Mark 4:21-34 Lamps and Seed

Illustration about man eating dates. Last week we began to consider the Master Teacher as he explained the Parable of the Sower. You may remember I mentioned 75% of the bible is narrative. Most of the Bible is historical stories and events through which God has revealed himself. Jesus repeatedly used simple every day stories and illustrations to explain what God is like and how we can know him - He even used the same illustrations again but with slight variations. He didn't teach theology in the abstract. Jesus stories are packed with theology but you don't always notice it because he is the master story teller. Someone has said Jesus "causes reason, imagination and emotions to collide, demanding a change of allegiance." Today we come to the next few verses in Mark 4. You may like to turn to them with me. Jesus focuses our attention on the growth of the Kingdom of God. Jesus uses three simple parables to add meaning to the story of the Sower we looked at last week. His emphasis shifts from the response of the hearer to the initiative of God. In the Parable of the Lamp (4:21—25), we are taught that truth is revealed; in the Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26— 29), we learn that growth is mysterious; in the Parable of the Mustard Seed (4:30—32), we are reminded the results are multiplied.

1. Truth is Revealed: The Parable of the Lamp
Most people readily accept that what Jesus Christ said was true. Few however comprehend the significance or implications. God has lifted the veil on the mysteries of our world - on its suffering and randomness, on its meaning and purpose. Jesus Christ can help us make sense of the world around us. In the Parable of the Lamp, Jesus teaches that the light we need is available. In a typical home where do you find the light fittings? At the centre. Illumination comes to every corner only when it is placed at the centre.

Today we like ambient lighting, we go in for soft diffused lighting in the corners of a room. Great for creating a romantic atmosphere - not so good for reading or sewing. No one would think of putting the lamp under a basket or under the bed unless you were trying to claim on the insurance. When we came to look at the house for the first time, I was struck by how vulnerable the house was from the garden. Anyone could walk right up to the house and peer in the lounge unnoticed in the dark. That's why we added a security light so that anyone approaching the house would be lit up. The light was placed high and central to reach the maximum distance. What is the point of this first parable then? In John 8 Jesus could say boldly "I am the light of the world".

In the face of a hostile audience he is more subtle here. His disciples knew that He is referring to himself as the essential light. All other lesser lights - natural revelation, reason, intuition, experience are dim reflections from the brilliance of the Son of God. The way to test a new religious movement or suspect religious teaching is to ask how central is Jesus and his cross.

If He is not at the centre, then forget it. It has no right to claim to being Christian. "For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed" (v. 22), The light has come so keep Jesus central. Jesus concludes the Parable of the Lamp with the conundrum that "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." (4:25)

Isn't Jesus being a bit hard? At school we learnt all about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When you're young its an irrelevant theory. Increasingly it becomes an unwelcome experience. Everything from the Solar System to our cars and our bodies are wearing out. When our hair turns grey and falls out, or our body parts fall off or cease to function, we are experiencing entropy. The good news is that Jesus reverses the Law of Entropy. Though outwardly we are wasting away, says Paul in 2 Corinthians, our inner person is being renewed day by day. Here Jesus tells us how to experience syntropy. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." As we hear, receive and apply God's Word we grow and are renewed. Spiritual resources expand with use but are lost with disuse. Personal Bible study is a good example. No one can prayerfully, regularly and systematically study the bible without entering into an expanding universe of truth. Took Michael for a swimming lesson yesterday. As I watched him I was thinking about the way the bible is like a swimming pool..... As we read the bible one insight leads to another; a small phrase expands into an eternal verity; and every thought connects with other thoughts in an inexhaustible cosmos of truth. On the other hand, if Bible study is ignored, truth tends to drain away, sin flows into the vacuum, the TV, radio, secular magazines the news papers become a substitute source of ideas and values and the light of the truth goes out. Our faith in Jesus is for giving away. The love of God is for sharing. Keep it to ourselves and it will rot in pietistic self centredness. Give it away and see it grow. Don't be miserly, give your faith away, share the love of Jesus with someone today and see it blossom and grow. Its the only infection worth sharing. The world may be wearing out through entropy but the kingdom of God is expanding through syntropy.

