Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Chapter 4:1-41

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Chapter 4:1-41

The Sermon on the Boat

  • Jesus is back by the Sea of Galilee, this time teaching in parables.
  • It's so crowded that Jesus sits in a boat while the audience listens from the shore. For some historical flavor, check out the so-called "Jesus Boat."
  • Jesus opens with a story about someone who is sowing seeds. Some seeds land on the road, and the birds gobble them up. Other seeds fall on rocky ground, but the plants die after springing up for lack of soil. And others die because they landed in weeds. Just when you start to wonder whether this guy knows anything about farming, Jesus tells of seeds in good soil that become exceedingly productive.
  • Huh?
  • Then Jesus adds something even more opaque. Scholars call this Mark's "parable theory." With such a fancy name you better pay attention.
  • While the disciples are (supposedly) insiders who have direct access to the "secret of the kingdom of God," outsiders only hear parables, so that they won't see, understand, or be forgiven. A good question to ask is…why?
  • Jesus hints that the disciples' inability to comprehend the parable about the sower is probably a sad indication that they're not going to comprehend any of his parables. So, are the disciples insiders or outsiders in terms of the "parable theory"?
  • Jesus explains the parable. Each type of ground represents a different response to "the word" (what word?). Satan plucks the word away.
  • Persecution checks devotion to the word. Wealth, ambition, and anxiety stunt growth and maturity in the word. Yet some people's response is incredibly productive.
  • Without missing a beat, Jesus really starts to jam. He's a veritable Jimi Hendrix, but with parables. Can you unpack them?
  • Lamps placed under buckets or beds are somewhat useless. Okay…but the drift is?
  • Everything hidden will be revealed. Uh oh. When?
  • Care is required as you listen, for you will get in return what you give. Turn the volume up, please.
  • You either got it or you don't. If you got it, then you get more. If not, then sorry. What is he talking about?
  • Jesus launches another story about a farmer. This time, he throws out the hint that he's illustrating the nature of the "kingdom of God" (4:26; remember this concept from 1:15). The farmer plants a seed, which produces fruit of its own accord, even though the farmer doesn't know how. Then it's time for the harvest.
  • Another good illustration is the mustard seed, which is the smallest of seeds, but grows into a huge bush, whose shady branches provide refuge for birds.
  • The narrator concludes that all of this is indicative of the way Jesus taught in general—i.e., in parables. People generally understand according to their ability, while the disciples have the privilege of hearing Jesus's special explanations of these complex illustrations in private.
  • Teaching from a boat has its perks. After class, Jesus and his disciples can sail across the Sea of Galilee to the opposite side.
  • But this serene little cruise turns ugly when the boat fills with water during a dangerous storm.
  • Jesus is sleeping like a baby.
  • Afraid they are going to die, the disciples urgently wake Jesus up.
  • Jesus orders the storm to shut up and be quiet. After all, he's trying to sleep. The storm stops, and everything is calm again. That's just cool.
  • Jesus asks his disciples why they were afraid—they must not trust him yet.
  • His disciples are now even more afraid. They want to know who this guy is who can boss around storms like this.

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