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Mark 4

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Verses 1-9

Mar 4:1-9

SECTION FOUR

A SERIES OF PARABLES

Mark 4:1-34

1. THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER

Mark 4:1-9

(Matthew 13:1-9; Luke 8:4-10)

1 And again he began to teach--Mark, having stated the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees to Jesus, which resulted in organized action, and in charging Jesus with being in league with the devil, now gives a change in the manner of our Savior’s teaching--that of parables. This was not the beginning of his teaching, but only of one form of it.

by the sea side. And there is gathered unto him a very great multitude,--This shows the eagerness of the people to see and hear Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees slandered and tried to discredit the person and hinder the ministry of Jesus, yet the people followed in great multitudes, more than ever, to hear and be instructed by him. All the power and malice of the devil and evil men is not able to suppress the gospel, or kill the force of it. The more the gospel is opposed, the more it prevails. The more the scribes and Pharisees tried to disgrace our Savior, and vilify his doctrine, the more the people followed him to be partakers of his ministry. They were good advertisers of both him and his work. When the church at Jerusalem was persecuted through the influence of the devil and all were scattered abroad except the apostles (Acts 8:1-4), the disciples went everywhere preaching the word, and as a result new congregations sprang up wherever they went. Instead of checking the work and the influence of the gospel, the devil aided in spreading it. He doubtless thought his plan of persecution would put an end to it, but he could not have adopted a better plan in spreading it.

so that he entered into a boat,--The multitude was so large that it was necessary for Jesus to enter into a boat, and from it speak to the people on the shore.

and sat in the sea; and all the multitude were by the sea on the land.--He sat in the sea on the boat.

2 And he taught them many things in parables, and said unto them in his teaching,--The parables that follow are a specimen of his teaching. All that Jesus said and did are not recorded. What is recorded was written to produce faith that Jesus is the Son of God. (John 20:30.) Only samples of the many things taught by Jesus are preserved. Teaching is important in the scheme of redemption. So much so that no man can come to Jesus except he first be taught. Jesus draws men to him through teaching. (John 6:44-45.) Jesus taught much by parables. A parable is literally the placing of two things side by side. It is a comparison of things familiar and well known to illustrate and enforce things obscure or not well known.

3 Hearken:--Hear. Give attention.

Behold, --Lo, see. Introduces something unexpected and surprising.

the sower went forth to sow:--"Sower" is a general term meaning any one who sows or scatters seeds. Machinery for sowing seed was unknown at this time, hence farmers broadcast, sowing by handfuls from a bag hung over the shoulder. The sower is Jesus who went out from heaven to sow the spiritual seed in this world. Luke (8:11) says: "The seed is the word of God." Every Christian is a sower as well as a hearer. Seed scattered from the hand of a child will grow as readily as if from a grown man; though it may not be scattered as skillfully. So the spiritual seed, the Word of God, will develop as readily when sown by a new convert as when sown by an old and well developed Christian. The sowing should not cease.

4 and it came to pass, as he sowed, some seed fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured it.--"The way side" was not only where the road and fields joined, but was the many narrow footpaths trodden through the fields. The fields were not fenced, and many paths led across them. These paths were hard, and the seed lay naked upon them.

5 And other fell on the rocky ground, where it had not much earth;--Not simply rocky land, for often soil is deep and very productive in rocky places, but a rocky surface slightly covered with soil. The stones did not lay upon the surface, but where the rocks lay just under the surface with only an inch or two of soil on top.

and straightway it sprang up, because it had no deepness of earth:--The underlying rock held the heat from the sun like a hotbed, and forced the seed to sprout and immediately come through the thin soil. It would grow here more quickly than elsewhere, as long as there was any moisture, because of the heat of the rock. The rocks attracted the heat of the sun, which forced the grain up.

6 and when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root; it withered away.--Matthew says: "No deepness of earth." The thin layer of soil on the rock, having nothing below it to draw moisture from, would soon dry out; the root, short because there was no deep soil into which to bury itself, was soon deprived of vitality, and the plant died. For a plant to thrive, its roots must grow downward, as the stalk grows upward.

7 And other fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.--Where thorns grow deep and brambles are not rooted up by the plow we may sow the good seeds, they will germinate, spring up, make a feeble growth, but the thorns and brambles, already deeply rooted in the soil and congenial to their surroundings, will spring up and grow vigorously and rapidly. In their growth they will draw the substance and moisture from the soil, starve and choke the feeble wheat until it perishes and fails to bear fruit. This is a common state and results in badly cultivated grounds. The thorns are not bushes already developed, but an aftergrowth as suggested in the phrase, "The thorns grew up, and choked it." They are stumps with their roots penetrating deep in the ground, and which the farmer fails to dig out and extirpate, contenting himself with chopping down the year’s growth. Matthew (Matthew 13:7) says they "fell upon the thorns." That is, upon thorn roots left in the ground, or seeds from last year’s growth waiting their opportunity to seek the light and heat of the sun, and able to grow much more quickly and luxuriantly than the grain.

