In Mark 4, Jesus told three parables. They speak of His desire that we sow the truth of the Gospel, shine the light of Christ in a dark world, feed the sheep on His Word, and wait for the day of His return.
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Come, Change, Confess: His Pattern to Touch Lives Then and Now
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A Man Living Among the Dead Meets the One Offering the Gift of Life
The Storms of Life: The Reasons For Them, the Captain of Them, and Your Response to Them
Sow the Seed, Shine the Light, Feed the Sheep, and Wait for the Day
3 Sometimes, 3 Anytimes -that You Need to Listen to 1 Time: Jesus on Family & Pharisees
Christ's Change of Strategy - His Plan for Them Then and His Plan for You Now
Their Opposition and His Answer - Getting to Know God for Who He Really Is
Father, we thank you that as interesting as it is to meet folks, as fun as it is to make new friends, there is really no one else who can bring what our hearts hunger for. No relationship, no curiosity, no fact, no benefit from knowing anybody else that compares with you. We really celebrate that this morning, and we look forward to the fact that there will be a day when no experience on this earth, no waiting, no enduring, no circumstance or trial will compare to the glory that waits for us.
Your servant Paul said they are momentary light afflictions that don't even compare in light of the eternal weight of glory which waits. We thank you for that. We thank you that as sweet as human friendship can be, it doesn't compare with the friendship that comes with the one who can deal ultimately with the hunger and the hurt and the thirst we hope to have solved. You can do it, and we pray that would be clear today. In Christ's name, amen.
Today we're going to cover a pretty good hunk of Scripture, almost all of Mark, chapter 4, if you want to turn there. I want to read to you this little thing. It's kind of funny. You maybe have heard of it or seen it before. It can relate in this way. There were a lot of folks who had some misunderstandings about Jesus, even as there are a lot of people who have misunderstandings about some of the new technological advances that are coming on the scene.
This is apparently a true story from the WordPerfect help line. Somebody was calling there to get some help with the issues with their computer. The person answered the phone and said, "How may I help you?" They said, "Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect." "What sort of trouble?" asked the tech assistant. The guy said, "Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away."
"What went away?"
"They went away?"
"Yeah, they disappeared."
"Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?"
"No, it's blank. It won't accept anything that I type in there."
"Well, are you still in WordPerfect or did you get out?"
"How do I tell?"
"Can you see the C prompt on your screen?"
"What's a C prompt?"
"Never mind. Can you move the cursor around on the screen?"
"There isn't any cursor, I told you. It won't accept anything I type."
"Does your computer have a monitor or does your monitor have a power indicator?"
"What's a monitor?"
"It's a thing with a screen on that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it's on?"
"I don't know," said the guy.
"Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find out where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that?"
"Yeah, I think I can see that."
"Great. Follow the cord to the plug and tell me if it's plugged into the wall."
"Um, yeah, it's plugged into the wall."
"Well, when you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged in the back of it, not just one?"
"Well, there are. I need you to go back there and look again and find the other cable."
"Oh, okay. Here it is."
"Follow it for me and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer."
"I can't reach it," said the guy who called in.
"Can you see if it's plugged in?"
"Even if you maybe put your knee on something and then lean way over?"
"No, it's not, because I don't have the right angles because it's dark in here."
"Yeah, the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window."
"Can you turn the office light on?"
"Because there's a power outage."
"A power…a power outage? Okay. I think we've got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in?"
"Yeah, I keep them in the closet."
"Great. Go get them, unplug your system, pack it up just like it was when you got it, then take it back to the store you bought it from and return it."
"Really? Is it that bad?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is," said the technician.
"All right then. What am I supposed to tell them?"
"Tell them you're too stupid to own a computer."
Some of you may feel that same way around computers. It says the guy got fired, and he challenged it on the basis of it was termination without cause. He let the transcript be played in court to state his case. What you see in the way that the crowds are responding to the person of Christ… There's one of two extremes. We've talked about it these last couple of weeks. They missed who Jesus was and what he was saying he was here to do.
He either got a radical response of applause, where there were crowds everywhere he went… Mark's gospel is really clear. From a human perspective, Jesus' ministry was not a failure, because he had all kinds of success and popularity wherever he went, but those people really misunderstood. Jesus was not here to meet their physical needs. He was not here to be a sideshow or draw crowds to him because of the things he could do that no one else could do. He was here for something much more.
We've seen again and again that the reason he came with the ability to heal and the reason he did the things he did was to authenticate his words. There were others who were also just as blind, just as unable to understand, just as stupid, to use the harsh word in our illustration, who thought that because he didn't come through their systems and their channels and play their games and talk their talk he couldn't be the one God had, in fact, sent to be the hope of the world.
So there was a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of confusion. Jesus really was upsetting both groups. First of all, he came on the scene and said, "I am the fulfillment of all of the promises God offered you as a people," but then he came right back at folks who said, "Great! We're looking forward to that" and said, "But I'm not going to do it the way you thought I was going to do it."
