Mark 4:10-20 (ESV)
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 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.”
The disciples asked Jesus about his parables, specifically the Parable of the Soils. In verse 11, Jesus made a clear distinction between “to you” and “to those.” Jesus said, “to you” has been given the secret, but “to those” everything is in parables. The parables reveal truth about God and his kingdom to those who follow him, and hide truth from those who are opposed to him. A clear difference in Mark’s gospel emerges between the insiders and the outsiders, and the division is determined by who is and isn’t willing to do things God’s way. In verse 13, Jesus basically says, “Wow, if the Parable of the Soils was hard for you, the rest will be even harder,” and he went on to explain the parable to them. The sower or farmer is Jesus. The seed is the word of God or the gospel. The birds represent Satan. The rocky ground is the heart of the person who refuses obedience as a result of hardship. The thorns signify the heart of the person who is all about this life. The good soil symbolizes the heart of the genuine follower. Those who are on the inside, the “to you” group, are represented by the good soil. They will bear fruit. Even though the fruit will be different depending on each plant, they will still bear fruit that lasts.
Jesus taught that people will “try God,” yet not be genuine followers. The second and third soils, or the rocky and thorny grounds, represent such people. In verse 16, Jesus says the rocky ground receives the word with joy. They shout, “Praise God!” and “Hallelujah!” one day, but as time goes on, the difficulty of doing things God’s way becomes too much. The hot sun of self-denial is too much for them. These people were never really saved. In verses 17 and 18, the thorny ground looks good for a while as well, but the thought of letting go of certain “pleasures” stumbles these people. They want this life and not the life to come. These people were never really saved either. What about you? When did God create “good soil” in your heart? When did you let go of living for self and this life and begin to bear fruit for him? Real followers of Jesus hear, and by the grace of God they believe and bear fruit.