Bible Passage: Mark 4:21-34
Jesus used stories about everyday life to reveal 4 truths about how we can experience the Kingdom of God. #HopeEmerges #daretoventure
The Truth About the Kingdom
Last week we looked at the parable of the sower, seed, and soils. It was absolutely a parable about the Kingdom of God, but it looked more at how different kinds of hearts respond to the Kingdom. Most translations of 4:10 seem to suggest the original language points us to the 12 in addition to others who were sitting around Him when He explained it.
There are those who are uninterested and the opportunity of living in the Kingdom passes by. There are those who have shallow hearts who quickly receive it and respond to it, but because of the shallowness of their hearts there is never any root, and it fades away. There are also those who respond, but their love for the Kingdom of this world leaves their life full of weeds that make the seed of the Gospel unfruitful in their life because it’s not the love of their life the Kingdom of the world is! And finally, there are those who receive the Gospel with a humble heart, and it is those people who experience the fullness of the Kingdom! They prosper and bear God-sized fruit in a God-size way!
Now, Jesus didn’t stop there. The parable of the sower, seed, and soils really looks at how we respond, that is, how open we are to truly listen and receiving it. But if Jesus would have stopped there a person could assume that the future of the Kingdom of God was entirely dependent on man. That the future of His reign and glory was up to how we as individuals responded, that is, God’s glory and the power of His Kingdom was at the mercy of our power and glory! So, Jesus continued teaching the group of followers that were gathered around Him to make sure they understood the truth about His Kingdom!
In Mark 4:21-34, Jesus teaches 4 truths about the Kingdom of God that are essential for understanding it properly.
The Kingdom of God is exclusively revealed in Christ. 4:21-22
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.
“The metaphor of the lamp that Jesus used here was drawn from the common experience of the people of that day, whose homes were illuminated at night by oil lamps. Such a lamp was a piece of pottery that was something like a bowl with a couple of the edges pinched together. Oil was poured into the bowl, and a floating wick came up through the point where the edges were pinched together. That wick was drenched in the oil from the lamp, so it could be lit and would keep burning. This tiny lamp was expected to give light to the room. Naturally, no one lit a lamp and then put it under a basket or a bed. Doing so shut out the light; it defeated the purpose of the lamp. For that reason, Jesus asked an obvious rhetorical question: “Is it not to be set on a lampstand?” (v. 21b).” 1
“I have to take issue with one part of the English translation in the first of these brief parables. The New King James translation and, indeed, most other English translations, render verse 21 with an indefinite article rather than a definite article before the word lamp. Quoting Jesus, it says, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed?” (v. 21a). The concept of the lamp is left in a generic sense, even though the Greek New Testament clearly uses the definite article and makes the lamp the subject of the sentence. There is only one proper way to translate what is in the original Greek: “Does the lamp come in order to be put under a basket or under a bed?” If the article in the Greek New Testament is clearly definite, why is it so often rendered as indefinite in translations of Mark? I can only speculate, but one possible reason has to do with the fact that this parable about the lamp is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, but both Matthew and Luke use an indefinite article. I suspect that our translators use the indefinite article in Mark because that is what is found in Matthew and Luke. However, I think that not only does the Greek text call for the definite article, the context does, too. Without the definite article, we miss the significance of what Jesus said here. He was not talking about any lamp. He was talking about the lamp.” 2
The point being until Christ, the Kingdom of God was a mystery. It was understood as a nation-state made up of descendants of Abraham who were bound to God by a law given to Moses. But it was only the method God chose to reveal /his kingdom; that is, it was not the “revelation” of Himself or His kingdom. The kingdom of God was truly a mystery until Jesus burst forth onto the scene as the lamp, that is the light!
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), and as such Jesus makes everything a man can understand about God understandable! In Christ, we have the revelation of who God is, and what God is about! In Christ, the curtain is torn in half so that anybody can fellowship with the Father! In Christ, we have the light to see what God is about, what His love truly looks like, and how glorious His faithfulness is. Christ on the cross explodes the light of God into the darkness so that all can now know Him!
