Mark Chapter 4: Sower of Seed, Lest they be converted, Peace Be Still

Nov 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Mark, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Mark Chapter 4: Sower of Seed, Lest they be converted, Peace Be Still

Mark 4:1 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.

Mark 4:2 And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,

Jesus’ popularity was such that a “great multitude” was assembled on the seashore. Hence he  got into a boat to teach a little offshore where he would not be jostled. He enumerated several parables, of which the Parable of the Sower is the first.

Mark 4:3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

Mark 4:4 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.

Mark 4:5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

Mark 4:6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

Mark 4:7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

Mark 4:8 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 an hundred.

Mark 4:9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

The parable illustrates the importance of the ground, or soil, upon which the seed (of truth) falls. Seed that fell by the wayside (on the hard beaten path) could not prosper. In the natural picture, it is important for seed to be cast into furrowed, plowed soil.

The parable discusses four kinds of soil, as follows:

1. Seed fell by the wayside—on hard, trampled ground. The seed lay on top of the ground where it got snatched away by birds.

2. Seed fell on stony ground—on thin topsoil that contained many rocks and stones. Hence it was not suitable for planting seed. Lack of soil depth caused the seed not to prosper. As the sprout came forth, the heat of the sun killed it. There was no moisture, nutriment, or depth of root.

3. Seed that fell among thorns bore no fruit. Although it was good, plowed soil, it was not weeded and properly cared for. Hence thorns grew up and choked the seed.

4. Seed fell on good, cultivated, weeded soil that brought forth fruit. The crop abundance varied, but fruit was produced. Soil can be good, better, or best—producing, proportionately, different amounts of fruit.

The people were on the shore, listening to Jesus, who spoke the parable from a boat. This great teacher was just saying things that were common sense, and the people agreed. They got the point of the importance of the soil. The same seed was sown in all four cases, so the soil it fell into was the difference. But how did Jesus conclude? “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” His words were a hint that the lesson was deeper. He was speaking loud for all to hear, but then he raised his voice even more and cried out this last statement. Jesus purposely delayed the explanation of the parable, waiting for the interested ones to ask questions.

Mark 4:10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.

The motive in asking a question is important. The twelve apostles, plus “they that were about him,” asked the meaning. Their sustained interest was remarkable, for it took time for the multitude of thousands to disperse, and the passage of time was a test on those who remained.

When Jesus was finally alone, they asked him for more understanding. Knowing he was no ordinary man, they realized that the parable had a deep significance. The apostles and the others were rewarded with information.

What is the lesson? We should not tell everything we know. A fool tells all—he talks all the time. We are to look for those who truly hunger, and thus we are to have some reserve under certain circumstances.

Mark 4:11 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:

Mark 4:12 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.

Jesus did not preach the gospel fully to the multitude but deliberately withheld information. Here is the reason: “lest … they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”

The multitude had not received counsel regarding the responsibility of being a disciple: loving Jesus more than father, mother, etc.; not turning back; and counting the cost. Therefore, he did not want to needlessly jeopardize their future. Being perfect, he knew just what degree to do this, whereas we would have great difficulty. But there is a rule: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words, we should not try to plant that ear. One must hunger and thirst.

Interest should be fostered. It is better that questions come from the other party than from us. If some were converted and then changed their minds and looked back, they would jeopardize their salvation. If they made a full consecration based on an insufficiency of information, they might turn back later. Hence Jesus purposely did not try to win over the multitudes. He was especially instructing the apostles.

Mark 4:13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

Jesus, knowing they did not understand the parable, was impressing upon them their lack of understanding. His two questions implied that the Parable of the Sower is easier to understand than other parables. Why? Because it is about principles, and because it pertains to the Ephesus period when the gospel seed was initially sown.

Mark 4:14 The sower soweth the word.

Mark 4:15 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.

Mark 4:16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

Mark 4:17 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.

Mark 4:18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

Mark 4:19 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.

Mark 4:20 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 an hundred.

The seed falls on four types of ground, or soil: (1) the wayside (beaten path), (2) stony ground, (3) soil mixed with thorns, and (4) good soil. We will consider each type of soil separately.

