One Living Hope

The Servant King Sows the Seeds of the Gospel – Mark 4:1-20


It is not enough to be in the church. It is not enough to be in the room where you hear the Word. You can be in the room where the Word of the Gospel is taught and not benefit from it at all. You can hear the Word preached Sunday after Sunday and walk away completely and utterly unchanged. You can be in the room hearing the Word and having complete joy in what you are hearing but making no impact in your life whatsoever in what you’re hearing. You have become so shallow that you are actually attracted to the joy and the excitement of a church where much is happening but makes no impact in your life when difficulties of life arises. You can also hear the Word, Sunday after Sunday – and say- “oh man, that is what I needed to hear today, it was so good” but the cares of what you hold dear in your heart or caring much of what the world offers captivates you, the things that you are desiring after, strangles the gospel of God’s wonderful promise to you out of your system.

I remember a time in my seminary days where they make you learn rigorously Greek and Hebrew- and I remember at time when Soumy and I were in the first year of marriage- living in a small studio apt, I was taking a Hebrew Exegesis course on the book of Jonah. And I had to exegete in Hebrew every chapter and every verse of that book, night after night. And what I found out – slowly- as I was trying to get to the intention of what was said in Jonah- looking at every word, finding the meaning, having a thick binder, filled with notes; I found out that in working through that book, it occurred to me: that it has not touched my heart at all. It was nothing but a theological exercise.

You don’t have to be in seminary to realize this- We can come to church Sunday after Sunday, sing songs, exalt God, hearing the Word preached, seeing that God is exalted, knowing with our minds that He rules-– that is really your theology. But the way we function, the way we live, the way we respond- it’s all together different. Paul Tripp says that, “we can confuse growth in knowledge and insight–with genuine life change. For the 14 years of teaching in seminary, I have met many brilliant, theologically astute students but there is a gap between their confessional and functional theology. You can articulate, defend and teach the sovereignty of God but your life might be filled with worry for the future. You can expound powerfully on the glory of God but your life is filled with ego and pride. You can explain the doctrine of the holiness of God but struggling with lust and sexual sin. You can pastor a church but not learn how to love people. You can explain the power of God’s grace that is available for you in Christ but you are a judgmental legalist.”[1]

No matter how great you can articulate and defend your confessional theology- the theology in which you are subscribing to – if your theology does not impact your life- then it’s completely useless. Jesus shows us that it is extremely possible to think you understand the gospel of grace or the doctrines of grace when you really don’t. You may think you “get it” but it really has not truly touched your heart or penetrated your understanding.


And when we read the parable of the Sower – these parables are not just some earthly stories with a heavenly meaning- that’s part of it but they reflect something far more deeper, they reflect things that are not obvious to the simple, lazy listener but it concerns something deeper about the Kingdom of God. Again, it’s not a geographic location, a place, not kingDOM but of kingship- it’s not the place, but it is in the Person – the rule and the reign of Christ. And what the parable does is that it serves as a mirror to our own lives. They force us to ask the question “where do I stand in relation to the Kingship of Christ?” They show us our own hearts in the light of God’s Word. In other words, the way we respond to the gospel matters- the place in which we are standing in relation to the Kingdom of God matters- Parables will probe us even further of what it means to live in light of who we are created to be.  Listen to an author, William Lane[2], says about parables: The parables make a direct appeal to the imagination and involve the hearers in the situation…It entices the hearers to judge the situation depicted, and then challenges them, to apply that…to themselves.

This parable is making a direct appeal to your imagination – the ways you are thinking about life, and it will involve you into this situation, it entices you to think it through. Why? To apply – to bring it to bear in your own life; parables are meant to entice us, to provoke us, to respond to the gospel of the kingdom found in the person and work of Christ.

Though they appeal to our imagination, they are not easily understood.  And that is why Jesus frames this parable with a serious call to LISTEN (v. 3 & 9). He, who has ears to hear, let him hear (heart). Pay careful attention, casual, lazy attention will not do, LISTEN- it alerts us to what the Savior has to say – there are eternal implication to what He is about to say- so LISTEN, He who has ears, LET HIM hear.

