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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Jesus, the Christ; Jesus Continued; Sermon; Thompson Chain Reference - Teacher, Divine; Teaching; The Topic Concordance - Bearing Fruit; Word of God;
54. The sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-29; Luke 8:1-18)
To visit all the towns of Galilee was a huge task. Jesus and his disciples were helped in this work by a group of women who went with them to look after their daily needs (Luke 8:1-3). Crowds of people came to see Jesus wherever he went, and were often a hindrance to the progress of the gospel. It seems that one reason Jesus began to teach extensively in parables was to separate those who were genuinely interested from those who were merely curious (Matthew 13:1-3a; Mark 4:1-2).
The parable of the sower draws its lessons from the four different kinds of soil rather than from the work of the sower. The preacher puts the message of the kingdom into people’s hearts as a farmer puts seed into the ground. But people’s hearts vary just as the soil in different places varies. Some people hear the message but do not understand it because they are not interested. Others show early interest but soon give up because they have no deep spiritual concern. Others are too worried about the affairs of everyday life. Only a few respond to the message in faith, but when they do their lives are changed and a spiritual harvest results (Matthew 13:3-9,Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9,Mark 4:13-20).
Parables may provide a pictorial way to teach truth, but they are more than just illustrations. Their purpose is to make the hearers think about the teaching. Those who gladly receive Jesus’ teaching will find the parables full of meaning. As a result their ability to understand God’s truth will increase. But those who have no genuine interest in Jesus’ teaching will see no meaning in the parables at all. Worse still, their spiritual blindness will become darker, and their stubborn hearts more hardened. Because their wills are opposed to Jesus, their minds cannot appreciate his teaching, and consequently their sins remain unforgiven (Matthew 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12).
Although the teaching of parables may cause the idly curious to lose interest in Jesus, the basic purpose of a parable is to enlighten, not to darken. A parable is like a lamp, which is put on a stand to give light, not hidden under a bowl or under a bed. The more thought people give to their master’s teaching, the more enlightenment and blessing they will receive in return. But if they are lazy and give no thought to the teaching, their ability to appreciate spiritual truth will decrease, until eventually it is completely gone (Mark 4:21-25).
Returning to the picture of the sower, Jesus shows that good seed will always produce healthy plants and good fruit if given the opportunity. The farmer sows the seed, but he must wait for the soil to react with the seed and make it grow. Likewise the messenger of the gospel must have patient faith in God as the message does its work in people’s hearts (Mark 4:26-29).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/mark-4.html. 2005.
And he taught them many things in parables, and said unto them in his teaching,
Practically all of this chapter deals with parables. The Hebrews had but a single word for several English words, including both PARABLE and PROVERB. "A parable is a truth presented by a similitude, being of necessity figurative"; but a proverb may be "figurative, but not necessarily." The reason for Jesus' resort to the method of teaching by parables is complex: (1) He did so in order to fulfill prophecy. (2) He did so to confound the spies of the Pharisees. (3) He thus challenged his disciples to greater spiritual discernment. (4) The Hebrew people were familiar with that method. (5) It made his teachings easier to remember. (6) The parables were interesting in the highest degree. (7) They contained the dynamic teaching of Jesus in language which was unsuitable to the court-charges the Pharisees were anxious to make against him. In short, he, by this method, taught those who wished to know the truth and confounded those who sought to oppose him. In the literature of all the world, there is nothing to compare with the parables of Jesus.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/mark-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
See the parable of the sower explained in the notes at Matthew 13:1-9.
See the parable of the sower explained in the notes at Matthew 13:1-9.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/mark-4.html. 1870.
Shall we turn now in our Bibles to the gospel according to Mark, chapter 4.
Beginning in chapter 4, we have the beginning of the ministry of Christ in parables. There is often times a mistaken opinion as to the reason why Jesus went to parables. The purpose of a parable is really not to veil the truth, but to illustrate the truth. And many times when people become dull of hearing, where they will not receive just straight teaching, when you've lost the attention of your students, a method by which attention can be drawn back again to the subject is by illustration. Tell a story. We are, all of us, very interested in life and in things of life, and when you start to tell a story, suddenly people are paying attention again. And in the story you are able to subtly able to illustrate the truth that you are trying to point out. In each of the parables of Jesus there were truths that were being illustrated, truths that the people would not listen to on just a straight teaching method. And so, the parable form of teaching was adopted, that you might continue to bring them the truth. Only now in a more subtle way.
Some of the parables the people understood, understood very well. In fact, in some of the parables of Jesus, the Pharisees got very angry with Him when they realized, "Uh-oh, that one hit us." And many of the parables were directed against the Pharisees and their attitudes. Sometimes the thought that was being illustrated still went right over their head, but Jesus would then explain it to his disciples when they'd say, "Lord, what were You trying to get across?" And He would explain the parable to them in their private sessions.
Now, Jesus said that these are pretty much the key to all of the parables, these parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. We covered these in Matthew's gospel, chapter 13. And Mark does add just a little bit that Matthew did not give to us.
And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land ( Mark 4:1 ).
We remember last week that He ordered a little ship that He might be in it, because at this point the crowds were beginning to throng Him. Someone had discovered that by touching Jesus they were healed. And so, everywhere Jesus would go, people began to reach out to touch Him. In verse Mark 4:10 of the previous chapter, "For He had healed many, insomuch that they pressed upon Him to touch Him, as many as had plagues." And so, it became a common practice if you had something wrong just to touch Him. And you can imagine how, after a time, that could be pretty vexing when people are pushing and shoving to get near you just so that they can touch you.
And so, when the multitudes were gathered . . . and multitudes means multitudes. And we'll be getting to that in a little bit. When they were out on the other side of the sea, when the people gathered, it said there were five thousand men beside women and children. So, if you assume that for every man there was a woman and maybe one child, you could have as many as fifteen thousand people that had gathered in a deserted area to hear Him. So, you can imagine the tremendous crowds that were now moving with Him, necessitating His having to get a little boat and just shove off and be out in the water just a little bit so that He could address all of the people without being thronged or pressed by them. "And so, he began to teach by the seaside. There was gathered unto Him a great multitude so He entered into a little ship and sat there in the ship by the shore; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land."
And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, [that] some fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased, and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear ( Mark 4:2-9 ).
Now, these people were basically an agrarian society. Practically everyone was involved in some way or other in agriculture. Even those who lived in the cities had their plot of ground in the country. And they all had their stone houses on their plot of grounds with their towers. And they would go out and plant in their fields and they would harvest, and live sort of out during the period of planting and harvesting, and then move into the towns in the winter times. But they were, all of them, close to the soil, an agrarian society. And thus, as Jesus is talking to them about farming, about sowing seed, He's taking something that is very familiar and very common with all of them. And as He describes the various types of conditions that the seed falls on, it was something that was extremely familiar to all of them.
I heard a very interesting lecture from a sociologist who was talking about the change that is taking place in America, as we have shifted from an agrarian society to an industrial society, urbanization. And the effect that it has had upon our whole social life in the United States, in the family and in our attitude towards children, or having children. In an agrarian society, children are welcome. Every child born to the farmer represents about ten thousand dollars worth of labor by the time the child reaches eighteen years of age. They learn to do their chores early. They learn to drive the tractor. They learn how to plow a field. They learn how to work on the harvesters. And a child is looked upon as a blessing, because he is an asset. And that is the reason why so many times on the farms they had big families, a lot of children. And they were all welcome, and boys more than girls, because they were able to work harder in the fields.
But moving from an agrarian society to our urbanized type of society and industrial type of society, every child that is born represents a liability. They estimate now that it will cost you approximately $60,000 to take and raise your child from infancy to eighteen years old or through college. So, every child that is born, you say, "Who needs it? Another expense." And it definitely affects the way that we look upon children that come into the home. And this sociologist was saying, unless you understand this, you cannot understand the problems that we are faced with in our society today, as far as children are concerned. The rise of child abuse and all of these things that we just can't understand. It can only be understood by the fact that from the turn of the century, the United States has developed from an agrarian society to more of a urbanized industrial society. Where children are no longer an asset, but a liability. What he said seemed to make a lot of sense.
What Jesus said made a lot of sense. He was talking to people about things with which they are familiar, and that is so important. As He is giving this parable. They all had experienced these very things as they sowed their seed. And He was talking about things that were just down-home.
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them ( Mark 4:10-12 ).
Now, is Jesus trying to hide the truth to keep man from conversion? No. As I said, parables are used to attract attention and to illustrate truth. But they were not listening to the teachings any more. And yet, it was important that they still hear the word. And so parables were adopted, even though in hearing, they did not understand. Yet, it was important that they hear. God will be fair when He judges man. Everyone will have a chance to hear, even though they have closed their minds, their hearts. It's an amazing thing when a person's heart is closed to God and to the gospel. It's amazing how we perceive what is being said.
You know, there are people that come to Calvary Chapel out of constraint; their friends have constrained them to come. And it's amazing what they hear me say. Because they're just looking for something to jump on and to get angry about. And they're not really listening at all to the content of the message that we bring. But they are only listening to find something to fault, something to disagree with, something to get angry about, so that they can say, "I'll never go back there again." And they want an excuse not to come back. And so, they're not really hearing and not really wanting to hear.
And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? ( Mark 4:13 )
And Jesus is now giving us a key. And in parables there is this expositional constancy. "If you don't know this parable, how are you going to know all parables?" Here is a key to the parables, that is: the word . . . or the seed is the word. This is one of the keys to parables. Whenever in a parable you get to the seed being planted or whatever, know that the seed is the word of God. So He's saying, "Don't you know this parable? Then how are you going to know all parables?" So, He's telling you now this expositional constancy of what represents what.
The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts ( Mark 4:14-15 ).
So, the fowls of the air that come and pluck out the seed is actually Satan, who takes away the seed that is sown. It doesn't even have a chance to get root.
And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard [received] the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and [but they] have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred ( Mark 4:16-20 ).
So, the parable of the sower is how the word of God is received in the hearts of different people. With some people, the seed never has a chance to even root. They're not open to the word of God at all. As soon as it is sown, their mind is set against it, and Satan plucks up that which was sown. It has no effect. There are others who get all excited, receive it with gladness and joy. And of course, we've observed these people. And they start off with a bang, but when persecution comes, a trial or testing, they fall away because there's no real depth. All they've had is an emotional experience. They've had the gladness, the excitement, but there's no real depth at all. And thus, there is that falling away the moment testings come. This third category is the category I'm interested in, because I think that this category covers probably a greater number of people in the church than almost any other category. Those who receive the word; it begins to develop in their lives, but it is among thorns. And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things choke out the effectiveness of the word in their lives, and so there is no real fruit brought forth by them.
Now, it is the Lord's desire that each of us bring forth much fruit. "Herein is the Father glorified" ( John 15:8 ). Now, it is the Lord's desire that each of us bring forth much fruit. "Herein is the Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." But I think how often a person's work for God is thwarted or limited. That their lives are not really productive for the kingdom, because their hearts are drawn away. They're not sinners, they're not out and out rebellious against God. They love the Lord. They have the right desires for God, but they also have desires for the world, for the things of the world. And thus, their lives never achieve what they should and could achieve for the glory of God because the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for these other things have choked out that full fruitfulness that God would have them to bring forth for Him.
It is so difficult to maintain the right priorities in this world today. The pressures of the world are heavy, and it is so difficult to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in all of the pressures that we are faced in our culture and society, based as it is so much around material things. That's the one that I would study and be most concerned. In my own life, this is the thing that concerns me most in the parable.
Jesus said to His disciples, "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should be My disciples, and that you should bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain." The greatest desire I have is that my life bring forth fruit that does remain.
"Now these are they which are sown on the good ground; they hear the word, they receive it, and they bring forth fruit in varying degrees, some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred."
And then he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear ( Mark 4:21-23 ).
The statement that Jesus is always making as He is speaking, is, "Hey, if you have ears to hear, hear." And unless our ears are open by the Spirit of God, we don't have ears to hear. It is only as the Spirit gives us the capacity. For the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit, neither can he know them; they are spiritually discerned. But all the way through in the book of Revelation, when Jesus is talking to the church, again over and over, He is saying, "He that hath an ear to hear, let Him hear what the Spirit says to the church."
Now, you are the light of the world. A light is intended to illuminate the darkness, not to be hid under a candlestick. A light that God has given to you is not something that you are to just hold for yourself. It is intended to bring light to others.
And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear ( Mark 4:24 ):
Now, there is a common thing today of people saying, "Well, you know, let's hear what he has to say." You know, they turn on Channel 18 and that guy is talking with his high squeaky voice. And he's got his flowers and, "Well, let's listen and let's see what he's got to say." The Lord said, "Take heed what you hear." You know, someone says, "Well, I want to hear what they're saying. I want to know what they're saying."
