Studies in the Gospel of Mark- Chapter 4
I. Parables and Understanding the Kingdom
A. 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. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! 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.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 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.” (Mark 4:1-12)
A. First we see many crowds now gathering to hear Jesus. The movement around and of His ministry is picking up steam. Large crowds were gathering, many were just wanting to touch Him. It seemed as if it was reported if you can just touch Him you will be healed, for wherever He went people were pressing in to touch Him. Jesus does something that is both practical and profound. Instead of just walking out onto the water, He chooses to get in a boat and speak to the crowds from it. He wanted to be removed from their constant press so He could speak the Message of the Kingdom to them. Although He could have wowed the people with His power and authority, He met specific needs, preached the Gospel, and did not exhibit showmanship in His Ministry.
B. A parable is parabolē
1) a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition, as of ships in battle
2a) a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude
2b) an example by which a doctrine or precept is illustrated
2c) a narrative, fictitious but agreeable to the laws and usages of human life, by which either the duties of men or the things of God, particularly the nature and history of God’s kingdom are figuratively portrayed
2d) a parable: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning
C. After speaking this parable, Jesus issues an exhortation, command, and warning. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Which any listener should be inquisitive after such a statement. His disciples were and it is then that He explains His usage of parables to the crowds.
D. “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.” Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 6:9 “Now, is Jesus trying to hide the truth to keep man from conversion? No. As I said, parables are used to attract attention and to illustrate truth. But they were not listening to the teachings any more. And yet, it was important that they still hear the word. And so parables were adopted, even though in hearing, they did not understand. Yet, it was important that they hear. God will be fair when He judges man. Everyone will have a chance to hear, even though they have closed their minds, their hearts. It’s an amazing thing when a person’s heart is closed to God and to the gospel. It’s amazing how we perceive what is being said.” Chuck Smith “
Therefore speak I to them in parables – On this account, viz. to lead them into a proper knowledge of God. I speak to them in parables, natural representations of spiritual truths, that they may be allured to inquire, and to find out the spirit, which is hidden under the letter; because, seeing the miracles which I have wrought, they see not, i.e. the end for which I have wrought them; and hearing my doctrines, they hear not, so as to profit by what is spoken; neither do they understand, ουδε συνιουσι, they do not lay their hearts to it. Is not this obviously our Lord’s meaning? Who can suppose that he would employ his time in speaking enigmatically to them, on purpose that they might not understand what was spoken? Could the God of truth and sincerity act thus? If he had designed to act otherwise, he might have saved his time and labor, and not spoken at all, which would have answered the same end, viz. to leave them in gross ignorance.” Adam Clarke
II. The Key Parable to Understanding the Kingdom’s Parables
A. And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. 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. 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. 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. 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.” (Mark 4:13-20)
B. Understanding the Sower and Soil Parable is key to understanding other parables. The emphasis of the parable is of course on the condition of the soil.
C. There are 4 types of soil in the story. The first mentioned is trodden and beaten along the roadside. It seems impervious to the seed sown. While the seed is waiting for entrance the birds of the air come and eat it. This is likened unto the devil. He comes to steal it before it has time to take root and begin the transformation process. The second is sown in stony ground. The seed goes down into the soil but it has no ability to root into the soil and when trouble arises because of the Word it falls away. The third is sown on thorny ground, which simply means that preparation for receptivity was not made and it takes root and springs up but other things also spring up with it and as a result the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and lust for other things make the word unfruitful in this person’s life. Fourthly, the seed is sown on ground prepared for the word and it produces a harvest.
III. Other Parables of the Kingdom
A. And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mar 4:21-34)
B. Four more parables come in quick succession. The first has to do with the Light and Exposition of the Kingdom. The very fact that something is hidden is that it might one day be exposed and revealed. How much does this one parable speak to us about the coming Kingdom, for the mystery that has been hidden is being revealed through the church and will fully be revealed when the King Returns!
C. The admonition of Christ is to hear again! He then says that the measure in which we use to receive His word will be measured to us, but the promise is that He will always be increasing our capacity to receive more. If we do not continually hear and receive then what we have received will be taken from us.
D. He then returns to the theme of the Kingdom being like a man sowing seed and the purpose of the sowing is for the harvest. We too must realize that God is interested in the harvest and one day the sickle will be thrust into the world to receive the ripe harvest.
E. The next story is the mustard seed parable. The kingdom seems insignificant like a small mustard seed but when it grows it becomes a haven for the birds of the air, some of the least of these.