BRIGHT LIGHT DARK SHADOWS
As we look further at the Parables of Jesus, we have already seen how Jesus uses the mystery of concealment and revelation in order to present His message concerning both who He is as God the Son and the powerful inclusion of the Kingdom. These truths are revealed to some and hidden from others by Parabolic teaching. This same function is included in the lamp and the measure and the mystery of growth.
Mark gives us two examples of growth in this section of his Gospel (4:26-32). Mark begins with a Parable about lamps. He also gives a concluding statement about the importance of parables in general (4:33-34). Parables are mystery statements that have to be decoded. In the first example of growth, scholars disagree significantly on the interpretation. Is it the patience of the farmer/Jesus, or is it the mystery of the growth of the seed? Although both have merit, the latter is probably the focus of this Parable. The power of the harvest potential in a single seed is a great truth to ponder. The farmer sows then waits. He isn’t waiting because he doesn’t have anything else to do. He waits because something powerful is happening! He may not be able to articulate what is happening, but he does know that the process that started will continue until the harvest gives up its yield. Join me as we look at LAMPLIGHT, SHADED GROWTH, AND PRONOUNCED GROWTH
Light Under a Basket
21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In the Lamp Parable, most English translator try to cover up what they see as Mark’s rough Greek language usage. It isn’t uncommon to something like “is a lamp brought in or to,” for vs. 21. This is important, as Mark’s original Greek says, “does the lamp come?” It is quite possible that this description of the lamp’s entrance is explained by the simpler Aramaic language bleeding through the Greek clumsily, and that is the approach many scholars take. I think that there is another way to look at this in light of the events that are taking place in the life of Jesus, both in acceptance and in rejection. In this way of thinking, it is more likely that Mark’s Greek is correct and that the lamp is a metaphor for Jesus, who comes in the form (morphe) of man.
The verb come holds a very important meaning in all of the other Gospels, and Mark is no exception to this rule.
“Come” is an important word for understanding Jesus. John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the coming one (1:7). Jesus has come to preach the Good News (1:38). He has also come to call sinners (2:17), come to destroy satan (1:24), come to serve and come to give His life a ransom for many (10:45). This form of the coming of the Messiah could be seen as the secret coming of Jesus, as He came cloaked in secrecy through lowliness, in service and in signs. But all of these types of use of the word come pales in comparison to the other usage of coming that the disciples were waiting for, and we wait for in turn. We wait for the Father’s glory (8:38), the coming on the clouds of heaven (13:26, 14:62), and the coming at the unknown hour (13:35-36).
In V 22 Jesus explains V 21, and contrary to a lot of people’s view, this isn’t a threat that stipulates that all of our hidden sins are going to be put on open display if we don’t watch out. The real meaning of Jesus explanation is that yes the lamp is indeed hidden for a season, but that hiddenness is neither the preferred way of existence, nor is it the finality of the lamp.
Oriental lamps were like a lit match, they needed to be shielded from the wind until they reach their desired end point or resting place. A match has too touch whatever needs to be combusted, and a lamp needs to be set on a lampstand. You don’t put a lamp/flashlight under a box, or under a blanket/bed. This is Jesus in this present evil age. He is protected from full sight by His Father’s hand, but make no mistake about it, there will come a day at the Parousia when Jesus will be seen in all of His radiant glory. Anyone who knows how to read the faith signs and have ears to hear (23), see the light that is coming now even as we await its full manifestation on that day. This same MESSAGE IS REINFORCED IN THE NEXT Parable.
24 Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
The Parable about the measure. This parable is intended to be a puzzle that makes us think as shade is cast at us. The same measure you give or use is meant to challenge us to respond in greater and greater ways to the person of Jesus now in the obscurity of faith. This is suggested by the words “take heed what you hear.” When we express faith and receptivity now, there will be proportionate results later. These results will be beyond measurement, since there is no way for us to truly comprehend the great things God has in store for us (1 Corinthians 2:9). If you have it, you are blessed, as “to him who now has,” they possess the seed of God’s word, and even more will be given to them. The opposite is also true. For those who refuse the offered gift, even what he has will be taken away.
