We turn to Mark chapter 4 as we travel through our current series. We have just considered how Jesus came to divide. His teaching cut to the heart of what separates true and false followers. Despite some hard sayings, many people continued to gather around him.
Jesus did not cast anyone away. Yet, he did something unique that would continue to mark the distinction between his true disciples and those with hardened hearts. He taught in parables. As one commentator said, parables both reveal and conceal.
Parables, which are stories told alongside truth to make it more understandable, revealed the truth about the kingdom of God to Jesus’ disciples. In these parables, Jesus enjoys an intimate relationship as a story-telling teacher with his pupils, as he expands their knowledge of living in this world as followers of the True King. However, Jesus says that “for those outside, everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive.” (v11-12) Parables conceal the message to those who cannot understand.
To the same “great crowd” Jesus preaches the same message, tells the same stories, and uses the same words, but only those who are true followers can understand what he is saying. What a privilege for his disciples to know that to them “has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” (v11)
As the gospel goes out and churches are established, we too may encounter great crowds. Tares will show up alongside wheat; goats will show up alongside sheep. When the word of God is read and explained, the sheep will be fed but the goats will not understand. This dichotomy ought not be a reason for pride in the sheep, however. The Parable of the Sower explains why.
Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower, telling his disciples that the word of God is scattered and lands on 4 types of soil: the path, the stony ground, the thorny ground, and the good soil. Only those with good soil will be able to truly hear the word, receive it, and keep it that they may bear fruit. But again, this is no cause for boasting. Those of us who can most identify with good soil must remember that we did not produce that soil in the first place. It is solely by God’s grace that we have had our stony hearts removed and hearts of flesh given to us that we may receive the gospel and believe it!
May Christ’s parables, and in particular, the Parable of the Sower, renew us to appreciate God’s amazing grace!