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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

Mark 4

Introduction

Some writers have pointed out that Mark’s account of the gospel focuses more on what Jesus does than on what He says. Although Mark records fewer of the sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus than do the other Synoptists, he often gives much more vivid detail of His powerful miracles. In view of the fact that Mark’s emphasis in his gospel is on the deeds of Christ, it is all the more important to take careful notice when he shifts his emphasis to the Lord’s teachings. The first thirty-four verses in chapter four are devoted to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, there is one parable recorded here that is not mentioned by any of the other authors of the gospel. In chapter four, Jesus moves to the outdoors where He teaches the parable of the sower (1-9) and, subsequently, explains the parable to His disciples (10-20). He then gives several single-sentence instructions (21-25), relates the parables of the seed growing secretly (26-29) and of the mustard seed (30-34), and concludes the chapter with a narrative of Jesus’ calming of a great storm (35-41).

Verse 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.

And he began again to teach by the sea side: The word "again" implies Jesus has taught there before. It is mentioned in a previous chapter that the sloping shores of the Sea of Galilee form a natural amphitheater for the massive crowds coming to see and hear Jesus. As the multitudes would stand or sit on the shores, Jesus would stand in a small boat offshore and preach. Not only does this environment best accommodate the multitudes, it also affords Jesus some measure of safe distance from those throngs who passionately long to touch His body.

and there was gathered unto him a great multitude: The word "great" is from the word pleistos, meaning "very large" (Marshall 149). The crowds are even larger now, providing another bit of evidence that the following of Jesus in His early ministry grows rapidly and reaches a tremendous size. McMillan reminds us of the four thousand and five thousand involved in the two feeding miracles (55).

so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land: This "ship" is probably the small boat Jesus requests in chapter 3:9.

Verse 2

And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,

And he taught them: The word "taught" is from didasko, which refers to "the imparting of information, the explanation of the word of God" (Wuest 82). The verb is in the imperfect tense, which indicates continuous action. Jesus continuously teaches them line upon line, precept upon precept.

many things: This expression implies Jesus is dissatisfied with the results of His teaching thus far, and now He redoubles His efforts. It is interesting to contrast the "many things" Jesus teaches with the modern practice of addressing, briefly, one main thought per sermon.

by parables: "Parables" is from the Greek word parabole. R.C. Trench says:

It is from a verb signifying to put forth one thing before or beside another; and it is assumed, when parabole is used for parable, though not necessarily included in the word, that the purpose for which they are set side by side is that they may be compared one with the other (191).

Thus, a parable is a placing beside, a comparing or comparison. In fact, the words "liken," "comparison," and "compare" are used in verse 30 to introduce the parable of the mustard seed.

and said unto them in his doctrine: The word "doctrine" is from didache and means "that which is taught" (Wuest 82). The phrase can accurately be translated, "and said unto them in His teaching." "His teaching" refers to the mode of teaching He has just introduced.

Verse 3

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

Hearken: The word "Hearken" is from akouete and means "listen to" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 13). Jesus is entreating the crowd to "Be listening, give attention to this."

Behold: This word is from idou and means "Behold, see, lo" (Thayer 297). It serves the same purpose as a flashing light on the highway. It is intended to make the listener slow down, stop, focus in on, and ponder what is to be said.

there went out a sower to sow: "Sower" is a general term referring to anyone who sows or scatters seed. The broadcast method of sowing seed, spreading seed with the hand from a bag carried over the shoulder, was the only method known at that time. The explanation of the meaning of this parable is given by the Lord beginning with verse 14.

Verse 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.

And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side: The "way side" is from adon and means a "road" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 282).

and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up: The way sides, or roads, that allow access into the fields are traveled often, packed down, hardened, sun-baked--they are like concrete. When seeds fall upon these hardened roads, they are unable to penetrate the soil and become easy food for the birds.

Verse 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:

And some: "Some" is allo, "other (seed) of the same kind. It was all the same kind of seed. The type of ground upon which it fell determined the amount and kind of fruit that would result" (Wuest 83).

fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth: Some translations render this as "ground full of rocks." The last phrase in this verse indicates this soil has a ledge of rock just beneath the surface, which prevents any indepth rooting.

and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: The underground rock holds the heat from the sun and forces the seed to sprout through the thin soil immediately. If there is any moisture, seed grows more quickly here than elsewhere because of the heat of the rock.

Verse 6

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

For a plant to survive, its roots must be allowed to grow downward. The ledge of rock lying beneath this shallow soil prevents indepth rooting and provides no necessary moisture; con­sequently, the plant cannot survive.