Three things that the text itself is highlighting for us: [1] The Parable of the Sower-the Story Itself vv. 1-9;  [2] The Purpose of the Parable v. 10-12;  [3] The Interpretation of the Parable for our Lives vv.13-20.



I. The Parable of the Sower- the Story Itself  [vv.1-9]

What we see so far, at least in the first 3 chapters of Mark, we see him moving from a narrative style to a teaching style- where Jesus now gives some content in what he has been preaching and Mark is letting us in on it, involving our imagination, involving our attention, provoking our hearts to respond.

And we see Jesus beginning to teach – and many, many people began to gather to what he was teaching. And the boat became his floating pulpit and gives them a serious call to LISTEN. There is more to this story, so you better listen. Pay carefully attention to what I am going to say, and he begins to tell a parable, listen to this parable. Jesus brings and- invokes the listeners to the normal life situation of a farmer of the time. The farmer sows the seed to produce a harvest. This is a story of everyone in Palestine is familiar with. They can picture a man with a seed bag tied to his waist, and he is walking in his field, casting the seed – they can see it in their current lifestyle BUT it is far removed from our data phone, technological, Jewel-Osco shopping world but to them, they can relate to this story and Jesus connects it, invokes their imagination and provokes them. The sower went out to sow. And these seed that this farmer is casting; fell along the path, fell on the rocky places, others fell among the thorns; this story doesn’t seem to start well – I mean, three fourths – 75% of what this hard-working farmer did; it did not produce fruit. It appears to be very discouraging but then we hear, and other seed fell into good soil, and that produced grain, growing and increasing and yielding, 30fold, 60fold and 100fold. This is the most surprising part of the parable. The seeds that fell into fertile soil, good soil produced a glorious harvest. This is unheard of to the people who were by the sea listening to this story because at the time, a really, really good harvest would be 7 to 10 times of the seed sown, so what Jesus is describing in v. 8 is an unusually large harvest accomplished by a 1 quarter of the seed that has been scattered.

Now, what the audience doesn’t have a clue of what is happening but Mark is letting his readers know that Jesus is again letting everyone know that the gospel of the kingdom- the good news of the KINGSHIP of Christ is with them ever since Jesus inaugurated His gospel in Mark 1:14-15. This is the GOOD NEWS- the good news that is more than just teaching or adviceit is more than what you are even right now- It’s more – it’s power. When we talk about Sower sowing the seed of the Word of God (v.14)– HE is talking about Himself- it is Jesus, who is the Word Himself, it is God’s ultimate, complete, and the Final communication- and what do you think will happen if this seed is in you? This seed- this Word- this person, this Jesus- when HE comes into the soil of your heart – the very life of God is in you. Listen to what author William Lane says, “Jesus, the Word breaks into your life just like the seed which is sown upon the ground and the results are not about the enormity of how sin has wasted and utterly destroyed your life but on the sheer splendor and the glory of what He will do in your life, which yields an unusually large harvest because GOD IS IN THE CENTER OF THE ACTION.” When that seed feel into the good soil- it wasn’t about the “goodness of the soil” – that wasn’t the primary consideration, it is a consideration but not the primary- the primary is GOD- He is in the center of the action. As my brother Jerry who said it in our small group, as he was sharing the enormity of his own struggles, the very next thing he mentioned, to quote him was: “God is not done with me”; how true and beautiful is that!! God is not done with you-, loved ones. The Lord God, in the person and the work of Christ, through his death and resurrection, believing and trusting in Him as your Savior, your Redeemer, your Faithful friend, you will never see that your life as a waste, you will never look back on the enormity of the waste that sin has brought but you will see the sheer enormity, the sheer size of the glorious harvest, that fruit will be astounding. This parable is a gift for you. You might think that your life is going nowhere, might be thinking that change is really hard, sensing that there is no progress whatsoever, you might be thinking that the ¾ is all that you have but that precious one quarter seed= that will result in a harvest beyond your comprehension When? OH never when you think that you can simply pick up and do. NEVER. NO. NEVER. But the moment you begin to wrestle with it, reflect on it; thinking it out until it ‘sinks in’ (like a seed), trusting in the fact that your loved. When something is sown into the soil of your heart- it’s talking about intimacy. The sower sows the word of Christ – and what that means that you are resting your entire life as a Christian on this one and glorious fact: His unfailing love. Only then you can produce grace-saturated, glory-filled fruit. Without it, you can’t produce anything but sin. The life of God in you will yield an unusual large, enormous harvest. As Tim Keller says: The great basis of Christian assurance is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably his heart is set on you; Jesus is making an appeal to your imagination, to involve you, to think through the situation and the life you are living, so that you are challenged to apply it for yourselves. Dare to believe that your loved because whatever might be happening in the soil of your hearts right now, GOD IS IN THE CENTER OF THE ACTION. God is not done with you!! That’s the story itself!!!




