Jesus the Farmer : Mark 4:1-20


This is probably the most well known parable of Jesus. What is a parable? As one of P.G. Woodhouse’s characters complains, “A parable is one of those stories in the Bible which sounds at first like a pleasant yarn, but keeps something up its sleeve which suddenly pops up and knocks you flat.”  Lets find out how in the story of the sower.

We want to consider three things this morning:

1.      The Context of the Parable 4:1-2, 10-12

2.      The Meaning of the Parable 4:14-20

3.      The Application of the Parable 4:9

1. The Context of the Parable 4:1-2, 10-12

“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.” (Mark 4:1-2)


What do you read into the detail which Mark provides of the context of the parables? It depends on your perspective.

If you have been wired by God as a pastor, seeing a large crowd will energise you. Like Jesus you will be looking for the nearest boat. If you are a church warden however, you might be counting the available chairs. If you are a policeman you might be thinking about crowd control. And if you are a despotic ruler you will be worried about revolution. Large crowds mean different things to different people. Remember this is still in the first few months of Jesus public ministry and he is attracting large crowds. As we saw last week, in Mark 2 when Jesus healed the paralyzed man, the front rows of the Synagogue in Capernaum were filled with the teachers of the law. They had come specifically to trap Jesus. Jesus chose to speak in parables for two reasons:

1. Because story is a more effective and memorable means of communicating truth than straight propositions.

Can you remember the three point outline of any of my sermons over the past year? Can you remember any of my illustrations? Could you tell them to anyone else?

2. Because story is a more appropriate means of conveying truth in a hostile environment. Jesus had come to die but not yet. He would only reveal why he came when the people understood who he was. The great watershed of Mark’s gospel demonstrates this. In Mark 8:29-31 we find Jesus asking: 

"Who do you say I am?"  Peter answered, "You are the Christ."   Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:29-31)


Mark 1-8 is about who Jesus is. Mark 9-16 about why he came. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he is therefore very careful not to agitate the crowds or give the authorities an excuse to arrest him. This explains why Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6. Isaiah had encountered a similarly hostile reception when delivering God’s message. God longs for people to turn and be forgiven. He is not willing that any should perish. But some people are resistant. They do not want another god in their lives. Parables are therefore both the most effective means but also most appropriate means of conveying truth in a skeptical and hostile environment.  The context for the parable 4:1-2. Lets now examine:

2. The Meaning of the Parable 4:14-20

Somebody once said, "This parable doesn't really need explanation, just application." That’s because Jesus not only told this parable but he also explained its meaning as well. The sower is God. The seed is the word of God - the srciptures. The seed is cast everywhere. These do not vary. It is the type of soil on which the seed falls that determines whether the seed bears fruit.

2.1 The Hard Path: Not Understanding the Good News of Jesus

“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.” (Mark 4:15)


How often have you been listening to someone and yet you haven't heard a word they said? You can tell when someone is doing it to you. Their eyes glaze over, they focus on some distant object as if they are looking right through you. They are miles away.  Jesus said "hearing they hear not". We would say it went in one ear and came out the other without passing through the brain. They hear the message but they are hard on the surface. It washes off. It cannot penetrate.  What makes people hard? Things like cynicism, indifference and pride act like asphalt or concrete and the good news just bounces off.  You’ll here someone say “Church is just for children...”  Our drive way is made of asphalt. Its hard and the seeds that fall on it get washed away.  But if you take a look at it sometime you’ll notice the asphalt is actually breaking up.  Seeds that fall on it may not be able to get through, but amazingly some seeds already in the soil below are breaking through.  Its incredible to see the power of a seed, a plant, a root able to break through even asphalt.  So don’t be discouraged. The Hard Path represent those who do not understand about Jesus.  They may be hardened to the good news of Jesus but through you, through your loving witness and your prayers, God’s power can break through misunderstanding, it can crack open pride and soften indifference. I know, because Jesus did for me.  The hard ground.

2.2 The Stony Ground : A Shallow Understanding of Jesus

“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.” (Mark 4:16-17)


These are the impressionable ones who hear the word and have an instant and positive response. They join all the groups, buy all the books, come to all the courses. A great beginning but no finish. Shallowness. When the heat of adversity comes along they wither.

The problem here is the lack of depth to enable roots to grow down deep and draw up nourishment. How can we avoid shallowness in our lives?

Life Long Learning

Some people think that Sunday School is just for children. That shows shallow thinking. One of the primary reasons we come together on Sundays is to learn from God. Our worship of God and prayers to God are a response to what God says to us in Scripture. We meet to put our roots down into the Scriptures and learn how to draw strength from Jesus so that we become mature. Let me ask you, are you reading the bible daily? Hearting a few verses each Sunday are not enough. Are you in a bible study group? Hearing a sermon once a week is not enough.

