Read the Passage: Mark 4
Parable of the Soils (4:1–20)
The Parable of the Soils, which is the longest of all of Jesus’ parables, is also recorded at Matt. 13:1–23 and at Luke 8:4–15. In this well-known story, Jesus teaches about the effects of the gospel message as it is shared with the lost by believers. This parable is unique in that, at His hearers’ request, in Mark 4:10–20 Christ interprets His own parable. As Jesus explains, within this parable the seed represents the gospel, the soils represent the hearts of the hearers of the gospel, and the results of the sowing represent the effects of the gospel upon the hearers. Two interesting observations from Jesus’ teaching are: (1) In three of the four soils there is an initial appearance of growth, but no sustained growth or fruit; and (2) It is only in one of the soils—representing just ¼ of those whom receive the seed of the gospel—where there is authentic, long-term growth, production, and sustainability.
Mark 4:10 reports that “those around Jesus . . . asked Him about the parable.” In the parallel Gospel accounts, we learn that here the disciples asked Jesus both to interpret the parable, and to explain why He taught in parables (cf. Matt. 13:10–15; Luke 8:9–10). Essentially, Jesus’ hearers were claiming the reason why the crowds couldn’t understand His teaching was because He spoke to them in parables. While Jesus’ explanation of the parable is straightforward; His explanation as to why He taught in parables is sobering. In Mark 4:11–12 Christ taught that the reason why the crowds couldn’t understand His parables was because of the hardness of their own hearts, which in turn was reinforced by the divine teaching that they rejected (cf. Rom. 3:20). The people’s failure to understand Jesus’ parables, then, was both a natural result of their own spiritual rebellion and a divine act of God’s justice.
Parables of the Kingdom (4:21–34)
While Mark 4:21–34 contains three different parables, the tie that binds these parables together is that they each teach about aspects of the Kingdom of God. Simply defined, the Kingdom of God is the Lord’s rule and reign in the world. Since at Jesus’ second coming Christ will visibly rule and reign on a renewed earth, and sin will be no more, we often think of the Kingdom of God as being a future reality. Yet, Scripture teaches us that the Kingdom of God has already begun. Said differently, the Kingdom of God is both an “already” and a “not yet;” for, while Jesus’ physical second coming has not yet occurred, Christ does presently rule and reign in the hearts and lives of believers. Note that when the Pharisees asked Jesus about these matters in Luke’s Gospel, Christ taught, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21; cf. Matt. 4:23; 13:41; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; Rom. 14:17).
Stilling of the Sea (4:35–41)
After giving four of Jesus’ parables back-to-back in Mark 4:1–34, Mark concludes this chapter by returning to his usual narrative style of describing Christ’s actions and deeds. Mark 4:35 begins a section of this Gospel, which extends through the end of chapter five, in which Mark records several of Christ’s most spectacular miracles. In this larger section of his book Mark narrates: Jesus’ stilling of the sea (4:35–41), which shows His power over the created order; Jesus’ casting out of demons (5:1–20), which shows His power over the spiritual world; Jesus’ healing of the sick (5:21–34), which shows His power over disease; and Jesus’ raising of the dead (5:35–43), which shows His power over death. Through such miracles Jesus was not just showing the raw fact of His power, but the redemptive purpose of His coming, which includes His counteracting the effects of sin in the world.
Mark 4:35–41 records the account of Jesus’ calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Mark reports that after boarding a boat with His disciples, Jesus fell asleep as a great storm arose. Given that the Sea of Galilee is bordered by great mountains and is some 650 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, which is located 25 miles to the west, great winds and strong storms are not uncommon there. At Mark 4:38 the disciples abruptly woke Jesus up and asked, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” From their question, it is clear the apostles understood Jesus had power to save them, but they seemed unsure if He would do so. Note the disciples’ reaction, as well as their question about Jesus’ identity in this passage, shows that while they had a growing knowledge of Him, their faith was not yet fully mature. Like us, the disciples would grow in their faith as they walked with Jesus.
- Why does Mark only report 9 of Jesus’ 37 parables in his Gospel? Why did Mark choose to narrate four parables back-to-back at this point in his book?
- Does God expect all believers to be equally spiritually fruitful (cf. Matt. 7:16; John 15:5, 8)? Is inequality of spiritual service among believers acceptable?
- Why did Jesus so often teach the crowds by speaking in parables, rather than using plain words (cf. Isa. 6:9–10; Matt. 13:10–15; Luke 8:9–10)?
- What is the Kingdom of God? Is the Kingdom of God a present reality, a future hope, or both? What are the duties of a citizen of the Kingdom of God?
- What do the disciples’ words and actions communicate about the state of their faith? What do your actions and words show about the status of your faith?