In our study of Mark chapter four, we will look at the mystery of physical life as well as the mystery of our life in Christ.
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge.
At the end of chapter three, Jesus was teaching in a house and that is symbolic of His ministry to the people of Israel. Now, we see that the scene has shifted to the lake which is symbolic of the nations (Gentiles).
He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
This is about the halfway point in His ministry on earth and He began to teach using parables which were short stories about common everyday things. He did this for two reasons. The first is that the religious leaders had begun to try to trap Him in His words and secondly the people had become disinterested about spiritual things.
'Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly , because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.'
This first parable speaks of farming which all of the people would have been familiar with. This parable introduces us to the mystery of physical life. We can see that three things (water, light, & time) are required for the plant to sprout (be born). Three of the four groups of seeds made it to this point but the one that did not didn't have enough time for the process to be completed. We also see that three things (water, light, & good soil) are required for the sprout to grow to maturity. Only two of the three made it to this point while the third did not have sufficient water to live. Finally, we see that only one group of seed actually produced fruit while the other was choked out by the weeds which kept it from getting all of the water, light, and nutrients from the soil that were required.
Then Jesus said, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.' When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them , 'The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'
Now, Jesus introduces us to the mystery of our spiritual life in Him. "He who has ears" was kind of a danger sign for them as it lets us know that not everyone will take His teaching to heart. The mystery for us is how we are able to hear and this speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit calling us and showing us the things of God. Jesus went on to quote from the prophet Isaiah and, when He speaks of the "kingdom of God", He is talking about both the earth and heaven.
Then Jesus said to them, 'Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?'
Although His questions to them may seem kind of harsh, Jesus is trying to get them to see the connection between the physical and the spiritual. His questions help us to see the importance of our change of worldview when we come to faith in Him. It is impossible to understand the things of God until that view is shifted to the spiritual instead of the flesh.
'The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.'
Jesus began to explain the parable to His disciples. We might ask how Satan can take the word from people and the answer is found in the soil. The soil represents the heart of man and the Word of God must not only be heard but it must penetrate the heart. The soil along any path is packed down and the seed cannot penetrate and be covered by the dirt. The soil (heart) must be prepared (broken up) to receive the seed (Word) and that is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
'Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.'
In order for a plant to survive and grow, water and nutrients must be taken in and this is the job of the roots of the plant. As the sun dries out the upper layer of dirt, the roots must be deep enough to get water that is left. When the ground has rocks instead of good soil, the roots cannot get down to where this supply of water is located and so the plant wilts and dies. Many have taken these words of Jesus to say that we can lose our salvation but that is not what He was saying. Throughout the Bible, water is a symbol of the Spirit of God and, as we see here, it is this Spirit that sustains us through the hard times. This Spirit is a seal and a gift to those who believe in Him. If we simply grab onto the Word but miss the power of the Spirit, we can wilt and seem to fall away from the faith. In reality, our faith never had its roots in the good soil of Jesus Christ and so those that wilt never were actually saved to begin with. If our roots of faith are in Him, He will sustain us through the power of the Spirit and no amount of heat from the sun (persecution) can cause us to wither and fall away.
'Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.'
The seed that is sown among thorns lives and produces a plant but the plant does not get enough sun or water and nutrients to mature and produce fruit. This speaks of the person that is saved but does not put their faith into action and serve. They go through life without telling anyone else about Jesus.
'Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop - thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.'
The final seed not only sprouts and becomes a growing plant but, in its life, it produces fruit. A seed that does not produce fruit really has no purpose as, when the plant dies, there will be nothing left to show that it even existed on the earth. We see, here, two groups of three and are reminded that the number three is associated with the earthly display of God's will. The first group of three speaks of the life of a Christian while the second group speaks of the judgment of the seed. Any farmer will tell you that they judge the quality of a seed by how much fruit (grain) they harvest in the season. This speaks of the judgment of believers where our work on the earth is judged and our rewards are given.
He said to them, 'Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.'
Now, Jesus uses a question and answer to further explain the message of the sower. We see that a lamp that does not share its light has no value just as the seed that does not produce any fruit. Putting the lamp under a bowl is a conscious decision to remain in the dark (ignorant). We see that God does not want us to be ignorant as Jesus tells us that the things that were hidden before are revealed through Him. He also gives them a danger sign as He speaks of "ears to hear". We must understand that Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jews and, when the word "hear" is used, it means putting into action what they have heard with their ears and mind. We are reminded that, when we have the light of Christ within us, we have a responsibility to let that light flow out of us and not willfully hide it under the bowl.
'Consider carefully what you hear,' he continued. 'With the measure you use, it will be measured to you - and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.'
Jesus was speaking here about faith and the mystery of how we grow to mature in Christ. If you want to grow to be a great man/woman of faith, then you must exercise what you have. As you act more in faith, you will find that you understand more about God and His provision for you. You start where you are at and do what he asks you to do knowing that He will not ask for more than He provides. If you do not take that first step of faith which is trusting in Him for your salvation, then you will lose everything on the final day.
He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.'
Jesus went on to show us our role in spreading the light of the gospel. He used the example of a seed that grows. The man only scattered the seed while God did everything else. It is the same with the gospel (seed) and us as we can only share the Word with people and it is only God that can use it to change a person's heart.
Again he said, 'What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.'
In the previous parable, Jesus made the point about the natural growth of a plant (and the kingdom) as being from God. The mustard seed when planted normally becomes a shrub but not a very large tree like Jesus described here. This is a picture of the unnatural growth of the church that has happened where many are perched in the building playing religion but not having a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. That is what He was talking about with the birds perching in the branches.
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
To the masses, Jesus told them about the things of God through these stories because they were only concerned with their physical state. But, to His disciples, He continued to explain their spiritual meaning as they were prepared to hear it.
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, 'Let us go over to the other side.' Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, don't you care if we drown?'
Can you imagine asking our Savior that question? We may not actually speak it but that type of question probably runs through our minds more than we want to admit. The disciples got scared in the storm and feared for their lives because they did not completely understand who Jesus was and that He was in charge of all things. They misunderstood the peace of Jesus (sleeping in the back of the boat) for lack of caring. Why didn't Jesus wake up and stop the storm as soon as it began (after all He is God)? The simple fact of the matter is that God allows the devil to tempt and to try our faith but He knows how much we can stand.
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?' They were terrified and asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'
The mystery of nature and its control is introduced to the disciples. We often see amazing things happen and many give credit to some man made idea of "mother nature" but we see that everything is subject to Jesus. Nature obeyed His command and it left the disciples amazed at who He was. Jesus asked them the questions about their faith not to belittle them but to get them to see that the answer to all of their fears would be their faith in Him. Little did they know that when the boat landed on the shore they would see even greater things.