Jesus came for a purpose, a mission, so He continues to be on the move and now He begins to give us some parables to help us understand the kingdom, and the inclusion of His true family, not just Jews. The Greek word translated “parable” means literally “to set one thing beside another”; to draw a comparison between two things and show an analogy. The parables of Jesus all teach us about the kingdom of God by comparing it with relevant, real life situations in our world. Parables have endless new insights. If Jesus asks: “How is the church like a ‘city on a hill’?” (Matthew 5:14), the answers are endless. Thus, parables invite deep thought, personal reflection, and a call for action.
So speaking plainly, and plain miracles are still part of His plan, but not for now. Jesus is hiding some of His message now in parables, but if you are not an insider (a true family member; see chapter 3), then you won’t get the parables. They are coded with certain images that demands belief in Christ for one to understand. With that, open up your Bibles to Mark 4:10-12:
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
The disciples ask Jesus, “Why in parables? Why would you not want them to turn and believe?” At any moment God could come down and say “Believe in me and follow me homie!”, but the reality is, God has already done this, and it hasn’t worked. God knows that just like Israel in the OT, that when He shows Himself, they will follow him, “for a little bit” and then they will turn and worship other gods (Abraham’s family, Israel in the wilderness, time of the Judges, the Kings of Israel, where only 2 kings got a passing grade, the rejection of the prophets, etc…).
God isn’t into forming hypocrites, He’s into forming family members, kingdom citizens. “You ‘12’ have been given the secret to the kingdom, you see me as the Anointed One of Israel. The Israelites who have seen my good deeds and have contributed them to Satan, they are the Israel on the outside, and I will not allow them to half-heatedly believe in me. I’m doing a new thing: those on the inside will hear because they believe in me and the Spirit of God will teach them (new covenant; Jer 31).”
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
“And you ‘12’, you have been given this new covenant, and you will bear rich fruit that will feed many. My plan for all time has been the inclusion of the other nations, whom I created (Gen. 1-2; Gen. 12:1-3). I’m bringing in new Israelites, and the Gentiles are included in this whole thing, the way it was always supposed to be.
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:1-3)
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. (Isa. 11:10-11)
Israel is now veiled because they are hearing Jesus through the veil of the Law of Moses, which no man can keep without error. This is why Jesus came, to keep the Law perfectly and be judged for us. Israel, so far with Jesus, has held the Law out in front and it has blinded them to who Jesus is:
14 But [the Israelites] minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the [Law], that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (1 Cor. 3:14-16)
So Jesus isn’t saying, “I don’t want them to believe.” He’s saying, “I want don’t want them to believe that the Law is saving them. I am their hope, not the Law, not obedience, not deliverance from Rome. It’s all about me!”
So as we read these handful of parables, remember, Jesus isn’t trying to hide them from us… He looking for those who will trust and follow Him.
1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And 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. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 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. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 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. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundred-fold.”
Did Jesus Read the Old Testament?
This is the first parable that Jesus has told in Mark, and you will notice that Jesus didn’t speak this way until His miracles were directly ascribed to Satan (chapter 3). The Jews hear this and say, “If this is supposed to be the Kingdom of God, I’m out!” This was not what the Jews were expecting. Jesus’ good news of great joy that was to bring much fruit to Israel was supposed to be a “big bang”, and Israel was to be delivered and restored right then!
It wasn’t supposed to be a slow tedious season of tilling, planting, watering, pruning, and harvesting, all the while watching many seeds and plants go to waste because of bad soil, thorns, and weeds! I can just imagine the faithful Jew saying to himself, “Jesus hadn’t been reading His old Testament lately, has He?” What’s Jesus saying here? He’s teaching about His kingdom that has come partially, but not yet fully, and at that, it hasn’t come in the form of dismantling the Roman government!
Old Testament Clues
The codes and images in this parable was taken from Jesus’ biblical background. A sower sowing seeds would have been a very familiar picture to His listeners, but would also be familiar to the Jews who knew their Old Testament:
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Is. 40:8)
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Is. 61:11; see Is. 55:10-11)
God’s Word will be like rain or snow, producing good harvests, bearing much fruit when it comes to Israel again. This was a future longing in Israel during the time of Isaiah. This is a story about the Word of God coming back to His people, His Word that produces fruit, even though grass withers and flowers fade, but it’s not what the Jews wanted, so their soil wasn’t ready… there are some thorns and weeds. Other soils have rocks and hard ground that needs some tilling.
The Deeper Meaning
So Jesus shares the parables, but the disciples wanted Jesus to unpack more for them. So He does:
1) vv. 13-14: The sower sows the Word – Jesus is the sower. He has brought the Word.
