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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Mark 4

 

 

Verses 1-41

Chapter 4

TEACHING IN PARABLES (Mark 4:1-2)

4:1-2 Jesus began again to teach by the lakeside. A very great crowd collected to hear him, so great that he had to go on board a boat and sit in it on the lake. The whole crowd was on the land facing the lake. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he began to say to them, "Listen! Look! The sower went out to sow."

In this section we see Jesus making a new departure. He was no longer teaching in the synagogue; he was teaching by the lakeside. He had made the orthodox approach to the people; now he had to take unusual methods.

We do well to note that Jesus was prepared to use new methods. He was willing to take religious preaching and teaching out of its conventional setting in the synagogue into the open air and among the crowds of ordinary men and women. John Wesley was for many years a faithful and orthodox servant of the Church of England. Down in Bristol his friend George Whitefield was preaching to the miners, to as many as twenty thousand of them at a time, in the open air; and his hearers were being converted by the hundred. He sent for John Wesley. Wesley said, "I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit." This whole business of open air preaching rather offended him. He said himself, "I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way--having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church." But Wesley saw that field preaching won souls and said, "I cannot argue against a matter of fact."

There must have been many amongst the orthodox Jews who regarded this new departure as stunting and sensationalism; but Jesus was wise enough to know when new methods were necessary and adventurous enough to use them. It would be well if his church was equally wise and equally adventurous.

This new departure needed a new method; and the new method Jesus chose was to speak to the people in parables. A parable is literally something thrown beside something else; that is to say, it is basically a comparison. It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Something on earth is compared with something in heaven, that the heavenly truth may be better grasped in light of the earthly illustration. Why did Jesus choose this method? And why did it become so characteristic of him that he is known forever as the master of the parable?

(i) First and foremost, Jesus chose the parabolic method simply to make people listen. He was not now dealing with an assembly of people in a synagogue who were more or less bound to remain there until the end of the service. He was dealing with a crowd in the open air who were quite free to walk away at any time. Therefore, the first essential was to interest them. Unless their interest was aroused they would simply drift away. Sir Philip Sidney speaks of the poet's secret: "With a tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale that holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney-corner." The surest way to awaken men's interest is to tell them stories and Jesus knew that.

(ii) Further, when Jesus used the parabolic method he was using something with which Jewish teachers and audiences were entirely familiar. There are parables in the Old Testament of which the most famous is the story of the one ewe lamb that Nathan told to David when he had treacherously eliminated Uriah and taken possession of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-7). The Rabbis habitually used parables in their teaching. It was said of Rabbi Meir that he spoke one-third in legal decisions; one-third in exposition; and one-third in parables.

Here are two examples of Rabbinic parables. The first is the work of Rabbi Judah the Prince (e. A.D. 190). Antoninus, the Roman Emperor, asked him how there could be punishment in the world beyond, for since body and soul after their separation could not have committed sin they could blame each other for the sins committed upon earth. The Rabbi answered in a parable:

A certain king had a beautiful garden in which was excellent

fruit; and over it he appointed two watchmen, one blind and one

lame. The lame man said to the blind man, "I see exquisite

fruit in the garden. Carry me thither that I may get it and we

will eat it together." The blind man consented and both ate of

the fruit. After some days the Lord of the garden came and

asked the watchmen concerning the fruit. Then the lame man

said, "As I have no legs I could not go to it, so it is not my

fault." And the blind man said, "I could not even see it so it

is not my fault." What did the Lord of the garden do? He made

the blind man carry the lame and thus passed judgment on them

both. So God will replace the souls in their bodies and will

punish both together for their sins.

When Rabbi Chiyya's son Abin died at the early age of twenty-eight, Rabbi Zera delivered the funeral oration, which he put in the form of a parable:

A king had a vineyard for which he engaged many labourers,

one of whom was specially apt and skilful. What did the king

do? He took this labourer from his work, and walked through the

garden conversing with him. When the labourers came for their

hire in the evening the skilful labourer appeared among them

and received a full day's wages from the king. The other

labourers were very angry at this, and said, "We have toiled

the whole day, while this man has worked but two hours. Why

does the king give him the full hire even as unto us?" The king

said to them, "Why are you angry? Through his skill he has done

more in the two hours than you have done all day." So it is

with Rabbi Abin ben Chiyya. In the twenty-eight years of his

life he has learned more than others learn in a hundred years.

Hence he has fulfilled his life work, and is entitled to be

called to Paradise earlier than others from his work on earth;

nor will he miss aught of his reward.

When Jesus used the parabolic method of teaching, he was using a method with which the Jews were familiar and which they could understand.

(iii) Still further, when Jesus used the parabolic method of teaching he was making the abstract idea concrete. Few people can grasp abstract ideas. Most people think in pictures. We could talk about beauty for long enough and no one would be any the wiser; but, if we can point to a person and say, "That is a beautiful person," beauty becomes clear. We could talk about goodness for long enough and fail to arrive at a definition of it; but every one recognizes a good deed when he sees one. There is a sense in which every word must become flesh; every idea must be actualized in a person. When the New Testament talks about faith it takes the example of Abraham so that the idea of faith becomes flesh in the person of Abraham. Jesus was a wise teacher. He knew that it was useless to expect simple minds to cope with abstract ideas; and so he put the abstract ideas into concrete stories; he showed them in action; he made them into persons, so that men might grasp and understand them.

(iv) Lastly, the great virtue of the parable is that it compels a man to think for himself. It does not do his thinking for him. It compels him to make his own deduction and to discover the truth for himself. The worst way to help a child is to do his work for him. It does not help him at all to do his sums, write his essay, work out his problems, compose his Latin prose. It does help greatly to give him the necessary help to do it for himself. That is what Jesus was aiming at. Truth has always a double impact when it is a personal discovery. Jesus did not wish to save men the mental sweat of thinking; he wished to make them think. He did not wish to make their minds lazy; he wished to make them active. He did not wish to take the responsibility from them; he wished to lay the responsibility on them. So he used the parabolic method, not to do men's thinking for them, but to encourage them to do their own thinking. He presented them with truth which, if they would make the right effort in the right frame of mind, they could discover for themselves, and therefore possess it in a way that made it really and truly theirs.

