33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. (Mark 4:33–34, NKJV)
Jesus was the Master Teacher. He used parables to teach the gospel of the kingdom to the multitudes that gathered to Him in Galilee (Mk. 4:1-2). Then, away from the crowds, He explained the parables to His disciples (Mk. 4:10-12). Jesus knew His audience. He spoke the word “as they were able to hear it” to the crowd (v. 33). He did not impress them with scholarship or eloquence (a healthy reminder to preachers and teachers today, 1 Cor. 2:1). He was not condescending toward His audience. His goal was to teach them by planting the seed of God’s word into their hearts (Matt. 13:34-35). A godly woman once told young preachers, “Put the hay down where the calves can reach it, and the cows will have no trouble getting their fill.” Good advice. The parables challenged the crowd to ponder and prioritize God’s will. How people responded to Christ’s teachings exposed their hearts, and it still does (Mk. 4:11-12, 13-20). Away from the crowd, Jesus also took the time to explain the parables to His disciples (v. 34). He unraveled the parables’ meanings to them as He prepared them to take the gospel to the world (Mk. 16:15-16). We benefit from Jesus’ teaching style as we listen to His words and the explanations of truth His apostles, in turn, gave to the world (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:8-13).
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:10–13, NKJV)
The purpose of teaching is to impart knowledge. Jesus used parables to make known the hidden things of the kingdom of heaven (v. 11). Like any other teaching and learning context, the attitude of heart of the hearer or student is crucial to whether the knowledge is received. While Jesus imparted knowledge to His disciples by parables, the hearts of others were hardened by the same teaching (Matt. 13:14-15). The same sun that hardens clay melts butter. Be careful what kind of heart you have as you hear the word of Christ. Have a heart that is receptive, ready to learn, understand and live the gospel of Christ.
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 4:11-13)
The same parable would both reveal and conceal knowledge of the kingdom of God. The condition of the hearer’s heart determined whether or not the parables of Jesus were understood. A ready mind continues to be vital to understanding God’s word (Acts 17:11-12). Notice that Jesus expected His disciples to “understand this parable” of the sower. Knowing it unlocks all of His parables, since it explains the condition of the human heart (the soils) toward the word of God (the seed). You are in this parable; we all are. How do you react to the Scriptures, the word of God? Which soil are you? Read the parable and Jesus’ explanation to find out (Mark 4:3-9, 14-20).