Sunday July 9th
A Russian, an American, and a Blonde were all talking one day, and a little competitive bragging started.
The Russian said, ‘We were the first ones to put a man in space!”
The American said, “Yeah, but we were the first ones to put a man on the moon!”
The Blonde said, “So what? We’re going to be the first ones to land on the sun!”
The Russian and the American looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief.
“You can’t land on the sun! You’ll burn up!” said the Russian with a laugh.
To which the Blonde replied, “We’re not actually that dumb, you know. We’re planning to go at night!”
In Mark chapter 4 we’re going to see how Jesus uses the natural world to reflect the supernatural. As we look at each example I want to encourage you to ask yourself, “What truth is Jesus trying to show me through this parable?”
Jesus starts out this teaching down by the sea, but he uses a parable that’s about farming rather than fishing:
He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. 2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 3 “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” 9 And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Verse 2 says “He was teaching them many things in parables”. But notice that he just lays out the parable and then says “If you’ve got ears, you should be able to hear what I just said.” He doesn’t explain it, and in fact even the disciples don’t really understand it. Because in verse ten they ask Jesus why he is teaching in such a confusing way:
10 As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. 11 And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”
The Apostle Paul calls the gospel “the mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:4 and Colossians 4:3. Here, Jesus says that the “mystery of the kingdom of God” is being revealed only to the disciples, but just “parables” are being told to “those who are outside.” If these outsiders are willing to examine the parable, they will find the answer to the mystery is actually Jesus himself.
One commentary points out that part of the “mystery” of the parable of the Sower of the Seed is that the coming of God’s kingdom is identified as a fragile seed, not a powerful conquering army.
Jesus then unfolds the full meaning of the parable for the sake of the disciples:
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
Keep in mind that in first-century Israel, sowing seeds across the ground was done first, then plowing, kind of the opposite of modern farming. So paths along the way, as well as rocky and thorny areas, all had seed spread on them and then plowed into them. It was not a very efficient system to say the least. In this parable, only one seed out of four bears fruit.
The first group of “hearers of the gospel” that Jesus describes are folks who have hardened hearts due to being beaten down by life, the same way that a path is made by many feet beating down the ground.
This group might seem to respond to the gospel in a moment of emotionalism. But when they go home and that emotional moment has passed, there is no change in their lives. The devil has swept in and taken the seed of faith away from their hearts before it could take root.
The next seed falls on stony or rocky ground.
But, as verse 17 says, “they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.”
Part of what contributes to this tragedy is that people are sold a false gospel that emphasizes only prosperity and blessings but ignores trials and suffering. I don’t know about you but I find that being a Christian is pretty hard sometimes. If you were told that life as a follower of Christ is just a bowl of cherries, then it’s no surprise that you might drop out of being a disciple when things get harder than you expected.
The seeds that are “sown among thorns” are the ones who have the gospel “choked out of their lives by “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things”.
Jesus says that these people will end up bearing no fruit. They are more interested in themselves and their own lives than they are about the gospel. One pastor identified this group as the ones who are “always are offended at something or another and they think that their point of view is the only one that matters.”
Thankfully we also have the last group – the seed that falls on good soil.
These are the ones who simply say “yes I will follow you” to the Lord with no requirements. These are the ones in whose hearts the seed of the Word of God brings forth abundant fruit and consistent growth.
As soon as Jesus finishes explaining this first parable, he begins another one:
21 And He was saying to them, “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? 22 For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. 25 For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”
This parable is pretty simple. What does a lamp do? It removes the darkness. It reveals what was hidden by the darkness. And we know that God’s word is our source of light.
Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Obviously, when a person lights a lamp the purpose is to give as much light as possible.
Lighting a lamp and then hiding it really doesn’t make much sense. But then again, neither does becoming a Christian and then keeping it a secret!
In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Then Jesus switches back to another parable about seed and soil:
26 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
I’m pretty sure that what Jesus is teaching us here is that our role in spreading the gospel is to simply spread the seed, and then let the Holy Spirit do His work in people’s hearts, and then to help God to bring in the harvest. After the farmer puts the seed into the ground, the miracle of actual plant growth is done by God himself. The farmer helps at the beginning and then depends on God to create life from tiny seeds. Then the farmer reaps the harvest.