FROM EARTH TO HEAVEN (Mark 4:3-9)

4:3-9 "Listen! Look! The sower went out to sow. As he was sowing, some seed fell along the roadside; and the birds came and devoured it. Some fell upon rocky ground where it did not have much earth; and it sprang up immediately, because it had no depth of earth, but, when the sun rose, it was scorched, and it was withered away, because it had no root. Some fell among thorns; and the thorns crowded in on it until they choked the life out of it, and it did not yield any fruit. And some fen on good ground; and, as it grew up and grew greater, it yielded fruit and bore as much as thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." And he said, "Who has ears to hear, let him hear."

We leave the interpretation of this parable until we come to the interpretation Mark gives us, and for the moment we consider it only as a specimen of Jesus' parabolic teaching in action. The scene is the lakeside; Jesus is sitting in the boat just off the shore. The shore shelves gently down to the water's edge, and makes a natural amphitheatre for the crowd. Even as he talks Jesus sees a sower busy sowing seed in the fields beside the lake. "Look!" he said, "The sower went out to sow." Herein is the whole essence of the parabolic method.

(i) Jesus started from the here and now to get to the there and then. He started from a thing that was happening at that moment on earth in order to lead men's thoughts to heaven; he started from something which all men could see to get to the things that are invisible; he started from something which all men knew to get to something which they had never as yet realized. That was the very essence of Jesus' teaching. He did not bewilder men by starting with things which were strange and abstruse and involved; he started with the simplest things that even a child could understand.

(ii) By so doing Jesus showed that he believed that there was a real kinship between earth and heaven. Jesus would not have agreed that "earth was a desert drear." He believed that in the ordinary, common, everyday things of life men could see God. As William Temple put it: "Jesus taught men to see the operation of God in the regular and the normal--in the rising of the sun and the falling of the rain and the growth of the plant." Long ago Paul had the same idea when he said that the visible world is designed to make known the invisible things of God (Romans 1:20). For Jesus this world was not a lost and evil place; it was the garment of the living God. Sir Christopher Wren lies buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, the great church that his own genius planned and built. On his tombstone there is a simple Latin inscription which means, "If you wish to see his monument, look around you." Jesus would have said, "If you wish to see God, look around you." Jesus finds in the common things of life a countless source of signs which lead men to God if they will only read them aright.

(iii) The very essence of the parables is that they were spontaneous, extempore and unrehearsed. Jesus looks round, seeking a point of contact with the crowd. He sees the sower and on the spur of the moment that sower becomes his text. The parables were not stories wrought out in the quiet of a study; they were not carefully thought out and polished and rehearsed. Their supreme greatness is that Jesus composed these immortal short stories on the spur of the moment. They were produced by the demand of the occasion and in the cut and thrust of debate.

C. J. Cadoux said of the parables: "A parable is art harnessed for service and conflict.... Here we find the reason why the parable is so rare. It requires a considerable degree of art, but art exercised under hard conditions. In the three typical parables of the Bible the speaker takes his life in his hands. Jotham ( 9:8-15) spoke his parable of the trees to the men of Shechem and then fled for his life. Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-7), with the parable of the ewe-lamb, told an oriental despot of his sin. Jesus in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen used his own death sentence as a weapon for his cause.... In its most characteristic use the parable is a weapon of controversy, not shaped like a sonnet in undisturbed concentration but improvised in conflict to meet the unpremeditated situation. In its highest use it shows the sensitiveness of the poet, the penetration, rapidity and resourcefulness of the protagonist, and the courage that allows such a mind to work unimpeded by the turmoil and danger of mortal conflict."

When we bear in mind that the parables of Jesus were flashed out extempore, their wonder is increased a hundredfold.

(iv) That brings us to a point we must always remember in our attempts to interpret the parables. They were, in the first instance, not meant to be read but to be heard. That is to say, in the first instance, no one could sit down and study them phrase by phrase and word by word. They were spoken not to be studied at length and at leisure, but to produce an immediate impression and reaction. That is to say, the parables must never be treated as allegories. In an allegory every part and action and detail of the story has an inner significance. The Pilgrim's Progress and the Faerie Queene are allegories; in them every event and person and detail has a symbolic meaning. Clearly an allegory is something to be read and studied and examined; but a parable is something which was heard once and once only. Therefore what we must look for in a parable is not a situation in which every detail stands for something but a situation in which one great idea leaps out and shines like a flash of lightning. It is always wrong to attempt to make every detail of a parable mean something. It is always right to say: "What one idea would flash into a man's mind when he heard this story for the first time?"

THE MYSTERY OF THE KINGDOM (Mark 4:10-12)

4:10-12 When Jesus was alone, his own circle of people, together with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. He said to them, "To you there is given the knowledge of the Kingdom of God which only the initiated can know. To those who are outside, everything is expounded by means of parables, so that they may indeed see and yet not perceive the meaning of things, and may indeed hear and not understand, lest at any time they should turn and be forgiven."

This has always been one of the most difficult passages in all the gospels. The King James Version speaks of the mystery of the Kingdom of God. This word mystery has in Greek a technical meaning; it does not mean something which is complicated and mysterious in our sense of the term. It means something which is quite unintelligible to the person who has not been initiated into its meaning, but is perfectly plain to the person who has been so initiated.

In New Testament times in the pagan world one of the great features of popular religion was what were called the Mystery Religions. These religions promised communion with and even identity with some god, whereby all the terrors of life and of death would be taken away. Nearly all these Mystery Religions were based on the story of some god who had suffered and died and risen again; they were nearly all in the nature of passion plays.

One of the most famous was called the Mystery of Isis. Osiris was a wise and good king. Seth, his wicked brother, hated him and along with seventy-two conspirators persuaded him to come to a banquet. There he induced him to enter a cunningly made coffin which exactly fitted him. When he was inside, the lid was snapped down and the coffin was cast into the Nile. Isis, his faithful wife, after a long and weary search, found the coffin and brought it home in mourning. When she was absent the wicked Seth came again, stole away the body, cut it into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout all Egypt. Once again Isis set out on her sad and weary search. In the end she discovered all the pieces and by her magical powers put them together and restored Osiris to life again; and from that time he became the immortal king of the living and the dead.

What happened was this. The candidate underwent a long preparation of purification and of fasting and of asceticism and of instruction as to the inner meaning of the story. Then the dramatic story with its grief and its sorrow and its resurrection and its triumphal ending was played out as a passion play. Music and incense and lighting and a splendid liturgy were all used to enhance the emotional atmosphere. As the play was played out the worshipper felt himself one with the god both in his sufferings and in his triumph. He passed through death to immortality by union with the god. The point is that to an uninitiated person the whole thing would have been meaningless; but to the initiated the thing was full of meaning which he had been taught to see.

