James Stewart47 reminds us of the famous painting of Holman Hunt, “The Shadow of Death,” which depicts Jesus in the carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth. It was the end of a long, tiring day and as the sun was beginning to set with its rays streaming through the door, Jesus stepped back from His workbench and stretched out His arms. The rays of the setting sun shone on His outstretched hands and cast a shadow on the wall behind Him in the form of a cross. Even in the carpenter shop, as the artist reminds us, the cross was in view.
Many think of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ as a kind of tragic mistake unthinkingly precipitated by the fervent religious and political climate surrounding the Jewish Passover season. This view simply does not fit the facts. The death of the Son of God had long been planned by the Jewish religious leaders. More than this, the death of the Messiah had been purposed in eternity past (Acts 2:23) and the Savior had, from the outset of His ministry, lived in view of the cross.
Our Lord was not an unsuspecting victim. His life was not snatched from Him; He willingly and deliberately gave it up for the sins of lost men (John 10:17,18). In coming messages we shall see how the death of Christ was a death by design. Our Lord masterfully lived out His last days in such a way as to provoke opposition to Himself and thus to precipitate His own death in perfect fulfillment of prophecy.48 One of the evidences of our Lord’s sovereign control of His destiny is that found in the early chapters of the gospel of Mark49 where He made a crucial change of course and began to veil His teaching by the use of parables. In so doing, the establishment of the Kingdom was delayed until a future time, while at the same time its certainty was assured by the Lord’s setting His face toward Jerusalem, deliberately setting His course toward the cross to die for the sins of man.
While it is very early in the pages of Mark’s gospel, the ministry of our Lord is nearly half over.50 The execution of Jesus comes much later, but the expressed purpose of the Pharisees and the Herodians was already to put Him to death (Mark 3:6). The reasons for the opposition of the Jewish leaders to Jesus can be summarized by the four questions of the scribes and Pharisees of chapter 2.
(1) “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). In Capernaum, Jesus was speaking in a house when four men lowered a paralyzed man through the roof. Before dealing with this man’s physical problem, He spoke to his spiritual need, saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). The scribes immediately grasped the theological implications of our Lord’s statement. No one can forgive sins but God alone. How, then, can this man claim to forgive sins without also claiming to be God as well? Jesus clearly claimed to be God and thus the scribes were unwilling to accept Him. Throughout His earthly ministry He was challenged as to His authority.
(2) “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” (Mark 2:16). Someone has said that you never pay any attention to a person’s first reason for anything, but that the real reason is the second thing one says. I cannot help but think this rule of thumb applies here. The real question was not so much, “How can He claim to be God?” but “How can He claim to be the Messiah and yet shun us, while socializing with the scum?” The Jewish leaders were obviously snubbed. Jesus simply pointed out that His mission was to heal and to save, and only the sick needed His attention. A doctor cannot spend his time at the country club, while men and women are sick and dying.
(3) “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2:18). The third question has to do with Jesus’ ignoring the ceremonial observances of those who were considered (or at least who considered themselves) spiritual. This fasting was not mandatory among the masses, but optional. But John’s disciples observed this practice, as did the Pharisees. Why, then, did Jesus not conform to it also? Jesus gave two reasons for His neglect of this rite. First, fasting was usually conducted at a time of difficulty or disaster. This was the day of His visitation. Only after His departure and in His absence would fasting be appropriate for His followers. Secondly, Jesus did not come to patch up the old system of Judaism (as prescribed and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees). He came to bring something entirely new; new not in the sense of being unpredicted by the Old Testament, but different, in contrast with the Judaism of that day. Jesus did not desire to identify closely with their religious system. This, of course, was another rejection of their leadership, another reason for the rift between Jesus and Judaism.
(4) “Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24). Here, it would seem was Judaism’s strongest argument. Jesus allowed His followers to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath and this, according to their interpretation of the Old Testament Law, was work, a violation of God’s law. It was Jesus’ seeming disregard of the Sabbath laws (as interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees) which most angered the Jewish leaders. He frequently healed men on the Sabbath (cf. 3:1-6).
