Sunday, March 05, 2006


Mark 4


October 26, 2003

Good morning! Today we return to our study of the Book of Mark. You will remember that Mark was likely the Apostle Peter’s personal secretary and that this book is his documentation of Peter’s memories of the Lord’s time on earth. We need also to remember that it was written to Roman’s, the hard-nosed practical conquerors of the entire then known world. It is a favorite because it is so simple and down to earth. However, there are some difficult passages and today in Mark 4 we will deal with one of them.

We will need to start by reviewing a little history, because that history reflects directly on the way we interpret this chapter. Over a hundred years ago a form of Bible criticism was arising called “higher” critiscim. For the first time people who claimed to be Christians were denying that God’s word was literally true. Once they began believing that it naturally followed that they began to doubt the doctrines in the Bible and eventually they doubted God himself. One of the writers wrote a book stating that, in effect, humans had been cheated. They had been promised a kingdom. From the time of Adam and Eve God promised the seed that would crush the serpent’s head and the establishment here on earth of God’s kingdom. But instead of that, all they got was the church. The promise was broken. Either God wasn’t telling the truth, or he had died, or he didn’t care any more, or he just didn’t exist in the first place. These teachings began to spread across Europe and over here to America. We still see the results of those teachings in the liberal theology all around us.

But now a couple of heroes come into our story. The first of these is John Darby. Darby looked at what the facts were and decided that indeed we did not have the earthly kingdom yet, but knew that God did tell the truth and IS soveirgn and the mistake must be in man’s doctrine, not God’s teaching and promises. He looked on theology as it was written then and realized that believers were not “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”. Darby put into writing and his teachings the concept of “dispensationalism”, the idea that while salvation in all ages is by faith, in different times God has dealt differently with humanity. He looked at the teachings about the second coming, for instance, and realized that everything was not as orthodox Christianity was explaining it. He came up with the theory of a Rapture, followed later by the triumphant return in the clouds. His ideas caught fire with those who accept God’s word as literally true. The fundamentalist evangelical denominations are the indirect descendents of his teachings. We in these assemblies of believers are the direct descendents. In fact our detractors often sneeringly refer to us as “Darby-ites”.

But for our other hero, though, John Darby’s teaching might have remained the possession of a few believers like us meeting in small groups in the British Isles. This second hero is Colonel C. I. Scofield. A confederate officer in the Civil War, he was saved from drunkenness at a rescue mission and dedicated his life to the preaching and study of God’s word. He wanted to do a translation of the King James that would be understandable to the man in the pew and that would enable lay preachers to explain God’s word using a concordance, helps, etc. He went to England to study the works of the original translators and while there came under the influence of the followers of Darby’s teachings. The light shone in. His Scofield Reference Bible, which is the one I teach from spread the good news of rightly dividing the word of truth. The movement of Fundamentalism sprang from his Bible and teaching.

This entire introduction is necessary because today we are going to look at the teachings of God’s kingdom as our Lord presented it. From the first words we read it is necessary to understand that we are fitting into a time line here. The church, the body of Christ was still a mystery, not yet revealed. When Jesus was preaching of the kingdom he was speaking of the kingdom to be established with himself as the head. In other words, he was presenting himself as Messiah to the nation of Israel. He was not speaking of the decision that we speak of as “being born again” or “accepting Christ as our personal savior”. Israel was to have its choice to accept him as Messiah. It had already been prophesied that “to his own came he and his own received him not”. Yet God always keeps his promises and that opportunity was being given. Many of the concepts that he talks about here in chapter four have a direct application to the decision to become a Christian, but we always have to remember the context of the time in which these things were said.

Mark 4:1 (Read)

So once again we see him in danger of being overrun by the crowd, or even of being pushed into the sea. So as we have seen before, he gets into a ship that pulls out a little ways and is able to speak without difficulty. (Reserve illustration)

Mark 4:2 (Read)

He created the earth and everything in it, so he was able to see the spiritual lessons in nature all around him. He taught his lessons from that perspective. We have it right now. In my opinion, those who look and the world around them and can’t see his hand in all they observe are being willfully ignorant. A number of times I’ve planted oats and grass seed by walking along dipping my hand into the container and scattering the seed. It doesn’t take long to learn and it’s amazing how evenly you can soon spread the seed. I spread my plant food that way also. Now he uses that style of planting as an illustration that everyone there would be familiar with.

