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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
Title:The Parabolic Kingdom 1: The Parable of the Four Soils
Text:Mark 4:1-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Mark 4:1-9

Text: Mark 4:1-20



  1. The Parable

  2. It's Meaning

  3. The Meaning of Parables


  1. Psalm 121: 1-4

  2. Psalm 50: 1, 2, 4

  3. Psalm 78:1-3

  4. Hymn 13: 1-5

  5. Hymn 77:1-3


WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: oars, exaggeration, discrimination, feel-good, wiser



  1. Explain the 4 main types of soil

  2. What is the two-fold purpose of parables?

  3. Why is this parable called the parable of the 4 soils in the theme?

  4. How should we respond to the gospel? (Hint: not only one, and not only the other)

  5. Is the point of this parable to figure out what type of soil you are?  Why or why not?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord,

How many of you like bedtime stories?

Children, how many of you went to bed last night after a story from your mom or your dad?

Hearing about knights and dragons, or talking’s a nice way to drift off to sleep.

And those of us who are older...maybe we take a book to bed and read a chapter or two before we fall asleep.

And this morning, we are starting our sermon series on the parables.  A series on stories that Jesus told.  And it’s easy for us to think that these stories are just like bedtime stories.  A nice story with a message that we can learn from.  But that’s not exactly what parables are.  There is a lot more to them.

But the fact remains, we are fascinated by parables.  As soon as the word “parable” is heard, certain well-loved pictures come into the mind.

  • We see a rocky pass where a man fell among thieves
  • We see a tired but determined shepherd searching through the mountains at night, looking for his lost sheep.
  • We see a bend in the road where the prodigal son caught a glimpse of his home, and the dust from his father’s feet running to meet him.

The parables are etched into our minds as something amazing and beautiful.  And they are.  For us the parables are well loved passages to read for family devotions or even at bedtime.

This morning let us enter into the:



  1. The Parable

  2. Its Meaning

  3. The Meaning of Parables


The Parable

We must start with the parable itself and try to imagine how the first hearers of this teaching would have heard it.  What they might have thought.

The challenge with parables, especially this parable, is that we know the meaning already.  We know what Jesus says in verses 13-20.  But notice that the explanation is only given to His disciples.  Only to those who followed Him.  So the great crowds that crowded around...they weren’t there for the explanation.  And this was done very deliberately by our Lord. More on that later.

Verse 1 - Again He began to teach beside the sea.  And a very large crowd gathered about Him

Imagine this scene.  A crowd had gathered to hear Jesus preach.  And this wasn’t the first time.  We can read in Mark 1 that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to Him from every quarter.

This crowd had gathered to hear the authoritative and gracious words come from the lips of our Lord.  The Kingdom had arrived, and Jesus was the one announcing it, and He was that kingdom!  He Himself was a foretaste of what was to come.

The crowd, eager to hear each and every word had gathered around Him.  No doubt pushing and shoving, each wanting to get the best spot.

And Jesus, realizing that this wouldn’t work, got into a boat.

Verse 1 - Again He began to teach beside the sea.  And a very large crowd gathered about Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.

Upon reaching the edge of the shore, Jesus enters a boat, converting it into a pulpit, and after a few strokes of the oars in John’s or Peter’s hands, and the boat is shot a short way out, the master preacher turns around to address the crowd who were by the shore.  Sitting or standing.

And the master preacher preaches, lighted by the sun, for a roof, the azure blue of the sky, for the walls, the hills that surrounded the lake...and the lake, shining like a silver mirror, lay still and quiet beneath its Maker’s boat.

In this idyllic setting, He begins to teach

Verse 2 - And He was teaching them many things in parables, and in His teaching, He said to them

Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.

There are those who state emphatically and with all certainty that Jesus, when He says, “Behold!” or, in some translations, “Look!” is, at that point, pointing to a farmer who is at that point, scattering seed on one of the hills bordering the lake.

And maybe there was such a farmer, but this is just a way to introduce something in a story or parable.

Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.

