Mark 4:1-20

Sunday Morning Bible Study

October 24, 2004


It’s still early in the ministry of Jesus. His popularity is growing, but so are the difficulties with the religious leaders.

4:1-9 Telling the parable

:1 he entered into a ship

This is not the small “rowboat” that Jesus had ready earlier (3:9) in case the crowds crushed Him. This is a larger boat, moored just off shore.

:2 And he taught them many things by parables

parablesparabole – a throwing one thing by the side of another. This word can be used to describe a variety of figures of speech, including what we refer to as “proverbs”.

Jesus took short, concrete stories from nature or common life experiences and “threw them by the side” of a spiritual truth.

:3 Hearken

hearkenakouo –to hear; consider has been said; perceive the sense of what is said

This is a key word, used seven times throughout the entire passage (vs. 3-20). The entire passage is all about hearing the message and responding the right way.

This crowd is probably more interested in Jesus healing people and casting out demons than they are in hearing what He has to say but Jesus invites them to pay attention to what He’s going to be saying.

:3 there went out a sower to sow:

The sower is a farmer walking along tossing out his seed over his fields. The seed is going to fall many places and have many different results.

:4 some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came …

by the way side – literally, “alongside the road”.  It doesn’t penetrate the ground.

Birds like to eat seeds.

:5 And some fell on stony ground

someallos – another, other; another of the same kind. This same word is used throughout the parable. In each instance, the seed is the same kind of seed. The differences we’re going to see in results come from the difference in the soils, not a difference in the seed.

uponepi – upon, on, at

Some of the seed falls on top of ground that has lots of rocks and not much dirt.

:6 But when the sun was up…it withered away.

The sun always comes up. Because this seed never gets established and it dies.

:7 And some fell among thorns…and choked

amongeis – into, unto, to, towards, for, among

This is the first seed that seems to actually penetrate the soil.

chokedsumpnigo – to choke utterly

:8 And other fell on good ground … sprang up …

otherallos – another, other; another of the same kind.

oneis – into, unto, to, towards, for, among

goodkalos – beautiful, handsome, excellent, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable

yield … sprang up … increased … brought forth – all these words indicate continuous kinds of action

One seed planted in good soil produces one hundred seeds. It continues to grow and reproduce.

:9 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

hearakouo –to hear; This is the same word Jesus used back in verse 3. He wants people to pay attention to what He’s said.

:10-13 Why parables?

:11 Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God

the mysterymusterion (“mystery”) – There are some things about God that are simply difficult to understand.  Until you are part of His family, some things just aren’t going to make sense.  In a sense, the disciples were the “initiated” and had been given the understanding to these things.

:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive…

Jesus is quoting from Isaiah and is saying that the things that God spoke to Isaiah apply to this situation.

(Isa 6:9-10 KJV) And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. {10} Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Though it sounds as if God doesn’t really want the people to change so He can wipe them out, keep in mind that we know very clearly what God’s heart is toward sinners:
(1 Tim 2:4 NASB) … who desires (literally “wishes”) all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(2 Pet 3:9 KJV) The Lord is …not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
So what’s this passage talking about?
These are a people who don’t want to see the truth, like the Pharisees. So God helps them with their wish. Someone once said, “God’s law is that those who “will” not see, “shall” not see.”

Perhaps in a sense Jesus is separating out those who really want to know more about God from those who really don’t care. Those that don’t care aren’t going to pursue things farther. Those who want to know more will follow Jesus and learn more.

The parable itself illustrates this principle. The parable is all about how people will respond to God’s Word, the seed that is being sown.

These verses seem like an interruption to the parable, but the “interruption” is actually a vital part of the parable. It’s part of why there are different kinds of “soils”.

Some people don’t really want to get things right with God. And when the seed is sown on their lives, they’re not going to respond in a fruitful way.

:13 Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

Jesus seems curious that the disciples don’t get it.

Yet on the other hand, because they’ve chosen to follow Him, they’re learning to ask questions so that they will know about God’s kingdom.