That is the technical meaning of this Greek word musterion (Greek #3466). When the New Testament talks of the mystery of the Kingdom, it does not mean that the Kingdom is remote and abstruse and hard to understand; but it does mean that it is quite unintelligible to the man who has not given his heart to Jesus, and that only the man who has taken Jesus as Master and Lord can understand what the Kingdom of God means.

The real difficulty of the passage lies in the section that follows. If we take it at its face value it sounds as if Jesus taught in parables deliberately to cloak his meaning, purposely to hide it from ordinary men and women. Whatever else the passage originally meant it cannot have meant that; for, if one thing is crystal clear, it is that Jesus used parables not to cloak his meaning and to hide his truth but to enable men to see it and to compel them to recognize it.

How then did this passage come to be in the form it is? It is a quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10. From the beginning it worried people. It was worrying them more than two hundred years before Jesus made use of it. The Hebrew literally runs (the following two translations are by W.O.E. Oesterley):

And he said, Go, and say to this people, "Go on hearkening,

but understand not; go on looking, but perceive not." Make fat

the heart of this people, and its ears make heavy, and its eyes

besmear; lest it see with its eyes, and with its ears hear, and

its heart understand, so that it should be healed again.

It seems on the face of it that God is telling Isaiah that he is to pursue a course deliberately designed to make the people fail to understand.

In the third century B.C. the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, and the Greek version, the Septuagint, as it is called, became one of the most influential books in the world, for it carried the Old Testament everywhere Greek was spoken. The Septuagint translators were worried at this strange passage and they translated it differently:

And he said, Go and say to this people, "Ye shall hear indeed,

but ye shall not understand; and seeing, ye shall see, and not

perceive." For the heart of this people has become gross, and

with their ears they hear heavily, and their eyes they have

closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear

with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be

converted, and I should heal them.

The Greek version does not say that God intended that the people should be so dull that they would not understand; it says that they had made themselves so dull that they could not understand--which is a very different thing. The explanation is that no man can translate or set down in print a tone of voice. When Isaiah spoke he spoke half in irony and half in despair and altogether in love. He was thinking, "God sent me to bring his truth to this people; and for all the good I am doing I might as well have been sent to shut their minds to it. I might as well be speaking to a brick wall. You would think that God had shut their minds to it."

So Jesus spoke his parables; he meant them to flash into men's minds and to illuminate the truth of God. But in so many eyes he saw a dull incomprehension. He saw so many people blinded by prejudice, deafened by wishful thinking, too lazy to think. He turned to his disciples and he said to them: "Do you remember what Isaiah once said? He said that when he came with God's message to God's people Israel in his day they were so dully ununderstanding that you would have thought that God had shut instead of opening their minds; I feel like that to-day." When Jesus said this, he did not say it in anger, or irritation, or bitterness, or exasperation. He said it with the wistful longing of frustrated love, the poignant sorrow of a man who had a tremendous gift to give which people were too blind to take.

If we read this, hearing not a tone of bitter exasperation, but a tone of regretful love, it will sound quite different. It will tell us not of a God who deliberately blinded men and hid his truth, but of men who were so dully uncomprehending that it seemed no use even for God to try to penetrate the iron curtain of their lazy incomprehension. God save us from hearing his truth like that!

THE HARVEST IS SURE (Mark 4:13-20)

4:13-20 "Don't you understand this parable?" he said to them. "How then will you understand all the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word. The kind of people represented by the case in which the seed fell by the side of the road, are those in whose case the word is sown, and whenever they hear it, immediately Satan comes, and snatches away the word that was sown into them. Just so, the kind of people represented by the case in which the seed was sown on the rocky ground, are those, who, whenever they hear the word, immediately gladly welcome it. They have no root in themselves, but they are quite impermanent; and then, when trouble or persecution happens because of the word, they immediately stumble and collapse. Then there are the others who are represented by the case in which the seed was sown among thorns. These are the people who hear the word, but the anxieties of this world and the deceptive attraction of wealth and the desires for other things enter into them and choke the life out of the word, and it never gets a chance to bear fruit. The kind of people who are represented by the case in which the seed fell on good ground are such as hear the word and receive it and bring forth fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."

Every detail of this parable would be real to its hearers because every detail came from everyday life. Four kinds of ground are mentioned.

(i) There was the hard ground at the side of the road. The seed might fall on this kind of ground in two ways. The fields in Palestine were in the form of long, narrow strips; these strips were divided by little grass paths, which were rights of way; the result was that they became beaten as hard as stone by the feet of those who used them. As the sower scattered his seed some might well fall there; and there it had not a chance to grow.

But there was another way of sowing. Sometimes a sack of seed was put on the back of an ass; a hole was cut in the corner of the sack; and then the beast was led up and down as the seed flowed out. Inevitably as the ass was brought along the road to the field some of the seed fell on the road; and just as inevitably the birds swooped on it and gobbled it up.

There are some people into whose hearts Christian truth can find no entry. This is due to the hearer's lack of interest; and that lack of interest comes from a failure to realize how important the Christian decision is. Christianity fails to make an impact on so many people, not because they are hostile to it, but because they are indifferent. They think that it is irrelevant to life and that they can get on well enough without it. That might be true if life was always an easy way where there were neither tensions nor tears; but in fact there comes to every man a time when he needs a power not his own. It is the tragedy of life that so many discover that too late.

(ii) There was the rocky ground. This was not ground full of stones; it was a narrow skin of earth over a shelf of limestone rock. Much of Galilee was like that. In many fields the outcrop of the rock through the shallow soil could be seen. Seed which fell there germinated all right; but because the soil was so shallow and held so little nourishment and moisture, the heat of the sun soon withered the sprouting seed and it died.

It is always easier to begin a thing than to finish it. A certain famous evangelist said: "We have learned that it takes about five per cent. effort to win a man to Christ, and ninety-five per cent to keep him in Christ and growing into maturity in the church." Many a man begins the Christian way only to fall out by the wayside.

There are two troubles which cause this collapse. One is the failure to think the thing out and to think it through, the failure to realize what it means and what it costs before the start is made. The other is the fact that there are thousands of people who are attracted by Christianity but who never let it get beyond the surface of their lives. The fact is that with Christianity it is a case of all or nothing. A man is safe only when he has given himself in total commitment to Christ:

"Is there a thing beneath the sun,

That strives with thee my heart to share?

