Mark 4:1-20 Christians Who Don’t Grow

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. 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. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’[a]”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 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. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 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. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 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. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Christians Who Don’t Grow

What do you want?  Really want?  Is it a relationship with someone who really ‘gets you’?  Romantic comedies and gossip columns sell this dream all the time.  What do you want?  Someone to make you happy?  Some miracle cure for aches pains, depression, anxiety, and a dysfunctional family?  Is your primary concern for some breathing room financially?  Do you obsess about whether your house sells?  What is your life about in practical terms?  I don’t mean, what is your life about in theoretical terms when you are sat in church and the pastor asks the question.  I mean what is your life about on Monday morning?  What grabs you each day?  Where does your mind go?

Wherever your mind goes Jesus is throwing seed at you.  He is recklessly proclaiming that there is a way of life to be lived that is completely and utterly abandoned to him.  He proclaims there is a life that multiplies itself thirty, sixty, or a hundred times.  This doesn’t mean multiplication of possessions or finances.  It doesn’t mean multiplication of friends.  It means multiplication of things that have eternal value.  Rather than pursuing all the things that feel significant but aren’t, we pursue God who doesn’t always feel significant but multiplies himself with eternal significance in our lives, communities, and environments.  When I look around myself in North America, I see dead people.  I see people killed by trying to do the same things that promise happiness and deliver nothing.  We work hard to create a nest egg; we immerse ourselves in the sporting world and receive its affirmations; we carry out our duties to family and wish for time alone to ourselves when we think we will recoup but never do; we are committed to being excellent in our work and so we commit our hearts and minds to a job; we live vicariously through our children, unaware that they are modeling themselves on the vapid shells that we have become; we create pretty little fools in our own image who lack substance but go ga-ga over dresses, make-up and music; we fight for our own rights so that we don’t get trampled and we end up victorious, isolated and angry; we even commit to serving God so that our own egos are stroked, but we miss God in the process entirely.  In the words of the parable, we cultivate crappy soils.  We spend our time nurturing weeds, hardening pathways and welcoming rocks.  Then when we have made ourselves completely unresponsive, we blame God that we can’t hear him.  We strut and pout and walk away from service and church – that is of course if we think about God in our over-filled lives and our over-caffeinated churches.

Jesus is a farmer who scatters seed with abandon.  He tells those sat on the soil of the shore of Galilee, listening to him, a parable.  It is like a dream sequence where the story itself is interesting but its meaning make no sense without explanation.  Jesus talks of hardened, rocky, and cluttered soils.  He also talks of clear soil.  the crazy farmer just scatters the seed everywhere and lets the soil produce its crop.  To the crowd it’s a nice story about a crazy farmer who gets varied results.  Disciples seek out Jesus to find out why his teaching is so obscure and what it means.  He describes people who hear Jesus’ message of a new life in the Kingdom of God with the same varied response as we do today.  Some are scornful, others are shallow, and others are just too overwhelmed by criticism or busyness.  There are those, however, who are true disciples who till their own hearts with the help of God so they persevere and seek out God and find what life is all about.  Look at attendance at church in contexts other than the Sunday service.  Look at what God means to you and those around you.  Can we make a guess at what kind of soil we have cultivated?  If all continues as it is going, the church in America will follow the pattern of the church in England.  It will become small, irrelevant, unconcerned and possibly damned.  The few occupants who are left may be the faithful, but more likely it will be social misfits who just don’t have anyone else who will hang out with them, or it may be a few gray-hairs who want a little comfort in their lives in the face of death.  Wake up, American church!  Wake up!  Pursue Jesus with everything and he may call you to a life that will surprise you with its radical significance.  Keep modeling yourself on your neighbours and you will suffocate and die like they do.


Jesus, I long for you.  I long for you to be my constant focus.  My friend, I don’t know why those who own your name are so lost in putting out fires, climbing corporate ladders, and entertaining themselves to death.  Grant us a new life in you.  May I help cultivate soils.  May we tell each other stories of what God is doing in our lives that amaze us.  May we see your hand in our communities, homes, and workplaces.  May our schools know Jesus in the classroom.  May our churches see revival.


  1. What is the audience that Jesus is talking to?
  2. What is Jesus telling the audience about himself?
  3. How does the fertile soil identify itself (show itself) by their actions in this passage?
  4. What soil does your life show itself to be?
  5. How do you see fruit in your spiritual life that reflects a healthy relationship with Jesus?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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