Mark 4:3-9 (Read)

Every Jew in the Lord’s audience and every Roman who read this book would recognize this agricultural story. They lived on cereal grains such as wheat and had seen the process countless times.

Mark 4:10-13 (Read)

So the disciples asked him, “What does this mean for us?” And Jesus replies with an answer that is causing people difficulty to this day. Why doesn’t he want everyone to understand? Why doesn’t he want everyone to be converted? Why doesn’t he want everyone to have their sins forgiven?

The answer is: he does. He is not willing that ANY should perish. But the good news came with conditions. To quote William MacDonald, “God reveals his family secrets to those who are open, receptive and obedient, while deliberately hiding truth from those who reject the light given to them. These are the ones Jesus refers to as ‘those who are outside’. This seems harsh.... But we must remember the tremendous privilege that these people had enjoyed. The Son of God had taught in their midst and performed many mighty miracles before them. Instead of acknowledging Him as the true Messiah, they were even now rejecting Him. Because they had spurned the Light of the world, they would be denied the light of his teachings. Henceforth they would see His miracles, yet not understand the spiritual significance; hear His words, yet not appreciate the deep lessons in them.”

(Illustrate God’s Spirit will not always strive with man)

So the Lord explained the parable to them.

Mark 4:14 (Read)

What word? The good news of the kingdom. John’s message, “repent and be baptized, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” But we can also apply here the sowing of the good news of the gospel, of our salvation made possible through Christ’s shed blood.

Mark 4:15 (Read)

This is the stubborn, uncaring person who responds to the good news with a definite “no”. The enemy snatches it away and from then on they could care less and it doesn’t affect them.

Mark 4:16,17 (Read)

Here we have the superficial response. An illustration today would be the emotional appeal, or the appeal of peer pressure. (Counseling illustration). This sort of decision lasts only until things get tough or something is expected and then the unreality of the commitment is exposed.

Mark 4:18,19 (Read)

These people hear the word and seem enthusiastic, but then they count the cost. They realize what it may mean to them to be a believer and they turn their back. (Friend joining the Reform Church illustration)

Mark 4:20 (Read)

These are those who have truly turned to the Lord. Their confidence is in him and can’t be shaken by the world, the flesh, or the devil. You’ll note however, that even among these there is a wide variation in productivity. Why is that? Well, why does Ray’s garden produce so much more than mine? Because he has the greater love for it. He cultivates it, feeds it, and prunes it. If my life as a believer is to be more productive, I have to love Him more. I have to weed out those things that would choke my relationship with Him. I have to feed my life daily with the study of his word and prayer and meditation. I have to prune my attentions till only that which bears fruit remains.

Now the Lord tells a parable that we remember in the song Thomas and almost every other little child loves.

Mark 4:21 (Read)

It seems obvious that the light here is the truth that Jesus is revealing to his disciples. He wants them to present those truths out in the open for every one to see. His illustration of putting it under a bushel may refer to business or money making which can take our attention away from his work. Putting it under a bed may remind us of laziness and comfort which has always been the enemy of God’s work.

Mark 4:22 (Read)

I think the Lord is telling his followers here that what he is teaching them he will some day expect them to spread to other willing hearts, that this verse looks forward to “take the gospel to every creature”. It may also have reference back to verse 21 warning them that if business and sloth DO interfere with his work, someday that will be made plain.

Mark 4:23-25 (Read)

This is Jesus’ way of emphasizing how serious these words are. Penalties are attached. When much is given as knowledge or blessing, much is expected. Remember the parable of the talents. They are not to be buried. The more he gives us, the more is expected.