To grow in the experience of living in the Kingdom, you must act on the knowledge revealed by Christ. 4:23-25
23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
“This isn’t quite like saying ‘You’ll get out of this what you put in’, since of course when everything depends on the grace of God it’s never a matter simply of people trying a bit harder and so getting a better return on their moral investment. It’s rather, again, a promise and a warning, both of which are amplified in the final little saying. If they grasp what Jesus is saying and go deeper and deeper into it, they will get more and more from it. But if they remain at the superficial level, like the uncomprehending crowds, they will lose even that sense of God doing something new in their midst which they have at present.” 3
“However, this does not apply to mental ability, but to the use, that one makes of his ability, or, as it stands here, to the attentiveness with which he hears.” 4 This is again why Jesus began and ended his previous parable with a word that means to “hyper-listen,” that is, listen with your heart and not just your ears so that you will act on it!
“The paradoxical saying of verse 25 is probably the Palestinian equivalent of our proverb “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” In this context, it serves as further comment on the problem of spiritual laziness. Those who hold on to their insight that God is active in Jesus will find that their faith grows stronger and deeper. Those who refuse to take Jesus seriously will experience a diminishing of their capacity for responding to the spiritual dimension of life. Faith, like a muscle, must be exercised or it will atrophy.” 5
“There is an echo here of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30; Luke 19:12–27). If we take our talents and bury them in the ground, they eventually will be taken away. It is the same with the light if we cover it with a basket.” 6
So, how do we act on it?
- We constructively act on the knowledge of the Kingdom of God by continuing to:
- Repent of our allegiances to the Kingdom of the World!
- Believe Jesus to be and do what He said.
- Follow/Obey Jesus (faith).
When we properly and continually act on this knowledge we grow in our understanding of God, our experience of knowing Him, and our experience of living in the love that is exclusive to the Kingdom of God.
Too many want to have everything figured out before they are willing to act. In all the faults of the disciples, they are nonetheless acting on what they have been revealed at this point. They are not understanding everything, but what they do understand they are acting on!
But remember, this activity is a continual action and process. That is if you want to grow and abound in the experience of living in His Kingdom, and the Love that defines it, then you need to have a continual attitude and action of repentance, belief, and obedience (following).
It is the inherent nature of the Kingdom of God (The Reign of Christ) to grow and multiply. (4:26-29)
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.”
“This is the only parable in Mark without any parallel in Matthew or Luke.” 7
There are two focal points in this parable.
It is in the inherent nature of seed to grow.
“The seed contains within itself a power of generation and an orderly process of growth “first the stalk, then the ear, then the full kernel in the ear” that transpires quite apart from the farmer.” 8
“A distinctly possible misunderstanding which could arise out of the parable of the sower is that there is some special power in preaching (i.e., power inherent in the preacher); so it is not surprising that Jesus immediately removed any possible ambiguity by teaching a parable which revealed that the power of the Kingdom is not dependent on man but is an inherent characteristic of the Word itself and will be so until the judgment (the harvest) at the end of time. The growth of the seed (the Word) is not dependent on the skill or actions of the sower; it grows while he sleeps and in ways, he cannot imagine. The Holy Spirit, Who inspired the Word, is the power that makes the Word take root in a human soul and brings that embryonic spiritual life to maturity (i.e., both the convicting and maturing works of the Holy Spirit are indicated). This relates very well to the conclusion of the preceding parable which urged the believer to respond to his privileges. The power of the Word, then, goes beyond simply bringing life; it also extends to promoting maturity.” 9
“This parable has brought comfort to many a preacher, who has faithfully planted the good news without seeing much in the way of results. In some cases, it takes years for the seed to germinate! The work of the Spirit is invisible. We must not assume that nothing is happening when no dramatic changes can be seen.” 10
Seeds planted in the soil will germinate and start growing because that’s what seeds do!
