Mark 4:33

I. AN INSTRUMENT OF JUDGMENT.

1. As concealing more than it revealed to the popular mind.

2. As convicting men of sinful ignorance and spiritual incapacity.

II. AN INSTRUMENT OF MERCY.

1. The Word of God was not wholly withdrawn.

2. This, the only practicable form of teaching that remained to Christ, was used with constant regard to the benefit of the hearers.

3. The desire for Divine knowledge was thereby stimulated.

4. Further instruction was ever attainable by sincere inquirers. - M.







But without a parable spake He not unto them.
Not as He was able to have spoken; He could have expressed Himself at a higher rate than any mortal can; He could have soared to the clouds; He could have knit such knots they could never untie. But He would not. He delighted to speak to His hearers' shallow capacities (John 16:12).

(T. Brooks.)

With matter Divine and manner human, our Lord descended to the level of the humblest of the crowd, lowering Himself to their understandings, and winning His way into their hearts by borrowing His topics from familiar circumstances and the scenes around Him. Be it a boat, a plank, a rope, a beggar's rags, an imperial robe, we would seize on anything to save a drowning man; and in His anxiety to save poor sinners, to rouse their fears, their love, their interest, to make them understand and feel the truth, our Lord pressed everything — art and nature, earth and heaven — into His service. Creatures of habit, the servants if not the slaves of form, we invariably select our text from some book of the Sacred Scriptures, He took a wider, freer range; and, instead of keeping to the unvarying routine of text and sermon with formal divisions, it were well, perhaps, that we sometimes ventured to follow His example; for may it not be that to the naturalness of their addresses and their striking out from the beaten paths of texts and sermons, to their plain speaking and home thrusts, to their direct appeals and homespun arguments, our street and lay preachers owe perhaps not a little of their power? Our Lord found many a topic of discourse in the scenes around Him; even the humblest objects shone in His hands, as I have seen a fragment of broken glass or earthenware, as it caught the sunbeam, light up, flashing like a diamond. With the stone of Jacob's Well for a pulpit, and its water for a text, He preached salvation to the Samaritan woman. A little child, which He takes from its mother's side, and holds up blushing in His arms before the astonished audience, is His text for a sermon on humility. A husbandman on a neighbouring height between Him and the sky, who strides with long and measured steps over the field he sows, supplies a text from which he discourses on the gospel and its effects on different classes of hearers. In a woman baking; in two women who sit by some cottage door grinding at the mill; in an old, strong fortalice perched on a rock, whence it looks across the brawling torrent to the ruined and roofless gable of a house swept away by mountain floods — Jesus found texts. From the birds that sung above His head, and the lilies that blossomed at His feet, He discoursed on the care of God — these His text, and Providence His theme.

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

I have generally found that the most intellectual auditors prefer to hear a simple scriptural and spiritual preaching. The late Judge McLean, of the United States Supreme Court once said to me, "I was glad to hear you give that solemn personal incident in, your discourse last night Ministers now-a-days are getting above telling a story in a sermon; but I like it.

(T. L. Cuyler.)

"You have no 'likes' in your sermons," said Robert Hall to a brother minister; "Christ taught that the kingdom of heaven was 'like leaven,' etc. You tell us what things are, but never what they are like." Parables are more ancient than arguments.

(Lord Bacon.)

And when they were alone.
I. THE PARABLES A PUZZLE. It is very striking that the very means of instruction should have hid the truth, and even from His followers. The parables of Christ were sometimes obscure and confounding to His foes; that is not strange. Where there is no taste or desire for instruction, the clearest and simplest lessons may be vain. It was a judgment, but not an arbitrary and cruel one. It was a punishment which the blinded deserved, and it was one which they inflicted upon themselves. Parables were among the easiest and most interesting methods of instruction. They addressed a variety of powers; and thus were suited to a variety of minds, and a variety of faculties in the same mind. But if the eye was at fault, and could not see, or could not see aright, then the windows had no use; and the means of light conveyed no image, or a false one. There is often, and especially in moral matters, more in the learner than the lessons. Parables would have been no judgment, if there had been no obtuseness and perverseness in the hearers. It is harder to understand how "the disciples," who had some insight and sympathy, should have been perplexed. But why did Christ employ a method which had the effect of concealing what, if stated without a parable, they must have seen and appreciated at once? We are here, my brethren, right upon a great and blessed truth. The parable taught minds by taxing them. It made truth plain to the thoughtful; but required sometimes more, sometimes less thought for its comprehension. It was a way of teaching, but by calling out the desire and effort to learn. If a man only heard it, the truth was hidden; if he were bent on getting at its sense, the truth became more plain and powerful by its means. To look at it was to see nothing; to look through it was to behold most beautiful and glorious things. When it fell upon a passive nature, it left no impression; when it fell on one quick and active, and in quest of truth, it realized a blessed end. As soon as the disciples, failing to apprehend Christ's sense, came to the prayer, "Declare unto us the parable," they had reached the highest end of teaching: they not only were in the way to know, they were exercising the powers of knowledge. All things He does as well as says, in this sense, are parables: they are intended to teach, but they teach in the way of training; they have in them an element of difficulty mercifully fitted to make easy, an element of obscurity mercifully fitted to make clear. He wishes to excite, to awaken the dormant and stimulate the sluggish; to call out our powers; not only to bless us, but to bless us by quickening us; not only to impart knowledge, but make us knowing; not only to enrich us with goodness and happiness, but to enlarge our capacity for both. And a heaven on lighter terms would be a heaven of smaller joy.

II. THE DIFFERENT WAYS IN WHICH THE PARABLES WERE TREATED. Some gaze upon the mystery scornfully or listlessly, others seek with deep anxiety to have it solved. Difficulty offends or disheartens these, but stirs up those to activity and zeal. Truth is often difficult. What is needful to salvation is within the reach of all, for an inaccessible boon cannot be an indispensable blessing. But truth of most sorts, as well as religious, is not unavoidable, and frequently it is hard to get. And if we pass from what is to be known to what is to be done, from the difficulty of apprehension to the difficulty of the performance, the same kind of remark applies, "Is there not a warfare to man upon the earth?" Is any promise of good in other than the apocalyptic form, "To him that overcometh will I give"?

III. THE PRIVATE SOLUTION OF THE PARABLES. When the multitude were sent away, Matthew says that the disciples came to Jesus, requesting an explanation of His teaching. This is not the only occasion mentioned (Matthew 15:15), and we may be sure there were many. They had the right, and availed themselves of it. And there are now those who have access, so to speak, to the solitude of the Saviour. Many only know Him in the world, and the face of day; in His written word, in His general providence; as the Teacher of crowds, as the Worker of wonders. They might know Him otherwise. Had this multitude cared for His intimacy, they might have had it. We, like the disciples, may be "alone," and alone with Jesus. It is not necessary, in order to this, that we should be absent from men. There is a solitude of the flesh, and a solitude of the spirit. Christ is the best revelation of spiritual truth, its strongest evidence, and its only quickening force; and we may say of Him and Christianity, what Cowper says of God and Providence —He is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.Perhaps your parable is evil, the evil in the world, in yourselves. Christ has this explanation. And the same remark applies to duties. More faith in Him will lighten the burden and ease the yoke, however hard and heavy. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." He is model, motive, might of all obedience; and the life we live is His life, and we follow Him, and all we do is from His love constraining us. There is a lesson for all. Some are painfully exercised with doubts and difficulties "great upon" them. They "walk in darkness," "a darkness that may be felt." Let me entreat such to "come to Jesus in the house;" to seek the secret Saviour.

(A. J. Morris.)

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