And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. 2 Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air[a] came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have 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 seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

The Purpose of Parables
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”

The Parable of the Sower Explained
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Light Under a Basket
21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” -then the warning to the Pharisees-
24 Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”

Jesus’ Use of Parables
33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.
Mark 4:1-20
How many roads must a man walk down; Before you can call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail; Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly; Before they’re forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind; The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist; Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, how many years can some people exist; Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head; Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind; The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up; Before he can really see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have; Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows; That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind; The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

INTRO: Mark now introduces us to the teaching content of Jesus ministry by giving a succession of Parables. On of the distinguishing marks of the Gospel of Mark is that it contains far fewer examples of the teachings of Jesus than either Luke, Matthew and even John. But make no mistake about the importance of Jesus as teacher or revealer of truth in Mark, as Mark places a huge importance on the teachings of Jesus. But Mark does it with a unique style. He focuses on the equality between Jesus teachings and His miracles. In Mark’s view, Jesus miracles have meaning beyond the meeting of human need. The miracles, like the teaching components, focus on the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. When scholars or teachers try to divorce the miracles, and teaching away from the Kingdom context, real trouble settles into the understanding of what Christianity is supposed to look like. Our words and our works (Kingdom Power) are supposed to be synonymous in expression.

Mark’s content here is interesting, as many commentators and teachers have wondered why Mark chose to not acknowledge the Sermon on the Mount and the voluminous material the other Synoptic writers chose to include in their accounts of the life and teaching of the Christ. What we are seeing in this teaching may be what Jesus chose to re-emphasize following that Mountain based teaching, as this account is immediately after that time of teaching the multitudes. As Jesus resumes His teaching ministry, He gave His listeners these Parables. Jesus was a master at taking things that people connected with and making a point about the Kingdom. Ryan is going to help us with this. Ryan?

Mark’s acknowledgement of Peter’s penchant for the surrounding is apparent here, as the seashore is transformed into a stadium and Peter’s boat becomes a podium, where in Peter’s colorful language, Jesus “sits on the sea.” Jesus style of teaching in Parables is a strong carry over from the Prophets of Israel who spoke powerful words that shaped the collective consciousness of the faith. Parables and Prophecy have a strong similarity in that each component needs to be interpreted for proper understanding to come into view. The same holds true for one of the primary methodologies that God used to instruct the Prophets of old, dreams, which I consider to be the hidden language of God. Proper interpretation leads to correct understanding.

One of the most important points that rule or govern the interpretation of Parables is the need to understand that most of the details are simply aids that only carry the story forward. The details usually do not hold extra meaning beyond that simple rule. Occasionally they can have a symbolic meaning, but that breaking of the first rule is usually dictated by the teller of the story in the interpretation, not our wistful additions to the story that advance our pet doctrines or theologies. When all the details of a story have symbolic meaning like the vines and the branches in John 15, the Parable morphs into a different literary genre called an allegory in its purest form. When a story has just one point for its focus, we call it a Parable.

So, what’s the main point of the Sower story? I think it’s important to look at what was happening in the life of Jesus to get insight. Jesus ministry was experiencing tremendous success on one nd, and tremendous opposition on the other hand. The crowds marveled, the demons dorve away, the sick were healed in many instances, but the religious officials had done everything possible to this point to set up a blockade in front of Jesus, even charging Jesus with being demon possessed.

It would be easy to surmise that the people, including us, should be questioning why Jesus, who is the Son of God doesn’t have instantaneous and universal success on all fronts. How is it possible that the divine mission could run into delays, opposition, and varying degrees of success?

Jesus answer to these questions comes in Jesus comparing Himself to the Palestinian farmer. Farming techniques were different between them and us, in that, unlike the modern method plows before seeding, they seeded before plowing. Grain was thrown or cast everywhere. It went on the walking paths, the rocky soil, and even among the weeds. None of this mattered, as everything would be plowed under. The farmer knew that a rich harvest was coming, in spite of the soils condition. And so it is with Jesus also. Jesus preaches without pre-screening His audiences. Jesus knows that in the final analysis, the harvest will be great.