2) vv.15-20: There are 4 different kinds of people who hear the Word and there are three different forms of evil which robs the Word from people “the devil, the flesh, and the world” (see 1 John 2:15-17):
a) Some hear and then quickly forget or stop caring; Satan takes the word away from them (the path and the devil).
b) Others receive it and think they have it now and they selfishly wanted it and more; they are all pumped up on Monster drinks, but they crash quickly (the rocky soil and the flesh).
c) There are still others who have too much skin in the game elsewhere, and their cares and worries choke out the message; they want the seed, but not the sower (the thorns and the world).
d) But within all this “not yet” part of God’s kingdom, there will be good soil, where seeds are planted and grown, and produces much fruit, 30, 60, even some 100x more than was sown. That would make any farmer happy! (the good soil and the believers)
All three scenarios boil down to two outcomes. One hears the word and becomes fruitful (to varying degrees; thirty, sixty, hundred-fold), the others hear the word and are not fruitful. It’s only fruitful when it sinks in and can bear fruit. Just like the prophets who spoke of the fruit of the kingdom, so will the people be fruitful, those who hear and receive God’s word with joy, for the gospel is always growing (Col. 1:5-6). Again, Mark chapter 3 gives us great context for seeing those in whom the seed has sunk in, and those who are one of the first 3 soils, at least up until this point.
Herein lies part of the deeper meaning: The kingdom is coming, indeed it is already here, but not in the way they have imagined. It wasn’t going to be an automatic thing. Being born a Jew wasn’t going to include you in to the kingdom the same way being born in the back of a car will never make you a spare tire. As is true with all divine revelation, you can only understand it if you believe, if you trust.
“He who has ears, let him hear!” (v. 9). That is, the kingdom comes only to those who have gone to great lengths to listen (verses 3, 9, 13, 23, 24). This strongly suggests that the gospel is not something you simply pick up and do. No, you must wrestle with it, reflect on it, think it out until it “sinks in” (like a seed into the soil). By using the seed metaphor with the repeated call to “listen”, Jesus shows us that it is extremely possible to think you understand the gospel when you really don’t (Matt. 7:21-23). “The penny has to drop”. You may think you “get it” and yet it has not truly penetrated your heart, it isn’t changing you and bearing fruit. The veil is over your eyes.
The Fruit of the Word Being Received
The Word of God is meant to cause us to bear fruit of righteousness beyond what we can ever imagine: thirty, sixty, even one hundred times what was sown. One little seed of God’s Word produces an abundance of grain for the masses to feast on. A grip of fresh fruit will explode from your life for others to see it, that they also may believe in the Son of God (Col. 1:5-6). This is what the next three parables are painting a picture of.
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
The kingdom of God wasn’t meant to be kept in a closet… No! It was meant to be put on a stand, on a hill, in the middle of the darkness… It was meant to get out, indeed, it cannot remain hidden. You ask, “How do we get it out?” Well I’m glad you asked, by first letting it sink in… good soil allows seeds to not just germinate, but to blossom and bear fruit. It’s not predominantly head knowledge, but heart knowledge that must become public knowledge. Jesus didn’t come to hide under your bed!
When the Word gets out of you (or when fruit is shared), more will be imparted to you… more vision… more fruit… more faith… more capacity… more joy! If the Word of God not going out (His fruit not being shared), He will conceal it… He’ll take it from you… Good fruit spoils… expires. The same goes for our fruit as well.
A Sprouting Seed
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
You put the seed out, and next thing you know you got fruit… you don’t know how it happened… you love more… you have more faith… you have more passion… more compassion… you have clearer vision and purpose… your joy sustains through suffering… it’s a miracle!
We don’t produce the fruit! The Lord does. Don’t worry about how the fruit comes. Focus on the one who produces it. Get His Word in… and He will work the miracle! What a relief this passage should be to us. Trust, obey, be faithful, leave the results up to God. don’t control or manipulate the situation, and watch God slowly grow you up, and others around you as well.
A Mustard Seed
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
The mustard seed, known to first century Galileans are the smallest all the fruit bearing seeds. It starts so small (the Word of God sown in our hearts), but grows so big and it produces fruit so big that there will eventually be so much that you won’t know what to do with your fruit… but God will.
He will use your fruit to produce a tree that will draw the birds of the air who need shade and rest to come and sit on your branches. Many will receive & accept the Word in the same way a bird receives shade and rest when sitting on a branch of a big tree. Many will make nests in your shade. Sharing will be abundant! The Lord will draw those who need Him to dwell in your tree so that He may produce more fruit bearing trees by the seed of His Word and the power of His Spirit.
Oaks of Righteousness
The image of Isaiah’s “Oaks of Righteousness” is invoked here:
Isaiah 61:3c: that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. And just what are they planted for? To glorify God… literally, DISPLAY HIS BEAUTY! SHOWCASE THE GENEROSITY OF YAHWEH! How do they do that?
1 …bring good news to the poor; …bind up the brokenhearted, …proclaim liberty to the captives, …open up the prison for those who are bound; 2 …proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; …comfort all who mourn; 3 …grant to those who mourn in Zion—…give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; (Isaiah 61:1-3b)
Thus is the Kingdom of God, and this is the work that His laborers will be employed with. Lord help us be “Oaks of Righteousness”. If you have ears to hear this morning, receive Jesus as Lord, and allow Him to lift the veil of confusion, of doubt, of unbelief, and receive life today.