The multitude was crowding around Jesus, so he gets into a boat. This part of the sea of Galilee is a natural amphitheater that carries sound incredibly well from out on the water.
The neat thing to remember is that Jesus didn't just happen to discover this. He made it this way. Often, we're guilty of thinking of Jesus in earthly, human terms. When Jesus said,
Luke 12:27 "Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.
He wasn't just walking by and happened to notice, "Hey, these lilies might make a good illustration." No, He created them knowing that. He created them specifically for that purpose, that we might see their natural beauty that they didn't strive to attain.
After God made sheep, He didn't notice, "Hey, these sheep are dumb! They do things just like people do!" No, He created them to be perfect illustrations of people.
So too, He created this natural amphitheater on the Sea of Galilee because He knew He'd need a microphone.
After teaching this parable, the disciples ask Him what all this stuff meant. He explains to them that He is now teaching in parables to separate those who wish to agree and those who wish to argue. You see, by speaking in parables, Jesus was making it impossible to hear for those who didn't want to hear. He was making it impossible to see for those who didn't want to see.
Before explaining these things, Jesus says,
Mark 4:13 And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? And how will you understand all the parables?
This gives rise to what is called the "principle of expositional constancy." In other words, the figures that Jesus uses are consistent throughout all of the parables. His explanation gives us not only the key to this parable, but to many others.
The seed is the Word of God.
There is sometimes a bit of confusion regarding the identity of the sower. The sower is anyone who propagates the Word of God, be it a pastor, evangelist, or you at work. It is not God. The reason I know this is that the sower in verse 26 goes to bed, something that God does not do:
Ps. 121:4 Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.
And second, the sower has no clue how seeds sprout up and grow, something that God most assuredly does.
The four types of soils are the hearts of people who hear the word of God.
The plants are your life, that which grows up out of your heart and either produces fruit or doesn't.
And the crop is the fruit that is borne in your life, the fruit of the Spirit,
Gal. 5:22-23 ...The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...
There are hearts that are so hard, the seed never gets in, and the devil snatches it away. How are hearts hardened?
Hebr. 3:7-8 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS
Hearts get hard when they hear the voice or the word of God and reject it. A classic example was Pharaoh, who heard the Word of God through Moses, yet continually rejected it. The Bible says over and over that Pharaoh hardened his heart.
The heart of rocky soil receives the Word with joy - they have an emotional experience, but usually with no conviction of sin - they've heard only a feel-good gospel. And an emotional, feel-good faith has no motivation for sinking deep roots. For a while they believe, but in time of trials and temptation the fall away. It is so important for us to be rooted and grounded in the Word of God.
Ps. 1:1-3 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
If you've come to Christ, it is imperative that you now be planted next to the Water of the Word - reading your Bible, being in the Bible studies - understanding what's ahead for you. If you've got no roots, you're going to burn out and blow away.
Now a third danger - the thorns. Thorns are your cares and concerns - worries, riches, pleasures. If you get wrapped up, you'll get choked out. As a Christian, your priorities have to change now. It isn't about the car you drive, the clothes you wear, or the house you live in anymore - that stuff is all so pointless, because this world is on a collision course with doomsday - everything you're concerned with getting and buying is going to be burned up in fire. John wrote:
1John 2:15-16 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
We often believe that what we've said in secret will stay secret. It won't. We think that what we've done in private will never be revealed. It will. Moses said in Numbers 32,
Num. 32:23 "...Be sure your sin will find you out."
Isa. 29:15 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD, And whose deeds are done in a dark place, And they say, "Who sees us?" or "Who knows us?"
And the psalmist wrote:
Ps. 90:8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy presence.
The Lord is all-knowing and all-seeing. You are never alone with your thoughts. There is no deed you do that the Lord does not see. Our hypocrisy might fool men, but it doesn't fool God. The Lord says,
Jer. 17:10 "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.
We know that the Bible tells us,
Rom. 10:17 ...Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
If faith comes from hearing the word of Christ, then it stands to reason that a lack of faith can come by hearing something opposed to Christ.
John wrote in his first epistle,
1John 4:5-6 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
If you're listening to the world's advice, the world's music, the world's philosophies, then you're being worldly. If it was no big deal, then Jesus wouldn't have warned us,
Mark 4:24 ..."Take care what you listen to..."
This is an interesting thing regarding the kingdom of God - you're given a certain amount, and if you multiply it, more is given to you. If you do nothing with it, the little that you had gets taken away.
Check out the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 when you get a chance.
When we were in elementary school, we used to get a styrofoam cup 3/4 full of dirt. We'd plant a seed in it and wait for it to grow. We'd get anxious. Funny how we do the same thing spiritually: we expect rapid growth from new Christians, when the seed has just been planted the night before.
But it didn't happen overnight, it took a long time. Plants grow gradually and progressively. The bummer thing about it was that my plants always seemed to take longer than everybody else's, too. No two people grow at the same rate. Some end up in ministry after five years. For others, it's all they can do to make it to church every week after five years. Fortunately, God is patient with us.
Eventually, when the fruit is grown in our lives, it is harvested for use in the kingdom of God.
The mustard seed, when planted, grows to be a yellow-flowered bush about 3 1/2 feet tall. "A grain of mustard seed never develops into a great tree, unless it becomes abnormal." (Morgan) But this seed grows up to be a mutated monstrosity, much larger than it was ever supposed to be. It actually becomes a tree that is large enough for the "birds of the air" to nest in its branches.
Remember, because Jesus told us to interpret the rest of the parables using the explanation of the parable of the soils, we know that the birds represented the evil one, satan and his messengers.
Yes, in the kingdom of God, which is much larger than it should be, the evil one has emissaries setting up shop in the branches. Never forget that the church's greatest threat is not from the outside, but from the inside. Paul warned the Ephesian elders,
Acts 20:29-30 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."
Think it not strange at all when these things happen in the church. The kingdom of God has become a mutated monstrosity, having grown much larger than it ever was supposed to. Churches and ministries are filled with not only the unsaved, but with the unholy messengers of satan as well.
There is an understanding of the word of God that can come only as a result of being a disciple of Christ. 1Corinthians 2 tells us,
1Cor. 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised
Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, there are truths of the word of God which are totally incomprehensible to an unsaved person. This is one reason why Jesus chose to teach in parables.
At least four of these disciples grew up fishing on this sea. They were familiar with storms, and knew how to deal with them. But this was an abnormally massive and destructive one. They thought they were going to die. Once Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, He rebukes them for their lack of faith. Does that sound unreasonable to you? After all, it was a horrible, life-threatening situation. But they didn't hold on to what Jesus had said:
Mark 4:35 ...He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side."
We need to simply hold onto the word of God, walking by faith and not by sight.