8 And others fell into the good ground,--That is, ground well prepared for receiving the seed. Deep rich soil, neither hard, nor rocky, nor infested with thorns.

and yielded fruit, growing up and increasing;--It went through all the processes of growth and development until the fruit was perfected.

and brought forth, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundred-fold.--[Only one class of soil out of four sown brings fruit to perfection. The thirty, sixty and hundredfold may indicate the common yield of grain in Galilee in the days of Jesus. This is above what is common in our country. Special cases, with favorable surroundings, greatly surpass this. A truthful and observant man says he planted a few grains of wheat in his garden under very favorable circumstances, cultivated them well. One grain put up thirty stalks that produced an average of fifty grains to the head, or fifteen hundred grains from one. But Jesus, I take it, gave the ordinary results of what was common in the country in which he was, and that is much above the average in our land and time. But the good seed must find lodgment in good soil to bear fruit. It is not enough for the soil to be naturally strong, but it must be prepared. The rocks, the thorns, and briers are rooted out so that nothing may hinder the growth of the seed. Ground naturally rocky and full of thorns may be made good by well-directed labor.]

9 And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.--Having spoken the parable, Jesus requested all to heed the truths therein contained. Jesus said this to impress all with the importance of giving heed to what he said. (See Matthew 11:15; Luke 8:8; Luke 14:35; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:6; Revelation 3:13; Revelation 3:22; Revelation 13:9.)

Verses 1-34

Mar 4:1-34

Commentary On Mark 4:1-34

J.W. McGarvey

Section IV.
A Series of Parables, Mark 4:1-34

Parable of the Sower, Mark 4:1-9. (Matthew 13:1-9; Luke 8:4-10)

Mark’s report of this parable is almost identical with Matthew’s, differing only in verbiage, and only slightly in this. For remarks on it, see the parallel in Matthew.

Why He Spoke in Parables, Mark 4:10-13. (Matthew 13:10-17)

10. when he was alone.—Compare the note on verse 34 below.

11. to them that are without.—Here Jesus distinguishes his disciples from "them that are without," showing that there was a sense in which the former were within. Some have argued from this that the Church must have been then in existence, and that one class were within and the other without the Church. This conclusion would follow, if the terms without and within in this connection could apply to nothing but the Church. But it is clear that the terms may have been used with different reference. The unbelievers were without the circle of the disciples, and those whom Jesus was addressing were within that circle, whether we regard the disciples as organized into a church, or as still in an unorganized condition. The argument, therefore, contains an undue assumption.

12. that seeing they may see.—The reason here given is so condensed by Mark as to render it quite obscure. Matthew’s more elaborate report makes the reason clear and satisfactory. (See notes on Matthew 13:10-17.)

13. how then will you know?—In this verse, which is peculiar to Mark, Jesus administers a mild rebuke to the disciples for not understanding the parable, and intimates that it is easy in comparison with some others: "Know ye not this parable? How then will you know all the parables?"

Parable of the Sower Explained, Mark 4:14-20. (Matthew 13:18-23; Luke 8:11-15)

We have already commented on the Savior’s explanation of this parable, in the parallel place in Matthew; and to this we refer the reader, remarking only, that the use of the singular instead of the plural in speaking of the parties represented, and a slightly different arrangement of the matter, constitute the differences between the two reports. These differences, occurring as they do in almost every synoptical passage in the four gospels, show that in reporting the speeches of the Savior the apostles were not always restricted to his exact language, but were led by the Spirit to reproduce his words only to the extent necessary for a correct report of his thoughts.

Parable of the Candle, Mark 4:21-25. (Luke 8:16-18)

21. Is a candle brought.—This parable, like the preceding one of the sower, treats of the means of profiting by the word of God. The word, there represented by the seed sown, is here represented by the lighted lamp (λχνος). As a lamp is brought into a room not to be covered up, but to be placed on the lampstand, so the word of God, intended for the enlightenment of men, is not to be left in obscurity, but to be held up before the world.

22. nothing hid.—Nothing in the counsel and purpose of God concerning man. To some extent these had hitherto been hid and kept secret, but now all that had been hid was to be made manifest, and all that had been kept secret was to come abroad.

23. let him hear.—This admonition is appropriate. Dropping the figure of the lamp, and returning to the word which it represented, those who have ears to hear are advised to hear it. If it was to make manifest what had hitherto been hidden, and to bring abroad what had hitherto been kept secret in the mind of God, it was becoming in every man who had ears, to use them in hearing it. Nothing that ever struck the human ear is so worthy of being heard as the word of God.

24. Take heed what ye hear.—They were inclined, like ourselves, to hear only so much as was agreeable to their feelings and preconceived notions: hence this admonition.

with what measure you mete.—This was a proverbial expression, and applies to our dealings with God as well as to our dealings with one another. If we give him good measure by taking heed to hear all that he says, we have the promise of good measure from him: "To you that hear shall more be given."

25. For he that hath.—This proverb is quoted in a different connection from that which it has in the parallel part of Matthew, being here applied especially to the disciples, and there to the unbelievers. The meaning, however, is the same in both instances. (Comp. Matthew 13:12.)

Parable of the Seed, Mark 4:26-29

26, 27. he knoweth not how.—To some extent he knoweth how; it is by the process described in the next verse: "The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." He may know still further, that it grows by the chemical action of light, warmth, and moisture; but still there is a part of the process that he does not know.

28, 29. But when the fruit.—Although the sower knows not how the seed grows, and remains not to see its growth, still it grows. From sowing time till harvest the man has nothing to do: no intermediate cultivation is required. This is true of the "corn" (wheat and barley) referred to, though not of our Indian corn.

