Mark 4:1-34: Jesus Describes the Kingdom of God so We can Understand

Why did Jesus teach in parables? He was a magnificent storyteller! In this next chapter of Mark, Jesus gives us clues to help us understand the meaning of all His parables. Let’s dig in…

Mark 4:1-34

The Parable of the Sower

Again 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. 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. 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. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 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 12 so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
    and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’(Isaiah 6:9-10)”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along 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. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 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. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 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. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Explaining the Parables

This is the only parable that Jesus explains and it serves as a key to understanding all the rest of His parables that don’t have an explanation.

  1. They are all about the Good News — the Gospel.
  2. They describe the Kingdom of God (or Heaven). It’s a kingdom that comes with the Word not a war. See, the Jews expected the Messiah to come and relieve them of the Roman occupation. Jesus didn’t do that.
  3. Each element in the parable represents something in real life.

Jesus used parables because of the hardness of peoples’ hearts. They were tough teachings that revealed heart conditions. Notice, too, that He uses scenarios that the people of that time could relate to. A good exercise is to retell the parable using modern-day scenarios.

The word “parable” in Greek is “parabole” — which means to place alongside or parallel to something. Jesus puts spiritual truths next to daily truths of living to make it practical and understandable to the first century person. They lived in an agrarian society — agriculture and farming. They could relate to farmers and how seeds grow.

Let’s break this one down…

Who is the Sower?

The sower is anyone who teaches and preaches the Gospel. In those days it was Jesus. After the resurrection, it was the 12 disciples. Later, Paul and other believers whom we meet in the Book of Acts, become the sowers. Now, it’s any born-again believer, Bible teacher — like me, a pastor, or a preacher. I see myself as a sower, sowing the Word indiscriminately. I share it and let the Holy Spirit do His job. And it all depends on how receptive your heart is. Jesus explains the rest of the parable.

The Seed is the Word of God, the Gospel, the Good News. The seed falls on 4 different types of soil.

  1. The hard path — it’s the walkway and the seeds don’t penetrate it and the birds (Satan) easily eat them. These are people with very hard hearts and closed ears. In Jesus’ day it was the Pharisees.
  2. Next they fell on rocky soil. Here the roots can’t grow very deep even though they want to grow. Faith needs to be rooted deeply so when hard times come — the storms of life — your faith helps you stand strong. If it’s shallow, then you’ll fall back into the world.
  3. In the next soil, they fall among weeds. I like gardening, but I hate weeds. You try to pull them up and you manage to pull up the good stuff, too. The weeds choke the seeds. Here the weeds represent the distractions of life — worries, pride, vanity, etc., that take our minds off the Kingdom.
  4. Lastly, we have the good soil. These are receptive hearts eager to hear the word and understand it. They keep studying the Bible. Their roots grow deep in strong faith so when the storms of life come, like the worries of the world, they can’t move them. They grow fast and healthy producing fruit — though not all to the same degree.

Producing Fruit

In receptive hearts, the Good News will spread from disciple to future disciple. I recently heard the story of a pastor in Asia who attended a conference. He looked rather sad. Someone asked him why he was so sad. He replied, “I’ve been working for years in _______ and I’ve only had 600 converts.”

The person he was speaking to was shocked at that number. Yet, the pastor didn’t think that was a good number. I say even one person is a good number. One person can tell another person who will tell another, and another and it grows like compound interest or multi-level marketing. Think about it. Jesus started this around 30 AD. Here we are in 2022 and His Word, His Good News is still spreading all around the world. Check out these organizations that I support.

What is the Secret?

The mystery, or secret, in the Old Testament is concealed, and is finally revealed in the New Testament. That’s the Gospel! Interestingly enough, both Isaiah and Ezekiel were told that they were to spread God’s message to the people, but their hearts would be hard and they would not understand. Here’s the passage that Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah…

“Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:9-10 NIV

In the New Testament, everything will be revealed, but not everyone will respond. Not everyone will be saved. Not everyone is chosen.

Let’s go on to the other parables…

A Lamp on a Stand

21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:1-34 NIV

Key Points

  • The Lamp is the Light of God. In the Gospel of John, John introduces Jesus as the Light. He passes His Light to each of His believers through the Holy Spirit. Thus, we become the Light of the World while He is gone.
  • The mystery or the secret is being revealed. The Light is shinning.
  • Good seed in good soil grows on its own. God provides the rain and the good soil nourishes the seed so it grows. Growth progresses at its own pace. Sometimes a person will hear the Gospel and it may take days, months, sometime years for them to accept it.
  • Evangelizing — spreading and teaching the Word of God, tosses the seeds.
  • Where does the seed do its work? Underground. Deep in our hearts.

Paul wrote…

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Ephesians 1:7-10 NIV

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Romans 16:25-27 NIV

Do you have “ears to hear”? Then listen and understand!

The Good News of Jesus’ True Salvation will never be forced upon you. You must be open and receptive. You must have a contrite and repentant heart. The seed is the same no matter what type of soil it falls on.

I pray that the Holy Spirit softens your heart so that you can understand what He is trying to tell you.

Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart -- let Him in!
Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart — let Him in!

What are you waiting for? It’s time to get right with God!

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

In Christ Alone