Summary: "Behold, the sower went out to sow." Missing from this parable are the words, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to.”
"Behold, the sower went out to sow." Missing from this parable are the words, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to.” There must be some good reason why Jesus omitted these words from the first parable. The reason why they are omitted is not a mystery. The kingdom of heaven is an expression which, in the present age has reference to Christianity. But the "kingdom of heaven" did not assume this form until after Christ had returned to the Father. This first parable deals with the period of time covered by our Lord’s earthly ministry. He is the Sower. The first parable forms an introduction to those which follow: it describes the work of Christ prior to the establishment of His kingdom among the Gentiles, though the principle of it has a wider application.
In Mark 4:3 we find that this same parable introduced by the words, "Listen to this! Behold the sower went out to sow.” The word “listen” indicated that the Savior was about to communicate something of unusual importance. The figure He was using was so simple as to be almost unimpressive, so that there was a danger of His hearers regarding it as of little account; therefore the "Listen!" "Behold" was designed to get the attention of those He was talking to. They are words used to get us to pay close attention to what follows. The beginning of this parable speaks of both tragic and blessed. Speaking from the human side, it ought to have been, "A Reaper went forth to reap," or "An Husbandman went forth to gather fruit." For fifteen hundred years there had been a liberal sowing of the seed in Israel, by Moses, David, the prophets, and last of all John the Baptist. But harvest for Jehovah there was not. Touchingly is this brought out in Isaiah 5: "My well-beloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes" (vv. 1, 2).
The blessedness of Christ’s works are seen in His wondrous condescension and grace in stooping so low as to take the humble place of a "Sower," The words “went out to sow” point to a change that will soon be introduced. There was no longer to be a planting of vines or fig-trees in Israel, but a going out of the mercy of God to the Gentiles; therefore what we have here is the broadcast sowing of the seed in the field greater than Israel. In verse 38 we are told "the field is the world.”
The purpose of this parable is to tell us the measure of success which the Gospel would receive among the Gentiles. In other words, we are shown what the results of this broadcast sowing of the Seed would be. First of all, most of the ground upon which it fell would prove unfavorable: the hard, shallow, and thorny soils were uncongenial to productiveness. Second, external opposition would be encountered: the birds of the air would come and catch it away. Third, the sun would scorch, and that which was lacking in moisture at its roots would wither away. Only a fractional part of the seed sown would yield any increase, and thus all expectations for the ultimate universal triumph of the Gospel were removed.
This parable answers the questions, what is to be the result of the broadcast sowing of the seed? Will the entire world receive it and every part of the field produce fruit? Will the seed spring up and bear a universal harvest, so that not a single grain of it is lost? Jesus said the greater part of the seed produces no fruit, so that no world-wide conquests by the Gospel or the Christianizing of the race are to be expected. Nor is there any hint that, as the age progressed, there would be any change, and that later sowers would meet with greater success, so that the wayside, stony, and thorny ground hearers would cease to exist or would rarely be found. Instead Jesus warns that instead of the fruitage from the Gospel showing an increase, there would be a marked decrease; for when speaking of the fruit borne He said, "which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty" (v. 23). These words are too plain to be misunderstood. Does the "hundred fold" have reference to the yield in the days of the apostles; the "sixty" at the time of the Reformation; the "thirty" the days in which we are now living? Look into the world, into our nation, into our cities and towns. What do you see? The history of the last twenty centuries has witnessed the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction; only a fractional percentage in any land, city or village has responded to the Gospel.