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TEXT: Mark 4:1-34
SUBJECT: Mark #7: Parables of the Kingdom
Actions speak louder than words.
I don't believe this was a saying back in First Century Israel, but if it had been, the author of the Second Gospel would have agreed with it from the heart.
Compared to Matthew, Luke, and John, Mark spends very little time telling us what our Lord said. Instead, he mostly tells us what Jesus did and allows what He did to speak for itself.
This is true from the beginning of Mark's story to the its end-except for two places, chapters 4 and 13.
THE NEW MOSES
A man of few words is more likely to be listened to than a man who never shuts up! This is the Jesus Mark presents in His Gospel: He doesn't say much, but when He does, you'd better listen. Speaking of which, the word, listen, occurs ten times in the chapter. I won't make a doctrine of this number, but perhaps it struck a chord with the people who first heard or it read it. The number-which they noticed quicker than we do-may have recalled the Ten Commandments, that magnificent summary of the Mosaic Law. If their lives on earth depended on heeding the Ten Words of Moses, so our eternal lives depend on listening to the Ten Words of Christ.
Why? Because He is the New Moses, or to be more exact, Jesus is the Greater Moses, the Moses of whom the first Moses was only a shadow. This is what Moses promised; it was a Man like him (only better) that he told us to be looking for and to submit to when He comes. The reference is Deuteronomy 18-
The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.I will put my words into His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I shall command them. And it shall be, whoever will not hear My words which He speaks in My name, I will require it of Him.
This is how Mark presents the Lord Jesus; He's a man of action who seldom speaks, but when He does, His words carry the same authority as His miracles. In other words, He both acts and speaks for God-and as God.
His Divinity has been hinted at before. He's the Bridegroom; He's the Son of David; He's the Lord of the Sabbath; the Shepherd of God's Flock, and the King. And now, in a detail not easy to catch, Mark makes the same claim for Him again. This time at the end of v.1-
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.
If you have a King James or New King James Bible, you'll see the words, in it in italics. This means, they are not in the manuscripts, but have been added to smooth out the wording. Most of the time, the italicized words are helpful. But I'm not sure they are here. As awkward as it sounds, what Mark wrote is-
He got into a boat and sat on the sea.
This reading, as clumsy as it is to us, provides another hint of our Lord's Deity, for Psalm 29:10 says of God-
The Lord sat enthroned at the flood, the Lord sits as king forever.
The flood doesn't refer to the thing in Noah's day, but to the sea, over which God is Lord, and so is Jesus, because He is God. This is proven at the end of our chapter when He calms the sea.
These small details heighten the tension and raise the stakes. Jesus is not just another rabbi, or even the best rabbi whose interpretations are to be weighed against the wisdom of others. He is the One who speaks for God as no other man ever has or can. For God spoke through the prophets-
At sundry times and diverse manners, but has now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.
Like all good teachers, our Lord varied His style and fitted it to the time and place and purpose. What He uses in Mark 4 is parables.
The word, parable, means 'to throw alongside'. It is a made-up story that runs parallel to the story not made up. Many years ago, I asked a brother what he did for a living. 'I'm a chemist'-he said. If you were trained in science, you'd have a pretty good idea what he did, but because I'm not I didn't. Being a patient man, he explained it one way, then another, then a third, but still saw a blank look on my face. After all his talk, I still didn't know what he did for a living. Finally, he hit on something I could get my mind around: I'm a cook. My lab is a kitchen, my chemicals are ingredients, my formulas are recipes, the results are food, which my clients either like the taste of and come back for, or spit out and go somewhere else for their meals.
This is a parable, a made up story (cooking) thrown alongside a story not made up (chemistry).
Parables are not unique to the Lord Jesus. Some can be found in the Old Testament, and scholars say the rabbis of the First Century often used them in their sermons. The best teachers in the pagan world did the same, as do present-day preachers, writers, teachers, and other men of letters.
Our Lord taught by parables for two reasons, especially in the earlier part of His career. One, of course, is to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom in the language of everyday life. This is one reason, and nobody has an issue with it.
The other reason is a bit stickier. He used parables to conceal the Kingdom-to hide its coming from people. Why would He do that? Why doesn't He spell things out for them so that the Gospel becomes clearer to them and not fuzzier?
He has a reason. Not everyone in the crowd that gathered to hear Him that day wanted the Kingdom to come. They wanted a Kingdom of God, but not the one Jesus meant to bring. They were listening keenly, but not to learn the truth or to submit themselves to the Rule of Heaven. They were looking for something to accuse the Lord of or to twist. Had He spelled it out for them, had He said, 'The kingdom has come and I'm the King' they would have cried, 'Rebellion' and gotten Him crucified before the set time. Or, they would have shouted, 'Long live the King' and gotten people to follow Him who had no interest in repentance and faith.