I have a friend who had a very remarkable conversion. He lived out in the area of Victorville. He owned about five different businesses out there; he was an extremely successful person. He owned a tractor agency, he owned an excavating company, and just had many business interests. He was an Episcopalian, very nominal Christian, one of the Christmas/Easter variety. And one night, he had a dream in which he was holding a sick little baby in his hands. And he was praying for that baby and it was healed. And he woke up and it was very vivid. He went back to sleep and this dream repeated itself three times. So, in the morning he called up his priest to share with him this dream about praying for a baby and it was healed. The priest said, "I don't know anything about that. Maybe you should call Paul Smith" (who is my brother), "and he can probably tell you about it." So, this fellow called my brother and my brother talked to him about the Bible, about healing in the Bible and things of this nature. While he was delivering a tractor part to one of his customers in the evening on his way home, the part had come in and the guy was needing it real bad, and he thought, "Well, I'll drop it by his house on my way home." And when he got there, the fellow wasn't there. So, he was explaining to the wife just how to tell her husband the procedures by which the part was to be put on the tractor. And as he was getting ready to go, this little child began to cry in the other room. And the mother went to get it. And he was shocked when she brought the child in, it was crying. It was the child he had seen in his dream. And the mother explained how that the little baby had swallowed some gasoline and had burned the stomach lining, and how that the child would wait until the hunger pains were so great that they were greater than the pain of eating. When the child would eat, the stomach, because of the rawness, would just begin to convulse and the child would be in tremendous pain. And there was really nothing they could do about it but just wait for the slow healing processes. And evidently the child was having the hunger pains again and was crying, and so the mother said, "I guess I'll have to feed it." And she was just really upset. And he said, "Well, ma'am, I don't what's going on; I don't understand this at all, but," he said, "I had a dream and I couldn't understand the dream. But in the dream I was holding a child in my hands, and as I look at your child, it's the child I saw in my dreams. And as I was holding it in my hands, I prayed for it and it was healed. Would it be alright with you if I would hold your child and pray for her?" And she said, "Yes, of course." And so, he took the child in his arms and prayed for her. And the child said, "Mommy, I'm hungry." So, the mother said, "Would you mind waiting while I feed the child?" Because in just a few moments, it'll really start screaming as the food begins to hit the stomach. So, he waited and the child ate. No response at all...completely healed.
Well, this guy didn't know what to make of it at this point. Something totally new to him. But needless to say, he really started to dig in the word of God, in the gospel and the book of Acts. He decided that the Lord was maybe calling him into the ministry. And so, he sold his businesses and went to the Claremont School of Theology, which is about as liberal as any institution you can attend. There's more atheism and unbelief, I think, there than probably in most secular universities. And he was sitting in the classes listening to the professors, seeking to discount the miracles, seeking to discount the word of God, seeking to discount Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, resurrection and all of these things. He was only desiring really to get the degree so he could go out and start ministering in the Episcopal priesthood. And so he thought, "I don't believe this junk that they are telling me." And he thought he had his defenses up, and he thought as this stuff was coming out that he was rejecting it and thoroughly rejecting it, and "I know that isn't true; all I want is a degree from this place and get out of here and really start serving the Lord." But day-by-day this junk was pouring in and he was hearing it. "Be careful what you hear."
He found that as he was talking with his Christian friends and someone would bring up a scripture, he would say, "Oh, but you can't believe that. You see, in the original that isn't there." And he realized that this junk that was coming in was somehow taking root and was affecting his whole attitude and opinion of the Bible. He ended up one evening in an orange grove out in Upland sitting in his car with a .45 pointed to his skull, ready to pull the trigger. He was so confused by the teaching that he was receiving there at the Claremont School of Theology, he was ready to take his life. It just brought him into a complete confusion. And there, the Lord began to speak to him again. And he, of course, quit Claremont School of Theology and opened up a little church in Big Bear and just started to minister. But you've got to be careful what you hear, because whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. You cannot sow to your flesh, and reap with the spirit. Be careful what goes in your ears. It's going to leave its mark; it's going to have its affect upon you. I don't appreciate people just dumping garbage in my mind. "Be careful what you hear."
With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you ( Mark 4:24 );
By whatever standard you are judging others, that is the standard by which you are going to be judged.
and unto you that hear shall more be given. [If you hear the truth.] For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath. And he said [unto them], So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed [that would be the word,] into the ground; and should sleep, and rises night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come ( Mark 4:24-29 ).
Now, what the Lord is saying is that there is this beautiful unconscious growth taking place as God's word is being planted in your heart. As you come Sunday nights, and as we go over the word, and as you're hearing the word, the seed is being sown, the seed is being planted. And you go home, you sleep, you live life as normal, but the word of God is having its effect. You can't always see it immediately, but there is that growth. First the blade and then the stalk, then the ear, then the full corn. But the word of God will have its effect in your life. And gradually you will see your life being transformed and changed just by the power of the word that is coming into your heart day by day. The glorious power of God's word changing a person's life. For if you sow to the Spirit, then of the Spirit you're going to reap.
Now, sometimes we get restless and we get impatient and we want to see the fruit immediately. You know, we want to plant our seeds like Jack and the Beanstalk and go out the next morning and climb the thing that's fully matured. We would like instant growth, but our spiritual growth is imperceptible many times. There's just that unconscious work on our part. But then we look back and we see how far we've come. "Wow! I can see the work of God; I can see how far the Lord has brought me." And this is just the beauty and the value of God's word being sown in your hearts. You know, without even realizing it, by your being here and God's word being sown in your heart, there are changes that are taking place, slowly gradually, imperceptibly, on a day-by-day basis. But over a period of time, you can see things developing and growing. And oh, how glorious when it begins to really bring forth fruit in your life, when you find that God has really changed your attitudes and things that used to just make you so totally angry and upset, it's just sort of, "Well, they need help. I'll pray for them." And you find that, "Hey, is that me saying that? Wow!" And you can see that God's word has had its effect, a life-changing effect. And it's so unconscious, really. It's not struggling, it's not laboring, it's not trying so hard. "I'm gonna do this now." It's not that big works effort, but it's just that beautiful unconscious work of God's Spirit, transforming me and changing me into the image of Christ, through the effect of the word of God being planted. The seed planted in my heart.
And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? ( Mark 4:30 )
So, this is a comparison now.
It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the eaRuth ( Mark 4:31 ):
A mustard seed is a very tiny little dark seed. It looks like a carnation seed.
But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs ( Mark 4:32 ),
Now, they all had their herb gardens, and they all grew their mint and anise and cumin and rosemary and so forth, their spices, their mustard. And this grows up taller than the rest of those herbs that they grew.
and shooteth out great branches ( Mark 4:32 );
Wait a minute! This isn't what a mustard plant does. So, here we have an abnormal growth.
so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it ( Mark 4:32 ).
Uh-oh, things are bad when the fowls of the air...because remember what the fowls represent? Satan, coming in, taking away the seed that was sown.
Christianity is a term that was first used in Antioch by the people of Antioch who put this tag upon those who were living like Christ. They said, "Oh, they're Christ-like." And that is what the term Christian actually means, Christ-like. However, in time, the term has come to a much broader meaning. And it is a term that has been applied like in the Middle East, if you're not a Muslim, then you're a Christian. And in America, if you're not an atheist, you're a Christian. And we used to say a Christian nation, but it's far from a Christian nation. Thus, it is quite obvious that those things that have been done recently in West Beirut, in the Palestinian camps, are not at all Christ-like. For Jesus said, "Love your enemies. Do good unto those that despitefully use you. Bless those that curse you. Bless and curse not." He taught us that we were to love, that we were to forgive, that we were to help. And thus, to say that the Christian militia went in and slaughtered the Palestinians is totally wrong. The militia went in to be sure. But not a Christian militia. Had a Christian militia gone in, they would have taken food and clothing and medicines. And they would have helped those people, because that's what Christ taught us to do. And it is extremely unfortunate that there are enemies of Christ, especially planted in many areas of the news media, who like to pick up on this misnomer of "Christian militia," and to somehow lay the blame of the slaughter of the Palestinians upon all of Christianity or upon all the Jews, whom they also hate.
And so we see very sad caricatures of Christianity or Christians. Such as what was in the Register this week, where you have this ghoulish looking character with a gun smoking and tramping over the bodies in refugee camp number two, and underneath the caption, "Onward Christian Soldiers." The Santa Ana Register is making an attack against everyone of you who believe in Jesus Christ. They are ridiculing your faith. It is a definite attack upon every true child of God. It's a blasphemous attack. It's an unfair attack. But they don't care about fairness in their war. But we, in being Christ-like, must obey and follow Jesus Christ. And we must love and we must forgive.
There is, throughout the world, still a very strong anti-Semitism feeling in the hearts of the many people. This has existed for centuries. And people are just looking for some excuse to hate the Jew or to be mad at the Jew. Paul the apostle represented the feelings of every true Christian where he said, "My heart's desire and prayer for Israel is that they might be saved. And I could wish myself accursed for God for my brother's sake, that they might know Jesus Christ." But unfortunately, in the name of Christianity, in the name of the church, the Jews have been persecuted through the centuries.
Our guide in Israel told us that his very first exposure to Christianity was as a boy in Argentina. When he first went to public school, the first day, he was beat up by the other boys, as they called him a Christ-killer. And he said every day he had to run home from school, rocks being thrown at him as he was called a Christ-killer. He said, "I didn't even know who Christ was. But," he said, "I learned to hate Him because of what was happening to me." How in the world can you ever win someone to Jesus Christ if you hate them like that? Hatred is something far, far from Jesus and the teachings of Jesus, for any group, for any ethnic group. Surely Jesus did teach us that we are all one. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free, but Christ is all and in all" ( Galatians 3:28 ). And a true child of God sees it that way. A true child of God has to be colorblind. For God made us all and God loves us all and Jesus died for all. And there is no superior race; we are all one. We all belong to the human race; we are all one.
These attitudes that have arisen have not arisen from true Christianity, though many of them have prevailed in the church. And unfortunately in many churches today, there are still areas of strong feelings of anti-this and anti-that, and that's sad indeed. And so, within the church, under its shadow, all kinds of horrible things have found refuge. Within the church today, this super World Council of Churches, every kind of fowl exists. Things are being done in the name of the church or Christianity that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Enemies of Christ even, working from within the church. So, "when it is sown, it becomes greater than all of the herbs, shoots out great branches." That's abnormal growth. That's not the true growth, that's abnormal growth. "The fowls of the air may lodge in the shadow."
And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples. And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side ( Mark 4:33-35 ).
Notice the words, "Let us pass over to the other side."
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? ( Mark 4:36-38 )
Jesus must have been extremely tired, having all of these multitudes of people pressing Him, grabbing Him, touching Him. So that, as they started to cross the sea, He fell asleep. And such a deep sleep, that as the storm came up and the ship was being tossed, he continued to sleep. Until finally, the ship was almost full of water. And so they came back and they woke him up and they said, "Master, don't you care if we perish?"
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm ( Mark 4:39 ).
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? ( Mark 4:40 )
First He rebuked the wind and the waves, and then He rebuked the disciples. He rebuked them for having no faith. Why would He do that? The ship was full of water; it looked like it was going to sink. Why would He rebuke them for not having faith? Because you go back to the beginning, what He first said, "Let us pass over unto the other side." He didn't say, "Let's go under." He said, "Let us pass over to the other side." And when Jesus said, "Let us pass over to the other side," there's no way they could go under. You see, this is God speaking, and God's word must come to pass. And that's why He rebuked them; for little faith. Because they had His word that they were going to go over to the other side. He had told them, "Now, be careful what you hear." They weren't careful what they heard, you see.
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? ( Mark 4:41 ) "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/mark-4.html. 2014.
And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
And he taught them: The word "taught" is from didasko, which refers to "the imparting of information, the explanation of the word of God" (Wuest 82). The verb is in the imperfect tense, which indicates continuous action. Jesus continuously teaches them line upon line, precept upon precept.
many things: This expression implies Jesus is dissatisfied with the results of His teaching thus far, and now He redoubles His efforts. It is interesting to contrast the "many things" Jesus teaches with the modern practice of addressing, briefly, one main thought per sermon.
by parables: "Parables" is from the Greek word parabole. R.C. Trench says:
It is from a verb signifying to put forth one thing before or beside another; and it is assumed, when parabole is used for parable, though not necessarily included in the word, that the purpose for which they are set side by side is that they may be compared one with the other (191).
