Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mark 4 - Kingdom Parables and the Little Seed That Could

LINK: Mark 4 


It is later on in the day, and Jesus has just refused to give a sign to the religious leaders to prove who He is and clarified that blood lines are not what make one a family.

This marks a transition point in Jesus' ministry. This new phase includes parables. They enabled Him to continue teaching His disciples without being troubled by the religious leaders trying to trap Him in His words (Matthew 13:13). The meaning behind His mysterious words would be revealed to those who were truly seeking.

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It "uses evident truth from a known field (nature or human life) to convey new truth in an unknown" (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel, p. 775). Our English word parable is a combination of two Greek words para meaning "alongside" and ballo meaning "to throw or cast." Jesus put a figurative picture alongside a teaching so that we might understand its meaning. He used pictures from agrarian life because that was what the people understood in this agrarian society. Parables were known in the Old Testament times. So, it figures that Jesus would perfect them!

77. Jesus tells the parable of the four soils: Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8

The figurative picture of the sower and the seed would have made a connection in this agrarian society.  You will observe the seed fell on four different kinds of soil: 1) beside the road, 2) rocky places (a place where a thin surface of earth covers a rock), 3) thorns (ground not thoroughly cleared of thistles and such), and 4) good soil (soft and tender, moist and clean). 

78. Jesus explains the parable of the four soils: Matthew 13:10-23, Mark 4:10-25, Luke 8:9-18

When they were alone, His disciples and close followers asked Him why there was a shift in His teaching to parables.  Jesus revealed that He used the parables because He was making known to them the "secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven," but people were slow to understand (Mark 4:33-34). Those who do not have the spiritual acuity to comprehend and understand the parables or reject God's revelation would be left out by the veil that covered them. The parables answered mysteries for those who were ready to hear. 
The word “mysteries” in Scripture is not used in its classical sense—of religious secrets, nor yet of things incomprehensible, or in their own nature difficult to be understood—but in the sense of things of purely divine revelation, and, usually, things darkly announced under the ancient economy, and during all that period darkly understood, but fully published under the Gospel (1Co 2:6–10Eph 3:3–689). “The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” then, mean those glorious Gospel truths which at that time only the more advanced disciples could appreciate, and they but partially.  
(A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Mt 13:11)
Jesus knew that the majority of the multitudes were not true seekers. Their hearts were not prepared to hear the good news of the kingdom. 

Jesus does not explain who the sower is, but we can deduce that it is anyone who proclaims the word of God. Jesus explained that the seed is the "word of God" and the soils are the "different states of the human heart" (Ibid., Mark 4:14). All three of these human hearts have one thing in common -- they do not bear fruit: 
1) Beside the road - This is the hard heart. "The great truth here taught is, that hearts all unbroken and hard are not fit soil for saving truth" (Ibid.). The seed does not penetrate or make an impression. Therefore, the heart is easy prey for the enemy of all human hearts, Satan (birds) who does not want anyone to believe and be saved (Luke 8:12). 
2) Rocky places - This is the shallow heart.  Much of Palestine has a thin layer of soil on top of rock. The seed springs up at first, but with no moisture (Luke 8:6) and place for roots to go down deep (Mark 4:6), it withers.  
"The great truth here taught is that hearts superficially impressed are apt to receive the truth with readiness, and even with joy (Lu 8:13); but the heat of tribulation or persecution because of the word, or the trials which their new profession brings upon them quickly dries up their relish for the truth, and withers all the hasty promise of fruit which they showed. Such disappointing issues of a faithful and awakening ministry—alas, how frequent are they" (Ibid. Mk 4:16).
3) Thorns - This is the crowded heartThe "cares of the world" mean "anxious, unrelaxing attention to the business of this present life."  The "deceitfulness of riches" means "riches which are the fruit of this worldly care.'"  The "pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14) or "desire for other things" are the "enjoyments in themselves [that] may be innocent, which worldly prosperity enables one to indulge" (Ibid. Mark 4:19). These all take ones attention away for the spiritual, drawing on a person's money, time, and energy. God gets what is left over when He should get the best and first of our "wealth" of money, time, and energy (Proverbs 3:9, Matthew 6:33). There is no fruit that results from this!
Notice that all of the above fruitless "hearts" are kept from bearing fruit because of the three enemies of every believer: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3)!
4) Good soil - This is the soft heart. The soil is tilled and soft and able to retain moisture because it isn't just top soil on top of rock. There are no worldly distractions and entanglements because it does the will of the Father:
 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. 
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 
For all that is in the world, 
the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes 
and the boastful pride of life, 
is not from the Father, but is from the world. 
(1 John 2:15–16)  

They "accept" the word. The Greek word here (paradechontai) means to "welcome it for themselves." This heart brings forth the lasting fruit of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-23).

