“When He was alone with the Twelve, those who were around Him asked Him about the parables. He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back — and be forgiven.” He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen! ” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mark 4:10-12, 21-25 HCSB)
This week, our focal passage might seem a bit odd because I’ve taken a few verses and then skipped over Jesus’ explanation of the parable and then taken a few more verses and tied them together. Yet, Mark seems to do with the parable of the sower what he does with other stories as he takes two stories and sandwiches them together. I mentioned that we will see more of this story telling method he uses and this is just another example. I hope that if you read these two segments together, as I’ve presented them above, you’ll see how they are related.
I’m a real fan of mystery stories. I really enjoy all kinds of books but tend to gravitate towards mysteries and I love Agatha Christie novels. The mystery that Mark presents to us is the “secret of the kingdom of God” and the word translated as “secret” is the Greek word mysterion and means something that has been hidden. While the Apostle Paul uses this term several times (1 Timothy 3:9, Ephesians 3:3-4, Colossians 1:26, etc.) this is the only place it occurs in the Synoptic Gospels. In this instance, it means something that has been “hidden” in the mind and will of God but is now being uncovered or revealed through Jesus and His incarnation (the very Word of God becoming a man – see John 1:1-14).
At first glance, you may find this idea a bit odd or even disconcerting. Was God hiding Himself and His plan from us all this time? If you go back and read the Old Testament without any knowledge or understanding of the New Testament then it seems that way. However, when you begin to read the New Testament, understand and believe the incarnation story of Jesus, the Son of God, and then go back and read the Old Testament it seems like insights and clues to this mystery are everywhere. It feels a lot like reading one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries and then getting to the end where she reveals all of the little pieces and puts the story together and the “light turns on” and you say, “I get it! I see what she did there. Now it makes sense.”
Notice in our focal passage, the Twelve are gathered around Him and they ask Him about the parables. They are stumped and don’t quite understand the meaning of this story (last week, the parable of the Sower). Jesus tells them that the “secret” to the kingdom has been given to them but those outside only hear the parables. It is a bit like standing on the outside of a door and hearing sounds that seem familiar while not understanding what’s happening behind the door. The Twelve have been given the chance to open the door, step inside and see the reality that goes with the sounds/stories. Do they fully understand? Not yet, but the light is getting brighter and brighter with each passing day.
When we were babies, toddlers and children, we didn’t understand many, many things that we now take for granted. Our first words were gibberish but we slowly developed the ability to distinguish sounds and then replicate them. Then we slowly began to learn that those sounds were associated to people and objects. Momma. Daddy. Bottle. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. When we first began to learn to read, we had to start by learning the alphabet and the different sounds that each letter and then various combinations of letters make and how those relate to written words. As our understanding of those sounds and their relationships grew so did our ability to read and comprehend. Great, more progress. So, you see how our ability to learn, discover and comprehend the world around developed as we matured and grew as humans. The same is true as disciples of Jesus and children of God.
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 HCSB)
Jesus then quotes from Isaiah 6, “to those outside, everything comes in parables so that they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back — and be forgiven.” At first glance, this passage sounds like God is intentionally hiding things from us, keeping us from seeing and from understanding lest we repent and receive forgiveness. However, a review of that passage (Isaiah 6) tells us that God is revealing His glory to Isaiah, calling him to action and sending him on a mission. He tells Isaiah to “Go, tell these people: keep listening, but never understanding; keep looking, but never seeing. Dull their minds, deafen their ears, and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see, hear and understand and then turn back and be healed.”
It is called irony and God is expressing His frustration at how He has always been telling them, continually reveals Himself to them, constantly gives them opportunities to understand, repent and be healed. He’s calling Isaiah to go and tell them, to do what He’s been doing for millennia, even as He cautions Isaiah to recognize that they will continue on their destructive path. They will refuse to turn, to repent and find His healing. In light of that, do you see what Jesus is doing? He is using irony and hyperbole to try and draw some of the crowd, some of the scribes, some of the Pharisees into understanding. He may even be using it to challenge the Twelve to a deeper desire and understanding of the things of God.
He then goes into a detailed explanation of the parable of the sower and various soils that we considered last week. I won’t spend any time this week on that subject but, perhaps in light of what we just discussed, you may want to go back and look at it, again. Are you hard, packed down soil and unwilling to see or hear what God wants to do in your life? Are you shallow with no root of faith and likely to fade and wither in the heat of persecution? Are you surrounded and choked out by the cares of life or the pursuit of possessions and, thus, fruitless before God? Are you willing to hear Jesus’ words or are you deaf and blind to His pleas for repentance? Do you have ears to hear?
Next, we find Jesus challenging them to consider the purpose of a lamp. This is very, very reminiscent of Matthew 5 where we are reminded that the purpose of a lamp is to give light to the house. It isn’t lit so that it can be covered up or hidden away under the bed. The lamp’s real purpose is to be on a lamp stand giving light to the entire house. Then He says, “for nothing is concealed except to be revealed and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” I think this clarifies for us that the words regarding those outside “seeing but never perceiving” and “hearing but never understanding” is NOT intended to hide His presence or block access to His forgiveness. On the contrary, He has come in an effort to show us the way to God, to draw us into repentance and faith in Him.
