The Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry: Gospel of Mark: Memoirs of the naked runner
Speaking in parables Mark 4:1-2, 9-12, Matthew 13:14-17, 1 Peter 5:6-7
As we begin chapter 4 we find Jesus teaching out of the boat once again in order to put some distance between him and the ever increasing crowd. The passage says that “he taught them many things by parables”. A Parable is defined as a concise story with an ulterior motive to teach a moral instructive lesson or principle.
Jesus’ disciples would later ask (Mark 4:10, Matthew 13:10, Luke 8:9, ) why he taught in parables. On the surface Jesus’ answer seemed cold hearted, but on closer inspection it was really a brilliant way to separate the serious seeker from the cynical skeptic or the lazy leech looking only for a handout.
Jesus only had a window of time to teach before his mission would expire. His use of parables wearied the lazy and frustrated the cynical, but the serious seeker really wanted to understand what Jesus was saying and considered carefully what they heard. Jesus often finished his parable with the phrase “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Most everyone gathered around Jesus had ears to hear but only those who truly believed in Jesus would actually listen and take his teaching to heart. These are who Jesus came to forgive and save.
Today we still have the same three classes of hearers: 1.) serious seekers, 2.) cynical skeptics and 3.) lazy leeches looking only for a hand out. They are at every outreach, church service and event. The cynics will ask insincere questions, draw attention to themselves and attempt to lead others astray. Lazy leeches will look only for the free food or gifts, selfishly take all they can and distract others from the deeper spiritual and emotional needs that are addressed in God’s word, but a serious seeker is different. He or she will want the truth, and be responsive to the light of the gospel. Through parables Jesus filtered out those who would waste his time.
Matthew’s gospel refers to a scalding prophecy of Isaiah that identified those who “would not hear” his parables (Matthew 13:14-15). In contrast Jesus blessed his disciples for their desire to hear and learn. Jesus has not changed (Hebrews 13:8), he will only bless those who will humble themselves in his sight (1 Peter 5:6-7). It would do us well to remember that humble doesn’t mean poor or infirmed; there are many such people that fall into the “filtered out” category by Jesus too. A rich man may be more “humble” in the sight of the Lord! Humbleness is an attitude of the heart that sees God grace and forgiveness as “unmerited favor” not some sort of entitlement. Ultimately, a humbled person is the only person that Jesus will forgive.
A Lamp on a Stand Mark 4:21-25, John 8:32
Before we get into what I call the “growth parables” I want to quickly look at the parable of The Lamp on a Stand because it reflects what we just studied. Think of why Jesus spoke in parables and then imagine yourself as a listener in a crowd of the “unfiltered”. The “lamp” or light in the parable is any teaching that Jesus wants people to understand. What is hidden in the parable “is meant to be disclosed”. “Whatever is concealed is meant to be brought into the open”. Jesus wants us to know the truth and be set free (John 8:32). Jesus is the lamp stand that is lifting up that light through his teaching. He beckons people to “hear” and “consider carefully” what he teaches and to “measure” wisely what is heard. Jesus warns that the same measure of their judgment about him will be measured against them in God’s righteous judgment. Therefore, “whoever has” the wisdom to hear will be “given more” (wisdom, righteousness, forgiveness and blessing) and “whoever does not have” the wisdom to hear will lose everything!
Growth Parables Mark 4:3-9,13-20, Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 17:20
Now that you understand the definition and principal purpose of Jesus’ parables you will likely understand The Parable of the Sower without his explanation, but his disciples didn’t so he patiently explained the parable step by step. The “farmer” is the Lord who plants (sows) the word of God in the earth. The people are illustrated as seeds in their varying responses to God’s invitation to grow.
Make no doubt about it…the “farmer” has done everything to sow his word into our world. It is our responsibility to receive it into our heart and grow. Luke’s gospel makes this clear in a more detailed account of this parable: “The seed on the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15). Being of noble character begins with humbly receiving Christ and his teaching. The “good heart” is created by the Holy Spirit as we yield to his work in us. It is also he who produces a crop as we persevere in our faith.
In His Parable of the Growing Seed Jesus illustrates those who are seed growing on good soil. That “man”(not the Farmer) now scatters God’s word (Matthew 28:18-20). Although he doesn’t always understand how, God’s Spirit (the soil) produces fruit (grain) Growth in others now happens because of the seeds of the gospel we plant as believers. One day all that “good seed” will grow up and be harvested (e.g. brought home to Heaven: Revelation 14:15-16) and we will be with the Lord forever.
Our last growth parable, The Parable of the Mustard Seed reminds us that faith so small will grow so big that others will be blessed by it. Nothing will be impossible! (Matthew 17:20-21) Plant growth only happens with sun and water—no matter what! We are much the same. Let the SON shine on you and be WATERED in His WORD and you will be like a well watered garden in a sun scorched land (Isaiah 58:11). So let us continue in him, rooted and built up in him (Colossians 2:6-7). Let’s Grow! “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear!”