Ah! tear it thence, and reign alone,

The Lord of every motion there."

(iii) There was the ground that was full of thorns. The Palestinian farmer was lazy. He cut off the top of the fibrous rooted weeds; he even burned off the top; and the field might look clean; but below the surface the roots were still there; and in due time the weeds revived in all their strength. They grew with such rapidity and such virulence that they choked the life out of the seed.

It is easy to pack life with such a multiplicity of interests that there is no time left for Christ. As the poet said, the cares of life can be like the clogging dust until "we forget because we must and not because we will." The more complicated life becomes, the more necessity there is to see that our priorities are right, for there are so many things which seek to shoulder Christ from out the topmost niche.

(iv) There was the good, clean, deep soil in which the seed flourished.

If we are really to benefit by the Christian message the parable tells us that we must do three things. (a) We must hear it; and we cannot hear unless we listen. It is characteristic of so many of us that we are so busy talking that we have no time to hear, so engaged in arguing that we have no time to listen, so occupied in advancing our own opinions that we have no time to attend to the opinions of Christ, so much on the move that we have no time for the essential stillness.

(b) We must receive it. When we hear the Christian message we must really take it into our minds. The human mind is an odd and dangerous machine. We are so constructed, in the wise providence of creation, that, whenever a foreign body threatens to enter the eye, the eye automatically closes. That is an instinctive, reflex action. Whenever the mind hears something that it does not want to hear it automatically closes its door. There are times when truth can hurt; but sometimes a distasteful drug or an unpleasant treatment must be accepted if health is to be preserved. To shut the mind to truth we do not want to hear is the straight road to disaster and to tragedy.

(c) We must put it into action. The yield in the parable was thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. That is a large yield but the volcanic soil of Galilee was famous for its crops. Christian truth must always emerge in action. In the last analysis the Christian is challenged, not to speculate, but to act.

All that is the meaning of this parable when we sit down and study it at leisure. But it is quite impossible that all that would flash upon men's minds as they heard it for the first time. What, then, would be the one thing which flashed out on the crowd who heard it for the first time beside the Sea of Galilee? Surely this--that, although part of the seed never grew, the fact remained that at the end of the day there was a splendid harvest. This is the parable to end despair. It may seem that much of our effort achieves no result; it may seem that much of our labour is wasted. That is how the disciples were feeling, when they saw Jesus banished from the synagogue and regarded with suspicion. In many places his message seemed to have failed, and they were discouraged and down-hearted. But this parable said to them, and says to us, "Patience! Do your work. Sow the seed. Leave the rest to God. The harvest is sure."

THE LIGHT WHICH MUST BE SEEN (Mark 4:21)

4:21 This was one of Jesus' sayings: "Surely a lamp is not brought in to be put under a peck measure or under the bed? It is not brought in to be set upon a lamp stand?"

Mark 4:21-25 are interesting because they show the problems that confronted the writers of the gospels. These verses give us four different sayings of Jesus. In Mark 4:21 there is the saying about the lamp. In Mark 4:22 there is the saying about the revealing of secret things. In Mark 4:24 there is the saying which lays it down that we shall receive back with the same measure as we have given. In Mark 4:25 there is the saying that to him who has still more will be given. In Mark these verses come one after another in immediate succession. But Mark 4:21 is repeated in Matthew 5:15; Mark 4:22 is repeated in Matthew 10:26; Mark 4:24 is repeated in Matthew 7:2; and Mark 4:25 is repeated in Matthew 13:12 and also in Matthew 25:29. The four consecutive verses in Mark are scattered all over Matthew. One practical thing emerges for our study. We must not try to find any connection between them. Clearly they are quite disconnected and we must take them one by one.

How did it come about that these sayings of Jesus are given by Mark one after another and scattered by Matthew all over his gospel? The reason is just this. Jesus had a unique command of language. He could say the most vivid and pithy things. He could say things that stuck in the memory and refused to be forgotten. Further, he must have said many of these things far more than once. He was moving from place to place and from audience to audience; and he must have repeated much of his teaching wherever he went. The consequence was that men remembered the things that Jesus said--they were said with such vividness that they could not be forgotten--but they forgot the occasion on which they were said. The result was a great many of what one might call "orphan" sayings of Jesus. A saying was embedded in men's minds and remembered for ever, but the context and the occasion were forgotten. So then we have to take these vivid sayings individually and examine them.

The first was that men do not light a lamp and put it under a peck measure, which would be like putting a bowl on the top of it, nor do they put it under a bed. A lamp is meant to be seen and to make men able to see; and it is put in a place where it will be visible to all. From this saying we may learn two things.

(i) Truth is meant to be seen; it is not meant to be concealed. There may be times when it is dangerous to tell the truth; there may be times when to tell the truth is the quickest way to persecution and to trouble. But the true man and the true Christian will stand by the truth in face of all.

When Luther decided to take up his stand against the Roman Catholic Church he decided first of all to attack indulgences. Indulgences were to all intents and purposes remissions of sins while a man could buy from a priest at a price. He drew up ninety-five theses against these indulgences. And what did he do with his ninety-five theses? There was a church in Wittenberg called the Church of All Saints. It was closely connected with the University; on its door University notices were posted, and the subject of academic debates displayed. There was no more public notice-board in the town. To that door Luther affixed his theses. When did he do it? The day when the largest congregation came to the church was All Saints' Day, the first of November. It happened to be the anniversary of the founding of that church and many services were held and crowds came. It was on All Saints' Day that Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door. If he had been a prudent man he would not have drawn up his ninety-five theses at all. If he had been a man with an eye on safety he would never have nailed them to the church door. And, if he must nail them to the door, with any thought of personal safety he would never have chosen All Saints' Day to make his declaration. But Luther felt that he had discovered the truth; and his one thought was to display the truth and to align his life with it.

In every walk of life there are times when we know quite well what the truth demands, what is the right thing to do, what a Christian man ought to do. In every walk of life there are times when we fail to do it, because it would be to court unpopularity and perhaps worse. We ought to remember that the lamp of truth is something to be held aloft and not concealed in the interests of a cowardly safety.

(ii) Our Christianity is meant to be seen. In the early church sometimes to show one's Christianity meant death. The Roman Empire was as-vast-as the world. In order to get some sort of binding unity into that vast empire Emperor worship was started. The Emperor was the embodiment of the state and he was worshipped as a god. On certain stated days it was demanded that everyone should come and sacrifice to the godhead of the Emperor. It was really a test of political loyalty. After a man had done so he got a certificate to say he had done so; and, having got that certificate, he could go away and worship any god he liked.

