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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Mark 4

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Kingdom Parables and Kingdom Power

A. The parable of the soils and the purpose of parables.

1. (Mar 4:1-9) Presentation of the parable of the soils.

And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

a. He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea: Jesus often used a boat as His “pulpit” (Mark 3:9). It gave Him a place to speak away from the press of the crowds, it provided good acoustics, and it was probably a nice backdrop.

i. When Jesus taught from a boat, surely it was a new thing. We can imagine some critic saying, “You can’t do that! Teaching belongs in the synagogue or in some other appropriate place.” It would be easy to come up with objections: “The damp air might make people sick” or “There are a lot of mosquitoes down at the shore” or “Someone might drown.” But Jesus knew that teaching from a boat suited His purposes well enough.

b. Then He taught them many things by parables: The word parable comes from the idea of “to set along side.” As Jesus used parables, the idea was to set a spiritual truth along side a daily truth of living.

c. A sower went out to sow: In this parable, Jesus described something they were all familiar with – a farmer casting seed on the ground and the seed falling on different types of soil.

d. And it happened, as he sowed: The seed fell on three areas without lasting success: on the pathway (the wayside), on the rocky ground (on rock), and on the thorny ground (among thorns). But some of the seed fell on good ground.

i. It wasn’t that the farmer stupidly or carelessly sowed the seeds. Some seed fell on the pathway by accident (some fell by the wayside), but most of the seed was sown on ground that was plowed after the seed was cast. Therefore, you didn’t know where rocks were or where thorns might grow.

ii. Though this is commonly called the parable of the sower, it should really be called the parable of the soils. The difference is never the seed, but on the kind of soil it falls on.

e. Some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred: Of the seed that fell on the good ground, all of it produced – but not all produced to the same degree.

2. (Mar 4:10-12) The purpose of parables.

But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’ “

a. The twelve asked Him about the parable: The spiritual meaning of the parable was not immediately apparent. The disciples of Jesus, including the twelve, didn’t know what Jesus meant and they asked Him about the parable.

b. To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: Jesus would answer the disciples’ question about the parable, but first He would teach them why He used parables.

i. The disciples, who wanted the things of God, were given to know the mystery of the kingdom – they could be spoken to plainly. But others were often taught with parables.

ii. In the Bible, a mystery isn’t something you can’t figure out. It is something that you would not know unless God revealed it to you. In the Biblical sense of the idea, you may know exactly what a mystery is, yet it is still a mystery because you would not have known unless God revealed it.

iii. Notice that even with this “simple” parable, the disciples themselves do not understand (Mark 4:10, 4:13, 4:33, 4:34).

c. To those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive’: Parables, in their spiritual function, are more like riddles or puzzles than easy illustrations. They can be understood by those who have the right “key.”

i. A parable isn’t exactly an illustration. A good teacher can illustrate by stating a truth and then illustrating the truth through a story or an analogy. But when Jesus used parables, He didn’t start by stating a truth. Instead, the parable was like a doorway. Jesus’ listeners stood at the doorway and heard Him. If they were not interested, they stayed on the outside. But if they were interested, they could walk through the doorway and think about the truth behind the parable and what it meant to their lives.

ii. If you don’t understand the key to the parable, you don’t understand it at all. We can imagine what different people in Jesus’ audience might have thought when He taught this parable with no explanation.

· The farmer thought, “He’s telling me that I have to be more careful in the way I cast my seed. I guess I have been wasting an awful lot.”
· The politician thought, “He’s telling me that I need to begin a farm education program to help farmers more efficiently cast their seed. This will be a big boost in my reelection campaign.”
· The newspaper reporter thought, “He’s telling me that there is a big story here about the bird problem and how it affects the farming community. That’s a great idea for a series in the paper.”
· The salesman thought, “He’s encouraging me in my fertilizer sales. Why, I could help that farmer more than he knows if he only used my product.”