Jesus is saying that when the guys understand this parable, they’ll have the experience to understand the other parables.

:14-20 The Interpretation of the parable

:14 The sower soweth the word.

“The word” can refer to the Scriptures, the gospel (the message about Jesus Christ), or even Jesus Christ Himself (called “the word” in John 1:1).

The sower is a person who shares God’s Word with another person.

The people that hear God’s Word are represented by the various types of soil.

:15 …but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately

heardakouo – the main word of the passage.

Satan was represented in the parable by the “birds of the air”. Note that Satan comes “immediately”. The “roadside” soil never takes the time to consider what Jesus has said.



Sometimes when we share the gospel with people they brush it off quickly without really considering what we’ve shared.  There is a spiritual battle involved in “sowing seed”.  This is one reason why it’s so important not just to share Jesus with your friends, but to be praying for them as well.  Pray that Satan would be bound from their understanding.

:16 … stony ground…heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

heardakouo – the main word of the passage.

The stony soil has a wonderful emotional experience. Emotions aren’t bad, but if that’s all that happens, you’ve missed something.

:17 … persecution ariseth …immediately they are offended.

The test for this soil is how a person handles difficult times. Just as the sun rises every day, you and I will go through difficult times. There’s nothing unusual about going through difficult times. Becoming a Christian doesn’t automatically exempt you from going through difficult times.

When you face difficulties, you have a choice. You can say, “Blessed be your name” like Job did:

(Job 1:21 KJV) …the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

Or you can do what Job’s wife suggested and be “offended”:

(Job 2:9 KJV) Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.


Going deep slowly

It’s interesting that the first two soils are filled with the word “immediately”. Everything is in a hurry. Satan reacts immediately. The word is received immediately. They are offended immediately.
There is a sense in which becoming a Christian happens in an instant. The moment I say “yes” to Jesus, I am saved, I am changed. But there is a sense in which becoming a Christian takes time. Perhaps it’s the process of finding out what soil I am that takes time.
This is one reason why Billy Graham and Greg Laurie don’t talk about how many people got “saved”, but how many made decisions. A person going forward at a Crusade may simply be having an emotion experience and not necessarily a true conversion.
Perhaps this is why these plants have “no root”. They aren’t very deep. Roots take time.
The more God’s Word penetrates and affects your life, the deeper the roots grow.

(Psa 1:1-3 KJV) Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. {2} But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. {3} And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Deep roots supply water even in times of drought, when things get tough.

:19-20 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

For people sitting in church today, it’s possible that some of you might be among the first two soils.

Perhaps you’ve never taken the time to really consider what Jesus has done for you. Perhaps you’ve never taken the time to seriously consider Jesus.

You need to think again.

Perhaps you thought you “tried” Christianity but it didn’t work then and you assume it won’t work now.

I’d challenge you to consider that you probably didn’t really try it at all. Christianity is not about sustaining some sort of emotional high. Christianity is not a good luck charm to keep away difficult times. Jesus wants to help you get through the difficult times.

In reality, most of us in church are probably either the third soil or the fourth soil.

The fourth soil is the one that reproduces, not necessarily as an evangelist, but as a person who is actively living their life to serve Jesus.

It’s the person who takes God’s Word seriously enough to do what it says.
When the Bible talks about living a life that pleases the Lord, you’re there.
If you are the “good ground”, then the cycle begins all over again and you jump from being “good ground” to being a “sower”.

It’s the third soil that is the greatest concern for us. This is the person who has chosen to follow Jesus, but their life is as effective in advancing God’s kingdom as a log.


Anxiety of life

A better way of translating this would be the “worries of the age we live in”.
What are the things we’re anxious over?
Making house payments, are my kids going to turn out okay, will I have a job tomorrow, how will I do on the test at school, will she like me …
It’s not wrong to be concerned about these things, but we can get to the point where our anxiety over them paralyzes us and we become “fruitless”.
When the Apostle Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem, he was warned over and over that he would be arrested and would suffer when he got there.  Concern for personal safety isn’t a bad thing.  He could have changed course, but he didn’t.  He said,

(Acts 20:24 KJV)  But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

He didn’t let his worries stop him.

