The Parables of Jesus: Lesson 2

Parable of the Sower3Recap and Intro

A parable is a comparison, from the Greek “para,” meaning as “in parallel” and “balo,” meaning “to cast.”  Through a parable, the speaker casts a net or line to reveal something hidden through what is known.  Even so, Jesus told His disciples, “The secrets of the kingdom of heaven are given for you to know, but not to them.”  The “you” are those with faith in Christ; the “them” are those without faith.

To make His point, Jesus then quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, which dealt with idolatry.  The “them” of Jesus’ day committed idolatry by choosing the tradition of the elders (Matthew 15:2) over God’s traditions.  This kept them from recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah, which was why they didn’t understand Jesus’ parables.

To understand Jesus’ parables requires faith, which allows us to see Jesus in them, which most Jews of Jesus’ day did not see because of their unbelief.

Truth 1: Jesus is in the parables He speaks.  The question is where and what is He doing.  Without this understanding, we are committing the same error as the unbelieving people in the crowds who listened to Jesus’ parables (Matthew 13:2, 11).


The Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9, 14-20; Luke 8:1-15

Read Mark 4:1-3

Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

“Hear”: In Mark, a 2nd-person, imperative singular; in Deuteronomy, a 2nd-person, imperative plural.

  • By using the imperative “hear” (or “listen”), also found in Israel’s “Shema,” what is Jesus implying about the parable to follow?


Read Mark 4:4-9

“How People Made a Living in the Time of Jesus” from the American Bible Society:

Even though the rainy season in Palestine was rather short and the soil was often rocky, the farmers’ know-how in clearing and fertilizing the land usually produced fine crops.  The Israelite farmers learned how to grow crops according to the yearly cycle of rainy and dry spells.  They also learned to adjust the crops to what was best for the different kinds of land: fertile plains, rocky hills, and semi-barren areas….  The orderly way in which the farmers grew their crops …

Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea by Samuel L. Adams, pgs 83-84:

The evidence points to an advanced agrarian economy, which involved metal tools for farming (e.g., iron plow points) … farmers would loosen the soil with a plow and spread seed, followed by a scuffling pass (perhaps by dragging branches) to cover the grain.

  • How does the sower in the parable compare and contrast with 1st-century Judean farming techniques?


  • What does this show us about the recklessness of the sower?


  • What then does this imply about his supply of seed?


  • Which sower has such an abundant supply of seed that he can be so reckless?


Read Mark 4:13-15

  • Why doesn’t the seed germinate and grow on the path?


  • What properties of a path keep the seed from germinating and taking root?


  • What now is clear about what the seed represents?


Read Mark 4:16-17

  • Whom does the rocky ground represent?


  • What negative aspects of life cause the germinated plant to die on this type of soil?


  • Have you met Christians who were at, one time, “on fire for the Lord” but later fell away?


Read Mark 4:18-19

“choke”: Greek, sumpnigo, the word used to describe being choked or strangled with both hands.  The implication is being choked to death.

  • What “positive” parts of life pull the Christian away, so he chokes and produces no fruit?


Read James 2:14, 17

  • If the plants are choked out and can produce no fruits, what does this mean?


Read Mark 4:20

  • What takes place in the good soil?


  • Is the seed ever mentioned being at fault for not producing the growth?


  • Does the soil type have anything to do with causing the seed/word to sprout?


  • What then causes the seed/word to sprout?


“accept”: Greek, paradechomai, passive voice, for “receive, accept, acknowledge.”  The passive voice shows the “good soil” cannot even take credit for accepting the word, which was heard.


Excursus: Jesus Switches Up the Verbs

  • Mark 4:4: egeneto, singular, past tense: “became” (translated as “as”) when related to the sowing of the seed.
  • Mark 4:5: singular, past tense: “fell” and “sprang up,” describing what happened to the seed.
  • Mark 4:6: singular, past tense: “scorched” and “withered,” again describing the seed.
  • Mark 4:7: singular, past tense: “fell” and “yielded” for the seed and its producing of fruit.

Now comes the switch.  To describe the difference with the what happens with the seed in the “good soil,” Jesus changes to plural verbs in the “imperfect tense.”

  • Mark 4:7: “yielding,” Greek, etheren, produced and is producing

Earlier, the singular, past tense verbs (technically an “aorist” in the Greek) pointed to a one-time event in the past.  The imperfect, plural now reveals a past-tense event—but also a continuous action into the present.  This shows us several sowings of the seed and continual growth.

  • If the seed was and is heard, what does this show about what takes place in the good soil, which doesn’t happen with the others?


  • Application: To be good soil, what can you do to hear the Word and receive multiple sowings in both the past and present?


Jesus is the Sower who plants His Word in you, which you receive by hearing.  “Therefore, the faith comes from hearing, but hearing through the breath [pneuma, Spirit] of Christ” (Romans 10:17, pastor’s translation).  One can only be “good soil” if he is where the breath of Christ, His spoken Word is heard.

After mentioning the good soil, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  By saying this right after mentioning the good soil, Jesus is pointing to why the good soil is good, from hearing the Word.

In Luke 8:15, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word [Logos], hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

With Luke, the Word transitions from the seed to the Logos, Jesus.  The person who hears Jesus “holds Him fast,” which is a present tense, active verb, showing an ongoing action.  From the ongoing activity of holding on to Jesus, one then produces the ongoing activity of bearing fruit.

“patience”: Greek, hupomona, meaning beyond patience but endurance, fortitude, and expectation.  The idea is enduring because of what lies ahead in the future.


Excursus: The Fruits of Faith

Mark 4:20: “But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Jesus doesn’t explain in the parable what the fruits of faith are, only that the “good soil” produces them.  So, we can either guess what those are or let what Jesus says elsewhere inform us.  What Jesus says in John 15:5 matches the Parable of the Sower.  Without repeatedly hearing the Word/Seed, we cannot become “good soil” and produce 30, 60, or 100-fold.

I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches.  The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit because you can do nothing without me.

The Holy Spirit [Pneuma] gives us saving faith when He grafts us to the Vine, Jesus, through the Seed of the Word.  In most cases, this first happens to us with the Word attached to the water of our Baptism.  Without being continually connected to Jesus, we cannot produce fruit.  The imperfect verb (a past action with continuing results in the present), a plural (more than one, many), Jesus used to describe the good soil bearing fruits shows this to us.

To produce, a living branch depends on Christ and the breath of His spoken Word.  This is not a two-way, give-and-take relationship, except that we need to be where Jesus promises to be for us.  Other than that, the Vine does the giving and we, the branches, benefit.

Why then is Jesus, the Vinedresser, interested in the plant producing fruit?  He tells us a few verses later.  “This is how my Father is glorified, when you produce much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

  • Whom do our good deeds glorify? How?


“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

  • If a person can spiritually do nothing apart from Jesus, how then can anyone give glory to God in heaven?


  • How do our good works help point others to Jesus?


“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Colossians 4:16).

  • In this verse, “salt” is a metaphor for what?


  • What needs to match our deeds for someone to have the context to understand them?


  • Are the fruits of faith the words and deeds we speak and do, or the other person’s response to them?


Link to the next Lesson.


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