So the folks who didn't like the fact that he said he was the guy had a problem with him, and the folks who were excited that he said he was the guy had a problem that he wasn't going to be the guy the way they wanted the guy to go about it, because Christ was concerned first with their spiritual condition before he was concerned with their political bondage and physical oppression.
In light of this great misunderstanding of who Jesus was, in light of the national leaders going on a smear campaign and saying very publicly, "Do not believe in this Jesus. Do not follow him. Do not trust in him. Do not look to him for spiritual guidance," you have to ask yourself if this is the King God was going to send to take the throne of his servant David who was going to bring about a peace and a righteousness to this world, that the whole world would then begin to know the God of David is the God of creation, that all of the nations might benefit through the declaration of God from this kingdom.
What's going to happen to this kingdom whose King is rejected? In Mark 4, you have the beginning of Jesus explaining what the kingdom of God is going to look like for a season and for a while. Jesus starts to speak in these things called parables. You guys are pretty familiar with parables. We have a lot of parables in our society, in our language. It comes from two words. Para means alongside, and bole is a Greek word which simply means to cast or to throw. So it's something you throw alongside a statement or a presentation to illustrate or represent truth in a certain way.
What I want to do is start to read through it, and we'll stop and make some comments and observations and find some application for our lives. Look at Mark 4 with me, and we'll start right here. You're going to find out there is a consistent theme you're going to hear today. Jesus says no fewer than 13 times, "Hear me. Hear what I'm saying." He'll say a couple of other times, "Listen to this."
Thirteen times in the 34 verses we're going to work our way through today, you're going to find out he said, "You have to listen, and you have to hear, and you have to have the right ears to hear." We'll talk about how there were some folks then who didn't have those ears, and undoubtedly, there are some folks here today who won't have those ears, but the Word is going to be sown and the Word is going to be cast nonetheless. This is what it says:
"And He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very great multitude gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 'Listen to this!'" This is a very familiar text. ** "'Behold, the sower went out to sow; and it came about that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.**
And other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. And other seeds fell into the good soil and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.' And He was saying, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'"
We have a famous statement by Helen Keller. Do you all remember Helen Keller? She was dumb, deaf, and blind. They asked Helen Keller one time, "Is there anything worse than being blind?" Helen Keller's famous response was, "Yep, there is: having eyes and not being able to see." She goes, "That would be far worse." What she meant by that, of course, is to see what's ultimately important in life. "I can't see. I've never seen, but by the grace of God I've seen what is ultimately important in life."
Is there anything worse than being deaf? You bet there is. It's having ears and not being able to hear. Jesus is saying, "Folks, you have to listen and not just have the physical ability to hear, but you have to understand and take it in and hear what I'm saying and let it impact you and make a difference in your life." "Do not be merely hearers of the Word who delude themselves," the brother of Christ wrote at one point, "but be doers."
It says in verse 10, "** And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables."** In other words, they're saying, "What are you doing? Why are you teaching this way?" If you go back even to the first three chapters, Jesus spoke with some proverbial statements at times, but he never did this. He never spoke in these veiled stories. This is a different kind of communication he'd never really used before and is going to almost use exclusively from here forward.
He starts to tell stories, and you're going to find out why he tells those stories. Specifically, remember this. The national leadership just came up to him and said, "This man is not the one you should follow. You should follow us." So Jesus says, "Okay. That's the opinion of certain individuals. So now I'm not going to speak straightforward and bold anymore. I'm going to speak in this illustrative way that, based on the condition of men's hearts, if they want truth they can get it; if they don't want truth, they can just scoff at it and let it roll off their shoulders."
By teaching this way, he would allow their own life to be judged. The Scripture says in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit…" Which is to say it pierces in the very inner part of a man. "…of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
What Jesus is going to do is he's going to throw out some words from himself, the words of God, and the way you respond to those words will judge the thoughts and intentions of your heart. He knew there were some people who had no intention of responding to what he had to say, and he said, "I'm going to tell some stories that are going to expose that. If you want truth, it's there. If you don't want truth, then you're not going to find it. This is the reason I'm teaching that way."
By the way, it was really a merciful thing, because the Scriptures are pretty clear about how we are all responsible to the light we've been given. There's enough light that has been given to all men (and by light I mean instruction) that we're all culpable before God, but there does seem to be a greater repercussion for individuals who have been given more. To whom much is given much is expected. We feel as much here, and that's certainly true in our relationship with the living God.
Jesus has given numerous amounts of instruction. His own life was a testimony that God was on the scene and he was giving them a message they ought to respond to. So Jesus pulls back and still gives revelation that they can hear and go, "You know what? I need the truth that man is delivering," but he also began to stop some of that direct instruction, almost in a merciful way, because they already had enough that their judgment was going to be pretty severe.
