The Gospel of Mark - Part 13
John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
As we continue our studies in chapter 4, these verses provide further teaching by parable – something that was commenced in chapter 3 verse 23.
The parables in private, vv. 21-34
Within this third section of the chapter, the Lord moves, in part, from the public arena to the private, teaching those to whom He has revealed the meaning of the parable of the sower.
Of the transition from seed to light, F. B. Hole comments, ‘At first sight the transition . . . may seem incongruous and disconnected, but . . . we shall soon see that in their spiritual significance both parables are congruous and connected. When the word of God is received into an exercised and prepared heart it brings forth fruit that God appreciates, and also light that is to be seen and appreciated of men’. 1
It might also be noted that these statements appear scattered throughout the other Gospels, the only parallel being in Luke’s Gospel, 8. 16-18. On this point, Constable observes, ‘It means that Jesus frequently used these expressions at other times during His teaching ministry as well as here’. 2
The manifestation of the light, vv. 21-23
Using the example of the light on a lampstand, the Lord teaches the importance of testimony. Hiebert comments, ‘just as it is the function of light to shine, so it is the duty of His disciples to let their light shine that others too may come to know the truth’. 3
There was a twofold danger to testimony – the bushel and the bed. What each metaphor actually means is not indicated, but most commentators take the bushel or basket to symbolize business and the bed leisure and lethargy. Both are a serious hindrance to the servant and, therefore, the furtherance of testimony. The business can be a significant thief of time and, in terms of money, can generate temptation and be a snare. Leisure time and the perceived need for rest can breed lethargy and leave the work of the Lord not done.
The truth of God is not to be hidden. It is to be blazed forth, as a lamp upon a lampstand. The day will declare it and, hence, the duty of the disciples is plain, ‘If any man have ears to hear, let him hear’, v. 23.
The measure, vv. 24, 25
God is interested in the minute details of the lives of His people. The previous verses have shown His deep interest in our witness and its effectiveness. Here, He is concerned with our own personal reading of and meditation in His word.
The reading of the word of God is meant to be a daily occupation, but that reading is not enough. For the word to gain an entrance, the Lord is bidding His disciples to meditate upon – give time to think upon, seek the meaning of, and generally understand the principles within – God’s word. Equally, once we have benefited from that time in the things of God, we should seek to impart that truth to others for their spiritual blessing.
This time, spent in meditation and in teaching, is measured. The more we invest, the more will be returned to us, ‘unto you that hear shall more be given’, v. 24. However, the converse applies. What we fail to invest in the scriptures, and the things of God, is lost. It can never be retrieved. Similarly, that truth which we had learnt, if it is not reinforced by further study, will also be lost. Robertson comments, ‘The man who does not acquire soon loses what he thinks that he has’. 4 How crucial to spend time in the word!
The mystery of growth, vv. 26-29
It is suggested by some commentators that the phrase, ‘And he said’, v. 26, marks the commencement of a further period of public teaching.
The emphasis of these verses is this mystery of growth. The farmer may plant but how the seed germinates and grows, ‘he knoweth not how’, v. 27. The farmer has fulfilled his responsibility:
- ‘a man should cast seed into the ground’, v. 26. The seed is what is cast, or broadcast, by hand carefully and purposefully.
- ‘he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come’, v. 29. His next responsibility is to bring in the harvest at the appropriate time. Whilst the farmer has not produced the grain, his action is needed to bring in the result.
What he has no control over is:
- the germination of the seed, ‘the seed should spring and grow up’, v. 27. The when and how is outside of the control of the farmer. No amount of anxious thought for the seed will change anything!
- The process of growth, ‘the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself’, v. 28. It is to be noted that the earth does this by itself – there is no human agency. Equally, the process may be known about but it cannot be hurried or put into a different order.
The lesson to be learned in a practical and spiritual sense is that ‘neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase’, 1 Cor. 3. 7. However, the Lord is teaching about the progress of ‘the kingdom of God’, v. 26, from its inception, when the Lord sowed the seed, through to its consummation, when the Lord gathers in the harvest.
The growth and development of the Kingdom of God remains a mystery, but all is in the hands of God who, in His own time, will put ‘in the sickle’, v. 29.
The mustard seed, vv. 30-34
This is a further parable pertaining to the Kingdom of God. In the previous parable the emphasis has been upon the seed sown and the mysterious process of growth from the seed. Here, that idea is continued, but the emphasis is upon the outcome – the bush, the branches, and the birds.
The Lord draws a contrast between the relative insignificance of the seed and the plant that it produces. The ‘grain of mustard seed’, v. 31, was the smallest seed planted by any farmer. Grassmick comments, ‘It took 725-760 mustard seeds to weigh a gram, 28 grams equal one ounce’. 5 However, the outcome, when the plant was fully grown, was a bush between ten and twelve feet (three to four metres) in height. This phenomenal growth meant that it changed its character. Classified as a herb, to provide that which is edible and, potentially, medicinal, it has become something more than that, providing shelter for the birds who are able to ‘lodge under the shadow of it’, v. 32.
The picture of the mustard seed, as illustrative of the Kingdom, would teach us a number of lessons:
- The phenomenal growth does not produce something that is healthy. It grows beyond its bounds – the rise of professing Christendom is not what God desired to see from the sowing of the seed.
- The birds that find shelter must be seen as forces of evil, cp. v. 4. 6 It serves a purpose for which it was not intended – it lodges those who teach error and have evil intent in their heart, being those of false profession.
- It casts a shadow, providing cover and darkness for those who have no affinity with the light. It shelters those who are not believers at all.
The Lord had said to His disciples that to them, ‘it was [is] given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God’, v. 11. For this reason, ‘when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples’, v. 34. They were the ones to whom divine truth would be imparted, so that they, in their turn, would teach others these things.
In concluding this section of parabolic teaching, we note that there is a practical lesson. We are told that the Lord ‘spake . . . unto them, as they were able to hear it’, v. 33. Wuest comments, ‘The verb to hear refers not only to the act of hearing, its usual meaning, but also in some contexts, to the act of understanding, as in 1 Cor. 14:2’. 7 Whilst we acknowledge that the Lord could read the hearts of His hearers, whereas we cannot, there is a challenge as to whether we make our teaching understandable and give thought to that vital issue. In the verse that follows, the Lord also reinforces the importance of understanding His teaching, spending further time with His disciples to ensure that they have grasped that teaching. Wuest adds, ‘He expounded . . . the composite word means to give additional loosening, so as to explain, make plainer and clearer, the Word of God’. 8 Bible teachers, take note!
1. F. B. Hole, Commentary on the New Testament. Source: https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/hole/NT/MARK.html#a4.
2. Thomas Constable, Expository Notes on the Bible, e-sword resource.
3. D. E. Hiebert, op. cit., pg. 116.
4. A. T. Robertson, op. cit.
5. John. D. Grassmick, op. cit.
6. Of other negative references to birds, see: Gen. 40. 17, 19; Jer. 5. 27.
7. K. S. Wuest, op. cit., pp. 94, 95.
8. K. S. Wuest, op. cit., pg. 95