And as He sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

A short and simple parable, but so rich in meaning.  But we’re not getting there yet.

Parables, even though they are so much more than just illustrations, they use the language of the world around them.  One writer travelled to modern day Israel and reflected on this parable:

    There was the undulating cornfield descending to the water’s edge. 

     There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it...hard

     with the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet.  There

     was the good rich soil which distinguishes the whole of that

     plain…there was the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and

     there through the cornfields, as elsewhere through grassy slopes. 

     There were large thorn bushes spring up… in the very midst of the

     waving wheat.

Jesus used very common imagery that was familiar to his hearers.  This picture may not be quite so familiar to us, as farming has changed in the last 2000 years...somewhat.

Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow

The sower would have had a bag of seed slung over his back, and would take handfuls of seed and scatter it, all across his land.  They would not plant as we do, with big machines for farms, or by hand, digging a hole in the soil, dropping a single seed in, and then covering it again, planting nicely in rows.  This was not how the 1st century Israelite farmer would farm.

Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path

There were paths that would run through the middle of the field.  This is where the farmer would walk, sowing his seed.  But these paths, though they were in the middle of the field, would not have good and receptive soil on them.  The soil that was once rich with minerals and soft, easily receiving the seed, would have been walked on so many times that it would be packed down and hard.

As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

When the seed simply lays there, not able to go into the soil, it becomes hardly different than a bird-feeder. The birds came, and took the seed away.

Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it spang up, since it had not depth of soil.

Now this rocky ground, it wasn’t just soil with rocks IN IT, a mixture, 50% rocks, 50% soil, but it was just a very thin layer of soil on top of rocks.  And so the seed there did take root, but just very very shallowly.  The roots were tiny.  So it sprang up quickly because all the growth was forced upwards.

It immediately sprang up since it had not depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

The roots were so tiny that it may as well not had a root at all.  Normally, when a plant grows in the sun, the roots go down into the soil and take moisture from the ground to give the plant what it needs.  But not this plant.  It couldn’t gain enough moisture from the thin layer of soil, and so it withered away.

Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

Here again, we may get the wrong idea.  There would not have been thorn bushes when the sower was sowing, but instead, in first century Israel, they would not have taken out the roots of the thorns, but instead, in preparing for the planting season, they would have burned the thorn bushes and left the roots.  And so, as the seed was growing up, the thorns would be too.  They grew up together, competing for the same resources, and then the thorns, being the heartier plant, choked out the grain, and it yielded no crop.

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced gain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundred-fold.

This may seem like an exaggeration on the part of Jesus...but only if we think of 30, 60, or 100 stalks coming from a single seed.  But if we think of it as 30, 60, or 100 kernels of grain coming from one kernel, planted as a seed, this is an average, or slightly above average crop.

And one more clarification here...there is the idea that certain seeds produced thirtyfold, while others produced 60, and the best seeds produced 100-fold.  But reading it as it stands, a clearer understanding would be that the seed began to bear fruit, and as it matured, it bore 30, and then the head of grain became larger and fuller, producing 60, and finally, by harvest time, it produced 100 kernels.  This was rich soil, and over the growing season, it kept on producing.

This is the parable.  It is a story, full of imagery, full of metaphors from the world of farming, but without explanation, it leaves its hearers in a state of confusion.  If this is the first time you are hearing this parable, you might wonder if you’ve stumbled into a gardening lecture, where the lesson to be learned is “don’t waste your seed, but check the type of soil you are planting it in.”

But that’s not Jesus’ meaning here.  He isn’t a gardening teacher, but instead He is the Messiah.  He isn’t teaching the farmers how to have a better crop, but instead He is bringing a deeper and fuller understanding of the Kingdom of God!  And this, He explains to His disciples.  Our second point.

Why would Jesus speak so strangely here?  When the world thinks of Jesus, if they know of Him at all, they know two things - that He died on a cross, and that He taught using parables.

And, like I said earlier, we might be tempted to think that these parables were just like bedtime stories.  That they were just like illustrations in a sermon that help get the point across.

