|PARABLES & PICTURES
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirteen
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 6, 2018
This morning we’re coming back to Mark’s good news - gospel - account of Jesus Christ. It’s been two Sundays. So, we have a short quiz to catch us up to speed on where we’re at.
Jesus is teaching using parables. So - question #1:
A parable is:
A. A pithy story with a humorous climax.
B. A geometric shape discovered by the Greeks.
C. A story told to illustrate a truth.
D. None of the above.
The answer is: C.
A parable is a story that’s designed to illustrate a truth using familiar images or experiences in order to open up to us what is less familiar.
One reason why the parables we’re coming to this morning are so familiar to us is first - because we’ve probably read these before - and second - the images are pretty common to what we’ve got going on in and around us and so they stick in our minds.
Same would have been true of those listening to Jesus.
Parables use the familiar to get us thinking about the unfamiliar - the truth which is the point of the illustration.
We been seeing Jesus use parables to teach about the kingdom of God.
So, quiz question number two: The Kingdom of God is:
A. Where God is sovereign.
B. When God is sovereign.
C. Those God is sovereign over.
D. All of the above.
Answer is D - all of the above.
The kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. It’s not about some geographic area over which some monarch reigns. It’s not about the economics and politics and philosophies of man.
God’s kingdom describes God’s reign over the people of this world. The exercise of His rule where and when He is present. Which is every one and every where and every when.
Which is why Jesus is using parables with what’s familiar - because thinking about God being sovereign - period - and what the kingdom of God is all about is mind popping stuff.
Back in Mark chapter 1 - Jesus laid out where He was going in His ministry and His message. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
With the coming of Jesus - God coming into the flesh and blood of our humanity - the time is fulfilled. Meaning God is doing something unique at this time like no other time in history.
Jesus doing all those miracle and healings and casting outs and pushing back against the religious leadership that we’ve looked at in the first part of Mark’s gospel - all that is Jesus demonstrating the reality of God’s kingdom being right here - right now - as close as your hand. All of what God offers us in His kingdom being right here - right now - in Jesus.
Jesus told parables because He wanted to get people to think about themselves and the kingdom of God. To ask questions like “What does He mean by that?” “What does that have to do with the kingdom of God?” “How does this relate to me?”
The next step in Jesus’ ministry and message - that we began looking at two Sundays ago - is the “Repent and believe in the gospel” part. Jesus teaching about how to respond to the good news of God’s kingdom being at hand in Jesus Christ. Which is what we’re going on with this morning coming to Mark 4:21.
Let me pray for us as we come together before God’s word.
We’re going to break down Jesus’s teaching into four parts. The priority of the kingdom. The power of the kingdom. The progress of the kingdom. And the people of the kingdom.
The first part is The Priority of The Kingdom. Would you read with me verses 21 to 25.
And He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
“And He said to them” is Mark telling us that Jesus would regularly get away from the large crowds that were following Him - Jesus would regularly get away with His inner circle and it was Jesus’ custom to teach them in more detail about Himself and what God is doing. Lessons about the kingdom.
Jesus starts teaching His inner circle with the familiar. The reason a lamp is brought into a house isn’t to hide the lamp under something - a basket or a bed. But to put it on stand or someplace in the home where it can give light. The purpose of the lamp being brought into the house is to shed light into the darkness.
Jesus is talking about Himself. Jesus who is the good news of God’s kingdom being at hand. Jesus Who is the light of the world. Jesus Who’s known to His inner circle. Who’s shining His light into their lives.
But to the large crowds that were following Jesus - to the religious leadership - to the nation as a whole and the world beyond - all those who are following Jesus for the show - for their own selfish reason - the paparazzi - they’re still in darkness. Clueless about the kingdom.
But - Jesus teaches - what is hidden - Who Jesus is and the good news of the kingdom - will “be made manifest” - revealed - brought to light. That’s why Jesus is in the house. Why He’s entered into our humanity.
Then Jesus says to His inner circle, “If anyone has ears to hear; let him hear.”
Meaning that knowing Who Jesus is and what God is doing through Jesus isn’t just about knowing that truth but about responding to that truth.
To “hear” translates the Greek verb “akouo.” “Akouo” has the idea not only of listening audibly - with our ears - but to “akouo” is how we respond to what we’re listening to. Meaning to “akouo” is listening to what Jesus is teaching with expectation of making heart level change in how we do life.