What do we do with our anxieties?
Make following Jesus your first priority

(Mat 6:33-34 KJV)  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. {34} Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

In prayer, give Him the things that you worry about.

(Phil 4:6-7 KJV) Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. {7} And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

(1 Pet 5:7 KJV) Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

We need to learn to turn them over to Jesus. Put them in His hands.  And when we take them back (which we probably will), give them back to Him, again and again.


Deceitful riches

deceitfulnessapate – from apatao, to cheat, beguile, deceive
What’s the “deceitfulness” of riches?
That money is the answer.


An American attorney had just finished a guest lecture at a law school in Italy when an Italian lawyer approached him and asked, “Is it true that a person can fall down on a sidewalk in your county and then sue the landowners for lots of money?” Told that it was true, the lawyer turned to his partner and started speaking rapidly in Italian. When they stopped, the American attorney asked if they wanted to go to America to practice law. “No, no,” one replied. “We want to go to America and fall down on sidewalks.”

I think this is one of our greatest dangers here in America.  We’ve swallowed the idea that money makes things better and more money makes things great.  This was the problem the church in Laodicea had:
(Rev 3:15-18 KJV) I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. {16} So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. {17} Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: {18} I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

When we as the “church” get to thinking that money is the answer to our problems, we’ve become “lukewarm” and Jesus needs to adjust our vision and priorities.



Literally, “lusting for all the rest”, for everything that hasn’t been listed so far.
The idea that I need more.
(Prov 27:20 KJV) Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.

They say that the difference between a man with six kids and a man with six million dollars is that the man with the money wants more.

A guy driving a Yugo pulls up at a stoplight next to a Rolls-Royce. The driver of the Yugo rolls down his window and shouts to the driver of the Rolls, “Hey, buddy, that’s a nice car. You got a phone in your Rolls? I’ve got one in my Yugo!” The driver of Rolls looks over and says simply, “Yes I have a phone.” The driver of the Yugo says, “Cool! Hey, you got a fridge in there too? I’ve got a fridge in the back seat of my Yugo!” The driver of the Rolls, looking annoyed, says, “Yes, I have a refrigerator.” The driver of the Yugo says, “That’s great, man! Hey, you got a TV in there, too? You know, I got a TV in the back seat of my Yugo!” The driver of the Rolls, looking very annoyed by now, says, “Of course I have a television. A Rolls-Royce is the finest luxury car in the world!” The driver of the Yugo says, “Very cool car! Hey, you got a bed in there, too? I got a bed in the back of my Yugo!” Upset that he did not have a bed, the driver of the Rolls-Royce sped away, and went straight to the dealer, where he promptly ordered that a bed be installed in the back of the Rolls. The next morning, the driver of the Rolls picked up the car. The bed looked superb, complete with silk sheets and brass trim. It was clearly a bed fit for a Rolls Royce. So the driver of the Rolls begins searching for the Yugo, and he drove all day. Finally, late at night, he finds the Yugo parked, with all the windows fogged up from the inside. The driver of the Rolls got out and knocked on the Yugo. When there wasn’t any answer, he knocked and knocked, and eventually the owner stuck his head out, soaking wet. “I now have a bed in the back of my Rolls-Royce,” the driver of the Rolls stated arrogantly. The driver of the Yugo looked at him and said, “You got me out of the shower for THAT?!”
I do need more.  I need more of Jesus.  And when I get to think that getting more of some “thing” is more important than having more of Jesus, I’m in a dangerous place.



The third soil is about compromise.  It’s the idea that I can have Jesus AND every “thing” the world wants to entice me with, and still think that I can be effective and bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
What if I’m in the third soil? Perhaps it’s time to do a little gardening. Remove the things that are choking out your spiritual life.