The Lord’s response to this challenge was that their interpretation of the Sabbath was inconsistent with God’s intent in giving it. The Sabbath was intended for man’s benefit and blessing. The Jewish interpretation made it a burden (cf. Matthew 11:28-30; 23:4). David, whom they greatly revered, went into the house of God and took some of the consecrated bread for himself and his men. This was bread ‘set apart for a special purpose,’ just as the Sabbath was to be set apart. But David’s need was of greater importance, just as the hunger of the disciples needed to be satisfied. The Sabbath exists for man’s highest good, not man for the Sabbath. If David could overrule in the matter of this bread, how much more can the Son of Man be Lord even of the Sabbath (verse 28)?
But the scribes and Pharisees were not satisfied with this explanation. The incident of the man with the withered hand was their golden opportunity to catch Jesus in a clear violation of their law. If they could prove Him to be a law-breaker, then all of His claims could be set aside. Jesus perceived the issue and the incident as a trap. He raised the greater question, “Is it lawful to do good, to save a life, on the Sabbath?” They refused to answer. Angered by their hardness of heart, Jesus healed the man regardless of the outcome.
What is critical to our understanding of this portion of Scripture is the response of the Pharisees and the Herodians.51 They determined that the only way to deal with Jesus was to put Him to death: “And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6).
The verdict to do away with Jesus was decided here, and not in Jerusalem, many months later. From now on, it was not a matter of legality (other than the maintaining of some semblance of legal procedures) but of logistics. Judas provided the inroad that was necessary to arrest and try Jesus apart from the masses.
I find it interesting also to note the sequence of the decision in chapter three, verse 6, to destroy Jesus, with the theological explanation given in chapter three, verse 22. The Jewish leaders determined to destroy Jesus before they had come up with a good reason for doing so. Here is another illustration of the truth that our morality often dictates our theology.
The great problem facing the Jewish leaders was how they could reject the claims of Christ in the face of His mighty acts. The claims of Christ were given credence and authority by His miracles. How, then, could the scribes and Pharisees substantiate their rejection of Christ as Messiah? They could not deny His miracles for they were too frequent, too varied, and too well attested. They were driven to the conclusion that they were both genuine and supernatural. In desperation they resorted to attributing the source of Jesus’ power to demonic influence. That is how He can cast out demons, they reasoned. He must be the servant of the prince of demons, Beelzebub. “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons’”(Mark 3:22).
I take it that this is not merely one thoughtless statement but the long-discussed, well thought-out position taken by the leadership who had already rejected Jesus as Messiah.52
Without realizing it, the opposition party had gone one step too far, for in attributing the miracles of Christ through the Holy Spirit to Satan, they had committed the unpardonable sin.53 While other sins would be forgiven, this sin was irreversible. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit made salvation impossible (verses 28-30). Our Lord’s speaking in parables was, I believe, the direct and immediate result of this stand taken by the scribes and Pharisees.
It would appear from Matthew’s account (Matthew 13:1, “on that day …) that Jesus immediately began to teach by means of parables.54 Clearly, Jesus had made a decisive change in His teaching method (cf. Mark 4:2,34-35). The disciples could not wait to get Jesus alone to ask why this change had taken place. Jesus first explained the reason for His change in teaching technique, and then He explained the parable of the soils to His disciples.
We know that the disciples asked pointedly why Jesus had begun teaching publicly only by means of parables: “And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables” (Mark 4:10). The answer to this question is hardly what we would have expected. While Jesus revealed truths pertaining to the ‘mystery of the Kingdom’ to His intimates, He deliberately concealed these truths from those who were ‘outside’ (verse 11) by the use of parables.
This decisive change of course on the part of our Lord was not something new or unexpected. Indeed, it was consistent with the principle revealed in the book of Isaiah: “in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return again and be forgiven” (Isaiah 6:9; Mark 4:12).55
Isaiah had been commissioned by God to go forth and proclaim the Word of God (Isaiah 6:8), but it was not for the purpose of turning the nation back to God. It was rather to harden their hearts and to bring upon them the judgment of God. Just as Israel had turned from the Word of God in Isaiah’s day, so they had in the days of Jesus. Jesus had claimed to be God’s Messiah and Israel’s Savior, but, as we have seen from chapters two and three of Mark’s gospel, this message was rejected by the leadership of the nation. They were already plotting to kill Him.
