The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Activity

The attitudes of the Lord’s family, foes and followers toward Him as a Worker for God have been examined (3:20-35). Mark now considers the proper response to the Word of God (4:1-34).

Accepting the Word (4:1-34)

The Lord’s teaching by the seaside took the form of “parables” (4:1-2,33-34), which by their very nature demanded attentive listening (4:3,9,24,33). Parables separated the genuine listener from the superficial. Truth was hidden from the resistant and revealed to the persistent. Enquirers with a sincere concern to understand were “given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God” (4:11).[1] Others, with no desire to know or act upon the truth, ended up knowing nothing. Deliberate refusal of obvious truth posed a barrier to understanding anything more.

The Lord’s teaching shines a spotlight on the place of God’s Word in service. There are four major lessons:

Servants Should Face Reality (4:3-20)

The servant is like a farmer who “went out … to sow” (4:3). The farmer scattering seed across his field represents those who serve God by disseminating His Word (4:14). As the farmer finds that not all soil is conducive to fruitful growth, so the sower of God’s Word discovers that not every heart is ready to receive it.

Seed falls on the “way side” (4:4,15). Seed falling on unploughed ground bounces off and is snatched away by birds. So, the hearts of many who hear God’s Word are hard, unploughed and resistant. The Word, never entering the heart, is stolen by the enemy.

Seed falls on “stony ground” (4:5-6,16-17). Under the top layer of soil lies a rock bed and apparent growth of the seed is superficial; it is only above ground. The sun scorches it, and it is “withered away.” Some who hear the gospel are shallow, superficial and emotional in their response. All appearance of growth is external. Time and trials soon reveal this and the profession of faith is abandoned.

Seed also falls on ground already occupied by “thorns” (4:7,18-19). These choke the seed, making it unfruitful. Some who listen to God’s Word are likewise preoccupied. They have anxieties and ambitions; their affections are toward other things. God’s Word is not given place; there is no fruit.

Thankfully, the farmer’s efforts are rewarded when seed falls into “good ground” (4:8,20). This ground is not hard, shallow or preoccupied. It has been ploughed; rocky resistance has been broken up; weeds have been cleared away. There is a harvest. When God’s message reaches a hearer who is unresistant to God’s Word, non-superficial in their response, and undistracted by other matters, there is the wonderful harvest of salvation.

Servants must face reality: the free choices of sinners will impact the results of service. Many will not receive the Word. We must accept this or we will soon despair. However, unfruitful soil need not remain unfruitful; a little digging and weeding may make a difference; people who presently resist God’s Word may be willing to receive it in the future.

Servants Should Take Responsibility (4:21-25)

The Lord now turns from the response of hearers to the responsibility of servants. A lamp is intended to shine, to dispel darkness, to cast its beam far and wide. Should it therefore be “put under a bushel, or under a bed?” (4:21). To do so would make the lamp ineffective. The bushel was a basket used for business; the bed was a couch for reclining and sleeping on. We must not become too busy, or too lazy, to spread the gospel.

Those who actively promote the gospel will be amply rewarded – “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you” (4:24 ESV). As you give the Word to others, so you will receive, with more added. More understanding of God’s Word will be achieved; more opportunities will open for service; more reward will be given. Servants must make the gospel known for sinners to receive it.

Servants Should Find Rest (4:26-29)

While all believers have responsibility to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1Co 15:58), we need not be constantly anxious and restless about the results.

A man casts seed into the ground and, later, “putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come” (Mar 4:29). He does two things: sow and reap. First, he sows the seed. Without this, nothing would happen. Then, something special occurs: the seed “springs and grows up.” How this happens is unknown to the sower and unaffected by him. It is the result of the life principle in the seed. It is a slow process, gradual but real: “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear” (4:28). Finally, he reaps.

It is liberating to know our part in God’s work. We must sow the seed, shine the light, and use a large and liberal measure. We must preach the Word. The sinner’s part is to receive the Word preached. The gospel itself contains the inherent power to produce salvation in all who believe (Rom 1:16). We cannot save, but we can deliver the saving message in full confidence of its inherent ability.

Servants Should be Reassured (4:30-32)

The final parable brings further encouragement. A little grain of mustard seed, about the size of a grain of sand, sown into the ground “groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it” (4:32). From tiny beginnings, the kingdom of God increases in size phenomenally. A minute seed is sown, and a great tree results. So, the seed of God’s Word, sown in weakness, has resulted in the blessing of millions.

The Lord’s parables grant encouragement and challenge. Sinners must individually receive God’s Word. Servants must actively propagate it. The Word itself is powerful, and God’s purpose for blessing is universal.

Let us, then, share the gospel far and wide with full confidence in the power of God’s Word. God is able to use our small contribution in His service to achieve wonderful ends for His own glory.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.