Mark 4

1.  And again He began to teach by the sea.  And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.

Our Lord’s popularity continues, as the crowds flock to hear Him.  He is again teaching by the sea, and He has to cast off in a ship to keep from being overwhelmed.  This would be the Sea of Galilee. He had taught by this sea before (3:7-9,) and had a ship standing by to cast off in lest the crowd should throng Him.  Now He does indeed cast off and teaches them while sitting in the boat on the sea.

2.  Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:

From Matthew 13:10, we learn that this was an unusual thing for Him to resort to parables in His teaching, for His disciples come to Him and are surprised that He is doing so.  He will repeat this policy of teaching in parables many other times during His ministry.  We read that He taught them many things by His parables.  It is clear that we don’t have all of them recorded for us here.  Yet what we do have next is a very interesting parable to consider.

3.  “Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.

This parable is usually called the Parable of the Sower.  It occurs here, in Matthew 13:3-9, and in Luke 8:4-8.  Notice, though, that while Matthew records the same account as is given here, that Luke actually records a different situation in which He spoke the same parable.  That is a privilege that traveling preachers have: they are often able to repeat things they have said to one group of people in one place to another group of people in another place.  I have made use of this myself quite a few times.  Thus, we can understand that the Lord spoke this parable at least twice (and perhaps many more times!) and Luke records a different one of those times than that recorded here and in Matthew.

4.  “And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.

The picture is of a sower scattering seed.  This is what we used to call “broadcasting” in English, although since the advent of radio this word has almost been totally taken over by that practice, and no longer is associated with the scattering of seed.  Then we see as he scatters the seed that not all of it falls into the soil for which it was intended.  Some falls on the wayside.  The idea here is a pathway bordering his field.  The ground there is hard, having been trampled and packed down by many feet, and so the seed is open and exposed to the air for the birds to come and eat.

5.  “Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.

This seed falls beyond the borders of the field unto ground that is rocky.  The thin layer of soil supports the seed enough, however, for it to immediately begin sprouting.

6.  “But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.

The seed on the rocks quickly dies when the sun comes out, for it has no depth for its roots to go down into to find life-sustaining water.

7.  “And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.

This seed falls out of the field into ground not weeded.  This soil might be good if it was maintained, but as it was not, but rather was outside the borders of the field, the weeds grow there.  Thus, although this seed does grow, the weeds take away from it the nourishment that it needs to be healthy, and it is suffocated and yields no fruit.

8.  “But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

This seed falls where the sower intended it to fall: on the good ground prepared for it.  Thus, it springs up and yields its crop.  Yet some of the seed yields a better crop than others.

9.  And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

This is a figure of speech, and, by solemnly calling on people to hear (which means to consider and accept) what has been said, it gives these words a most solemn emphasis.  This is an important parable, and those who heard needed to give due heed to it.

10. But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.

These men sought the interpretation of the parable, and we should as well.  Notice how carefully this is worded.  It was these men who were “around Him with the twelve” who asked Him about the interpretation of the parable.  In Luke 8:9, however, it was the twelve who asked Him the meaning of the parable.  Thus, we can conclude that the parable was first told as recorded in Luke 8, and that this telling of it is a second, later telling.  This is confirmed by the fact that, in Luke, it was after the telling of this parable that his mother and brothers came and tried to lead Him away (Luke 8:19-21,) whereas in this Mark passage that event had already occurred (Mark 3:21, 32-35.)  Thus, this was clearly a later telling of the parable, and so His twelve already knew the meaning of it.  Those about the twelve, however, did not, and thus they question Him about it here.  The Scripture all fits together wonderfully if we will just take the time to examine it without preconceived notions of “contradictions!”

11.  And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,

The Lord explains to these who follow Him in His ministry that they are allowed to know mysteries about the Kingdom, whereas those outside that circle can only receive these things in parables.  There was a set order to the ministry Christ had, and different circles of people received different portions of His teaching.  To those who traveled with Him in His ministry, it was given to know these secrets that those outside that circle were not able to know.  We can be grateful that now it has been given to us to know those mysteries as well, as the interpretation of the parable is laid out for us.

Remember that the word “mystery” means a secret that has not been set forth or revealed before, but has now been revealed.  This was the first time these followers of His had heard this parable and its interpretation, and so it was to them a secret newly revealed.  The twelve had already heard the parable and its interpretation, so it was no longer a mystery or secret to them.

Notice here that Jesus declares the purpose for the parables…to set forth the mystery of (in other words secrets about) the Kingdom of God.  That is the purpose and subject of the parables.  Some have taught that the purpose of the parables was to set forth the mystery of the church, but this is changing the words of Scripture.  These parables set forth truths about the Kingdom, and it is only confusion and wrongly dividing the Word of Truth to try to make this parable apply to anything happening today in the dispensation of grace.

