In a recent post I wrote about the difference between ‘seeing’ the kingdom (Jn. 3:3) and ‘entering’ the kingdom (Jn. 3:5). I want to explore a bit more of what the ‘kingdom’ is and the way it operates in our lives and we operate in it. Foundational to all of this is the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8). I want to primarily look at it from Mark 4 because of a couple of key phrases Mark shared regarding what Jesus taught.
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’ “ 13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? Mark 4:10-13 (NKJV)
Jesus told some of His close followers that they had been given the opportunity to ‘know the mystery of the kingdom of God’ because they were on the inside (verse 11) and also shared that if they did not understand this parable they would not be able to understand the rest of the parables (verse 13). While Jesus did not teach exclusively in parables it was a very common way that He taught and shared the way the kingdom of God functions. So what is so important to understand about the parable of the sower as a key to understanding the rest of the parables of the kingdom?
Before I answer that I think it is important to define the term ‘kingdom and note that the terms ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’ are both used in the gospels and are two different ways of referring to the same thing. A basic understanding comes from looking at the definition of the word. Kingdom is a compound word coming from two words, ‘king’ and ‘domain.’ So at the most basic level, a kingdom is anywhere that falls under the king’s domain or rule or the exercise of the king’s dominion. Scripturally the kingdom of God can be seen anywhere that the Kings dominion can be seen in operation, whether in our individual lives or in a small group or congregation.
We see in scripture that ‘The Kingdom of God’ and the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ are two ways of referring to the same thing.
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (NKJV) emphasis mine
14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15 (NKJV) emphasis mine
Having established that, what is the message in the parable of the sower? The main message is that everything we receive from Jesus comes in seed form and there is a responsibility that Jesus has and a responsibility that we have. Furthermore, we cannot do His part and He will not do our part. His responsibility is to provide seed and our responsibility is to prepare and provide the right soil to receive the seed. Another key point is that because He sows the seed of His word in our lives we need to understand the process of growth and harvest and cooperate with His grace to see His harvest realized in our lives. Make no mistake; it is His harvest as He is the one sowing the seed. In my next post I will expand on this and describe what is contained in the seed.