When Jesus teaches, "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." (4:25) Jesus speaks a conundrum for deaf ears. But for those who will listen, He presents Himself as the Light of Revelation. The truth revealed - don't be miserly give him away.

2. The Mysterious Growth
Read Mark 4:26—29. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus emphasizes the part we play in receiving the good news. But lest we think we are the moving force behind our spiritual growth, Jesus adds the Parable of the Growing Seed with a conundrum that man cannot answer. We may be able to pinpoint the day we prayed to receive Christ but bringing us to new life is God's supernatural work. Two mysteries of the Kingdom of God are implicit here: Life grows beyond our knowledge; and life grows beyond our control. Literally every week there is some new medical discovery. This week there has been some progress in evaluating the effects of the Gulf War Syndrome and with the early detection of CJD. With every discovery however, come hundreds more questions. Who can explain the life in a seed that grows and multiplies?

How could the essence of life lay dormant for 4000 years in the seeds found in an Egyptian tomb and still spring to full growth when planted? When Jesus says of the sower, "He himself does not know how" (v. 27); He puts the mystery of life, physical and spiritual beyond the knowledge of man. We live by trust not by answers. A second mysterious principle of growth follows logically. If the nature of life is beyond our knowledge, neither can we control its growth, "For the earth yields crops by itself" (v. 28). The ultimate aim of much human knowledge is control. Psychology, for instance, is the science of the prediction and control of human behaviour. B. F. Skinner developed the theory of classical conditioning to explain the development of personality and the motives for action. He took his theory one more step in his novel, Walden Two, in which he imagines a perfect society in which human behaviour is not only explained, but controlled, by his theory. Skinner is not wrong in searching for the facts to explain human behaviour, but he enters the world of fiction when he assumes that he can close the circle of psychological knowledge to predict and control human behaviour.

The control of life remains a mystery, whether we attempt to programme human behaviour or predict revival or the return of the Lord. So often impatience takes over and we try to short-circuit the process by demanding an instant harvest. We are victims of a culture where everything is fast foods and instant relief. Jesus slows us down when He describes ",first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head" (v. 28). We cannot control God's timing for the growth of the Kingdom of God. We must trade in our stop-watches for calendars. As John Stott says, "God has only commissioned us to preach the Gospel to all nations; the results belong to Him." The sprouting, growing and ripening of the Gospel is a supernatural process beyond our prediction and control. Our task is simply to scatter the seed, nourish the plants and reap the harvest. Only God can bring people to new life in Jesus Christ. The truth revealed, the mysterious growth.

3. The Multiple Results
Read 4:30-32 In the final example, Jesus takes a mustard seed, symbolizing insignificance and reminds them that it grows into a bush in which birds can nest and shade. A mustard seed is all risk compared with other kinds of seed. In a world that rates everything from by size, Jesus illustration is embarrassing. In doing so he makes risk and insignificance the essential ingredients for the Kingdom of God. Contrary to all of our secular standards for success, the seed of the Gospel may appear insignificant and impotent to change the world. Christians are always tempted to align the Kingdom of God with earthly power. Whenever it happens, a principle of the Kingdom is perverted and a parable of Jesus is misread. God's purpose is that we grow in service not power or influence. We are humbled by the insistence of Jesus that the Kingdom of God begins small in significance and grows great in service.

Do the disciples understand these parables? Probably not. Nevertheless, the principles are simple yet profound. In the Parable of the Lamp (4:21—25), we have discovered that truth is revealed, so don't be miserly: Our faith grows as we give it away. In the Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26— 29), we learn that growth is mysterious, so don't be anxious: God is in control of the process. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (4:30—32), we are reminded once again that the results are multiple. Don't be discouraged: You may feel like you have only a little faith but its not how much faith we have. What matters is not how much but who we have faith in.


with grateful thanks to David McKenna for some of the ideas in this sermon.
See David McKenna, The Communicators Commentary (Waco, Texas, Word, 1982)