II. The Purpose of the Parable [vv.10-12]

Now, my hope in explaining this second point is that I want us to be engaged in looking at the Word together- my hope is that I want to us see Christ –this section is not obvious to the casual listener, when Jesus says listen, it needs a careful attention– because this is quite a difficult section. It’s a section that’s bit odd- little bit different. I mean – these disciples went to Jesus and they asked something about the parable – and boy his response was – bit strange. It’s like saying – I want them to know but I want to hide it from them. I want to reveal but I also want to conceal. I want to clarify but I also want to obscure. I want them to see but not perceive. I want them to listen but not understand. What in the world is Jesus talking about?

But you cannot understand this parable or the purpose of the parables without knowing the context; what is happening around the parable – the climate, the context; what is happening is that there is an increasing opposition against Jesus and also unbelief in people as Jesus begins to teach this parable. And Mark is framing this story in that context.

On the one hand, you have these religious leaders having unbelief and hardness of their heart. This unbelief and hardness of the heart began in chapter 2- by questioning him and his actions but when we see in them in 3:1-2, notice ‘they (those Pharisees) were watching Jesus, why to accuse him…in v. 6- they went and held counsel against him, thinking and planning how to destroy him. That’s not it – you can see it escalating; not only from the religious leaders, but even his own family members where in 3:21, who have concluded that he is out of his mind so they went to seek him in v. 31ff. That is the climate; the context of the parable is set before us.

On the other hand, you have these disciples, who have their own issues with misplaced faith and misplaced hope, misplaced expectation of this Jesus, and sin  – yet they are following someone who claims to be the Savior but these guys have no clue, they were not prepped for this – they see Jesus proclaiming the good news[3], bringing freedom to the captives, the blind seeing, healing, restoring and reversing all the effects from the fall –and in following Jesus, He is allowing them to see a window of the life that is supposed to be and what could happen to your life when He directly comes in contact with your own; –and they asked Jesus about the parable. We are not sure exactly what the content of their “asking” really is but I would assume – Why a parable Jesus? Why not talk clearly and directly? If this is the good news of the Kingdom why are people responding differently? What is the purpose of this parable? And in response Jesus answers by quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. What in the world is going on?

He answers them in v. 8 –to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God but for those outside everything is in parables. Why? Because they may see but not perceive, may hear but now understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven. I mean, Jesus, why can’t you speak directly and clearly? The way that He responded, it would appear that Jesus does not want people to know about his identity, who He is and what He came to do, what he is offering – the forgiveness of sins but that really would contradict to the purpose of why He came. He came to seek and to save the lost, scripture says. He came to give his life as a ransom for MANY.[4]  So what is up with the reference from Isaiah? Anytime you see an OT quotation in the NT, you need to take that quotation in its OT context, not just the verse by itself.

What Jesus is doing is that he is explaining the purpose of this parable -to help his disciples to understand why people are so unreceptive-in the context of what is happening in Isaiah as it relates to what is happening in Mark 4. So what we know so far, we know that in Mark 4- we are seeing that there is opposition and the people has hardness of heart. And Jesus reminds these disciples about the call of Isaiah. As God calls and sends out Isaiah- it was in the context of people rebelling, disobeying and rejecting God and Isaiah was sent to these people that would NOT listen – because of their ever-increasing hardness of heart; they would not listen. And the message that he proclaimed to the Israelites would further increase and escalate their rebellion against God. And as a result, God judged them harshly due to their sin and hardness of heart.

