Mark 4:1–34

March 21st, 2013| Topic: aBeLOG, Mark | 0

Mark 4:1–34

God’s sovereign action produces fruit in a receptive disciple.

“… the good soil[s], who hear the word and accept [it] and bear fruit—one thirtyfold, and one sixtyfold, and one hundredfold.”
Mark 4:20

Thus far, in Mark, most people, including Jesus’ own family, have failed to recognize Jesus’ person, his authority, and his mission. How may fruit-bearing be ensured in the disciple’s life?

The seed/soil parables are discourse on hearing the word and responding to it. To the degree that one hears and responds to Jesus’ word, one bears fruit. Obviously, there is a variety of responses to the mission of the sower—three unsuccessful seeds (soils) and three successful ones.

Here in Mark 4, disciples are encouraged to have open ears and eyes to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, the verb “to hear” shows up 13 times in the space of 34 verses (4:3, 9 [×2]; 12 [×2]; 15, 16, 18, 20, 23 [×2], 24, 33). As the explanation section (4:14–20) emphasizes, disciples would do well to receive, hear, and accept the word of Jesus (4:16, 18, 20), that they, unlike the bad soil/seeds, may become fruit-bearing. This receptivity is the essential human element for the consequential bearing of fruit. Such receptivity is, of course, more than mere cognition, and includes commitment and obedience. Such fruit-bearing represents normative discipleship, marked by Christlikeness in conduct. That is man’s responsibility—the human element, the act of receiving/hearing/accepting God’s word, that produces fruit.

The remainder of the pericope demonstrates deliberate structuring in 4:26–29.

A  Sowing (4:26)

B  “sleeps and rises, night and day” (4:27a) [activity of man]

C  “seed sprouts and grows” (4:27b) [activity of seed]

D  “how he himself does not know” (4:27c) [activity of God; incomprehensibility]

D’  “by itself, the soil produces fruit” (4:28a) [activity of God; automaticity]

C’  “first stalk, then head, then full grain” (4:28b) [activity of seed]

B’  “he sends the sickle” (4:29a) [activity of seed]

A’  Harvesting (4:29b) [activity of man]

The incomprehensibility and automaticity of fruit production—the center of the structure, elements D and D’, above—marks the inscrutable and sovereign work of God (automatos, “by itself,” occurs in 4:28). Outside of the initial sowing and the final harvesting, the sower does nothing but wait. As Luther wrote: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends …, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses on it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.” That is God’s sovereignty in action—the divine element, incomprehensible and automatic, producing fruit in the child of God.

The human element of growth and the bearing of fruit is, in the broader perspective, as insignificant as a tiny mustard seed. The contrast in Mark 4:31–32 is between an inauspicious onset, almost invisible, and an impressive finale, quite remarkable. Disciples are to take heart; they are assured by Jesus of the ultimate value of their undertaking, as God, in his precise timing and inscrutable sovereignty, consummates his kingdom (incomprehensibly and automatically), as he causes his people to bear fruit. This amazing metamorphosis from diminutive seed to great tree is made possible, in the end, by the power of God alone (divine sovereignty), as he undertakes a work that is incomprehensible and automatic, and thereby consummates his kingdom. Those who are receptive to God’s word will yield fruit and will be incorporated into the grand scheme of God’s kingdom, for God is at work!

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