The kingdom of heaven is like this (Mark 4:26), in that the seed of the kingdom, which is the word of God, when sown in a community, even though the sower go away and neglect it, will spring up of itself and bear fruit, and will be ready at a future day for the harvest. This is often exemplified in the labors of the evangelist. He preaches in a community faithfully, and apparently without success, for a length of time, and then, after a lapse of months or years, returns to the same place, and with comparatively little exertion reaps an abundant harvest. The parable teaches, what observation abundantly confirms, that such an adaptation exists between the human soul and the word of God, that when the latter is once implanted a future harvest will usually be the result.

Parable of the Mustard Seed, Mark 4:30-32. (Matthew 13:31-32)

30. Whereunto shall we liken.—Mark quotes Jesus as introducing this parable with questions implying that he had well-nigh exhausted appropriate comparisons: "To what shall we liken the kingdom of heaven, and with what comparison shall we compare it?" The three parables just preceding are not sufficient to account for these questions, but we must suppose that a considerable number of those referred to in Mark 4:33, below, had been introduced before this.

the kingdom of God.—This expression is used habitually by Mark and Luke where Matthew uses the equivalent expression, "kingdom of heaven." The latter is the more indefinite of the two, but designates precisely the same object of thought.

31, 32. like a grain of mustard.—See the note on Matthew 13:31-32.

Other Parables not Recorded, 33, 34. (Matthew 13:34-35)

33. with many such.—Matthew gives several more, not reported by Mark (see Matthew 13:24-50), but not so many as this expression indicates. Besides all given by both writers, many each were uttered, "as they were able to hear."

34. without a parable spake he not.—That is, from the time when he took his seat on the ship (verse 1), until he dismissed the multitude in the evening and departed (Mark 4:35-36).

when they were alone.—According to this verse all the expositions of the parables which were found necessary, were given after the multitude had been dismissed; consequently, we are to understand that the explanation of the parable of the sower, though reported in connection with the parable itself was actually given after the day’s teaching was ended. (Comp. Matthew 13:36.)

Argument of Section 4

In the parables of this section, especially in those of the sower, the seed and the mustard seed, the prophetic power of Jesus is clearly exhibited. Without superhuman foresight he could not have so accurately traced out the manner in which different classes of men throughout all time would deal with the word of God, as he describes it in the parable of the sower; nor could he have known in advance of experiment, that the seed of the kingdom would grow from its planting until the time for harvest, as described in the next parable; nor that, as declared in the third, the kingdom would ever attain to the prodigious growth which our eyes have witnessed. His divinity is attested by his unfailing foresight into the distant future.

Verses 10-13

Mar 4:10-13

2. WHY JESUS SPAKE IN PARABLES

Mark 4:10-13

10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables.--Jesus spake many parables and now the disciples ask concerning the design of all his parables. Matthew (Matthew 13:10) says: "Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" Before this, the teaching of Jesus had been plain and direct, but now "without a parable spake he nothing unto them." (Verse 34.) Luke (Luke 8:9) says they "asked him what this parable might be."

11 And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God:--[So also there were profound and sublime truths of the kingdom of God, which men could grasp and appreciate, only when they had put themselves under the tutelage of Christ. We are not to understand "mystery" in the sense of something which never could be understood, as some take it even now. This was spoken to and of his disciples.]

but unto them that are without,--Mere idle, careless hearers, who have not interest enough to put themselves under the special teaching of the Master.

all things are done in parables:--This and the next verse were also spoken to his disciples but about those not disciples. The parables are really the testing point. If they are ready for the kingdom, they will not be satisfied with the parable. The spiritual nature realizes there is a truth hidden, and desires to know that truth, and will come within and seek the special teaching of Jesus to know it. The "mysteries of the kingdom" does not mean a doctrine incomprehensible in itself but doctrine about the establishment and work of the kingdom of God which had not been fully understood. The apostles and first disciples of our Lord thought that his mission on earth was to establish a political kingdom; and the spiritual nature of this kingdom was a mystery to them until they understood it.

12 that seeing they may see, and not perceive;--They had organs of vision which could observe natural objects but their mental perceptions were so filled with gross cares as to prevent their mental perception of receiving the truths contained in the parable.

and hearing they may hear, and not understand;--They had ears that could hear the voice of the teacher, who spoke in a known tongue to them, and they doubtless knew the outward facts of the Savior’s works, but the spiritual truths Jesus designed to teach by these things they did not understand for the reason they made no effort upon their part. Man must make some effort to understand the teaching of Jesus, or else, he will go through life blinded.

lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.--The hearing, understanding, and turning is man’s duty, the forgiving is God’s pleasure. But he cannot and will not forgive, until man does his part. He must show interest by acting his part. He must come to Christ for complete instruction. It was so then. It is so now. The Spirit speaks to him through the Word. (John 6:44-45.) If he listens with such interest as induces him to seek anxiously the whole truth, there is no aid that it will not afford, and he will turn again and be forgiven. The eyes that are blinded are the eyes that do not desire to see, and the ears that are deafened are the ears that do not desire to hear--moral unwillingness resulting in moral inability. To hear, and understand what we hear, is necessary in order to conversion--at least understand enough to know what the Lord requires, in order that it may be obeyed and man saved.