Verse 7

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

And some fell among thorns: "Among thorns" refers to that part of the field that has been inadequately cleared of the roots of thorns and brambles. The thorns have been cut away; but the roots are still in the ground, waiting their opportunity to sprout much more quickly than the grain.

and the thorns grew up: This phrase clearly shows the thorns are not yet developed plants when the grain-seed is planted.

and choked it: The word "choked" (sumpnigo) means "to press round or throng one so as to almost suffocate him" (Wuest 84); "to throttle; to choke the growth..." (Analytical Greek Lexicon 384). The thorns grow up vigorously with the grain, crowd it, block its sunlight, steal the minerals and moisture from the soil, and thus choke it.

and it yielded no fruit: The starved and choked grain becomes too feeble to bear fruit.

Verse 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.

And other fell on good ground: The "good ground" is ground that is well prepared for sowing. It has fertile and rich soil, untarnished by hardness, rocks, or thorns.

and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased: It continuously yields fruit and keeps on growing and increasing.

and brought forth: This phrase means "kept on bearing" (Wuest 84).

some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred: This expression means "thirty," "sixty," and "an hundred" grains for each grain sown. Barnes says, "Some grains of wheat will produce twelve or fifteen hundred grains. The usual proportion on a field sown, however, is not more than twenty, fifty, or sixty bushels for one" (140).

Verse 9

And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Jesus makes this statement to impress upon His audience the importance of giving careful attention to what He says.

Verse 10

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

Sometime after Jesus has preached from the boat, He is alone; and some of His disciples come to Him to inquire as to the motive for His use of parables. Matthew says, "And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" (13:10). Mark is the only writer to point out that the question does not come from the inner circle of the Twelve but from the outer circle of disciples, perhaps from among the seventy.

It is probable the disciples wait until they are alone with Jesus to ask Him about the meaning of parables because they do not want the multitudes to know they do not understand. So, as soon as they are alone, they waste no time in questioning Jesus.

Verse 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:

And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: The word "mystery" (musterion) means "a secret which would remain such but for revelation (Analytical Greek Lexicon 273). Thayer says "mystery" means "secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly" (420). There are some mysteries that are beyond the conceivable grasp of human minds, but this is the type of mystery that can be understood when it is revealed. The secret with which Jesus is to initiate His disciples involves the kingdom of God.

but unto them that are without: Vincent says:

The two latter words are peculiar to Mark. The phrase means those outside our circle. Its sense is always determined by the contrast to it. Thus, 1 Corinthians5:12, 13, it is non-Christians in contrast with me. Colossians 4:5, Christians contrasted with people of the world (100).

Jesus explains that His parables are to be understood by His disciples, but that those outside of the circle of disciples, especially the scribes, are not to understand them.

McMillan points out:

Jesus was a master at telling stories in such a way that those who wanted to learn could see the lesson, but those who did not could not get a "handle" with which to raise any objection or to accuse him (57).

all these things are done in parables: Generally speaking, Jesus uses parables to illustrate, and thus elucidate, the truths He has in mind; however, it cannot be denied that on this occasion, He uses parables to conceal from certain of His hearers the knowledge of truths they are unprepared or unworthy to receive.

Verse 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.

That seeing they may see, and not perceive: Those on the outside of the circle of disciples could "see" the natural meaning of the story, but they could not "see" the spiritual application.

and hearing they may hear, and not understand: They are not physically deaf and could hear the voice of Jesus. They cannot fathom, though, the spiritual significance of His words.

lest at any time they should be converted:

The verb means "to turn one’s self about, to turn to, to return to, to cause to return, to bring back."’ It refers to a reversal of one’s position concerning anything previously held (Wuest 86).

and their sins should be forgiven them: According to the best texts, this phrase should be "and it should be forgiven them." "It" refers to their willful rejection of the truth.

This verse is a quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10. Matthew 13:14-15 records it more fully than Mark. Isaiah’s statement, which is quoted here by Jesus, teaches that a solemn responsibility rests upon the hearer of God’s word. It is the sinner’s responsibility to do the seeing, hearing, understanding, and turning; and then the forgiving will be done by God.

Verse 13

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

Jesus is mildly warning His disciples that this parable would give them a set of parameters for interpreting all succeeding parables. He is saying, "If you cannot understand this parable, then how are you going to be able to understand all the other parables?" This parable is not only the easiest, but it is going to be the key to understanding all the rest.

Verse 14

The sower soweth the word.

The sower: "The sower" is primarily Jesus, but ultimately it refers to all those who proclaim the truth. The sower’s task is to sow seed in every nation (16:15; Acts 8:4), in all seasons (2 Timothy 4:1-3), and with a sincere and compassionate heart (2 Corinthians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

soweth the word: The seed sown is the word of God. Luke 8:11 says, "The seed is the word of God." Peter says, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).