The word ‘Disciple’ actually means a learner.  How do you feel about making notes during the sermon? I’d rather you do that than fall asleep.  What ever will help you become a workman who can accurately handle the word of truth - do it.  We also learn from God through the school of life. At Sunday school, Monday school, Tuesday school... Life is an exciting adventure learning from Jesus every day. One of the best prayers to pray is “Lord, teach me new things today.”  A Christian is someone who always wears “L” plates.  Never be embarrassed to wear yours.

Genuine Meaningful Friendship

There's another reason we meet on Sundays. Its to deepen our friendships so we can support one another and look after each another. Ears of corn won't survive on their own, they grow together in fields. That is why our social times together are as important as our spiritual times. The service doesn’t end with the blessing. It continues over refreshments, back to your meal tables, into your afternoon teas, onto the 7:30am train tomorrow morning.

The Hard Path stands for those who do not understand the good news about Jesus but are deceived.  The Stony Path, stands for those with a shallow faith that easily dries up in adversity. Don’t be content with a shallow faith, see Christ Church as a family, a place for learning and friendship.

The Thorny Ground : Choked by Worries and Distractions 
“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.” (Mark 4:18-19)


Then there are the people who hear the word gladly. They are sincere, and they make a solid beginning in the life of faith. God begins to bless them. They have children,  grandchildren. They succeed in their jobs, promotion brings a pay rise but also additional responsibilities. They must be away more often. There’s the second home to keep up, the club membership privileges to take up.

And the first thing you know, these good things begin to choke out their primary commitment, their first love for Jesus.  You cannot serve God and money said Jesus.  You made the right choice to be here this morning.

Can you think of weeds that grow in our lives? Jealousy is one, greed is another. Worry is another.  We used to have a beautiful cocker spaniel called Emily. When she was a puppy, we used to use a choke lead to try to get her to walk beside us. When she would wonder off it would tighten around her neck and she'd soon realise she needed to come back our way. We gave up using it because it didn't work.   She just choked a lot.  It was in her nature to chase cats or eat sweet wrappers.

Jealousy or greed and worry can distract us, take our mind off trusting Jesus and choke our faith. There's another reason weeds grow.

Laziness. Every gardener knows that a weed free garden doesn't happen by accident. It takes a lot of hard work to remove the weeds that would choke the vegetables and flowers. Gardeners know they must be ruthless with weeds. The weeds must be pulled up and burnt. For six years we couldn’t understand why the apple trees in our garden had not grown an inch. Then Fiona explained that we had allowed grass to grow up to the trunk of the trees.

Grass gives off a chemical that inhibits the growth of other plants. We’ve dug around the trunks and surprise, surprise, the trees are growing. We need to pray against the weeds that creep into our lives. We need to pray for the harvest, for God's blessing. Prayer is just as hard as keeping weeds out of the garden, and just as effective when we pray regularly. Know someone in this situation? Then perhaps some wise words or advice will help them see how their material lifestyle is choking God’s best for their lives.

The Hard Path, an indifferent faith that's easily deceived.

The Stony Path, a shallow faith that quickly dries up.

The Thorny Path, a cluttered faith that's become choked.

2.4 The Good Soil : Bearing Much Fruit 

“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." (Mark 4:20)


What a difference when seed is sown on good soil! What a difference hearing and understanding God's word makes. The Bible is the word of God. It is the seed Jesus is talking about here.  When we share the word of God we can trust that people will come to faith in Jesus. People will only come to faith in Jesus Christ as the Scriptures about Him are proclaimed:


‘"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?... "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! … Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:13-17)


‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.’ (1 Peter 1:23)


That is why I am so enthusiastic that we use the Jesus video which contains the words of Jesus, and the gospel literature to give away so that people can learn about Jesus and respond to his call. From Easter we will also be promoting the children’s Jesus video - which is a version of the Jesus video designed for children. And it is our privilege to be the sowers of God’s seed in God’s field here in VW and beyond. We’ve looked at the:

The Context of the Parable  (Mark 4:1-2, 10-12)

The Meaning of the Parable (Mark 4:14-20)

3. The Application of the Parable

‘Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear”’ (Mark 4:9)


Have you heard? Have you responded? Each one of us is somewhere in God’s field. What kind of soil do you identify with? Think about those you love. What kind of soil best reflects them at this moment?  How can we help them not only come to faith in Jesus Christ but also grow to maturity and bear even more fruit?

Have Confidence in the Seed

 “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)


The seed is the word of God. Get to know it and love it.

Do not be ashamed to read it, to quote it, and to share it.

Learn to handle is accurately and sow it widely.

Always be Sowing the Seed

 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)


Look for opportunities to share Jesus with your friends and family, neighbours and colleagues.

Trust the Lord of the Harvest

"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)


Pray for your church family, pray for our mission partners, pray for those who need to hear. Remember that He is the Lord of the Harvest and the world is His Harvest Field. We come to faith through God’s Holy Spirit, and by God’s grace he uses people to sow His seed. Have confidence in the seed. Always be sowing the seed. Pray to and trust in the Lord of the Harvest to bear fruit in you and through you, for his glory.

Lets pray.