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Mark 4:1-34
Last week the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl.
Some of you cried, but many of you rejoiced.
They proved that they were the best football team in the NFL and their fans and many people across the country celebrated.
Beginning this weekend, all eyes will be on Vancouver.
The line I have heard from Canadians involved is that Canada is going to “own the podium.”
Of course they will have to prove that they are the best by their performance.
If they prove it and do win many medals, our whole country will rejoice.
Many across the world will watch the Olympics and celebrate the victory of the medal winners.
Jesus Christ has conquered death and been raised from the dead and established a new kingdom and the whole world shrugs its shoulders.
Compared to the Super Bowl or the Olympics what Jesus did is so much greater, and yet fewer people actually get excited about it.
If God has such a great kingdom, why doesn’t everyone accept it?
Why don’t we see the victory of God displayed all over the place?
Why does it seem like it is a small thing?
Why isn’t it celebrated with trumpets and banners around the whole world?
Mark 4:1-34 answers that question.
Jesus was on the shore of Galilee and there was such a large crowd that he used a boat from which to speak.
The key words we hear in this passage are seed, seeing, hearing and kingdom of God.
The themes which Jesus spoke about were the nature of the kingdom of God, the secrecy of the kingdom of God and the need for true hearing.
In this context, he answers the question “Why is the kingdom of God not recognized by everyone all over the universe?”
I.                   Why Secrecy?
!! A.                 The Kingdom Is Meant To Be Disclosed
This is the kind of oil lamp which they used in the time of Jesus.
They put oil in this part and a wick in the spout and that is where they lit the lamp.
In Mark 4:21-23, Jesus uses the picture of a lamp and asks, “when you light a lamp do you put it under a basket or under your bed?”
It would not make sense to do that.
When we light a lamp, its purpose is to give light.
What is the point of this picture?
What Jesus was communicating with this picture is that God’s intention is not to hide the message of the Kingdom of God.
It is God’s intention to display that kingdom for all to see.
Cole says, “…the ultimate purpose of the parable is thus not to conceal truth but to reveal it.”
!! B.                 Yet Seeing, People Are Not Seeing
But that is not what we see.
In the verses which precede this we find that God seems to deliberately hide the message of the kingdom.
In fact, in 4:11 Jesus actually speaks about “the secret of the kingdom of God.” Jesus hid the message by speaking in parables.
In vs. 2 it says, “he taught them many things by parables.”
At the end of the passage we are looking at today it says, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them.”
As we see, however, the parables were not used to help people understand things, but they had the effect of veiling things.
After Jesus told the first parable in Mark 4:3-8, the disciples came to him, in verse 10, and “asked him about the parables.”
They did not understand why He would use such cryptic language.
It seems that Jesus used parables to deliberately hide the truth about the kingdom of God.
In Mark 4:12, Jesus quoted a verse from Isaiah 6:9, 10.
We read, "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 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’””
Similar ideas are found in Jeremiah 5:21which says, "Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear:" They are also found in Ezekiel 12:2 where we read, "“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people.
They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.”
These verses help us understand that parables are addressed to those who listen to Jesus with unbelieving hearts.
Parables give them the message of the kingdom, but they don’t hear with believing hearts and so the message of the kingdom is veiled to them.
Two words for seeing are used in this Mark 4:12, so that what it says is, they see, but don’t see.
The Message puts it this way, “These are people—Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing, Whose ears are open but don’t understand a word, Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.”
There is deliberate irony in this verse.
God wants them to turn and repent, but their hearts are not in the place to believe so they listen to all the messages, but they don’t get them.
They see, but they don’t perceive.
They hear, but they don’t understand and so the message of the kingdom remains a secret to them.
Geddert points out that Jesus was doing kingdom stuff by teaching and healing and casting out demons.
He says, “…if those around Jesus allow their ears to truly hear and their eyes to truly see, they will discern in Jesus’ words and deeds the arrival of God’s kingdom.”
He also says, “Contrary to all expectation, the kingdom comes secretly; its presence is discerned only by those who recognize God at work in the ministry and message of Jesus.”
!! C.                 The Call to Listen!
Thus the explanation for why the victory of Jesus is not celebrated by everyone worldwide is that God intends it to remain hidden from those who do not come to him with hearts prepared to hear.
The message of Jesus is that the evidence of the kingdom of God is clear enough, but only to those whose hearts are ready see it.
But the intent of this message is not to criticize, but rather to call people to pay close attention and see with eyes of faith.
He begins the parable of the soils with the word “listen!” in Mark 4:3.
When he has told the parable, he concludes, in verse 9, with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
After the parable in Mark 4:21-23 about hiding the light, Jesus once again says in verse 23, “If anyone has ears let him hear.”
So it is clearly evident that Jesus wants people to understand what he is about, but the message of the kingdom of God is revealed only to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear and so the appeal is to listen with eyes and ears of faith.
Cole explains, “Other teachers might rejoice when great crowds followed them, but not so the Lord; for He knew only too well the mixed motives of the human heart.
Here is a strange Teacher; His parables are designed to test, not the intelligence, but the spiritual responsiveness of His hearers.”
Listening is open to all, hearing happens for those whose hearts are open.
Whoever Has Ears Let Them Hear
!! A.                 Why People Don’t Listen
So why don’t people get it?
Why are they not able to hear the truth about the kingdom with open hearts?
The answer to that question is given in the parable of the soils.
As Jesus stood on the shore of the lake, he could look out on the surrounding hills and perhaps in the distance he saw a sower casting seed.
When you sow with machinery, you can determine where every seed lands much more accurately, but if you have a small field and use the broadcast method of sowing, it is inevitable that some of the seed will fall on the path.
Here the ground is hard and birds soon come and take it away.
Others fall on soil that has rocks underneath the surface.
These plants sprout, but they have no depth of soil and don’t last long when the sun gets warm.
Still others fall among the thorns and when the weeds grow up they take all the nutrients and moisture and the plant does not do well.
But many of the seeds fall on good soil where they sprout and grow and produce a harvest.
When Jesus was together with his disciples, he explained this parable.
Although he does not indicate why different people’s hearts are in different places, the reality is that they are.
Some people hear the word but the problem is, as Jesus implies in Mark 4:15, that their hearts are hard.
They are totally closed to the message of the kingdom and Satan is there quickly taking away any hope of hearing.
Their hard hearts and Satan’s enmity combine to prevent the message from penetrating their hearts.
Some people gladly hear and receive the word, but the truth of the kingdom does not penetrate deeply into their hearts.
When things get hard because of persecution, which the Bible tells us is inevitable for the people of God, they do not have roots deep enough to keep them faithful at this time.
We have heard of believers in North Africa who are being arrested for their faith and churches which are being broken up.
We have been asked to pray that they will remain firm.
If they have no depth of soil, they are in danger of falling away.
Their shallow faith is revealed when the pressures of the world come and prevent the message of the kingdom from penetrating deeply enough into their hearts to truly grasp it so that they remain true.
Still others are like the seed sown among the weeds.
They receive the word, they understand it, but there is so much other stuff in their life that the word of God has little chance of deeply impacting their life.
Jesus mentions three “thorns.”
First of all he mentions the thorn of worry about this life.
If we are filled with fear about all the things that could happen in life, then we will not allow the message of the kingdom to penetrate into our hearts.
The second thorn he mentions is the thorn of the deceitfulness of wealth.
The Bible has a lot of warnings about the danger of the desire to get wealthy.
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