The scribes and Pharisees had hardened their hearts, stuffed their ears, and closed their eyes, as the Jews had done in the days of Isaiah. They were determined not to believe the teachings of Jesus. Now he speaks in parables--not that he does not desire all to know the truth, but that those who desire the truth may be separated from those who have rejected it. God has so arranged it that people must desire the truth in order to receive it, and yet all who desire it--hunger and thirst after it--have the blessed assurance that they can understand and receive it. This is the key to the whole matter. Careless seeing and careless hearing destroy the soul. God will afford to every soul so much as it is willing and anxious to receive. Matthew (Matthew 13:13-15) says: "Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive; For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them." This Isaiah foretold of the condition of the Jewish people. They would close their eyes, stop their ears, harden their hearts, refuse to hear God’s word, lest they should be converted, and then God would heal them. Men usually fail to hear and understand God because they will not do it. When they thus show themselves unwilling to obey God he determines to destroy them, and so speaks to them as to harden their hearts and lead them down to destruction. He, too, spoke truth that they could have understood to their salvation had they been willing to be taught of God. But in their unwillingness to learn of God they perverted the truths to their own ruin. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because he was wicked, to publicly lead him to ruin as an example to others.

The means God used to harden Pharaoh’s heart was the truth--the same truth he used to touch and tender the hearts of the children of Israel. The truth that softened and tendered the hearts of one class and caused them to follow Moses to freedom hardened the heart of the other and led him to ruin. So in the case before us. The truths which drew the disciples closer to Jesus drove the scribes and Pharisees further from him. The Lord said: "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11.) God’s word will have success. It will prosper and succeed in accomplishing the thing for which it was sent. It was sent into the world to either save or damn the souls of men. If man receives it and is guided by it, it will be the means of saving him. If he rejects it, it will be the means of damning him. Man’s eternal destiny depends upon how he treats the word of God. It is a steppingstone to heaven, if accepted, but a stumbling stone to hell if rejected. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24.) God did not take away their freedom. "Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest" was and is the invitation to all. Their moral inability was the result of their moral unwillingness. (John 5:40.) They were reaping the fruit of the seed they had sown.

13 And he saith unto them, Know ye not this parable?--This which is so plain and obvious. The disciples had asked its meaning. (Luke 8:9.) This question is preparatory to the one that follows.

and how shall ye know all the parables?--That is, if you do not understand one so plain and simple as this one, how will you comprehend those more difficult and obscure?

Verses 14-20

Mar 4:14-20

3. THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE

Mark 4:14-20

(Matthew 13:18-23; Luke 8:11-15)

14 The sower soweth the word.--The seed is the word of God. (Luke 8:11.) The sower is, primarily, Jesus himself, but subsequently the apostles, and as the ages roll on, all those who seek to plant in human hearts the word of God. [The first and essential point of likeness between the word of God and the seed is that the seed, the germ of the fruit to be produced, is enclosed in it. Without the seed no fruit can be produced in the material world. The fruit must correspond to the seed. "And God said, Let the earth put forth grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit-trees bearing fruit after their kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth." (Genesis 1:11.) The law of God is that seed must produce its like. So when in the field the man who had sown wheat found tares, he knew other seed had been sown. "An enemy hath done this," he said. In the word of God is enclosed the germinal principle of spiritual life. Without that word no spiritual fruit can be borne. The fruit borne from that seed must correspond to the seed. If plants grow or fruit is borne in the kingdom of God that is not in the word of God, it is because other seed has been sown there, and it is an enemy of God that sows other seed than the word of God.] Sower, learn this lesson. It is your duty to sow. Sow only the word. Sow not mingled seed. Give to perishing souls only the living word. It is God’s power to save. (Romans 1:16.)

15 And these are they by the way side,--In the plains of Palestine you may see miles of verdure without a fence, yet with different ownership. Instead of fences are wayside paths, narrow and hard trodden. On these, with broadcast sowing, some seed will fall. The modern drill would have deprived us of this part of the parable. (It is not improbable we drill too much in our modern church work.) The seed lay hard and round upon this smooth, hard surface, and the watchful birds, as soon as the farmer’s back was turned, caught at them, and they were gone.

where the word is sown; and when they have heard, --Heard only. Just with the ear. The word lies on the surface of their hearts. When truth is heard and not fully received and practiced, it will, sooner or later, lose its power over the heart. No matter how full the reservoir is, if not replenished, it will finally become dry from evaporation.

straightway cometh Satan,--Could Jesus have spoken these words without recognizing, and teaching his disciples to recognize, the personal existence of Satan? "Satan" means adversary. That he is quick to act is seen by his coming immediately.

and taketh away the word which hath been sown in them.--Luke (Luke 8:12) says: "From their heart." How is not specified. He has a thousand ways of brushing away the slight surface impression that may have been made upon the heart of a careless hearer. The heart is the spiritual soil in which the sower sows the word of God. God has always operated upon the heart of man. So does the devil. The religion produced by the spiritual seed, the word of God, is in the heart, and therefore, preeminently a heart religion. Luke (Luke 8:12) says: "That they may not believe and be saved." The devil recognizes that the word of God produces faith, hence, snatches it away as quickly as possible. The human heart is the battleground. Here God and the devil meet for the conflict.

[Many, under the evil influences and surroundings of life, hear the word. It is not honored or cherished, overrun by sinful influences and indulgences, given no chance to germinate, and is plucked out of the hearts by the evil one. He uses his servants to do this. Sometimes he uses the man’s own appetites or his own wicked associates, and sometimes he finds a child of God that he can pervert and use to pluck the good seed out of the heart in which it is not cherished. The word plucked out of the heart cannot save. James 1:21 : "Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." He admonished that we must not be forgetful hearers, but "doers of the word."]