Thus, a parable is a placing beside, a comparing or comparison. In fact, the words "liken," "comparison," and "compare" are used in verse 30 to introduce the parable of the mustard seed.
and said unto them in his doctrine: The word "doctrine" is from didache and means "that which is taught" (Wuest 82). The phrase can accurately be translated, "and said unto them in His teaching." "His teaching" refers to the mode of teaching He has just introduced.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/mark-4.html. 1993-2022.
The setting 4:1-2 (cf. Matthew 13:1-3a; Luke 8:4)
Jesus may have taught these parables shortly after the incident Mark just finished recording (Mark 3:20-35; cf. Matthew 13:1). If so, this was a very busy day in Jesus’ ministry. It may have included all the events in Mark 3:19 to Mark 4:41 (cf. Mat_12:22 to Mat_13:53; Luke 8:4-25). "Again" looks back to Mark 3:7 and perhaps to Mark 2:13. The boat (Gr. ploion) in which Jesus sat was a vessel larger than a rowboat (cf. Mark 3:7), perhaps a fishing boat.
Matthew recorded Jesus giving two groups of parables on this occasion: four to the multitudes (Matthew 13:3-35), and four to the disciples (Matthew 13:36-52). Mark recorded only Jesus’ parables to the multitudes. Both evangelists recorded Jesus’ explanations to His disciples, though what they recorded Him saying is not identical.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/mark-4.html. 2012.
2. Jesus’ teaching in parables 4:1-34
This is the first of three extended teaching sessions that Mark recorded (cf. Mark 7:1-23; Mark 13:3-37). Jesus’ three parables in this section describe the character of the messianic kingdom.
Parables are illustrations that teach truth by comparisons (Gr. parabole, lit. "something thrown alongside," similitudes). Some are long stories, but others are short similes, metaphors, analogies, or proverbial sayings (cf. Mark 2:19-22; Mark 3:24-25; Mark 3:27). The popular definition that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning is essentially accurate as far as it goes. The use of parables for teaching was a common rabbinic device that Jesus adopted and used with great skill.
"A parable begins innocently as a picture that arrests our attention and arouses our interest. But as we study the picture, it becomes a mirror in which we suddenly see ourselves. If we continue to look by faith, the mirror becomes a window through which we see God and His truth. How we respond to that truth will determine what further truth God will teach us." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:121.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/mark-4.html. 2012.
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 ( Judges 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 ( G3466) . 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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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-4.html. 1956-1959.
And he taught them many things by parables,.... As he sat in the ship, and they stood on shore;
and said unto them in his doctrine; as he was teaching them, and delivering unto them the doctrine he had received from his Father: though the Jews say c, that
"the Israelites will have no need לתלמודו של מלך משיח, "of the doctrine of the king Messiah, in the time to come"; because it is said, "unto him shall the Gentiles seek", and not the Israelites.''
But it appears from hence, and many other places, that the Israelites both stood in need of his doctrine, and sought after it; and very excellent it was; the doctrine of God, and of the grace of God; and was spoken with authority, and in such a manner as never man spake, and which he delivered to his apostles; and which, if ministers bring not with them, should not be bid God speed.
c Bereshit Rabba, sect 98. fol. 85. 3.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/mark-4.html. 1999.
|The Parable of the Sower.|
1 And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. 2 And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, 3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred. 9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. 10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. 13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? 14 The sower soweth the word. 15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.
The foregoing chapter began with Christ's entering into the synagogue (Mark 4:1; Mark 4:1); this chapter begins with Christ's teaching again by the sea side. Thus he changed his method, that if possible all might be reached and wrought upon. To gratify the nice and more genteel sort of people that had seats, chief seats, in the synagogue, and did not care for hearing a sermon any where else, he did not preach always by the sea side, but, having liberty, went often into the synagogue, and taught there; yet, to gratify the poor, the mob, that could not get room in the synagogue, he did not always preach there, but began again to teach by the sea side, where they could come within hearing. Thus are we debtors both to the wise and to the unwise,Romans 1:14.
Here seems to be a new convenience found out, which had not been used before, though he had before preached by the sea side (Mark 2:13; Mark 2:13), and that was--his standing in a ship, while his hearers stood upon the land; and that inland sea of Tiberias having no tide, there was no ebbing and flowing of the waters to disturb them. Methinks Christ's carrying his doctrine into a ship, and preaching it thence, was a presage of his sending the gospel to the isles of the Gentiles, and the shipping off of the kingdom of God (that rich cargo) from the Jewish nation, to be sent to a people that would bring forth more of the fruits of it. Now observe here,
I. The way of teaching that Christ used with the multitude (Mark 4:2; Mark 4:2); He taught them many things, but it was by parables or similitudes, which would tempt them to hear; for people love to be spoken to in their own language, and careless hearers will catch at a plain comparison borrowed from common things, and will retain and repeat that, when they have lost, or perhaps never took, the truth which it was designed to explain and illustrate: but unless they would take pains to search into it, it would but amuse them; seeing they would see, and not perceive (Mark 4:12; Mark 4:12); and so, while it gratified their curiosity, it was the punishment of their stupidity; they wilfully shut their eyes against the light, and therefore justly did Christ put it into the dark lantern of a parable, which had a bright side toward those who applied it to themselves, and were willing to be guided by it; but to those who were only willing for a season to play with it, it only gave a flash of light now and then, but sent them away in the dark. It is just with God to say of those that will not see, that they shall not see, and to hide from their eyes, who only look about them with a great deal of carelessness, and never look before them with any concern upon the things that belong to their peace.
II. The way of expounding that he used with his disciples; When he was alone by himself, not only the twelve, but others that were about him with the twelve, took the opportunity to ask him the meaning of the parables, Mark 4:10; Mark 4:10. They found it good to be about Christ; the nearer him the better; good to be with the twelve, to be conversant with those that are intimate with him. And he told them what a distinguishing favour it was to them, that they were made acquainted with the mystery of the kingdom of God,Mark 4:11; Mark 4:11. The secret of the Lord was with them. That instructed them, which others were only amused with, and they were made to increase in knowledge by every parable, and understood more of the way and method in which Christ designed to set up his kingdom in the world, while others were dismissed, never the wiser. Note, Those who know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, must acknowledge that it is given to them; they receive both the light and the sight from Jesus Christ, who, after his resurrection, both opened the scriptures, and opened the understanding,Luke 24:27; Luke 24:45.
In particular, we have here,
1. The parable of the sower, as we had it, Matthew 13:3, c. He begins (Mark 4:3; Mark 4:3), with, Hearken, and concludes (Mark 4:9; Mark 4:9) with, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Note, The words of Christ demand attention, and those who speak from him, may command it, and should stir it up; even that which as yet we do not thoroughly understand, or not rightly, we must carefully attend to, believing it to be both intelligible and weighty, that at length we may understand it; we shall find more in Christ's sayings than at first there seemed to be.
2. The exposition of it to the disciples. Here is a question Christ put to them before he expounded it, which we had not in Matthew (Mark 4:13; Mark 4:13); "Know ye not this parable? Know ye not the meaning of it? How then will ye know all parables?" (1.) "If ye know not this, which is so plain, how will ye understand other parables, which will be more dark and obscure? If ye are gravelled and run aground with this, which bespeaks so plainly the different success of the word preached upon those that hear it, which ye yourselves may see easily, how will ye understand the parables which hereafter will speak of the rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles, which is a thing ye have no idea of?" Note, This should quicken us both to prayer and pains that we may get knowledge, that there are a great many things which we are concerned to know; and if we understand not the plain truths of the gospel, how shall we master those that are more difficult? Vita brevis, ars longa--Life is short, art is long. If we have run with the footmen, and they have wearied us, and run us down, then how shall we contend with horses?Jeremiah 12:5. (2.) "If ye know not this, which is intended for your direction in hearing the word, that ye may profit by it; how shall ye profit by what ye are further to hear? This parable is to teach you to be attentive to the word, and affected with it, that you may understand it. If ye receive not this, ye will not know how to use the key by which ye must be let into all the rest." If we understand not the rules we are to observe in order to our profiting by the word, how shall we profit by any other rule? Observe, Before Christ expounds the parable, [1.] He shows them how sad their case was, who were not let into the meaning of the doctrine of Christ; To you it is given, but not to them. Note, It will help us to put a value upon the privileges we enjoy as disciples of Christ, to consider the deplorable state of those who want such privileges, especially that they are out of the ordinary way of conversion; lest they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.Mark 4:12; Mark 4:12. Those only who are converted, have their sins forgiven them: and it is the misery of unconverted souls, that they lie under unpardoned guilt. [2.] He shows them what a shame it was, that they needed such particular explanations of the word they heard, and did not apprehend it at first. Those that would improve in knowledge, must be made sensible of their ignorance.
Having thus prepared them for it, he gives them the interpretation of the parable of the sower, as we had it before in Matthew. Let us only observe here,
First, That in the great field of the church, the word of God is dispensed to all promiscuously; The sower soweth the word (Mark 4:14; Mark 4:14), sows it at a venture, beside all waters, upon all sorts of ground (Isaiah 32:20), not knowing where it will light, or what fruit it will bring forth. He scatters it, in order to the increase of it. Christ was awhile sowing himself, when he went about teaching and preaching; now he sends his ministers, and sows by their hand. Ministers are sowers; they have need of the skill and discretion of the husbandman (Isaiah 28:24-26); they must not observe winds and clouds (Ecclesiastes 11:4; Ecclesiastes 11:6), and must look up to God, who gives seed to the sower,2 Corinthians 9:10.
Secondly, That of the many that hear the word of the gospel, and read it, and are conversant with it, there are, comparatively, but few that receive it, so as to bring forth the fruits of it; here is but one in four, that comes to good. It is sad to think, how much of the precious seed of the word of God is lost, and sown in vain; but there is a day coming when lost sermons must be accounted for. Many that have heard Christ himself preach in their streets, will hereafter be bidden to depart from him; those therefore who place all their religion in hearing, as if that alone would save them, do but deceive themselves, and build their hope upon the sand, James 1:22.
Thirdly, Many are much affected with the word for the present, who yet receive no abiding benefit by it. The motions of soul they have, answerable to what they hear, are but a mere flash, like the crackling of thorns under a pot. We read of hypocrites, that they delight to know God's ways (Isaiah 58:2); of Herod, that he heard John gladly (Mark 6:20; Mark 6:20); of others, that they rejoiced in his light (John 5:35); of those to whom Ezekiel was a lovely song (Ezekiel 33:32); and those represented here by the stony ground, received the word with gladness, and yet came to nothing.
Fourthly, The reason why the word doth not leave commanding, abiding, impressions upon the minds of the people, is, because their hearts are not duly disposed and prepared to receive it; the fault is in themselves, not in the word; some are careless forgetful hearers, and these get no good at all by the word; it comes in at one ear, and goes out at the other; others have their convictions overpowered by their corruptions, and they lose the good impressions the word has made upon them, so that they get no abiding good by it.
Fifthly, The devil is very busy about loose, careless hearers, as the fowls of the air go about the seed that lies above ground; when the heart, like the highway, is unploughed, unhumbled, when it lies common, to be trodden on by every passenger, as theirs that are great company-keepers, then the devil is like the fowls; he comes swiftly, and carries away the word ere we are aware. When therefore these fowls come down upon the sacrifices, we should take care, as Abram did, to drive them away (Genesis 15:11); that, though we cannot keep them from hovering over our heads, we may not let them nestle in our hearts.
Sixthly, Many that are not openly scandalized, so as to throw off their profession, as they on the stony ground did, yet have the efficacy of it secretly choked and stifled, so that it comes to nothing; they continue in a barren, hypocritical profession, which brings nothing to pass, and so go down as certainly, though more plausibly, to hell.
Seventhly, Impressions that are not keep, will not be durable, but will wear off in suffering, trying times; like footsteps on the sand of the sea, which are gone the next high tide of persecution; when that iniquity doth abound, the love of many to the ways of God waxeth cold; many that keep their profession in fair days, lose it in a storm; and do as those that go to sea only for pleasure, come back again when the wind arises. It is the ruin of hypocrites, that they have no root; they do not act from a living fixed principle; they do not mind heart-work, and without that religion is nothing; for he is the Christian, that is one inwardly.
Eighthly, Many are hindered from profiting by the word of God, by their abundance of the world. Many a good lesson of humility, charity, self-denial, and heavenly-mindedness, is choked and lost by that prevailing complacency in the world, which they are apt to have, on whom it smiles. Thus many professors, that otherwise might have come to something, prove like Pharaoh's lean kine and thin ears.
