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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).
55. Wheat and weeds; mustard seed; yeast (Matthew 13:24-43; Mark 4:30-34; Luke 13:18-21)
In another parable, two types of seed produce two types of plants in the same field. The plants, wheat and weeds, are not separated while they are growing, but are left till harvest time. Then the wheat is put into the farmer’s barn but the weeds are destroyed (Matthew 13:24-30).
As with the parable of the sower, Jesus gave his disciples an interpretation (Matthew 13:34-36; cf. v. 10,16-18). In the present world those who are in the kingdom of God live alongside those who are not. This was contrary to popular Jewish thinking, which expected the kingdom to come in one mighty act that would destroy all enemies and set up God’s universal rule of righteousness and peace. Jesus points out that his kingdom is in the world already, but it will have its climax at the end of world history. When that time comes the wicked will be destroyed but the righteous will share in the kingdom’s triumph (Matthew 13:37-43).
The parable of the mustard seed foretells the expansion of the kingdom, as seen in the remarkable growth of the church. From small beginnings it grows to a vast community that covers the entire earth (Matthew 13:31-32). A similar truth is illustrated by the parable of the yeast (or leaven). As a small amount of yeast spreads through a lump of dough, so will the apparently small kingdom of Jesus spread through the world (Matthew 13:33).
AROUND THE LAKE OF GALILEE
57. Jesus calms the storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25)
A well known feature of Lake Galilee was that fierce storms blew up quickly. Jesus had suggested that the group sail across the lake, but the disciples expressed disappointment with him when a storm arose and he did nothing to help. Instead he was sleeping in the back of the boat, perhaps an indication of his tiredness from constant work (Mark 4:35-38).
The disciples still did not understand fully the divine power of Jesus, and he rebuked them for their lack of faith. When a word from him was sufficient to calm the wild forces of nature, they were struck with a mixture of wonder and fear. The sovereign Lord of creation was among them (Mark 4:39-41; cf. Psalms 89:9).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Mark 4". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26