16 And these in like manner are they that are sown upon the rocky places,--The rocky places were spots where the underlying rock formation cropped up near the surface. We have seen places where the underlying limestone formation was sometimes many feet, and not very far off, only a few inches below the surface, and sometimes on the surface. Places where the soil is thus very shallow are meant by rocky places.

who, when they have heard the word,--Please observe, all the classes have heard. They stand on common ground in this. "Take heed therefore how ye hear." (Luke 8:18.)

straightway receive it with joy;--Hearing the gospel, and considering the pleasures and advantages of salvation, they are for the moment highly pleased without counting the cost. (Luke 14:25-33.) Their joy is not the joy flowing out of genuine repentance and from a real changed heart. Their emotions are touched for the time being, hut the gospel does not reach their moral nature, and their will and character are unchanged. They are moved by the winds of popular excitement or enthusiasm, but there is no new life. Joy is a characteristic of shallow as well as of deep natures.

17 and they have no root in themselves,--They are wanting in the true principles of true religion, such as humility, love, repentance, faith and change of heart, and therefore rootless. They are destitute of that spiritual life which "is hid with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3.) They are not "rooted and grounded in love." (Ephesians 3:17.)

then, when tribulation or persecution ariseth--Providential dealings and chastisements. It takes these to separate the wheat from the chaff.

because of the word,--The truths of the gospel always create opposition and put the adversary to work.

straightway they stumble.--Stumble and fall away because this was not an obstruction they expected in their heavenly career.

[Matthew (Matthew 13:21) says: "Yet bath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth"--or led into sin. [This class represents the excitable, the light-minded, those lacking in depth and strength of character, so who readily receive, but cannot persist in a begun course. They hear, are easily aroused, act quickly, show great zeal for a time, run well while things all prosper and seem to be full of promise. But when the ebb tide in religion comes, as come it must, they grow weary, become faint at heart, turn aside, and walk with God no more.]

18 And others are they that are sown among the thorns;--The thorny ground was neither hard nor shallow. It was good deep, rich ground, but the roots of thorns were lurking in the ground. They were not removed. They grew rapidly --more so than the wheat--and became so rank that they choked and smothered it till it brought no fruit to perfection. Practically the result was the same as before--nothing but leaves.

these are they that have heard the word,--All these classes are hearers. All are to be found in the public church meetings. All have heard, but says James, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves." (James 1:22.) In this case the heart is like the plowed ground but poorly prepared. The soil is deep and rich, but the thorn roots have not been grubbed out. They are convicted that they are sinners, show signs of sorrow and repentance, and pass through a form of obedience; but the heart is divided between these and cherished sins and the soul and body are not wholly given to the Lord.

19 and the cares of the world,--Overanxious cares about worldly things--those that divide the heart between them and God. (James 1:6-8.)

and the deceitfulness of riches,--This is another altogether. The business or the profession has been made successful, the home is bought, the money is amassed. Such intense application is no longer necessary, but the man now possesses the golden key that unlocks a hundred avenues of enjoying life and employing time. There is no more time for Christ and religion than before. Still it is self, or that broadening of self which we name family, which engrosses time, and thought, and activity, instead of Christ, and no fruit is produced.

and the lusts of other things entering in,--Luke (Luke 8:14) says: "As they go on their way they are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life." The golden key is possessed that opens these avenues. The phrase "pleasures of this life" does not indicate that the Christian is to have no pleasures. God never intended that his children should be deprived of the good and perfect gifts that he has bestowed upon man. It is not a sin for a Christian to be happy. Such "pleasures" as destroy spirituality, and deaden religious sensibility, and wean from Christ, are, of course, forbidden.

choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.--By the contact and pressure of the thorns--the above-mentioned evils--the word is choked and smothered so it can bear no perfect fruit. Luke (Luke 8:14) says they "bring no fruit to perfection." The unfruitfulness of the seed represents the unfruitfulness of those receiving the word of God.

20 And those are they that were sown upon the good ground;--These are they who, after having received the word, develop a Godly life. The good ground is the human heart well prepared by casting out all evil motives and purposes, to receive the word honestly, and to give it full opportunity to grow--a heart that submits itself to the full power and influence of the gospel, unchecked by the cares and anxieties of worldly things--a heart fully under the showers and summer suns of the grace of God--a heart spread wide open, like a broad luxuriant field, to the rays of the morning and evening dews, ready for the reception of the truths of God. A heart thus prepared is a rich mellow spiritual soil in which the spiritual seed can take deep root and grow because it has full room for development. The good ground is of no better inherent quality than the others, but in a different condition, and the condition our own making.

such as hear the word,--They have had no advantage over others in this respect. The others all heard but paid no heed to the message.

and accept it,--Before this comes the "understandeth" or "considereth, payeth attention" of Matt. (Matthew 13:23), and after it the "hold it fast" of Luke (8:15). The order is hear, heed, accept, hold fast. Luke adds: "In an honest and good heart." The meaning of the adjectives is to be ascertained by remembering that the phrase expresses a condition different from all the preceding states. One was hard, stubborn, unreceptive; this, then, is soft, yielding, receptive. The second was shallow and frivolous with hardness beneath; this is deep and thoughtful. The third was full of germinal weeds, this is comparatively free. This we understand from the conditions of the parable to be the significance of the "honest and good heart." The seed does the work. Understanding the word involves giving it close attention. The understanding arises from attention.

and bear fruit,--Luke adds "with patience." Where all these exist spiritual fruit must follow. Spiritual fruit is anything in the name of Christ (that is, by his authority) that conduces to God’s glory or our fellow man’s good. They continue to bring forth fruit. It is not a mere religious spasm through which they have passed.

thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.--Both Matthew and Mark add here the three grades of production. Not all are capable of producing the same amount of fruit, but it is the same kind--spiritual and good. The marked difference in the capacity of men is thus indicated by a threefold division.