Ninthly, Those that are not encumbered with the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, may yet lose the benefit of their profession by the lusts of other things; this is added here in Mark; by the desires which are about other things (so Dr. Hammond), an inordinate appetite toward those things that are pleasing to sense or to the fancy. Those that have but little of the world, may yet be ruined by an indulgence of the body.
Tenthly, Fruit is the thing that God expects and requires from those that enjoy the gospel: fruit according to the seed; a temper of mind, and a course of life, agreeable to the gospel; Christian graces daily exercised, Christian duties duly performed. This is fruit, and it will abound to our account.
Lastly, No good fruit is to be expected but from good seed. If the seed be sown on good ground, if the heart be humble, and holy, and heavenly, there will be good fruit, and it will abound sometimes even to a hundred fold, such a crop as Isaac reaped, Genesis 26:12.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Mark 4:2". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/mark-4.html. 1706.
It is remarkable how tradition has contrived to injure the truth in touching the question of the method of the gospel we now enter on; for the current view which comes down to us from the ancients, stamped too with the name of one who lived not long after the apostles, lays down that Mark's is that gospel which arranges the facts of our Lord's life, not in, but out of the order of their occurrence. Now, that order is precisely what he most observes. And this mistake, if it be one, which notoriously had wrought from the earliest days, and naturally, therefore, to a large extent since, of course vitiated the right understanding of the book. I am persuaded that the Spirit of God intended that we should have among the gospels one that adheres to the simple order of the facts in giving our Lord's history. Otherwise, we must be plunged in uncertainty, not merely as to one particular gospel, but as lacking the means of rightly judging departures from historic order in all the others; for it is plain, that if there be no such thing as a regular order in any one gospel, we are necessarily deprived of all power of determining in any case when the events did really occur which stand differently connected in the rest of the gospels. It is not in any way that one would seek what is commonly called a "harmony," which is really to obscure the perception of the special objects of the gospels. At the same time, nothing can be more certain than that the real author of the gospels, even God Himself, knew all perfectly. Nor, even to take the lowest ground, on the part of the different writers, is ignorance of the order in which the facts occurred a reasonable key to the peculiarities of the gospels. The Holy Ghost deliberately displaced many events and discourses, but this could not be through carelessness, still less through caprice, but only for ends worthy of God. The most obvious order would be to give them just as they occurred. Partly, then, as it seems to me, that we might be able to judge with accuracy and with certainty of the departures from the order of occurrence, the Spirit of God has given us in one of these gospels that order as the rule. In which of them is it found, do you ask? I have no doubt that the answer is, spite of tradition, In the gospel of Mark. And the fact exactly agrees with the spiritual character of his gospel, because this also ought to have great weight in confirming the answer, if not in deciding the question.
Any person who looks at, Mark, not merely piecemeal, though it is evident in any part, but, much more satisfactorily, as a whole, will rise from the consideration of the gospel with the fullest conviction that what the Holy Ghost has undertaken to give us in this history of Christ is His ministry. It is now so much a matter of common knowledge, that there is no need to dwell long upon a fact that is generally confessed. I shall endeavour to show how the whole account hangs together, and bears out this well-known and most simple truth how it accounts for the peculiarities in Mark, for what is given us, and for what is left out; and of course, therefore, for his differences from the others. All this, I think, will be made clear and certain to any who may not have thoroughly examined it before. Here I would only observe, how entirely this goes along with the fact that Mark adheres to the order of history, because, if he is giving us the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and particularly His service in the word, as well as in the miraculous signs which illustrated that service, and which were its external vouchers, it is plain that the order in which the facts occurred is precisely that which is the most calculated of all to give us a true and adequate view of His ministry; whereas it is not so, if we look at the object of either Matthew or Luke.
In the former the Holy Ghost is showing us the rejection of Jesus, and that rejection proved from the very first. Now, in order to give us the right understanding of His rejection, the Holy Ghost groups facts together, and groups them often, as we have had occasion to notice, entirely regardless of the time at which they occurred. What was wanted was a bright vivid view of the shameless rejection of the Messiah by His own people. It was needed, thereupon, to make plain what God would undertake in consequence of that rejection, that is to say, the vast economic change that would follow. It was necessarily the weightiest thing that had ever been or that could be in this world, the rejection of a divine Person who was at the same time "the great King," the promised expected Messiah of Israel. For that very reason, the mere order of the facts would be entirely insufficient to give proper weight to the object of the Holy Ghost in Matthew. Therefore the Spirit of God does what even man has wit enough to do, where he has any analogous object before him. There is a bringing together, from different places, persons, and times in the history, the great salient facts which make evident the total rejection of the Messiah, and the glorious change which God was able to introduce for the Gentiles in consequence of that rejection. Such is the object in Matthew; and accordingly this accounts for the departure from mere sequence of events.
In Luke, again, there is another reason that we shall find, when we come to details, abundantly confirmed. For therein the Holy Ghost undertakes to show us Christ as the One who brought to light all the moral springs of the heart of man, and at the same time the perfect grace of God in dealing with man as he is; therein, too, the divine wisdom in Christ which made its way through this world, the lovely grace, too, which attracted man when utterly confounded and broken down enough to cast himself upon what God is. Hence, throughout the gospel of Luke, we have, in some respects, a disregard of the mere order of time equal to that which characterized Matthew. If we suppose two facts, mutually illustrating each other, but occurring at totally different times, in such a case these two facts might be brought together. For instance, supposing the Spirit of God desired in our Lord's history to show the value of the word of God and of prayer, He might clearly bring together two remarkable occasions, in one of which our Lord revealed the mind of God about prayer in the other, His judgment of the value of the word. The question whether the two events took place at the same time is here entirely immaterial. No matter when they occurred, they are here seen together; if put out of their occurrence, in fact, it is to form the justest order for illustrating the truth that the Holy Ghost meant us to receive.
This general observation is made here, because I think it is particularly in place in introducing the gospel of Mark.
But God has taken care to meet another point by the way. Man might take advantage of this departure from the historical order in some gospels, and the maintenance of it in others, in order to decry the writers or their writings. Of course, he is hasty enough to impute "discrepancy." There is no real ground for the charge. God has taken a very wise method to contradict and rebuke the credulous incredulity of man. As there are four evangelists, so He has arranged it that, of these four, two should adhere to historical order, and two should forsake it where it Was required. Further, of these two, one was, and one was not an apostle in each case. Of the two evangelists, Mark and John, who generally maintain historical order, the most remarkable thread of events was not given by an apostle. Nevertheless, John, who was an apostle, adheres to the historical order in the fragmentary series of facts, here and there, in the life of Christ, that he gives us. At the same time that the gospel of John does not undertake to present a sketch of the entire course of Christ, Mark describes the whole career of His ministry with more particularity than any other. Hence it is that John practically acts as a kind of supplement, not to Mark only, but to all the evangelists; and we have, ever and anon, a cluster of the richest events, yet keeping to historical order. Not to speak of its wondrous preface, there is an introduction that precedes the account given in the other gospels, filling up a certain space after His baptism, but before His public ministry. And then, again, we have a number of discourses which our Lord gave more particularly to His disciples after His public relations were over. These are all given, as it appears to me, in the exact order of their delivery, without any departure from it, save only that we find a parenthesis once or twice in John, which, if not seen there to be a parenthesis, wears an appearance of a departure from the succession of time; but of course a parenthesis does not come under the ordinary structure of a regular sentence or series of things.
This explanation, I trust, will help to a general understanding of the relative place of the gospels. We have Matthew and Luke, one of them an apostle, and the other not, both of whom are wont to depart from historical order very largely. We have Mark and John, one of them an apostle, and the other not, both of whom likewise, as a rule, adhere to historical order. God has thus cut off all just reason on men's part for saying that it is a question of knowing or not knowing the facts as they occurred, some being eyewitnesses, and others learning the events, etc., otherwise. Of those that keep the order of history, one was, the other was not, an eye-witness; to those that adopt a different arrangement precisely the same remark applies. Thus it is that God has confuted all attempts of His enemies to cast the smallest discredit upon the instruments He has used. It is thus made apparent that (so far from the structure of the gospels being attributable in any way to ignorance on one side, or, on the other, to a competent knowledge of the facts), on the contrary, he was no eye-witness who has given us the fullest, minutest, most vivid, and graphic sketch of the Lord's service here below; and this in small particulars, which, as every one knows, is always the great test of truth. Persons who do not commonly speak the truth can nevertheless be careful enough sometimes about great matters; but it is in little words and ways where the heart betrays its own treachery, or the eye its lack of observation. And it is precisely in this that Mark triumphs so completely rather, let me say, the Spirit of God in His employment of Mark. Nor was it that Mark had earlier been a worthy servant himself. Far from it. Who does not know that, when he began his work, he was not always fervent in serving the Lord? We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that he deserted the great apostle of the Gentiles when he accompanied him and his cousin Barnabas; for such was the relationship, rather than that of uncle. He left them, returning home to his mother and Jerusalem. His associations were with nature and the great seat of religious tradition, which for a while, of course, ruined him, as it tends to ruin every servant of God who is similarly ensnared. Nevertheless, God's grace overcomes all difficulties. So it was in the personal ministry of Mark, as we gather from the glorious work Mark was afterwards given to do, both in other ministry (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11), and in the extraordinary honour of writing one of the inspired accounts of his Master. Mark had not possessed the advantage of that personal acquaintance with the facts which some of the other writers had enjoyed; yet is he the one through whom the Holy Ghost condescended to impart the minutest, and at the same time the most suggestive touches, if I may so say, that are found in any view vouchsafed us of the actual living ministry of our Lord Jesus. Indeed, such was the current of his own history, as forming him for the work he subsequently had to do; for while at first there was certainly that which looked uncommonly like a false start, afterwards, on the contrary, he is acknowledged by Paul most cordially, spite of early disappointment and rebuke; for his company had been absolutely refused, even at the cost of losing Barnabas, to whom the apostle had special grounds of personal attachment. Barnabas was the man who had first gone after Saul of Tarsus; for assuredly he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and thus the more willing to accredit the great grace of God in Saul of Tarsus, when the new convert was regarded with suspicion, and might have been left alone for a season. Thus Saul had known literally in his own history how little the grace of God commands confidence in a sinful world. After all this, then, it was that Mark, who had fallen under the censure of Paul, and had been the occasion of separating Barnabas from that apostle that very Mark afterwards completely retrieved his lost character, and the apostle Paul takes more pains by far to reinstate him in the confidence of the saints, than he had done personally to refuse association with him in the service of the Lord.
Who, then, so fit to give us the Lord Jesus as the true servant? Choose whom you like. Go over the whole range of the New Testament; find out one whose own personal career so adapted him to delight in, and to become the suited vessel for the Holy Ghost to show us, the perfect Servant of God. It was the man that had been the faulty servant; it was the man whom grace had restored and made to be a faithful servant, who had proved how ensnaring is the flesh, and how dangerous the associations of human tradition and of home; but who thus, unprofitable at first for the ministry, became afterwards so profitable, as Paul himself took care to declare publicly and for ever in the imperishable word of God. This was the instrument whom God employed by the Holy Ghost to give us the grand lineaments of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely, as Levi the publican, the apostle Matthew was providentially formed for his task; and grace, condescending to look at all circumstances, uever deigns to be controlled by them, but always, while working in them, nevertheless retains its own supremacy above them. Even so in Mark's case there was just as great an appropriateness for the task God had assigned him, as there was in the call of the earlier evangelist from the receipt of custom, and the choice of one so despised of Israel to show the fatal course of that nation, when the Lord turned at the great epoch of dispensational change to call in Gentiles and the despised of Israel themselves. But if there was this manifest fitness in Matthew for his work, it would be strange if there were not as much in Mark for his. And this is what we find in his gospel. There is no parade of circumstance; there is no pomp of introduction even for the Lord Jesus Christ in this gospel, not even that style which is most rightly found elsewhere. It could not be that the Messiah of Israel was to enter among His chosen people, and be found in Israel's land, without due witness and clear tokens preceding His approach; and the God who had given promises, and who had established the kingdom, would surely make it manifest; for the Jews did require a sign, and God gave them signs in abundance before the coining of the greatest sign of all.
Thus it is that in the gospel of Matthew we have seen the amplest credentials from angels and among men of the Messiah, who then and there was born the King of the Jews, in Immanuel's land. But in Mark all this is with equal beauty absent; and suddenly, without any other preparation than John preaching and baptizing the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" at once, after this, the Lord Jesus is found, not born, not the subject of homage, but preaching, taking up the work which John not long after laid down, as it were, on going to prison. That setting aside of the Baptist (ver. 14) becomes the signal for the public service of the Lord; and, accordingly, the service of Christ is thenceforward pursued throughout our gospel; and first of all His Galilean service, which continues down to the end of chapter 10 I do not purpose tonight to look even at the whole of this Galilean ministry, but to divide the subject matter as my time requires, and therefore I do not now limit myself to the natural divisions of the gospel, but simply follow it according to chapters, as the occasion may require. We shall take it in two portions.