iii. But none of them could understand the spiritual meaning until Jesus explained the key to them: The sower sows the word (Mark 4:14). If you miss the key, you miss the whole parable. If you think the seed represents money, you miss the parable. If you think the seed represents love, you miss the parable. If you think the seed represents hard work, you miss the parable. You can only understand it by understanding the key: The sower sows the word.

iv. “Without the key the parables are hard to understand, for parables veil the truth of the kingdom being stated in terms of another realm. Without a spiritual truth and insight they are unintelligible.” (Robertson)

d. Lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them: By quoting this passage from Isaiah 6:9, Jesus explained why He used parables. In teaching by parables, Jesus offered His hearers the opportunity to dig deep and find the truth, or to turn a blind eye to an interesting story. They might therefore avoid a greater condemnation for having rejected a clearly understood truth.

i. Jesus didn’t use parables to blind people, but because they were blind. “Therefore Jesus used the parabolic method, not in order to blind them, but in order to make them look again; not in order to prevent them from coming to forgiveness, but in order to lure them toward a new attention.” (Morgan)

ii. “So, that their guilt may not accumulate, the Lord no longer addresses them directly in explicit teachings during the period immediately preceding His crucifixion, but in parables.” (Geldenhuys)

iii. In light of this, how blessed are those who do understand the parables of Jesus. Not only do they gain the benefit of the spiritual truth illustrated; they also display some measure of responsiveness to the Spirit.

3. (Mar 4:13-20) Parable of the sower explained.

And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

a. Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? Jesus considered this parable as essential to understanding His other parables.

b. The sower sows the word: Jesus said that the word of God is like a seed. It gets planted in our hearts and then has the potential to bear fruit. But not every seed grows into a plant and bears fruit. The kind of soil it lands on makes all the difference.

i. The natural tendency is for the audience to critique the preacher. But here, Jesus the preacher critiques His audience. The issue is how well they will hear, not how well He will preach.

ii. We learn something else here: It is by preaching that the seed is sown. You can study the seed, categorize the seed, analyze the seed, know the seed, or even love the seed. But if you don’t sow it, nothing will grow.

iii. But if the seed is the word, then every preacher must make sure he uses good seed. “It is a high offence against God to change the Master’s seed, to mix it, or to sow bad seed in the place of it.” (Clarke)

c. These are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown: Some people are like the ground on the pathway. This was hard ground because people walked on it all the time and beat it down into a path or a road. People like the wayside are hard to the word of God, and they allow no room for the seed of the word in their lives – it never enters.

i. “There are some that hear the word, but never meditate upon it, never lay it to their hearts, never cover it with second thoughts.” (Poole)

ii. Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts: It is important to see that Satan doesn’t want the word of God to take root in a person’s heart. Like a bird swooping down and snatching a seed, he wants to “remove” the seed of the word from the “soil” of a person’s heart. This is Satan’s preferred result. He wants to keep the word from ever having a place in a person’s life so that they will never be fruitful to God.

iii. “Hard hearts must be ‘plowed up’ before they can receive the seed, and this can be a painful experience (Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12).” (Wiersbe)

d. The ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time: Some people are like the ground that is rocky but covered with a thin layer of topsoil. They receive the seed of the word with a flash of enthusiasm that quickly burns out.

i. When tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble: The stony ground hearer isn’t attacked directly by Satan, but by tribulation or persecution. Jesus knew that many have an immediately favorable reaction to the word of God, but they give it up quickly when it becomes difficult to follow Jesus.

ii. No root in themselves: Some professing Christians have no root in themselves. Their root is in their parents, or in their Christian friends, or in their pastor, or in enthusiastic surroundings. “Then there are many more, whose religion must be sustained by enthusiastic surroundings. They seem to have been baptized in boiling water; and unless the temperature around them is kept up to that point, they wither away... the religion that is born of mere excitement will die when the excitement is over.” (Spurgeon)

e. The ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful: Some people are like the seed that fell among the thorns. They receive the word but allow the interests and cares of this world to choke it out.