The good and honest hearts which bear fruit and heed, and accept, and hold fast, are by no means equal in their ability to bear fruit, and God will hold them responsible only according to that ability. If thou canst only bear thirty, bear thirty and receive God’s blessing. If thou canst bear a hundred, thank God for thy glorious capacity, and bear them, but think not to deceive God with the thirty which might have been a hundred. Every faithful Christian may find comfort and encouragement in this feature of the parable.

[The heart is the inner man. The heart thinks, fears, hopes, loves, hates, believes. The heart is the soil into which the word of God, as the seed, is sown. It embraces the perceptions, emotions, and volitions--the whole inner man. The heart must have clearness of understanding, depth of feeling, and strength of purpose to continue to the end, despite difficulties and trials, to bring forth fruit unto perfection--not brilliancy, but an earnest, thoughtful mind. Sincerity of feeling and singleness of purpose must be cultivated to make the heart good and honest. These qualities of heart can be cultivated, and are much under a man’s own control. When a man cultivates the habit of honest inquiry that he may know the truth and do it, cherishes a love for what is right and true and good, and then continually follows the purpose of doing what is right, his heart will become an honest and understanding heart. To practice these things will make the heart honest and understanding. Persons that will take these characters of the heart here presented by Jesus, and in the light of them study their own hearts, may understand the things needed, and may cultivate their hearts and make them good.]

Verses 21-25

Mar 4:21-25

4. A LAMP IS NOT TO BE PUT UNDER A BUSHEL

Mark 4:21-25

(Luke 8:16-18)

21 And he said unto them, Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand?--[This parable, like the parable of the sower, deals with the word of God as beneficial to man. The word, represented by the seed in the parable of the sower, is here represented by a lighted lamp. A lamp is brought into a room not to be hid under something, but is to be placed on an elevated stand so it can give light all around it. So the word of God, intended for the spiritual enlightenment of men, is not to be left in obscurity, but to be held up before the world, so it may receive the benefit of the light flowing from it. All the instructions given by Jesus were designed to give spiritual light, and all his hearers are responsible for their measure of light. (Matthew 13:12; Luke 8:16-18.) Compare Matthew 5:15; Matthew 7:2; Matthew 10:26, where Jesus uses the same language on other occasions. The end and design of Christ in revealing his word and will to his disciples, and in communicating to men the light of spiritual knowledge, is that they may communicate it to others, and not keep it close unto themselves.]

22 For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light --Nothing in the wisdom and purpose of God concerning man and his redemption but that will be revealed.

23 If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear.--A warning to his disciples to listen to and accept the truth. [Jesus dropped the figure of the lamp, and returned to the word which the lamp represented. Since it was to make clear all that had been hid in types and shadows, and to bring to light all that had been kept secret in the mind of God regarding man and his redemption, it is the duty of every one to use his ears in hearing it. Nothing is more worthy of being heard than the word of God.]

24 And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear:--That is, consider carefully what you hear before accepting it. Probably disciples then, as some are now, inclined to hear only so much as corresponded with their desires and notions and hence this admonition.

with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; --The general meaning is: as you treat others so shall you be treated by them. But here it means: as you treat me as a teacher so will I treat you as learners. The measure of careful attention given me will be the measure of instruction given you. What you receive as hearers and disciples will correspond to your ability and diligence.

and more shall be given unto you.--To you who are attentive, and who improve what you hear. The specific application of the whole thing here must be determined, not by the same words on the mount (Matthew 7:2; Luke 6:37), where they have reference to censorious judgments, but by their connection here. The essential meaning in both cases is that giving and receiving are reciprocal, like action and reaction as a law of physics. The specific application here is that he who would receive instruction must give something in return, to wit, intelligent attention, a desire to be instructed, and a proper use of what he knows already.

25 For he that hath, to him shall be given:--He that has received opportunities and improved them, to the good of others as well as to himself, shall have more opportunities. He shall have greater means and facilities in attaining greater knowledge of God and his wonderful works.

and he that hath not,--Has not a teachable spirit and no desire nor inclination to know the truth--has no desire to be taught and has made no effort to learn.

from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.--Luke (Luke 8:18) explains the clause by saying: "Even that which he seemeth to have." It is only apparent and imaginary. His speculative views and notions shall become more confused and darken in proportion to his neglecting the opportunities and means of increasing true spiritual knowledge. The means and opportunities which enlighten and carry one man to heaven will send another to hell. It all depends upon the way we treat our opportunities. Judas is an example of this class. He had the same opportunities the other apostles had, but he allowed what little grace and favor he seemed to have to slip away by neglecting his opportunities for increasing his knowledge and doing good.

It is a law of God often repeated by Jesus, that to him who has, more shall be given, and from him who has not, even that he has shall be taken away. In order to understand this singular phraseology, we must observe that the thing which is taken away from him who has not is necessarily something that he has. He has, and at the same time he has not. We must also observe that two sides are here represented--the human and the divine. Man has the opportunity to learn of and accept Christ in the sense of both being offered him by God. In this sense he has it. He has it so far as God is concerned. But man has neither the will nor the desire to accept either. In this sense he has it not. When man in heart reaches this state, then that which he had upon God’s part, but had it not upon his part, is taken from him. Man takes it away himself by refusing to accept and use it. He loses his opportunity of learning of and accepting Christ by his own neglect. [The man who wrapped the talent in a cloth and hid it is regarded as not having it. When a man fails to use his talent, or opportunity, he is regarded as not having it. So from him is taken what he does not have, or does not use. No man practically has what he does not make use of.]

