Mark 4:1-20 Comments by Stephen Ricker
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Jesus Teaches Then in Parables
Comments for Study 6

Mark 4:1-20
Memory Verse: 11a


I. The Parable of the Sower (1-20)

Jesus' Mid-Ministry Travels

>1. Describe the scene in verse 1.

* Mark 4:1 "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."

* "Again Jesus began to teach by the lake." -Jesus made it a regular habit to teach. The lake is the sea of Galilee. Most likely he was not permitted to teach in the synagogues anymore.

* "The crowd that gathered around him" -This was most likely the reason why Jesus began to teach by the lake.

* "was so large" -This was probably record attendance.

* "got into a boat and sat in it" -The Jewish teachers did not have a pulpit. They usually sat down while they taught. (Mt. 5:1, Lk. 5:3, Jn. 8:2) Even if Jesus would have stood up the boat would not have been very stable, thus he would have had to sit down again.

* "while all the people were along the shore" -The shores in Galilee along the sea of Galilee made natural amphitheatres.

* "at the water's edge" -They got as close as possible to hear him.

>Why do you think such a large crowd came to Jesus?

* There were many reasons these people came. Some:
    1) to be healed
    2) to be saved from demon possession
    3) to hear his teachings
    4) because friends who had heard him or were healed by him invited them
    5) because they were courteous
    6) to judge him and criticize him
    7) felt a great spiritual emptiness and where drawing to Jesus by the Father.

>What did Jesus do for them? (2)

* Mark 4:2 "He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:"

* "He taught them" -He did not heal many people at this time; maybe none. When many people came to him Jesus accommodated them by teaching.

* "many things" -Only a few of the parables Jesus taught are written here by Mark. Jesus taught many things because he wanted the truth to sink into their hearts and minds.

* Jesus wanted to relay spiritual truths so they would accept him and the good news he preached.

* "parable" -A parable is a story taken from real and ordinary life to illustrate and explain a spiritual truth and principle. Another definition is, "a continued comparison or similitude by which spiritual or heavenly things were described in language borrowed from the things of this life." A parable can be as short as one sentence or a whole book.

Often the prophets used parables. (Hosea 12:10) Even though Jesus used parables to make heavenly things easier to understand the religious leaders still did not understand. (John 3:12) Jesus proclaimed new things in his parables. 1/3 of his teachings are in parables. Luke has the most parables. (Click here for a chart comparing Jesus' parables.) When studying parables it is important to not put to many meanings into every detail of the parable. They are usually generalizations with a single point and every detail meant to support are less significant or even have no meaning. It is very important to remember that parables are spiritual, not humanistic.

The common theme of Jesus' parables is the Kingdom of God (of heaven). There are four themes concerning the Kingdom of God:
    1) Coming of the Kingdom of God.
    2) Grace of the Kingdom of God.
    3) Men of the Kingdom of God.
    4) Crisis of the Kingdom of God.

For example; the theme of the parables in Luke 13 is the Kingdom of God as it will be between his first coming and his second coming. Jesus explains there about how it is planted, expands, grows, and its value. These truths are secrets that the prophets of the Old Testament did not know about and/or only saw glimpses of.

>2. What was Jesus' first parable?

* The Parable of the Sower is the first one Mark records (excluding the two one sentence ones in Mark 2:21-22). It's also in Matthew 13:1-23 and Luke 8:5-15. Matthew and Mark state that Jesus taught this while in a boat on the Sea of Galilee to the people on shore. Luke does not mention the area. All three accounts must be the same event because it is unlikely that the disciples would ask the meaning of this parable more than once; though it is possible that he taught it more than once.

* Many passages in the Bible, especially in the New Testament use this parable as a reference. Many expanded upon it. (Mark 4:26-32; Luke 13:19; John 12:24; and 1 Corinthians 3:6, 9:11, 15:37-38; and 2 Corinthians 15:38; and 1 Peter 1:23; and 1 John 3:9) This can be considered a basic need to understand and impliment parable.