We still have many of these certificates. They run like this:

To those who have been put in charge of the sacrifices from

Inareus Akeus from the village of Theoxenis, together with his

children Alas and Hera, who stay in the village of Theadelpheia.

We sacrifice regularly to the gods and now in your presence, as

the regulations demand, we have sacrificed and poured our

libation and have tasted the offerings, and we ask you to give us

the required certificate. May you fare well.

Then there follows the attestation.

We, Serenas and Hermas, have witnessed your sacrificing.

All a Christian had to do was to go through that formal act, receive the certificate, and he was safe. And the fact of history is that thousands of Christians died rather than do so. They could have concealed the fact that they were Christians with the greatest of ease; they could have gone on being Christians, as it were, privately, with no trouble at all. But to them their Christianity was something which had to be attested and witnessed to in presence of all men. They were proud that all should know where they stood. To such we owe our Christian faith to-day.

It is often easier to keep quiet the fact that we belong to Christ and his Church; but our Christianity should always be like the lamp that can be seen of all men.

THE TRUTH WHICH CANNOT BE SUPPRESSED (Mark 4:22-23)

4:22-23 For there is nothing secret that will not be brought into the open; nothing is done that it should be hidden away, but that it should lie open for all to see. If a man has ears to hear let him hear.

It was Jesus' certain conviction that the truth cannot ultimately be hidden. This saying applies in two directions.

(i) It applies to truth itself. There is something about the truth which is indestructible. Men may refuse to face it; they may try to suppress it; they may even try to obliterate it; they may refuse to accept it but "great is the truth and in the end it will prevail."

In the early sixteenth century an astronomer called Copernicus made the discovery that the earth is not the centre of the universe, that in fact the earth goes round the sun and not the sun round the earth. He was a cautious man and for thirty years he kept this discovery to himself. Then in 1543, when death's breath was on him, he persuaded a terrified printer to print his great work, Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies. Soon Copernicus died but others inherited the storm.

In the early seventeenth century Galileo accepted the theory of Copernicus and stated publicly his belief in it. In 1616 he was summoned to the inquisition in Rome and his beliefs were condemned. Judgment was passed. "The first proposition that the sun is the centre and does not revolve about the earth, is foolish, absurd, false in theology, and heretical because contrary to Holy Scripture.... The second proposition, that the earth is not the centre, but revolves about the sun, is absurd, false in philosophy, and from a theological point of view at least, opposed to the true faith." Galileo gave in. It was easier to conform than to die; and for years he remained silent.

A new pope came to the papal throne and Galileo thought that Urban the Eighth was a man of wider sympathy and greater culture than his predecessor, so once again he came out into the open with his theory. He was mistaken in his hopes. This time he had to sign a recantation or undergo torture. He signed. "I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your Eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse and detest the error and the heresy of the movement of the earth." His recantation saved him from death but not from prison. And in the end he was even denied burial in the family tomb.

It was not only the Roman Catholic Church which tried to avoid the truth. Luther wrote: "People gave ear to an upstart astrologer (he meant Copernicus) who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon.... This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."

But time goes on. You can threaten to torture a man for discovering the truth; you can call him a fool and try to laugh him out of court; but that does not alter the truth. "It lies not in your power," said Andrew Melville, "to hang or exile the truth." Truth may be attacked, delayed, suppressed, mocked at; but time brings in its revenges and in the end truth prevails. A man must have a care that he is not fighting against the truth.

(ii) It applies to ourselves and to our own life and conduct. When a man does a wrong thing his first instinct is to hide. That is what Adam and Eve did when they broke the commandment of God (Genesis 3:8). But truth has a way of emerging. In the last analysis no man can hide the truth from himself, and the man with a secret is never a happy man. The web of deception is never a permanent concealment. And, when it comes to ultimate things. no man can have any secrets from God. In the end it is literally true that there is nothing which will not be revealed in the presence of God. When we remember that, we are bound to be filled with the desire to make life such that all men may look on it and God survey it without shame to ourselves.

THE BALANCE OF LIFE (Mark 4:24)

4:24 This was another of Jesus' sayings: "Pay attention to what you hear! What you get depends on what you give. What you give you will get back, only more so."

In life there is always a balance. A man's getting will be determined by his giving.

(i) This is true of study. The more study a man is prepared to give to any subject, the more he will get from it. The ancient nation of the Parthians would never give their young men a meal until they had broken sweat. They had to work before they ate. All subjects of study are like that. They give pleasure and satisfaction in proportion to the effort that we are prepared to spend upon them. It is specially so in regard to the study of the Bible. We may sometimes feel that there are certain parts of the Bible with which we are out of sympathy; if we study these parts they will often be the very parts which end by giving us the richest harvest. A superficial study of a subject will often leave us quite uninterested whereas a really intensive study will leave us thrilled and fascinated.

(ii) It is true of worship. The more we bring to the worship of God's house the more we will get from it. When we come to worship in the house of God, there are three wrong ways in which we may come.

(a) We may come entirely to get. If we come in such a way the likelihood is that we will criticize the organist and the choir and find fault with the minister's preaching. We will regard the whole service as a performance laid on for our special entertainment. We must come prepared to give; we must remember that worship is a corporate act, and that each of us can contribute something to it. If we ask, not, "What can I get out of this service?" but, "What can I contribute to this service?" we will in the end get far more out of it than if we simply came to take.

(b) We may come without expectation. Our coming may be the result of habit and routine. It may be simply part of the time-table into which we have divided the week. But, after all, we should be coming to meet God, and when we meet him anything may happen.

(c) We may come without preparation. It is so easy to leave for the worship of God's house with no preparation of mind or heart at all because often it is a rush to get there at all. But it would make all the difference in the world, if, before we came, we were for a moment or two still and quiet and companied with God in prayer. As the Jewish Rabbis told their disciples: "They pray best together who first pray alone."

(iii) It is true of personal relationships. One of the great facts of life is that we see our reflection in other people. If we are cross and irritable and bad-tempered, we will probably find other people equally unpleasant. If we are critical and fault-finding, the chances are that we will find other people the same. If we are suspicious and distrustful, the likelihood is that others will be so to us. If we wish others to love us, we must first love them. The man who would have friends must show himself friendly. It was because Jesus believed in men that men believed in him.