In the opening section or preface (of verses 1-13), then, we have here no genealogy whatever, but very simply the announcement of John the Baptist. We have our Lord then ushered into His public ministry, and, first of all, His Galilean labours. As He walks by the sea, He sees Simon, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea. These He calls to follow Him. It was not the first acquaintance of the Lord Jesus with these two apostles. At first sight it might seem strange that a word, even though it were the word of the Lord, should call these two men away from their father or their occupation; yet no one can call it unprecedented, as the call of Levi, already referred to, makes plain. Nevertheless, so it is that in the case of Andrew and Simon, as well as the sons of Zebedee, called about the same time, there was certainly previous acquaintance with the Saviour. Two disciples of the Baptist, one of them Andrew, preceded his brother Simon, as we know from John 1:1-51. But here it is not at all the same time or facts that are described in that gospel. In the call to the work, I have no hesitation in saying that Andrew and Simon were called before John and James; but in the personal acquaintance with the Saviour, which we find in the gospel of John, it is evident to me, that an .unnamed disciple (as I think, John himself) was before Simon. Both are perfectly true. There is not even the appearance of contradiction when the Scripture is rightly understood. Each of these is exactly in its proper place, for we have in our gospel Christ's ministry. That is not the theme of the gospel of John, but a far deeper and more personal subject; it is the revelation of the Father in the Son to man upon the earth. It is eternal life found by souls, and of course in the Son of God. This accordingly is the first point of contact which the Holy Ghost loves to trace in John's gospel. Why is all that entirely left out of Mark? Evidently because his province is not a soul acquainted for the first time with Jesus, the display of the wonderful truth of eternal life in Him. Another subject is in hand. We have the Saviour's grace, of course, in all the gospels; but the great theme of Mark is His ministry. Hence it is, that not the personal so much as the ministerial call is the one referred to here. In John, on the contrary, where it was the Son made known to man by faith of the Holy Ghost's operation, it is not the ministerial call, but the previous one the personal call of grace unto the knowledge of the Son, and eternal life in Him.
This may serve to show that weighty lessons lie under that which a careless eye might count a comparatively trivial difference in these gospels. Well we know that in God's word there is nothing trivial; but what might at first sight seem so is pregnant with truth, and also in immediate relation to God's aim in each particular book where these facts are found.
All things, then, they now forsake at the call of the Lord. It was not a question simply of eternal life. The principle, no doubt, is always true; but we do not in fact find all things thus forsaken in ordinary cases. Eternal life is brought to souls in the Christ who attracts them; but they are enabled to glorify God where they are. Here it is all abandoned in order to follow Christ. The next scene is the synagogue of Capernaum. And there our Lord shows the objects of His mission here in two particulars. First there is teaching "He taught them," as it is said, "as one that had authority, and not as the scribes." It was not tradition, it was not reason, not imagination, or the persuasible words of man's wisdom. It was the power of God. It was that, therefore, which was equally simple and sure. This necessarily gives authority to the tone of him who, in a world of uncertainty and deceit, utters with assurance the mind of God. It is a dishonour to God and His word to pronounce with hesitation the truth of God, if indeed we know it for our own souls. It is unbelief to say "I think," if I am sure; nay, revealed truth is not only what I know, but what God has made known to me. It is to cloud and weaken the truth, it is to injure souls, it is to lower God Himself, if we do not speak with authority where we have no doubt of His word. But then it is plain that we must be taught of God before we are at liberty to speak thus confidently.
But it is here to be noted, that this is the first quality mentioned in our Lord's teaching. This, I need not say, has a voice to us. Where we cannot speak with authority, we had better not speak at all. It is a simple rule, and abundantly short. At the same time it is clear that it would lead to great deal of searching of heart; but, I am no less persuaded, it would be with immense profit to ourselves and to our hearers.
The second thing was not authority in teaching, but power in action; and our Lord deals with the root of the mischief in man the power of Satan, now so little believed in the power of Satan over human spirits or bodies, or both. There was then in the synagogue the very place of meeting, where Jesus was a man with an unclean spirit. The demoniac cried out; for it was impossible that the power of God in the person of Jesus could be there without detecting him that was under the power of Satan. The bruiser of the serpent was there, the deliverer of the enthralled sons of Adam. The mask is thrown off; the man, the unclean spirit, cannot rest in the presence of Jesus. "He cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" In the most singular way he blends together the action of the evil spirit with his own "What have we to do with thee? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God." Jesus rebukes him. The unclean spirit tore him; for it was right that there should be the manifestation of the effects of the evil power, restricted as it was before Him who had defeated the tempter. It was a profitable lesson, that man should know what the working of Satan really is. We have on the one side, then, the malignant effect of Satan's power, and on the other the blessed benignant might of the Lord Jesus Christ, who compels the spirit to come out, amazing all that saw and heard, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him." There was, we thus see, both the authority of truth, and also the power that wrought in outward signs accompanying.
The next scene proves that it was not merely displayed in such acts as these: there was the misery and the maladies of man apart from the direct possession of the enemy. But virtue goes out of Jesus wherever there was an appeal of need. Peter's wife's mother is the first who is presented after he leaves the synagogue; and the marvellous grace and power blended in His healing of Peter's mother-in-law attracts crowds of sick with every evil; so that we know all the city was come together at the door. "And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him."
Thus, then, the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is fully come. It is thus that he enters upon it in Mark. It is clearly the manifestation of the truth of God with authority. Divine power is vested in man over the devil, as well as over disease. Such was the form of the ministry of Jesus. There was a fulness in it naturally, one need scarce say, which was suitable to Him who was the head of ministry as well as its great pattern here below, no less than, as He is now, its source from His place of glory in heaven. But there is another notable feature in it, too, as contributing to fill this instructive introductory picture of our Lord's ministry in its actual exercise. Our Lord "suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him." He refused a testimony that was not of God. It might be true, but He would not accept the testimony of the enemy.
But positive strength is also requisite in dependence on God. Hence we are told, "In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." There, just as there is the rejection of the enemy's testimony, so there is the fullest leaning upon God's power. No personal glory, no title to power that attached to Him, was the smallest reason for relaxing in entire subjection to His Father, or for neglecting to seek His guidance day by day. Thus He waited on God after the enemy was vanquished in the wilderness, after He had proved the value of that victory in healing those oppressed of the devil. Thus engaged it is that Simon and others follow and find Him. "And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee."
But this public attraction to the Lord Jesus was a sufficient ground for not returning. He did not seek the applause of man, but that which comes from God. Directly it came to be published, so to speak, the Lord Jesus retires from the scene. If all men sought Him, He must go where it was a question of need, not of honour. Accordingly He says, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there; for therefore came I forth." He ever abides the perfect, lowly, dependent servant of God here below. No sketch can be more admirable, nowhere else can we see the perfect ideal of ministry completely realized.
Are we, then, to assume that all this was set down at random? How are we to account without a definite purpose for these various particulars and no others swelling the picture of ministry? Very simply. It was what God inspired Mark for. It was the Spirit's object by him. It is owing to a different design that we find other topics introduced elsewhere. No other gospel presents even the same facts after such a sort, because no other is thus occupied with the Lord's ministry. Thus the reason is most plain. It is Mark, and he alone, who was led of God to put the facts together that bear upon Christ's ministry, adhering to the simple natural order of the facts related, omitting of course what did not illustrate the point, but among those which did, keeping the events as they followed one another. Christ is thus seen as the perfect servant. He was Himself showing what service of God is at the beginning of His ministry. He was forming others. He had called Peter, and James, and Andrew, and John. He was making them fishers of men-servants, too. And so it is that the Lord presents before their eyes, before their hearts, before their consciences, these perfect ways of grace in His own path here below. He was forming them after His own heart.
Then, at the close of the chapter, the leper comes and, at the beginning of the next chapter, the paralytic man is brought (Mark 2:1-28). These we have had in Matthew, and we shall find the same in Luke. But here you will observe that the two cases are closer together. It is not so in Matthew, but in Luke. Matthew, as we saw, gave us the leper at the beginning of Matthew 8:1-34, and the paralytic man at the beginning ofMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38. Mark, who simply relates facts as they occur, introduced nothing between these two cases. They were, as I conceive, not long apart. The one followed soon after the other. and they are so introduced to us here. In the one, sin is viewed as the great type of defilement; in the other, sin is viewed as guilt accompanied by utter weakness. Man, utterly unfit for the presence of God, needs to be cleansed from his loathsome impurity. Such is the representation in leprosy. Man, utterly powerless for walk here below, needs to be forgiven as well as strengthened. Such is the great truth set forth in the paralytic case. Here too, with singular fulness, we have the picture of the crowds that were gathered round the door of the house, and the Lord, as usual, preaching to them. We have then a graphic picture of the palsied man brought in, borne by four. All the particulars are brought before our eyes. More than that: as they could not come nigh to Jesus for the press, the roof was uncovered, and the man is let down before the Lord's eyes. Jesus, seeing their faith, addresses the man, meets the unbelieving blasphemous thoughts of the scribes that were there, and brings out His own personal glory as Son of man, rather than as God. This latter was the great point in curing the leper; for it was an axiom that God alone could cure a leper. Such was the acknowledgment of Israel's king at a remarkable point in their history; such would have been the common confession of any Jew "Am I God?" This was the point there. God must act directly or by a prophet, as every Jew would allow, in order to cure leprosy; but, in the case of the palsied man, our Lord asserted another thing altogether, namely, that "the Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins." Then He proved His power over the most hopeless bodily weakness as a witness of His authority here below to forgive. It was the Son of man on earth that had power. Thus the one proved God had come down from heaven, and had really, in the person of that blessed Saviour, become a man without ceasing to be God. Such is the truth apparent in the cleansing of the leper; but in the paralytic healed, it is a different side of the Lord's glory. The servant of God and man in every case, here He was the Son of man that had power on earth to forgive the guilty, and prove its reality by imparted strength to walk before all.
Then follows the call of the publican. "As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him." Next, the Lord is seen at a feast in the house of him who was thus called by grace, which excites hatred in the slaves of religious routine. "When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples" not to Him; they 'had not honesty enough for that "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." It gave the Lord an opportunity to explain the true character and suited objects of His ministry. To sinners, as such, went forth the call of God. It was not the government of a people now, but the invitation of sinners. God had delivered His people once; He had called them His son too, and called His son out of Egypt; but now it was a question of calling sinners, even if the words "to repentance" be given up as an interpolation derived from the corresponding passage in Luke, where its propriety is evident. The Lord gloried in the grace which He was ministering here below.
As the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast, this is the next scene, raising the question of the character of those whom Jesus was sent to call. The narrative presents all this in a very orderly manner, but still adhering simply to the facts. Then comes the question of mingling the new principles with the old. This the Lord pronounces quite impossible. He shows that it was inconsistent to expect fasting when the Bridegroom was there. It would argue an entire unbelief in His glory, a total want of right feeling in those who owned His glory. It was all very well for people who did not believe in Him; but if the disciples recognised Him as the Bridegroom, it were utterly incongruous to fast in His presence.
Hence, our Lord takes the opportunity of pursuing the subject more deeply in the observation that "no man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment, else the new piece that filleth it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse." The forms, the outward manifestation of that which Christ was introducing, will not suit, and cannot mingle with the old elements of Judaism, still less will their inner principles consent. This He enters on next: "And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." Christianity demands an outward expression, agreeable to its own intrinsic and distinctive life.*
* Here is found one of the few exceptional dislocations, if not the only one, in Mark; for it would appear fromMatthew 9:18; Matthew 9:18, that while the Lord was speaking of the wine and the bottles the jailor Jairus came about his daughter. This is only given (in Mark 5:1-43) by Mark.
Mark 3:1-35. This theme is followed up by the two sabbaths, the first of these sabbath days bringing clearly out to view that God no longer owned Israel, and this because that Jesus was as much despised in this day as David had been of old. Such is the point referred to here. The disciples of Christ were starving. What a position! No doubt David and his men suffered lack in that day. What was the effect then as to the system which God had sanctioned? God would not maintain His own ordinances in presence of the moral wrong to His anointed, and those that clave unto Him. His own honour was at stake. His ordinances, however important in their place, give way before the sovereign dispositions of His purpose. The application was evident. The Lord Jesus Christ was a greater than David; and were not the followers of Jesus quite as precious as those of Jesse's son? If the bread of priests became common, when they of old were hungry, would God now hold to His sabbath when the disciples of Jesus lacked ordinary food? Besides, He adds, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the sabbath." Thus He asserts the superiority of His own person, and this as the rejected man; and therefore the title, "Son of Man," is especially brought in here.
