1 Again Jesus began teaching by the lake. A great crowd gathered around him, so he sat down in a boat near the shore. All the people stayed on the shore close to the water. 2 Jesus taught them many things, using stories. He said, 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant his seed. 4 While he was planting, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some seed fell on rocky ground where there wasn’t much dirt. That seed grew very fast, because the ground was not deep. 6 But when the sun rose, the plants dried up because they did not have deep roots. 7 Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. So those plants did not produce a crop. 8 Some other seed fell on good ground and began to grow. It got taller and produced a crop. Some plants made thirty times more, some made sixty times more, and some made a hundred times more.” 9 Then Jesus said, “Let those with ears use them and listen!” ~ Mark 4:1-9
Today, we transition into Mark 4 where the Lord Jesus has made His way to a lake off of the Sea of Galilee. He taught using parables, in order to reveal the truth to the willing and to conceal the truth from the unwilling.
We all love a good story because they are known to boost trust, compassion, and empathy. Stories have a unique ability to build connections. The Lord Jesus conveyed truth through telling stories. The Greek word translated parable, is a word that means "cast alongside of" which is used 48 times in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus incorporated parables in one-third of His teaching. A parable is a story cast alongside something else in order to illustrate the truth for those with a willing heart. The Lord Jesus utilized parables in order to convey to them something that was unknown to them up to that point.
In v.1 of today's passage we read, "Again Jesus began teaching by the lake. A great crowd gathered around him, so he sat down in a boat near the shore. All the people stayed on the shore close to the water."
The first word of this verse informs us it was the practice of the Lord Jesus to teach with the Lake as His backdrop. And, this time, He used a boat as a pulpit, and, He taught the people concepts that are humanly difficult to grasp.
In v.2-3 of today's passage we read, "2 Jesus taught them many things, using stories. He said, 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant his seed."
The Lord Jesus taught the crowd this parable about the farmer who sowed seed on three types of ground which all failed to produce a result. This is one of 39 distinct parables the Lord Jesus used. Notice He introduced this parable with an invitation to "listen." This is the key to understanding the different results in this parable.
In this case, listening is believing. God will always appeal to the deepest longings of our hearts because He made us to be in a personal relationship with Him. The Lord Jesus said in John 17:3, "Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
There are two main ways to get to know anyone. One way is to hear about them from someone else. Another is to hear from them for ourselves. The advantage we have in developing our relationship with God is that He tells us about Himself in the Scripture which is His self-revelation. Essential in knowing God is to come to Him through His written and His Living Word. Of course, the Living Word is the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself.
In Hebrews 11:6 we learn that the Lord Jesus rewards us with revelation about Himself when we seek Him. And, the seed in today's parable represents the Word of God.
According to Romans 10:17, it is His word that creates faith in us. But not all who hear the word, as in this story, believe. The difference is that of willingness of heart. Faith operates in the arena of our souls which are made up of our minds, our wills, and our emotions. Faith is an act of our wills. This explains the different responses given in this parable.
In v.4-7 of today's passage we read, "4 While he was planting, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some seed fell on rocky ground where there wasn’t much dirt. That seed grew very fast, because the ground was not deep. 6 But when the sun rose, the plants dried up because they did not have deep roots. 7 Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. So those plants did not produce a crop."
The first three responses to the seed was not adequate because the soil did not receive the seed so that it could germinate and grow roots. The unwilling heart represented by these three soils was too shallow in its understanding of reality. Receptivity to the words of the Lord Jesus increases our capacity to understand His parables.
Listening is such an art. And, the Lord has been known to speak to us through a variety of means. However, the plumb line is His written word. When we are good at listening to Him, others will think of us as crazy. I believe this explains why so many reject His word. Of course, there are other reasons for their rejection, namely, they do not want someone telling them what to do.
Listening is hard work, yet, the more we do it, the easier it seems to become. When God speaks to us, He will always be consistent with His word, the Bible. Of course, there are many situations in our lives that He doesn't speak to us in His word specifically, so we must be in His word in order to hear His voice. He will never contradict His word when He speaks to us.
In v.8-9 of today's passage we read, "8 Some other seed fell on good ground and began to grow. It got taller and produced a crop. Some plants made thirty times more, some made sixty times more, and some made a hundred times more.” 9 Then Jesus said, “Let those with ears use them and listen!"
When the human heart is left to itself, it will always be barren. If we do not bring it before the Lord, "breaking up the fallow ground," as the prophet said, it will remain as it was when we were born into this world, barren. The prophet said, "The heart is deceitful above all else, and desperately wicked." Solomon said, "Keep your heart with all diligence, out of it proceed the issues of life."
The receptivity of the human heart to the truth of God is evidenced by growth. When we hear spiritual truth, and we give it safe haven in our hearts, more truth will be given to us. This is why some people get bored with Bible study, because they never allow the truth to sink deep enough into their hearts. It is not given the chance to penetrate the heart.
The phrase, "Let those with ears use them and listen," appears eight times in the New Testament. When the Lord Jesus addresses those who have ears, He refers to all who have been given His word, no matter our age, ethnicity, language, or status. But there is a difference between having ears and having "ears to hear."
To have "ears to hear" means we are allowing the Word of God to penetrate our hearts, leading to a confrontation of our natural way of thinking and God's way of thinking. When God's way of thinking defines us, we will bear His fruit to the glory of God. It is up to us, the hearers, to decide whether to receive His life altering words or not. When we throw the welcome mat out before our hearts for His word, eternal life happens.