One of the things I sometimes do when I take my kids back to visit their grandparents in California, is to show them some of the buildings I worked on. There’s a Walmart in Vacaville that I worked day in and day out creating hundreds of large angel pieces, just to give the look of a continuous point around the top edge of the building. In Natomas, there’s a Safeway that I worked on that had to have 18-20 foot columns, so we had to lift 18-20 foot 16 gauge metal studs into place. And then there was the Toys-R-Us that we worked on the faćade at night to update it. I like showing my kids these things, because even though I greatly disliked doing the work, I took pride in what I did. I look back on it and enjoy showing what I accomplished.
I think we all have a sense of that in our lives. Whether it be something we build, design, imagine, or craft. We enjoy people’s recognition of what we have done, because it gives us a sense of accomplishment.
As we dive into the Gospel of Mark today, we’re going to see how Jesus wants us to understand the work of the Kingdom of God. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in chapter 4 of Mark, and we’ll be covering verses 10-13 & 21-34.
But before we start reading, I have a quick question for us to answer. In Mark chapter 1 verse 15, Jesus gives us his message. Do you know, or remember what that message was? Take a moment, but don’t read further, before you think of an answer.
Jesus says this, “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus’ whole message is about the kingdom of God. God’s total rule over all creation, and the reconciliation of the rebels of humanity back to being citizens of heaven. This is important, because up to this point we haven’t had any real teaching on the kingdom. Instead we have seen a heavy emphasis on the who of Jesus and his miracles. But with the development of the disciple’s understanding in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 4, we see Jesus begin to spend more time on helping his disciples understand what the kingdom of God is, and what their role is in it.
So let’s start reading Mark 4 starting in verse 11.
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?
I have to tell you, the greatest thing that I have seen in the last few weeks is people bringing up the Scriptures that we have been talking about. A few weeks ago I challenged everyone to read chapters 4 and 5. That following week I had a conversation with someone about what was being said in a section that we will cover today. And then last week we skipped over the section of Scripture we just read, because we were focusing on the four soils and their interpretation. But in our Sunday night discussion, this section was brought up. Which we discussed, and I explained how this section actually helps us to understand the next three parables of Jesus. So let’s get into this and how it speaks to the others.
So Jesus tells the parable, or the story of comparing two things to make a point, about the four soils. We talked last week about how we should be asking which of these soils are we. Because Jesus makes clear that three of these soils have accepted the gospel in some sort of capacity, but how they allow the gospel to effect them is different. In other words, just because we have said we accept the gospel, does not mean we are allowing it to find good soil. In fact, we talked about how we need to actively plow our soil so that it will be good soil for the gospel to grow in our lives.
Now Jesus tells this parable and his disciples become confused. So later on they ask him to explain it. That’s where what we just read comes in. Jesus eventually gets to the explanation of the parable in question, but first gives them three insights into how he is going to proceed with their teaching. These three insights are: First, these parables are to help us understand the kingdom of God better. People tend to learn through story. Fables, tall tales, nursery rhymes, all help us understand morals through story form. So too do parables. Second, parables are given to hide teaching from those that do not want understanding. See the purpose of a parable is to awaken spiritual hunger. So if you desire to know more of God, parables are to ignite a desire to find the answer. To do what the disciples are doing right here. It’s the seek and you will find of Scripture. Finally, we are to learn how to interpret these parables correctly. How do we do that? We listen, watch, and ask questions, searching for the deeper meaning that Jesus would have us learn.
From there Jesus interprets the first parable, which is the four soils. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Mark directly moves us into Jesus sharing more parables. These three parables that Jesus gives are: the Lamp, the Growing Seed, and the Mustard Seed.
If you read last week, we talked about how God loves dirt. One of the reasons why I know he does, is because three out of the four parables he shares here deal with it. One of the reasons why I asked everyone to read these chapters a few weeks back, is because we’re not going to read every part of these parables, rather we are going to look at how they connect to each other. Jesus says of the lamp in verse 21, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” He follows this up with verse 24, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
Following our understanding from the first parable of the four soils, where we must recognize and make sure that we are good soil for the gospel to grow in. This second parable speaks to taking what we learn from Jesus and not keeping it to ourselves. As we share what God has revealed to us, he will reveal more. But if we try to keep it to ourselves, then even the understanding that we have gained will be lost. Because we have snuffed out the flame of understanding in our lives. So we must share what we learn from God, with others.
Jesus moves on to the third parable, where he says in verse 26, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Here, Jesus moves us from ourselves, from our soil, from our understanding, to our role in the kingdom of God. We are to be growing learners of Jesus who share, and as we share we must recognize that it is not us who germinates the seed of the gospel. What’s that mean? We merely share, God is the grower. Paul, in 1st Corinthians 3:6, relates this very idea, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Jesus wants us to understanding that when we share, we cannot force the seed to grow, but rather we need to allow God to work his growth out. But we get the joy of seeing the person accept the gospel, the harvest of God’s work.
Finally, Jesus gives us encouragement in the last parable. In verse 30 Jesus says, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
This is encouragement, because Jesus is saying that even the smallest seed of the gospel planted in a person’s life, can bring about a huge change. In other words, our sharing of the kingdom of God doesn’t need to be grandiose. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. All it needs is someone to plant what they know of the gospel into someone’s life, and God can grow it. This is why I believe that some of the best planters of the gospel are those who know little about the theology of God. Because when we start filling our heads with so much knowledge, we can easily miss the simple truth of these four parables: We are soil, we share what we learn, it is God who does the growth, and no matter how insignificant our sharing is, God can do great things with it.
The passage ends with this in verse 33, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”
This wraps back to were we started today in verse 10. Jesus gives parables so the we may seek deeper truths of God. These deeper truths are to reveal who we are in relation to who he is. We are soil, and God wants us to make sure that we’re good soil. When we recognize this, we are to share what he has given us, so that we may experience more of him. As we share, we must recognize it is God who grows the seed in the person, but we get to experience the joy of the harvest that was brought about by cooperation with God. And finally, even the least amount that we are able to share, can still be used in powerful ways, because God grows his kingdom into a magnificent sight.
When I show my children the things I have done, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride. But when I show my children the things that God has done, it plants the seed of what God can do into them. And that, is infinitely more important.
My challenge for you this week is simple: Take these four parables and wrestle with them. What soil are you? Are you sharing? Are you learning new insights about God? Are you allowing God to grow the seed in other people’s lives, or are you working or trying to force it? Are you more interested in how big the presentation is, rather than on the simplicity of the Gospel.
Let us look honestly at our lives, so that we may be the people that God has saved us to be. By being good soil, ready for growth. Eager to share what God teaches us with others. Looking forward to seeing his growth in others, and not worry about the significance of ourselves, but that the kingdom of God would be built.
Now may the God who is knee deep in dirt, prepare you to be a great crop in his kingdom. Amen.