There are several profound similarities between seed and the word of God.

For example, seed possesses the germ of life and so does the word (Philippians 2:16). Seed also produces after its own kind. "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so" (Genesis 1:11). With this statement God establishes an immutable law of nature. When onion seeds are planted, they will produce onions, not apples. When a mare conceives the seed of a stallion, she will give birth to a colt (horse), not a goat. When a woman conceives the seed of a man, she will give birth to a human being. Within the plant and animal kingdoms, seed will incontrovertibly produce after its own kind. This law also regulates the spiritual realm. Paul says in Galatians 6:7, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." When the pure word of God is preached today, it will produce the same type of Christianity found in the days of the apostles. It will produce "Christians only."

A third similarity between seed and the word is that they can both be mixed. Seed can be mixed insomuch that tares and weeds can grow up in the midst of the crops. The word can be mixed with the false traditions of men resulting in the word becoming perverted (Galatians 1:6-9).

Verse 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.

And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown: The soils Jesus mentions represent the various kinds of human hearts. He now gives the explanation of the "way side" soil mentioned in verse 4. The way side soil is packed down, hardened like concrete; and when seed falls on it, it lies naked on the surface. Trench says it "became an easy prey to the birds, which in the East follow in large flocks the husbandman, to gather up, if possible, the scattered seed-corn" (30). This type of soil represents the person whose heart has become hardened to the point the word of God cannot find lodging. Matthew, in his parallel account, adds a very important point to help in comprehending the actual state of mind of the "way side" hearer. Matthew says, "and understandeth not" (13:19). The person does not understand he is in need of the word of God and of the kingdom of heaven. He cannot perceive that these things have any relation to him at all. His spiritual sensibilities are deadened because his heart is exposed to the continuous traffic of the carnal things of life. This situation includes the person who hears the word of God time after time but rejects it. Just as the roadway becomes more hardened with continuing traffic, the heart becomes hardened or calloused with each hearing and rejection.

but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in the hearts: An additional danger is there is one who is always watching to take advantage of the hardened condition of the heart. The devil is quick to act, through delusion and deception, to take away the word that is sown in the heart. The heart is the battleground between God and Satan. God attempts to sow His word in human hearts to produce faith, and Satan tries to steal it away as quickly as possible.

Verse 16

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

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground: The "stony ground" refers to a thin layer of soil that lies over a ledge of rock. Because there is no moisture below the thin layer of soil and because there is no room for deep rooting, the plants quickly wither under the rays of the hot sun.

who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness: In every case the people have heard the word, pointing up the critical importance of "taking heed how you hear" (Luke 8:18). Initially, the "stony ground" hearers are thrilled at hearing the gospel. They are momentarily joyous at the prospect of forgiveness and future eternal rewards but have not counted the cost.

Verse 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.

And have no root in themselves: The "stony ground" hearers are emotionally shallow and lack stability of character. They are impulsive, quick to spring into action, and just as quick to quit. Jesus is describing those who respond to His word out of emotion rather than conviction, and He demonstrates that when the emotion inevitably subsides, the discipleship ends.

and so endure but for a time: Because they do not have any real roots, they do not last.

afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth: The difficulties of life are the real trials of faith and are the things that separate the "wheat from the chaff." It is in the storms of life that the strong of character cultivate their best virtues. Paul says that "tribulation worketh patience" (Romans 5:3). But for the weak of character, the trials of life have a dismantling effect upon faith. As one man said, "When the pressure is on, some people break, and others break records."

for the word’s sake: The affliction or persecution has come to these people because of their reception of the word.

immediately they are offended: Wuest offers these comments on this phrase:

The word "offended" is the translation of skandalizo, "to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way upon which one may trip or fall." Thus, to be offended in someone is to find occasion of stumbling in him, to see in another what one disapproves of and what hinders one from acknowledging his authority. Here, those who are like seed sown on ground full of rocks, are offended at the afflictions and persecutions in the sense that they find occasion of stumbling in them since they disapprove of them (88).

Verse 18

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

The thorny ground is unlike the two previous soils in that it is neither hard nor shallow. The soil itself is fertile, but it has not been properly cleared of the roots of thorns and brambles.

Verse 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.