Jesus used stories to teach, and that means that we should use stories to teach too!

And though stories are WONDERFUL teaching tools, these parables were more than that.  We see that in our text

Verse 10 - And when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parables.  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, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear, but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’

Wow.  What are we to make of this?

It seems that these parables were deeper and darker than we usually think!

What should we make of this?

We can see that the parables were designed for two purposes. To reveal and to conceal.  They were designed to bring about blessing AND judgement.

And this fits with the entire pattern of our Lord’s ministry - some respond to His teachings and are saved, but some are blind and refuse.

And you see, the issue is not those who are blind and wish to see.  Either physically or spiritually.  But the issue is those who are blind and REFUSE TO ADMIT IT!

We aren’t blind!  We can see perfectly!  We don’t need Jesus to save us!

But we all need salvation.  Each and every one of us!

You could say that parables are meant to expose their hearts - if you don’t truly listen, if you do nothing but HEAR what is said...then here is a symbol of that.  Here is a symbol and a seal that you aren’t really interested in what Jesus is offering.  You don’t believe.

But if there is even a shred of faith.  If there is a tiny bit of faith, small as a mustard seed, then these parables are told to encourage.  These parables are told to strengthen, and make them truly see.

Most of the crowd went away confused...but not the disciples.  Not Jesus’ true followers.  A group that includes the 12.  Perhaps this is the 72.  We don’t know.  But for them, those that truly seek, answers are given.

And let’s get into those answers.  We already have the bones of the story, a story that at first glance seems purely agricultural, let’s put some theological meat on those bones.  Let’s go through the parable once more.

We start with the sower

Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.

It is interesting that the sower is never given an identity in Jesus’ explanation of this parable.  The sower is never identified, but ultimately of course, he is God.  God is the one, through His servants, sows the seed into the hearts of those around Him.  Jesus is the sower.  Preachers are sowers.  Those who share the gospel at work or with their friends...they are all sowers.

But the sower is not the main point of this parable.  That is why, in the theme, I called it the parable of the soils.

Ultimately, of course, this parable is about God’s kingdom, and the Sower, Jesus Christ, is central in everything.  But this parable is about His gospel, how it spreads, and how we respond to it.  So, the parable of the soils.

Listen!  Behold, a sower went out to sow.

And in Jesus’ explanation…

The sower sows the Word.

This is the seed.  The Sower sowing the seed is the Preacher preaching the gospel.  It must be spread far and wide, not in a stingy way.  But as our confessions say, the promise of the gospel ought to be announced and proclaimed UNIVERSALLY and WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION to ALL PEOPLES and to ALL MEN, to whom God in His good pleasure sends the gospel, together with the command to repent and believer.

Just as the sower freely sowed the seed, not only spreading it on the good soil, but the rocky ground, where there were thorns, and the path also we have to boldly proclaim the gospel to anyone who will hear.

     This gospel isn’t a WHITE GOSPEL.

     This gospel isn’t a DUTCH GOSPEL

     Or a Jewish gospel

     Or a Gentile gospel

     Or anything else you can think of.

This gospel has a universal call to everyone to repent and believe.  Each and every one of us needs to be transformed by the gospel.  Because the message of the gospel IS NOT...come and become Dutch reformed.  Become like us, and your life will be so much better.

But instead, the message is: Become like JESUS CHRIST!  And your life will never be the same again!  Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.

As a preacher, I am not the bread.

As an evangelist, you are not the bread.  We point others to the feast of Jesus Christ.  That is where true joy is found.  In Him and in His gospel alone.  We are to spread the seed freely.

And as He sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

And Jesus’ explanation

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.

Remember this path?  This path that was once good soil, but was hardened so that it is hard as rock.

Our first reaction to this type of soil is that God is being really unfair to these people.  They hear the Word, and then before they even have a chance to react to it, the gospel is taken away by Satan!  How can we possibly stand up to him?

But why is the path hard?  Why were their hearts hard?