THE LAW OF INCREASE (Mark 4:25)

4:25 To him who already has still more will be given: and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

This may seem a hard saying; but the whole lesson of life is that it is inevitably and profoundly true.

(i) It is true of knowledge. The more a man knows the more he is capable of knowing. A man cannot enter into the riches of Greek literature before he has ploughed his way through Greek grammar. When he has the basic grammar still more will be given to him. A man cannot really get the best out of music until he learns something of the structure of a symphony. But when he possesses that knowledge still more and more loveliness will be given to him. It is equally true that unless a man is consistently bent on the task of increasing his knowledge such knowledge as he has will in the end be taken away from him. Many a man in his youth had a working knowledge of French at school and has now forgotten even the little that he knew because he made no attempt to develop it.

The more knowledge a man has the more he can acquire. And, if he is not always out to increase it, such knowledge as he has will soon slip from his grasp. The Jewish teachers had an oddly expressive saying. They said that the scholar should be treated like a young heifer--because every day a little heavier burden should be laid upon him. In knowledge we cannot stand still; we are gaining or losing it all the time.

(ii) It is true of effort. The more physical strength a man has, the more, within the limits of his body frame, he can acquire. The more he trains his body, the more his body will be able to do. On the other hand, if he allows his physical frame to grow slack and flabby and soft he will end by losing even the fitness that he had. We would sometimes do well to remember that our bodies belong to God as much as our souls. Many a man has been hindered from doing the work he might do because he has made himself physically unfit to do it.

(iii) It is so with any skill or craft. The more a man develops the skill of his hand, or eye, or mind, the more he is able to develop it. If he is content to drift along, never trying anything new, never adopting any new technique, he remains stuck in the one job with no progress. If he neglects his particular skill he will find in the end that he has lost it altogether.

(iv) It is so with the ability to bear responsibility. The more responsibility a man shoulders the more he can shoulder; the more decisions he compels himself to take the better he is able to take them. But if a man shirks his responsibilities, if he evades his decisions and vacillates all the time, in the end he will become a flabby, spineless creature totally unfitted for responsibility and totally unable to come to any decision at all. Again and again in his parables Jesus goes on the assumption that the reward of good work is still more work to do. It is one of the essential laws of life, a law which a man forgets at his peril, that the more he has won the more he can win, and that, if he will not make the effort, he will lose even that which once he had won.

THE UNSEEN GROWTH AND THE CERTAIN END (Mark 4:26-29)

4:26-29 He said to them: "This is what the Kingdom of God is like. It is like what happens when a man casts seed upon the earth. He sleeps and he wakes night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows--and he does not know how it does it. The earth produces fruit with help from no one, first the shoot, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. When the time allows it, immediately he despatches the sickle, for the time to harvest has come."

This is the only parable which Mark alone relates to us. The Kingdom of God really means the reign of God; it means the day when God's will will be done as perfectly in earth as it is in heaven. That is the goal of God for the whole universe. This parable is short but it is filled with unmistakable truths.

(i) It tells us of the helplessness of man. The farmer does not make the seed grow. In the last analysis he does not even understand how it grows. It has the secret of life and of growth within itself. No man has ever possessed the secret of life; no man has ever created anything in the full sense of the term. Man can discover things; he can rearrange them; he can develop them; but create them he cannot. We do not create the Kingdom of God; the Kingdom is God's. It is true that we can frustrate it and hinder it; or we can make a situation in the world where it is given the opportunity to come more fully and more speedily. But behind all things is God and the power and will of God.

(ii) It tells us something about the Kingdom. It is a notable fact that Jesus so often uses illustrations from the growth of nature to describe the coming of the Kingdom of God.

(a) Nature's growth is often imperceptible. If we see a plant every day we cannot see its growth taking place. It is only when we see it, and then see it again after an interval of time that we notice the difference. It is so with the Kingdom. There is not the slightest doubt that the Kingdom is on the way if we compare, not to-day with yesterday, but this century with the century which went before.

When Elizabeth Fry went to Newgate Prison in 1817 she found in the women's quarters three hundred women and numberless children crammed into two small wards. They lived and cooked and ate and slept on the floor. The only attendants were one old man and his son. They crowded, half naked, almost like beasts, begging for money which they spent on drink at a bar in the prison itself. She found there a boy of nine who was waiting to be hanged for poking a stick through a window and stealing paints valued at twopence. In 1853 the Weavers of Bolton were striking for a pay of 7 1/2 d. a day; and the miners of Stafford were striking for a pay of 2 shillings 6 d. per week.

Nowadays things like that are unthinkable. Why? Because the Kingdom is on the way. The growth of the Kingdom may, like that of the plant, be imperceptible from day to day; but over the years it is plain.

(b) Nature's growth is constant. Night and day, while man sleeps, growth goes on. There is nothing spasmodic about God. The great trouble about human effort and human goodness is that they are spasmodic. One day we take one step forward; the next day we take two steps back. But the work of God goes on quietly; unceasingly God unfolds his plan.

"God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year:

God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near--

Nearer and nearer draws the time--the time that shall surely be,

When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the

waters cover the sea."

(c) Nature's growth is inevitable. There is nothing so powerful as growth. A tree can split a concrete pavement with the power of its growth. A weed can push its green head through an asphalt path. Nothing can stop growth. It is so with the Kingdom. In spite of man's rebellion and disobedience, God's work goes on; and nothing in the end can stop the purposes of God.

(iii) It tells us that there is a consummation. There is a day when the harvest comes. Inevitably when the harvest comes two things happen--which are opposite sides of the same thing. The good fruit is gathered in, and the weeds and the tares are destroyed. Harvest and judgment go hand in hand. When we think of this coming day three things are laid upon us.

(a) It is a summons to patience. We are creatures of the moment and inevitably we think in terms of the moment. God has all eternity in which to work. "A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night." (Psalms 90:4.) Instead of our petulant, fretful, irritable human hastiness we should cultivate in our souls the patience which has learned to wait on God.

(b) It is a summons to hope. We are living to-day in an atmosphere of despair. People despair of the church; they despair of the world; they look with shuddering dread on the future. "Man," said H. G. Wells, "who began in a eave behind a windbreak will end in the disease-soaked ruins of a slum." Between the wars Sir Philip Gibbs wrote a book in which he looked forward, thinking of the possibility of a war of poison gas. He said something like this. "If I smell poison gas in High Street, Kensington, I am not going to put on a gas-mask. I am going to go out and breathe deeply of it, because I will know that the game is up." So many people feel that for humanity the game is up. Now no man can think like that and believe in God. If God is the God we believe him to be there is no room for pessimism. There may be remorse, regret; there may be penitence, contrition; there may be heart-searching, the realization of failure and of sin; but there can never be despair.

