These small group studies of the gospel of Mark contain outlines, commentary, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Mark 4:21-41 In-Depth Bible Study With Questions For Small Groups
Outline: Kingdom of God Parables
I. The lamp (21-25)
II. Growing seed (26-29)
III. Mustard Seed (30-34)
IV. Jesus commands the storm (35-41)
Verses 21-25 Discussion Questions
What point is Jesus making about the lamp? Who is the lamp in this parable?
How can we put our “lamp on the lampstand?” What is the opposite of doing this?
What kind of actions are like a light in the dark? Is there anything you need to do or anyone you need to tell your faith because of this teaching?
What does verse 22 mean? Can the context help us understand it?
What do verses 24-25 mean? What does it mean to “take care what you listen to?”
Matthew 5:14-16 – Parable of the light and the basket.
Luke 6:37-38 – Give and it will be given to you..
Verse by Verse Commentary
The main meaning of this parable is that a believer in Christ should not hide his faith. It doesn’t make any sense to light a lamp and then cover it. No one would do that. If they didn’t want the light, they wouldn’t light the lamp to begin with. Have any of you ever done this? Of course not. A light is not only hidden, but put on a stand so that the light can be even more prominent. In the same way, a believer is to let the light of Christ shine through him so that people around can see this and glorify God in heaven. John 8:12, Revelation 21:23. Jesus is the origin of light. 1 Peter 2:9, Ephesians 5:8, Matthew 5:14-16. We are light-bearers who reflect the light of Christ. We should not be ashamed of our faith. We should not keep it a secret. If we do, we are wasting the opportunity for influencing others for Christ and instead allowing them to influence us. Not only should we not keep it a secret, but we should live our lives in a way that is like a light to the world. This is our responsibility. We are called to be different. If we are the same as the people around us, we are not being a light.
If I read only verse 22 out of context I would think that it encouraged people not to hide bad things because one day they would be found out. This principle is certainly true and is taught throughout the Bible including Hebrews 4:13. However, it doesn’t seem to fit into the context. In the context it seems that the thing hidden is a person’s salvation. The idea is that you should not hide your faith because at some point you will be found out anyway. If you don’t of your own accord tell your friends/family of your faith, they will probably find out anyway. Then when they do find out it will seem as if they are uncovering a secret that you are doing something bad rather than you announcing something good. Imagine that a young lady is pregnant. She doesn’t tell anyone. But of course she keeps expanding. One day her parents may say “are you pregnant?” She may feel guilt and shame about what she had done so didn’t tell them. But on the other hand if she is married and the couple had been hoping to have a child, it would seem ridiculous to wait until she is large enough to notice to announce it. If a couple waited that long to announce it people might wonder what they were hiding. And that is the point. Good things don’t need to be hidden. Another area this can apply to is churches or Christians in Muslim countries. The government is often suspicious of them. If we actively hide what we are doing and behave in a secretive way this may only enhance their suspicions, not quell them. John 8:31-32.
Another thought on these verses is that it was the disciples’ mission as people who had heard the teachings of Christ in secret (not in public) to reveal those to the world.
Verse 23 – This is a frequent refrain given by Jesus after a parable calling the spiritually sensitive people to pay attention and understand.
Take care what you listen to – This goes back to verse 23. Jesus encouraged the spiritually sensitive to listen to Him and pay attention. There were other forces vying for the crowds’ attention, most prominently the Pharisees who said that Jesus did miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus often said, “Truly, truly I say to you.” This is a reminder to “Listen up.” To “pay attention!” The same idea is seen in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear!” The disciples had an obligation to listen to Jesus. We do too. There will be many people giving you advice on how to live and what to do including friends, family, teachers, bosses, and government. Do not allow worldly forces to shape your convictions and actions. Instead from your convictions and beliefs from the Word and allow that to shape your reaction to other people’s suggestions.
The second part of verse 24 seems to imply the teaching of you reap what you sow. More knowledge means more responsibility. Do not become proud about what you know. Instead humbly share what you have learned with others. Pass it on. From https://www.bereanbiblechurch.org/transcripts/mark/4_21-25.htm “If they measure the words of Jesus genuinely and sincerely, receiving them, understanding them, and fully responding to them; God will respond equally genuinely and sincerely. Indeed they will receive more than full measure. God will respond abundantly. To him who has will more be given. But if they do not receive and understand and fully respond, they will lose even what they have, for it will be taken away from them. God is not satisfied with half measures and half response. The principle behind this parable is this: “The truth you fail to use, you lose.
Verses 26-29 Discussion Questions
What is the main point of this parable?
What does it teach us about salvation?
What does it teach us about a growing Christian?
Does the farmer cause the seed to grow? Who does?
Can we cause a person to believe in Christ? How does this happen?
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 – God causes the seed to grow.