1. Wayside. Satan comes immediately and takes away the word, the seed of truth. Also, birds, or fowls of the air, devour the seed. Hence not only Satan but also the other demons are instrumental in plucking away the seed of truth.

2. Stony ground. Shallow soil contains rocks, and rocky soil is not conducive to growth. All of the seed is sown in the ear, the heart, and the mind—and hence has to do with how the individual hears the truth. Whether or not he is receptive depends on the soil of his heart.

3. Soil with thorns. “Thorns”—representing the deceitfulness of riches, lusts or pleasures, and the cares of this world—choke the word so that it becomes unfruitful. In this case, the soil is good, but other things come in on top of the seed to hinder its growth. As a result, the word “becometh unfruitful”; some fruit is produced but not the desired kind. This class can represent either the Great Company or Second Death. Luke 8:14 says that this class “bring [forth] no fruit to perfection [to maturity].” They bear some fruit but not a sufficiency to be  satisfactory.

Comment: Thorns grow much faster and thicker than other plants and thus prevent growth and maturity.

Reply: Yes, the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and lusts and pleasures can all grow rapidly and be overwhelming. In addition, their growth can be subtle so that one does not realize the prosperity of the seed is being choked.

In every instance, the seed is good. The soil is the problem (how the seed is received). The Great Company bring forth some fruit—and sometimes very quickly—but it gets choked.

4. Good ground. The fruit coming forth 30-, 60-, and 100-fold indicates capability. Those who bring forth 30-fold produce all that could be expected, and the same is true of the 60- and the 100-fold individuals. All three are Little Flock. What is the lesson? Ability must be used.

Mark 4:21 And 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?

Mark’s use of the question form is more forceful than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. What is the purpose of a candlestick? It is for illumination. Lesson: Do not hide the light.

The Romans would have appreciated Mark’s approach, whereas Matthew’s Gospel was more comprehensive for the Hebrews, Luke’s Gospel was written for learned Greeks, and John’s Gospel was international, appealing to all kinds of minds. The Apostle John was very brief on the parables; he philosophized and reasoned on principles.

Mark 4:22 For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.

This statement is powerful and searching—to the Little Flock, the Great Company, and the world of mankind. All things are open and manifest to God.

Jesus was speaking in broad terms, for it would not be profitable for some things to be made public. The Father does not like to look on sin. Sins will be revealed just enough to show the worthiness or unworthiness of an individual for his calling or for incurring retribution. In the Kingdom, mankind will receive stripes for willful deeds done either in the present life or in that age. What a man sows, he shall reap!

Some things are censored for the benefit of the individual. For example, because Moses and Abraham have such nobility of character, certain faults do not need to be revealed. What would be the point of such revealment?

On the other hand, faults will be revealed to individuals who do not know they are doing wrong. Some are so hardened in wrongdoing that they are insensitive to injustice and need to be apprised of their sins. For example, a televangelist who is guilty of willful foul deeds should be exposed. When one professes to be a righteous preacher and a Christian yet commits grievous sins on the side, it is necessary to reveal such hypocrisy. Along another line, when God commanded the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child, there would be no need to reveal a detailed record because the killing was authorized.

The fact that a person goes into Second Death may not be revealed in the present life, but it will be revealed in the next age. When gross sins of a Christian are revealed in the present life, it means there is a vague chance of repentance. Proper repentance could result in the individual’s being of the Great Company.

Generally speaking, those faithful in the truth know more than those who are not faithful in the truth and who are not inquiring. However, we should analyze what we hear and be sure it is truth, for “there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). A wrong attitude would be to say, “Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou” (Isa. 65:5).

Mark did not follow the pattern of Matthew—he omitted the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and other parables. The omission was providentially overruled, for the seven parables of Matthew 13, all given in one day, are dispensational. They outline the seven stages of the Gospel Age. Another difference in the Gospels is that Matthew is not accurate on sequence until near the end of Jesus’ life. Mark, Luke, and John are sequential, even though they do not individually fill in all the gaps.

Verse 22 is a maxim, a general statement. “There is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.” Another example is, “All who use the sword shall die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52 paraphrase).

