Necessary Storms and Parables: Studying Mark 4

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How can these be necessary storms? Tears blurred my vision as I drove down the freeway. I feel blasted, annihilated. 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.

1 Peter 1:6b

I was immediately comforted. God had spoken through the unmistakable voice of Scripture, that this trial was not only necessary, but that I was not alone. He had heard me. The pain was still there, but so was he.

Tactics Change: Parables and Storms

We’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Mark, turning from the conflicts of chapter 3 to the parables of chapter 4.

The opposition we saw in chapter 3 didn’t derail Jesus. Instead, with laser focus he continued preaching the central 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. These little stories are incomprehensible to the crowds. Instead of making the truth clearer, they seem to hide the meaning from everyone who hears. Even the disciples didn’t get it, as we can see by the fact that they came privately with questions.

Why did he adopt this teaching style?

In other words, why the change? What made the parables necessary? 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 exercise us. To make us cock our heads and listen more intently. And to not be satisfied until we learn the answer.

Apparently, having ears and having “ears to hear” are two different things.

Necessary Storms

Second, Jesus leads his followers right into a storm. He who knows all things isn’t surprised by anything that happens. He knows the hearts of his disciples as well as what they need.

They had just been treated as “insiders,” asking for and receiving the explanation of the parable. It is a short step from receiving privileged information to feeling that you deserve such a privilege. If they needed to understand the parables, they needed even more to be tossed by the storm.

What are the necessary storms in your life? In mine? What do they teach us about our mighty Savior? How do they keep us from trusting ourselves and our insider knowledge?

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 see God work. 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? 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. How would you describe 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 Jesus is “in your boat” no matter where you are headed this week. And that only necessary storms come your way.

Next post: The King Announced: Applying Mark 4

Find more posts on the Gospel of Mark here.