Mark 4:21-34

We live in a broken world.  God may have declared in the beginning that “It is good.” But we are often left wondering to what extent this is still true. Sin and death and evil and depravity and darkness and uncertainty and brokenness and sickness are constant reminders that this world is not what it once was.   I want you to see in the passage this week how the kingdom of God – the kingdom that Jesus is both announcing and indeed firmly establishing – makes sense of our life in a broken world. Jesus shares three parables that explain the nature of the kingdom of God.  And these parables should give us hope that what God is doing in the midst of our pain is more glorious than we would have ever dared hope.

21And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”

The “them” in verse 21 refers to Jesus’ disciples.  Remember that Jesus had just finished explaining to his confused disciples the meaning of the parable of the four soils.   Perhaps his disciples were hoping that there would be more happening at this point in Jesus’ ministry.  For bystanders it mattered relatively little, but for these men who had left everything, they wanted to know – is this it?  This is great to see the crowds but is this all there is to the kingdom of God?  We will sow some seeds and if the seeds land on good soil, there will be growth?  Is this it?  Jesus’ own family believe he is crazy.  The scribes believe him to be possessed by the devil.  The crowds constantly surround him but as we will soon discover they too are confused by Jesus.  Is this it?

Jesus shares with his disciples a parable about a lamp on a stand.  In other parables the lamp or the light represents the church or individual Christians, but here the lamp refers to Jesus.  He has come to be the light of world (c.f. John 8:12).  No light or lamp is brought into a room to be hidden but rather to be put on a  stand.  Jesus is saying if it appears that I am being concealed and hidden from the world at the moment, rejoice, because I will not be hidden for long.  For nothing is hidden or secret except to be revealed.

“23If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24And 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. 25For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

In the previous parable about the four soils, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah saying “so that they may indeed see but not perceive and may hear but not understand (Mark 4:12);” but, here he says if anyone ears, let him use them to hear.  Let them understand rightly!  With the measure you use to hear, you will be able to understand.  When the seed lands on good soil, it will bear much fruit.  But if you have concluded wrongly about Jesus and his kingdom, even what understanding you have, will wither away in the scorching sun.

26And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Jesus continues.  He opens his mouth says and “the kingdom of God is…”  If he had paused at this point in his sentence, perhaps we would finish his sentence for him.  The kingdom of God is like a fierce and mighty army.  The kingdom of God is like impenetrable fortress atop a majestic hill. But Jesus continues the kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.  Not exactly an impressive image.

The emphasis here is on the power of the seed itself.  The man sowing seed – which is what Jesus is sending his disciples out to do and what he sends us out to do – has one main role: to sow the seeds.  That is it.  He goes about the business of his life – sleeping, rising – and without him even understanding how, the seed grows.

What a comforting word for us.  We live in a world that has given us the allusion of control. We can monitor every aspect of our life – from our heart beat to our wifi-enabled refrigerators – all from anywhere in the world and all moment by moment.  And what has this control produced in us?  Greater peace?  Less anxiety?  Quite the opposite – we live in an age of restlessness.

But Jesus says the sower of the seeds in his kingdom will sleep and rise – and yet the kingdom still grows.  Perhaps Paul had this parable in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).”

Sometimes the kingdom of God will grow through us and other times in spite of us or apart from us. But it will grow.  Little by little.  First the blade and then the ear and then the full grain.  It is a process that begins slow but will come to a certain conclusion when the harvest time arrives.

30And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32yet 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.”

The final parable continues the thought begun in the previous parables.  While the kingdom might seem unimpressive to the causal observer, there is a tremendous work going on beneath the surface.  Jesus uses the example of the mustard seed – the smallest of all the seeds of the earth – which grows to become a large garden plant.


If this is true about Jesus’ kingdom, it means good news for us.  It means:

#1 We can rest because we are not in control.

We live in a world that has sold us the lie that we can be in control of all the details of our lives.  I remember reading a few years ago the cover article of TIME magazine which was entitled “Can Google Solve Death?”   The sub-text of the article was hopeful: “The search giant is launching a venture to extend the human life span.  That would be crazy — if it weren’t Google.”  We’ve bought a lie. Our insatiable desire for control has led to an age of restlessness – because control always lies just over the horizon.

Jesus will build his church.  The sower sows his seed and goes to bed.  When we come to see that it is not us directing the affairs of our lives, we will have rest.

#2 There is a meaning in our suffering.

Despite the apparent darkness of our current circumstances we know that Jesus is slowly and certainly building his kingdom.  German theologian and pastor of the mid-20th century, Helmut Thielicke puts it this way:

“One day, perhaps, when we look back from God’s throne on the last day we shall say with amazement and surprise, ‘If I had ever dreamed when I stood at the graves of my loved ones and everything seemed to be ended; if I had ever dreamed when I saw the specter of atomic war creeping upon us; if I had ever dreamed when I faced the meaningless fate of an endless imprisonment or a malignant disease; if I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through all these woes, that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair his harvest was ripening, and that every thing was pressing on toward his last kingly day — if I had known this I would have been more calm and confident; yes, then I would have been more cheerful and more tranquil and composed.”  (Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father, Location 1670).

Discussion Questions

Jesus explains the nature of the kingdom of God in three parables.  We will consider each parable in turn.

A Lamp Under a Basket (v.21-25)

  1. Who or what does the lamp represent in this parable?  What might cause it to be hidden and not on a stand?  Why would verse 22 be hopeful for the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking?
  2. Verses 23 to 25 focus on hearing rightly.  What do we learn about how to hear from Jesus?

The Parable of the Growing Seed (v.26-29)

  1. What does the seed represent in this parable?  Who is the sower?  What do you think is the main point Jesus is attempting to communicate about the kingdom of God?
  2. Why is it significant that the sower “sleeps and rises night and day?”
  3. How might this parable help us to rest in God?

The Parable of the Mustard Seed [&Conclusion] (v.30-34)

  1. What themes or ideas from the previous two parables are repeated here?
  2. What do you think is the main point Jesus is communicating in this parable?
  3. How does this parable give us hope?

Are there any other ways you would apply the truths of this passage to our life?


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