Verse by Verse Commentary
This parable is like an extension of the parable of the soils in the first part of this chapter. Mark is the only gospel which records it. This parable gives additional insight into the how and why of the seeds growth.
The how is a mystery. The work of salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit. How does a person who is hostile to Christ become a believer? How does an agnostic begin to care? How does a person who has been taught evolution all of his life, realize it is false? How do murderers, adulterers, and addicts change? How have our lives, plans, goals, and dreams been changed? It is all by the power of the Holy Spirit. He changes us. This is something that no person can accomplish.
Application: Our job is merely to sow the seed. We tell people the truth and give them an opportunity to hear and understand. But we cannot change them. Neither can we predict who will change or when they will change or if they will change. So we keep praying and we keep sowing. This principle is very practical for me. There are some people who I have been sharing with for 1-2 years. Yet they don’t seem any closer to believing. Some of them have even said they don’t ever plan to believe. But I should not give up. And I should not grow discouraged. The Holy Spirit is more powerful than their will power and can change them if He so chooses. I have to hope that He will one day change their hearts and their minds.
Verse 28 – Growth is a process. It doesn’t happen all in one day. It may be slow, but it is steady. You cannot expect a new believer to act like a mature one from day one. Yet we can and should expect continued growth. We ourselves should also be growing and not just stuck where we are. See Hebrews 5:11-14.
Verse 29 – This could be a reference to the second coming when the complete crop will be “harvested.” Until then God is still waiting for individuals to believe and grow.
Verses 30-34 Discussion Questions
How is the kingdom of God like a mustard seed?
How big is a mustard seed? How about the mustard “tree” that grows from it? What does this illustrate to us about the kingdom of God?
How does God’s kingdom grow so fast and large? Who causes this growth? What is our role in this?
Verse by Verse Commentary
Background: A mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds in the world at just 1/20th of an inch diameter. The “tree” that grows from this seed is technically a bush. This bush can grow to be up to 20 feet (6.5 meters) high. Often times it does tower over the other crops or smaller plants growing around it in fields. The mustard “tree” has a lot of branches and it is a popular place for birds to make their nests even today. Jesus was giving a parable that would have been easily understood by His audience.
The kingdom of God has a massive potential for exponential growth. For example when the gospel first enters an area no one believes. Only the sower knows the gospel and he uses a few key phrases to spread it. At the beginning the only exposure the people of that area have to the gospel is by hearing a few phrases such as “Jesus loves you” or “He died for you.” Etc. It is hard to imagine how a movement could start from something so small. And yet because of the Holy Spirit’s work someone believes. Then another and another. Until one church is started. And then another and another. And the kingdom of God spreads like wildfire. At the beginning not one person had ever heard of it. Within a short time, everyone heard of it. Acts 19:10.
Even people outside of the kingdom of God are blessed by it. Because God extends grace to believers, even those around them can taste of or share in some aspects of this grace. See 1 Corinthians 7 about a believing and unbelieving spouse for example. Christians have been influential in stopping the slave trade, stopping abuse of women, helping the sick, taking care of the poor, looking after orphans, instituting one man one woman marriage, and disaster relief, etc.
Application: What should you do because of this parable?
Here are my applications. First, live in awe of the power of God. Second, keep spreading the seed, even little ones, knowing that God can cause them to grow and can cause a movement to start.
Verses 35-41 Discussion Questions
How could Jesus sleep during this? Why was He so tired?
What does this passage teach us about Jesus?
What does this passage teach us about the disciples?
If you were a disciple what might you have done in that situation?
What should they have done?
What should you do when you face similar “scary” situations? Is Jesus any less able to help you than He was the disciples there?
How did the disciples respond to Jesus’ miracle?
Verse by Verse Commentary
This storm did not come up by chance. It was an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate His power and teach an important object lesson. Nonetheless, the geography of that area does cause sudden and violent storms to come up on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus was likely so exhausted from His long hours of teaching and healing.
Jesus demonstrated power over nature. This is something no magic trick could do. It was no illusion. Jesus said the words and the storm ceased immediately. Wow! That is an exciting thought. You know something that is also exciting. Jesus can do the same thing today. Jesus is no less in control now than He was then. Knowing that, how should we react to this?
Application: How does Jesus’ power effect us now? How does it influence our daily lives?
At this point the disciples had already seen a number of miracles. They should have had faith and not worried when they saw the storm because Jesus was with them. And yet they still feared. Why? It is human nature. Fear and worry seems to be in our blood. Yet that is our old nature. We don’t have to live as slaves of that fear anymore. This worry and fear is the opposite of faith. Do not accept it as a normal part of human nature. Our human natures are fallen and corrupted. There are many things that are natural for us to do that we should not do. 1 Peter 5:7 and Philippians 4:6 command us not to worry, meaning that worrying is sinful. What should do when you get worried or become afraid of the future?