But, then, there is more which comes out on the second sabbath day. There was the presence of bitter helplessness among men. It was not merely, that the disciples of Jesus were in want, the witness of His own rejection, but in the synagogue He enters next was a man with a withered hand. How came this to pass? What was the feeling that could plead the law of the sabbath to keep from healing a miserable human sufferer? Had Jesus no heart, because their eyes were only open to find in His love an occasion to accuse Him who felt for every sorrow of man upon the earth? He was there with adequate power to banish all sorrow with its source. And therefore it is that our Lord Jesus, in this case, instead of merely pleading the case of the guiltless, goes boldly forward; and in the midst of a full synagogue as He sees them watching that they might accuse Him, He answers the wicked thought of their heart. He gives them the opportunity they desired. "And he said to the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth." There was no concealment for a moment. "He saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?" Was He not the perfect servant of God, that knows so well the times? Here, then, instead of merely defending disciples, He challenges their wicked and evil thoughts in open congregation, and bore His witness that God's delight is not in holding to rules, when it would be for the hindrance of the displays of His goodness. Contrariwise, His act declares that no rules can bind God not to do good: His nature is goodness; let man pretend ever such zeal for His own law to keep man wretched and hinder the flow of grace. God's laws were never intended to bar His love. They were intended, no doubt, to put a restriction upon man's evil, never to forbid God from doing His own good will. Alas! they had no faith that God was there.
And it is remarkable, though not noticed at the beginning ofMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, that Mark does not enter upon the service of our Lord Jesus before presenting Him in verse 1 as the Son of God, followed by the application of the prophetic oracle, that He was really Jehovah. The only true servant was truly divine. What an illustrious testimony to His glory! At the start this was well, and rightly ordered, and in place most suitable; the more so as it is an unusual thought in Mark. And here let me make the remark in passing, that we have hardly any quotation of Scripture by the evangelist himself I am not aware that any positive case can be adduced, except in these prefatory verses of the gospel; forMark 15:28; Mark 15:28 rests on too precarious authority to be fairly regarded as an exception. There are some not infrequent quotations either by our Lord or to our Lord; but the application of Scripture about our Lord by the evangelist himself, so frequent in the gospel of Matthew, is almost, if not entirely, unknown to the gospel of Mark. And the reason, I think, is very plain. What he had in hand was not the accomplishment of Scriptural marks or hopes, but the fulfilment of the Lord's ministry. What he therefore dwells on was not what others had said of old, but what the Lord Himself did. Hence it is that application of Scripture, and accomplishments of prophecy, naturally disappear where such is the theme of the gospel.
However, again returning to the conclusion of the second sabbath day. Our Lord looks round about on these Sabbatarians with anger, being distressed, as it is said, at the hardness of their hearts. and then bids the man stretch forth his hand, which was no sooner done than 'it was restored. This goodness of God, so publicly and fearlessly witnessed by Him who thus served man, at once goads on to madness the murderous feeling of the religious leaders. It is the first point where, according to Mark's account, the Pharisees, taking counsel with the Herodians, conceived the design of killing Jesus. It was not fit that One so good should live in their midst. The Lord withdraws to the sea with His disciples; and subsequent to this it is that, while He heals many, and casts out unclean spirits, He also goes up into a mountain, where He takes a new step. It is one point of change in Mark's gospel, a step in advance of all He had hitherto done. Following upon the design of the Pharisees with the Herodians to destroy Jesus, the new measure He adopts is the sovereign call and appointment of the twelve, that He might in due time send them forth. Thus, He not merely calls them to be with Him, but He appoints them in a formal manner to the great mission on which they were to be sent out. The Lord now takes the conspiracy of two great enemies in Israel, the Pharisees and the Herodians, as an opportunity to provide for His work. He sees well in their hatred what was before Him; indeed, He knew it from the first, it need hardly be said. Still, the manifestation of their murderous hatred becomes the signal for this fresh step, the appointment of those that were to continue the work when the Lord should be no longer here in bodily presence Himself to carry it on. And so we have the twelve; He ordains them, "that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach," etc. Ministry in the word has always the highest place in Mark not miracles, but preaching. The healing of sickness and the casting out of the devils were signs accompanying the preached word. Nothing could be more complete. There is not only evidence that we see the servant depicted here, but that the servant was the Lord Himself, even as we saw in the beginning of this gospel.
Thus there was the appointment of those He pleased to call for the due execution of His mighty work on the earth. At this juncture it is that we find His relatives so greatly moved when they heard of all the crowds no time to eat, etc. It is a remarkable and characteristic fact mentioned by Mark only. "When his friends heard it, they went out to lay hold of him: for they said, He is beside himself." It was mainly, I suppose, because of an entire devotedness which they could not appreciate; for just before we are told, that "the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread." To His friends it was mere infatuation. They thought He must be out of His mind. It must be so, more particularly to one's relatives, where the powerful grace of God calls out and abstracts its objects from all natural claims. Such it always is in this world, and the Lord Jesus Himself, as we find, had no immunity from the injurious charge on the part of His friends. But there is more; we have His enemies now, even the scribes that came from Jerusalem. "He hath Beelzebub," say they, "and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils." The Lord condescends to reason with them "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand."
But thereon our Lord most solemnly pronounces their doom, and shows that they were guilty not of sin, as men say, but of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. There is no such phrase as sin against Him in this sense. People often speak thus, Scripture never. What the Lord denounces is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Keeping that distinctly in view would save many souls a great deal of needless trouble. How many have groaned in terror through fear of being guilty of sin against the Holy Ghost! That phrase admits of vague notions and general reasoning about its nature. But our Lord spoke definitely of blasphemous unforgivable sin against Him. All sin, I presume, is sin against the Holy Ghost, who has taken His place in Christendom, and, consequently, gives all sin this character. Thus, lying in the Church is not mere falsehood toward man, but unto God, because of the great truth that the Holy Ghost is there. Here, on the contrary, the Lord speaks of unforgivable sin (not that vague sense of evil which troubled souls dread as "sin against the Holy Ghost," but blasphemy against Him). What is this evil never to be forgiven? It is attributing the power that wrought in Jesus to the devil. How many troubled souls would be instantly relieved, if they laid hold of that simple truth! It would dissipate what really is a delusion of the devil, who strives hard to plunge them into anxiety, and drive them into despair, if possible. The truth is, that as any sin of a Christian may be said to be sin against the Holy Ghost, what is especially the sin against the Holy Ghost, if there be anything that is so, is that which directly hinders the free action of the Holy Ghost in the work of God, or in His Church. Such might be said to be the sin, if you speak of it with precision. But what our Lord referred to was neither a sin nor the sin, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It was that which the Jewish nation was then rapidly falling into, and for which they were neither forgiven then, nor will ever be forgiven. There will be a new stock, so to speak; another generation will be raised up, who will receive the Christ whom their fathers blasphemed; but as far as that generation was concerned, they were guilty of this sin, and they could not be forgiven. They began it in the lifetime of Jesus. They consummated it when the Holy Ghost was sent down and despised. They still carried it on persistently, and it is always the case when men enter upon a bad course, unless sovereign grace deliver. The more that God brings out of love, grace, truth, wisdom, the more determinedly and blindly they rush on to their own perdition. So it was with Israel. So it ever is with man left to himself, and despising the grace of God. "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness." It is the final stage of rebellion against God. Even then they were blaspheming the Son of Man, the Lord Himself; even then they attributed the power of the Spirit in His service to the enemy, as afterwards still more evidently when the Holy Ghost wrought in His servants; then the blasphemy became complete.
And this is, I suppose, what is referred to in principle inHebrews 6:1-20; Hebrews 6:1-20. Hebrews 10:1-39 seems to be different. Then it is the case of a person who had professed the name of the Lord utterly abandoning Him, and giving loose rein to sin. This is another form of sin and destruction.
In the case before us in the gospel of Mark, the enemies had shown their uncontrollable fury and hatred after the fullest evidence, and cast the worst imputation on the power they could not deny, but endeavoured to discredit to others by attributing it to Satan. It was clear that any, all other testimony after this was utterly vain. Hence, our Lord then turns to introduce the moral ground for a new call and testimony. The real object of God, the ulterior object in the service of Jesus, comes out. There was a testimony, and righteously, to that people in the midst of whom the Lord had appeared, where His ministry had displayed the mighty power of God in grace here below. Now our Lord intimates that it must be no longer a question of nature, but of grace, and this because of His mother and His brethren, who had been pointed out by some. "Behold," said they, "thy mother and thy brethren without seek thee. He answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them that sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." In short, He owns no one henceforth because of any connection with Himself after the flesh. The only ground of relationship is the supernatural tie in new creation. Doing the will of God is the point. For this only grace avails: "the flesh profiteth nothing."
Therefore, in the next chapter, we are given a sketch of His ministry from that time down to the very end. Such is the bearing of this chapter. It is the Lord's ministry in its great principles under that aspect, and viewed not only as a fact going on (as we have had ministry in general before this), but now in its connection with this special work of God. "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth." Hence we see Him forming a people, founded upon submission to the will of God, and therefore by the preached word of God; and this pursued to the very close of all, with a view of the difficulties of those engaged in that work, or in the midst of the trials from this world which always attend such a ministry. Such is the Mark 4:1-41. Accordingly the first parable (for He speaks in parables to the multitude) is of a sower. This we have very fully given us with its explanation. Then follow some moral words of our Lord. "Is a candle," He says in the twenty-first verse, "brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?" It is not only that there is a word that acts upon the heart of man, but there is a light given (that is, a testimony in the midst of darkness). The point here is not merely the effect on man, but the manifestation of the light of God. This therefore should not be put under a bed to be concealed. God does not in ministry merely consider the effect upon the heart of man; there is much besides done for His own glory. There is the need not only of life, but of light; and this is what we have first of all light that germinates far and wide, and seed producing fruit. Part of the scattered seed was picked up by the enemy, or in some other way less openly hostile it comes to nothing. But after the necessity of life is shown in order to fruit-bearing, we have then the value of light; and this not only for God's glory though the first consideration, but also for man's guidance in this dark world. "Take heed what ye hear." Not only is there thus the word of God sown everywhere, but "take heed what ye hear." There is a mingling of what is dark and what is light, a mingling of a false testimony with a true, more particularly to be remembered when the question is raised whether there is a light from God. These Christians in particular have need to take care what they hear. They only have discerning power, and this therefore is brought in most appropriately after the first foundation is settled.
In the next place comes a parable peculiar to Mark. There is no part of his gospel which more thoroughly illustrates it than this: "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." It is the Lord manifesting Himself at the beginning of the work of God in the earth, and then coming at the end of it, all the intermediate state where others appear being left out. It is the perfect servant inaugurating and consummating the work. It is the Lord Jesus at His first advent and at His second, in connection with ministry. He commences and crowns the work that had to be done. Where is anything like this to be found in other gospels? Turn to Matthew, for instance, and what a difference! There we have, no doubt, the Lord represented as sowing (Matthew 13:1-58); but when in the next parable the harvest at the end of the age is brought before us, He says to the reapers, etc. It is not Himself who is said to do this work, but in that gospel the design requires us to hear of the authority of the Son of man. He commands His angels. They are all under His orders. He gives them the word, and they reap the harvest. Of course, this is perfectly true, as well as in keeping with God's aim in Matthew; but in the gospel of Mark the point is rather His ministry, and not authority over angels or others. The Lord is viewed as coming, and He does come; so that the one is just as certain as the other. Supposing, then, you take this parable out of Mark and put it into Matthew, what confusion! And suppose you transplant what is in Matthew into Mark, evidently there would not only be the rent of the one, but also the introduction of that which never would amalgamate with the other. The fact is, that all, as God has written it, is perfect; but the moment these portions are confounded, you lose the special bearing and appropriateness of each.