Well, like Pharaoh in Egypt, they began by hardening their own hearts.  We can see in the Gospel according to Mark that Jesus, by this time, has already healed many with various diseases, cast out many demons, cleansed a leper, healed a paralytic, and healed a man with a withered hand.

These miracles were a powerful and public display of His divine power and authority.  And what was the response?  He is possessed!  By the prince of demons, He casts out demons!

They saw His divine power and they refused to believe.  They saw who He was, healing with the touch of His hand, giving the blind sight, making the lame walk, cleansing lepers, raising the dead, and preaching good news the poor...exactly what was prophesied in Isaiah...and they rejected Him. They hardened themselves and refused to believe.

You see, miracles and parables go hand in hand  They see and they do not want to believe.

And just as with Pharaoh, when they start down this path of hardening themselves, God gives them what they want, and they are further hardened.

These are those who hear, but do not listen.  They do not follow Jesus’ instruction at the beginning: LISTEN!  Behold a sower went out to sow.  They hear, but they do not listen.  The words go in their ears, but right out again.  And so Satan delights in this. He delights in those who hear the gospel preached but WILL NOT LISTEN.  And so he takes away the gospel to be sure that they do not turn and repent.  They have abandoned it, so he takes it away.

This is the first kind of soil - the path.

Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

And Jesus explains

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.  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.

We can see that this second type of soil is already better than the first, but still ends up in the same place.  Let me explain.

Whereas the path represented those Christians who heard and did not listen, the rocky soil has those first two steps.

They hear, and immediately RECEIVE IT.  They hear and they listen.  It goes in their ears and it makes its way to the heart.  And they love it.

They love the love of God. They love to be loved, and they love to love each other.  They feel peace when they are in church.  They feel a sense of awe when they sing praises to God.  They are on fire for the Lord.

But can you see the common thread in these reactions?

  • Love

  • Peace

  • Awe

  • On fire for the Lord

These are all emotional responses.  They are loving the gospel with their heart...but not with their soul or their mind.  This is the kind of feel-good Christianity that exists in so many churches today.  There is a shoot, but there is no root.

They have this notion that what makes a Christian is not the CONTENT of what he believes, but the emotions with which he experiences Christianity.  And so, as soon as it doesn’t feel good to be a Christian anymore...when there are sermons talking about SIN and WRATH, or when tragedy strikes, and God doesn’t IMMEDIATELY make you feel better about it...they fall away.

They fall away because they have NO ROOT.

It is not wrong to feel in church.  In fact, I would say the opposite is true.  There is something wrong when you feel NOTHING when you are in the presence of God.  When you gather together with your brothers and sisters.  When you hear the gospel of grace and love.  When you hear of God’s wrath over your sins.  If you sit in that pew Sunday after Sunday and feel NOTHING AT ALL, there is a problem.

But the Christian faith is so much more than just a feeling.  It has a strong root of belief.  Faith is a sure knowledge and a firm confidence, rooted solidly in the Word of God.

And this is what the rocky soil does not have.  And so it falls away.  This is the second type of soil.

Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

And Jesus’ explanation

And others are the ones sown among thorns.  They are those who hear the Word, 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.

This third type of soil are those who hear the word.  They might even listen to it, they might even have roots...but when they look, they look around at the world. They look around at the bad things of this world and fear.  They look around at the good things of this world and desire them.  And they stop looking at God.  They stop looking up and leaving everything else behind while they still can.  They don’t want to be obedient and make sacrifices.

They try to serve both God and the world...and that can never happen.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, the world is a HORRIBLE god to serve.  It will take everything you have and give you nothing but pain and sadness in return.  You will come, thinking you are full, and it will leave you emptier than before.

This is the opposite of the gospel.  You come to God, knowing that you are empty, and you come away full.

And there may be thorns in your life.  Legitimate worldly concerns that you have to address.  You might be in debt.  You might have an addiction.  So are you going to address those thorns in the strength of God and get help...or are you going to let those thorns grow so big and so strong that they block out the sun, and you can’t see a way out anymore?  Deal with the thorns quickly and strongly.  Get them out of your garden so that you can grow and thrive!

