Mark 4: The Necessity of Parables and Storms

Tears blurred my vision as I drove down the freeway. Why does it have to hurt so much?


Years ago Mark and I were in the middle of a painful trial. Breaches of trust, broken relationships, public accusations, back room plots were swirling around us. I agonized over how it was affecting not just us, but those who had formerly considered themselves our friends. A storm had broken out and our little boat was being swamped.

Lord, is this really necessary? My voice broke the silence inside the car. Immediately, without my conscious help, came the one word, Yes, followed by these words from Peter’s letter, … though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.

I was immediately comforted. He had spoken, not just that the trial was necessary, but that I was not alone. The pain was still there, but so was he.

Tactics Change, Mission Continues

The opposition we saw in chapter 3 didn’t derail Jesus. With laser focus he continued preaching the good news of the kingdom: the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:15). That’s why he had come. He refused to be side tracked from that calling by popularity or opposition.

However, Mark 4 does show a change in tactics–two changes actually–both necessary to advance his purpose.

First, Jesus begins to teach differently, using parables instead of proclamation. Why? Is he playing favorites? Forming a club to exclude outsiders? Or is he responding to a difference that is already there?  Here’s an analogy by Pastor Kent Hughes that might shed some light on this change:

Physically, if we fail to exercise a muscle, we will one day lose its use. It is the same with intellectual powers. If we fail to use them, there will come a time when we will not be able to summon their full power. God confronts us with his truth, but if we do not positively respond to it, we will lose it.

Parables, it seems, are meant to make us cock our heads and listen more intently. Apparently, having ears and having “ears to hear” are two different things.

Second, Jesus leads his followers right into a storm. Why? What do we learn about Jesus? About the disciples? About ourselves? When I think about the storms in my life, I realize they don’t just terrify me, they wake me up spiritually. They make me hungry to hear God speak.

Here are this week’s study questions to help us listen intently.

Day 1: Context–Scan Mark 3 and read Mark 4:1.

  1. Compare Mark 4:1 with the parallel verse Matthew 13:1. What information did Matthew add?
  2. What happened earlier that day? See Matthew 12 and compare to Mark 3.
  3. Why do you think Jesus began to teach in parables that afternoon?

Day 2: Observation–Read Mark 4 as the story of two groups.

  1. What things did Jesus say to the crowd? What did he say to the disciples?
  2. What do you learn about the kingdom from the parables (crowd version)? What do you learn about the kingdom from the explanation (disciple version)?
  3. What is Jesus’ attitude toward the crowd? Toward the disciples?
  4. At the end of the day what does Jesus do with the crowd? With the disciples?

Day 3: Meaning–Read Mark 4 as the story of two events on the same day.

  1. Why is Jesus now speaking in parables in his own words?
  2. Why does he chose Isaiah 6:9-10 as his reason? Read Isaiah 6:8-10 and consider how the disciples would have heard these words.
  3. What do the disciples learn about the kingdom from his words?
  4. What do the disciples learn about the King from the storm?
  5. Why was the second lesson necessary?

Day 4: Application–Read Mark 4 as a personal word to you from your King

  1. How is your understanding of the Kingdom challenged or advanced from this chapter?
  2. How is your faith in the King strengthened from this chapter?
  3. What would it look like for you to trust him today?

Remember that he is “in your boat” no matter where you are headed this week.


One comment on “Mark 4: The Necessity of Parables and Storms

  1. Charlotte says:

    Amen, Rondi. He’s in my boat and the storms are necessary. Thanks for the reminder.