He's going to say, "I'm going to teach in this way, that if you're hungry, if you thirst, you'll come. But if not, if you want to scoff, you can scoff at it." Verse 10: "And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.""Why are you doing this, and why are you talking like that?" Watch this. Verses 11 and 12 can be kind of confusing.
"And He was saying to them, 'To you [the followers of Christ] has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return and be forgiven.'"
I need to touch on this really quickly. You go, "Wait a minute. That does not sound like a wonderful, merciful Savior." I want to remind you of where we spent all last week. If you weren't here, I encourage you to pick it up. We talked about how the reality is it is clear in Scripture that it's appointed for man to die, and after this comes judgment, but it is also very possible…
We don't know who these individuals are, but it's very possible that somebody could harden their heart toward the striving of God and his reaching out after them, that they could become so hardened they become an illustration of the foolishness of man. I was just talking with somebody yesterday and saying that one philosopher said, "It becomes clear to me that some people are alive for no other reason than to illustrate to others how not to live life."
There are some people who I think have scorned the gracious and patient love of Christ and the offer of God again and again and again, and it is possible… You need to know it is possible that you could be locked into a place where you're never going to return. If you are concerned that that is you, as I said last week, that's almost a guarantee it's not. He is willing, and any who would come he would receive.
But Jesus knew there were some men who had decided they were not going to come, and it didn't look like God was, in his sovereign will, going to penetrate through that hard-heartedness and bring them to a place where they would return. You need to know that, today, just the fact that you're sitting here is God reaching out to you one more time and asking you to come, asking you to hear, and asking you to respond.
Yet again today you have an opportunity to let the Word of God fall on the soil of your heart, and you have to respond and decide what you're going to do with it. I don't know if you'll sit in a room like this again. I don't know if you'll hear this again, not just through his spoken Word but through the conviction of the Spirit that will come to your heart.
At this point Jesus reveals to us that there is a group of folks, a generation of people that will not repent, and because of that the fate that's ahead for them is very severe. It's a very sobering warning. Now, there will be individuals within that corporate group who will come, but the whole has moved into judgment. Jesus says, "I teach that way."
He says in another gospel, where he's talking in a similar way, that "To he who has, more will be given him, and he who does not have, even what he does have will be taken from him." You go, "That doesn't sound like God." What he's talking about there is understanding…those who have an understanding, those who have humility about them. What does it say in the Scripture? "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble."
God will give more to those who have the understanding of the greatness of God and the finiteness of their life. He'll increase their understanding so they will become even more humble, but those who have no humility, no understanding about the greatness of God and no fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, even the little bit of wisdom they have will be taken from them, and they will become more obstinate and more rebellious and more settled into a life that has certain destruction on this earth and in the life to come. It's a horrible warning.
The Scriptures tell us to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt us in due time. I love the statement, "If you try and do God's job…" Which is what according to that Scripture? "Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt you in due time." If you try and do God's job, you can be sure he will do yours. If you try and exalt yourself and make your knowledge, your works, your beauty, your glory known, you can be sure God will humble you.
For some people, that humbling won't come until an awful day when they're face-to-face before the living God and are silenced because they see the absolute foolishness of their pride. One of my favorite words in the Greek language is the word tuphoo. The Greek sometimes is a little bit more colorful than the English, and there are ideas that are captured in words. One of the words for pride is tuphoo, which means to be wrapped in smoke. What a great picture. There's going to be a day when some people look very impressive, but God is going to come up and blow away what looks ominous to us and expose it for what it is.
The clearest picture for me is The Wizard of Oz. You have a guy back there. He's pulling levers. Steam is coming out, smoke is coming out of the nostrils, levers are being pulled, and it looks impressive if you're Dorothy, but you get a little dog out there who pulls back that curtain and exposes you for what you are: an overweight little man with a bunch of tricks. All of a sudden, there's a humility which comes on you. You're not the great Oz.
There's going to be a day when not a little dog pulls back that curtain but a mighty God blows away that smoke, and you're going to be exposed for what you are, a being created by him and accountable to him. If you understand that and you say, "God, I want to know you; I want to know you more," he says, "Great, because I want to teach you all. I want to love you. I want to be so patient and so kind with you as a Father tenderly cares for his child," but if you obstinately look up at him and say, "I want nothing to do with you; I am sufficient in and of myself," well…
So they went on with him. In verse 13 his followers come to him. They say, "You told us this story. We heard what you said, and now we are here because we want to make sure we understand. Tell us what it means." Verse 13: "Do you not understand this parable? And how will you understand all the parables [if you don't understand this] ?" What he's saying is, "You guys have to have soft hearts. It's not that tough. And if you want to learn from these, you can."
He's saying, "Make sure you have a soft heart, because if you don't have a soft heart that's teachable, you're not going to get anything I have to share with you. Don't be hard-hearted." Here's the explanation. Verse 14: "The sower sows the word. And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them."
