Through the Bible in One Year

Day 50

Mark 4:1-25

Today’s passage is one of Jesus most famous parables.  It is probably one of the few parables that everyone knows and that everyone has heard, but before we can actually discuss the parable itself we need to understand what exactly a parable is.

A parable is a brief story that uses word pictures to teach a moral or spiritual lesson.  Parables usually make analogies or symbolic comparisons using images that are familiar to the listeners, usually drawing from the activities of everyday life.  Not every detail in a parable is meant to have symbolic meaning, since the parable is typically used to get across one main point or concept.  Jesus often taught in parables, which were not always understood by everyone who heard them.  Jesus’ parables were meant to reveal truths about God’s kingdom to those whose hearts were prepared to hear.  At the same time, the truths taught in these parables were hidden from those whose hearts were hardened and resistant to God.  And now we can look at what Jesus parable in today’s passage says:

“Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly, since the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit. Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up, producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty, and a hundred times.” Then he said, “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.”—Mark 4:3-9

At that time farmers planted seed by hand-tossing it over the ground.  Using this method meant that some seed fell on unproductive ground.  Jesus uses this parable to describe how his message will be received in the world.  Four truths can be learned for this parable:

  1. Life transformation and spiritual growth depend on how one responds to God’s Word—not just at the beginning, but over the long term.
  2. There will be mixed reactions to the gospel by people in the world.  Some who hear will not understand.  Others will believe the message, receive Christ’s forgiveness with excitement and actually begin a personal relationship with God; but for one reason or another, they do not grow in that relationship.  When faced with the difficulties of life, they give up their loyalty to God and finally turn away from him.  Still others will accept Christ, commit their lives to him and grow in their relationship with God for a period of time.  They may even be productive in serving Christ’s purposes to various degrees, but at some point their attention turn from God to the concerns or pleasures of life.  Then they give up their relationship with God in order to follow those things.
  3. The enemies of God Word are Satan, a lack of personal growth and discipline, worldly concerns, riches and pleasures.
  4. This parable speaks generally of only two categories of people:  those who receive and retain God’s message and those who for—various reasons—do not receive or hold fast to God’s word and continue to follow him.  It matters more how a person continues to spiritually seek after and follow Jesus in faith and devotion then how that person started their journey with him.

And now we come to the section of today’s passage where Jesus actually explains what this parable means and he says:

Then he said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand all of the parables? The sower sows the word. Some are like the word sown on the path. When they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them. And others are like seed sown on rocky ground. When they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. But they have no root; they are short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately fall away. Others are like seed sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those like seed sown on good ground hear the word, welcome it, and produce fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what was sown.”—Mark 4:13-20

Christ speaks here about an incomplete spiritual conversion—not on God’s part but on the individual’s part—one in which individuals realize they need Christ’s forgiveness.  However, they never really accept Christ as Lord—the Leader and authority—of their lives, and they never really become part of his true church.  Others may at first accept Christ; however, they never allow the Holy Spirit to transform—completely change and make new—their lives.  As a result, their commitment never becomes strong enough to endure life’s trials.  Even if they do become part of his church, they fail to show true commitment to Christ and true separation from the ungodly beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles that are so common in the world.

These halfhearted spiritual commitments result from the following five things:

  1. The church fails in their responsibility by failing to communicate Christ’s message thoroughly, making commitment to Christ seem too easy or neglecting to emphasize the cost of following Christ; failing to follow through with new Christians by not establishing the new Christian with planned discipleship, thereby neglecting to help them develop solid Christian relationships that will encourage growth and accountability; failing to deal with demonic powers that trouble, oppress and enslave people to sin.
  2. Spiritual “seekers” believe in Christ only with the mind, but not with the heart—their whole being and personality.  That is to say, they never truly devote themselves to Christ and his purposes.
  3. Seekers fail to truly repent—to turn from their sin and make a complete life change.
  4. Seekers want to accept Christ as Savior but not as Lord.  That is, they want the benefits of forgiveness and spiritual salvation; but they do not actively give the leadership of their lives to Christ and submit fully to his authority.
  5. The faith of the seeker is based on persuasive words or charismatic personalities rather than a true response to God’s Spirit or an effective display of God’s power in the church.

Jesus ends today’s passage with these words: “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Mark 4:24-25).

Jesus here states a key principle of his kingdom: believers must continue to rely on God in order to learn and apply His truth to their lives.  If they do no do so, the risk losing what they already know and have received.  The more we act on what God has shown us through time in prayer and His Word, the more he will continue to show us.  But if we do not apply what he has already shown us, none of it will do any good.  In fact, failure to apply the truth we know will tend to harden us spiritually and make us less responsive to God’s Word.  Why should God continue to show us deeper things if we are not doing something with what he has already shown us?  Though spiritual growth is often a slow process, we must develop the discipline to stick with it, realizing that we are either growing or declining spiritually.  The risk of losing one’s relationship with God increases in the same measure that continue to spiritually seek God, and it decreases in the same measure that we neglect our relationship with him.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Leviticus 9:7-10:19, Marks 4:26-5:20, Psalm 37:30-40 and Proverbs 10:6-7

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