Verses 26-29

Mar 4:26-29

5. PARABLE OF THE SEED

Mark 4:26-29

26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth;--The main point is that although man must sow and reap, all that lies between these two extremes is not only independent of his power but beyond his observation. The growth and increase is with God. Such is the reign of Christ in its growth and development in the hearts of men. It is like the case of the seed planted in the ground. The seed, its germination and growth, is the prominent thing in the parable. The seed is the word of God, the gospel. The kingdom of God always begins in communities by the spiritual seed, the word of God, being sown in the hearts of individuals, as vegetable crops start by seed being planted in the soil.

27 and should sleep and rise night and day,--[Should sleep in the night, and rise by day. That is, live in his usual way while giving the seed time to germinate and come forth. The germinating and coming forth is God’s part. Here man is helpless--he has no control over the seed germinating and the plant springing forth. The seed is left hid out of his sight, to the life God has given it, and to the forces of nature. Man cannot give the seed life nor make it grow. Here he must rest in hope both day and night.]

and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how.--Here the wisdom of God is too deep for the mind of man. He cannot fathom it. Human wisdom cannot penetrate it. Here modern science, like all human wisdom, must pause. It has failed to find what the life in the seed is. Here science is forced to bow to the wisdom of God. After all the researches of philosophers, not one has been able to tell the way in which seed grows. They can observe one fact after another--they can see the changes--they can see the necessity of rain and sunshine, of care in the sowing, but beyond this they cannot go.

28 The earth beareth fruit of herself;--It is done while man sleeps by night and is engaged in other things by day. We are not to suppose that Jesus meant to say that the earth had any productive power of itself, but only that it yields its fruits, not by the power of man. God gives its yielding power. It, like man, has no power of its own. So the word of God in the heart is not by the power of man. It grows he cannot tell how. It is by the power of God. At the same time, as without labor man would have no vegetable harvest, so without active effort he would have no fruit of the Spirit. Both are connected with and enjoyed in his efforts--both are to be measured by his efforts.

first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.--There is an orderly development both in natural and spiritual growth. This growth is in harmony with law. We cannot hope to find the ripened Christian experience in the young convert, any more than the fully matured corn in the first appearance of the blade. He who expects the end at the beginning will be disappointed. The Christian’s growth is like climbing Jacob’s ladder with many steps, the face always looking up toward God. There are different stages in all life. In the animal, there is childhood, youth, and manhood. In the spiritual, there is conversion, the newborn babe in Christ, childhood, and the manhood stages. The young and tender Christian, like the tender plant, needs care, kindness and culture. A light frost, a cold wave, or a burning sun alike injures the tender blade. So tender piety in the heart of a newborn babe in Christ needs shelter from the frosts and storms of a cold unfeeling world. It needs the genial dews and mild sunshine of heaven. That is, it needs instruction, prayer, and counsel from parents, teachers and all experienced Christians, that it may grow and bring forth the full fruits of righteousness.

29 But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come.--All the growth was toward this end for which the seed was planted. Man’s agency now begins again, after having been suspended since sowing the wheat. Harvest time has come, therefore time again for man to work. One sows the word of God, he doesall he can in this particular, passes on to other duties, and in due course of time the seed germinates, grows, develops, and produces a harvest. It requires time to produce a harvest. It is not neglect in the man who sows wheat or other grain and sleeps during the night and is up during the day doing other things until the harvest; neither is it neglect to preach the gospel and await the time for its development in the hearts of the hearers. As the earth must receive the seed and do its part in producing a harvest, so all hearers must receive the word of God and by all processes necessary produce a harvest. The sower must do his duty in sowing and not withhold any of the seed--that is, any part of the word of God; the hearers must do their duty in bearing fruit.

In this parable Christ was showing how the kingdom of God arose and bore fruit in this life. The word of God is received into the heart. It changes the feelings, the purposes, the thoughts, and bears fruit in the life. When the fruit is ripened, the sickle is put in and reaped for the garner of God.

Verses 30-32

Mar 4:30-32

6. PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED

Mark 4:30-32

(Matthew 13:31-32)

30 And he said, How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth?--That is, what other parable or illustration than the ones already used shall be used showing and enforcing some other feature of "the kingdom of God"?

31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth,--Matthew (Matthew 13:31) says: "Which a man took, and sowed in his field." Luke (Luke 13:17-27) says: "His own garden." It is a garden plant. It is the least of all seeds which were sowed in the field or garden in that country--not really the least of all seeds known to botanists. It was proverbially used to denote any small seed.

32 yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof.--From this very small seed grows a very large herb, "greater than all the herbs" grown in that country, "and becometh a tree"--not like the cedar or fir or oak, but so large that birds lodge in its branches. We are told by those who have traveled through that country that "in the proper season the traveler on Gennesaret may ride by mustard bushes as high as his horse, and alive with flocks of merry bullfinches or of rock pigeons feeding upon the seeds." The points of resemblance in the parable are the smallness of seed and the greatness of the production from it. So the kingdom of God, from an insignificant beginning, has grown to a huge magnitude. From a babe in a manger has grown this mighty kingdom.

