A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

Mark 4:1-20 - The Gospel of Mark

Bible study


Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

Mark 4:1-20

We have been looking at the early ministry of Jesus when crowds came around Him, many curious, others wanting healing. Jesus healed people but all the while He was teaching them. As we read, we too are learning from His teaching. This fourth chapter brings us a very important lesson referred to as The Parable of the Sower.

Verse 1 On another occasion Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around Him was so large that He got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.

This scene is easy to imagine. The people crowding around Jesus would make it very hard for Him to move and to address them all. Many were trying to touch Him and to obtain their healing. Getting into a boat and pushing just a little distance out into the water solved the problem and allowed everyone to hear His words.

four soils
THE FOUR SOILS. Illustration: childrenschapel.org

Verses 2-4 He taught them many things by parables, and in His teaching said: ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

A parable is a story or word picture, usually about everyday life but having an important meaning. This parable concerns a farmer who in those times would go to his fields with a bag of grain slung over his shoulder. His way of spreading the seed was to take a handful at a time and scatter it with a wave of the arm. Some seed, perhaps carelessly, landed on a well-trodden path and was wasted. Birds are always very quick to feed on grain.

Verses 5 & 6 Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

In this case, there was just enough soil to give the seed a start. Once grown up, there was no more nourishment and so the plant couldn’t survive. This was a second failure for the sower.

Verse 7 Other seed fell among the thorns which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.

The seed among thorns has competition too strong for it. The plants cannot grow to maturity.

Verse 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.’

Some seed was successful, producing what was intended. As we know, one seed can eventually multiply to many more.

Verse 9 Then Jesus said ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’

By saying this, Jesus was indicating that there was something to be learned from what He had related. It certainly wasn’t about how to sow seed for the greatest benefit. It had more to do with the way the people received His teaching. He is soon to make this clearer.

Verses 10-12 When He was alone, the Twelve and the others around Him asked Him about the parables. He told them ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”

Apparently the disciples didn’t grasp the full meaning of His words. However, Jesus explains that the parables are not for their sake. As His followers, they were receiving straightforward teaching that they should understand. Since blind unbelief had showed itself in chapter three when Jesus’ actions were attributed to Satan, the message to such people would be in story form. The truth was there to be received, but due to their attitude, unbelievers usually missed the point. In a sense this condemned them, exposing their prejudice. Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah who spoke in his day of people being blind through unbelief.

Verse 13 Then Jesus said to them, ’don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?

Jesus is saying that they ought to see the meaning. If not, will they understand any other parable? There are times when the Lord becomes a little tired of the slowness of His men to catch His meaning. We are just like them, are we not?

Verses 14 & 15 The farmer sows the word. Some people are like the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

The seed is the word of God. Just as seed has life in it, so does God’s Word have life to give. For these people, the word is totally ineffective. It isn’t taken in. It is snatched away. The people are not really listening.

Verses 16 & 17 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

This kind of soil seems to speak of shallowness of understanding and perhaps of character. Only those who are solidly grounded in truth will be able to withstand onslaughts against the truth.

Verses 18 & 19 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

This is a clear picture of lives distracted from what is of utmost importance, and being caught up with lesser things. Christ should have no successful rivals in our lives. It is all too easy to yield to the demands of the things of this world and fail to gain what is most valuable.

Verse 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times what was sown.’

This fourth case is obviously the one that meets the desires of the sower. A harvest is what is aimed for. The Lord Jesus looks for the responsive heart, the willing spirit. Once the Word takes root in a life, growth and fruitfulness will follow. This fruit will be seen in Christlike deeds and growth in Godly character.


This parable should make us all stop and think. What kind of soil has my life proved to be so far? Of the four examples given, which one would represent me? If you have received the Word and love the Lord with a whole heart, then, be thankful. If you haven’t, you need to look at what hinders you. Don’t give up, thinking things will never be different. It is possible to hear the Lord’s words and by the grace He gives, seriously think about them. If you desire to know Him and please Him, you will find the way.

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