Chapter 13

The parable of the four soils
Mark 4:1-20 (NIV)

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1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round 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. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” 9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him 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!’” 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—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

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Mark 4:1-3
The sermon at the shore

Crowds come to hear Jesus preach from a boat on the lake. He teaches many things by parables. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus uses everyday things to illustrate the things of God. Here he talks about different soils and a farmer sowing seed to grow crops.

Mark 4:4-12
The seed and the soils

Similar seed is sown on each type of soil. There are four kinds of soil into which the seed falls. Some soil forms the pathway, doubtless made harder as the farmer treads on it while sowing the seed. The birds quickly eat that seed. Secondly, there is shallow soil in rocky ground, where immediate growth from the seed sown withers as the sun beats down on it. It has no roots. Thirdly, the seed sown amongst the thorns produces short-lived growth. Then thorns choke the crop and no grain is produced. Finally, good soil yields good crops in varying amounts.

Jesus tells his listeners to pay attention. His disciples then ask what He means. Jesus replies that only His disciples can understand God’s word. His parables are like coded secrets. Only someone knowing and following Him as His disciple will grasp what Jesus teaches. Encouragingly, the simplest sinner trusting Christ as personal Saviour, begins to understand God’s word as God’s Holy Spirit enlightens His mind. [1]

Mark 4:13-20
The sorts of soil

Jesus explains to His disciples that each soil receiving the seed of God’s word stands for a different group of hearers. The pathway’s hardened soil represents those who hear God’s message but instantly lose it as Satan snatches away the seed, like the hungry birds. We must consider seriously what we read in, or hear explained from, the Bible. The soil amongst the rocks, producing quick growth before the sun withers the crop, is like people initially receiving God’s truth joyfully. But, being shallow, when tested by troubles or opposition by persecution, they wither. This reminds us to ‘pray in’ what God tells us through His word and to trust Him in hardships. The third soil, where thorns choke the crop, stands for hearers becoming unfruitful because they get choked by life’s worries, wealth’s deceitful pull, or materialistic desires to own things. We must set our minds on eternity.[2] Heaven will be ours if we turn earnestly to Christ and His word,[3] but Hell awaits those who put other things before knowing Christ’s pardon and Lordship, and following Him in the light of the Bible’s teaching.[4]

But be encouraged! There is good soil too! Its yield varies. It reminds us that anyone who humbly hears or reads God’s word, trusts it, submits to its teaching, and puts it into practice with God’s help, will be saved eternally and bring forth the fruit of a new life in Christ now. That good soil, therefore, represents those who are saved by Jesus Christ. It is clear from His teaching that no one will understand any other parable unless he or she understands this one. Which sort of soil are you?

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[1]   .  Ephesians 1:18.
[2]   .  Colossians 3:2.
[3]   .  1 Peter 1:4.
[4]   .  John 3:36.

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Questions on Chapter 13
Mark 4:1-20 The parable of the four soils.

A. How would you describe a parable? Why does Jesus use parables?   Matthew 13:34-36    Mark 4:2    Mark 4:10-13

B. Distinguish between the first three types of soil in this parable. What is different about the fourth type of soil?   Mark 4:4-8    Mark 4:14-20

C. The soils represent different sorts of people. Can they also represent different times or influences in your life?   Mark 4:9