What is Jesus getting at when he describes the seed that the sower sows falling on four different types of ground? M. S. Mills in his book The Life of Christ, gives an excellent summary:
- “Some hearers (wayside) will not understand the Word and it will have no significance to them because of Satan’s influence.”
- “Some hearers (stony ground) will appreciate the message and resolve in their own strength (Matt 13:21; Mark 4:17) to follow its teachings. This resolution is not capable of withstanding trial and will reveal itself as false under pressure.”
- “Some hearers (thistles) will respond to the Word but not to the work, and will consequently lack mature fruit. This is an indication there will be believers who will not actively involve themselves in prospering the Church.”
- “Some hearers (good ground) will respond to the Word and accept the challenge of the work with varying degrees of success. The profitable yields demonstrate that there will be an expanding Church during the Church Age (Matt 13:23).”
If you have been around the Church for any length of time, you will immediately recognize these four responses to the preaching of the good news about Jesus. The first two responses are responses of unbelief. The last two responses are of faith, but the first response of faith is unfruitful and Jesus points out exactly why this type of person is unfruitful. The last response is one of fruitfulness, but even here, the harvest varies, the fruitfulness depends ultimately on the sovereignty of God.
This parable shows us the way the Kingdom of God advances. The parable of the sower tells us that hearing the gospel is essential, but it takes the supernatural work of God the Spirit to give us the ability to hear and receive by faith.
The commentary The Message of Mark draws a couple of faith lessons from the parable of the sower:
- “Faith is not easily come by.” – Appropriating the seed into something that grows faces many and great obstacles, not least of which is the spiritual forces of darkness.
- “The servant of good news is never in control of it.” – We would all like to think that it is our faithful service and our great faith and our devotion to our great God which guarantees fruitfulness in ministry. This is not true. Elsewhere Paul will use the imagery of agriculture in almost the same manner that Jesus does:
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:5–7, ESV)
We labor; God gives the growth, in whatever manner and whatever measure of fruitfulness he sees fit.