And Jesus tells the disciples; to you have been given the secret of the kingdom, not because they are special but because NOTHING has really changed since Isaiah’s days. It is the same kind of hardness that Jesus is experiencing similar to Isaiah. The human heart is the same, rejecting the Lord and trying to make life work on their terms and conditions. And Jesus discloses Himself to these disciples in the context of hardness of heart, rebellion and opposition- He revealed Himself – the secret of the Kingdom by sheer grace of God. Because these disciples also will see but do not perceive, they will hear but do not really understand, there is still hardness of heart, there is still unbelief, and in the midst of that God revealed Himself. That’s the gospel  – your heart, right now, could be experiencing hardness of heart- opposing, rebelling, making life work on your terms and conditions. And yet, even still, Jesus decides to show you grace by disclosing (showing) Himself to you.

See God judged the people of Israel (in Isaiah’s days) and they died because of their sin/unbelief/hardness of heart and all Isaiah can do is to proclaim God’s faithfulness in forgiving sin, pleading with them to turn towards God. Isaiah, the prophet, could never do what Jesus is able to do. No prophet in all of Israel’s history could do what Jesus is able to do. Jesus is going to bear God’s judgment against our sin by dying. The secret of the gospel of the kingdom is seeing Jesus as the ultimate Seed. Why because Jesus Himself would say in John 12- unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed but if it dies, it produces much fruit. See God judged Jesus because of our hardness of heart, sin and unbelief – Jesus gets the judgment and we get grace.

And what the cross means is that Jesus takes God’s judgment against sin for you and gives you grace. That is what the cross means – it’s taking the price for all the wrong that you ever have done in your life and He gives it back to you as if you have never ever done anything wrong. It’s a radically new life in His Kingdom. Only the true, the greater, the better Isaiah can do this.  The Seed dies to release the power of grace for people who are experiencing hardness of heart/unbelief to the gospel [are you experiencing hardness of heart, unbelief to the gospel] but also to unleash God’s judgment on Christ so that we can experience His love despite who we really are.[5] Only Jesus can take God’s judgment against for your sin and still offer you grace. When this is understood, when this is taken in, penetrated into the depth of your heart- only that can bring true and long-lasting change; nothing else can truly change you, except that truth. Nothing else can enable you to respond with humility.

That’s the purpose of the parable – to show you, to reveal, to share his secret of how God will achieve salvation and how much He is committed in forgiving and changing you. And you are a Christian because, – nobody “taught” yoy, nobody can “advised” you in it, nobody “instructed” you in that – not because of your efforts or your merits– No, God broke into your heart and decided to show you Jesus, freely and graciously. That’s the purpose.


And finally,

III. The Interpretation of the Parable for our Lives [vv.13-20]

Jesus, now begins to interpret the parable in v. 13ff- He brings it down to the nit and gritty of life. Jesus explains to us that there are 3 ways that we can mis-hear the gospel and Jesus highlights that by turning our attention to the condition of our hearts (our soil). There are 3 ways that we can mis-hear the gospel:

  • First, v. 15, we can mis-hear the gospel with a hard heart.

o   The soil is hard – the sower sows the word, and v.15; and these are along the path…

o   What Jesus is illustrating here is that – you have these fields in Palestine, that was long, narrow, which became beaten as hard as a pavement where the seeds then just bounces/scatters on the paths- these beaten paths represents the hardened hearts.- hearts that are hardened in that there is no interest in God whatsoever. They can come to church and sit in these pews and take part of every thing we do at our church, say all the right things, do all the practices but they would make no personal, affectionate connection between the gospel and their heart.  And Satan steals away of what was sown.

o   One of the ways that it shows up to those who are hard hearted is that you will listen to a sermon for somebody else. I wish my wife was here or my husband was here. You are quick to point to somebody else, they need to listen to this, they need to benefit from this more than me. You will miss the power of the gospel for you, as Satan takes it away.

