Jesus begins to teach the crowds with parables rather than directly. These stories could be understood by true salvation seekers, but casual listeners and critics failed to grasp the spiritual truths they communicated.
The Text (Mark 4:1-2, 10-12)
4 And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. 2 Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching…
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”
Mark does not record as many parables as Mark and Luke, but he did include a few as key examples of this form of Jesus’ teaching. Sitting was the common position that Jewish rabbis used when teaching; it was also probably necessary for Jesus here because of the rocking of the boat in which He sat. The Master has begun now to teach in parables, which were long analogies that were usually given as stories. Parables seemed to be about simple, concrete topics like farming, debts, and family life. The images and examples were clear and would have been easily understood by Jesus’ first century Jewish and Galilean audiences. However, the parables were really supposed to be heard as earthly illustrations of heavenly concepts. The parables are about what life in the kingdom of God is like and how people enter it. They are often focused on the nature of salvation and sometimes include surprise twists and endings. Those who truly wanted to find out the meanings of the parables would get the main points, but those whose hearts were still hardened by sin and unbelief would miss them. They might get the points of the parable intellectually but they would fail to see how they applied to their own lives.
I never realized the difficulty that people had in understanding Jesus’ parables until I started teaching. I would read a parable like the one from tomorrow’s devotion, the parable of the sower, and then ask the students to explain the main point of the story. And a bunch of them would miss it. I would then try to break it down in parts, asking them to identify what each element of the story represented (the sower, the seed, and the soils for example). And many of them would misidentify each symbol, too. This happens every year with the parable of the sower in a lesson from my curriculum on short essay key words (we write a lot of short essays in my history class). Students are asked to “interpret” the parable of the sower but many (in some classes most) of them can’t. This is even after I show them that Jesus told us what each symbol in the parable meant! How does this happen? What I have come to realize is exactly what Jesus says in verses 11-12: If your heart has not yet been regenerated (born again), then the parables remain mysteries. It takes a combination of a saved person explaining the parable and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit applying it personally for a lost person to have a chance of getting the point. And if their hearts aren’t yet open to the gospel, the listeners still won’t be reached. This is a tough teaching, but it reminds us of what Jesus will show us in tomorrow’s devotion. All we can do is be faithful sharers of the Word; God is the only One who can change people’s hearts and give true spiritual understanding.