The parables, therefore, were designed to confuse the people who did not want the Rule of God. And to teach and encourage the people who did.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
The first parable is one of our Lord's best-known. It is the Story of the Sower. In the spring, a farmer sows his seeds as broadly as he can. Some of the seed blows over onto the road, is trampled down, and produces nothing. Some seed falls onto hard ground, springs up, but because the roots are shallow, dries up in the hot summer months, and produces nothing. Some seed fell into a weed patch, grows up with the thorns and thistles, is choked by them and produces nothing. And some seed hit good ground and produces a bumper crop. The punch line to the parable is-
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
At the end of this wonderful story most people said, 'Huh?' Including the disciples who should have taken it in. Our Lord says this is His key parable, and if they don't get this one, they won't get any.
The Apostles didn't get it. With great patience, our Lord explains it to them. The Seed is the Word of God, by which He means the Gospel. Many people back then-and now-hear the Gospel, but it does them no good. Not because there's something wrong with the Gospel, but there's something wrong with them!
What is it? They are bad listeners. Some don't hear because they're serving the devil and have no interest in being saved from their damnable lives. Others don't hear it because they only care for the psychological boost it gives them. If the Gospel makes them feel good, they like it. When it crosses their wishes, they get rid of it. Others don't hear because they're preoccupied with other things-paying the bills, saving for the future, redecorating their homes, taking good vacations, getting the kids through college. Nothing wrong with any of these things-unless they mean more to you than the Gospel!
If most do not receive the Gospel, some do, and it changes them from the barren people they used to be to the fruitful people God wants them to be. The words, thirty, sixty, and one hundred fold at the end of the story must have amazed the people who first heard it. At one time, Israel was a land flowing with milk and honey. That was a long time ago. In the First Century it was more a desert than a garden, and for a farmer to reap thirty fold would have been fantastic, and a hundred fold would have been a miracle!
But this is what the Gospel is going to do for the people who hear it in their hearts and respond to it with repentance and faith.
This is a Kingdom Parable, of course, and this means: The coming of Christ is not a time for reaping; it's a time for planting. This sorely disappointed the scribes and Pharisees, who wanted God to come and say, 'You're right and everyone else is wrong'. They should have been thankful His coming wasn't the End of the World, but the Beginning. They were not ready for the Judgment; nobody was or is until he hears the Gospel and welcomes it into his life.
Have you got ears? Are you hearing the Good News? Is the Gospel producing good fruit in your life? Most of us are thirty-folders (if that), but praise God, we're not the land that swallows the seed only to kill it!
Not everyone in this room has heard the Gospel, even if you've been attending church all your life. I can only say with the Psalmist-
Today, if you will hear His voice,
Harden not your hearts.
THE PARABLE OF THE LAMP
The second parable is the Story of the Lamp. Why does a man bring a lamp into a dark room? To keep it dark? Or to dispel the darkness? It is to dispel the darkness. If this is true, why is the Lord being so mysterious in His teaching? Why is He hiding it inside parables instead of saying it in plain English-or Aramaic, as the case may be?
The answer is: The disciples are going to lift the basket and let the light of the Gospel shine in Israel and all over the world!
To do it, however, means they've got to-
Take heed what they hear.
If all should be giving Jesus their undivided attention, no one should be listening more carefully than the disciples. If they take in the elementary lessons they're being taught, the Lord will teach them even more. If they don't learn their ABCs, they won't get more; in fact, even the ABCs will be taken away from them.
The promise and the warning of this parable were both fulfilled in the Twelve. Eleven of them, as slow as they were, learned their lessons, and became the preachers and theologians of the Early Church. One did not listen, and not only failed in his ministry, but lost his soul.
The application to us is a powerful one, and not very pleasant. We have to act on the knowledge we have; we have to live up to our understanding of the Gospel. When we won't do that, we do more than slow down our progress, we run the risk of going the other way and being lost.
THE PARABLE OF THE GROWING SEED
The third parable-I think-is also for the disciples, and it offsets the second. If the parable of the Lamp lays the burden of preaching the Gospel on us, the parable of the growing seed lays the burden of winning the lost on God.
Farmers are not responsible for making the seed grow! They plant the seed in the daytime and they sleep at night because they know their success is in the hands of their Father in Heaven!
They've got no science of botany and they don't need one. They know all they need to know: plant, water, weed, and.wait. In a way less spectacular than the parting of the Red Sea, but no less miraculous, a devout farmer would do his job, and then-
Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.
This must have put heart into the disciples. The work before them was all out of proportion to their power to accomplish it. But the Lord doesn't tell them to accomplish anything. He tells them to sow the Word with confidence that He will bring in the harvest in His own good time.
THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED
The fourth parable, of the Mustard Seed, fills them with hope. Their efforts will seem weak and their success next to nothing. But, 'Don't worry' the Lord says, the biggest bush grows from the smallest seed.
The Kingdom of God will come, and even though its appearance will not be as soon or as spectacular as they-and we-would like it to be, come it will because God has willed it, and, in the words of the penitent king-
He does according to His will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand or say to Him, 'What are you doing?'
PARABLES AND PLAINNESS
For His own good reasons, our Lord did most of His public teaching in parables. For many, the parables never got through to them-and not because they were so tricky or complicated-but because the people were not open to the Kingdom. But the Lord opened the hearts of His people. To us, the Parables are rich with meaning, and they make us want to further the Kingdom by living fruitful lives letting our lights so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
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