Verses 33-34

Mar 4:33-34

7. OTHER PARABLES NOT RECORDED

Mark 4:33-34

(Matthew 13:34-35)

33 And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it;--As they were able to comprehend it. They were weak in spiritual knowledge, and he was obliged to lead them along cautiously, and by degrees to a full understanding of the plan of salvation. Jesus taught according to ability or capacity for receiving instruction--not according to age, but according to advancement--according to ability to receive instruction. The apostles adapted their teaching to the capacities of their hearers.

34 and without a parable spake he not unto them:--Jesus spoke all that which he taught on that occasion in parables, and "without a parable" on that occasion, "spake he not unto them."

but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things. --When Jesus and the disciples were alone, he explained in detail the parables. He showed them more at length the spiritual meaning of all his parables.

Verses 35-41

Mar 4:35-41

Commentary On Mark 4:35-41

J.W. McGarvey

Stilling the Tempest, Mark 4:35-41. (Matthew 8:18-27; Luke 8:22-25)

35. the same day.—The same day in which he had been teaching in parables. Another striking difference between Mark’s arrangement and that of Matthew is apparent here. While Mark follows the parables with the stilling of the tempest, and informs us that it occurred on the evening of the same day, Matthew gives the stilling of the tempest among the miracles of his eighth chapter, and reserves the parables to his thirteenth chapter. Matthew also introduces in connection with the miracle in question, the conversation with the scribe and the disciple about going with him (Matthew 8:19-22), which Mark omits, and which Luke mentions in an entirely different connection. (Luke 9:57-62.)

36. even as he was.—The ship on which Jesus had been sitting during the day was doubtless the same that he had previously ordered to be in waiting for him (Mark 3:9); consequently, in that ship they started with him to cross the lake.

Other little ships.—Mark mentions the presence of "other little ships," to show that there were other witnesses of the storm and its miraculous cessation besides the immediate companions of Jesus.

37, 38. on a pillow.—Note the minuteness of Mark’s description. With a master-hand he selects those touches in the details of his picture which impart the liveliest conception of the entire scene: "In the hinder part of the ship," and "asleep on a pillow," paint to perfection the calm repose of Jesus while the tempest was raging and the vessel was filling with water.

carest thou not.—This is an addition to their exclamation as quoted by Matthew, not a different version of it. Putting the two together, we have the hurried and confused exclamation, "Master, carest thou not that we perish? Lord, save us; we are perishing." Strangely forgetful that he was in the same danger with themselves, they regarded his calm slumber as proof of indifference in regard to them.

39-41.—On this part of the incident, see the notes on Matthew 8:26-27.

Questions by E.M. Zerr For Mark Chapter Four

1. Where is Jesus now teaching?

2. Describe position of speaker and audience,

3. With what method did he teach?

4. Who was used for the first lesson?

5. Did the seed all fall on similar ground?

6. Which did the fowls get?

7. Why did some spring up immediately?

8. How did the sun affect it?

9. Why did it wither?

10. State the effect the thorns had.

11. What variation of products on good ground?

12. State the command about ears.

13. When alone what was asked Jesus?

14. Why was such question necessary?

15. Who are "them that are without” in 11th verse?

16. Though seeing, what did they fail to do?

17. And what was lacking in their hearing?

18. All of this was done lest what?

19. Was this parable any harder than others?

20. Whom do the fowls represent?

21. What does affliction or persecution do?

22. State what caused this persecution.

23. What constituted the thorns?

24. What characteristic of riches does the harm ?

25. Tell what is needed besides hearing the word.

26. State the wrong use of a candle.

27. And the right use.

28. What is the candle in this lesson ?

29. How many things hidden will be manifested ?

30. What is the outcome of all secrets?

31. Who are required to hear?

32. State the warning given the hearers.

33. How will measuring be done?

34. To whom will more be given?

35. Who will take something from nothing?

36. To what is the kingdom again likened ?

37. Before harvest what must the seed do?

38. Is man’s understanding needed for this growth ?

39. Why can’t it grow without it?

40. Who is the harvester?

41. What kind of grain will he gather?

42. How is mustard seed used in teaching?

43. What is peculiar to this seed ?

44. And to the matured plant?

45. What “fowls” will rest in its shadow?

46. How strong did Jesus make his teaching?

47. When did he explain to his disciples?

48. Explain “other side ” in 35th verse.

49. Dismissing the multitude what did they do?

50. What were accompanying them?

51. Tell what arose on the sea.

52. State the condition of the boat.

53. How was Jesus passing the time?

54. State their proceedings with him.

55. What did he do?

56. Of what did he accuse them ?

57. Describe their frame of mind.

Mark Chapter Four

By Ralph L. Starling

Jesus entered a ship and taught them on the shore,

For the multitudes continued to grow.

With the use of parables He continued to teach,

Hoping the small and great He would be able to reach.

He told about a Sower, a very common story,

But His disciples asked Him to tell it over.

So, point—by—point He explained it to them,

How it applied to the heavenly Kingdom.

He also told about a candle under a bushel,

A practice that would be so foolish.

Neither was His teaching He was hiding,

So that His hearers would feel invited.

Without a parable He spoke not unto them,

For they were leaving with other ships with them.

A storm with winds filled the ship to the brim,

When Jesus rebuked the winds, they obeyed Him.

The men on board were astonished, even fearful.

“Who is this man? This is awful.”

Jesus said, “Why are you fearful, you are safe.

How is it you have so little faith?”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Mark 4". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/mark-4.html.
 
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