  • Second, v.16-17, we can mis-hear the gospel with a shallow heart.

o   Read v. 16-17- Shallow soil- “trouble takes it away”

o   These are the people who can razzle dazzle us with their profession of Christ, who have many opportunities to preach everywhere, powerful testimony, able to rebuke other Christians well BUT when trouble hits, they fall away. They can embrace the gospel with joy, merely an emotional response to the gospel. They do not embrace the truth of the gospel but see gospel fitting only for their own situation or circumstance. It is only “true” if it works, but when trouble comes, it’s “untrue” and they fall away.

o   Because this heart is very shallow, no root, they will often chases towards false comforts- when they face troubles/difficulties of life – they look to other comforts can give a sense of “joy”- a sense of strength and able-ness – you can run towards sports, you can run towards your hobby, or run towards food, it can be anything that gives you a superficial comfort. It’s a superficial way of responding to the gospel. Listen: God has chosen the troubles in your life as tools for your growth- and in those moments, it will confirm your belief in the gospel or your doubt in the gospel.

  • Third, v.18-19, we can mis-hear the gospel with a divided heart.

o   Read v. 18-19; this is exactly where my heart is right now- soil with other seeds, cares of the world/wealth/success/desire for more, and those chokes the gospel of grace out of my system.

o   All the things that you are loyal to can divide your heart; your heart really cannot fully give Jesus his highest allegiance. You are looking at all the other things to find your identity, meaning and purpose.

o   I feel that I am constantly worried about my life, my future, the things that I want to accomplish, pulled in different ways, and being attracted to the deceitfulness of wealth or what I call- the deceitfulness of success. My fear is that I never want to be a failure in life and it worries me – the phrase “cares of this world” it means that there is a feeling of apprehension or distress in view of a possible misfortune. There are times I dread coming to church, to face people sometimes because I see my life as a mistake or God is withholding something from me and I get so wrapped up by worry about my future. All these big three thing: the cares/worry, and the deceit and the desire for other things, all of these things choke the gospel out of my system. The heart is divided, all because Christ is not their highest allegiance.

But when you read v. 20 – the seed sown on the good soil – – the seed of the gospel takes root and the sheer size of the fruit far exceeds any expectation but how in the world do we become good soil?[6] We can only become a good soil only because of His grace. Maybe the important thing that we need to remember is that no matter what our condition of our soil really is- we need to rest on the fact that God Himself is the Sower (He’s the Farmer, the Gardener). Only the Farmer can pull out those thorns, those rocks; only He can melt the heart of stone, only He can take the hardness of your heart and make it soft, tender. Only He can give you depth and root, where you can experience what true joy looks like when you face difficulties and trials as His strategic tools to make you confess that you are still in need of a Savior. Only the Farmer can show you of what it means to find your identity, meaning and purpose located exclusively in Him. Jesus used an agricultural metaphor, a parable to show what the farmer, the sower, the Gardner is doing in the soil of your hearts- the one who sows, the Sower, is also the Seed himself – He tills the soil of your heart and plants Himself in you. You have a life – giving God. He wants to give you life and that to the fullest! The God who sees your sin and reveals Christ to you-of whom was hidden in your heart because of sin. God is not done with you and I. That’s how faith comes – it comes from hearing – faith comes from listening to this Good News- hearing the Word of Christ. Of what is sown already – God is already producing an unthinkable, glorious harvest of fruitfulness of the gospel the moment you yield the Word of Christ into the depth of your heart.


As one pastor puts it:
The more we’re alive to the life-giving resources of the gospel—the more His mercy fills us, His love heals us and His grace frees us—that is how we’ll become like well-watered gardens—gospel gardens. God plants us in broken cities to bring His beauty and share His gift, for a garden doesn’t exist for its own benefit, but for the benefit of others. What a glorious, unthinkable harvest of fruitfulness of the gospel.

– Scotty Smith.



Let’s pray!


[1] Paul Tripp: Instruments in the Redeemer’s hands.

[2] William Lane: NICNT, Mark

[3] Luke 4:18ff

[4] Luke 19:10 & Mark 10:45 & Matthew 20:28

[5] David Powlison

[6] Illustration: Picture a Gardner planting a plant – they can take any soil – hard, thorny, rocky, shallow, divided-any soil, the Gardner can take and he begins to work really hard  in tilling the soil, removing the weeds, plowing it down until it’s soft, until it becomes “good” soil. So, the soil can become good only because God is gracious and merciful. The “good” ness of the soil takes a secondary stage when  the center stage, the primary stage, the Lord, is in the center of the action.


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