Our Lord saw His teaching ministry not as one which would result in hearing and heeding, but in hardening. He, like Isaiah, was to prepare the nation for judgment.
I understand these words of the Savior as best explained in the light of the preceding context. Jesus had presented Himself as the Messiah. The Jewish leaders had resisted this claim and rejected Jesus. They had purposed to kill Him. Finally, they went so far as to accuse Him of working as the servant of Satan. In the light of their committing ‘the unpardonable sin,’ Jesus now spoke in such a way as to conceal further revelation of His Kingdom from them. He would not cast His pearls before swine. This new course of concealing the truth was more for the benefit of the Jewish leaders than for the masses. It was a little later (John 6) that Jesus thinned out the ranks of the masses by straightforwardly telling them of His impending sacrificial death. They departed, not because they did not grasp what He was saying, but because they all too clearly understood His meaning (John 6:60ff.).
It should also be observed that while Mark quotes Jesus’ reference to the sixth chapter of Isaiah as explaining His purpose of clouding the truth (‘in order that’) from some of His listeners (verse 12), Matthew cites this quotation as the reason why the truth was concealed (‘For the heart of this people has become dull,’ Matthew 13:15). Both aspects are true. Jesus spoke in parables in order to conceal the truth and because Israel had already turned a dull ear to the truth. Pharaoh hardened his heart against God (Exodus 8:15,32; 9:34), and likewise God caused his heart to become hard (Exodus 4:21; 10:1, etc.).
We should not conclude that the only purpose of the parables was to conceal. Jesus on the one hand was concealing the truth from some (Mark 4:10-12), while revealing it to others (4:32-34). The parables incited curiosity and deeper thought on the part of true seekers (cf. Proverbs 25:2; Mark 4:10,34). The parables enabled Jesus to teach publicly, and yet not give His opponents evidence to use against Him. While the scribes and Pharisees were able to understand that the parables were, at times, directed against them, they could not gain from them the hard evidence they needed to dispose of Jesus (Matthew 21:45,46).
The parable of the soils comes first in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). This is because it is the key to our understanding of all of the parables: “And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? And how will you understand all the parables?’” (Mark 4:13).
This parable was given in terms of the everyday agricultural life of those to whom Jesus spoke. The seed is that of the gospel or the ‘word’ (verse 14). In each instance the seed is the same, it is only the condition of the soil that is variable. Here the sower would be the Savior Himself, but also we could include anyone proclaiming the Word.
The first type of ground is the hardened soil (verses 4,15). It is the packed down soil of the pathway, trodden over by those who passed by. This soil was not at all receptive to the seed, but the birds of the air simply ate the seed before it could be worked into the soil.56 This kind of soil represented those with hardened hearts, such as the scribes and Pharisees. They did not really grasp the message of Jesus, nor did they care to give it any consideration. So far as the gospel records inform us, the scribes and Pharisees never had a positive response toward the message of the Lord Jesus.
The second type of ground is the shallow soil (verses 5,16,17). When we think of rocky ground, we should not think of that which is plagued with many stones, large and small. Rocky soil is the soil like we have a bit of in Texas: a shallow layer of earth covering a solid shelf of underlying rock. Several years ago I agreed to help a friend plant a couple hundred large shrubs. He had bid this job on the basis of several test holes. Unfortunately, much of the ground was that of the type described by our Lord—thin soil, solid rock beneath. That was hard work!
The very shallowness of the soil (and the warmth retained by the rock, I suppose) encouraged a quick germination of the seed. The only problem was that this soil could not sustain life because of its shallowness. The roots of the plant could not sink deeply, and when the heat of the sun beat upon it, it withered and died.