And the cares of this world: The word "cares" is from merimna and means "dividing the mind; anxious interest" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 263). Thayer says it means to be "drawn in different directions" (400). The word "world" refers to "the course of life as it is currently lived on this earth" (Wuest 89). The worries, perplexities, and fears that are indigenous to the times in which we live can sprout up, like thorns in a field of grain, and choke off our spiritual growth.

and the deceitfulness of riches: Riches, themselves, have no character; they are neither good nor bad. Riches can, however, be very deceiving. Men have been deceived into thinking that true, meaningful existence and genuine happiness are found in riches. Others have thought riches could answer all of life’s questions and solve all of life’s problems. Solomon learned the hard lesson that none of the above is true. Man loses the true purpose for living if he allows the pursuit of wealth to take the top place on the list of his priorities and subordinates the will of God to a secondary position.

and the lusts of other things entering in: The word "lusts" means "craving or passionate desire" (Thayer 238). Originally, the word was morally neutral since passionate desire can be directed toward something good as well as something bad. One can passionately desire to serve God, to provide for his family, or to help the needy. Subsequently, the word’s meaning has changed to have reference to immoral desires.

choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful: In this case there is not a total rejection of the spiritual life as in the former two, but some religious profession is maintained. The spiritual life is gradually choked out in degrees. The heart in this case is fertile and receptive to the truth but is also susceptible to the influences of the cares of life, the pursuit of wealth, and an inordinate, excessive desire of pleasure. The heart of this class is thus drawn in different directions, and the spiritual life is choked as the person attempts to serve God and mammon (Luke 21:34; 1 Timothy 6:9).

Verse 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.

And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it: The parallel accounts amplify the meaning of this verse:

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:23).

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).

How can Luke refer to a heart as being "honest and good" before the word of God makes it so? It is "honest and good" because it is receptive to the truth.

and bring forth fruit: Not only is the heart soft, deep, and fertile, it is continuously cultivated in order that the thorns and brambles of life cannot stifle the soul.

some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred: All are not capable of producing the same amount of fruit. The fruit is of the same kind--spiritual and good--but men do not have the same capacities for producing fruit. For that reason, God expects each to produce fruit according to his own ability (2 Corinthians 8:12). These are wonderful words of encouragement. God never asks of man that which is impossible but, rather only a "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1), "according to that a man hath" (2 Corinthians 8:12).

J.W. McGarvey gives this summation:

Of the four hearts indicated, the first one hears, but heeds nothing; the second one heeds, but is choked by external influences; the third heeds, but is choked by internal influences; the fourth heeds and holds fast until the harvest. Gallio exemplifies the first (Acts 18:17). Peter and Mark for a time exemplified the second (14:66-72; Acts 12:25; 13; 15:57, 58). The rich ruler and Demas represent the third (Matthew 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:10), as does also Judas Iscariot. Cornelius and the Bereans (Acts 10:33; Acts 17:11) show us a sample of the fourth (140).

Verse 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?

And he said unto them, Is a candle brought: The word "candle" is from the word luchnos and means "a lamp." The word "brought" is erchetai and means "cometh." Vincent says, "Doth the lamp come? This impersonation or investing the lamp with motion is according to Mark’s lively mode of narrative" (100).

to be put under a bushel: "Bushel" is from modion; and, according to Vincent, is nearer a peck than a bushel.

or under a bed: "Bed" is from klinen, meaning a "couch for reclin­ing at a table" (Thayer 350). In all due respect to Da Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper, the Orientals did not sit on upright, ladder-back chairs when eating at the table; but rather they reclined on couches, usually lying on their side, propping themselves up with an elbow.

and not to be set on a candlestick: "Candlestick" is the word luchnia and is more properly translated "lampstand" (Marshall 152).

The design of the question is such that a negative answer is expected. Jesus is asking, "Who in his right mind would carry a lighted lamp into a house simply to hide it?"

Jesus has just explained that His teaching is being concealed from some, but He quickly points out that the concealment would be temporary. Just as it would be foolish to carry a lighted lamp into a house and then hide it under a bed or a basket, it would be foolish for God to send the "Light of the world" into the world and then conceal Him.

Verse 22

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

For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested: According to Swete, Robertson, and Vincent, the sense of this phrase is, "Things are hidden temporarily only as a means to revelation." J.B. Phillips translates the phrase, "There is nothing hidden which is not meant to be made perfectly plain one day" (78).

neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad: The word "abroad" is from phaneron and means "into the open" (Marshall 152). This phrase means there are temporarily kept secrets which are meant one day to be brought out into the open for common knowledge.

Jesus is primarily referring to the gospel of the kingdom. The only reason it is concealed from some at that moment is to enhance its successful proclamation after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

There are some secondary and broader applications that can be made from this verse. In the judgment, all the secrets of men shall be made manifest. There are many mysteries in nature, in God’s providential dealing with mankind, and in the spiritual world. But, in the heavenly realm, all those things that are obscure and perplexing will be seen clearly.

Verse 23

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

Jesus is saying, "You have ears, so use them and listen to Me, perceive and comprehend!" Some expositors have conjectured that Jesus notices some inattention among the disciples, so He prompts them to continue to give careful attention.

