The first 34 verses of chapter 4 are a collection of Jesus’s parables. And once again, Jesus used a boat to teach in because the crowds were so large. Jesus taught often in parables. They can be stories, proverbs, similes and metaphors, riddles, comparisons, examples, or allegories. The longest parable starts us off, the parable of the soil. The soil is an analogy for various conditions of the human heart. Jesus taught in parables and later, when He was alone with the disciples He explained what the parables meant. Jesus’ real followers were permitted to understand the secret of the parables, and the kingdom of God. The secret was that the kingdom of God had come and Christ, the Son of God, was in their midst. For the outsiders, everything Jesus taught seemed like riddles. And if Jesus’s hearers could not understand the parable, it is quite possible they lacked the grace of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. The interpretation of the parable of the soils is allegorical. The farmer is the preacher of the word of God and the four soils represent the four different responses of those that receive the seed, each with a different response to the preaching of the word. The point of this parable and it’s interpretation is that hearers should be good soil and heed God’s word. Only those who produce fruit and endure to the end will be saved.
A lamp is lighted to shine and give people light, not to remain hidden. Citizens of the kingdom are responsible for putting the light of the Good News on a stand. One day the lamp…Jesus…will shine His light on everything that is hidden, on every thought and secret action. The time to listen is before this occurs. Those who listen and respond will be given more understanding, but those outside will have greater darkness. There are two more seed parables and their common theme is the secret of the kingdom of God. The seed growing secretly and the mustard seed describe different stages of the seed growth process. The kingdom of God is hidden but growth is certain and the result will be glorious. The parable in verses 26-29 focus on the seed and it’s inevitable growth. Just as the earth produces the crops on its own, the kingdom of God does not depend on human actions. What Mark shows us is normal seed growth. Harvest time here is analogous to the final inauguration of God’s kingdom. The sickle is a frequent symbol of the final judgement. With the mustard seed, Jesus contrasts a very small beginning with a large result. Mark’s summary of this section indicates that this section of parables is not a chronological description of Jesus’s teaching on any one specific day.
Verses 4:35-5:43 are a collection of three miracle stories that are connected by a shared location, the Sea of Galilee, the presence of the disciples, the use of a boat, and a common theme…Who is this man? First of all we see Jesus fame because when He and the disciples set out across the Sea of Galilee other boats followed Him. Jesus, exhausted, fell asleep in the boat and a severe storm blew up. The disciples were terrified and woke Jesus, wondering if He cared that they were going to drown. Jesus silenced the storm and the sea, causing the disciples to stare at Him in awe, wondering who could do such a thing. The disciples still lacked faith, a fact that Jesus pointed out to them. And they were terrified, a common response to Jesus in the Book of Mark.
On the other side of the lake was a region that has several names but scholars are fairly certain the town was called Gergesa. This town was located on a steep bank on the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore. As we have seen before the demons that Jesus cast out of people truly recognized that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God. Here, for the first time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus healed a Gentile. This man’s evil spirit had great strength but Jesus strength and authority is much greater. This man, who lived among the tombs was badly beaten by the demons he had. They threw him down and cut him, but this man had a glimmer of hope when he saw Jesus. He knelt before Jesus seeking help. The demons called Jesus Son of the most high God. There was no struggle because they knew Jesus was in charge and they obeyed Jesus. Jesus asked the demon what his name was and he said legion, because there were many demons inside the man. A legion was a Roman military unit of 5,000-6,000 men. Here the word is used to describe the presence of many evil spirits. The fact that the evil spirits or demons persisted in begging shows Jesus’s mastery over them. They were permitted to enter a herd of pigs whose presence marks this as Gentile territory. Many are interested in why Jesus let the evil spirits enter into the herd of pigs. Why not just destroy the evil spirits. But Mark was more interested in how Jesus saved the man who had been possessed. Looking at the man before and after Jesus drove out the evil spirits was a testimony to Jesus’ saving power. Jesus’ power frightened the residents of the area and they asked Him to leave. Fear and amazement are frequent responses to the mighty acts of Jesus. The now healed man wanted badly to go with Jesus but Jesus gave him a mission field in his own town and the job of making Jesus known. Unlike many other occasions Jesus didn’t ask this man to keep quiet about Him. Perhaps this is because keeping the Messiah quiet in this area wasn’t as dangerous as it was in other places. The chapter ends with two healing miracles. They are connected by the need for faith. The story of Jairus’s daughter brackets the healing of the woman who had constant bleeding. When Jesus and the disciples arrived back where they had come from they were met by a local synagogue leader whose only daughter was sick and almost dead. Would Jesus please come and heal her.
