Most of us have two types of friends- the close ones and those who are more like acquaintances. The close friends we trust and can share even our secrets, where we share less with those we don’t know as well. Chapter 3 closed by showing that the scribes and even Jesus’ own family could be outside the circle. Now in chapter 4, Mark continues to draw the distinction between those that Jesus reveals His secrets to and those He doesn’t. In this passage, it’s clear that one of the dividing lines Jesus is using is parables. He teaches the crowds in parables, but only explains them to a few of His closest followers.
Again Mark uses a sandwich structure to help us interpret his meaning. Jesus tells the parable, takes an aside to explain the purpose of parables, then goes back to explain the parable. Jesus’ explanation of the parable is the key to the text’s meaning and reveals the purpose of parables. The most important question with every parable is if you “have ears to hear,” or if you receive it and understand. This receptivity is what makes you either an insider or an outsider. A parable’s meaning is veiled in a story and its understanding depends on the state of the hearer’s heart. If you understand the parable and respond to its message, you’re a believer. If you don’t, you’re an outsider.
The parable of the soils shows a picture of this underlying truth. There are four different responses to what the listeners were hearing from Jesus about the kingdom of God and His kingship. Jesus is answering the question of why people respond differently as He reveals the truth about Himself (France.) With his parable, He is testing the spiritual responsiveness of His hearers (Cole.)
Throughout Mark 4, let’s continue to highlight repeated words. The first 3 things to mark on this list show themes of this chapter. Number 4 is optional and includes words that Mark uses often throughout the entire book.
- This section of text uses several parables, which is rare in Mark. Circle the word parable in purple every time you find it in the chapter.
2. One theme of Mark 4 and its parables is about how well the listener hears or understands. Circle every instance of the word hear in blue.
3. Circle the word seed in yellow. A seed is surprisingly involved in three of the four parables in this chapter.
4. If you would like to continue to mark repeated words found in Mark you can circle immediately in red, circle crowd in orange, and underline every reference to the disciples in green.
What is Jesus doing again when this chapter opens? Who was there? Where was Jesus and where were they?
In verse 2, how was Jesus teaching them? What does “parable” mean?
What are the symbols Jesus used in the parable? Which of those symbols does the parable seem to focus on?
Summarize what happened in each of the four instances with the seed. Be sure to include the types of soil and what happened to the seeds.
What did Jesus say to the crowds at the end of the parable in verse 9? What does that mean? Why do you think Jesus said it?
Who was present in verse 10? What did Jesus say to them in verse 11?
Why did Jesus say that He spoke in parables in verse 12? Does God desire that everyone trust in Him for salvation? See 2 Peter 3:9 for more clarity. What then do you think Jesus meant by what He said in verses 11-12?
Why do you think Jesus asked His question in verse 13? What did He mean?
Who is the sower in the story? What does the seed represent? What do the soils generally represent?
What happens in the instance where the seed falls along the path according to verse 15? Who causes that seed to fail?
What does the seed on rocky ground represent? What causes that seed not to prosper? Why are they being persecuted in verse 17?
What do the thorns represent? What things cause the seed to be unfruitful here?
What happens with the seed in good soil? How much fruit could it bear?
What is different in each of these scenarios? What remains the same?
In this passage there were people who understood Jesus and people who didn’t. He spoke in parables partly to separate and clarify those two groups. He didn’t assume that people were His true followers just because they were around Him. Do you assume that the people you see every week at church are believers even though you’ve never asked them? Take some time this week to ask someone at church about how they came to Christ.
Jesus’ statement in verse 9 is interesting. Do you have ears to hear and obey what God has said to you in His Word? Do you rely on the Holy Spirit for your insight into the Bible? Ask Him for greater depth of understanding about His Word.
In the first type of soil, Satan comes and takes away the seed. Is there someone around you that you feel like this may have happened to? Spend some time praying for them asking God to soften the soil of their heart and use Christians around them to sow more seeds of the gospel in their life.
In the second soil, people fall away because of trials. Has this happened to you? When things get hard do you want to give up? How can you grow spiritually so that you remain steadfast? Is there someone around you who is a new Christian full of joy? How can you invest in their discipleship so that they grow strong roots in Christ and don’t fall away?
Another type of seed fell among thorny soil and was choked out by cares of the world, riches and desires for more/other things. What things in this world are you caring too much about? Are you putting too much value on money so that it hinders your relationship with God? What do you desire more than you desire to walk with and please God?
In the first three soils, the tenses of the verbs is in the past and in the fourth soil that produces fruit, the tense is in the present and shows continuing action. Are you showing continuing growth in your walk with the Lord? Is your sanctification increasing? Have you heard the word of the gospel and accepted that it’s true? Have you committed your whole life to it? Are you bearing fruit and obeying what it says?
Thank God for giving you ears to hear and eyes to see
Praise God that He has shared the secret of the kingdom of God with us in His Word
Ask God to give your family ears to hear and accept His Word and salvation
Pray for those you know who have had the seed of the gospel stolen- that God will change their heart and resow the seeds of the gospel
Pray that you would be faithful in tribulation and persecution
Ask God to show you new or immature believers around you that you can invest in
Ask God to give you strength to endure
Confess where desires for things of this world have choked out God’s work in your life
Pray that God would encourage you by letting you see the fruit of the gospel in your life
Ask God to increase your fruitfulness for His glory