Verse 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.

And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: Jesus emphasizes the responsibility of the teacher in verses 21 and 22; now, beginning with the preceding verse, He emphasizes the responsibility of the listener. He is saying, "Consider well what you are hearing." Obviously Jesus wants His disciples to develop a spiritual acumen that would allow them to listen discriminately, being able to distinguish truth from error and to comprehend the truths they would hear.

with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: The Amplified Bible translates this phrase, "The measure of thought and study you give to the truth you hear, will be the measure of virtue and knowledge that comes back to you" (52).

and unto you that hear shall more be given: There is a law in both the natural and spiritual realm that states, "use leads to increase and disuse leads to decrease." The more the physical body is exercised, the stronger it becomes; but if the body completely terminates all exercise, it will lose the strength it currently has. Spiritually speaking, if Jesus’ disciples would listen discerningly and meditate on His words diligently, they would receive and understand even more divine truth. But the careless hearer would not only forget what Jesus is saying but would advance to no higher truths.

Verse 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.

McMillan offers a valuable observation on this verse:

This verse seems to be the briefest sort of allusion to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and continues the preceding thought in a very effective way. Those disciples who persist in pursuing the minimum standard will always discover that their devotion, if it could be so described, will have miserly effects upon them. If one is to follow Jesus, then or now, he must be free in his gift of self. Yet, in that freedom he will realize such continual blessings that he himself will feel that he has not given, but has rather received (60).

Verse 26

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

And he said, So is the kingdom of God: This phrase is also translated, "And He was saying to them, In this manner is the kingdom of God." Jesus begins what is often called the parable of "seed growing secretly." Mark is the only author of the gospels who records this parable.

as if a man should cast seed into the ground: The verb "should cast" (Bale) is in the aorist tense, which describes a punctilious kind of action, a single act of casting.

Verse 27

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

And should sleep, and rise night and day: The tense of the verbs "sleep" and "rise" is present, indicating repeated, continuous action in contrast to the single act of planting the seed. The man has planted the seed and now he is completely dependent upon God’s laws of nature as to whether the seed germinates, sprouts up, and grows. He goes about his monotonous daily routine, passively waiting.

and the seed should spring and grow up: Vincent points out that the force of the article "the" before "seed," necessarily refers to "that particular seed which he had to sow" (101). The word "grow" literally means "lengthen." The seed will grow by "the seed lengthening out into blade and stalk" (Vincent 101).

he knoweth not how: The emphasis is on the word "how." "How" this process occurs, he does not know.

Robertson makes this observation:

The mystery of growth still puzzles farmers and scientists of today with all our modern knowledge. But nature’s secret processes do not fail to operate because we are ignorant. This secret and mysterious growth of the kingdom in the heart and life is the point of this beautiful parable by Mark (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. I 92).

Verse 28

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

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself: The word "herself" is from two words, autos meaning "self" and memaa, meaning "to desire eagerly." The two words compounded mean "self-excited, acting spontaneously, spontaneous, of his own accord" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 60). The only other place in the New Testament where the word occurs is in Acts 12:10. Wuest points out that the modern word "automatic" comes from this Greek word (92). The earth brings forth fruit "automatically," acting by itself, without any help from anyone.

first the blade: "Blade" is from chortos and means "grass" (Marshall 153); "a plant" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 437).

then the ear: The word "ear" is from stachus and means "an ear of corn or grain" (Wuest 92).

after that the full corn in the ear: "Full corn" is from sitos and means "corn, grain, or wheat" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 367), in other words, the grain itself.

Jesus’ description shows there is an orderly progression of growth in both the natural and spiritual realms. To expect a mature harvest at the first sight of a blade or stalk penetrating the ground is to expect the impossible. Consequently, the farmer must be patient and wait for the laws of nature to progress in their own natural order to bring about a harvest.

Similarly, a preacher of the gospel must maintain patience after planting the word of God into the heart of an individual. The word must be allowed to germinate, sprout, and then produce the fruits of obedience. Understanding this concept is a must for preachers in order to combat the throes of discouragement. It is easy to become frustrated if there are no immediate "visible results" when the gospel is preached. Jesus’ teaching here should be a tremendous source of enlightenment and should result in patience in the heart of the preacher.

Patience must also be extended toward new converts. It would be just as unreasonable to expect a babe in Christ to produce the fruits of a mature Christian as it would be to expect a harvest immediately after seed has been planted.

