4 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
(Mark 4:1-2 NIV)
At the end of chapter 3, we saw Jesus teaching in a house, with the crowds packed inside and spilling out into the street. As we begin chapter 4, Mark informs us that Jesus heads outside to teach at Lake Genesserat.
Why did Jesus move His teaching outside? There were likely a variety of reasons: Simple logistics were probably a huge factor – too many people in too small an area like a house. Also, Jesus was probably not welcome in the synagogue any longer, since the religious officials had ridiculed Jesus’ teaching, His healing on the Sabbath, and His disciples’ actions, not to mention accusing Jesus of being demon-possessed.
Earlier in chapter 3, we heard Jesus requesting His disciples to arrange for a boat to be available, in case the masses became overwhelming and crowded around Him, creating a near-mob scenario (see 3:9). Jesus’ preparation was now pressed into service (v. 2).
Chapter 4 contains one of two large blocks of Jesus’ teaching; chapter 13 is the other block. Verse 2 says that Jesus “taught them many things”. Chapter 4 is to introduce us to Jesus’ teaching and provide an example. Mark’s purpose is not to provide every word of every time Jesus taught.
Verse 2 says that Jesus taught by parables. In its simplest Sunday School definition, a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Further defined, a parable uses the concrete and natural to describe or parallel the spiritual and supernatural. In a parable, both the concrete and natural as well as the spiritual and supernatural reflect the character and kingdom of God.
A parable is a story, but it is also so much more. A parable is not just to educate or enlighten – a parable asks something from its hearers:
- it requires engagement with the story and the speaker (do I understand its meaning?)
- it demands a critique (do I agree or disagree with the story and its meaning?)
- it initiates action (what is my response to this truth – to be or to do?)
A parable will be lost on many but will be overwhelmingly fruitful for some, as we shall see in Jesus’ first parable of the farmer and the seed.
May we prepare ourselves before we spend time in God’s Word – to have eyes to see God’s truths, ears to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisperings, and hearts tender and open to receive His love and truth.