After this we hear of the grain of mustard seed, which was merely to show the great change from a little beginning into a vast system. That intimation was all-important for the guidance of the servants. They were thereby taught that material magnitude would be the result, instead of the work of the Lord retaining its primitive simplicity and small extent, spiritual power being the real greatness and the only true greatness in this world. The moment anything, no matter what it may be, in the Lord's work becomes naturally striking before men's eyes, you may rely on it that false principles have somehow got a footing within. There is more or less that which savours of the world. And therefore was it of great importance that, if their worldly greatness was to come, there should be a sketch of the great changes to follow; and this you find given in such an orderly manner in Matthew. This was not Mark's object, but just enough for the guidance of the servants, that they should know that the Lord would surely accomplish His work, and do it perfectly; as He began it well, so would He end it well. But at the same time there would be no small change effected here below, when the little sowing of the Lord should grow into an aspiring object before men, as man loves to make it. "And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it." This, therefore, is the only parable that is added here; but the Spirit of God lets us know that the Lord on the same occasion spoke a great many more. Others we have in Matthew, where full dispensational light was specially called for. It was sufficient for the object of our gospel to give what we have seen here. Not even the leaven follows, as in Luke.
But then, in the end of the chapter, we have another instructive appendix. It is no new thing for man's work to mar, as far as can be, the Lord's work to turn service into a means of lordship here below, and make great that which at the present time has its worth in refusing to part from the scorn and reproach of Christ. For the flock is not great, but little: till He return, it is a despised work of a despised Master. We have the dangers to which those engaged in His work would be exposed. This, I think, is the reason why the record is here given of the tempest-tossed vessel in which the Lord was, and the disciples, full of anxiety, trembled at the winds and the waves around them, thinking of themselves much more than of their Master. Indeed, they reproachfully turn to Him, and say, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Such, alas! are the servants apt to be heedless of His honour, abundantly careful for themselves. "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" It was little faith; but was it not little love too? It was an utter forgetfulness of the glory of Him who was in the vessel. It did, however, bring out the secret of their hearts they at least cared for themselves: a dangerous thing in the servants of the Lord. Oh, to be self-sacrificing! to care for nothing but Him! At any rate the comfort is this He does care for us. The Lord accordingly rises at that call, selfish as it might be, of glaring unbelief; yet His ear heard it as the call of believers, and He pitied them. "He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still." The wind ceased, and there was a great calm; so that even the shipmen feared exceedingly in the presence of such power; and said one to another, "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
The next chapter (Mark 5:1-43) opens with a highly important incident connected with ministry. Here it is a single case of a demoniac, which makes the details all the more striking. In point of fact, we know from elsewhere that there were two. The gospel of Matthew, not in this only, but in various other cases, speaks of two persons; as, I suppose, because this fact fell in with his object. It was a recognized principle in the law, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established; and he among the evangelists on whom, so to speak, the mantle of the circumcision fell, he it was who, speaking in view of the circumcision, gives the required testimony for the guidance of those in Israel that had ears to hear. Nothing of the kind was before Mark. He wrote not with any special aim of meeting Jewish saints and Jewish difficulties; but, in truth, rather for others that were not so circumscribed, and might rather need to have their peculiarities explained from time to time. He evidently had humanity before him as wide as the world, and therefore singles out, as we may fairly gather, the more remarkable of the two demoniacs. There is again no thought here of delineating the destinies of Israel in the last days, without denying an. allusion typically here to that which is fully drawn out there. But I apprehend the special object of this chapter is to trace the moral effects of Christ's ministry, where it is brought home in power to the soul. We have, therefore, the most desperate case possible. It is neither a leper nor a paralytic; nor is it simply a man with an unclean spirit. Here is the minute specification of a case more appalling than any we can find elsewhere in the gospels, and none describes it with such power and intense naturalness, or so circumstantially, as our evangelist.
"When he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains." All human appliances but proved the superior might of the enemy. "Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him." What a picture of dreary wretchedness, the companion of desolation and of death! "And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones." Utter degradation, too, weighed him down, the cruelty of degradation such as Satan loves to inflict upon man that he hates. "But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many." Again the same trait, one may just remark, appears here as before a most singular identifying of the evil spirit with the man. Sometimes it would seem as if it was but one, sometimes a kind of manifold personality. "He besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country." And the Lord accordingly casts the unclean spirits into the swine, which were destroyed.
However, it is not only deliverance, as we saw in Matthew, but there is the moral result on the soul. The people of the country come for now it is the testimony of the effects of ministry; they come to Jesus, and seeing him that was possessed of the devil and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind, they were afraid; and they that saw it told them how it befell him that was possessed of the devil, and also concerning the swine. Mark their unbelief! Man showed that he cared less for Jesus than for Satan or the swine. "When he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him" the natural impulse of a renewed heart, true of every saint of God. There is no believer, I care not how feeble he may be, who does not know this desire, unless he lose the sweet simplicity of truth, or, it may be, stifled by bad doctrine, such as putting him under law, which always produces fear and anxiety. But when a man is not poisoned by misuse of law, or other corrupt teaching, the first simple impulse of him who knows the love of Jesus is to be with Him. This is one reason why all Christians are spoken of as loving His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:1-22) Nor is it only a desire to be with Him, but that His glory should be made good everywhere. The soul right well knows that He who is so precious to the heart only needs to be known to others, only needs to be manifested before the world, to bring in the only power of blessing that can avail for such a world as this.
In the case before us, however, our Lord suffers him not. He shows that, no matter how true and right and becoming might be this sentiment of grace in the heart of the delivered man, still there is a work to be done. Those that are delivered are themselves to be deliverers. Such is the beneficent character and aim of the ministry of Jesus. If Jesus does His work, if He breaks the power of Satan that none else can touch, it is not merely that the delivered one should have his heart with Him, and forthwith desire to go and be with Him. In itself, indeed, it is due to his love, and it could not but be that he who has been taught of God what Jesus is, should long to be where He is. But as Jesus pleased not Himself, coming to serve God here below, so his sphere of service is in the place where he could tell others the great things which had been done for him. Accordingly the Saviour meets him with the words, "Go home to thy friends."
Mark it well, dear brethren; we are apt to forget the injunction. It is not merely, Go to the world, or, Go to every creature; but, "Go home to thy friends." How comes it that there is such difficulty, often, in speaking to our friends? Why is it that persons who are bold enough with strangers, are so timid before their household, relatives, connections? It often tells a tale which it is well to bear in mind. We shrink from the comparison which our friends are so apt and sure to make; who test our words -however clear, and good, and sweet by that which they have such abundant means of ascertaining in our daily ways. An inconsistent walk makes a coward, at least, before "our friends." It would be well if it really had the effect of humbling us before all. Were there genuine lowliness with fidelity before God, there would be courage, not only before strangers, but before "our friends." Here, however, the point simply amounts to this: The Lord would spread the message of grace, would send him to make it known to his friends; for it was clearly they who had best known in his case the awful and degrading power of Satan. They would, of course, be most interested in the men who were his familiars; and therefore there were special reasons, I doubt not, for it. For us, too, it is a good thing to bear it in mind. Not that a saved soul should only go to his friends; but it remains ever true and good that the secret of grace in the heart should send us to our friends, to make it known to those who have known our folly and sins, that they may hear of the mighty Saviour we have found. "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him."
How sweet this identification of "Jesus" with "the Lord." "How great things the Lord hath done for him." The Saviour put it forth in the most general way, I believe, in uttering these words without special allusion to Himself. The man, on the other hand, I cannot doubt, was perfectly right. How often, when it may appear that there is a want of literal exactitude, in interpreting "the Lord" of "Jesus," there is in truth a better carrying out of the mind of God. Mere literalism would have held slavishly to the letter of the Lord's language. But oh how much deeper, and, withal, more glorifying to God it was, when the man saw underneath that great mystery of godliness the Lord in the servant's garb. He who was pleased to take the form of a servant was none the less the Lord. "He went and told how great things Jesus had done for him."
Then follows the account of the Jewish ruler of the synagogue, who fell at the feet of Jesus, and besought Him greatly to heal his dying daughter. Having dwelt on the scene elsewhere, I need say the less here. The Lord goes with him, intimating His specified ministry in Israel a work which goes down to the reality of death, under which they would be shown really to lie. But the Shepherd of Israel could raise from the dead. This seems to be the bearing of the case before us, and not a mere general inroad upon Satan's power, which became the occasion and justification, if one may so speak, of carrying victoriously the glad tidings of God's kingdom and goodness to man. This was true of the Lord's ministry even while on the earth, the place where Satan reigns. His temptation in the wilderness proved Him stronger than the strong man, and therefore He spoils his goods, delivering the poor victims of Satan, and making them to be the captors of him whose captives they were. But here we find that his heart, far from being turned away from Israel, yearned over their need, deep as it was. The call of Jairus is no sooner made than He goes to answer it. He alone could wake out of death's sleep the daughter of Zion; yet, ineffable grace! while on the road He is open to everybody. In the throng through which He had to pass was a woman having an issue of blood. It was a desperate case; for she had suffered much, and tried many physicians in vain. Such is the hapless lot of man away from God; human aid avails not. Where is the man who has had to do with what is in the world, and would not at once acknowledge the justice of the picture, the powerlessness of man in the presence of the deepest wants? But this was just the opportunity for One who, even as man ministering here below, wielded the power of God in His love. Jesus was the true and unfailing servant of God; and the woman, instead of seeking good from man as he is, and thus suffering more and more by the very efforts made to benefit her, unseen in the press behind, touches the garment of Jesus. "For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she wad healed of that plague." To have banished her ailment would have been too little for Jesus; for He is a perfect Saviour, and therefore is a Saviour not only for the body that had suffered so long, but for the soul's affections and peace. She got a better blessing than she sought. He not only staunched the issue of blood, but filled her trembling heart with confidence instead of the fear that had possessed her before. Nothing would have been morally right had she gone away with the reflection that she had stolen some virtue from Jesus. Emphatically banishing, then, all dread from her spirit, He says to her, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague." That is, He seals to her with His mouth the blessing which, as it were, her hand would else have seemed to have taken surreptitiously from Him.
Then, in the end of the chapter, the Lord is in the presence of death; but He will not allow death to abide His presence. "The damsel," said He, (and how true it was!) "is not dead, but sleepeth." Just so the Spirit says believers are asleep; as, "Those that sleep in Jesus God brings with him." Here typically Israel is viewed according to the mind of God. Unbelief may weep, and wail, and create all sorts of tumult, and with little feeling after all; for it can equally even then laugh Jesus to scorn. But as for Him, He suffers none to enter but chosen ones Peter, and James, and John, alone, with the parents. "And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn." So the Lord takes the damsel by the hand, after He had turned the others out, and straightway at His word she arises, and walks. "And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat." Why in this gospel more than any other does the Lord Jesus thus enjoin silence? I conceive it is because Mark's is the gospel of service. The truth is, brethren, service is not a thing to be trumpeted by those engaged in it, or their friends. Whatever is from God, and is done toward God, may be safely left to tell its own tale. It is what God gives and does, not what man says, that is the real point of holy service. Observe here, too, how the Lord, at least, perfect in every thing, not only does the work, but besides tenderly cares for her. There is the considerate goodness of the Lord to be remarked, that "something should be given her to eat." In every matter, even in what might seem the smallest, Jesus took an interest. Thus He bore in mind that the maiden had been in this state of trance, and was exhausted. Whatever be the occasion that calls it forth, is it not the greatest of all things for our hearts to know how Jesus cares for us?
In Mark 6:1-56 we have our Lord again now thoroughly despised. Here He is "the carpenter." It was true; but was this all? Was it "the truth?" Such was man's estimate of the Lord of glory; not merely the carpenter's son, but here, and here only, He is Himself the carpenter, "the son of Mary, and the brother of James, and Joses, and Judah, and Simon. Are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." Beautifully, too, you may remark that, where there was this unbelief, our Lord would not remove it by dazzling feats of power, because there would have been no moral worth in a result so produced. He had given already abundant signs to unbelief; but men had not profited by them, neither was the word that He spake mixed with faith in them that heard it. The consequence is, that "He could there do no mighty work;" as here only it is recorded yes, of the man before whom no power of Satan, no disease of man, nothing above, or below, or beneath, could prove the very smallest difficulty. But God's glory, God's will governed all; and the display of perfect power was in perfect lowliness of obedience. Therefore this blessed One could there do no mighty work. It is needless to say that it was no question of power as to Himself. It was not in any wise that His saving arm was shortened; not that there was no virtue in Him longer, but there was the lovely blending of the moral glorifying of God with all that was wrought for man. In other words, we have not here the mere setting forth of the power of Jesus, but the gospel of His ministry. Therefore it is a weighty part of this, that because of unbelief He could do no mighty work there. He was really serving God; and if man only was seen, not God, no wonder that He could do no mighty work there. Thus, that which at first sight seems strange, the moment you take it in connection with the object of God in what He is revealing, all becomes striking, plain, and instructive.