"Workman of God! O lose not heart,

But learn what God is like,

And, in the darkest battle-field,

Thou shalt know where to strike.

"For right is right, since God is God,

And right the day must win:

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin."

(c) It is a summons to preparedness. If there comes the consummation we must be ready for it. It is too late to prepare for it when it is upon us. We have literally to prepare to meet our God.

If we live in patience which cannot be defeated, in hope which cannot despair, and in preparation which ever sees life in the light of eternity, we shall, by the grace of God, be ready for his consummation when it comes.

FROM SMALL TO GREAT (Mark 4:30-32)

4:30-32 He said: "How shall we find something with which to compare the Kingdom of God, or what picture will we use to represent it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the ground, is the least of all the seeds upon the earth. But, when it is sown, it springs up and it becomes greater than all the herbs; and it sends out great branches so that the birds of the heaven can find a lodging under its shade."

There are in this parable two pictures which every Jew would readily recognize.

First, in Palestine a grain of mustard seed stood proverbially for the smallest possible thing. For instance, "faith as a grain of mustard seed," means "the smallest conceivable amount of faith." This mustard seed did in fact grow into something very like a tree. A traveller in Palestine speaks of seeing a mustard plant which, in its height, overtopped a horse and its rider. The birds were very fond of the little black seeds of the tree and a cloud of birds over a mustard plant was a common sight.

Second, in the Old Testament one of the commonest ways to describe a great empire was to describe it as a tree, and the tributary nations within it were said to be like birds finding shelter within the shadow of its branches (Ezekiel 17:22 ff; Ezekiel 31:1 ff; Daniel 4:10; Daniel 4:21). The figure of a tree with birds in the branches therefore stands for a great empire and the nations who form part of it.

(i) This parable says, Never be daunted by small beginnings. It may seem that at the moment we can produce only a very small effect; but if that small effect is repeated and repeated it will become very great. There is a scientific experiment to show the effect of dyes. A large vessel of clear water is taken and a little phial of dye. Drop by drop the dye is dropped into the clear water. At first it seems to have no effect at all and the water does not seem to be coloured in the least. Then quite suddenly the water begins to tinge with the colour; bit by bit the colour deepens, until the whole vessel is coloured. It is the repeated drops that produce the effect.

We often feel that for all that we can do, it is hardly worth while starting a thing at all. But we must remember this--everything must have a beginning. Nothing emerges full-grown. It is our duty to do what we can; and the cumulative effect of all the small efforts can in the end produce an amazing result.

(ii) This parable speaks of the empire of the church. The tree and the birds, we have seen, stand for the great empire and for all the nations who find shelter within it. The church began with an individual and it is meant to end with the world. There are two directions in which this is true.

(a) The church is an empire in which all kinds of opinions and all kinds of theologies can find a place. We have a tendency to brand as a heretic anyone who does not think as we do. John Wesley was the greatest example of tolerance in the world. "We think," he said, "and we let think." "I have no more right," he said, "to object to a man for holding a different opinion from mine than I have to differ with a man because he wears a wig and I wear my. own hair." Wesley had one greeting, "Is thy heart as my heart? Then give me thy hand!" It is good for a man to have the assurance that he is right, but that is no reason why he should have the conviction that everyone else is wrong.

(b) The church is an empire in which all nations meet. Once a new church was being built. One of its great features was to be a stained glass window. The committee in charge searched for a subject for the window and finally decided on the lines of the hymn,

"Around the throne of God in heaven

Thousands of children stand."

They employed a great artist to paint the picture from which the window would be made. He began the work and fell in love with the task. Finally he finished it. He went to bed and fell asleep but in the night he seemed to hear a noise in his studio; he went into the studio to investigate; and there he saw a stranger with a brush and a palette in his hands working at his picture. "Stop!" he cried. "You'll ruin my picture." "I think," said the stranger," "that you have ruined it already." "How's that?" said the artist. "Well," said the stranger, "you have many colours on your palette but you have used only one for the faces of the children. Who told you that in heaven there were only children whose faces were white?" "No one," said the artist. "I just thought of it that way." "Look!" said the stranger. "I will make some of their faces yellow, and some brown, and some black, and some red. They are all there, for they have all answered my call" "Your call?" said the artist. "Who are you?" The stranger smiled. "Once long ago I said, 'Let the children come to me and don't stop them, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven'--and I'm still saying it." Then the artist realized that it was the Master himself, and as he did so, he vanished from his sight. The picture looked so much more wonderful now with its black and yellow and red and brown children as well as white.

In the morning the artist awoke and rushed through to his studio. His picture was just as he had left it; and he knew that it had all been a dream. Although that very day the committee was coming to examine the picture he seized his brushes and his paints, and began to paint the children of every colour and of every race throughout all the world. When the committee arrived they thought the picture very beautiful and one whispered gently, "Why! It's God's family at home."

The church is the family of God; and that church which began in Palestine, small as the mustard seed, has room in it for every nation in the world. There are no barriers in the church of God. Man made barriers and God in Christ tore them down.

THE WISE TEACHER AND THE WISE SCHOLAR (Mark 4:33-34)

4:33-34 It was with many such parables that he kept speaking the word to them, suiting his instruction to their ability to hear it. It was his custom not to speak to them without a parable; and when they were by themselves, he unfolded the meaning of everything to his own disciples.

Here we have a short but perfect definition of both the wise teacher and the wise learner. Jesus suited his instruction to the ability of those who were listening to him. That is the first essential in wise teaching.

There are two dangers that the wise teacher must at all costs avoid.

(a) He must avoid all self-display. A teacher's duty is not to draw attention to himself but to draw attention to his subject. A love of self-display can make a man attempt to scintillate at the expense of truth. It can make him think more of clever ways of saying a thing than of the thing itself. Or, it can make him so desirous of displaying his own erudition that he becomes so obscure and elaborate and involved that the ordinary man cannot understand him at all. There is no virtue in talking over the head of an audience. As someone said, "The fact that a man shoots above the target only proves that he is a bad shot." A good teacher must be in love with his subject and not in love with himself.

