What does Mark chapter 4 mean?The focus of Mark's Gospel is Jesus' actions. Only here and in Mark 13:3–37 does this book spend significant time recording Jesus' teaching. In the previous chapter, Mark explores the different reactions people have to Jesus, His teachings, and His miracles. The Pharisees (Mark 3:1–6, 22), Herodians (Mark 3:6), and Jesus' family (Mark 3:21, 31) react with varying degrees of horror. The people like what Jesus has to say, but like His healing miracles more (Mark 3:7–12). The twelve, referring to Jesus' inner circle of disciples, and a group of others want to know the deeper meanings of Jesus' teaching (Mark 3:13–19, 34–35). Here, Jesus explains why He is met with such diverse reactions.
The crowd gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee makes aggressive attempts to reach Jesus for healing (Mark 3:7–9). So, He sits in a boat to teach them as they remain on the shore. Jesus uses parables, a symbolic form of teaching, to explain the mystery of the gospel (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:1–6). Parables are metaphorical stories which reveal the truth in an oblique way. Listeners must work to understand the seemingly simple stories—between public parables and private explanations to His disciples, Jesus mentions listening or hearing more than a dozen times! Not everyone heeds His instruction.
Although the crowd is willing to listen to Jesus' parables, they have no interest in the spiritual meaning behind the stories. The disciples—the twelve and others (Mark 4:10)—ask Jesus for clarification when things are quieter. Jesus explains that the parables act as a gateway. Those who have no wish to dive below the surface are free to go on their way, while those who are drawn in by the simple stories will receive answers for their questions, answers which will eventually lead to forgiveness.
These reactions are illustrated in the parable. The seeds on the path are eaten by birds as Satan snatches spiritual truths from hardened hearts. Seeds in rocky ground are like those who hear Jesus' teaching and react favorably, but don't have the personal depth to keep their attention on Jesus in the face of hardships. The thorns represent worldly distractions, such as wealth, that keep an interested seeker from developing into a true believer. The seeds on the good soil are those who produce spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22–23).
Jesus then tells several parables illustrating how His message of the gospel will spread. First, He explains that although the gospel has been hidden until now, it is time to expose the truth, like a lamp lighting a room. The more open people are to Jesus' teaching, the more spiritual wisdom God will give to them. Those who only want to understand a little will wind up with nothing at all. Soon, Jesus will send the apostles out to propagate His message (Mark 6:7–13). As they teach, they should understand they are not responsible for the spiritual growth of their listeners any more than a farmer is responsible for making his crops grow. And they should be prepared; the simple truths of the gospel will create a great movement that blesses all the nations.
In that vein, Jesus tells the disciples it is time to cross the Sea of Galilee to reach other people. He takes advantage of the boat ride to sleep, despite getting caught in a horrible storm. Terrified of imminent death, the twelve awaken Jesus. After scolding them for their lack of faith, He tells the wind and sea, "Peace! Be still!" The weather immediately clears, and the disciples redirect their focus from fear to faith; from storms to Jesus, the man who can control the wind and the sea.