Incidentally, Adam Rutherford brought forth the truth that some pyramids were built before the Great Pyramid as practice pyramids.

Mark 4:23 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

Before uttering these words, Jesus would have paused and then again raised his voice to say, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”

In verses 11 and 12, Jesus said he spoke to the multitude in parables lest they understand and be converted, yet verse 21 says our candlelight is to shine unto others. How do we harmonize the two statements? Some are enlightened in this age, and some will be enlightened in the next age. The parables were designed to be understood by those in the right heart condition, and such will inquire further for understanding. Hence the parable is for a small minority at the present time.

Comment: Much of this fourth chapter pertains to “hearing.” The harmony of verses 11, 12, and 21 seems to be that although the minds of the vast majority are blinded by Satan lest they believe, we are responsible to witness and let our light shine anyway. (Persecution and misunderstanding are helpful for Christian development.) Verse 23 then takes on the added meaning that God is aware of (1) how we hear and (2) how we let our light shine to others.

Comment: Jesus was speaking to the multitude (verse 1). After giving the parable, he said to them, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” A little time elapsed, and then, when Jesus was alone, the twelve apostles and those with them asked for an explanation. After explaining to the select group, Jesus again said, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” This statement was a further caution, or admonition, even to his disciples and interested ones: “Although you have done well to inquire, you must keep on inquiring. Inquire further. Do not feel smug and secure—keep your hearing ears open.”

Mark 4:24 And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.

How we measure the doctrine we hear is important. We should not let prejudice blind us to the importance of a doctrine or to its scripturalness. “With what measure ye mete [judge]” applies to morals as well as doctrine. Mark points up the doctrinal aspect, whereas Matthew 7:2 pertains to judging the standing or destiny of an individual. To judge one as a “false prophet” means to judge him unworthy of life, to judge him into Second Death. We can judge that one has spoken or acted incorrectly, but it is damaging to call one a “false prophet.” Therefore, we should be careful and not make hasty judgments. If the matter is true, it is our responsibility to show him he is leading brethren astray. However, if we do so incorrectly, we incur a penalty. Thus we should go to the individual if we think there is a possibility of misunderstanding. However, when a speaker uses three or four illustrations to support his thinking, there can be no misunderstanding. In that case, it is not necessary to go to him for clarification.

Verse 24 also refutes the attitude “it is not necessary to know that now, for the information will be revealed in the Kingdom.” We are responsible if we judge something unimportant that is important.

Comment: Although Mark would not have had Ephesus in mind, the Parable of the Sower is geared particularly to the first period of the Church. It was very important how seed was sown to start the Church.

Reply: Yes, neither Mark nor Matthew probably knew that Ephesus or the other six churches were represented. God overruled the accounts, and the Gospel of Mark is geared to the early Church.

Comment: The words “hear” and “heard” are used repeatedly in this chapter—over and over again: verses 9, 12, 15, 16, 18, 20, 23, 24, and 33.

Mark 4:25 For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

“He that hath [used faithfully], to him shall [more] be given.” From him “that hath not [used], … shall be taken even that which he hath.” Lesson: We are to let our light shine. Those of the Great Company have the hope of the high calling. If they lose out, that which they might have retained goes to the Little Flock, to another. This principle corresponds to the responsibility of using one’s talents.

Mark 4:26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;

Mark 4:27 And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he  knoweth not how.

Mark 4:28 For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Mark 4:29 But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

This unusual parable carries forth the Parable of the Sower. In principle, when considered dispensationally, it incorporates the other six parables of Matthew 13. The seed was sown in Ephesus. In the second dispensation, the devil came and sowed tares among the wheat. Rising “night and day” shows the passage of time, as does the progression from blade to small ear, to mature large ear, to the harvest.

After the man sowed the seed, he slept. The apostles and Christians down through the age wondered about certain things—and particularly as time went on. At the First Advent, Jesus said that it was not for his disciples to know at that time but that the Holy Spirit would subsequently reveal understanding.

