Welcome to the study series over the Gospel of Mark! Before we begin, I encourage you to pray and read Mark chapter 4. Ask God to clear your mind and open your heart as we read his word today. :)
Fun Fact! Jesus would often use boats as His “pulpit”. (Enduring Word)
Key Themes: how the kingdom of God grows, Jesus’ power over the physical world
Do you have a favorite plant? Maybe a favorite flower? Why is it your favorite? Over this past year, I started taking an interest in plants. Once quarantine hit, the plants magically multiplied. Currently, I have seven plants. My favorite is a small, bonsai tree that my brother got me. I love it because (1) I think it’s adorable (a tiny tree!) and (2) it grows slowly, but steadily. I get excited when I see new leaves growing on its little branches.
Now, that’s not to say plants haven’t died on my watch before (there’s been several…). Sometimes, I’m confused. Why did it die? I did everything right. In Mark 4, Jesus starts with a parable about plants. Well, not a plant just yet, a seed. This is the first instance in Mark where Jesus speaks in parables. He uses these stories as a way to connect with those who were listening. One of my favorite authors, Ted DeKker, said, “The best way to connect the human heart to the Truth is through story.” I always think of this when I read one of Jesus’ parables. He used them as a way to relate to his listeners, and to us.
And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.” (Mark 4:2-3)
In this story, there are a few different types of soil, which determine how the seed grows. For example, in my backyard, we have mostly clay soil. Things don’t really like to grow there. But, when we bring in soil for our garden, the flowers flourish. Each example Jesus gives represents the condition of the heart when it receives the word.
The seed on the path (verses 4, 15)
This seed never takes root. Immediately, when the Word of God is presented, the desire to dive deeper isn’t there. There is no personal connection to it. Satan doesn’t want the Word of God to take root in our lives, so he works to try an snatch it away. When our hearts are hard with pride, we reject the Truth as soon as we hear it.
The seed on the rocky ground (verses 5, 16)
I actually studied this passage with my Bible study group this month. Sometimes I struggled to really pinpoint what this soil looks like in our lives, but one of my friends pointed out, “This is like when you’re on a Jesus-high!” And it is! After that conference, worship session, Christian concert, etc., we are on fire for Jesus.... For a couple days. Once “real life” starts again, we forget about that feeling we had. We love these experiences that get us excited for serving Jesus, and they are great! But are they the only times you’ve spent time with God? Does your relationship with Him only go as far as that one experience?
The seed among the thorns (verses 7, 18-19)
The difference between this seed and the two previously is that it does take root, and it does grow. However, everything else grows with it. When a tomato plant grows in your garden and you don’t pick out the weeds, eventually they take over. The tomato plant stops growing, and dies. When we aren’t actively aware of the temptations/sin around us and in us, the Word of God is eventually going to slip away. The world’s ways entice us to focus on what is good right now, instead of nurturing and growing what will be ten times better in the future.
The seed on the good soil (verses 8, 20)
We are not always receptive to what God has to say, but most of us want to be like this good soil. When we spend time in His Word and walk with Jesus, our relationship with God grows. I want to point out that not every good soil produces the same amount of fruit, and that’s okay. Everyone’s relationship with God is going to look different! Don’t be discouraged because someone is growing faster than you, or if you haven’t always felt like the good soil. We are all challenged in our faith; what determines the good soil from all the rest is that the seed stays rooted and continues to grow.
Notice throughout this story, the seed always stays the same. God’s Word will never change. A lot of times I think we try to change the Gospel so that certain people will “get it”. God’s Word doesn’t need to change; our hearts do.
And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.” (Mark 4: 21-22)
Next, Jesus tells the parable of the lamp. The lamp is God’s Word, His truth. God did not give us light so we would hide it, but it can be really easy to do. Sometimes, I feel it is hard to share God’s word because I don’t feel qualified to do so. What if I don’t do it the right way? I remind myself that it’s not my word, it’s God’s. We gain strength, courage, and guidance to shine light when we spend time with the source.
One of my favorite verses comes from John 1:8, says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” In this instance, the light is Jesus. The darkness of the world hasn’t and will never overcome Jesus! As long as we commit to following his ways, he will lead us to share the truth with others.
“It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large tree branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32)
The mustard seed is so small! Yet, when it grows, it becomes a place that fosters life. God often uses unlikely ways to grow us and His Kingdom. If we look throughout the Bible, God calls the most unlikely people in order to lead, to preach, and to share the Gospel. David was the youngest of his brothers; yet he became the leader of Israel. The Disciples were fishermen and tax collectors; yet they spread the Gospel throughout the world. Jesus came into the world in an unexpected, uncelebratory way; yet He brought freedom for countless hearts.
God can use you to spread his light and his truth! The world now is loud and set in many different ways. It can be intimidating to think of them all. How could we make a difference when COVID-19 has separated us as a community? How do we show people the Gospel without being judgemental? How should we handle political and social issues as Christ’s followers? All of these are very valid concerns. I want to encourage you to always go back to the Bible. These are issues of our world now, but the only way, truth, and life is through Jesus. Our state of life doesn’t depend on the world’s rules; we depend on God, and he will provide. Lean into his truth, and he will guide you.
Jesus showed his disciples many times how God does hear them and provide for their needs. Jesus calming the storm is one of my favorite stories in scripture.
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40)
The full picture in this story is that the storm starts and gets pretty violent. This had to be a scary thing, especially since their boat was filling with water. The disciples cry out to Jesus, and shake him awake, and he stops the storm. Something I noticed was that Jesus wasn’t mad when the disciples woke him up. He just preached to a crowd; he was probably tired and needed to sleep. Yet, when the disciples woke him up, he wasn’t angry with them.
He provides for them by stopping the storm. Afterwards, the disciples aren’t scared of the environment, they’re scared of Jesus. Why? I think sometimes we humanize Jesus a lot. It’s a hard concept to think about, because he is fully human...and fully God. We can easily forget that last part. The disciples witnessed Jesus do miracles, but didn’t know what to think when he controlled the storm. Jesus is human, but he is also Creator, God’s Son, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Messiah.
Jesus was sleeping in the boat during the storm. However, just because he is silent, doesn’t mean he isn’t with us. Often, when we can’t “feel” God, we don’t think He is there. When hardships arise in our life, we understand our deep need for him. The disciples were shaking Jesus awake in the boat because they were afraid, and they needed him. In those moments of fear and desperation, God is with us, and he is still working in many ways.
I encourage you this week to think about some places in your life where God feels silent. Brings those needs to him. He is still here, still working, even in the crazy year of 2020. God isn’t sitting in the sky somewhere watching chaos on earth; he is with us through the Holy Spirit, and guiding us through everyday. Lean into his Word this week, and trust that he will guide you to shine his light and to get through the storm.
Thank you for taking part in our study over the Gospel of Mark! If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.
Until next time,