Mark 4-5
(Who is this Man?)
October 14th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

- Mark 4:41 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

In yesterday's study we read about the beginning of Jesus' ministry. He was preaching, healing, and forgiving sins in Galilee. He appointed his followers, who became his new family, and attracted large crowds everywhere he went. He also incited the ire of the religious leaders, who felt threatened and become jealous. These trends continued in chapters 4 and 5.

In chapter 4, Mark reports that Jesus began to teach by the lake, again (although this was the first time it was mentioned in this gospel). The crowd was so large that Jesus spoke from a boat in the water:

    Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

    And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

    And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

    But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

    And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

    And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.

    And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

    - Mark 4:3-9 (KJV)

Subsequently, Jesus explained this parable to his disciples. Noting that God's word was like the seed, some of it falling on deaf ears but others fell on people with open ears and hearts, resulting in a good spiritual harvest. Jesus then emphasized the importance of letting one's light shine so that others can see it, and he shares two more agricultural parables to emphasize the importance of faith. At the end of the day, Jesus and his disciples boarded a boat for the other side. When a storm hit the boat the panicked disciples roused Jesus from a nap to help them:

    A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he (Jesus) was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

    - Mark 4:37-41 (NRSV)

In chapter 5, Jesus demonstrated his power over demons, chronic sickness, and even death. One woman was healed just by touching the cloak of Jesus. At one point in this chapter Mark reports that Jesus was asked to heal a young girl, but she died before he arrived. Jesus told the father, “Don’t be afraid, just believe (Matthew 5:36 - NIV).” Jesus then selected Peter, John, and James to go with him to the home and then commanded the girl to get up – she returned to life and the parents were instructed to feed her but not to tell anyone what happened.

Reflection and Application

At this point in the Good News story the disciples were still unclear about Jesus' identity. They had agreed to follow him, but must not have realized who it was that they were following as they were continuously amazed by his teaching and power. Mark captures their incredulousness in the story of the calming of the storm when the disciples exclaim to each other, "who is this man?"

Jesus' decision to teach by the lake was a radical approach at the time, which may have been one of many surprises for the disciples during the events recorded in today's reading. It may seem normal to those of us in the 21st century who have participated in or heard about outdoor church services. For instance, my own church has an early morning beach service every week during the summer and on Easter Sunday. Many other churches have their services under tents, on boat docks, or other outdoor places. However, this concept was not considered kosher in the first century A.D. Moses had once taught by the water, as described in Deuteronomy, but the proper place to teach in that era was in the synagogue.

The parables that Jesus taught by the waterside were intended to be stories that were familiar for the people in Jesus' audience – a demographic consisting of farmers and fisherman. There may even have been a farmer sowing on the hills near the lake as Jesus began the parable of the Sower of Seeds. The word “Behold," which we see in the KJV and NKJV translations means to look – so perhaps Jesus was directing the people to see this act as he described it.

Can you relate to the activity of the sower in this parable? Perhaps you have sown seeds on a large farm or a household garden. Or maybe you have used a spreader to apply grass seed to a suburban lawn. Inevitably, some of it ends up on the driveway or sidewalk, where it has little chance of growth, others end up in bare spots that are thin layers of earth on top of rock, and others are crowded out by wild violets, crabgrass, dandelions and other erstwhile enemies of the 21st century homeowner. But hopefully most seeds reach their intended destination of the good earth of the lawn.

Now imagine that instead of being the sower, we are the earth (figuratively, not literally). How do we become like God’s fertile earth of scripture and song that receives the word and “day by day unfoldest blessings?” In his commentary on Mark, William Barclay suggests that the scripture is telling us three things to do in order to be good earth:

  1. Listen – It’s important for us to find time to be truly still and listen for the word in scripture, in prayer, and in God’s creation. When we pray for example, we should reserve some time for listening for God’s answer – just like any other conversations.
  2. Receive – Think about the word, ponder it, process it, talk about it, accept it.
  3. Act – Act on the word, share it with others

One of the obstacles holding us back from achieving these goals is that many of us humans are listening-challenged. When the LORD called Ezekiel to be a prophet, he told Ezekiel, “ ‘You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious’ (Ezekiel 2:7 - NIV).” Ezekiel found this to be true, and could have become frustrated, but continued to follow the LORD’s instructions for prophecy. Jesus faced the same challenge. When he started to explain the parables in today's reading he included a quote from Isaiah:

    He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

    “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
       and ever hearing but never understanding;
    otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ ”

    - Mark 4:11-13, Isaiah 6: 9-10 (NIV)

The parable of the Sower of the Seeds illustrates the different ways people respond. For example, the religious leaders and those in power were among those who were most obstinate to the message from Jesus; they were like the stony ground where the seeds could not take root. Some of the early readers of Mark may have been represented as the seeds that took root but were choked by thorns (the tribulations of their time). By sharing this parable and the stories that follow Mark seeks to encourage those persecuted Christians to be good soil by letting the word take root and clearing away the thorns that try to entangle them.

Jesus makes clear that it’s important for the farmer to continue to spread seeds, because some will take root. When we are called to share the word we must remember this parable and also take note that we are not to worry about who will listen and who will not – God will take care of that. Our purpose is like that of the farmer in the second parable: Trust in the design of the seed, rain, etc. and recognize that the harvest is not of our making. We cannot ensure the spiritual growth of those to whom we minister. Instead, it's important for us to remember that we may plant a seed and perhaps water from time to time, but it is the Creator who does the saving, just like it’s the Creator who designed the seed and makes it grow.

Jesus wants us to trust him in the area of nurturing of souls and also wants us to trust that he will protect us from the storms of life. The written account of the disciples in the boat is very similar in Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4L35-41, and Luke 8:22-25, indicating that this is an important story for us to remember and also providing corroboration for each other's account. How do you imagine the scene? I sometimes wonder if the witnesses may not have revealed their full emotions at the time. I picture their response to the situation as something like this, "“Teacher, Teacher, TEACHER!!!!!!” We are drowning here! Don’t you care! Wake up, wake up!!!!”

Have you had this reaction at times? The storms of life swirl around us– we pray and feel like there is no answer, so we get discouraged (like the seed throttled by the thorns and weeds) and disparage God for not caring if we perish. The same words that Jesus said to the father with the sick girl can be said to the believer who worries about when God will intervene, “Don’t be afraid, just believe (5:36).”

We see clearly from today's chapters that Jesus has no boundaries – demons, storms, synagogues, death – he is LORD of all. After all this, the disciples still asked themselves, “Who is this?”

Who do you say he is?

For another interpretation of Jesus calming the storm we recommend a viewing of a painting from this story by Rembrandt (1606-1669), which was his only seascape. He depicts faces of fear and other physical reactions of the Disciples. You can't see this painting in public at this time because it was stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18th, 1990. Our family found a nice copy of the painting in a second-hand shop in Rhode Island and joked that maybe it's the original. This copy now sits in our home office, but the original has still not been recovered. However, you can see an image of it and read more about the painting at the museum's website by clicking the link below:

"Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee"

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What was the last type of seed that you planted?
    2. What are the distractions that interfere with you listening to God?
    3. What should we do to persist in spreading God’s word when it seems as if nobody is listening?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father, we know you are capable of any miracle you choose. Help us to seek you out.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Mark 6-7 (No Challenge Too Great)

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