i. We might say this ground is too fertile. The word of God grows there, but so does everything else. And everything else soon begins to crowd out the word of God.

f. The ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred: Some people are like the good ground, and they accept the word, and bear fruit, thus fulfilling the purpose of the seed.

i. This parable shows that when the word is received as it should be, something happens – fruit is produced. If nothing happens, then the word is not being received as it should.

ii. “This parable deals with the problem that is greatest of all to the thoughtful mind: how is it that the scribes and Pharisees can so misrepresent Him? And how is it that His kindred and disciples can totally fail to comprehend Him? Why does not the hearing of the doctrine produce the same result in every heart?” (Cole)

iii. “The Pharisees were not a button the better for all those heart-piercing sermons of our Saviour, nay, much the worse.” (Trapp)

B. The responsibility of those who understand the Word of God.

1. (Mar 4:21-23) They are responsible to expose and publish the truth – that is, the word of God.

Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

a. There is nothing hidden which will not be revealed: By its very nature, light is meant to be revealed. Truth is the same way, and God promises that it will be revealed.

b. But that it should come to light: We must not hide this light. If you have the truth of God, you have a solemn responsibility to spread that truth in whatever way God gives you opportunity. It is just as someone who has the cure for a life-threatening disease has the moral responsibility to spread that cure. God didn’t light your lamp so that it would remain hidden.

2. (Mar 4:24-25) When we hear the word, we become accountable; so we must take care how we hear.

Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

a. Take heed what you hear: Christians should be careful to put themselves under good teachers, teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word. There are many reasons for choosing a church, but one of the big ones must be, “Jesus told me to take heed what you hear, and I know this church teaches the whole counsel of God’s Word.”

b. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you: This is why it is important to take heed what you hear. God will respond to us as we have responded to Him and His word.

i. Charles Spurgeon said, “The hearer of the gospel will get measure for measure, and the measure shall be his own measure.” And it works out just this way. To the one with no interest in the gospel, the preaching of the gospel seems uninteresting. To the one who wants to find fault with the church or the preacher, they find plenty of faults. On the other hand – the more blessed hand – those who hunger find food, and those who want the solid truth receive something from any faithful ministry.

c. And to you who hear, more will be given: When we hear the word of God, and receive it with gladness, more will be given to us from God’s spiritual riches.

i. More will be given: More what? More desire to hear. More understanding of what you hear. More personal possession of the blessings you hear about.

ii. More will be given: Jesus reminds us that spiritual growth follows momentum, positive or negative. When we have the godly habits of receiving the word and living it, more is built on to that. When we lose those godly habits, they are extremely difficult to get back.

C. Two more kingdom parables.

1. (Mar 4:26-29) The parable of the growing seed.

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

a. As if a man should scatter seed: When a farmer plants seed and it grows by night, when he sees the seed sprouted in the morning, he has just worked as a partner with God. Man has done what he could do – plant the seed; and God has done what only He can do: grow the seed.

i. This shows that the word of God works invisibly within us. God promised that His word would accomplish the purpose for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11). So when you hear the word, it works in you – even as you sleep. In works in you spiritually, in a way that it invisible to our eyes.

ii. “The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.” (Robertson)

b. He himself does not know how: How exactly the seed grows is a mystery to the farmer. Though it grows by a process he cannot see nor fully account for, he has faith in the growing process. So it is with the Kingdom of God: we work in partnership with God, yet the real work is left up to Him – we trust in a process we cannot see nor fully account for.

i. Because Jesus said that the Parable of the Soils was a key for understanding other parables (Mark 4:13), we can say that the seed He speaks of here represents the Word of God, as it did in the Parable of the Soils. Therefore, with this parable, Jesus shows the way the word of God works with hidden and mysterious power, just like a seed.

ii. The Bible isn’t just an instruction manual or a list of rules to follow. It lives and works its life into us. The idea that a preacher lends life to God’s Word is wrong; the only thing a preacher has to give to the word is a voice. Like a seed, the word of God has a hidden and mysterious power.

c. The harvest has come: Just as a field’s crop may be unnoticed when first planted, but can’t be missed when mature, so it is with the Kingdom of God. It has small beginnings and its root may be small, but when God develops the work it cannot be missed.

i. This is the glory of Jesus’ work in us. It was prophetically said of Him, a bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus takes something as small and insignificant as a seed, buries it, and makes it rise up to something glorious. Therefore, we should never despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10).