But a screening process does wind up taking place and Jesus addresses this with His disciples when they are alone. They become the possessors of the secrets of the Kingdom, as they are the only ones who are expressing and walking in authentic faith. It’s important to understand that that God doesn’t arbitrarily grant revelation to some but not others. It’s just that God’s revelation and mystery is substance of faith for those who will receive it, while its rejection is the basis or foundation of unbelief for others. Disbelief and the lack of personal commitment will always put you on the path that has been paved by the previous unbelieving generations of yester-yore. It’s just like the scoffing generation of Isaiah’s day, they see without perceiving, and hear without understanding.

In interpreting this parable to His followers, Jesus lays out the importance of the format and how understanding this parable will make it easier to understand the other parables. We see in it that the undaunted and confident work of the sower is the important point, even as the soils represent the differing responses to His works and words. The disciples also have an important lesson here. Jesus tells us how we are to live in the world even as we live out the word that we have received. In order to become fruitful, we have to cling to the word with perseverance and single-minded dedication.

The big picture gives us an interesting take on the power of the word, however, as it contains both the ability to bless and curse, to be both grace and judgement equally. The Word gives life, while dictating the terms of the various tendencies that exist in the heart of man, both good and evil. The Word has separated the disciple from the world, even as it separates those who could not or would not endure to the distance of where true discipleship takes you.

This truth should not be surprising to anyone. There can be no harvest without seeding (sewing), no sewing without soil, and all soils are not equal in quality. The inevitable results that come from sewing doesn’t matter to the sower. There is no real waste in the labor. The stark sifting of mankind will never stop the worker of the Kingdom’s good works from proceeding. The same principle applies to all of us who are Jesus people. We should not be surprised nor be disheartened by the same mysterious outcome as we hear the word and proclaim the word. Somewhere in the throwing of the seed, there will be good soil. The seed will always find it and the seed will produce a prodigious harvest. Always.

The other parables have a similar tone. Jesus is the light. His presence brings everything into view. Jesus cannot be hidden. The Word will always do its work. Even when its inclusion is seemingly tiny at first.

The recent appointing of the 12 was an action or active parable. In its purest form in the Greek way of thinking, a parable set two things side by side or stood them side by side to compare them and to point out their similarities. They can also be called similitudes. In the common understanding, they were earthy stories with a heavenly meaning. In the Septuagint, in all but two usages, the word we translate parable is Mashal, not parabole. Many of the Psalms are Malshals. Jesus used the Hebraic understanding of the Mashal over the Greek idea in most instances. Mashal’s had a wide range of uses like a Proverb (1 Samuel 24:13); a satire, a derisive word (put down) or taunt (mean teasing) (1 Samuel 10:12, Ezekiel 12:22-23, 16:44, 18:2-3); a riddle/allegory (Ezekiel 17:2); or a plain allegory (Ezekiel 24:2-5).

Later in Mark 7:14-16 Jesus uses a metaphor or a figure of speech when addressing the issue of ritual cleansing by saying that only that which is inside and comes out defiles a man, not what goes in. It’s the heart, not the stomach that makes us sinful, and it’s the heart that needs to be cleansed. The Gospels contain upwards of 60 parables, which amounts to about 1/3 of the recorded sayings of Jesus.

Jesus use of the parabolic formula was similar to His contemporaries in that they are brief and simple. He also framed them in stories that were true to life, although Jesus would use exaggerations and humor in order to stress the point He was making. You see this in the 10K Talents and the Camel threading a needle. I should also point out that they can possess allegorical overtones, but not every word or detail has a mystical value ascribed to it. When we make that connection, we can get in really hot water when interpreting Scripture.

4:3-8 One of the primary characteristics of Jesus use of Parables was to cloak their meaning to everyone outside of His followers. The backdrop for this methodology was the Mark 3 incident, where Jesus was accused of being demon possessed. The Pharisees and the other teachers of the Law had pre-judged Jesus and shut down any openness to Him as a legitimate communicator of Heavenly truth and revelation. Their blanket rejection of Jesus precluded them from understanding his parables, and it prompted Jesus to use them more than ever. Rejection of Jesus will always blind people from receiving the truth that Jesus taught as authentic.

This is an important point and it draws us back to the issue of the blasphemy charge. When Jesus ordered the demons to be silent, He silences them for two reasons, 1) the confession Jesus wants to elicit was not allowed to come from spirits (Paul and the diviner), but rather from man, and 2) this violated the divine disclosure which preempted God’s plan by forcing the issue of who Jesus is too soon, thus attempting to thwart the redemptive purposes of God. Then expulsion of demons is nothing less than a forceful attack on the lordship of satan, which is the heart of the mission of Jesus: confront satan on all fields and crush him (Genesis 3:15).
Matthew 12:32 raises a piercing question as to the source of Jesus power, which we know to be Holy Spirit. Jesus is the bearer of Holy Spirit. Jesus is the champion of God. Jesus affirms that all sin can be forgiven with one fearful exception: blasphemy, which by one definition is violent, defiant hostility toward God. The religious leaders had a prejudicial and fixed view of Jesus. Jesus countered their charge of Him being possessed with the triumphant declaration that He possesses Holy Spirit.

From a religious perspective, think about what Jesus did. Jesus broke the traditions of hand washing, He accepted the societal misfits, He changed the understanding of fasting, and the view of the Sabbath. Understand, the charge of blasphemy was a very serious matter to the Scribes, The Scribes said in their teaching that, “The Holy One, blessed be He, pardons everything else, but on profanation of the Name, He takes vengeance immediately.” Jesus was reversing their teaching, using their wisdom against them, demonstrating how their wisdom pointed to Him.

This is very similar to the demand for a sign in 8:11-13, where we read, Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. 12 But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation. Matthew records a challenge for a sign that ends with more than a sigh. He calls them a wicked and adulterous generation and tells them that the only sign they will receive is Jonah’s, 3 days in the belly. The text implies that a prior conversation had taken place, although there isn’t a reference to a time or place, so the connection with a prior passage isn’t implicit. However, there are many of us who feel that this is a continuation of the conversation of 3:23-30. The evidence for this is that 7:1-5 mentions the Jerusalem Scribes (3:22) and the use of the amen laleo humen formula points this conversation back to 3:28, and the resumption of the debate, which leads to the request for a sign. In the OT and in Jewish literature, a sign signifies a token that guarantees the truthfulness of an utterance or the legitimacy of an action. Prophetic statements of an unverifiable nature were often accompanied by a sign for authentication.

Recognizing that a sign is primarily evidence of trustworthiness not power, is key. This isn’t a request for a miracle. We know this because Mark never designates the miracles of Jesus as signs. Nor would the Pharisees have made that designation. They observed the miracles and judged them as demonic, which is why they demanded a sign in spite of the deeds. As we have seen, they were testing Jesus over His source of authority. The undercurrent was that Jesus performed magic and that He was hostile to God.

I love what proceeds from Jesus: a deep sigh. This is an expression of indignation and grief, and it may actually be an example of Jesus praying in tongues. Needless to say, Jesus was exasperated over their seeing but not: hearing but not. They were opposed to God’s grace (8:28, 9:19). They were the modern version of Moses wilderness generation (Deuteronomy 33:5-20, Psalm 95:10). Jesus experienced rejection at their hand, just like Moses before Him, 2 Kings 6:31 & Psalm 95:11 is a solemn formula, “may God do so and more to me… if ever a sign is given to this generation… so I swore in my wrath they shall not enter my rest.”

The disciples were different in this matter, as they accepted in faith that what Jesus was teaching was true, even though full knowledge and comprehension wasn’t entirely evident yet. Mark 4:33-34 states that Jesus used parables a lot because the people were slow in understanding the truth of the Kingdom of God. Jesus had arrived at a critical hour and He was seeking to invoke the right response from His audience (Luke 12:54).

As a prophet, He has to be clear. The parables carry their own message, but they presuppose that the listeners will go along with the teacher and grasp the point of comparison. Anyone who does not have the spiritual capacity to do this, or those who openly reject the revelation of God through Jesus will be sifted out by the parables. Just as Jesus used parables as aids for understanding, Jesus also used parables as cloaks that would conceal truth when unbelief was a dominant theme.

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