Week Two of 40 Days through Mark’s Good News
Mark 4:1–25—The Story of the Farmer and the Soils
1 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. There was such a large crowd along the shore that he got into a boat and sat down and spoke from there. 2 He began to teach the people by telling many stories such as this one:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, 6 but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Then he said, 9 “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!” 10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him, “What do your stories mean?” 11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘They see what I do,
but they don’t perceive its meaning.
They hear my words,
but they don’t understand.
So they will not turn from their sins
and be forgiven.’
13 “But if you can’t understand this story, how will you understand all the others I am going to tell? 14 The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others. 15 The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the message, but then Satan comes at once and takes it away from them. 16 The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. 17 But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. 18 The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for nice things, so no crop is produced. 20 But the good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” 21 Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed to shut out the light? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. 22 Everything that is now hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light. 23 Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! 24 And be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand—and even more, besides. 25 To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them.”
Points of Interest:
- ‘You are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God’—What is the secret about the kingdom of God? Why would Jesus say it is permitted to this group, but not to others? Why would he use stories to conceal something from ‘outsiders’? Some people say that Jesus taught through stories because stories are more memorable or easier for simple people to grasp. Both of these theories make sense, but they’re not the explanations Jesus gives. He tells us in this passage very directly that he speaks in little stories in order to conceal. Why would he go through the bother of teaching, but not want people to understand? Why would Jesus, who has been so eager to get his message of good news to the people, want to be obscure? And, above all, is Jesus really saying that he is speaking in stories in order to prevent people from being forgiven? On first sight, this does not seem like the same Jesus who was moved with pity for the leper and who offered forgiveness to the paralytic and who called Levi to be his disciple. What is Jesus up to here? The answer seems to come from the story he tells: he says this story is the way to understand all the other stories he tells. The meaning of this story IS the secret about the kingdom of God—and the group which comes to him already knows this secret, even though they don’t know that they know the secret. The seed in the story is God’s message, and the farmer is sowing the seeds widely in order to find the good soil. Jesus, by telling these little stories, is that farmer. He’s throwing out seeds, looking for where it grows. He’s looking for the good soil, and when he finds it he will throw more seed that direction. Who is the good soil? It is the twelve and ‘others who were gathered around.’ Curiously, this group doesn’t understand the story any more than anyone else: they have to ask what it means. So, what do they do differently?—they stay and ask. They respond to the words when everyone else goes home. Despite the fact that they don’t understand what Jesus is saying, they believe his words are important and worth hearing more about. Jesus is willing to tell the disciples what the story means for the very same reason he is willing to eat with sinners at Levi’s house. He has come not for ‘the righteous’ but for sinners; and he has not come for people who think they understand his words, but for people who are willing to be confused and ask. The secret about the kingdom of God is this: respond to Jesus’ words by drawing closer to him, even if it’s with a question; when you do so, you’ll get more and more. So does Jesus want those who are on the outside to stay on the outside? No, he says that everything secret is meant to be brought to light. He wants outsiders not to understand his words, but to come inside, by coming to him and asking about his words. Jesus teaches in such a way that it requires relationship; we have to draw close to him to get the benefit of his words. Often, we can assume that it is unfaithful to ask Jesus questions about his words. Jesus says that it’s actually the secret about the kingdom of God—the key to getting more of the message of the kingdom is to ask questions about what you have already heard. Questions show that we are treating Jesus’ words seriously; and when we take our questions to Jesus, they bring us closer to him—and therefore within grasp of the Kingdom of God.
Taking It Home:
- For you: Do you want more words from Jesus? The best way to get more is to ask him about what you’ve heard. Use this story as an opportunity to draw close to Jesus today. Ask him, ‘What does this mean? Is there anything I’m not seeing that you are trying to show me?’ Listen for Jesus to give you more words.
- For your 6: What are the questions your 6 have about Jesus’ words? Encourage them to ask those questions, and to bring them to Jesus. Your Life Group or Campus Group is a great place to do so; so is praying their questions alone and looking and listening for answers. If you aren’t close enough to them to recommend a group, pray for them. Ask God to give them the secret of asking Jesus their questions.
- For your church: Pray for a big crop—30, 60, to 100-fold and more. We want to be more and more transformed by Jesus’ good message, and we want more and more people who are transformed. Pray that even during these 40 days of Leap of Faith, we will be getting more transformative power from God’s words as an entire church.