Maybe you remember this from 2 Sundays ago: Listening is done with the ears. Hearing is done with the heart.
We’re hearing Jesus when we’re not just listening to someone teach but we’re questioning and asking and processing what’s being taught and how that relates to us and what we’re going to do in response. Heart level hearing. Heart level change.
Then - verse 24 - Jesus goes on to say, “Pay attention to what you hear.”
“Pay attention to what you hear” - in Greek is “blepete ti akouete” - which is a command something like: “See what you hear.”
The Greek verb - translated “pay attention” is the verb “blepo” which means “to see.” “Pay attention to what you hear” is literally a command that reads something like “See what you hear.”
But “blepo” is more than just visually seeing something. “Pay attention” is a good translation. Some version render it “Consider carefully what you hear.” To “blepo” is not just seeing something with our eyes but to be observant - to analyze it - to deliberate on it.
Like a scientist watching an experiment. Or a sentry watching while doing guard duty. Intense scrutiny. Seeking to understand the meaning of what it is that we’re seeing in order to respond - changing how we process and do life.
Let’s grab Jesus:
Listening is done with the ears. Hearing is done with the heart.
Seeing is done with the eyes. Paying attention is done with the mind.
For three chapters we’ve been following this large and growing crowd that’s been following Jesus.
There was a crowd at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized - listening to the voice of God the Father and seeing God the Holy Spirit descend like a dove - at the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry God’s declaration of Who Jesus is - fully God - fully man - the long waited for Messiah.
There’s been a crowd following Jesus ever since - watching miracles and healings and exorcisms. Listening in as Jesus took on the Pharisees and the Scribes. Listening to Jesus teach. The kingdom of God is at hand. That lamp is in the room.
They’re listening. Yes. But are they hearing? They’re seeing. But are they paying attention?
There are lots of people - many who attend church services and Bible studies - decade after decade - who can quote chapter and verse on lot’s of what’s in the Bible - they’ve been listening to sermons since they were enrolled in the nursery - people who are really good at listening to things. People who - over the years have been engaged in church ministry - who’ve seen so much “church. But they’re not hearing. They’re not paying attention. Not like Jesus is challenging us to respond.
How do we respond to what Jesus is teaching? We need to have our hearts open and our minds engaged as we’re taking in the truth of what Jesus is exposing us to. What needs to change in me at the heart level in how I process and do life?
Jesus warning is sobering. Fail to respond by heart level hearing and mind engaged paying attention and what we have will be taken away. We’re in danger of becoming like the crowd - the paparazzi - who has nothing and is in danger of loosing even the opportunity to respond.
Meaning either were growing spiritually or we’re dying spiritually. There is no in between. Being spiritually stagnant or allowing ourselves to drift along spiritually is spiritual suicide.
It is way too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve learned what we’ve needed to learn - at least for the most part we get it. We’ve arrived at a place of understanding God’s truth.
There’s a danger of responding to God’s kingdom on our terms and not God’s terms and to totally miss the reality of what God has for us.
That’s the priority of the kingdom. Because the kingdom should always be the priority. Who Jesus is. What Jesus offers us in Himself. Anything less leads back into darkness.
Verse 26 brings us to The Power of the Kingdom. Would you read with me verses 26 to 29:
And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Back in Jesus’ day farmers didn’t plant wheat or other grain crops in rows - like the neat - strategically laid out GPS - rows that we have around here. In Jesus’ day they’d break up the ground and soften the soil with a wooden plow and then they scattered the seed by hand. A farmer would have a bag tied around their waist and sling the seed out into the softened field.
Notice that in Jesus’ parable that’s pretty much all the farmer does. He sows seed and then waits. Sleeps and rises. Maybe checks the field. Sleeps and rises. And just waits.
In time the seed sprouts - a blade pokes up through the soil - which grows and there’s an ear - and then the full grain ready for harvest. Which is when the farmer comes - put in the sickle - and harvests the harvest.
Jesus says, how all that sprouting and growing and ripening happens the farmer has no idea. Meaning that all that sprouting and growing and ripening is about the seed - not the farmer.
The farmer can weed and loosen the soil and fertilize and maybe even water. All of which is important. But he still can’t cause the seed to sprout and grow and ripen. All the farmer can do is plant the seed on suitable ground and wait.
