Bible scholars are mixed in their view of whether Mark was an eyewitness of Jesus’s ministry, but I am convinced that despite not being an apostle, Mark was surely a close disciple. He includes details only an eyewitness would know. In other gospels, Jesus uses a boat to separate himself from the crowds, but only Mark tells us Jesus told his disciples to make arrangements for that boat. Only Mark tells us that James and John were nicknamed “sons of thunder.” Only Mark tells us Jesus’ family thought Jesus was crazy, insight only a insider might have. Only Mark tells us that Jesus explained his parables to the disciples “in private” or when they were “alone.”
In chapter four, two points stand out to me:
First, it is in chapter four that we first see Jesus’ unhappiness with his disciples. On their not understanding the parable of the sower, Jesus says: “If you don’t get this one, how will you get the rest?” This will not be the last rebuke of the twelve, but the rebukes are most clearly seen in Mark. Keep the rebukes in mind as you read the book. We are sometimes tempted to think that we would be better disciples if we could actually see Jesus and walk with him, hearing his voice. But as Mark will make plain, we are not likely to do any better than the twelve.
Second, the success of the Kingdom of God cannot be explained in terms of human effort or struggle. Disciples, of course, have work to do, but they will not succeed because of their effort or dedication. Success comes because it is empowered by God. That’s the message of the “parable of the growing seed” (4:26-29), found only in Mark.
Put both observations together. Discipleship requires effort. Jesus expected (and expects!) his disciples to “get” his teaching. He expects behavior to be molded. But the success of the molding is, ultimately, in the hands of God. Which is why Jesus, often disappointed with his followers, never abandons them. He knows His heavenly Father is still working within them. We should know it too.