Monday, March 25, 2013

Are You Saved?
The Parable of the Soils: Which Are You?
By: Geoffrey R. Kirkland


Preliminary Notes:
The parable that the Lord Jesus Christ gives concerning a sower who went out to sow seed is of paramount importance in understanding the saving gospel. The parable is quite radical. In this particular story when Jesus explains the illustration, Jesus gives four different categories of people. Three of these categories of people are lost, unsaved, and have forfeited eternal life. Only one category of people in Jesus’ illustration consist of truly regenerate people.

The Text:
Mark 4:1-20  —  He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.  2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,  3 "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow;  4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.  5 "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.  6 "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  7 "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  8 "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."  9 And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  10 ¶ As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.  11 And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables,  12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN."  13 And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?  14 "The sower sows the word.  15 "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.  16 "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;  17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.  18 "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word,  19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  20 "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

The goal of this essay is to explain the meaning of the parable of the soils and Jesus’ interpretation of the parable. After the explanation is provided, the study will give clear application, leading questions, and thought-provoking statements that will allow you to examine your own heart, motives, and fruit so as to ascertain whether you are the “good soil”.

As for the format of the study, over the next few days, I will look at each of the particular soils individually. So the format will be as follows:

Part 1 - The overview of the parable of the soils
Part 2 - The soil beside the road — “hearers but not doers”
Part 3 - The soil on dry ground — “impulsive but no persevering faith”
Part 4 - The soil among the thorns — “distracted with a lust for the present world”
Part 5 - The soil that bears fruit — “hearers, doers, fruit-bearers and persevering in faith”

Part 1 - The overview of the parable of the soils

In the northern part of Israel, Jesus began to teach the crowds again near the Sea of Galilee. In fact, so large was the crowd that Jesus had to get into a boat in the sea to teach the masses on the land by the shore and along the hillside (Mark 4:1). With such an attentive audience, He began to teach many things to the eager hearers. His method of teaching was to instruct by telling earthly stories with heavenly meaning — that is, a parable.

One of the stories that Jesus told on this occasion was so important he commanded his hearers to: “Listen” (Mark 4:3)! Again emphasizing the importance of this particular story he would tell, he said: “Behold” (Mark 4:3), the sower went out to sow. Obviously the hearers on the shore and on the nearby hillside could understand the practical illustration Jesus used. There may have even been a man off in the distance in a field sowing his seed and as Jesus began to tell the story he pointed to the sower and all of his hearers turned their heads and saw the sower casting seed. And as every sower would know, not every seed goes deep into good soil and bears fruit. Some is good; and some is bad. So it was in Jesus’ story.

Verse 4 begins by noting that as the sower cast his seed, some fell beside the road and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell off the road and did not sink down into the ground to take root. Rather, it stayed on the surface so the hungry birds could swoop down to eat up the visible seed on the surface of the ground.

Next, Jesus says, beginning in verse 5, other seed fell on the rocky, dry ground where there was no good soil. Immediately the seed sprang up but because it had no depth, when the hot sun rose up, the quickly-sprouted seed was scorched and thus withered away. Everyone in the Mediterranean climate of Israel knew this. In much of the year, the hot, dry sun would beat down upon those working in the fields. They knew that they had to start work early and end before the hotter parts of the day hit. Specifically, Jesus says, this seed immediately sprang up but because of the dry soil and because it had no depth in the soil the sun rose up, scorched the rootless plant, it immediately withered away. It dried up.

Other seed that fell from the sower’s hand fell among the thorns (Mark 4:7). The thorns came up and choked the seed and it thus yielded no crop. The thorns choked the seed out so that it could produce no crop.

Jesus then spoke to the eager audience listening to his story and told them about still other seed that fell into good soil. This is the seed that dug deep into the moist soil, it grew up and increased, and it yielded a crop. So fruitful was this seed that over time it produced thirty, sixty, and even a hundredfold (Mark 4:8). Commanding all the hearers to pay careful attention to what he said, Jesus concluded the simple illustration by stating: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).

The followers of Jesus approach Him and ask about the meaning of the stories He told. He said that they have been given the mystery of the kingdom of God but those who are outside receive everything in parables (Mark 4:10-11). In fact, the purpose of this is “so that” while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven (Mark 4:12). Quoting the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament, Jesus affirms the sovereignty of God in taking the truth that people hear and penetrating their hearts or not. Jesus declares that it is a sovereign work of God in bringing the truth to light and in keeping others in darkness (Isaiah 6:9).

The Explanation:
Jesus explains the parable to his confused listeners when he tells them that the sower sows the word (Mark 4:14). This clearly shows that Jesus is talking about the Word of God when it goes forth. Just as a sower sows seed on the ground so it is with the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, it falls upon different types of “soils” in people’s ears and hearts. The parallel is simple and the story is clear.

There are some people who hear the word as it is “sown” (Mark 4:15a) who hear and then immediately Satan comes and takes away the Word which has been sown in them.

Similarly, there are people on whom the seed of the Word is sown that are parallel to rocky soil who hear the word as it comes to them. They impulsively believe and quickly make a decision or a choice for God. Yet because these have no firm root in themselves — but indeed they are only temporary — they immediately fall away when affliction or persecution befalls them. When any form of hardship comes on the horizon or a form of affliction approaches, these people immediately fall away (Mark 4:16-17).

Still yet, others receive the seed of the word and yet they are preoccupied with worldliness. They hear the Word (Mark 4:18) but the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter into the heart of the hearer and “choke out” the word which was heard. This person has been overcome with an all-consuming mindset on this world. Worries, wealth, and worldliness has warred for preeminence in this person’s heart and the Word of God is thus quickly choked out. So then, it becomes unfruitful (Mark 4:19).

Finally, other people who hear the Word are like good soil. They hear the word and accept it. Then they bear fruit based on what they heard. In other words, what they heard changed them. It transformed them. It impacted their lives. So great and noticeable was the work of the Word that this person bore fruit, thirty, sixty, and even a hundredfold (Mark 4:20).

No wonder that in a parallel account in Luke’s gospel, in this same context and setting, Jesus urged his hearers to “take care how you listen” (Luke 8:18).

One point unmistakably rises to the surface as one carefully reads the story. Each of the “soils” that Jesus describes has one thing in common, they all hear the Word of God. These people are those who all hear the Word in a similar way. It comes to them in some way, in some fashion, through some medium.

It might be someone who reads his Bible. Perhaps it refers to a person who listens to sermons and lectures while commuting to work and home from work each day. It may characterize some who have the privilege of hearing sermons throughout the day as they work, travel, or engage in activities with the Word of God piping forth in the background. It could describe some who faithfully attend a Bible-believing, gospel-centered church who hears the truth preached accurately and compellingly each week! Regardless, every person that falls into the story that Jesus tells all, likewise, together hear the Word of God as it goes forth.

So now the question remains for those of us who do hear the Word of God regularly, what kind of “soil” are you. In other words, what do you do with what you have heard?

That remains for us to answer tomorrow as we examine Part 2 in our study...


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