The startling thing is that the blade growing up can be considered from another standpoint. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, wheat was seen growing up, but tares also. The growth of a seed is miraculous, for it can multiply up to a thousand times. The first seed, Jesus, will multiply into 144,000. The growth of tare seed is miraculous too—but it is of the Adversary. The wheat field became a tare field prospered by Satan. The tares outnumbered the wheat.

Q: Who is the “man” who sleeps, rises, and does not know how the seed grows?

A: The point is that whether good seed or bad seed is sown, the miracle of growth cannot be fully explained. Rising night and day suggests a period of time. Thus Mark covers the Gospel Age, but without detail except for the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32). When the fruit is ripe, the harvest has come. When the 144,000 are found, the Church will be complete.

Mark 4:30 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?

Mark 4:31 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:

Mark 4:32 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.

The mustard seed in the parable is likened to the Kingdom of God. Generally speaking, it is the least of all seeds, yet it can grow up into a tree, and the fowl of the air lodge in its shadow. Jesus did not explain the parable, but we should think about this miracle of nature—that such a mighty tree can grow from a tiny seed. In Matthew 13:31,32, the Parable of the Mustard Seed has a bad connotation in regard to the nominal Church, as proven by the following Parable of the Leaven, in which a woman leavens the meal. As time went on, the professed Christian Church grew and overcame the Roman Empire to become a great power. The “fowls of the air” picture the unclean, the unconsecrated, who came into the professed Church. The world accepts the nominal Church as the true Church.

Q: Is the mustard seed like the stone in Daniel 2 that grows and fills the whole earth?

A: That would be in the good sense.

Comment: The “fowls” usually have a bad connotation.

Reply: Certainly they do in Matthew 13:32 and Revelation 18:2. Scofield speaks of the vision of the tree in Daniel 4:20,21, “Upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation.” In this reference to the Babylonian Empire, the fowls are unfavorable. Similarly, the mustard seed grew to be a world empire. The Parable of the Mustard Seed in Mark 4:30-32 can be taken both ways in a sense, but in Matthew 13, it is unfavorable, as is the Parable of the Leaven. The mustard tree pictures the nominal Church at its height. Therefore, the Parable of the Mustard Seed here in Mark also seems to be unfavorable.

Comment: Leaven increases the size rapidly, the mustard seed grows quickly, and error prospers faster than truth.

Reply: Yes. In contrast, the olive tree is slow-growing—it takes centuries.

Mark 4:33 And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it.

Mark 4:34 But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.

Mark 4:35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.

Mark 4:36 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.

Mark 4:37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.

Mark 4:38 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?

This incident is a reminder of Jonah, who slept below deck in a fierce storm. Here the waves kept breaking over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus slept on until the disciples awoke him. Other boats had left shore at the same time, but the incident primarily affected the boat Jesus was in. The King James Version calls the other boats “little ships,” suggesting that Jesus was in a larger boat.

Mark 4:39 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 4:40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

Mark 4:41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

When Jesus rebuked both the wind and the sea, there was a great calm. When Jonah was cast into the deep, there was a great calm (Jonah 1:15). Here in Mark, Satan was behind the wind; hence it was an ill wind that needed rebuking. Satan hoped the Master, or at least some of his disciples, would perish.

This is a prophetic picture of the great Time of Trouble at the end of the age, in which no flesh would be saved without divine intervention. The command “Peace, be still” shows Jesus’ authority. We are reminded of the Elijah picture with the wind, earthquake, fire, and still small voice.

The Sea of Galilee is very tempestuous when the wind blows down between the two mountain ranges, so the sudden great calm in this incident was unusual. It is one thing for a storm to cease, but the waves would continue to be choppy for a while. The dead calm that immediately ensued shows Jesus’ complete authority in giving the rebuke.

Sequence Matt. 8:23-27 (1) Rebuke of disciples,           (2) rebuke of wind and wave

of Mark 4:35-41 (1) Rebuke of wind and wave, (2) rebuke of disciples

Events: Luke 8:22-25 (1) Rebuke of wind and wave, (2) rebuke of disciples

Mark and Luke are correct; Matthew is not always sequential. It would make sense to rebuke the disciples afterwards for having little faith. Otherwise, in the heat of the storm, the rebuke would be lost. Jesus spoke in the ensuing calm.

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