* This parable is:
    1) good for Bible teachers (mentors, shepherds, pastors, etc.) it helps us understand the people they witnesses to and teach.
    2) goof for all because it helps all judge our heart.
    3) to determine the heart condition in the present. It is not meant to categorize people and lock them into that category. People change. They can change from one category to the next.
    4) allegories Jesus' ministry for many came to him with many types of heart attitudes and conditions.
    5) not only to categorize people in their present state, but also to examine our hearts.
    6) to realize that many types of people will consider Jesus and his word, but only a few will truely become a disciple. Just because someone has an interest in Jesus and religious things doesn't mean that they are Jesus' disciple.

* With the teaching of this parable, Jesus was sowing the seed broadly.

hand sowing seed

>When the farmer scattered his seed, on what kinds of soil did the seed fall? (3-8)

* Mark 4:3-8 "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."

* Places the seed landed on are:
    1) The path (4)
    2) The rocky places (5)
    3) Among the thorns (7)
    4) Good soil (8)

* "Listen!" -Jesus often exclaimed this (Mark 4:3, 7:14; Luke 9:44; John 10:27) and the phrase, "He who has ears. Let him hear," (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35), both meaning the same. Jesus was challenging them to do something. He wanted everyone to pay attention to what he was saying. He wanted them to think about his words. He wanted them to "digest" it. Then they needed to apply it to their lives. This shows the importance of meditating on and studying God's word.

* Teaching is how the farmer scatters the seed. Everyone has a choice to listen to it or reject it. Jesus said, "It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life." (John 6:45-47)

>With what results?

* The results are:
    1) The birds are it up (4)
    2) It sprang up and the sun scorched it (5)
    3) The thorns chocked it, so it was fruitless (7)
    4) It came up, grew and produced a crop (8)

* "The path" -The path was the place where the farmer would walk as he scattered seed. Every spring he would walk on the same path. Over the years this ground was beaten down and hardened.

* "the birds came and eat it up" -Because the path was hard packed soil the seeds could not penetrate into it and could not germinate. The seeds were easy picks for birds.

* "rocky places" -The rocky places in Palestine are not boulders. Rather, they are big flat rock slabs as large as a quarter of an acre (800 square millimetres). The slabs were impossible to move. So he would have to remember where they were so that he could avoid throwing seeds on them. Yet, in order to place seed on every good bit soil, some seeds would always end up on soil on these slabs of stone.

* "where it did not have much soil" -Rocky places in Palestine are often hid by one to two inches (25 to 50mm) of soil. Strong winds would deposit soil one day and then be take away another.

* "It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow" -Palestine receives most of its rain in the spring. This rain is enough to penetrates the ground enough to raise one season of good grains. Shallow soil over slabs of rock can retain water quite well since water cannot penetrate rock. Seeds germinate quick in this well watered soil, the first to spring up.

whithered wheat

* See picture of whithered wheat to the right.

* "the plants were scorched" -The moisture in the shallow slab soil quickly dries up quickly in the hot Mideast sun. So the young plants quickly dry out and die.

* "they had no root" -Plant roots collect moisture and minerals. When water is close to the surface plants do not grow deep roots. When the water is deep the plant keeps growing roots until it reaches moisture, or until it dies.

* "some fell among thorns" -Farmers always work soil before seeds are scattered to gets rid of any unwanted plants and to aerates the soil. However, many seeds remian in the soil. The farmer cannot do anything about these unwanted seeds. They are always there and he does not know where they are at. All he can do is scatter his good seeds everywhere. Naturally when the good seeds grow so do the weeds.

* "which grew up and choked the plants -Grain plants need plenty of water and minerals to grow to maturity and produce seeds. When two plants are growing in the same area the water and minerals are shared. Most land in Palestine is not very rich in minerals nor does it get a lot of rain. So if weeds and grain compete for water and minerals neither grow seeds.