And that takes us to our final type of soil.

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

And Jesus’ explanation

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.

There are three steps here.  Did you see all three?

Those who hear the Word.  That is step one.

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?

We MUST hear the gospel.  Beware of those who refuse to hear.  Beware of those who get their daily dose of God by enjoying creation, but refuse to pick up a Bible or sit under preaching.  Preaching is God’s chosen method.  Let us not be wiser than God.

Those who hear the Word and accept it.  That’s step 2.

They hear the Word and LISTEN to it.  It goes, not in one ear and out the other.  It doesn’t go in one ear and then only forms an emotional response, but it goes in the ear and to the mind as well as the heart.

Those who hear the Word and accept it and bear fruit.  Step 3.

Hearing, listening, applying and OBEYING.  The fruit that is borne is the fruit of obedience.  The gospel must be put into action.

Let’s continue the metaphor of body parts

     The gospel goes into the ear.

          The gospel travels to the mind and the heart

               The gospel then goes to the hands and the feet.

The gospel MUST prompt us on to action.  It must prompt us to love our neighbour and to love our God.  Not just showing affection for them in our heart.  But knowing who they are. Doing actions of love.  Being kind (which is far more than just being NICE).  Being kind, being patient.

And then, taking stock of who you are too.  Do you boast?  Are you proud? Are you rude? THAT’S NOT LOVE.  STOP IT.

And when this happens, you will bear fruit.

And the question always arises...what soil am I?

     What if I’m the path?  And I sit here, but before I can grab onto the is taken away by the Devil?

     What if I’m the rocky soil?  I spring up, and it’s exciting...but what if my excitement dies and I lose my faith?

     What if I’m the soil growing among thorns?  I’ve dealt with worldly things before, but what if the next one does me in?

Please please please, God, let me be the good soil!

But, beloved, that’s not the point of this parable.  Not really.  This parable is not meant for you to try to put yourself into one of these categories.  It’s not!  Instead, it is a warning about what causes the soil to go bad.  Because the path used to be good soil.  But then it hardened itself.  It hardened itself and refused to submit or obey.

The rocky soil could have been good soil.  But instead the mind was shut off.  The mind was shut off and only the heart was addressed.

     How do I FEEL today?

     I just FEEL THAT the gospel is too exclusive.

     I just FEEL LIKE the language of sin is too negative, and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

The soil with thorns used to be good soil.  But sins were not taken out at the root and they were allowed to fester and grow up into something ugly and terrible.

And if you feel 100% sure that you are the path, the rocky soil, or the thorny soil...if nothing I say here will change that opinion, then I would ask that you remember this.

Can God change what kind of soil you are?  Is ANYTHING too difficult for the Lord?  Is anything Impossible for Him?


     If He can create a universe out of nothing

     If He can heal the leper

     If He can make the crippled man walk

     If He can raise the dead

THEN HE CAN TRANSFORM YOU TOO.  Ask Him. Fall on your knees before Him.  Ask for forgiveness for hardening yourself.  Ask for forgiveness for not serving God with your mind.  Ask for forgiveness for allowing sin to block out the light of salvation.

And if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

You will be that good soil again!

And you will produce fruit.  Throughout your life.  The seed will spring up and produce fruit, after a while producing 30fold.  And then 60.  And then 100.  It isn’t your job to check the growth.  It is your job to be faithful.  Simply be faithful, and the fruit will come.  Be faithful, and the fruit will come.

Beloved, this is the message of the parable.  This is the message of all the parables.  The Kingdom of God HAS COME in Jesus Christ.  And the Kingdom of God IS STILL COMING.  IT is still coming by the faithful work of the men and women of the kingdom.  The men and women of this church.

So hear the message of the parable.

But don’t JUST hear it.  Listen to it, absorb it, think about it in your mind, feel it in your heart, and put it into action.

It is the task of Christians to spiritually reproduce.  Make disciples of Christ just as you were once made a disciple.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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