2. (Mar 4:30-34) The mustard seed.

Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

a. It grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches: Some regard this as a beautiful picture of the church growing so large that it provides refuge for all of the world. But this mustard seed plant has grown into a monstrosity, and it harbors birds – who in the parables are emissaries of Satan, according to the foundational parable of the soils (Mark 4:13).

i. “The growth of the kingdom will not result in the conversion of the world. In fact, some of the growth will give opportunity for Satan to get in and go to work!” (Wiersbe)

ii. Jesus, in considering the growth of the work of God, reminded us that size and status are not necessarily benefits. Corrupt Christianity has been a curse to the world, being the form of godliness without the power.

c. When they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples: “This does not necessarily imply that the multitude understood nothing, but only that Jesus, by further talk, made the disciples understand better.” (Expositor’s)

D. Jesus calms a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

1. (Mar 4:35-39) Jesus rebukes the stormy Sea of Galilee.

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.

a. Let us cross over to the other side: Jesus made a promise to His disciples. He didn’t say, “Let us perish in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.” He promised His disciples that they would cross over to the other side.

i. “The Lake of Galilee is 13 miles long at its longest, and 8 miles wide at its widest. At this particular part it was about 5 miles across.” (Barclay)

ii. “Jonah ended up in a storm because of his disobedience, but the disciples got into a storm because of their obedience to the Lord.” (Wiersbe)

b. They took Him along in the boat as He was: Jesus taught the multitude from a boat just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When the teaching was finished, He didn’t return to shore. He just said to the disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side.”

i. “Now the teaching was over; He was weary; He was craving for a period of rest. And so He bade His disciples to cross the lake, and that is the moment to which our text refers – they took Him even as He was... They had not waited till any cloaks were brought. They had not sent a messenger ashore. Weary, and probably hungry, they had taken Him even as He was.” (Morrison)

ii. We must take Him as He was.

· Not as we wish Jesus was.
· Not as others may present Jesus.
· Not as you might see Him in the lives of others.

c. And a great windstorm arose: The Sea of Galilee is well known for its sudden, violent storms. The severity of this storm is shown by the reaction of the disciples (we are perishing). Several of the disciples were experienced fishermen on this very lake, and they were frightened and feared perishing in this storm.

d. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow: Jesus’ true humanity is shown by His brief sleep on the boat. He became weary and sometimes caught a bit of sleep wherever He could.

i. Think of all the worries that might have kept Jesus awake. He could worry about the religious and political leaders who plotted against Him. He could worry about His family who thought He was crazy. He could worry about the overwhelming crowds with their overwhelming needs. He could worry about the disciples He chose. He could worry about the future, because He knew what His destiny was. With all these things to worry about, Jesus wasn’t worried. He slept in a rocking boat.

ii. “The Lord’s sleep was not only the sleep of weariness: it was also the rest of faith, for there is a rest of faith as well as a watch of faith.” (Cole)

e. And they awoke Him: The wind didn’t wake Him, the arguing of the disciples didn’t wake Him, and water splashing over the boat didn’t wake Him. But at the cry of His disciples He instantly awoke. Jesus is like the mother who sleeps through all kinds of racket, but at the slightest noise from her little baby, she instantly awakes.

f. Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing? Notice the “we.” Their idea was, “Hey Jesus, You’re in trouble here too. Maybe You had better wake up, get a bucket and start bailing along with us, because we are perishing!”