Verse 29

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

But when the fruit is brought forth: The expression "brought forth" (paradidomi) means "to give over, deliver up, to yield up" (Thayer 481). Marshall says, "When the fruit permits" (153). The idea is that it is the fruit itself that determines when it is time for the harvest.

immediately he putteth in the sickle: Literally translated this passage says, "immediately he sendeth forth the sickle." Vincent says, "the verb is the same as that used of sending forth the apostles to reap the harvest of souls. See John 4:38" (101).

because the harvest is come: The harvest stands ready. The growing process is now complete, the grain is mature and now ready for harvesting. The spiritual application is the gathering of men to Christ.

Wendell Winkler makes a good point when he notes that while the:

parable of the sower emphasizes the soils, this parable emphasizes the sower. In the parable of the sower, the attitude of the hearer is emphasized; whereas, in this parable, the attitude of the sower (proclaimer) is emphasized (142).

The man sowing the seed is the preacher or proclaimer of truth. "His sleeping and rising day and night" is a clear indication that the growth of the seed is not the result of his human efforts. He should humbly concede then that the object of greatest importance is the message, not the messenger. We sow, but it is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Not knowing how the seed grows is an indication of the ignorance of man and further illustrates man’s total dependence upon God to give the increase. This ignorance also demands trust on the part of the preacher. After the gospel is preached, the responsibility shifts from the preacher to the hearer. The preacher, like the sower, becomes passive, trusting the word will germinate in the heart of the hearer and will ultimately bring forth fruit to the glory of God.

Verse 30

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

And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God: The word "liken" is from homoioo and means "to liken, to compare" (Wuest 94). The use of "we" shows Jesus is consulting the listeners. Using this tact, Jesus stimulates the minds of His audience, making them His associates. He is saying, "Help Me with this. What is the best example I can use?" This is a stroke of teaching genius by the Master Teacher.

or with what comparison shall we compare it: The word "comparison" is actually "parable" (parabole). "A parable, therefore, is an explanation, presenting a likeness to the thing which one wishes to explain, thrown in alongside of the fact discussed" (Wuest 94).

Verse 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:

It is like a grain of mustard seed: This verse answers the question Jesus asks in the preceding verse. Unger gives this definition of the mustard plant:

A well-known plant, of which two species flourish in the Holy Land. All produce minute seeds. All, in favorable soil in this warm climate, attain a size quite sufficient for the exigencies of the passages (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:32; Luke 13:19). The birds, in the latter passage, it will be observed, lodge, not nest, in the branches. The term "great tree" is to be taken only as an exaggerated contrast with the minute seed, and to be explained by the parallel "greatest among herbs" (Matthew 13:32) (1140).

which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: It is generally agreed the mustard seed is not literally the smallest seed that exists in the earth; however, the Orientals commonly used such hyperbole to emphasize a point. Here the emphasis is on the smallness of the seed in comparison with the greatness of the results produced by it.

Verse 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.

But when it is sown, it groweth up: Mark is the only writer to mention this detail.

and becometh greater than all herbs: Vincent says these are the type of herbs "that people are wont to plant in their gardens, pot-herbs, as distinguished from wild herbs" (101). From a minute, or very small seed, the mustard grows to a very large herb, and "becometh a tree" (Matthew 13:32), not like an oak tree or a cedar, but one large enough that birds can sit on its branches.

Vincent gives this elaboration on the mustard tree:

One of the Talmudists describes the mustard-plant as a tree, of which the wood was sufficient to cover a potter’s shed. Another says that he was wont to climb into it as men climb into a fig-tree. Professor Hackett says that on the plain of Akka, toward Carmel, he found a collection of mustard-plants from six to nine feet high, with branches from each side of a trunk an inch or more in thickness. Dr. Thomson relates that near the bank of the Jordan he found a mustard-tree more than twelve feet high (101).

and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it: From the above description, it is clear that, although the mustard is not comparable to the largest trees, it does grow large enough as an herb to accommodate flocks of birds. Again, the emphasis of this brief parable is the contrast between the small seed and the greatness of the growth it attains.

How is the kingdom of God like the mustard seed? Just as the mustard seed has a very small beginning and makes remarkable growth, the kingdom, or church, had a small beginning, has made remarkable growth, and will eventually reach a glorious consummation in heaven.

Another lesson of this parable concerns the provision of refuge. Trench says:

In the image of the birds flocking to the boughs of the tree, and there finding shelter and food (Ezekiel 17:23), we are to recognize a prophecy of the refuge and defence there should be for all men in the church; how that multitudes should find here protection, as well as satisfaction for all the wants of their souls (41).

Verse 33

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

And with many such parables spake he the word unto them: The implication here is that Mark knows of more parables than are spoken at this time. Matthew records at least six other parables in his parallel account.

as they were able to hear it: Mark is the only one who supplies this detail. The meaning is that Jesus accommodates His teaching to the listeners’ capacity to understand.

