Mark 4 (New Living Translation)
Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed
1 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
(During Mark, portions of this book will be presented to help us understand our faith more deeply than perhaps we have before. I hope you enjoy learning more about Jesus as a Jewish man — and through these passages, see and appreciate more clearly the Jewish roots of our Christian faith.)
THE RABBIS TOLD PARABLES
Jesus was not the only rabbi who told parables. Most rabbis used traditional motifs, themes that shed light on the parables Jesus told . . . Once we identify the traditional forms of rabbinic parables, we can better understand what Jesus was saying.
Consider the following rabbinic parable:
There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the rabbis: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. “The sponge,” which soaks up everything. “The funnel,” which takes in at this end and let out at the other. “The strainer,” which lets out the wine and retains the dregs. “The sieve,” which lets out the chaff and retains the fine flour.
That is what’s called a “four types” parable, where four kinds of people are compared in their way of living. It reminds us of Jesus’ parable in Luke 8:4-11 (and in Mark 4:3-20) about the soil that fell in four places: the rock, the path, the thorns, and the good soil. Each parable focuses on how various people respond to God’s Word.
In the above parable, the rabbi is saying, contrary to our preconceptions, that the best disciple is not the “sponge,” who retains absolutely everything, but the “sieve,” who sifts through the teaching to retain what is best. What great advice for Christians! It reminds us that we are not called to be parrots, unquestioningly repeating whatever we learn from a favorite teacher. Instead, we are to exercise wisdom and discernment, continually asking questions, weighing answers, seeking understanding, and grounding our beliefs within the context of God’s Word and the wisdom of Christian tradition.
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.’”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
Parable of the Lamp
21 Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. 22 For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. 23 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
24 Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. 25 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”
Charles Spurgeon said, “The hearer of the gospel will get measure for measure, and the measure shall be his own measure.” And it works out just this way. To the one with no interest in the gospel, the preaching of the gospel seems uninteresting. To the one who wants to find fault with the church or the preacher, they find plenty of faults. On the other hand – the more blessed hand – those who hunger find food, and those who want the solid truth receive something from any faithful ministry.
Parable of the Growing Seed
26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”
For me, one of the classic interpretations of this Biblical passage about the seed growing automatically (Mark 4:26) was written by Martin Luther when he said about this text: “After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course.” I like that. Luther said that after he pounded on the pulpit and expounded the gospel, he would go home and pull out the Sunday newspaper, and pull out his glass of warm Wittenberg beer and start to drink it and enjoy the afternoon. Luther knew that the power of his sermon was not based on the power of his theological acuity. He knew that the power of his sermon was not based on his eloquence or his abilities. He knew that the power of the sermon would have no effect whatsoever unless the very Word of God got into a person’s heart. Luther knew that he couldn’t do that. It was the Holy Spirit who did that. Luther keenly understood the power of the Word.
–Edward F. Markquart, The Mustard Seed
Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”
33 Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 34 In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.
Jesus Calms the Storm
35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.
40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Truth is a person, not a concept. Jesus said He was the Truth (John 14:6). That means you cannot know the truth of your circumstances unless you have first heard form Jesus. The disciples thought they were perishing in the storn. They were fishermen who knew the sea and knew what their condition was. They had allowed their circumstances to convince them that the “truth” was their imminent death. But they were wrong. Truth was asleep in the back of their boat!
When Jesus spoke, the disciples saw the real truth of their situation. There was absolute calm.
–Henry T. Blackaby
41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
“Be Still, My Soul” sung by Selah.
“Be Still, My Soul” was the favorite hymn of Eric Liddell. He is perhaps best known for refusing to run on Sunday in the 1924 Olympics (a story made famous in the film, Chariots of Fire). But later in life, Liddell would become a missionary to China. During World War II he was captured and confined to a prisoner of war camp, where he eventually died of a brain tumor.
It was this hymn that he taught to the other prisoners in the camp to provide comfort and hope, to strengthen their faith. In the midst of loss, disappointment, grief, and fear, Liddell remembered and taught others that the day was coming when all of that would be gone, and Jesus Christ would remain forever.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.