You may not think it’s happening, but it is. It’s how you end up with grass growing in your driveway! If the seed is healthy and it lands even on rocky soil, it will germinate and start growing!
So, to the parent who wonders will the seeds of the Gospel ever germinate in my children; to those who are faithfully sharing the Gospel with your friends, family, and neighbors; you can be sure that every heart that humbly receives it (parable of the soils) will see that seed germinate, grow and thrive! The reason is not in how well you delivered the seed but rather it’s simply in the inherent nature of the seed! It’s why it even comes up in rocky soil (i.e. the grass that comes up in cracks in your driveway!). The condition of the heart will dictate how productive that seed becomes in a person, but you can be sure that every seed that lands on good soil will grow and thrive!
It is the inherent nature of the seed to multiply until the entire field is covered and ready for harvest.
Let me be clear that we are commanded to share the Gospel and spread the seed. But, hypothetically, if a person planted a small area of a field with grain and did nothing, those seeds would germinate and grow and produce more seeds that would spread around with the wind and animals and produce even more plants that would intern repeat the process until the entire field would be covered!
I’m not exactly sure what kind of wildflowers they are, but I began noticing one of them a few years ago in the woods behind my house. I intentionally avoided them with my weed eater to see what would happen. A few years later they are popping up all over the place and this year I caught their flower! It’s a beautiful little flower. Meanwhile, out of nowhere, the woods had an entirely different wildflower come up and bloom this year that I’ve never seen. In 18 years I’ve never noticed it but I couldn’t miss it this year because it was everywhere! Now the point I’m making in this is that one of those flowers I intentionally stayed out of the way but the other one I didn’t even know existed to stay out of the way! Yet, it spread all over the place! You see this is the nature of seeds! They become plants that spread more seeds, each plant significantly producing more seeds than the one that started it.
So Jesus is obviously encouraging His disciples that His Kingdom is going to spread, however, He uses a very specific phrase in this parable that points to something bigger: the harvest.
“‘In goes the sickle at once, because the harvest has arrived.’ That’s a quotation from the prophet Joel (3:13). We find it near the end of his short book, which is all about the coming Day of the Lord, the time when, after terrible devastation coming on God’s people, God will restore their fortunes, pour out his spirit upon them, and reap a harvest of judgment against the nations roundabout. That’s the vision of the coming day that many of Jesus’ contemporaries were cherishing. Jesus is telling them that God’s promised moment is indeed coming but it won’t look like what they were expecting. God is not simply vindicating Israel and condemning those outside. When judgment comes, it will look rather different. But come it will.” 11
Jesus was assuring His disciples that no matter how defeated they felt in trying to spread the seed of the Gospel, they needed to know it’s the inherent nature of the seed they were scattering to grow within people in such a way that it matures and spreads! It would spread far beyond their wildest imagination until one day the harvest was ready for the reaper to return!! The Kingdom of God is going to blossom in the hearts of people from every tribe and tongue. It is going to reach every corner of the earth and when it is ready when the field is covered, Jesus is going to return and gather together His people from every corner of the earth. This leads us straight into the point of the last parable.
It is the inherent nature of the Kingdom of God (The Reign of Christ) to overshadow every Kingdom! (4:30-34)
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
“What we see here is hyperbole, a literary device that is used for emphasis. Furthermore, in the Hebrew idiom, it was common for the Jews to refer to the mustard seed as the smallest seed because it was superlatively small. There is small, smaller, and smallest, and the mustard seed was in the category of the superlatively small. For this reason, accusing Jesus of falsehood in this passage is astonishing to me.” 12
This parable somewhat repeats the point of the previous, but it does so with a unique emphasis. The growth and multiplication of the Kingdom of God should not be thought of as an insignificant weed in the garden that spreads everywhere, and as such, is noticeable, but is still not the dominant plant.