Verse 34

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

But without a parable spake he not unto them: There is apparently a span of time in His ministry when Jesus uses parables exclusively to teach His disciples about the kingdom of God.

and when they were alone: This phrase portrays the disciples with a keen interest in Jesus’ words, waiting until the multitudes are gone so that they could be taught more thoroughly in private.

he expounded all things to his disciples: The word "expounded" (epiluo) means "to solve, to explain, what is enigmatical, as a parable" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 158). In private, Jesus fully explains everything to His disciples.

Verse 35

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

And the same day: This is the same day the parables are delivered. Wuest speculates "the same day" may have included much more:

What a day it had been, the blasphemous accusation, the visit of the mother and brothers to take Him home, the leaving of the crowded house for the seaside, then in the house again, and now out of the house for the open sea. The designation of the time is of especial note, for Mark does not usually call attention to this. Our Lord and His disciples were on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and a trip over to the eastern shore would be a delightful and refreshing change for the weary Lord Jesus. This was His only way to escape the crowds (95-96).

when the even was come: The clause means when the evening had come.

he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side: For a description of the picturesque Sea of Galilee, see comments on chapter one, verse 16.

Verse 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.

And when they had sent away the multitude: Marshall translates this phrase, "And leaving the crowd" (153). Matthew says, "Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side" (8:18). The Lord is exhausted and makes this request in order that He might rest.

they took him even as he was in the ship: They take Jesus just as He is, in the boat from which He has been preaching. They make no further preparations such as securing food or raiment. Barnes says the boat they were in is "probably ill fitted to encounter a storm on the lake they sailed. This would render their danger more imminent and the miracle more striking" (345).

And there were also with him other little ships: Mark is the only writer of the gospels who includes the detail about "other little ships." The merciful miracle to be performed by Jesus benefits a broader scope of people than just His own boatload full of terrified disciples. Bickersteth makes this observation:

Probably those who were in these boats had availed themselves of them to get nearer to the great Prophet, the boatmen themselves having seen the vast crowd that was gathered on the shore, and so having been attracted thither. Thus he had a large audience on the sea as well as on the land. And now it was so ordered that he was surrounded by a fleet and by a multitude of witnesses when he stilled the tempest (160).

Verse 37

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

And there arose a great storm: The word "storm" is lailaps and is defined by the Analytical Greek Lexicon as "a squall of wind, a hurricane" (245). Thayer says:

...a violent attack of wind, a storm of wind, a squall. It is never a single gust, nor a steadily blowing wind, however violent; but a storm breaking forth from black thunder-clouds in furious gusts, with floods of rain, and throwing everything topsy-turvy (368).

Vincent quotes Macgregor who says:

On the sea of Galilee the wind has a singular force and suddenness; and this is no doubt because that sea is so deep in the world that the sun rarefies the air in it enormously, and the wind, speeding swiftly above a long and level plateau, gathers much force as it sweeps through flat deserts, until suddenly it meets this hugh gap in the way, and it tumbles down here irresistible (101-102).

Luke says in his parallel account, "there came down a storm of wind on the lake" (8:23).

and the waves beat into the ship: The verb is epiballo and means "to throw one’s self upon, to rush upon" (Thayer 236). The tense of the verb is imperfect, which means that this is occurring continuously or repeatedly. The waves keep beating into the boat.

so that it was now full: The boat is filling up with water. Matthew says, "that the boat was covered with waves" (8:24).

Verse 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?

And he was in the hinder part of the ship: "The hinder part" is the stern or back part of the ship, which is opposite the bow or front.

asleep on a pillow: "Pillow" is from the word proskephalaion and literally means "a boat-cushion" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 350). Vincent says, "The definite article indicates a well-known part of the boat’s equipment--the coarse leathern cushion at the stern for the steersman. The Anglo-Saxon version has bolster" (102). Jesus is physically exhausted from the toil of the day and is asleep in the rear of the boat with His head on the bolster. Luke says, "but as they sailed he fell asleep" (8:23).

and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish: Cole points out "there is more than a note of reproach in their words" (96). The disciples begin this journey in faith at the Lord’s behest with no apparent foot-dragging or second-guessing. All of this background makes the current, life-threatening situation, and Jesus’ apparent indifference to the crisis, the more perplexing for the disciples.

This episode also provides a revealing look at the humanity of the Son of God and the tremendous physical and mental drain His ministry exacts upon Him. Jesus is so tired He is oblivious to the violence of the fierce storm. He is not awakened by the strong wind, the rain, the turbulent waves, or the water filling the boat.

Verse 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.