Meaning: What the seed does it does because of the power within the seed to germinate and bear fruit.
Point being: Ultimately the farmer has to trust the harvest to the One - meaning God - who created the seed - who created and understands why a seed does what a seed does - God Who activates the seed and brings the harvest. The farmer must trust and pray and wait patiently for God to bring the harvest.
Spiritually the same is true of God’s kingdom. The seed is the kingdom - Who Jesus is - what God offers to us in Jesus - the seed is the kingdom sown into the soil of this world.
How the kingdom grows. How the light penetrates into the darkness of this world. How the good news takes root in people’s hearts. How the seed that Jesus is planting produces a harvest. How all that happens is a God thing. Not an us. Thing.
We sew. We shine the light. We share God’s word. We sew. But the growth of the kingdom - the harvest - is a God thing. Not an us thing. God makes it happen. Not us.
What Jesus is saying is that from the outside His teaching and sewing may seem as fruitless as a man throwing seeds about in a field. It’s not hard to imagine that there were times when the disciples questioned Jesus and how Jesus was doing things. Wondering what the fruit of all that was going to be - if any.
But it is that activity of sewing which will eventually produce a crop - because of the God created power of the seed to germinate in the soil.
Sometimes we wonder if what we’re doing is making a difference - serving and praying and sharing and doing whatever God calls us to do. Seems like we’re just spinning our wheels. It may appear to our eyes that nothing is happening. But all the time that seed is at work to produce a harvest.
Which should be an encouragement to us - the promise of what God calls us to. We don’t always see what God is doing. But He is. We sometimes wonder if there will be fruit coming out of what He calls us to. But there will be. We don’t always understand what God is doing but we can have confidence that the harvest is coming.
Our response to Jesus - what He’s teaching about Himself - our response - our role is faith - to sew and trust God for the harvest. Because the power behind the kingdom is God’s.
Verse 30 brings us to The Potential of the Kingdom. Would you read with me verses 30 to 32:
And He said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
By comparison - the largest seed on earth is a what? Lots of extra points if you can get this.
This the seed of the double coconut palm. Weighs up to 55 pounds. That’s one huge seed.
Smallest seeds are... orchid seeds. They’re so small they’re like dust.
Jesus - of course - isn’t talking to a group of international conference of botanists. He’s teaching His inner circle using a parable that takes what they were familiar with - a mustard seed - which was the smallest seed known to a first-century Palestinian - and making a comparison.
A single mustard seed - small and seemingly insignificant - a mustard seed is sown into the ground. Based on size not a whole lot can be expected. Then something happens to the seed. That - God makes it happen - germinating and growing thing happens. And this small seemingly insignificant seed becomes a tree - taller and larger than the other plants in the garden - maybe someplace between 10 and 20 feet tall - with branches that birds can build their nests on and take shelter in.
What Jesus is emphasizing - giving this out-of-proportion comparison - what Jesus is emphasizing is what the seed becomes. It isn’t much to look at now. But there’s a whole lot more to this seed than meets the eye.
The point of the parable is that the kingdom of God is like what happens to the mustard seed. It has seemingly insignificant and weak beginnings. But gradual unrelenting growth will happen. And one day it will be seen as great and powerful.
Which may be surprising to some. But that’s the potential of the kingdom.
Jesus started as one - the seed of the kingdom sown into the field of this world. Jesus began by calling a few disciples who would follow Him. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension a group of about 100 became Spirit-filled witnesses. Within 40 years the gospel of the kingdom had reached all the great cultural centers of the Roman world and a whole lot of out-of-the-way places besides.
The gospel of the kingdom that has spread - gaining followers in every race on every continent and influencing every sphere of life. The good news of Jesus that’s why we are here today.
To those hearing and paying attention to Jesus the parable is saying, “Have patience. Have faith. Keep praying. Keep working. The potential is there even if you don’t see it yet.”
To us today - who have had the privilege of seeing some of that potential realized - to us the parable says the same thing. The gospel of the kingdom may be ridiculed - reviled - rejected - seemingly insignificant in the eyes of those around us. But it is bound to go forward. The kingdom will be established more and more and more widely and more firmly - even if we don’t see the growth happening - because it’s God’s kingdom.