Now we come to a parable that is only found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 4:26-29 (Read)

So far I have found at least two possible interpretations of this parable. I think we can look at it in the context of the time and gain understanding. Again, the Lord is presenting himself to the nation of Israel as Messiah. The picture is of one who is planting unknowingly, yet receives a harvest. Who, at this time had sown the good news without complete knowledge? John the Baptist, for one. He expected God’s kingdom on earth to be established immediately and was so preaching. Remember how in confusion and disappointment he sent his disciples to the Lord asking, “are you the one or should we seek another?”. Yet his work bore much fruit. I think of this happening with salvation today. (Catechism illustration) When the great gathering happens, the fruit will be harvested regardless of the knowledge of the sower.

Mark 4:30-32 (Read)

When the promise of the kingdom was first given, there were few believers. It grew in numbers like a weed and false teachers came to rest in it like birds till the growth almost collapsed. It happened in the days of Noah, the earth was populated but few really believed, and like a grain of mustard seed, the promise took root again. With the call of Abraham it grew and spread but the birds came to roost and God had to take the children of Israel through the tribulation in Egypt and it started over. The promise and the nation grew and faded back with the judges. Then the tree grew into prominence under David and Solomon, but the birds of sin and idolatry roosted again and God put in the sickle and the nation went into captivity. At the time of this teaching the Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians were roosting in the tree and it was ready to break again.

By application we can see this illustration in the church, which started out with a few disciples and grew, but then grew faster with the acceptance of Christianity wholesale and the establishment of national religions. Today the tree of the body of Christ creaks with the weight of false teaching and liberalism and sin and one day soon the winds of tribulation will shake those nests out.

Mark 4:33,34 (Read)

These verses contain a lesson that many teachers, both of God’s word and of secular knowledge would do well to learn. It is to present knowledge as people are ready to hear it. It is important to give students time to assimilate what’s been taught and to build on previous knowledge. Those being taught should not be stuffed full of teaching they can’t absorb.

John 16:12 “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”

I Corinthians 3:2 “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able”.

You’ll notice that Jesus taught generally, to the multitudes, in parables but explained to the disciples privately. Those who sincerely seek and desire his light are granted it.

Mark 4: 35-41 (Read)

We are all familiar with this story. There are some important things to point out. First, verse 36 tells us that there were other even smaller boats along. There were many more people in danger, even in more danger as their ships were “little”. So like good sailors everywhere the disciples were too busy trying to help those in distress in the little boats to even notice the danger they were in themselves, right? Not quite. And they rushed to the Lord and begged him for help, didn’t they? No, not till they’d complained to him that he didn’t care what happened to them. Do you ever wonder how it is possible for him to love us fallen selfish, muttering creatures? We talk so much about how God is love and we seldom appreciate what a miracle that is.

This story also shows well how our Lord was both God and man at the same time. The man Jesus, exhausted, tired sleeps in the storm tossed boat. The Son of God, creator of the winds and the waves commands and they are still.

He chides them for their fear. Fear that they would perish in his very presence and lack of faith. In another passage he tells them that had they faith the size of a grain of mustard seed they could move mountains. Whole mountains. And apparently they didn’t have the faith to pray for the storm to be stilled. But verse 41 shows they had a worse fear. They feared his power. Why did his power over nature terrify them? I can only assume because they were afraid he could turn that power on them and destroy them with a word. And of course he could, as he could us today. Yet he does not. He loves us too much. He chided them for their lack of faith. Did they perhaps not have faith in his love?

Do we lack that faith today? Are we afraid to trust him totally in the storms of life? Do we live in fear of total surrender to his will because our faith in his love for us isn’t great enough? We trust in him for our salvation. We trust him enough to believe he died for our sins, shouldn’t we trust in his love and provision for our every day lives?
Ran into your interesting blog and appreciate your efforts. Am reminded of a recent web contribution that goes in depth all the same lines. You might be interested in typing in "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" which has even more detail on dispensationalism's development. This article can be found on engines like Google. May He continue to bless you and yours. Lou
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Thank you and God Bless.
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