Such is the case with those who make a hasty and shallow ‘decision for Christ.’ It is not a well thought-out decision, but a hasty one (‘immediately,’ verse 5). The real issues of the gospel are not grasped, and the decision is so quick because it is so shallow. Many thronged after Jesus as the great miracle worker and possible Messiah Who would deliver them from adversity, suffering and the difficulties of life. Many there were such as the masses who wanted Jesus to ‘feed them evermore of this bread’ (John 6:34). They did not really want a Messiah, but a meal ticket. It was only when the real reason for Christ’s coming was made clear that these hasty followers went away, never again to follow Jesus (John 6:60-66). It is only when ‘the heat is on’ that the sincerity of one’s profession can be known.
While the first kind of soil did not give the Word a moment’s thought, the second type of soil gave it only a moment’s thought and therefore misunderstood it. Thinking the life of a disciple to be easy and trouble-free, they quickly followed Jesus. As soon as they saw the full implications of discipleship, they withered up and withdrew. While the second soil fails to immediately grasp the implications of the gospel, the third kind of soil perceives the issues, grasps the implications of the gospel, and counts the cost too high.
The third type of ground is the crowded soil (verses 7,18,19). The seed is sown, but there are competing plants such as thistles and thorns. They take up the nutrition and sap the life from the grain. While the gospel is heard and grasped, so are its implications. Man cannot serve God and money. When the matter gets down to the hard choice of one master, God or money, money wins out. Such was the case with the rich young ruler. He heard the message, understood its implications and went away sad because the cost of discipleship was too high (Matthew 19:16-22, esp. verse 22).
The fourth type of ground was the fertile soil (verses 8,20). This soil was receptive to the seed and brought it to maturity and fruitfulness. It represents those whose hearts are truly receptive to the Word of God. They hear the gospel, understand it, count the cost, and intelligently determine to follow the path of faith and discipleship. These Christians are all fruitful, but to varying degrees (verse 20).
Now everyone always asks the question, “Which of the people represented by these four soils are truly saved?” My answer, of which I am fully convinced, is, only the fourth soil. Let me suggest several compelling arguments for my conclusion.
(1) We often err in trying to make the parable ‘walk on all fours.’ We mistakenly equate the germination of the seed with the conversion of the individual. This is neither necessary nor accurate in the case of this parable.
(2) While the word ‘receive’ is used with reference to the second type of soil (verse 16), it is a different (and weaker) word than that used of the fourth soil, ‘accept’ (verse 20). The word in verse 16 would best be translated ‘welcome.’ The word ‘accept’ of verse 20 is more emphatic, stressing the fact that the individual receives the Word by making it his own, possessing the truth by acting upon it in faith.57
(3) Only the fourth type of soil actually bears fruit (cf. John 15:2,5), and yet the diversity in fruitfulness is sufficient to cover all Christians.
(4) The biblical illustrations of those in the first three categories are all identified as unbelievers in the Scriptures. The hardened scribes and Pharisees refused to believe (cf. Mark 2 and 3), so also those in John 6:60-66 were unbelievers. The rich young ruler, likewise, went away in unbelief.
(5) My final argument is by far the most compelling. The Greek text clearly sets the fourth kind of soil apart from the other three. Now here we must employ a very literal (and accurate) translation of the Greek text, the New American Standard Version. Other translations carelessly pass over the minute but crucial distinction in the original text. Notice that in verses 4,5, and 7 the little word ‘seed’ is supplied by the translators, as indicated by the fact that it is italicized. In each case, the word ‘seed’ is singular in the description of the first three soils. Now notice the fourth soil in verse 8. The word ‘seeds’ (plural) is supplied by the translators. This is a clue, given to us by the translators, that the pronoun referring to the first three soils differs from the pronoun referring to the fourth in that the pronoun used for the first three soils is singular, while the last is plural.
Now I can already hear the protests. Isn’t this rather thin evidence? Let us look, then, to our Lord’s interpretation of this parable in verses 14-20. Would a careful distinction of the fourth soil from the first three be very suggestive to us? I would hope so. And this is precisely what we find to be the case. In verses 15,16 and 18, the first three kinds of soil are referred to by the pronoun ‘these.’ Now look at verse 20, where we find the change to ‘those,’ revealing the fact that in the original text it is a different pronoun employed for the fourth soil. Our Lord carefully distinguished the first three soils from the fourth, I believe, because only the fourth soil represents true Christians.