And now He proceeds to act upon that appointment of the twelve, whom we saw, in Mark 3:1-35, He had ordained. "He called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth." It was in presence of the thorough contempt which had just shown itself that He gives them their mission. It was only when the extremest scorn fell on Him, so that He could do no mighty work there. He replies, as it were, in the most gracious and also conclusive manner, that it was from no lack of virtue, because He sends them two and two on their new and mighty errand. He that could communicate power, then, to a number of men the twelve to go forth and do any mighty work, certainly did not Himself want intrinsic energy, nor was it from any want of power to draw upon in God. Jesus invests them with His own power, as it were, and sends them out in all directions as witnesses, but witnesses of the ministry of Jesus. They were servants called after His own fashion; and so He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; they were to go forth in the faith of His resources. Therefore, anything of human means would have been contrary to the very intention. In a word, we must remember that this was a special form of service suitable to that moment, and, in point of fact, rescinded by our Lord afterwards in very important particulars. In the gospel of Luke, we have carefully given us the change that takes place when the Lord's hour was come. It was not only that it was an hour come for Him, but it was a crisis for them, too. They had thenceforward to encounter a great change, because of the character of utter rejection, and, indeed, of suffering, on which the Lord was entering. He therefore cast them upon the ordinary resources of faith, using such things as they had; but as yet it was not so. On the contrary, the witnesses of Jesus to Israel were then going forth. It was in the face of unbelief against Himself, but unbelief answered by the fresh outflow of grace on His part, sending out messengers with extraordinary powers from Himself all over the land. And so He told them where to go, and "what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent" a very important feature here added. John preached repentance; Jesus preached repentance, as did these apostles. And be assured, beloved friends, that repentance is an eternal truth of God for this time as much as for any other. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that the change of dispensation weakens (I will not say merely the place of repentance for every soul that is brought to God, but) the duty of preaching repentance. We are not to leave it after a perfunctory sort, contenting ourselves with the assurance, that if a person believes, he is sure to repent; we ought to preach repentance, as well as to look for repentance in those who profess to have received the gospel. At any rate, it is equally clear that the Lord preached it, and that the apostles were to do and did the same. "They preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them."
Then we have Herod appearing upon the scene; and Herod, I take it, represents in Israel the power of the world its usurping power, if you please. However this be, there he was in point of fact, the holder of the world's power in the land, and ever, though not without qualms and struggles in the end, thoroughly opposed to the testimony of God. He was really hostile to it, not merely in its fullest forms, but at bottom also, in its first appearance and most elementary presentation. He had no love for the truth; he might like the man who preached it well enough, and at first hear him gladly; he might have many anxieties about his soul before God, and know perfectly well that he was doing wrong in his ordinary life; but, still, the devil managed to play the game so well, that although there was personal affection, or respect, at least, for the servant of God, the disastrous end comes, as it always will, when there is a fair trial in this world. No respect, no kindly feeling for any one or anything that is of God, will ever stand when Satan is allowed to work, and is thus free to accomplish his own deadly plan of ruining or thwarting the testimony of God. This is what those engaged in the ministry of Christ must expect to see attempted, and will do well to resist. If this be the point, as I apprehend, the reason of its introduction here is not obscure. The Lord was sending out these chosen vessels. In the presence of this new action of His in the work, we learn how the world feels about it; not merely the ignorant world, nor the religious parties with their chiefs, but the highly cultivated profane world. And this is the way in which they treat it. They have the outward power which Satan finds means to make them use. They kill the witness of God. It may be only a wicked woman who stirs them up to do the deed; but be not deceived. It was not a question of Herodias merely. She was but the tool by which the devil brought it about: he has his own particular way; and in this case we have not only the circumstances, solemn as they are, but the spring of all in the opposition of Satan to God's testimony. The issue of it is, that if wicked men have power to kill, even if reluctant, he whose they are somehow compels them to use their power, when the opportunity arises. Fear of man, and notions of honour, are strong where God is unheeded: what may not follow where there is no conscience? That old serpent can manage to entrap the most prudent, just as Herod here fell into the trap. For his word to a wicked woman, passed in presence of his lords, John's head was struck off, and produced in a charger.
The apostles come to our Lord after their mission, and tell Him the result of their mission; or as it is said here, "told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught." It was not very safe ground: it were better to have spoken of what He had taught, and what He was doing. As, however, the Lord corrects all most graciously, He takes them away into a desert place, and there He is found unwearied in His love. A hungry multitude was there. These disciples, only a little while before so full of what they had taught, and what they had done was it not a worthy emergency for their labours now? Could they not help in the present distress? They seem not so much as to have thought of it. Alone, at any rate, in this scene, our Lord Jesus brings out in the plainest possible manner their utter failure. Mark the lesson well. It is especially, when there was somewhat of boastfulness, after they had been occupied with their own doings and teachings. Then it is that we find them thus powerless. They were at their wits' ends. They did not know what to do. Strange to say, they never thought of the Lord; but the Lord thought of the poor multitudes, and in His richest grace not only spread a table and fed the people, but makes the feeble disciples themselves to be the dispensers of His bounty, as afterwards they must gather up what remained.
After this, again, we find them exposed to a storm, and the Lord, joining them in their troubles, brings them safely, and at once, to the desired haven. Therein follows the scene of joy where Jesus is recognized, and the abundant blessing that attended His every footstep where He moved. As surely as Jesus thus blessed the poor world then, such and far more will He prove Himself at His return after the world will have done its worst. I do not doubt that this carries us to the end, when the Lord Jesus will rejoin His people after their manifold and sore troubles, after all their proved weakness, as well as exposure to outward storms. As He was in the place He had visited, so He will be in the universal diffusion of power and blessing, when the tempest-tossed disciples shall have come safe to land.
Mark 7:1-37. But then there is another view necessary also in connection with ministry; we need to learn the prevalent feeling of the religious powers. Accordingly we have the traditionist in collision with Christ, as we had in the last chapter Herod with John the Baptist. Here it is the accredited leaders from Jerusalem, the scribes, before whom our Lord brings the most convincing evidence, that the principle and practice of their cherished traditions demoralise man and dishonour the word of God. The reason of the evil is manifest it is from man. This is enough; for man is a sinner. There is nothing really good but what is from God. Show me anything from fallen man which is not evil. Tradition, as being man's supplement, is always and necessarily evil. The Lord puts it together with what He afterwards brings out the condemnation of man's heart in all its depravity. There it is not only the mind of man, but the working of his corrupt feelings. This is not the time to dwell on this well known chapter, and the contrast it furnishes of Christ's display of God's all-perfect grace toward the greatest possible need the woman who came to Him on account of her demoniac daughter. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by nation, who besought Him to cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But the Lord, trying her faith in order to give her a richer blessing, not only accomplishes what she desires, but puts the seal of His approval in the most striking manner upon her personal faith. "And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."
Next we come to another tale, finishing the chapter, and strikingly characteristic of our gospel the case of one deaf and dumb, whom Jesus met as He departed from these quarters into Galilee. "And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him." Here again the Lord shows us a beautiful sample of considerateness and tender goodness in the manner of His cure. It is not only the cure, but the manner of it, that we have so strikingly brought out here. Our Lord takes the man aside from the multitude. Who could intermeddle with that scene between the perfect servant of God and the needy one? "He puts his fingers into his ears." What would He not do to prove His interest? "And he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed." As He weighed the distressing results of sin, what a burden was upon His heart! It is a particular instance of the great truth we saw in Matthew the other night. With Jesus it was never bare power relieving man, but always His spirit entering into the case, feeling its character in God's sight, and its sad consequences for man too. The whole was borne upon His heart, and so, as here, He sighs, and bids the ears be opened. "And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well." Such might be the motto of Mark. The utterance of the multitude, of those that saw the fact, is just what is illustrated throughout the entire gospel. "He hath done all things well." It was not only that there was the power fully adequate to accomplish all He undertook, but "He hath done all things well." He is the perfect servant everywhere, and under all circumstances, whatever may be the need. "He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."
The next (Mark 8:1-38) must be our last chapter now, on which I will just say a word or two before closing. We have once more a great multitude fed; not the same, of course, as before. Here, not five thousand were fed, but four thousand; not twelve baskets of fragments remained over, but seven. There were outwardly less limits, and a less residue; but observe that seven, the normal number of perfection spiritually, is here. I consider, therefore, that contrariwise, and viewed as a figure, this was still more important than the other. There is no greater mistake in Scripture and, indeed, it is true in moral questions than to judge of things by their mere appearances. The moral bearing of anything you please is always of more importance than its physical aspect. In this second miracle the number fed was less, while the original supply was greater, yet the remainder gathered up was less. Apparently, therefore, the balance was greatly in favour of the former miracle. The truth is really this, that in the former case the intervention of men was prominent; here, though He may employ men, the great point is the perfectness of His own love, sympathy, and provision for His people, no matter what the need. It appears, therefore, that the seven has a deeper completeness than the twelve, both being significant in their place.
After this our Lord rebukes the disciples for unbelief, which comes out strongly now. The greater His love and compassion, the more perfect His care, the more painfully, alas! unbelief betrays itself even in the disciples, and yet more in others. But our Lord performs another cure, the record of which is peculiar to Mark. At Bethsaida, a blind man was brought. The Lord, for the express purpose, it seems to me, of showing the patience of ministry according to His mind, first touches his eyes, when partial sight follows. The man confesses in reply, that "he saw men like trees walking;" and the Lord applies His hand a second time. The work is done perfectly. Thus, not only did He heal the blind, but He did it well a further illustration of what has been already before. us. If He puts His hand to accomplish, He does not take it away until all is complete, according to His own love. The man then saw with perfect distinctness. Thus all is in season. The double action proved the good Physician; as His acting so effective, whether by word or hand, whether by one application or by two, proved the great Physician.
The close of the chapter begins to open the faith of Peter in contrast with the unbelief of men, and even with what had been working among the disciples before. Now, things were hurrying on rapidly to the worst. Peter's confession was therefore the more seasonable. The account differs very strikingly from what is found in Matthew. Peter is represented by Mark as saying simply, "Thou art the Christ;" while in Matthew the words are, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" "Hence you have no such thing in Mark as, "Upon this rock I will build my church." The Church is built not exactly on the Christ or Messiah as such, but on the confession of "the Son of the living God." Hence we may see how beautifully the omissions of Scripture hang together. The Holy Ghost inspired Mark to notice no more than a part of the confession of Peter, and thus there is only a part of the blessing mentioned by our Lord. The highest homage to our Lord in Peter's confession being omitted, the great change then at hand, which displays itself in the building of the Church, is consequently quite left out of Mark. There our Lord simply charges them that they were not to tell any man of Him,. the Christ. What an end of the testimony of His presence! The reason, too, is most affecting: "The Son of man must suffer many things," etc. Such is the portion of Him, the true servant. He is the Christ, but it is no use to tell the people so any more; they have heard often, and will not believe it. Now He is going to enter upon another work: He is going to suffer. It is His portion. "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
After this point, He begins, in view of the transfiguration, to announce His approaching death. He gives it most circumstantially. He would guard His servants from supposing that He was in any wise taken by surprise by His death. It was an expected thing. It was what He knew, perfectly and circumstantially, before the elders and scribes did. The very people that were going to cause it knew nothing about it. They planned rather the reverse of the actual circumstances of His death. Still less did they know anything about His resurrection; they did not believe it when it came to pass; the Jews covered it up by a lie. But Jesus knew all about both, and now first breaks the tidings to His disciples, intimating that their path must lie through the same pathway of suffering. Christ's suffering is here viewed as the fruit of the sin of man, which accounts for the fact, that there is not a word said about atonement here. There never was a greater misconception in looking at Scripture than to limit our Lord's sufferings to atonement: I mean upon the cross, and in death. Certainly, atonement was the deepest point in the sufferings of Christ, and one can understand how even Christians are apt to overlook all else in atonement. The reason why believers make atonement everything is because they make themselves everything. But if they were not unbelieving believers, they would see that there is a great deal more in the cross than the atonement; and surely they would not think less of Jesus if they were to see more the extent of His grace, and the profundity of His sufferings. Our Lord does not speak of His death here as. expiating sins. In Matthew, where He speaks of giving His life a ransom for many, of course there is atonement substantially. Christ expiates their sins, and this I call atonement. But here, where He speaks of being killed by men, is that atonement? It is painful that Christians should be so shut up and confused. Were not God dealing in judgment with the Saviour of sinners, there would have been no atonement. His rejection by men, though taken from God, is not the same thing. And, beloved friends, this is a more important and more practical question than many might be apt to think; but I must defer further remarks for the present. We have before us a new subject the glory which our Lord immediately after speaks of in connection with His rejection and sufferings.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Mark 4:2". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/mark-4.html. 1860-1890.
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter