.  For some this means open hostility toward the Gospel.  However, for many others this kind of hard heart leads to unapologetic apathy toward the gospel.

By rejecting the truth, these individuals with hard hearts fall into the trap of the “father of lies”—Satan.  Satan, acting just like the birds that ate the seed, works to remove the word and replace it with his lies.  2 Cor 4:4 says that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ….”  This is one of the primary ways that Satan works against God’s people; he wants us to reject the truth and accept a lie.  In fact, 1 Peter 5:8 says that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The person with a hard heart is giving Satan the opportunity to devour him. Thus, even though the seed was sown and this individual heard the gospel, he will never accept it because of his hard heart. This person will not grow and bear fruit; he will not be a part of the kingdom. As we reflect on the individual with the hard heart we need to ask ourselves how we have received the message of the Gospel. Have we hardened our hearts to the message of Jesus? Are we playing right into Satan’s plan?

The second soil seemed like it might be the right kind of soil, but it had no depth to it.  This was the rocky ground where the seed was scorched by the sun because it had no root. In vv. 16-17 Jesus explains that “these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”  Here we see that these individuals immediately and joyously received the message of the gospel.  In other words, when someone first told them about Jesus they were happy to hear it.  Maybe they were at a revival meeting and they walked the isle, or maybe they just heard it from a friend and immediately prayed to Jesus.  Whatever the circumstances, at this point these individuals were excited to hear about Jesus and follow Him.  However, these individuals have no depth in their commitment to Jesus.  Their reaction to the gospel was based on an emotionally stimulating experience, but it was not a faith rooted in the truth of the gospel.

You see, true faith has roots growing deep into the truth of God’s word.  Consequently, when difficulties arise true faith will be able to draw the resources it needs to survive from God’s word.  On the other hand, this impulsive hearer that we read about in these verses does not have a faith that is rooted in the truth.  He is not able to draw the resources that it needs from God’s word.  For this reason, this individual who received the gospel initially is only able to endure for a while until his true heart it revealed.  When things become difficult and tribulation and persecution arise this person falls away.  He rejects the gospel message just as quickly as he had previously received it, and in the process reveals that he never truly accepted it.  This individual was not committed to following Jesus; he was only interested in making Jesus another addition to His life.  When things got difficult and he had to choose between his own comfort and Jesus, he chose comfort.  This kind of heart would have been very familiar to the Romans readers of this gospel.  Many of them had seen friends and family members fall away at the first sign of persecution.  Many of us have also seen this same thing happen.  

This kind of heart should cause us to constantly examine ourselves to make sure that our faith is based on the truth, and not some emotional experience.  In order to be true followers of Jesus—who will enter the Kingdom—we must have a deep commitment to Him.  If we are not completely committed to Christ then we will not the resources to endure, and we will fall away.  This is dangerous trap that we must be aware of.  Just think about all those crowds who sang Hosanna at the arrival of Christ, and then days latter called for the crucifixion of Christ.  Are you like the crowds, or is your faith rooted in the truth of God’s word?  How will you respond when tribulation arises? (ex. what if a terrorist threatened to cut of your head unless you rejected Christ?)

The third soil seemed very promising, but in the end it too failed.  This was the thorny soil where the weed grew with the wheat and choked them out. In vv. 18-19 Jesus explains that these “are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”  Of all the soils, I think that this soil is the most common soil in the church today.  I want you to notice something about how the seed grew in this soil.  In the first two soils the seed eventually died, but in this soil the seed does not die.  It actually remains and grows.  But there is one fatal flaw, it does not produce fruit.  Essentially, even though it did not die, it was no better than the seed that did die.  In fact, it may have been worse because it took up space in the fields and it was such a disappointment when it did not yield a crop.

This soil represents hearts that are divided between Jesus and the things of the world.  These are individuals who hear the gospel and do not reject it.  In fact, on the outside they look as if they have completely accepted it.  However, their hearts are divided.  Just like the thorns grow up around the good plant and make it unfruitful, the circumstances of these individuals’ lives make them unfruitful.  So even though they claim to be committed to Jesus their lives do not live up to that claim.  Specifically, Jesus mentions three things that distract these individuals from following Jesus:

  1. The Cares of the World – anxiety, worry, extreme pessimism, tec.
  2. The Deceitfulness of Riches – love of money, preoccupation with temporal treasure
  3. Desires for Other Things – anything that takes the focus off of Jesus, laziness, no concern for spiritual work, etc.

These individuals are divided.  They claim to be committed to Jesus, but really they are more interested in these other things.  With their mouths they confess Jesus, but with their actions they worship the gods of this world.  Individuals like this are not true followers of Jesus.  As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  Today the church is filled with people who confess the name of Jesus with their lips, but are really committed to things of this world.  I love the way one author illustrated this point:

“Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Rolls Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.”[1]

Too many professing Christians love Jesus as much this woman loved her man—not much.  That is why they do not bear fruit, and they are not productive members of the kingdom of God.  In fact, they are not members of the kingdom at all.  Matthew 7:15-23 explains that if God has truly saved you and made you a member of the kingdom then your fruit will prove it.  These individuals bore no fruit because they did not truly accept the Gospel.  They may have fooled themselves into thinking that they had accepted the gospel, but their hearts were divided.  They were not committed to Christ as their Lord.

What about your heart? Is your commitment divided?  Are you preoccupied with the things of this world?  What kind of fruit are you producing?  What keeps you from bearing fruit?

The fourth and final soil was the only good soil.  Here the seed was able to grow and produce fruit.  In v. 20 Jesus explains that “those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”  This good soil represents those who have completely accepted the word.  They have not hardened their heart, their faith is rooted in the truth, and they are not distracted by the things of this world.  It is in the hearts of these people, who completely accept the word, that the power of the seed is made evident.  These individuals are fruit bearing members of the Kingdom of God.  They do not merely receive the word or hear the word; instead they whole heartedly accept the word.  Because of their willingness to accept the word, the power of the word works in them to bring about fruit. This is the kind of fruit that is described in Gal 5:22-23.  These fruits do not earn our way into the kingdom, but they are evidence that God has made us a part of His kingdom.  In fact, God will use these fruits in our life to advance His kingdom.

There is one final observation that I want to make from v. 20.  At the end of the verse Jesus says that some bear fruit “thirtyfold” and others “sixtyfold” and others “a hundredfold.”  From this we see that not everyone is going to bear the same amount of fruit.  Some will be more mature and will be more productive in the kingdom.  But we should not be comparing fruit with one another.  It is not a competition.  What is important is that we are growing, and that we continue to bear fruit.  This is the mark of a true member of the kingdom of God.  This kind of fruit bearing only occurs in the lives of those who completely accept the word of God.

So, the first requirement for entering the kingdom of God was that we must completely depend upon the sovereign grace of God. The second requirement for entering the kingdom of God we must completely accept the word of God.


[1]Walter Underwood, The Contemporary 12 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), pp. 86, 87.

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