Studying the Gospels Together: Mark Four

As part of the ReMarkAble series at First Baptist Church, I will be releasing weekly posts with my notes for those who are using the Studying the Gospels Together (STGT) method in their Adult Community Group. You can read more about the STGT Method here and how this site is integrating the ReMarkAble series here.

Introductory Comments

Parables are a prominent feature in the fourth chapter of Mark's gospel. Nowhere else in Mark's gospel are there this many parables all clustered together. That's not to say that there are no other parables in Mark's gospel, just that Mark does not group this many together anywhere else. As a result, you will not find many things to note Jesus doing like you have in previous chapters. On the other hand, the parables do teach us many things about God's Kingdom, informing us about what it means to follow Jesus.

The correct method of interpreting parables is debated, but let me briefly recommend a few helpful guidelines that Dr. Craig Blomberg suggests in Jesus and the Gospels. When interpreting parables, it is helpful to begin by assessing how many characters there are, or how many character types there are. Each of these characters can represent one point. Therefore, if there are two characters in a parable, that parable likely has two truths to communicate. We are not limited to one point per parable - as some might argue. Further, each point will be derived from the perspective of the character in the parable. A second helpful guideline of interpreting a parable is to ask yourself what message Jesus' audience would have understood. We can sometimes become anachronistic in our interpretations if we are not careful. Ask yourself if a first-century audience could grasp the point, and then move onto asking yourself how that point might apply to following Jesus today.

Things to Note

In the STGT Method, we begin by noting five different activities of Jesus.

(P) Prayer

There is no specific reference to Jesus praying in this chapter.

(W) Reads or references God’s Word

There is no specific reference to Jesus reading or referencing God’s word in this chapter.

(F) Relates to God the Father

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to God the Father in this chapter.

(HS) Relates to the Holy Spirit

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to The Holy Spirit in this chapter.

(R) Overflows in loving relationship with people

This will be the most common category we see. Jesus is constantly interacting with people through his teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, or discipleship. I will not list all possible ways that this is seen in this chapter, but only mention a few.

(4:1-2) The chapter begins with the statement that "Again he [Jesus] began to teach beside the sea." Jesus is surrounded by a crowd, gets into a boat and then begins to teach "many things in parables (4:2)." It is hard to fully grasp the exact setting for each of the parables Jesus tells in Mark 4, but by and large, these first verses provide an introduction to this section. One common method Jesus uses to teach is through parables. This is one expression of Jesus' loving relationships through his teaching ministry.

Questions for Reflection

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

First, this passage tells us that Jesus is a wise teacher who can speak authoritatively about God's kingdom. Jesus tells four parables in the chapter, and two in particular begin by referencing God's Kingdom (4:26-29 & 4:30-32). Jesus' authority is not new in Mark's gospel, the first three chapters point to it over and over again. Here we see the way that his authority to teach is expressed through him informing us about God's Kingdom.

Second, Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4:35-41. This portion of the chapter is unique, because it is the only part that is not related to parables. In this passage, Jesus is traveling across the sea with his disciples when a "great windstorm" arose. The disciples are panicking and wake Jesus to help them. Jesus "awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased and there was great calm (4:39 ESV)." Jesus has control over the weather and seas. If I was to witness someone who possessed the ability to calm the waters with just a word, it would give me reason to pause. I would want to know who this man is. Likewise, the disciples respond in similar fashion. "And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (4:41).'" Mark does not provide an answer to the disciples' question. We are left to hang upon that question. Who is this man? What sort of man can command the wind and the sea? What sort of man has the ability to control creation? Mark doesn't give an answer, because I think there can only be one conclusion. Who can this man be? The only answer is that Jesus is God.

What does this passage tell us about why Jesus came?

This passage doesn't directly address why Jesus came. Although, when we consider his introductory statement from Mark 1:15, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." I think this chapter is a clear extension of that initial statement. Jesus is teaching his followers about God's Kingdom, and he is calling them to repent and believe in the gospel.

What does it say about what it means to follow Jesus?

The parables give great instruction in this regard. Let's take a look at a couple of them, and see what conclusions we can draw.

