Summary: What happens after you hear the words of Jesus? Is your life different? Today as we study Mark's gospel we see how the Lord gives the disciples an opportunity to test how much the words of Jesus became life in them.
When I was 15 I took a course at high school in how to drive a car. Drivers Education featured movies, texts, and lectures. At no time during this course did we set foot inside of an actual vehicle. Later, I took driver’s training where we tried out our skills behind the wheel. All this was in preparation for that big day when we went down to the Department of Motor Vehicles and got into our car with the person who would decide whether we were qualified to drive. In a way, our life as an apprentice of Jesus Christ is much like this. We hear the lectures and read the texts of Jesus. We see the movies of His parables in our heads as He weaves them. But it isn’t until we go out onto the streets where that information is tested.
That’s what the disciples of Jesus experience in Mark 4. Jesus lays out to them important spiritual truths that all lead in the direction of trusting and relying on Jesus and not on themselves. If faith is trust and reliance, then the opposite of faith is autonomy—relying on your own abilities. The experience of a disciple is to let go of autonomy and trust in Jesus. In the first part of the chapter He gives the story of the parable of the sower. This shows us that a well-plowed heart and receptive mind are keys to understanding and acting on the gospel. Next we see how that initial relationship grows, and then is tested.
21 – 23
Jesus’ disciples may have been wondering if Jesus was purposefully hiding Himself in these stories. So the Lord makes it clear that Jesus, the lamp, is not to be hidden away but set where it can illuminate the house. Jesus has been “concealed” but now that He is in the world it is His aim to “reveal” Himself—at the proper time. You too should not “hide” Jesus in your life.
24 – 25
Jesus is basically reiterating His earlier comment that those who will engage their minds and seek to understand, will get more understanding. But those who could care less, it will mean nothing to them.
26 – 29
When Jesus used the picture of the farmer and his seeds, the focus was on the condition of the soil. Here the focus is on the property of seeds—that when planted in good soil grow. The farmer doesn’t tell the seed how to do it and can’t make it happen; he can only provide a good growing environment. So with the gospel, we are farmers. We broadcast the gospel but how it takes root in someone’s life is beyond our manipulation. You are not responsible for the outcome, only for good planting. Jesus uses the symbol of the sickle, which represents the end judgment (Joel 3:13, Rev 14:15). Eventually, God will call an end to the spreading of the seed and will call into account everyone who heard.
In our lives, the gospel takes root if the soil of our mind is willing. When the Holy Spirit comes into a life given over to the lordship of Jesus, He begins to take control, slowly but steadily transforming us, as Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:18) “from glory to glory” into the character of Jesus. We can impede the growth or encourage it but we do not make it happen, but it will take place as a natural course of being related to Jesus.
The next parable shows us the extent of that growth.
30 – 32
The mustard seed was probably the smallest seed used in Jesus’ time in Palestine. The point of this story is that a very small thing (Jesus, the disciples, the gospel) can grow very very large. The mustard seed can produce a very large bush in just weeks with branches. While the parable of the seeds showed the type of growth, the mustard seed shows its extent—limitless. You can grow as far as you want. You can become as much like the Lord as you desire. With God, all things are possible! Also, no matter how small you might seem and how large the barriers to what God wants you to do, size in God’s kingdom doesn’t matter. In a moment, Jesus’ disciples are going to have a chance to test just how big that character was growing in their lives.
33 – 34
This section indicates that it was Jesus’ regular teaching method to use parables, but that what we find in the gospels is merely a selection of the many stories Jesus used. I like this because I personally like stories. Pictures of physical things are a good way for me to understand spiritual things.
Now we switch back to the action mode, with our ultimate action hero taking authority over the creation itself.