Warren Wiersbe goes on to explain more about fruit: 
Fruit is the test of true salvation (Matt. 7:16). This would include holiness (Rom. 6:22), Christian character (Gal. 5:22–23), good works (Col. 1:10), winning others to Christ (Rom. 1:13), sharing what we have (Rom. 15:25–28), and praising God (Heb. 13:15). If a plant is to bear fruit, it must be rooted in soil and exposed to sunshine.   
(The Bible Exposition Commentary, Mt 13:1)
Mark 4:21-25 and Luke 8:16-18 add a little addendum that is not in the Matthew 13 account. These authors explain that just as lamps are meant to give light and not be out of sight, Jesus was destined to be revealed. The measure in these passages means that the more truth we receive and apply now the more we will receive in the future. 

Jesus tells the parables of the . . . 

79. Growing seed: Mark 4:26-29

Even though the sower scattered the seed, he does nothing and is not anxious about its growth. It just grows "by itself" or "without cause or human agency" The Greek word for this phrase is automatē. It is where we get our English word "automatic" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Mark 4:27-28). God causes the growth, not man (1 Corinthians 3:6). We just need to sow in good soil and be patient (Galatians 6:9). 

81. Mustard seed: Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-34

Mustard seeds are not the smallest seeds in the world, but they were probably the smallest that the Jews would have sown at that time. From a small seed, the mustard plant grows to 12-15 feet! Believers in the kingdom would be small in the beginning but grow rapidly. Jesus began with 12 well-trained (but imperfect) disciples and later there were 500 believers (1 Corinthians 15:6). Then there were 3,000 at Pentecost (Acts 2).  Read Acts to read about spontaneous growth. Read Revelation 5:9 for where it is going.

87. Jesus calms the storm:  Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25

Violent storms often arose on the small Sea of Galilee (thirteen miles long and eight miles wide). Jesus asserts His deity by causing the storm to cease with a mere word!  He rebuked His disciples for their "little faith." This is in contrast to the "great faith" of the Gentile centurion in Matthew 8:5-1

REFLECTION (written in 2010)

The Little Seed that Could

We had a speaker come to our living room last Saturday who basically debunked all the theoretical research that says we can determine the factors that cause "Church Planting Movements" (CPM) and even went so far as to say that there was no such thing! Needless to say, the majority of our group did not like to hear that because they loved the book we had just read that gave them the faith to believe that God could turn millions to new life in Christ and they could be a part of that!

As usual, I could see both sides of it. On the one hand, this skeptical speaker knows what he is talking about because he has been "in the trenches" among an unreached people group for 20+ years with no CPM. In addition, he has gathered much data of his own from practitioners on the field (450 of them), presenting the empirical data with no inferences other than the hard facts. The author of Church Planting Movements has never been "on the ground" doing that kind of work in hard to reach places, and his data is more anecdotal observation rather than hard core empirical data. (Can you see my science background coming out? I am also married to a statistician. What can I say?)

We "unpacked" our feelings as a group last night, and I woke up at 3:30 this morning somewhat troubled by the controversy this wonderful man stirred. I hate to see others "throw the baby out with the bath water" just because of his one controversial statement.   

Leave it to God to lead me right to the "Parable of the Automatic Seed." The man just threw the seed out there on good soil and by the next morning, it had sprouted and grown, and he did not know how! 

I loved reading about the growth of CPM's throughout the world, and I want to believe God for them too! I also think the book has some good points about a way to go about it.  All that said, I have to admit reading about the "Ten Elements That Accomplish Them" (see link below) put a little too much emphasis on man's efforts and little on God's power. It also left me feeling sorry for the many workers throughout the world who have labored and not seen a CPM in their lifetime. Were they doing it "all wrong" and being judged? I know plenty of people who have practiced those initial steps of prayer and abundant gospel sowing and never seen fruit. Where do they fit in the theory?

Jesus' parable indicates that the coming of God's kingdom is mysterious and based on the sovereign work of God not by man's specific efforts. The man sowed and probably watered, but God caused the miraculous growth (see also 1 Corinthians 3:6)! Ultimately, we can do nothing to manipulate God's hand or make people hunger and thirst for Him.  We just need to be faithful with the initial steps and leave the rest up to God. 

So, I will keep on sowing and wait for the harvest!


Here is a free download of the booklet called Church Planting Movements (skip to p. 29 if you want to see the 10 Elements)


Lord, help us to be faithful as we scatter Your seed in the world and to be patient as You cause the seed to sprout and grow. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 
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