And he arose: The Analytical Greek Lexicon says the word "arose" means "to arouse or to awake thoroughly" (99). Thus, the phrase literally means that Jesus "awoke." Matthew reports He "arose" (8:26).

and rebuked the wind: Trench offers these comments on this phrase:

We must not miss the force of that word rebuked, preserved by all three Evangelists; and as little the direct address to the furious elements, Peace, be still, which St. Mark only records. There is here a distinct tracing up of all the discords and disharmonies in the outward world to their source in a person; even as this person can be no other than Satan, the author of all disorders alike in the natural and in the spiritual world. The Lord elsewhere rebukes a fever (Luke 4:39), where the same remarks will hold good. Nor is this rebuke unheard or unheeded; for not "willingly" was the creature thus made "subject to vanity," (Romans 8:20). Constituted as man’s handmaid at the first, it is only reluctantly, and submitting to an alien force, that nature rises up against him, and becomes the instrument of his hurt and harm. In the hour of her wildest uproar, she knew the voice of Him who was her rightful Lord, gladly returned to her allegiance to Him, and in this to her place of proper service to that race of which He had become the Head, and whose lost prerogatives He was reclaiming and reasserting once more. And to effect all this, his word alone was sufficient; He needed not, as the greatest of his servants had needed, an instrument of power, apart from Himself, with which to do his mighty work; not the rod of Moses (Exodus 14:16; Exodus 14:21-22), and as little the mantle of Elijah (2 Kings 2:14); but at his word only the wind ceased and there was a great calm (91).

and said unto the sea, Peace be still: The word "peace" (siopao) means "to be silent, still, hushed, calm" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 367). "Be still" is from phimoo and means "to close the mouth with a muzzle, to muzzle, used of muzzling an ox and of Jesus muzzling (silencing) the Pharisees" (Wuest 98). This expression is the same as the one Jesus uses in chapter one, verse 25, when He casts out a demon. The fact that Jesus uses identical words to rebuke a demon and to calm a storm lends credence to the view expressed above by Trench.

and the wind ceased: The verb "ceased" is kopazo, "to grow weary, suffer exhaustion; to abate, be stilled" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 237). Vincent says, "A beautiful and picturesque word. The sea sank to rest as if exhausted by its own beating" (102).

and there was a great calm: The language indicates an immediate peacefulness ensues.

The details given by Mark suggest an eyewitness of this incredible incident. Mark’s account is much more vivid than the narratives of either Matthew or Luke, as he personifies the storm as a raging monster. Peter is obviously an eyewitness and could have easily provided Mark the details.

Verse 40

And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful: There seems to be an element of surprise and disappointment in the voice of Jesus at the disciples’ panic, even though He is on board with them.

how is it that ye have no faith: The disciples have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but they are a long way from fully understanding all of the ramifications of that fact. The Creator and Sustainer of the universe is with them in the boat, but the disciples are still having difficulty with their faith. They are unable to place their dependence and trust completely upon Him.

Verse 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?

And they feared exceedingly: Literally, this phrase means "They feared a great fear" (Vincent 102).

and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him: The disciples have been upset with Jesus’ apparent indifference toward the threat of the storm earlier, and it is possible they expected Him to do something to save them; but now, they are overwhelmed by the awesome display of His power. "Who, then, is this?" is the question in the minds of all who witnessed this miracle.

J.B. Phillips translates this verse: "But sheer awe swept over them, and they kept saying to one another, ’Who ever can he be?--even the wind and the waves do what he tells them!’" (77-78).

This question, no doubt, illustrates the chief purpose for which the miracle is performed. It is to stimulate the disciples’ thoughts about Jesus as the Messiah to a much higher plane and to establish more firmly Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Not only does Jesus have power to cast out demons, heal diseases, and speak mysteries in parables but also He has power to command the natural elements at will. Trench makes these observations about other lessons to be learned from this miracle:

We shall do no wrong to the literal truth of this and other of Christ’s miracles, by recognizing the character at once symbolic and prophetic, which many of them also bear, and this among the number. The sea is evermore in Scripture the symbol of the restless and sinful world (Daniel 7:2-3; Revelation 13:1; Isaiah 57:20). As Noah and his family, the kernel of the whole humanity, were once contained in the Ark tossed on the waters of the deluge, so the kernel of the new humanity, of the new creation, Christ and his Apostles, in this little ship. And the Church of Christ has evermore resembled this tempested bark, the waves of the world raging horribly around it, yet never prevailing to overwhelm it,--and this because Christ is in it (Psalms 46:1-3; Psalms 93:3-4); who roused by the cry of his servants, rebukes these winds and these waters, and delivers his own from their distress (Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord 92).

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Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/mark-4.html. 1993-2022.