Now I will not for one moment deny the fact that many applications of these soils to the Christian could be made, but this was not the intent of the Savior. His purpose was to explain why so many people could hear His preaching (and that of the disciples, or us) and not come to personal faith. The response of men to the gospel (humanly speaking) here is determined not by the potency of the seed or the persuasiveness of the sower, but by the receptivity of the heart of the hearer.
This parable, and its interpretation, is critical to our understanding of Christ’s use of the parabolic method of teaching. The condition of men’s hearts determines their response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. All those who heard the Word preached by the Lord would fall rather neatly into one of these categories. Into which of these categories do you fall, my friend?
While this parable helps to explain why so few actually come to faith in Christ, it does not yet relate directly enough to the disciples nor to us. All of this changes when the principle underlying the parable of the soils is expanded upon by the Master.
No doubt the disciples felt pretty smug hearing the Lord tell them that He was hiding His truth from the masses, while privately helping the disciples to understand it (verse 11). How cozy it is to be on the inside group, to have knowledge which is withheld from others. But knowledge brings with it responsibility, and this is what Jesus dwelt upon with His intimates.
God’s truth is not for the purpose of satisfying our curiosity, nor of filling our notebooks. God’s truth, though temporarily withheld from public proclamation, is shortly to be broadcast from the housetops (Luke 12:3). We do not light a lamp in order to hide that light (Mark 4:21). Neither does God reveal Himself and His truth so that men can keep it to themselves. Nothing which was then conveyed in secret was to stay that way for long (verse 22).
Let those who hear God’s Word listen carefully. In Jesus’ words: “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23; also verse 9). Added knowledge brings added responsibility. Lest one pride himself in what he knows, let him be humbled by the responsibility which this knowledge has brought upon him. God’s truth was meant to be practiced and proclaimed. Not only must we proclaim what God has given to us, but we must put it to work in our own lives.
The principle behind this parable is this: “The truth you fail to use, you lose,” or “You only truly possess the truth you practice.” This is the meaning of our Lord when He said, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides. For whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him” (Mark 4:24-25). Lest the disciples (or we) become proud over the knowledge we have, while others remain in ignorance, let us ponder the awesome obligation that falls upon us who know better.
The scribes and Pharisees heard the Word of the gospel from the lips of the Savior. They saw His attesting signs and wonders. And yet they rejected this revelation. On the basis of previous revelation, our Lord concealed further truth from them.
While the disciples might glory in the fact that they knew what others did not, they must also be humbled by the principle that God will reveal further truth only when that which we know has been implemented (or should we say, possessed) by practicing it.
Historically, this parable and the principle behind it explains the change of course of our Lord. The gospel has been clearly proclaimed and blatantly rejected by the Jewish leadership. In order to conceal further truth yet unrevealed (‘mystery,’ verse 11), Jesus spoke publicly only by the use of parables. This concealed the truth from those who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. And yet, on the same hand, the parables incited the curiosity of those who truly possessed the truths of God and desired to know more.
This was a major turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. While Jesus initially presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah, the handwriting is already on the wall, just as God had purposed it. The nation will reject its Messiah. They will lift Him up on a cross, rather than upon a throne. By virtue of Messiah’s death, the forgiveness of men’s sins will be made possible. The change to teaching in parables signaled a crucial change in course purposed from eternity past. Henceforth, Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem to die on a cross. He spoke less frequently of the earthly Kingdom (and less publicly) and more of His atoning work upon the cross (cf. John 6). While the Kingdom was still future and still certain, it was a mystery to be misunderstood by many. It would come to pass only after atonement was made on the cross.
What implications this text has for those of us who are Christians. Those who may be so fortunate to be well-taught are obliged to practice what they know and also to proclaim it to others. To fail to do so is to nullify any benefit of biblical teaching, and to restrict additional biblical insight. What a sobering thought.
In the matter of evangelism we should consider several implications of this text. First of all, we should expect a variety of responses to the proclamation of the gospel. A failure to respond positively to the gospel is not a reflection on God’s Word, or necessarily upon His messenger. It is the condition of the soil which ultimately determines the response to the seed. If Christ had such a wide range of response, so should we.