So, as Jesus’ disciples, what are we to do? We are to plant seeds, to go and tell everyone we know about Him. Tell them that He Is the Son of God and that He came to earth and paid the ultimate price to redeem us from our sins.
In Romans 10:13-15 we hear this same command from the apostle Paul, “For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Verses 30-32 of Mark 4 present one more parable about a very specific kind of seed:
30 And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”
Now there are two specific examples here from nature that Jesus points out - the ‘branches’ and the ‘birds’
Jesus says that the birds will nest under the Mustard tree branches for shade.
So, what does that mean for us?
Essentially, I think Jesus was pointing out how fast and how large the church would grow from its very small beginnings, and how many people from all over the world (the “birds”) would find great peace under its “branches”.
After the simple beginning of the church with just a handful of disciples, there were about 5 million believers in the Jesus Christ around the year 100 AD. By 2010 there were 2.2 BILLION believers worldwide. That’s some pretty rapid growth!
So basically Praise Tabernacle is one of the “branches” and you are one of the “birds”!
That is the last parable recorded in this chapter, but it is not the last lesson. The final thing the disciples would learn this day would come from a storm, not a story!
33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.
35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
The Sea of Galilee sits about 700 feet below sea level. At its southern end is a deep valley. The wind that comes blowing through this valley can churn up the lake into a violent storm.
Remember that most of these disciples were experienced fishermen. They had lived their lives around this particular sea and had certainly experienced being out there in all kinds of weather. For them to be afraid, this must’ve been one heck of a storm!
But Jesus says to them, ‘Why are you afraid, where is your faith?’
Well then you might ask, given the extreme nature of this particular storm, why did Jesus chastise them regarding their lack of faith?
I think it’s because of this one fact. He had already told them before they left the shore that they were going to the other side of the lake. It really doesn’t matter what storms or road blocks that the enemy tries to throw in our paths. If Jesus says that we are going to the other side, then we will make it to the other side!
In verse 39 when Jesus tells the storm to “Be still!” the expression he uses literally means “be muzzled.” Jesus has total authority over all heaven and earth, and here he demonstrates His authority over nature. If the storm is big, Jesus is bigger!
The disciples are blown away by this display of his power, and they ask each other “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
But of course, they should have known that the Son of God would have such power. The Old Testament had already taught them that nature is under God’s command, with scriptures such as:
Psalm 8:9 “You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.”
Psalm 65:6-7, “Who established the mountains by His strength, being clothed with power; You who still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples.”
The problem that the disciples had can end up being the same problem that we have. We know what the Bible says, and we know that God’s Word is true, but when things start to get a little rough, we start to wonder if our God is really up to the task – if His grace really is sufficient.
To help you understand what we are dealing with, let me share with you this little story from the Chinese Christian writer Watchman Nee.
He told a story about a group of young Christian men who went swimming in a creek. Most of them were not good swimmers so they were careful to remain close to the banks so as not to get in water over their heads.
One of the brothers went out a little too far and began to struggle in the deep water. Realizing his predicament he cried out to the others, who were now out of the water and drying off. "Help! Save me!" he yelled, while thrashing his arms and legs in a futile attempt to keep his head above water.
Only one of the men was experienced enough at swimming to provide assistance, but strangely enough, the only possible rescuer calmly watched the man struggle but made no move to save him. "Why don't you do something?" the other men all screamed in unison.
But the man just stood there apparently unconcerned.
After a few moments the drowning man could stay afloat no more. His arms and legs grew tired and he began to sink underwater. Finally the slow-moving rescuer dove into the water. With a few quick strokes he reached the victim and pulled him to safety.
Watchman Nee finally asked the man "How could you stand by for so long and watch your brother drowning, ignoring his cries for help and prolonging his suffering?"
But the man calmly explained. "If I had jumped in right away and tried to save the man, he would have clung to me in panic and pulled me under with him. In order to be saved, he had to first come to the end of himself, and cease struggling. He had to stop trying to save himself. Only then could he be helped."
If you think you can calm your own storm, then you won’t be looking for Jesus to save you. The sooner you turn to Jesus to rebuke the storm for you, the better off you will be.
He will get you to the other side of the journey that He has sent you on. If there are storms along the way, He will muzzle them.
Don’t be afraid. Your captain is in the boat with you.