(b) He must avoid a sense of superiority. True teaching does not consist in telling people things. It consists in learning things together. It was Plato's idea that teaching simply meant extracting from people's minds and memories what they already knew. The teacher who stands on a pedestal and talks down will never be successful. True teaching consists in sharing and discovering truth together. It is a joint exploration of the countries of the mind.

There are certain qualities which he who would teach must ever seek to acquire.

(a) The teacher must possess understanding. One of the great difficulties of the expert is to understand why the non-expert finds a thing so difficult to understand or to do. It is necessary for the teacher to think with the learner's mind and to see with the learner's eyes, before he can really explain and impart any kind of knowledge.

(b) The teacher must possess patience. The Jewish Rabbi Hillel laid it down, "An irritable man cannot teach," and insisted that the first essential of a teacher is that he must be even-tempered. the Jews laid it down that if a teacher found that his scholars did not understand a thing he must begin again without rancour and without irritation and explain it all over again. That is precisely what Jesus did all his life.

(c) The teacher must possess kindness. Jewish teaching regulations forbade all excessive punishment. Especially they forbade all punishment which would humiliate the scholar. The teacher's duty was always to encourage, and never to discourage. Anna Buchan tells how her old grandmother had a favourite phrase, "Never daunton youth." It is easy for the teacher to use the lash of his tongue on the pupil with the, limping mind; it is often a temptation to score a cheap triumph by making such a pupil the target of such sarcasms and witticisms as will make him a laughing-stock. The teacher who is kind will never do that.

This passage also shows us the wise learner. It gives us a picture of an inner circle to whom Jesus could really and fully explain things.

(a) The wise learner does not go away to forget. He goes away to think over what he has heard. He chews it over until he has finally digested it. Epictetus, the wise Stoic teacher, used to be grieved by some of his pupils. He said that men ought to use the philosophy they learned, not to talk about, but to live by. In a crude metaphor, he said that sheep do not vomit up the grass in order to show the shepherd how much they have eaten; they digest it and use it to produce wool and milk. The wise scholar goes away, not to forget what he has learned, and not to display what he has learned, but quietly to think it over until he has discovered what it means for life and for living for him.

(b) Above all, the wise learner seeks the master's company. After Jesus had spoken the crowds dispersed; but there was a little company who lingered with him and did not want to leave him. It was to them that he unfolded the meaning of everything. In the last analysis, if a man is a really great teacher, it is not so much the man's teaching that we wish to know, but the man himself. His message will always lie not so much in what he says as in what he is. The man who wishes to learn from Christ must company with Christ. If he does that he will win, not only learning, but life itself.

THE PEACE OF THE PRESENCE (Mark 4:35-41)

4:35-41 When on that day evening had come, he said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side." So they left the crowds and took him, just as he was, in their boat. And there were other boats with him. A great storm of wind got up and the waves dashed upon the boat, so that the boat was on the point of being swamped. And he was in the stern sleeping upon a pillow. They woke him. "Teacher," they said, "don't you care that we are perishing?" So, when he had been wakened, he spoke sternly to the wind and said to the sea, "Be silent! Be muzzled!" and the wind sank to rest and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were stricken with a great awe, and kept saying to each other, "Who then can this be, because the wind and the sea obey him?"

The Lake of Galilee was notorious for its storms. They came literally out of the blue with shattering and terrifying suddenness. A writer describes them like this: "It is not unusual to see terrible squalls hurl themselves, even when the sky is perfectly clear, upon these waters which are ordinarily so calm. The numerous ravines which to the north-east and east debouch upon the upper part of the lake operate as so many dangerous defiles in which the winds from the heights of Hauran, the plateaux of Trachonitis, and the summit of Mount Hermon are caught and compressed in such a way that, rushing with tremendous force through a narrow space and then being suddenly released, they agitate the little Lake of Gennesaret in the most frightful fashion." The voyager across the lake was always liable to encounter just such sudden storms as this.

Jesus was in the boat in the position in which any distinguished guest would be conveyed. We are told that, "In these boats...the place for any distinguished stranger is on the little seat placed at the stern, where a carpet and cushion are arranged. The helmsman stands a little farther forward on the deck, though near the stern, in order to have a better look-out ahead."

It is interesting to note that the words Jesus addressed to the wind and the waves are exactly the same as he addressed to the demon-possessed man in Mark 1:25. Just as an evil demon possessed that man, so the destructive power of the storm was, so people in Palestine believed in those days, the evil power of the demons at work in the realm of nature.

We do this story far less than justice if we merely take it in a literalistic sense. If it describes no more than a physical miracle in which an actual storm was stifled, it is very wonderful and it is something at which we must marvel, but it is something which happened once and cannot happen again. In that case it is quite external to us. But if we read it in a symbolic sense it is far more valuable. When the disciples realized the presence of Jesus with them the storm became a calm. Once they knew he was there fearless peace entered their hearts. To voyage with Jesus was to voyage in peace even in a storm. Now that is universally true. It is not something which happened once; it is something which still happens and which can happen for us. In the presence of Jesus we can have peace even in the wildest storms of life.

(i) He gives us peace in the storm of sorrow. When sorrow comes as come it must, he tells us of the glory of the life to come. He changes the darkness of death into the sunshine of the thought of life eternal. He tells us of the love of God. There is an old story of a gardener who in his garden had a favourite flower which he loved much. One day he came to the garden to find that flower gone. He was vexed and angry and full of complaints. In the midst of his resentment he met the master of the garden and hurled his complaints at him. "Hush!" said the master, "I plucked it for myself." In the storm of sorrow Jesus tells us that those we love have gone to be with God, and gives us the certainty that we shall meet again those whom we have loved and lost awhile.

(ii) He gives us peace when life's problems involve us in a tempest of doubt and tension and uncertainty. There come times when we do not know what to do; when we stand at some cross-roads in life and do not know which way to take. If then we turn to Jesus and say to him, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" the way will be clear. The real tragedy is not that we do not know what to do; but that often we do not humbly submit to Jesus' guidance. To ask his will and to submit to it is the way to peace at such a time.

(iii) He gives us peace in the storms of anxiety. The chief enemy of peace is worry, worry for ourselves, worry about the unknown future, worry about those we love. But Jesus speaks to us of a Father whose hand will never cause his child a needless tear and of a love beyond which neither we nor those we love can ever drift. In the storm of anxiety he brings us the peace of the love of God.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 4:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-4.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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