All he's saying is that there are some people who have a hardness of heart and, specifically, because they are prideful and have no need of instruction, which is the fall of the enemy of God. Again, you have to understand that the one mark of godliness we all must have if we hope to increase in godliness is humility and the greatest mark of ungodliness is pride. It was what caused all the war and disruption in heaven, when Satan said, "I think I can do what you're doing. I think I can do it better."
Satan wants us to think as he thinks, that we don't need God. I could take you back to the very first time Satan came on the scene, and you'll see that his lies were exactly the same. "God isn't that bright. The reason he doesn't want you to eat of that tree is because you'll be able to think like him, and if you think like him you can do his job and he'll be out of a job and he doesn't want to be out of a job. So get rid of him and do it like me and just live on your own apart from God." Pride.
Some are deceived. The truth of God comes out and it hits that hard, prideful heart, and off it goes. There is no difference. The Word of God comes on them but not in them. Jesus says there's another group of people. He's helping them understand, "The reason not everybody is responding to my teaching is because not everybody's hearts have been softened by the grace of God. Make sure you come to me as evidence that the grace of God has softened your heart. All who want to come, come. Please don't hear me say you can't come. You can come."
Now you need to know this. I think the Scriptures are very clear. If you come, it's evidence that God has been gracious in your life, but don't sit out there today and say, "Well, if God wants me to come, he'll make me come." He is allowing you the opportunity to come by casting the seed into your heart right now, and all you have to do is say, "Lord, if you're real, would you soften it? Would you speak to me, and would you cause this thing not just to come on me but in?"
Well, it shouldn't just go in; it has to go down. If it doesn't go down, you have the problem that happens in verse 16. "And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy…" It comes on them and in them but doesn't go down and take root. Verse 17: "…and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away."
In other words, there are some people who get really excited when they hear it, and the environment they're in makes them go, "That's great." There are a lot of folks who when they're around this kind of environment go, "Man, that was really good. That felt good to me. It was encouraging to me," but they're not purposeful about coming forward and saying, "I'm just a babe, just a tender child in the sight of God, and I need protection, because if I don't have encouragement and instruction I'm going to go out there, and the world will devour me."
Someone is going to say, "Are you serious? Oh, yeah, I went through that too when I was your age," or "Oh, I can remember when I was as vulnerable as you are and somebody told me that and I found some hope." You haven't taken the time to let it sift down deep into your heart to move from more than just a simple curiosity to a deep and embedded conviction. Pride will take God's Word from you, and persecution will take God's Word from you.
That's why he tells you if you made a decision for him you have to make sure you tell somebody. That's why he tells those of us who are a little bit ahead of others in the faith to make sure we care for them and that we father them and mother them and help them grow while that little shoot is still tender and make those roots go deep. Pride and persecution can make the Word of God not work. He goes on.
Verse 18: "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." One guy said it this way. It comes on, it comes in, and goes down, but it doesn't come up, because as it starts to come up it's choked out by a number of things: the deceitfulness of riches, the desire for other things, and the worries of the world.
This is the one that threatens me the most. It's an internal preoccupation. I said pride is one thing that will keep you from hearing God's Word. Persecution is another one, if you don't make sure you're gathered around by others, and that's why you have to live in community. Also just being preoccupied or having a priority problem can cause you to choke out the fruitfulness God intends to have in your life.
Boy, we can be so easily distracted in this city. I have a friend who ministers in Denton, and he tells me every time he starts to come this way, about the time he hits Lewisville he can just feel the demons of materialism and busyness and distraction and entrepreneurialism misplaced just growing on him. He said he gets to Dallas to do his stuff and he's just heavy. He said this city has something. He's not always saying that as a compliment. Well, it's in Denton too.
The fact is it's easy for us to be filled and distracted here all the time. My mom and dad are in town this weekend, and I was talking with my dad as we were driving through the Dallas traffic trying to get somewhere together. We were talking about our schedules, and we were racing to get from one thing we were both at to the next thing so we could do this and quickly get to the next thing. We both agreed we do so much of this to ourselves.
I think I mentioned to you that the Chinese don't have an alphabet, so to speak, but they have a pictorial language, symbols that have pictures, and the symbols for busyness are made up of two things. The symbol that means busyness in the Chinese language is heart-killing. Isn't that great? That's what busyness does to you. That's what the deceitfulness of riches and the worries of the world will do to you.
It reminded me of a time I was in Colorado at a family camp I was leading. I had a group of folks up there with me, and I was trying to encourage them. The very first thing we did on a Monday was we took them all away and said, "You have an hour to go out in God's country and just be still. Just one hour. Just be still with the Lord."
I was looking forward to doing the exact same thing myself. I got out there, and I had my journal and my Bible. As I sat down to go to work, I opened this pen, and a big drop of ink went right up that pen and right on my favorite pair of white shorts. I became absolutely obsessed. As my wife will tell you, when I get a spot on something, it drives me nuts.