The Parable of the Sower (4:1-9, 13-20): The first lesson we learn about what it means to follow Jesus is that his true followers bear fruit. "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. (4:20)." If we are true followers of Jesus, the natural outpouring of a person who has received his word and come to Jesus in humility, repentance,  and acceptance will be to bear fruit. We see this all over in the teachings of the New Testament. A person who truly follows Jesus will see fruit borne out in their lives. A quick caution though. If you examine your life, and upon further assessment, you come to the conclusion that you are not bearing fruit, the answer is not to simply work harder. We might be prone to say to ourselves, "I am not bearing fruit. Oh no! I need to bear fruit. Therefore, I am going to work harder at bearing fruit." This would be a foolish response. Fruit is the product of a healthy root system. We cannot walk up to an unhealthy fruit tree and try to manufacture fruit on empty buds. We must start at the root, which for the believer is their relationship with Jesus. If you do not see fruit in your life, don't try to manufacture fruit. Ask yourself where your relationship with Jesus is off, and start there. Then you will bear fruit, because any true follower of Jesus will bear fruit.

The Parable of the Seed Growing (4:26-29): In this parable, let's try to examine it more fully. First, there are two primary "characters." First, the farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Form his vantage point, much of the growth that comes in the seed is the product of the earth, weather, environment, etc. Of course the farmer must do some work, but by and large, the growth of that seed is at the mercy of the weather and soil conditions. The farmer "sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how (4:27)." From the standpoint of the farmer, the growth of the seed is uncertain and outside his control. Like the farmer, we must trust in God to bring about His purposes in this world. We get to be part of the process, but by and large, in the middle of what may feel like uncertain times, we trust in God to bring His Kingdom to fruition.

The other "character" in the parable is the seed. From the seed, we can learn that God's Kingdom is sure. God knows that the seed will grow. He is doing what must be done to bring that certain future into reality. The seed, like the Kingdom of God, may start small and even hidden beneath the earth, but it will grow to maturity and God will bring about his harvest.

As a follower of Jesus, we learn from this parable that what may seem uncertain to us, is certain to God. We get to play our part, and join in the kingdom work, but ultimately, we trust our good God to bring about the Kingdom He has planned. I for one, and glad to know that God is in charge of this ultimate end and not me. I am happy to just join in!

Questions for Application

In response to what you have read, what is one action step you believe God is calling you to make this week?

Like every chapter, there are a variety of applications that could be made. I will suggest one, but please consider others that God may lay upon your heart.

One application could be to take the time to honestly examine your life, and see if you are bearing fruit. Ask yourself if you can say that you are bearing fruit that is consistent with what it means to follow Jesus. When we ask that question, we will all inevitably fall short of what it means to fully follow Jesus. But is there change in your life? Are you growing in patience? Are you growing in love? Self-control? Is your faith in Jesus being expressed in tangible ways throughout your life? If you find yourself saying no, please don't just try harder. Repent. Believe in the Gospel. Renew your trust in Jesus. Be captivated by His love. And then bear fruit that is consistent with your renewed faith and trust in Jesus.

What is one thing you learned this week you could share with someone else? Who do you plan to share it with?

This question is meant to simply help us learn how to share what we are learning from Jesus. We see in this chapter that Jesus wants his message to spread. When we follow him, we become conduit of that message. We do not need to feel the burden of sharing everything we know about Jesus in every conversation we have, but it can be more natural to share something we are learning. What is something you learned that you could share with someone else? Think about who you might want to share it with.

Comments?

I was asked recently if I want you to be commenting on these posts. While I do not want you to feel obligated to comment, I would certainly love to get your feedback. As I think about what comments would be most helpful, here are a few:

  1. Comment with any questions you have or things that need clarification. Was something unclear from the post? Did you have a question that wasn't addressed? Please let me know what would be most helpful to you.
  2. Comment with your answers to the questions for application. I would love to know how you are applying this to your life.
  3. Comment on anything you think I might have missed. Was there an insight you had that others might find helpful? Please feel free to share.