Mark 4: 26 – 34
We are about to embark on a sermon series called Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark and so I thought I would spend a bit of time today giving you some background on Mark’s Gospel.
Firstly there is no direct internal evidence in the Gospel itself that tells us who the author is. However, it seems to have been the unanimous testimony of the early church that this Gospel was written by John Mark, a close associate of Peter. The content of the book appears to have come from the preaching of Peter. We think John Mark arranged and shaped Peter’s sermons and in so doing produced this Gospel.
The first mention of John Mark in the Bible, is in Acts 12:12 where we learn that his mother had a house in Jerusalem that served as a meeting place for believers.
Then in Acts 12: 25, we learn that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from Jerusalem, Mark accompanied them.
Mark next appears as a helper to Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:5 when they were on their first missionary journey.
Then for some reason or other in Acts 13:13 Mark returned to Jerusalem leaving Paul and Barnabas in the lurch at Perga, in Pamphylia, Turkey.
Paul must have been deeply disappointed with Mark’s actions because we see in Acts 15: 36 – 39, that when Barnabas proposed that Mark joins them on their second missional journey, Paul flatly refused to have him along.
That refusal broke up Paul and Barnabas’ missional relationship. Barnabas split from Paul and together with his cousin Mark went to Cyprus instead.
After that no further mention is made of either of them in the book of Acts. However, Mark reappears in Paul’s letter to the Colossians where Paul sends a greeting from Mark. At this point it seems that Mark was beginning to win his way back into Paul’s confidence.
By the end of Paul’s life, Mark had fully regained Paul’s favour see 2 Timothy 4: 11.
It is generally thought that Mark’s Gospel was written around AD70 when the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. This would make it the earliest of the Gospels.
Many believe that the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, used Mark as a major source for their writings and this explains the similarity between the 3 Gospels, known as the Synoptic Gospels.
According to early church tradition, Mark’s Gospel was written in Italy near Rome where Peter spent the last days of his life and where he was martyred.
We think Mark was writing for a gentile audience because he takes the trouble to explain Jewish customs 7: 2-4 and 15: 42 and translates Aramaic words. He would not have had to do this if his audience had been made up of Palestinian Jews.
Mark frequently pictures Jesus as a teacher. The words teacher, teach, teaching and rabbi are applied to Jesus 39 times in Mark’s Gospel.
Mark’s writing style is succinct, simple, unadorned and practical in the sense that he emphasises what Jesus did more so than what he said.
He moves quickly from one episode in Jesus’ life and ministry to another often using the adverb immediately.
So let’s take a look at the two parables in today’s reading :
The first parable of the Growing Seed is found only in Mark, while the second one about the mustard seed, is found in both Matthew and Luke.
At the end of this talk I will give you an opportunity to share something it may be saying to you today in your context.
These parables are closely linked and teach us important truths about the kingdom of God. In a sense they support each other. The term Kingdom of God refers to the reign, the activity the purposes of God.
- They each have a sower.
- In each a seed is planted which blossoms into usefulness.
- In both parables we get the sense that the seed will mysteriously produce results which are inherent within it even though in both stories the seeds look insignificant and unpromising.
Jesus often used illustrations from the growth of nature to describe the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Thinking about it, nature’s growth is often imperceptible. We do not see a plant growing. If we see it every day we do not notice the growth taking place. It is only when we see it and then go away and then come back after an interval of time that we see the difference. A bit like a teenager.
Nature’s growth is also constant and unfolding and inevitable. Growth is very powerful. When you leave here today, take a look at the footpath in front of our church and you will notice how the trees have split the concrete pavement with the power of their growth.
So it is with the Kingdom of God. The extension and growth of God’s work in the world is often imperceptible on a day to day basis yet despite this God’s work continues.
Nothing in the end can stop the purposes of God.
Tell my experience when Julian was born with the lilac trees in Shrewsbury.
So what is the life application of the two parables?
I think we can learn much about evangelism, mission and the ministry of the church from them:
- These parables are a great encouragement to us in those times in our ministry when we might feel that the Spirit has gone on holiday; when we feel inadequate and unable to do justice to the calling that God has placed on each of us and on the Church. These parables convey the seed of truth that God’s kingdom works powerfully and effectively despite the skills or lack of skills of those who are the messengers of the Gospel viz you and me. Sometimes God’s Kingdom even works invisibly like a seed hidden in the soil. The farmer who planted the seed had no idea how the seed grows. He simply planted the seed in faith and then waited for it to germinate. He most likely prepared the soil, watered the ground and tended it but he could not cause the seed to grow. It is God who makes it grow. So it is for the Church. It is our task to plant the seed of the Gospel in faith and to trust it’s inherent to grow in God’s time and bear fruit in the lives of those who hear it. We can tend the soil and water the ground but only God grows that seed.
I hope this parable encourages you if you have shared the Gospel with someone and you can see no evidence of that person growing in faith. Remember you have no idea how and in what time frame God is growing that seed.
- Both parables remind us never to be daunted by small beginnings. As God transforms a tiny speck of mustard seed into a 6ft high shrub, so God will accomplish great things including the salvation of the world, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This mystery of how God accomplishes his purposes in the world also applies to our situation.
Think about a church plant or a ministry initiative you may be involved in. Again the parable reminds us to trust that God will use and prosper our efforts in ways we cannot imagine as yet.
- The second parable in particular teaches about the hospitality of the Kingdom of God. In Palestine the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds. Yet it grows into a tree that, when it goes into seed, clouds of birds hover over to feed on the little black mustard seeds. Like these birds, the Church of Jesus Christ which began in Palestine with one man and his band of 12 followers has grown and flourished and now there is room in it for every nation in the world, all kinds of opinions and many different styles of worship.
Finally the last two verses which conclude this collection of parables, are significant.
The comment that “Jesus explained everything to his disciples privately”, makes it clear that one must come to Jesus as a disciple who will listen carefully, if we are to gain the deeper spiritual understandings he offers.
In a sense the parables are a test of our faithfulness and discipline in that they discern the thoughts and the intentions of the hearts of the listeners. Do we really want to know what Jesus is trying to teach us?
To understand his parables requires more of us than mere intellectual comprehension, it requires that our hearts are open to hearing God’s word to us.
Jesus uses parables to plumb the spiritual perception of his audience, because he knows that the fundamental concept of a Messiah who dies an ignominious death can only be understood through a rare spiritual discernment. The outrageous message that Christ crucified conquers the world, will be an impossible riddle for those who hang on to the worldly understanding of success.
Only when we take the time to gather in faith around Jesus as a listening community of Christ followers with open minds and teachable spirits, will we be able to assimilate such divine wisdom as is embedded in his parables.
What have you learnt from this parable today I wonder?