The power and potential of the kingdom comes from God.
And one day - maybe soon - Jesus will return to claim that kingdom as His own. Jesus will be recognized as the King. He will return to obliterate Satan’s dominion of evil and to establish His everlasting rule. Someday in the future Jesus will visibly reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
So - Jesus teaches us - do not loose heart. Have patience. Have faith. Keep praying. Keep serving. Keep trusting. Great results come from small beginnings. The potential of the kingdom.
Verse 33 brings us to The People of the Kingdom. Would you read verses 33 and 34 together:
With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything.
“With many such parables” meaning that these parables are just a sample of the many parables that Jesus used. Jesus using parables to teach His audience - holding their attention - raising questions.
Some were at a place where they were able to hear Jesus - heart level - life changing - response. And some were not.
When He was alone with His disciples Jesus explained everything. Jesus steadfastly preparing His disciples for ministry - to live out the reality of the kingdom in their own lives and to shine the light of the kingdom into the darkness of humanity.
Those who heard what Jesus taught - who paid attention to what He was showing them - these were the disciples who gained spiritual knowledge - who grew and were able to respond. Pressing into Jesus. Pressing on by faith into the good news of the kingdom.
Processing all that…
How many of you have read the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or seen the movie?
The four Pevensie children - Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy during World War II are sent out of London to escape the bombing. They’re sent to the country home of a mysterious very old professor with shaggy white hair. During their time there - isolated in this huge home miles from anywhere - as the four children are exploring this home full of unexpected places they come upon a room which is empty except for a wardrobe. When the other children leave to resume their exploration - Lucy stays.
Looking into the inside, she saw several coats hanging up - mostly long fur coats. There was nothing Lucy like so much as the smell and feel of fur. She immediately stepped into the wardrobe and got in among the coats and rubbed her face against them, leaving the door open, of course, because she knew that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe. Soon she went further in and found that there was a second row of coats hanging up behind the first one. It was almost quite dark in there and she kept her arms stretched out in front of her so as to not bump her face into the back of the wardrobe. She took a step further in - then two or three steps - always expecting to feel woodwork against the tips of her fingers. But she could not feel it.
Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. (1)
Satan - our enemy - fears that we will understand this. The kingdom of God is a whole lot larger than we can possibly get our minds around.
Satan would love to have us see the coats and turn back. To never push ahead to what God has for us. To never even go into the wardrobe. To live in fear and despair and doubt - in his clutches and under his control. He fears that you and I will come to understand that the sovereign almighty creator God has bought us and enabled us to be a part of His timeless - universal - transcendent - all conquering - victorious Kingdom.
Our struggle is that we too often fear the darkness. Too often we focus on the emptiness of the field. Too often we’re thinking about this seed - small and alone in the world. Our hang-ups and inadequacies and failures and doubts and what we’re surrounded by and going through in life. And we stop hearing what Jesus is saying and we get distracted from paying attention to what Jesus is trying to show us.
Jesus is talking about growth that comes as a result of God’s working not what’s dependent our activity. Jesus is talking about a small seed and the future potential of what that seed will become because God makes it so.
The kingdom of God is people - people of faith - who have a relationship with Jesus Christ - who are hearing and paying attention - who by faith step forward when He calls them into whatever He leads them into.
At its most basic level the kingdom of God is the work of God in us - the reign of Jesus as our King and the Lord over our lives - the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts - the potential of what God can do in us and through us. It’s about each of us being permeated - transformed - half-baked people - becoming the whole persons that God intends for us to be.
Next time you’re driving by one of these freshly planted fields around here try to imagine the harvest. Or the next time you have the opportunity to look at a seed try to visualize the plant. Maybe ask God to help you see yourself that way and as a part of all that. Not a small seed in an empty field. But a person of God’s kingdom in His field as a part of His great harvest.
The kingdom of God is about the work of the sovereign God in and through the lives of His people - each of us individually and together - to grow His harvest - to produce what is beyond our ability even to imagine.
God is here! God is at work! The field is His. His kingdom is the reality we live in. We are part of something really really big. Trust God. Focus on Him. Keep following Him. Move forward.
Two take home questions.
First Question: These days, how are you doing at hearing Jesus?
Second Question: These days, how are you doing at paying attention to Jesus?
1. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.