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Mark 4:1-4:20
Key Verse: 4:20

As fall semester began, many freshmen came to U of T. They came to study in this university and pursue many things for their lives. We pray that God may bless their campus life richly. As the expression of our concern and prayer for them we want to study this passage, Jesus’ parable of the seed-sowing so that they may have an opportunity to study the words of the Bible while they are in university. We may also prepare our hearts through this study.

First, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” (1-13). Look at verse 1a. “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake.” Jesus is the Son of God. Even evil spirits fell before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God” (Mk 3:12). He came to drive out evil spirits and heal. The Son of God also came to teach. Again he began to teach by the lake. Lake sceneries are beautiful and in such an atmosphere he began to teach again. Many students gather around a good professor and for such classes, spaces are soon filled up. Verse 1b says, “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.” Jesus’ course was fully packed. From the early stage of his ministry Jesus became popular. Jesus was sitting in a boat, and the crowd was along the shore at the water’s edge. “Along the shore at the water’s edge” is beautiful picturesque description. It expresses that the people were so eager to hear Jesus’ words that they came as close as possible to Jesus in a boat.

Then what did Jesus do with the crowd? He taught them many things by parables. A parable is a simple story to illustrate or teach some truth. It is from ordinary people’s lives and calls forth a response on the part of the hearer. As we know, Jesus’ life in this world was limited. Certainly, in his limited time he wanted to somehow reveal the heavenly truth to the earthly mankind, using earthly language and expressions. This time he taught them many things by parables.

Look at verse 2b. “In his teaching he said, “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.” First of all, he drew their attention saying, “Listen!” And then he said, “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” Some may have thought, “Jesus was a carpenter. But he is going to teach us about farming? What can he tell us?” Probably among the crowd many were farmers and actually people were farming around the seas of Galilee. He said, “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.” Jesus wanted to teach a most profound truth through a very ordinary story.

Jesus went on to say, “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered, because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” What a plain and simple story! Many may have wondered, saying, “What? Did we come all the way to hear such a plain story? Anyone can tell such a story. We came to hear a sensational message that sparks our minds.” Before, when Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, people were amazed at his teaching, making many wows. This time they had no wow. We conjecture that they frowned their faces and sighed in disappointment.

At a glance Jesus could sense their response and said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Certainly Jesus meant, “In this story there is something we must hear and get. Something secret and wonderful is here, something profound that can change your life. You came here making much effort. That’s why I told this story. Don’t judge so quickly and superficially. This can be a history-breaking moment as well as your life-breaking.” “He who has ears to hear, let him here.” This is Jesus’ personal invitation to the heavenly truth.

Despite this, many left in disappointment. Look at verse 10. “When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.” Jesus must have been thanked God for them. There were some who had ears to hear. Then he said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” Jesus was not teaching them farming but wanted to reveal the secret of the kingdom of God through the language and expression they could grasp. Through the coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God has come to mankind. He came with the blessing of the kingdom of God for the restoration of true happiness of mankind.

Jesus continued to say, “But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.” This is the expression of Jesus’ pained heart for those on the outside, who had no ears to hear.

In this part we learn the importance of the ears to hear. We must have listening ears. There are many people who speak very well but hear very poorly. Hearing might be as important as speaking, probably more important. Also, in hearing we need discernment because there are so many false teaching and deception is very powerful. We need to know when to close and when to open our ears. Sadly, many people in our times seem to open their ears when they have to close them, and close their ears when they have to open. We pray that God may help us to open our ears widely and have listening ears to hear the words of the Bible.

Second, four kinds of hearing (14-20). Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” According to Jesus, this parable is fundamental, which is to be understood.

Look at verse 14. “The farmer sows the word.” This must have been shocking to the original hearers. They could never think of such a thing even in their dream, the farmer sowing the word. This implied that the word is the seed, the seed of the kingdom of God. No one in history made such a revolutionary statement. For no one knew the kingdom of God. So no one could say even a word about the kingdom of God. But Jesus, who came from the kingdom above, fully knew the kingdom of heaven. In his full and perfect knowledge he said, “The farmer sows the word.” According to Jesus the word is the seed of the kingdom of God. The word is not just the seed of encouragement and comfort. The word is the seed of the kingdom of God, which all mankind desire and which is eternal. Jesus once said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). The word of Jesus is crucial to the kingdom of God. No word, no kingdom of God.