That last statement is an invitation for us to pause and reflect about how the Word of God affects us and the entire orientation of our lives. We have a gift that is beyond our merit, beyond our imagination and certainly beyond our human ability to produce. When we receive this radical Gospel of Grace, it opens us up to this new, radical world of God’s making in Christ Jesus. It’s a Kingdom kind of thing.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
In this case, the point about the Parable of the harvest seems to refer to the final judgement. This the act where God establishes His permanent reign among men, as we are fully redeemed. We assume this, as the sickle and ripened harvest carry an echo of Joel 3:13-16, where these symbols represent judgement, put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow—For their wickedness is great.” 14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. 16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
The process of judgement has begun in the person and ministry of preaching of Jesus, as all judgement will now go through Him until that final day. The new word that proceeds from Jesus is THE God Word and it contains a faithfulness in and of itself that is the same as Isaiah’s pronouncement about God in Isaiah 55:10-11, 10 for as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
This twist in His teaching may have been produced to serve as a restraining force for Jesus more radical disciples who were associated with the Zealots. These disciples wanted to bring about the introduction of the Kingdom through violence, like Judas. Whether or not that is correct, and I think it is, the Parable does stress that the sower, who could be seen as either Jesus in His preaching or even the disciples (including us) preaching, there should never be anxiety about the results that the word will always produce. When its harvest time, there will be a harvest. Why? Because God’s Word is like seed, it is endowed with a life of its own.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”
The Parable of the sewn grain focuses on the mystery of the self-induced process of growth. The Mustard Seed Parable focuses on of the end product verses the beginning of the works of God. The largest of shrubs come from dinky-donker seeds. The sheltering of the birds helps us to see the reality of what is happening, as it emphasizes SIZE. The Kingdom of God is massively big and it is more than capable of taking care of its own.
Both Parables about seed confront us with our understanding of THE WORD, which inevitably is foreign to us and our understanding of it as a living entity. Here’s an interesting way to look at the point. In our western culture, we place great emphasis on the power of the written word as in contracts and memorialized documents. They have the greatest weight in a court of law, as they are signed by the interested parties. This wasn’t the case in the Judeo culture, which would see the bypassing of the power of a given word guarantee as an insult to the personal integrity of the person giving their word. It’s like our adage, my word is my bond. Sometimes our culture sees the spoken word like the wind. It comes. It goes. It has no lasting substance.
There is a major aspect of this word as bond principle seen in Scripture. In the Bible, when a word is uttered or given, the totality of the person is involved. It even goes further, as a person’s word can create a future in both blessing and in curse, and in both instances, once the word is spoken, it begins to take on an independent life. The best example of this is Isaac, who gave his paternal blessing to his younger son in a case of deception and mistaken identity. Isaac could not recall his spoken blessing. It was a done deal. His best option was to issue a second blessing to try and neutralize some of the implications of the errant blessing.
This power of words to work long after they are spoken explains for us why the Bible is so against evil speech, gossip, and malicious words spoken against others. This type of speech is condemned in the Bible repeatedly. The implied comparison is obvious.
If mere men have this type of power in their words, how much more when God Himself speaks? God’s words are like fire. The consume and warm, and they are like a hammer shattering a rock, Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jeremiah 23:29)? God’s Word is like the rain that brings harvest, (Isaiah 55:10-11). His Word creates (Genesis 1), and God’s Word is life to mankind, So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus now adds to our understanding of the power of this Word by telling us that it is like seed in its power and independence. Anyone who has seen grass break through pavement knows the power of seed and its independence (modern Parable).
Jesus’ Use of Parables
33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.
So, what’s the point? Jesus is trying to instill in us an overwhelming confidence in the power of His Word to achieve the ending that it was sent to create in the story of your life. Will there be obstacles and stumblings? Inevitably. But be of good cheer. God’s Word will still be productive and fruitful in your life. In this case, it is the Word of the Kingdom that has been sown into our race, and in specific, into your heart. Jesus preaching the Kingdom has placed the seed in us. Now we have the great privilege of bearing good fruit.