I want to take a moment and confront an issue that concerns me regarding the modern church. We seem to take pride in being offensive and hurtful towards those outside the church. We stand back, throwing stones, condemning their actions all while ignoring their pain and loudly proclaiming their ignorance. However, Jesus saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and subject to believing the lies of the deceiver. I’d remind you of the illustration regarding infants, toddlers and children that I used earlier in this post. You don’t teach a child to speak, read or understand mathematics and science by declaring and reminding them of how stupid or ignorant they are. You gently and patiently teach them. As a baby is learning to speak, you patiently repeat “daddy” and “momma” to them. As a toddler begins to learn to read, you teach them the letters of the alphabet by singing it to them and then teaching, A is for apple. See, an apple begins with the letter A.
Now, some are outside because they choose to be outside. They have heard, examined and rejected the evidence for God and the deity of Jesus Christ. They are living with their eyes wide shut. For example, I know of a New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, who is an example of living with his eyes wide shut. He studies and knows the ins and outs, the intricacies of the New Testament scriptures, yet denies its truth and the divinity of Jesus. It’s odd, isn’t it that Ehrman is an atheist and a renowned New Testament scholar, among non-believers. Then there are those, like one young lady I saw on Twitter earlier today, who denies the very existence of God because His existence hasn’t been proven scientifically and the results peer reviewed for accuracy and content. She seems to imply that if she were provided scientifically verified and peer reviewed data that “proves” God’s existence, then she might be open to belief. In other words, she’s believing a lie that Satan loves to repeat, God can’t exist if you can’t see Him, test His existence and prove it scientifically. Oh, and get everyone else to agree with your results (peer reviewed).
Our ability to think and reason can’t even be proven scientifically. Why? Because we are trying to use thought and reason to prove that our thoughts and ability to reason are valid. That’s circular, flawed logic.
But, there are those who are open to the existence of God, willing to believe, hungry for His love but have been told that they are unworthy of His love, not deserving of His forgiveness and that brings me to the last part of this passage. “Pay attention to these words! By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Interesting words. What do they mean and to whom were they spoken?
To understand, let’s keep them in the context of Mark’s bigger story. I told you that he sandwiches these stories together and it is possible that this part is the “bottom” of that sandwich regarding the parable of the sower and soils or it can be the “top” of the next sandwich and it might be both. The very next story, which we will consider next week, is another short parable about seed, growth and harvest. Remember, the previous parable was about a sower who sowed and the seed fell on various types of soil and produced varied results. Some of it lay on top and was snatched away by birds, some of it spouted in shallow soil and died out quickly, some grew among thorns and was choked out and unproductive and some was fruitful. So, I think this “sandwich layer” in Mark’s story may be applicable to both parables. Stay with me…
First, the sower was someone who is sowing the word and we can only assume this is the word or Jesus’ message regarding the kingdom of God. As He sows, the seed is scattered and falls on the various types of soil. Some of it produces and some of it doesn’t. You’d likely reason that the sower should be a little more discerning regarding the seed and his sowing. Don’t be quite so liberal with that seed, only sow on the soil you know will produce at 100 fold yield. Right?
Ah, by the measure you use it will be measured and added to you. The sower can’t necessarily determine the type of soil, that’s left up to God and the soil (person). God obviously knows what kind of soil you and I are, but I believe He provides lots of opportunities for “soil condition improvement.” Not only are you soil but, if you are a fruitful disciple of Jesus, you are also a sower. You take the seed/grain that is produced in your life and you sow it back into the soil to produce more disciples. That’s just the nature of grain. It’s purpose is to produce more grain, to reproduce. Just as the lamp has a purpose, to give light, so the seed has a purpose. To be cast into the soil and to be fruitful, to produce more grain. But what about that measure?
When seed is sown and produces a harvest, some of it is consumed for the benefit of the farmer and his family. God blesses you and your faith and it is not wrong to use some of that blessing to feed and care for yourself and your family. However, some of that seed is held back and is used to seed for the next harvest. If you consume all of your seed then you have none left to sow for the next harvest and that’s where the issue of the measure comes into play. How much is held back to sow for the next crop, the next harvest? That depends entirely upon you and your plan for any future harvest. “By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
Do you trust the Lord of the harvest? If so, use what you need but sow, sow liberally. Take time to rest, feed and care for your family, enjoy life but don’t be blind to the future. Don’t be worried about the future but don’t be blind to it, either. Grain has dual purposes, to feed us today and to plant for tomorrow’s harvest. In another parable, Jesus says that to each is given a measure and entrusted to their use but later, their lord returns and demands an accounting from them. In similar fashion, one brings in what he was given along with the results of work and investment – 10 times what he was given. The next one does the same – 5 times what he was given. Finally, the last one comes in and presents only what he had been given – the same amount, nothing more. No growth, no investment, no development. What he had was taken away and given to the one who had produced 10 fold. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you…
Why? Because we have been given life to be lived on purpose and for God. Instead, we are often blind to God’s presence and deaf to His words. We think life is meant to be lived for our own purposes, our own desires, our own loves, our own goals but we are created by Him and for Him. The reason our own purposes never fulfill us is because our true purpose is to serve and worship Him. The reason our own desires never satisfy us is because our true desire is for Him. The reason our loves and lovers never satisfy our longing is because our true longing is for Him.
Don’t be guilty of living with your eyes wide shut to presence and power of God all around you. Open your eyes and really see. Listen and truly hear. Give yourself to Him, fully, liberally, with a big measure and discover just how much He has given Himself for you and to you…