These things cost $28. I'd had them for three years, and I loved them. They were comfortable. They fit right. I sat there, and I was about to spend some time with the Lord, and I want to tell you… I have it right here in my journal. I wrote down how distracted I was from the time I wanted to spend with the Lord, because I needed to go up and quickly deal with this ink spot.
I thought, "Okay. If I go up there, by the time I get back to the cabin, take these things off, and kind of rub it in there and get some stuff going (whatever you do with ink spots), and then change shorts and get back down here, I'm not going to have that much time, and I'm going to miss what I really was looking forward to today." So I go, "I'm going to stay right here." But then I started to think, "If you don't deal with it right now, you're going to lose your favorite pair of white shorts."
I can tell you that right here on this page… I won't bore you with what I wrote, but I sat, and these words are in my journal. I talked about how concerned I was, how easily distracted I get by ink spots from what really matters. It's not just ink spots and favorite pairs of shorts. I have all kinds of ink spots in my life that I get so consumed with, so busied and bothered by that it takes me off course and chokes out the fruitfulness God wants me to have. I know you have ink spots. Preoccupation with the things of the world and priorities that are misplaced can keep us from bearing the fruit God wants.
He goes on. He says there's yet another. Verse 20: "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit…" Here's the whole point of what Jesus is saying. It's very simply this…What kind of soil will you be? It's up to you this morning. You can be prepared soil one moment, and then you can be preoccupied soil the next.
This is not just a once-and-done question. This is for his followers, people who have already made up their mind. It certainly is true that if you've always hardened your heart toward God and been prideful toward the grace and work of God in your life, you have to make a decision that you're going to listen to him and humble yourself.
That's also true of me today. I have to forever say, "You know what, Lord? I need your Word. I'm not going to be prideful to your Word. I'm not going to quench your Spirit, but I'm going to listen and be teachable yet again. I'm not going to let persecution, the criticism of the world and my neighbors, tell me I don't need to live this way.
I'm not going to be preoccupied with the worries of the world and deceitfulness of riches and the concern for many things. I want to be prepared. I want to listen to you and be sensitive and trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding." What kind of soil will you be today? Mark says there were some other stories he told like this, and it starts there in verse 21.
"And He was saying to them, 'A lamp is not brought to be put under a peck-measure, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.'"
This is a little bit trickier. When you hear this you go, "What exactly is Jesus saying?" Let me have you go to John, chapter 1, with me. What Jesus is saying is, "You don't take light that is given to you and put it under a bed or cover it up. That would be nuts." What he's talking about here, I am convinced, is "Look, people. I am bringing light to you, and some of you all are trying to snuff it out and stick it in the closet. That makes no sense."
I don't know how you got here today, but maybe you've already decided just to check out God and not be concerned with him. If it's because I'm boring you, forgive me. If it's because we haven't done an excellent job of representing him through our song and our expression of the things we appreciate, forgive us.
But know this: there is light that is being given to you in some form or fashion today. The greatness of God is being declared. The goodness of God, the mercy of God, the love of God is being declared. Don't stick that in some closet where you don't have to deal with it. Look at what it says in John 1:6.
"There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man." **Then it says about this Jesus,"[This true light, Jesus,]was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own[full of light], and those who were His own did not receive Him."**
All that Jesus is saying in this parable is "That's nuts! Here's light. The light has come, and you guys go, 'Oh good. God gave us a light. Let's stick it in the closet and continue to walk around in darkness.'" That, I think, is the entire point of his parable in Mark 4:21. Look at what it says in John, chapter 8, a similar idea. "Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying…" Here not speaking parabolically but speaking in metaphor.
"'I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.' The Pharisees therefore said to Him, 'You are bearing witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.' Jesus answered and said to them, 'Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true; for I know where I came from, and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from, or where I am going. You people judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and He who sent Me.'"
He goes on to say, "Even in your law it has been written, that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me." What is Jesus saying there? He's saying, "Look. If you don't believe I'm the Light by my own words and my own words are enough because I am God, I'll give you another testimony. It's the first person of the Trinity. It's the Father, who said, 'This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.'
If you don't believe the testimony of the Father and the Son, believe the testimony of the Spirit, who allows me to do things no one else can do. That's why I heal. That's why I walk on water. That's why I raise the dead. You guys are taking this evidence, this light, and stuffing it away, and it makes no sense."
Do you see what he's saying in the parable? This is a parable a lot of folks read and go, "What in the world was Jesus trying to get at right there?" In the first parable in this little section he's saying, "What kind of soil will you be?" and the second thing he's asking right here is simply, "What will you do with the light that has been given to you?" There's another parable. Verse 24:
"And He was saying to them, 'Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides. For whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.'"
This gets back to what I said earlier. There are all kinds of folks who think they have enough, that they don't need anything from God. It says if you're satisfied, if you're full of yourself, that's great. I think D.L. Moody is the one who said God will give to every man except to the man who is full of himself. If you try and do God's job, you can be sure God will do your job for you. Look at the principle that I think is true in this little parabolic saying.