Also, I believe that we should find here a word of caution to those who would proclaim the gospel in glittering generalities, suggesting that following Jesus guarantees the ‘good life,’ a life of freedom from the pressures and problems and pain. We must strive to make the issues clear to men. So, too, we should resist the temptation to press men, women and children to hasty decisions or professions of faith. It was those who were the first to cleave to Christ as His followers who were the first to leave. Let us refrain from hasty conversions.
48 For further investigation consult Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972), pp. 147-174. Cf. also W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.), pp. 482-486.
50 The following chart is adapted from the self-study guide of Irving Jensen, The Life of Christ (Moody Bible Institute, 1969), p. 38. “Middle Galilean” indicates the approximate point in the ministry of Christ where the incident in Mark 4 took place.
51 The Pharisees and the Herodians were about as different as night and day. While the Pharisees were the separatists, shunning all contact with the pagan government of home, the Herodians were those who decided to make the most of the situation by collaborating with Rome. In Matthew 22:15-16 we see their unholy alliance to execute Jesus as a common enemy.
52 This seems to me to be the force of the imperfect tense of the verb here (‘they were saying,’ Mark 3:22).
53 This passage deals with what has been called ‘the unpardonable sin.’ Much has been said about this sin, and there is considerable confusion. This sin was committed by unbelievers, and its result was that having committed this sin, their salvation was now impossible (Mark 3:29). The sin was that of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by attributing His power in the life and ministry of Christ to Beelzebub, the prince of demons. The unpardonable sin, then, is the sin of an unbeliever who attributes the power of the Holy Spirit to Satan, and thereby seals his own spiritual doom.
54 “It has been estimated that roughly one third of the recorded teaching of Jesus consists of parables and parabolic statements, and that there are some forty of the former and twenty of the latter (A. M. Hunter, Interpreting the Parables 1960) 10ff.; ... In its broadest sense a parable is a form of speech used to illustrate and persuade by the help of a picture. In ancient writing, including the Bible, the use of figurative speech was widespread in giving concrete, pictorial and challenging expression to religious ideas for which there were no corresponding abstract concepts. Figurative speech is still part and parcel of every day life. On a philosophical and theoretical level religious language is interpreted in terms of abstractions and concepts relative to a contemporary world view. But this is merely to translate one set of thought forms from one conceptual scheme into those of another. In so doing care must be taken to avoid losing the original content of the picture and also the challenge which was an essential feature of the language. In discussing the character of the parable, scholars distinguish the parable proper from figurative language in general, Metaphors, similes and similitudes, parabolic stories, illustrative stories, and allegories.” Colin Brown, Ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), II, p. 743.
55 In addition to this, Matthew informs us that Christ’s speaking in parables was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 78:2: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35).
56 “The parable of the sower is faithful to the life situation of Palestinian agriculture, in which plowing follows sowing. The sower is not careless when he scatters the seed on the path or among the thorns or on ground which has no depth of soil. He does so intentionally, for the path on which the villagers have trodden over the stubble and the thorns which lie withered among the fallow ground will be plowed up to receive the seed. The seed that fell upon the rocky ground was scattered intentionally also, for the underlying limestone thinly covered with topsoil does not show above the surface until the plowing exposes it. The detail that plowing follows sowing is important for the correct interpretation of the parable; it serves to caution the interpreter that less attention is to be given to the various types of soils, and more to the central act of sowing. The feature of the parable which provides the key to its understanding is the act of sowing. This element is essential to the comparison being developed: the Kingdom of God breaks into the world even as seed which is sown upon the ground. In the details about the soils there is reflection on the diversity of response to the proclamation of the Word of God, but this is not the primary consideration. The central point concerns the coming of the Kingdom of God. God is in the center of the action.” William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 153-154.
57 The word translated ‘receive’ in verse 16 is the Greek term, lambano. In verse 20 the word translated ‘accept’ is paradekomai. Lambano seems to have the sense of ‘to welcome,’ while paradekomai seems to mean ‘to make one’s own,’ or ‘to possess.’ Both terms are capable of several definitions, and thus the context must indicate which definition is best.