Jesus really was a master teacher. Of course, it was his identity as the Son of God that made his words most important. But also outstanding was the variety of his supporting material. In the preaching of Jesus there was “something for everyone” (Raymond Bailey, Jesus the Preacher). He talked about farming, fishing, leaven in dough, treasures in fields, pearl merchants in search of fine pearls, weddings, new patches on old clothes, wineskins, and so on. Also outstanding was his pedagogy. His use of questions (307 to be exact), how he extended conversations to a higher spiritual level, and his stories all made Jesus a most intriguing teacher.
His use of story is evident in one of the two discourses in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 4:1-34; the other discourse is Mark 13). Jesus preached that day entirely in parables. Mark says, “He did not say anything to them without using a parable” (4:34). Parables start out as true-to-life comparisons that move to fictional analogies and leave the listener dumbfounded as to such an upside-down story. C. H. Dodd said, “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile or drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought” (The Parables of the Kingdom, 5).
The Intriguing Teacher’s Mandate and Method
Mark 4:24, 25, 33, 34
In the parables of Jesus, volition matters more than cognition. A willingness to learn trumps IQ. That is why Jesus can say, “Consider carefully what you hear” (literally, “See what you hear”). In fact, “hear” is the main word attached to parables. It means more than “listen.” It means to heed and even obey. Jesus holds our feet to the fire from the stories he told. That is why he can use the “stewardship of responsibility” language in more than one teaching. “Measurement used and measurement received” can be applied to matters of judgment (Matthew 7:1-6) as well as opportunities to hear and obey. He clearly gives an oxymoron when he says, “Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them (Mark 4:25). We have a responsibility to hear the intriguing teacher. It is a mandate.
Jesus used a variety of teaching styles. Parables were his method, but only as much as they could understand. For as intriguing as stories were, they could not always carry the freight of the teaching. Sometimes straightforward prose was needed to explain the stories. That is why the text says, “But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained (untie, release, explain, or expound) everything.”
The Intriguing Teacher’s Stories
The sermon in parables is recorded in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. Matthew’s account records eight parables, Mark records four, and Luke—at this point—records just two. Two parables are in our text today, (vv. 30-32). Both deal with the government of God (his kingdom). The first of those two stories is unique to Mark’s account. It has been labeled the parable of the “growing seed” or the parable of the “mysterious growth” of the kingdom.
One reason that the reign of God is rather mysterious is because it is a strange combination of the human and divine. Clearly the divine is the senior partner, but there is a man in this story who scatters seed on the ground and also harvests the crop when the time is just right. People have a responsibility in advancing the reign of God. But the main role belongs to God. While the sower sleeps, God is at work growing a seed to harvest. In fact, the whole process happens all by itself (the Greek word is where we get the English word automatically). Worry about your role in advancing God’s cause. You do not need to worry about God’s role.
The mustard seed parable is a double interrogative parable. It begins with two questions. God’s government is like a small mustard seed. In fact, 725-760 mustard seeds equal one gram, and 28 grams equal one ounce. Wow, pretty small. But it grows so large that birds can nest in the branches. There is no reason to suggest that birds in this parable are symbols of evil as they are in Mark 4:4, 15. While starting rather small in Acts (first 12, then 120, then 3,000, then 5,000 and on), the reign of God simply expands across the earth. Christianity has a foothold in up to two-thirds of the population of the earth today. Not a bad start from a single intriguing teacher from Nazareth in Galilee.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.