Simply this: "Are you content? Are you self-satisfied and self-fulfilled? You don't want anything else? Then enjoy what you have, and nothing else will be given. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you wanting to know if there's more in life than you can provide for yourself with your own strategies? Then belly up and step right up, because this is what the Scripture says: 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.'"
What Jesus is saying is if you think you have enough to keep your own belly full and your own strategies of life are enough and that's the measure you want, that's the measure you'll be given. But if you realize that what you can measure up for yourself is going to leave you hungry and thirsty, that your purpose and mission in life is empty and meaningless without God, then ask him, and it will be given to you. Look at what it says after that in verse 26.
"And He was saying, 'The kingdom of God…'" That's what these parables are about. "…is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
Jesus is saying, "Look. There's a lot of stuff you guys don't get that you benefit from. This is a very agrarian culture. You can take the seed and put that seed in the ground, and you don't have a clue what happens. All you know is that you go to bed for a series of nights, and several months later you have to go out there because what you were hoping for has happened. You don't know how it happened. It doesn't always happen in the timing that you want, but it's going to happen, because God sovereignly ordains that process for that seed to go into the ground and germinate and little roots to sprout down and then up."
He's talking to a group of people, you have to remember, who were offended by the fact that he said, "I am the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy." They said, "I don't like that." But then he's addressing another crowd that was excited to hear that he was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But what did he say? "It's not going to look like you think, especially in light of the nation rejecting me, the nation that I, in my sovereignty, choose to use to declare me to the nations." And one day he will.
He said, "It's going to still happen; it's just not going to happen like you think." So, here's the little principle you get here if you go and ask the Lord, "What do you mean by this?" Don't limit God's process to your understanding. There are many of God's processes that you benefit from that you can't quite see or figure out, but be sure of this: God has certain laws that are going to happen. If you put a certain seed in the ground, that seed will eventually bear fruit. There is a seed God has sown which is his divine, sovereign will.
Now, personally, if God asked me how to do it, I would be seriously into fast-forwarding the process. I would say, "God, let's get your kingdom going. Let's deal with sin. Let's judge wicked people. Let's let the evildoer have his way, and let's get him before your righteousness. Let's stop the sorrow. Let's stop the sickness. Let's stop the loneliness. Let's stop the pain. Let's stop the abuse. Let's stop the hate. Let's do it now."
What he says here is, "Todd, you don't really understand something. There's a reason you're not sovereign over nature. There's a reason you're not sovereign over a lot of processes. You need to be sure of this: there will be a day when righteousness will be exalted and wickedness will be judged, but some things have to happen first." Those things he lays out parabolically here. He says a soil crop is going to produce by itself, first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain, and then it's time for the harvest.
He might have said to me, "Todd, it's not going to happen the way you want. First, I have to go and be falsely accused. Then I have to be put through a bunch of kangaroo courts. Then I have to be beaten. Then I have to be spit at. Then I have to have a spear in my side and a crown of thorns on my head, and then I'm going to be crucified, and then I'm going to be buried. Then maybe, for thousands of years, my people are going to live believing in faith and not what they can see.
My kingdom is going to be a spiritual kingdom; it's not going to be a political kingdom. Righteousness will sometimes do battle with evil and it will look like evil is having its way, but I will endure through different generations. My Spirit lives in a people until one day I return and reign sovereignly over this world." It's not going to happen in the time you want, but you can be sure of this: the seed of God's divine, purposed will will happen. Fret not.
This is what he says in Jeremiah 32: "I know you don't like it. I know you don't like my process, but it's the right one. I know you think it can't happen because you've been going to bed every night and you don't see the root coming up yet, but you can be sure it's going to happen. I'm the Lord, the God of all flesh, and nothing is too difficult for me." There's one last parable in verse 30.
"And He said, 'How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.'"
Again, you're going, "What are you saying by this, Jesus?" If you read this and are confused by what the Scripture says, that's okay. But don't do what scoffers do, which is go, "What is he talking about?" and walk away. Do you know what I have time for all day long? Do you know who I love to spend time with? I love to spend time with people who have questions.
I've had the privilege, because of many of you, to give a lot of time to this book. So have other mature and godly folks to whom much has been given, and we want to come alongside of you. If you read these things, some of which, as the Scripture says, are difficult and hard to understand, which the unstable and perverted distort, and you come and ask, "What does this mean? I was reading in my Scripture, and it didn't make sense to me. I don't know how this works. It seems inconsistent. There's apparent contradiction here…" I love to spend time with folks like that.
My heavenly Father loves to spend time with me when I go, "God, I really want to make sure I understand what you were saying when you said this. What does that mean?" And I read. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I sit still before the Lord and ask, "Would you speak to me to make sure I'm not going to pervert this text?" I do my best, and I do believe the Holy Spirit teaches, just like he said he would.