12.  “So that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’”

This is one of several occurrences of the solemn prophecy first given in Isaiah 6:9-10, that was often quoted when dispensational changes were taking place in God’s plan for that time.  These verses were quoted for the last time in Acts 28 to mark the end of the past dispensations of Israel and mark the beginning of the current Dispensation of Grace.  This occurrence in Mark 4:12 marks the dispensational change between His previous work of openly preaching the Kingdom of God and the work He was then starting, which was to hide the truth He taught behind the language of parables.

13.  And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?

This is the first parable given in Mark, but if one goes astray in the interpretation here, one will most certainly not understand the parables that follow either.  Indeed, many do go astray here, assuming that the parables have to do with “the church” or conditions today, and not applying them to what they are really setting forth: the truths about the future government of God on earth.

14.  “The sower sows the word.

This is the interpretation that the Lord Jesus Himself gave of this passage.  Some seem eager to take the Lord’s interpretation and then interpret the interpretation!  But this is not right.  The interpretation is not a parable, and the meaning of the symbols is given.  There is no “meaning of the meaning!”

The Lord tells us that what the sower sows is the word, in Greek logos.  He just calls it “the word” here.  Many, who like to see salvation in every passage they can possibly find it, see this as the word of salvation, but from the parallel passage in Matthew 13:19, we learn that this is not the word of the gospel but rather the word of the Kingdom.  It is true that when we preach the truth of salvation, we will find people will respond in these same sorts of ways.  That does not mean that this is what the Lord was originally talking about, however, for this parable as He gave it has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with receiving the message He was giving in His ministry about the truths of the coming Kingdom of God.  Thus, this parable is applicable to the preaching of salvation and the gospel today, but we cannot interpret it as being about that.

Notice that the sower is anyone who sows the good word of the Kingdom.  The Lord is not the only One Who did this during the time of His ministry, for He sent others to do it as well.  Thus, this is not speaking specifically of the Lord or anyone else, but could apply to any one of those at that time who had been given the task of preaching the word of the Kingdom.

15.  “And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown.  When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

In this verse we learn the key that will help us interpret the remainder of the parable: that the ground that receives the seed is the various people who hear the word, and the differences in soil correspond to the differences in the heart conditions of those who hear it.  If we go beyond this interpretation and try to interpret further, we are trying to go farther than the Word itself has gone, which is not right.

The first type of person has a hard heart, and therefore the word has no access to it.  Thus it is left bare for Satan to come and immediately take it away out of their hearts again.  I pray that none of us will ever be like this with any of God’s truths!

16.  “These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

We have all had experience with those who have enthusiastically received the truth upon first hearing it.  Alas for the outcome in the next verse, however!

17.  “And they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time.  Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.

Some people, although initially enthusiastic about the truth, have no real depth of faith, and so are easily turned from the truth when it starts to become inconvenient to follow it.  How sad it is when we see this occur!

18.  “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word,
19.  “And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Although this third group hears and receives the word, they allow other things to fill their lives to the point where the word has no room to grow.  How tempting this world is in this regard!  We can probably think of many we know in this same situation today: they are just too busy with other things to grow in the Lord!  Sure, they believe in Him, but what wasted potential they have!  If only they would understand what truly is important and make it the priority in their lives that it should be.  And yet, alas, they do not, but continue instead to expend all their energy on things of so much lesser value.

20.  “But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Thank the Lord that there are always those in this group!  Those whose hearts are prepared and ready to receive the word as it is brought to them.  These not only receive the word, but bring forth much fruit from it.  May all of us find our hearts to contain this kind of soil!

21.  Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand?

Of course, a lamp is not brought to be hidden.  It is brought to shine its light, and thus is set on its lampstand, the proper place for a lamp.

22.  “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.

Although these truths were currently being hidden from all but this inner circle of those who followed Him, He assures them that these things will not be hidden from the multitudes forever, but that someday all this would be revealed and come to light.  Indeed, this has in a very real way become true even now, for the interpretation of this parable, by being written in the Scriptures, is now available to all to read and understand.

We can apply these words to today in a way that is very significant, since we are currently living in what is called the dispensation of the secret (mystery).  Since all God’s works today are in secret, many people speculate that He is not working at all.  But we know from this passage that all things that are kept secret will eventually come to light.  So we know that the secret workings and purposes of God in showing forth the riches of His grace will some day be revealed for all to see.

23.  “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Just as He completed His teaching of this parable with this admonition, given for solemn emphasis as to the importance of this parable, so now He completes His interpretation of this parable with the same admonition.  Let all of us heed His words here and see to it that we take note both of this parable and of its interpretation.

24.  Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear.  With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.

The rather mysterious words of Christ in this passage seem to be a solemn warning for them to take to heart the words that they are hearing from Him.  The importance they assign to the words of this parable will be turned to measure back to them, whether much or little.  Then He assures those who were hearing and assigning importance to His words, that to them more will be given because of this.  What more we cannot say for sure, but it could be that He means still more truths.

25.  “For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

Those who do not accept the truths taught to them may find that even the truth that they did possess will be taken away from them.  Many there are in our day who hear the words of God, yet laugh them off or pay little attention to them.  From this passage we learn that these are solemnly warned that, not having received what they have heard, they may end up losing even more.