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On Your Mark


With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:33,34, NIV)

Taken together, Mark 4, Matthew 13 and Luke 8 give us nine of Jesus’ parables explaining the nature of the kingdom of God.

All three Gospels record the parable of the sower and the seed. Matthew and Mark give us the story of the mustard seed. Mark and Luke relate the story of not putting a light under a bushel or bed. Mark alone records the parable of the growing seed, while Matthew alone records the stories of the weeds among the wheat, yeast that influences dough, hidden treasure in a field, a merchant looking for fine pearls, and the net of good and bad fish.

All these parables focus on the fact that Jesus’ kingdom is not imposed externally, but grows up from within, and that the kingdom or reign of God must be voluntarily received.

Mark admits that he is giving us the Reader’s Digest version when he summarizes, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them.” Perhaps Mark should be the patron Gospel writer for all who prefer to listen to (or preach) shorter sermons — messages that don’t dilute essence, but still get the point across!

Notice Mark’s phrase, “Jesus spoke the word …” Not a word, but the word. “Word” becomes crucial throughout the New Testament, culminating in the apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). The “Word” is the message from God, and therefore wholly reliable.

The “Word” is not our invention; it is God’s revelation. It is not the product of human reason, but neither is it contrary to reason. Living out God’s Word in our daily lives makes us rational and self-controlled persons because we are thinking, talking and doing as the Lord intended when He created us.

But how much of God’s revelation can we take? Mark answers, “As much as they could understand.”

In other words, Jesus could have given the crowds a whole lot more than they were able to absorb. He possesses all knowledge; therefore, He could have led them deeper. But you cannot fill a cup fuller than its capacity.

This forces us to think about our own spiritual growth. Do we limit Jesus’ ability to pour truth into our lives because we have chosen not to enlarge our capacity? Have we shut off learning more of Him because we do not open His Word, spend time waiting on Him in prayer, or share our faith with others?

Our capacity can expand. Peter’s very last written words tell us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Peter had a far greater capacity after three decades of serving Jesus than he did when he first heard the words recorded in Mark 4.

I love the phrase that describes growth in Christ: “You are expansible, and His gift is infinite. You are capable of receiving more, and He is capable of giving more.”

Mark closes this section of the Kingdom parables by reminding us that the crowds listened to the stories, but the disciples learned their meaning. It’s always easier to listen than to truly “hear.”

May we always want to be among those who press through to a deeper knowledge of and relationship with our Lord.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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