While Jesus and the disciples were walking to Jairus’s house word came that the girl had died, and Jairus didn’t need to bother Jesus anymore. But Jesus continued on, telling Jairus and the crowd that the girl was only sleeping. It is not at all surprising to learn that a huge crowd followed them to Jairus’s house. On the way, in the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Not only did this affect her health but it made her unclean and unable to participate in the worship life of the congregation. Interestingly enough, this woman was a model of the kind of faith Jairus needed to have. The woman’s faith told her that if she just touched even the hem of Jesus’ garment she would be healed, and she was..immediately. But Jesus, looking around wondered aloud who had touched Him. The disciples were incredulous. There were hundreds of people, all pressing in on Jesus and the disciples. How could Jesus even ask that question? Jesus had felt the healing power leave Him. The woman came forward in fear, not because she felt guilty but because she realized she had experienced a mighty miracle from God. This was the awe sort of fear. This woman experienced God’s grace and salvation. After this they continued on to Jairus’s house. He was not to be afraid but to have faith in Jesus. When they arrived Jesus took Peter, James, and John into the house with Him. The professional wailers were already there but Jesus told them all the girl was just sleeping. They laughed at Him. Jesus made them all leave, probably to keep them from discouraging the parents any more than they already were. Sleep here is a metaphor for death. Th child isn’t dead because she will be resurrected. She would shortly wake up and resume her life. Mark translated Talitha koum for his Greek speaking readers as little girl get up. The Aramaic terms are not magical. They are simply the actual words Jesus spoke when He raised the little girl. Aramaic was His native tongue. Here we see Jesus’ authority over death. Her transformation was instant and absolute. Again, the family is instructed not to tell anyone.
After this Jesus went home to Nazareth and His rejection there contrasts with the faith displayed by others. The people’s amazement at Jesus’ teaching was due to the wisdom of His teaching and His power to heal and cast out demons. His quiet years Nazareth had not prepared them to accept Him as an authoritative teacher and healer. All they saw when they looked at Jesus was a simple carpenter, the Son of Mary. Because Joseph is not mentioned, most scholars believe Joseph was already dead at this time. His siblings were offended because they believed He was trying to be someone He wasn’t. Faith and healing are often connected in Mark’s gospel. Jesus miracles were not performances but the partial realization of God’s kingdom. A few sick people were healed but the unbelief that Jesus encountered in His own village amazed Him. Jesus was rejected by His family, the scribes, and in many other places. The people were offended, thinking Jesus was pretending to be someone He wasn’t. From 6:6-8:21 Jesus’s mission and the disciples misunderstanding are prominent themes. As they walked along Jesus taught and healed. But now comes the first practical test. Jesus paired up the disciples and sent them out to preach and heal. During this mission Jesus’ memorable teachings were engraved in their minds by telling and retelling. This also served to help them remember and later retell what Jesus did and taught. The instructions for this mission were about what the disciples were to leave behind. They were to travel light, counting on Jewish hospitality for food and lodging. They were to stay in the same house and not abuse hospitality by looking for better accommodations. When you shake the dust off your feet it is a symbolic act of pronouncing God’s judgement upon those who rejected their preaching. This was really a rejection of Jesus who had sent them out. Like we have seen so many times, the message was repent.
In between the disciples being sent out and their returning Mark records the death of John the Baptist. The success of the six teams of disciples who spread out in Galilee and Perea caused Jesus’s fame to spread even farther and faster and Herod heard about Him as well. He thought it was Elijah or perhaps the spirit of John the Baptist that had come to rest upon Jesus. John the Baptist was beheaded at the request of Herod’s wife Herodias, his wife and former sister in law. We saw this story in Matthew’s gospel as well, showing the moral degradation that existed among the leaders of Jesus’ day. After John’s death his disciples came and got his body and buried him. Disciples of John the Baptist existed after his death until about 200 A.D.