So what does this mean? I think what he's saying here is that what's starting with the kingdom of God… Not the popular ministry of Jesus, because you have to understand it wasn't a mustard seed. The kingdom of Jesus was happening. There was a big public success to this, but he said, "That's not what I'm here for. I'm here to talk about righteousness in the hearts of men."
He said, "It's going to start small. It's going to start so imperceptible you may not be able to see it. In fact, you may get discouraged by what you see, but it's simply not time to be discouraged, because it's going to get where I want it to get." I'd say it this way. Are you concerned that you can't see much that looks like a kingdom right now? Well, fret not, because this is not yet the season for harvest.
I think it builds on the one we just heard about, the parable of the seed, not the sower. The seed goes into the ground, and it's going to go through these different stages and eventually bear fruit. Just like he said the mustard seed, which is very small, is going to grow and be a shrub and something that all of the birds of the nations, all of the birds of the world can come and nest in, which is a picture, biblically, of the nations, I believe. "There is going to be a time when the nations receive my Word and the peace of God prevails and righteousness exalts itself."
In those parables, that is what he declared, and we have a responsibility now that he has left. There's an amazing passage in Colossians where Paul says, "What I do, in a sense, fulfills what is lacking in the ministry of the sufferings of Christ." You go, "What is lacking in the ministry of the sufferings of Christ?"
What's lacking, if you will, is not his provision, but there's a group of people here today who need to hear the Word of God, and God in his sovereignty has chosen to use the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which lives in those of us who believe, to do what Christ did when he was here. Let me give you some application. Are you ready? It's very quick. Sow the seed. This is what it says in 2 Timothy, chapter 4.
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word [sow the seed] ; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…"
Here's the point. Jesus was God's faithful servant, and as the Spirit-directed man, fully God and fully man, he came and sowed the seed. He said, "Don't be discouraged when that seed sometimes falls on some places and folks don't respond to it. Just sow the seed, just like he did." A child can sow the seed in the same way a mature man can. Who knows where the wind of the Spirit will take it and allow it to take root and produce great fruit? Sow the seed. You don't know much? Well, sow what you know and learn more, but sow the seed. That's what Jesus did.
Secondly, what did Jesus do? He brought light into the world. What do you think you should do? Sow the seed and shine the light. Look at Matthew 5:14. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." You might go, "Wow, Todd. This is simple, but it's profound." Do you see how the parables of Christ…? He's telling folks, "Look. You guys are snuffing the light."
Gang, you're going to run into people who don't take the word you sow, but you have to sow it. There are going to be people who resent the light and try and stick it in a closet in a corner of their hearts or get you out of their neighborhood, but you have to shine the light. Ephesians 5:8-10: "…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."
Be that light. Sow the seed, shine the light, and feed the sheep. One of the reasons you put stuff in the ground so the harvest can come is so folks can be fed and it can be measured out according to what they need. This passage in John is extremely familiar, the conversation Peter had with Jesus when he came to him. He simply said, "Do you love me?" and Peter said, "You know I love you." Then what did Jesus say three different times? "Then you tend my lambs. Then you feed my sheep. You care for my flock."
Gang, you need to know that wasn't a command to the priesthood… Well, it was a command to the priesthood, but every member of God's household is a priest. What's a priest but a mediator between God and man? Ultimately, Jesus Christ is our High Priest, the only one who mediates between us, every single one of us. For we are God's household, a kingdom of priests, and he expects us to feed his lambs.
What did Jesus do? He sowed the seed. What do you do? Sow the seed. What did Jesus do? He shined the light. What do you do? Shine the light. What did Jesus do? He fed the lambs. What do we do? We feed the lambs. There's one more. It can seem like a long time for that little mustard seed to grow up into that great shrub that the birds of the air come and find rest in. I'll tell you what you do. You wait patiently for the day, because Jesus is talking about the kingdom here.
Listen to me, gang, because this is what I want to drive home. This is why it's well with my soul. It is well with my soul not because the things today in the field are producing the harvest I necessarily want. There's all kinds of sorrow in all kinds of lives in this room. This week my wife buried a grandmother, and there are others out here who have gone through deeper and even more traumatic things.
You go, "Where is the kingdom of God in this? I thought Jesus came, and I thought hope was here, yet hell prevails. Children are sick. People are on heart transplant lists. Guys have had brain surgery. People are stealing other folks' mail." You go, "Where is the kingdom in all of this?" He tells you to wait patiently for the day. It's going to happen. You can be sure of this: The seed of God's sovereign, determined will is going to happen. What you have to ask yourself is if you are ready for it. When God comes to judge evil, is he coming to judge you?
I long for the day when God comes to judge evil, not because I in and of myself am righteous but because the seed of God's Word has been sown into my heart and he has exposed my sin, my fallenness, and my rebellion to me, and I have sheltered myself underneath the one who can bear all of my sins on the cross. "My sin, not in part but the whole." Therefore, by faith we have been justified and have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Wait for the day. This is what it says in the Old Testament:
"I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. Then the Lord answered me and said, 'Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal, and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.'"
The Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world has told us he's coming back as a lion. He's coming back for his own, and he's going to wipe away every tear. The momentary light afflictions that we experience…the persecution, the rejection, the loss…do not compare to the exceeding weight of glory we have coming in return.
This week, when I was driving back without my wife because she was up at her grandmother's funeral, I was in the car with my kids and they were asking about Granny Watts who died. I said, "You know what? Granny Watts knew the Lord." Just like my wife said to her mom and dad… "Mom, it's kind of hard, but at least with Granny I have a sense of peace there. I know where she is. I experience the human loss and appropriately grieve over that, but I know she's in a better place, and that makes it easier."
Her parents who we're not sure get that go, "Well, I guess that makes sense." Alex just said, "You know what, Mom? I want the same assurance with you." I was talking to my kids on the way back up, and I said, "Granny is with Jesus." I go, "Do you realize she's seeing the Lord? She's seeing the one whose hands were nailed for her." I talked to them about the metaphorical statement where it says Jesus goes ahead of us to prepare a mansion for us.
I'm not convinced that there is a mansion for me in heaven, and I'll tell you what I mean. I think it's better than that. I think the best Jesus could do to my finite human understanding was to tell me, "Todd, I'm going to go ahead of you, and you know that big house over there on Beverly that you think you could fit in with your five kids? It's way better than that, man. I'm going to go ahead and build it for you. No dealing with bad contractors. No cracks in the foundation. No ridiculous school taxes. It's just going to be done. I've got it covered."
If I get up there and there's a great mansion, I won't be disappointed, but I think it's better than that. The writers of some of the apocalyptic Scriptures said heaven has streets that are paved with gold. When I get there, I do not expect to see gold streets. I think it's better than that. I think that's the best they could do in describing to me what heaven is going to be like. "You take the most precious metal on earth… We pave streets with that up here." It's better than that.
He says, "You wait for the day, and you have the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Todd, you live now as a citizen of the kingdom, even though the kingdom is not evident in this world right now, but you can be sure it's coming, baby, because the seed of God's sovereign will has been planted, and it will grow. Do not give up, but persevere.
There's going to be a day when you're going to see the hands that were nailed for you, and there's going to be a day when you're going to be handed the keys to that mansion that was built for you, and there's going to be a day when you walk on those streets of gold that were paved for you. So, baby, you serve that kingdom and sow the seed and shine the light and feed my sheep and wait for the day." Let's pray.
Father, the folks who lived when you lived in the person of Jesus Christ misunderstood you and had it all wrong, and how often I get it wrong. How often I sometimes can go, "It's not the way it ought to be, God," because your processes aren't happening according to how my finite mind thinks it should happen. What I'm doing is I'm hardening my heart by pride. I think I know better than you.
So the seed of hope that's in your Word bounces off my heart and doesn't bear the fruit of perseverance and endurance, and it kills me and hurts those who are around me. I pray that I would hold on to your words that you taught to your followers then and you teach to your followers today, to hold on and to believe the kingdom is still coming, though it's going to take a little bit of a different form for a while. We are in the midst of that "while."
The seed is in the ground. Maybe the shoot has come up, but the harvest is certainly not here yet or your reapers would come. So I pray, Lord, that I would sow the seed. I pray that my friends would shine the light with me. I pray that each of us here would feed the sheep, and I pray that each of us here would wait for the day, that we would not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
One of these days we're going to see the hands that took the nails for me. One of these days we're going to hold the keys to the mansion built for me. One of these days we're going to walk the streets of gold that were paved for me. We're going to see our Savior face-to-face one of these days. Because of that, we say, "It is well with our soul."
I told my little girls as we were driving up that one of these days we're going to have a mansion. We're trying to move right now, and they're looking forward to that. When I told them, "One of these days we're going to walk streets of gold," my oldest one said, "Daddy, let's go." You know what? It made me laugh. There's a reason we don't know heaven for what it really is. I'm convinced if we did we'd all commit suicide. I mean that. If we knew what it was like, I think we'd all rush to get there.
That's a theologically correct statement. "Daddy, let's go." But you know what? We have a sovereign God who right now has our feet planted right here, and he says, "No, you stay. Just tarry. When it's time, like it was Granny Watts' time, you'll come. You'll get your mansion. You'll walk those streets and see those hands, but right now you sow, you shine, you feed, and you wait faithfully." One of these days the kingdom is going to come, and not just there but here, but then there again…no more disbelief, no more pain, and our hopes will be realized. That's faith, and that's the life of a follower of Christ.
Father, I pray for my friends, that they would sow, they would shine, they would feed, they would wait, and that you would be glorified and others would be helped. May you do that in us and through us for your glory and others' good. In Christ's name, amen.
The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 2:14 through Mark 6:6.