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Mark 4:13–17

“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. And 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 . . . they fall away” (vv. 14–17).

Having spoken the parable of the sower to a large crowd, Jesus withdraws with His disciples in order to explain it to them (Mark 4:1–12). Yet before looking at the meaning of the four different soils in the parable, Christ makes a statement that indicates the importance of this parable in particular. Mark 4:13 explains that understanding this parable is the key to understanding “all the parables.” If we do not get this one right, we will not get any of them right. Such an enigmatic statement demands a closer look. The other parables in Mark 4 have in common with the parable of the sower the growth of God’s kingdom and the life of discipleship. There is repeated stress that though the kingdom starts out small—like a seed—it eventually grows so large that it can be compared to an abundant harvest or a mustard tree (vv. 26–32). But this growth and whether we participate in it depends on how we hear the gospel. If we hear well—by receiving the message with faith and proving that faith by obeying Christ—we will receive even more from God (vv. 21–25). The parable of the soils encourages us to hear the Word of God as disciples—with faith—and if we keep that in mind, we will benefit from all of our Lord’s parables.

Jesus likens the seed that the birds steal to the message that Satan snatches away (vv. 4, 14–15). Some people are so hardened to the Word of God that they do not even put up the appearance of paying heed to it. They reject it outright. They do not hear with faith and make no start on the road of discipleship.

The second batch of seed falls on rocky ground and sprouts up quickly, only to be withered away by the sun. This recalls those who seem to respond enthusiastically to Christ, only to renounce Him once persecution heats up (vv. 5–6, 16–17). Unlike the previous example, these individuals proffer belief of some kind in God’s Word; however, their faith is a false one that never takes root in their hearts. When they face persecution, their false faith and shallow spiritual roots cannot sustain their profession, and they renounce Christ.

We learn from the results of the seed sown on rocky soil that outward fervor is no sure sign of conversion. The person who seems most zealous for the Savior is not necessarily a true convert, and neither is the person whose response is more subdued necessarily outside of Christ. True conversion is proven over time as people stand for Christ even under much suffering.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

In his sermon “The Seed upon Stony Ground,” C.H. Spurgeon notes that persecution can come in many forms, including the assaults of skeptics. He laments that “many hearers and receivers of the word have been destroyed by critical infidels. They knew nothing thoroughly, and so were readily deceived.” This points to the necessity of being well rooted in our faith so that we do not wither away under intellectual or physical assault.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 1
  • Jeremiah 17:7–8
  • Matthew 7:24–27
  • 2 Timothy 2:15
Related Scripture
  • Mark

The Purpose of Parables

The Thorns and the Harvest

Keep Reading One Another

From the March 2016 Issue
Mar 2016 Issue