* "produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" -God has set in each seed the ability to reproduce itself.

* Each one of these types of people cannot be determined right away.

* It could be said that 3/4 of the people who hear Jesus' word do not become fruitful in the end.

>What does the seed represent? (14)

* Mark 4:14 "The farmer sows the word."

* Jesus explained the starting and growth principles and nature of the kingdom of God with this parable.

* "The farmer" -Jesus depicts himself a farmer scattering seeds. In his day farmers worked small patches of land by hand. It is said that Jesus taught this in the spring when farmers were planting. But this is not certain.

* "sows" -A seed bag with a strap hands from the farmer's shoulder when hand planting. As they walked along they reach in the bag, grab a hand full of seed, and toss it to the side.

* "seed... the word" -The seed is the word of God, the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus is the living word. The Bible is the written word. When the Lord speaks, the sound is the spoken word.

* The ground represents a world full of humans throughout all ages. The soil is a person's soul. Many things can be planted in our soul -heart and mind. Jesus is talking about the word of God being planted in our heart and mind much as seeds are planted in the soil.

Through using different soils Jesus teaches that the reception to the gospel depends on the receiver's heart attitude. He teaches of three bad soils and only one good soil; that is, three bad heart conditions and only one good heart condition. Only a few hearts will grow when the word is planted in them.

>What is the significance of this? (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:23)

* 2 Timothy 3:15-17 "and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

* 1 Peter 1:23 "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God."

* The word of God is essential for spiritual growth.

* The word of God is for every good work

>In what respect are people's minds and hearts like soil into which seed is sown?

* The word is planted and can grow.

* Our hearts are open to the world.

* Soil has potential to grow.

* Soil, by itself can not grow anything.

* Like the human mind and heart, soil can be deep or shallow.

* Psalm 1:1-3 "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers."

>3. When the Twelve asked Jesus about the meaning of his parables, what did he tell them? (10-13)

* Mark 4:10-13 "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!'" Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?""

* "When he was alone" - Jesus withdrew from the crowd. We are not told how long after the teaching the disciples asked him about the teaching's meaning, perhaps minutes, hours, or even a day. Most likely they asked him about its meaning the same day he taught it.

* "the Twelve" -The Twelve apostles are the specially picked inner circle amongst Jesus' many disciples. The only thing common is that they are Jewish men.

* "the Twelve and the others around him" -Matthew and Luke condense this to "the disciples" and "his disciples". (Matthew 13:10; Luke 8:9)

* "asked him about the parables" -The disciples did not understand the meaning of the parables and didn't pretend that they did. Yet, they wanted to. They had a learning mind. The privilege granted to Jesus disciples is the ability to go to him when we don't understand and ask questions. The disciples often asked Jesus about his parables, but not all the time.

So why did Jesus teach in parables? Some truths of God take time to have results. Jesus didn't expect them to understand right away. He wanted them to think about what he taught. He taught them and waited to see if they would accept. If they were interested in knowing God and his truths, then they would like about Jesus teachings. This would produce faith, hope, and love in their heart if accepted. For example only the disciples wanted to know more and thus asked him for it. Jesus did not hold back the answer.

>What was the key point of this parable? (11a)

* Mark 4:11a "He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you..."

* "secret... has been given to you" -Secrets are for friends. Jesus is willing to give the secret to those who seek him.

* "The kingdom of God" -The kingdom of God is a theme that Jesus kept throughout his ministry. My book The Believer's Future - Hope that Inspires explains the kingdom of God in detail.

* The Word of God accepted and applied brings one into the kingdom of God.

* One's heart must be right to receive the word properly.

>How did he compare his ministry to that of Isaiah? (Isaiah 6:9-10; 8:16; Mark 4:33, 34)

* Mark 4:11b-12 "...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!'""

* Isaiah 6:9-10 "He said, "Go and tell this people: "'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.""

* Isaiah 8:16 "Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples."

* Mark 4:33-34 "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."

* Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10. Jesus' ministry had the same outcome as Isaiah's. The people's response was the same. They were resolved not to hear the word of God. Still a remnant accepted.

* Jesus would continually plant the word of God, but it would not grow in most people's hearts because they had not prepared themselves to accept the word.

* This teaching strengthened the twelve because their hearts were right, but it meant little to the crowd because their hearts were not right.

* The word of God only grew in a few people's hearts even though many heard it.

* Later, Paul would use this parable to compare his work of sowing the seed and others watering and fertilizing it.

>4. Think about the four kinds of people represented by the four soils. What is the problem of the people like the path? (15)

* Mark 4:15 "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."

* "Satan" -Luke here uses "devil" while Matthew uses "evil one" and Mark uses "Satan". All refer to the same fallen angel.

* No impression is made.

* They were to busy to hear the word.

* They don't even think about it.

* Their hearts are hard because it is well travelled on.

* Indifferent.

* Satan is in total control of them.

* Everything or even one thing is more important than the kingdom of God, to that they don't accept and obey it when they are told it.

* We can harden our own hearts.

* The Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders, Pilot and Herod were all had path soil hearts.

Birds Eating Seeds on Rock

* See picture of birds eating seeds on a slab of rock to the right.

>Of those like rocky places? (16, 17)

* Mark 4:16-17 "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."

* "hear the word and at once receive it with joy" -This response is an improvement of the previous soil type.

* "receive it with joy" -They have an emotional experience without substantial work in the soul (heart and mind). They have a one sided response. Our relationship with Jesus should be holistic. (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, 11:13; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27)

* "they have no root" -The word of God does not penetrate beyond a shallow depth. They have no root because they have not applied the word of God to their life. They have little or no commitment. They do not apply the word that they have heard.

* "they last only a short time" -Short lived work of God in their hearts.

* "Scorched" -become burned out.

* Growing roots take time and application.

* "Trouble or persecution comes because of the word" -John 15:19-20

* When rocky people renounce the word and Jesus during times of trouble and persecution it seems like freedom to them.

* Jesus does not explain in the parable why people are like the rocky soil. However, we do see examples of these people in Jesus' ministry (i.e. the rich young man).

>Of those like thorny places? (18, 19)

* Mark 4:18-19 "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."

* Three problem area's of believers are described here. They are:
    1) Worries of this life take our minds and hearts away. (Matt. 6:25-34)
    2) Deceitfulness of wealth. (Lk. 16:13)
    3) Desires of all kinds of things.

* "making it unfruitful" -We can let these these thing occupy our life and strength. So we bear no fruit. These things choke our relationship with Jesus. They choke the word of God.

* "Unfruitful" -What is fruit? See Galatians 5:22-24 and Mark 4:32.

* Thorny people are double minded people.

* James 1:2-8

* Thorns hurt when we touch them.

* Judas was a man of thorny soil. Solomon, David's son was like this in his youth. Judas and Solomon suffered a lot because of their thorny heart.

>What can we learn from each of them?

* They are not what God wants.

* They are a result of the word being shallowly learned and applied in ones life.

* Outside things can influence a good character.

* These three are fruitless and miserable.

* Pay attention to my heart condition.

* I cannot predict the future. However, I do know that trouble and persecutions of some kind will come. Therefore, I need to prepare my heart in the present. I need t judge my heart condition. Which soil am I like?

Sheaves of Wheat in Field

* See a picture of sheaves of wheat in a field to the right.

>How can we be like the good soil? (20)

* Mark 4:20 "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."

* There are three steps here which are the opposite of the previous three kinds of soils:
    1) Hear the word. (They study it.)
    2) Accept it. (They apply it to their life.)
    3) Produce a crop. (They obey whole heartedly.)

* Increased greatly.

* If we accept them we do. Think: If you accpet it you must apply it.

* "30...60...100 times" -Some produce more than others. This is according to their faith. (Romans 13)

* The good soil heart is by God's grace alone.