i. “It was not a request to Him to do anything; but a protest against His apparent indifference.” (Morgan)

ii. The disciples were afraid, but at the same time there were several experienced fishermen among them. They knew they were in jeopardy (Luke 8:23) but probably felt they knew what to do. They worked hard at bailing out the water, at rowing in a certain rhythm, at piloting the boat in a certain direction. They were annoyed that Jesus didn’t help them.

iii. “There may be both a sleeping Christ and a sleeping church, but neither Christ nor his church can perish. If our Lord be asleep, he is asleep near the helm – he has only to put his hand out and steer the vessel at once. He is asleep, but he only sleeps until we cry more loudly to him. When we get into such trouble that we cannot help ourselves and feel our entire dependence on him, then he will reveal his power.” (Spurgeon)

g. Then He arose and rebuked the wind: Jesus didn’t merely quiet the wind and the sea; He rebuked the wind and the sea. This, together with the disciples’ fear and what Jesus will encounter at His destination, give the sense that Satan had a significant hand in this storm.

i. Rebuked... “Peace, be still!” The same terminology was used when Jesus rebuked and silenced demons. This was a spiritual battle as much as a weather crisis. “Jesus addressed the raging storm as a ‘force’ threatening him and his disciples. The force of the sea was muzzled as Jesus subdued it with his sovereign word of authority.” (Lane)

ii. As well, Mark tells us other little boats were also with Him. When Jesus calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee, He did not only rescue Himself and the disciples, but all the others in the little boats.

2. (Mar 4:40-41) Jesus rebukes His disciples.

But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

a. Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? Jesus didn’t say, “Wow, what a storm!” Instead, He asked, “Why is it that you have no faith?” The storm could not disturb Jesus, but the unbelief of His disciples disturbed Him.

i. It was not their fear of the storm that made Jesus say they had no faith. A small boat in a big storm is a scary place, and the initial fear itself isn’t wrong. What the disciples chose to do with the fear made all the difference.

ii. Jesus could say they had no faith because they did not believe His word. They each heard Jesus say, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake” (Mark 4:22). Jesus did not say, “Let’s do the best we can and maybe we’ll all drown.” He promised a safe arrival, and the disciples could have chosen to trust in that promise, but they didn’t. In this sense they had no faith.

iii. Jesus could say they had no faith because they accused Jesus of a lack of care towards them. When they woke Him, they said, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) When we think Jesus doesn’t care about us, it shows we have no faith, because we don’t believe the truth about Jesus. It takes great faith to trust the sleeping Jesus, to know that He cares and works for us even when it does not seem like it. But this is the kind of trust God wants to build in us.

iv. Jesus could say they had no faith because they forgot the big picture. The disciples should have known that God would not allow the Messiah to perish in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Could the story of Jesus possibly end with Him drowning in a boat accident on the Sea of Galilee? “Our fears are often intensely silly, and when we get over them, and ourselves look back upon them, we are full of shame that we should have been so foolish. Our Lord kindly censured their unbelief because it was unreasonable.” (Spurgeon)

v. We could put the emphasis: How is it that you have no faith? Of all people, Jesus’ own disciples should have had faith. Would Jesus put the same question to us? “After all I have done in you and for you, how is it that you have no faith?

b. They feared exceedingly: The total calm of the sea should have filled them with peace, but instead, they were just as afraid when He calmed the storm as when they were in the midst of it.

c. Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him! The disciples ask a good question: Who can this be? It can only be the Lord, Jehovah, who only has this power and authority. O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds You. You rule the raging of the sea; when waves rise, You still them. (Psalm 89:8-9)

i. In the span of a few moments, the disciples saw both the complete humanity of Jesus and the fullness of His deity. They saw Jesus for who He is: truly man and truly God.

ii. All this shows the abiding care Jesus has for His people. “There are many Christians today who seem to think the boat is going down! I am tired of the wailing of some of my friends who take that view. The boat cannot go down. Jesus is on board.” (Morgan)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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