Then Jesus talks about four kinds of hearers. Look at verse 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.” The first kind is like seed along the path. This kind is characterized by Satan’s taking away the word sown in them. Why does Satan take away the word? It is because the word is yummy and the people do not hide it. They did not value the word. They treated it as any other human words. To them the story of the Scriptures is like the story of news papers. As the word is on the surface of their minds, Satan notices it and quickly takes away the word. So they even cannot taste the word of God. They are those who have no ears to hear. Those on the outside are like this.

Look at verses 16,17. “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.” They seem to have ears to hear. But they hear the word merely on an emotional level. Usually, they look fine. But at the time of trouble and persecution because of the word, they cannot stand. Their main problem is having no root. Root-taking is painstaking. It is a very personal struggle. We need to go through the pain of breaking our own ideas, which are ego-centric and humanistic and relativistic. Jesus said to those who wanted to follow him, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). We must learn to deny our own ideas, feelings, and will and obey God’s word and his will. For this, sincere Bible testimony writing is important. And when we form the habit of struggle with God’s word wholeheartedly at usual times, then we can also grapple with the word of God at the crucial times. There is a tendency that at difficult times in life many Christians forget about the words of the Bible they have learned and fall away. But we should know that the hard times in life or the times we need to make decisions are the very time to struggle with God’s word and let the word of God can be rooted in the deep heart.

Look at verses 18,19. “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.” This type of people also seems to have ears to hear. In their hearts the word grows to a certain stage. Then, something comes into them from outside. The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word. Choking to death is cruel. The word of God which is like an infant baby can be choked. What chokes the word? The worries of his life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires of other things choke the word, making it unfruitful. Many people think we cannot prevent worry in this uncertain world. They say, “Worry is okay.” But worry is not okay. It is harmful for our spiritual life as well as physical life. Worry is a thorn and great sin before God, because it comes from unbelief. Worry is something we can overcome by trusting God through his words. In this world nothing happens by chance. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And wealth is deceptive. To make money for our independent living is right. We can also serve others with our money. But the Bible warns that the love of money is a root of all kinds of money (1 Tim 6:10) and the wealth is deceitful. 2 Timothy 4:22 says, “Flee the evil desires of youth…” We should that desires for others things, even seemingly good things can be thorns. We should watch out various kinds of thorns of the world.

Look at verse 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.” Those who are like seed sown on good soil really have ears to hear. They accept the word of God not only on the emotional level but in their intellect and will as well. They meditate on the word of God until they can have a true understanding of the word and personally accept it. They make a decision of faith based on the words of God and hold to them to live by them in this world. The word of God is the sustainer of their lives. This is a spiritual secret that when anyone accepts the word of God the kingdom of God comes in them. Jesus said in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” 1 Peter 2:23 says, “For you have been born again not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

In our Christian life holding on to one word of God is substantial. We can understand this through the life of Abraham. When he began his life of faith, he was not vague. He clearly heard the word of God, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Ge 12:2), and truly accepted it by obeying the command and believing the words of promise. There were time and again harrowing hardships and difficulties in life. However, at each time he newly accepted the word of God in his deep heart and stood on it, not on visible situations or people. The word of God grew in him until he could know the eternal God personally. And he bore the fruit of God’s promise in his heart and life. People around him recognized his godly influence among them. At God’s time Abraham indeed became a father of one son Isaac, the son of God’s promise. He became a father of many nations and the word of God’s promise was true to him. Peter began his life as a disciple of Jesus by hearting and accepting Jesus’ word very personally, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17). In Jesus’ ministry many people had come and gone. When the ministry seems to be shaky, Jesus said to the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Because of the words of eternal life, he could not go back to the world but kept following Jesus.

Accepting the word of God is not easy because God’s word in the Bible is against many human teachings and the trend of the world and our culture. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Bible offers the only way of salvation through Jesus Christ. The truth of God’s salvation is exclusive. The truth of God’s love is inclusive. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And Isaiah 55:8,9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Those who accept the word of God and live by it in this world are truly blessed and have the victory in life in the long run.

When we accept the word of God, we can overcome human sorrow, fatalistic thinking inner fear and despair. We can have true joy, confidence, courage and hope in life. We can out grow our selfishness and self-centredness. One can challenge to do impossible things beyond human limitations with faith. The kingdom of God grows in one’s heart through the word accepted, producing a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.

Thank God for Jesus’ awe-inspiring teaching about how the kingdom of God comes. It is through inter reaction between the seed of God’s word and the soil of human mind. In the soil of many freshmen’s mind the seed of God’s word may be sown and accepted and so the kingdom of God planted in each one. May we also accept the word of God wholly whenever we hear the word of God so that the kingdom of God grows in our hearts, bearing much fruit.

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