The disciples returned from their mission and Mark began to call them apostles to indicate their status as those who had been sent out. The apostles came back to Jesus, eager to report the successes of what they had been able to do and teach. Jesus hoped to take them to a quiet place so they could rest and share but by this point He was too popular and people followed them everywhere they went. The crowd was so great Jesus had compassion on them. They were like sheep without a shepherd. God’s people need a shepherd and teaching God’s word is compared to feeding sheep. After an afternoon of teaching the disciples came to Jesus and told Him to wind things down because they were in a remote place and the people needed to go find food. Jesus responded with…you feed them. Their response is much like us, thinking only about what they could do in their own power. They didn’t consider Jesus’ power. All the disciples found in the crowd were five loaves of bread and two fish. After seating the people in groups Jesus took the loaves and fish, blessed them, broke them into pieces. These words echo the same words Jesus used at the Last Supper. People ate until they were full, something many of them may not have done for a long time. And there were left overs.
The disciples proceeded to Bethsaida after this, the home of Peter and Andrew. Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowd. He then went apart from everyone else to pray. About 3:00 am Jesus went walking on the water. The disciples were struggling against the wind and waves of a storm. Mark tells us Jesus intended to walk right past them but they saw Him and thought He was a ghost. They were terrified. As with many divine manifestations, Jesus gave the men a word of assurance, don’t be afraid. Why? Because Jesus was there. Not only did Jesus still a storm but He also walked on water and His words I AM here point to God’s self description in the Old Testament. Jesus’ entrance into the boat completely calmed the storm and the men were totally amazed. At the very end of the account Mark tells us the disciples still didn’t fully understand everything because their hearts were still hard. Later, their hearts would be softened and then they would. Verse 6:56 sums up a great deal of Jesus’ ministry. Wherever Jesus went people brought the sick, begging Him to at least let the sick touch His garment so they could be healed. Mark tells us that all who touched Him were healed.
The next account of Jesus’ ministry happened “one day”. There is no direct connection with the previous events. This account records an exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees and teachers of religious law. Here Mark explains the pharisaic practices of ritual cleansing for his gentile readers. Why did Jesus’ disciples eat without first perform the hand washing ceremony. It all had to do with ancient traditions that were as yet not written down. The Pharisees believed there were traditions that had been given orally to Moses along with the written law. They were later written down around 200 A.D. The question was why didn’t Jesus follow them. Jesus first quoted Isaiah 29:13 which deals with equating man made ideas with God’s commands. This describes well the situation in which the Pharisees had substituted their human traditions for God’s law. Next Jesus called them in another instance where they had done the same thing. But the result of these traditions was that they cancelled the Word of God. Jesus’ second argument was a parable that He told concerning moral distinctions about eating. Eating affects the digestive system but moral issues involve the heart. How or what someone eats affects only the digestive tract and it has no bearing on a persons morality. That comes from our hearts. Verses 20-22 summarize thirteen things that truly defile a person. All of these things come from the heart and not what we might eat. This account sets us up for the story of the Gentile woman’s faith. For the Jews, Gentiles were defiled by definition because they could not keep the regulations of the Old Testament.
Jesus traveled to Tyre, a city in modern day Lebanon. It had one of the most important harbors on the eastern side of the Mediterranean. Some believe this story is a foreshadowing of the church’s mission to the Gentile world that led to thousands of conversions later. This woman had an urgent petition, shown by her falling at Jesus’ feet and begging. Jesus’ initial reaction may seem a bit harsh but He is looking for her faith, which is great. His mission was first to the Jews but this does not mean Gentiles were to be excluded. The woman responded with humility and faith, acknowledging both the priority of the Jews and the fact that there was more than enough to go around. She told Jesus there was food for the dogs, not the four legged animals but the Gentiles. The Jews referred to the Gentiles as dogs, a very derogatory term. Her persistence and acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord were rewarded. Jesus left Tyre and went to Sidon, another city on the Mediterranean coast. Here He encountered a man who was both deaf and mute. This time Jesus led the man away from the crowd, probably to prevent the spread of Messianic fever. Jesus spit on His fingers and touched the man’s tongue and he was healed. There are actually medical records from this time telling of the medicinal uses of spit. Seriously. Jesus looked up to heaven and signed, most likely a form of prayer by Jesus. Jesus spoke one word, Ephphatha! It means be opened. Again this is not some magic formula. Mark is simply recording what Jesus did and said.
Jesus told the man to say nothing but this kind of healing was too good not to share, so he did, telling everyone he encountered. Despite His desire to avoid attention, Jesus’ greatness shown too brightly. He was like a lamp on a stand that could not be hidden. Between His persona, teaching, and healing Jesus could not hide anywhere. It would only get worse.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W