“Mustard seeds are contained in a fairly large pod which itself looks like a seed but the real seeds are a fine powder and certainly qualify as the most diminutive seed commonly cultivated by man. The mustard tree, on the other hand, is a quick grower and can readily reach a height of twenty to thirty feet and becomes the natural choice of birds roosting in a garden.” 13
“Ezekiel and Daniel both use this as an image of a great kingdom, growing like a tree until those around can shelter under it (Ezekiel 17:23; 31:6; Daniel 4:12–21). Don’t worry, Jesus is saying. Remember who your God is and what he’s promised. Realize that this small beginning is the start of God’s intended kingdom—the kingdom that will eventually offer shade to the whole world.” 14
When the church in Rome received this letter, they understood the Kingdom of Christ was spreading all over the world. People all over the world were repenting, believing, and following Jesus! People all over the world were being rescued from the rule of Sin and Satan and into the rule of Christ! But the Kingdom of this world still outshines the Kingdom of Christ. It is the Kingdom of this world that dominates the landscape and even persecutes the Kingdom of Christ. But Jesus makes it real clear to His disciples that it is in the inherent nature of His rule and thus His Kingdom to overshadow every Kingdom in the Universe! This is why He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
But listen, that is certainly the primary implication of this truth, but there is also a secondary implication to our individual lives. In the micro sense, the Kingdom of God often begins with obscurity in us. This is the story of the very disciples he is speaking to. There was very little evidence in them truly understanding and experiencing Jesus as the Son of God. Even after three years of following Him, they were still extremely immature and tremendously lacked in understanding. But what was beginning in them would blossom and bear fruit! Why? Because it is the inherent nature of the Kingdom of God to be the dominant Kingdom, therefore if the seeds of the Kingdom have been planted within us; if they have taken root in good soil in our hearts, then the Kingdom will grow to overshadow the Kingdom of this world in our life! It will eventually outshine every Kingdom in us! The Bible promises us that this is the work that Christ is doing within us, and He will complete it! It is the work of freeing us from sin and darkness and into life and light!
Eternal Hope is not found in the shine and appeal of the Kingdom of this world, but in the Kingdom of God! Which Kingdom is growing and prospering in your heart?
The Kingdom of this world looks like a flashing amazing object. It offers power, fame, and pleasure that are instantly recognized by us. The Kingdom of God offers things that, to our immediate gratification, don’t seem very gratifying. Abandoning everything to follow Jesus; giving up authority over yourself to surrender to Christ; loving others the way Christ has loved and given Himself to us; loving people righteously as He loves us, that is not for selfish gain and pleasure but for their good and benefit, and the list goes on; none of these things sound like gratification to the desires of the flesh and eyes. But ironically, however, when we live a repented life that lets go of the Kingdom of this world, believes in Jesus, follows Him, and obeys His commandments we experience something more gratifying than anything the Kingdom of the World can imagine! A peace and love that is not found in this world!
But it’s not something you get the day you surrender to Jesus. The Kingdom is like a seed planted in your heart but if it is planted in the good soil, that is it is truly received and embraced by you, then it will grow up into what dominates your life. It will define you it will be your identity! You will know yourself and be known by others as one who lives in the Kingdom of God, that is, in glad submission to The King Jesus and as such prospers inwardly and outwardly in all that is valued in His Kingdom!
- Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 83). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
- Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 82). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
- Wright, T. (2004). Mark for Everyone (p. 46). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
- Gould, E. P. (1922). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark (p. 79). New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.
- Hare, D. R. A. (1996). Mark. (P. D. Miller & D. L. Bartlett, Eds.) (p. 58). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
- Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 84). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
- Hare, D. R. A. (1996). Mark. (P. D. Miller & D. L. Bartlett, Eds.) (p. 58). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
- Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (pp. 142–143). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
- Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mk 4:26–29). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
- Hare, D. R. A. (1996). Mark. (P. D. Miller & D. L. Bartlett, Eds.) (p. 59). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
- Wright, T. (2004). Mark for Everyone (p. 48). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
- Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 87). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
- Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 13:31–Mk 4:32). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
- Wright, T. (2004). Mark for Everyone (p. 50). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.