Questioning Through Mark: 4:21-24

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you– and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

1. Have we deceived ourselves that the kingdom of God is all love and peace? Freedom for the chained? Justice for the oppressed? How beautiful God’s kingdom is that it does bring freedom and justice, love and peace. But it brings those things because sin is dealt with. And how is sin dealt with? Through judgement. Through the satisfaction of God’s wrath as it is poured out on Jesus on the cross.

This passage is not about letting your witness shine, as we might want to pretend it is. The judgment of God is real–holy wrath worked out against sin. God’s kingdom shines the light of truth to reveal sin’s hidden, deceptive ways. God’s kingdom brings into the light that which is broken and ugly. That which must be dealt with.

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Which is why Jesus said, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and he wants us to hear. He wants us to come into the light, have our sins revealed before the cross and dealt with. Better now than later.

2. So do we hear? Can we hear? Satan doesn’t want us to hear. Sometimes our ears are filled with good sounding things that culture tells us is truth. Our ears are full of the mundane. Daily tasks yell at us. Whining children distract us. Silly things amuse us. And we don’t hear.

Lord, strip away the lies from our ears. Give us ears to hear.

We don’t have ears to hear–not on our own.

3. What measure are you using? Are we letting God reveal and deal with our sin through the judgment and wrath Christ bears? Or are we placating ourselves and others by false ideas of grace–that truth is relevant and our actions will not truly be judged as sin? When we use God’s kingdom measure–a measure that finds wrath satisfied in the sacrifice of Christ–we also receive that measure of grace. When we use the measure of relevance–a measure that excuses sin and its penalties–we receive the fruit of that measure, a measure that has no power to save or justify. So let us hold up the standard of truth as expressed in scripture. Let us take cover in the justification of Jesus’ blood, and thus receive true grace, the withholding of God’s wrath.

 

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Defending Christ

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When Christ is slurred everywhere in the media–and his followers with him–I can become discouraged. After the fight dies out in me (that charge-into-battle mentality that has me spitting out verses and defenses to my patient husband), I come to rest on one reality:

Christ doesn’t need my defense. He doesn’t need me to prove him to the world. He’s capable of proving himself.

Christ requires my faithfulness.

It’s that simple. I don’t need to contribute a brilliant apologetic of the faith, though some are gifted with that and I admire them. But when words fail and we are left looking like foolish people (Paul warned that the Gospel would be foolishness to the world), we can rest ourselves on his faithfulness and offer ours in return.

“Be faithful even to the point of death,
and I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation 2:10

We are not instructed to deliver a stellar apologetic to the point of death, but to be faithful. To not shy away from our alliance with Jesus Christ and his holy word. To hold unswervingly to the truth of scripture as our guide for life when many others toss aside the authority of scripture.

Sometimes being faithful means looking like a fool, and if that is the case, God’s faithfulness will carry us.

Questioning Through Mark: 4:10-20

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When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 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!'”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop– thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

I’ve not been looking forward to these verses. The quote from Isaiah is one of the hardest pieces of scripture for me to understand, so truly, I’m questioning this morning, “Why, Jesus?” I’m okay if I don’t receive a clear answer because part of faith is clinging to the Person of Jesus and trusting that the Bible’s life-giving truth is not dependent upon my understanding (or lack of).

Why would Jesus want his words to be hard to understand, and thus salvation hidden from the common listener?

This parable is found in Matthew and Luke as well, and Matthew’s presentation of it offers insight. Here is Matthew’s relaying of Jesus’ explanation to the disciples (starting at 13:10):

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Point one: The parable of the sower is about the kingdom of God. Jesus’ coming to earth was to bring God’s kingdom here–“as it is in heaven.” But the reality is that not all receive his kingdom, which is partly what this parable is saying.

Point two: We know from other passages of scripture that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world,” (John 3:17). And consider Jesus’ words, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” (John 6:39-40). Ironically, Jesus spoke these words during a particularly hard teaching after which many stopped following him.

Which leads me to the questions . . .

1. Are we yielded to the voice of the Holy Spirit? Because without this Guide, we can’t understand God’s words, and furthermore, we can’t follow him. One of the concepts of this passage, as we see in Matthew’s version, is that when we yield to the Holy Spirit and truly hear the Gospel, we are set in motion to hearing and understanding: Whoever has will be given more . . .

But the flip side is, whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. From the world’s perspective, the Gospel is foolishness. It is not only confusing; it’s a turnoff. And the more people turn from the Gospel, the harder it is to come back. Truth rejected is a seed that takes root, making the heart soil hard and impenetrable. In other words, good soil leads to abundance, and but bad soil takes the heart down a path of increasing hardness. So I ask . . .

2. Have you grown hard-hearted? It’s easy to consider Jesus’ explanation of this parable as categories by which we can file people we know. But this is not so. Gospel-response is a continuum, not a set of categories, and all of us move along that continuum during different seasons or situations of life. For instance, I might have a heart of good soil when I consider God’s instruction for controlling my speech and treating those around me with patience and love. But when I come up against a hard teaching, and culture wants to pull me in a direction away from scripture, is my heart good for Gospel seed or does it turn to the rocky path? You see, the dynamic between hard and soft heartedness is tricky. On the one hand, we see God hardening hearts (Pharaoh) but we also hear the imperative from the author of Hebrews not to harden our hearts. Thus, there is a human component to hard-heartedness and I think Jesus hits on that here in Mark.

Conclusion: God desires all to be saved. But because he’s given us the choice to choose or reject him, all will not be saved. However, this parable promises that good soil produces a huge crop, “thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” So even though Jesus quotes Isaiah about many not understanding, his parable promises that many will be saved–through the witness of those who receive his seed in good, fertile soil. But lest we take credit for having good soil, we are reminded that ears to hear is something given to us (verse 11) and not of our own doing.

 

The Cure for Discontentment

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
Psalm 27:4

“Keep your eye on the ball.” Who hasn’t been told this at least once? Whether you actually plaid a sport where this was necessary, or just suffered through a P.E. class, you’ve heard these instructive words.

And cringed–because the reason you heard these words was that you swung and missed.

Maybe your heart has swung and missed today, so let me breathe a bit of hope into you and say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus. Gaze on his beauty.”

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Let me tell you a bit about God’s glory: it’s beautiful, weighty, and ours for enjoying in Jesus Christ.

Let me tell you something else about God’s glory. It is the only thing that satisfies us because HIS GLORY is the essence of his goodness. We can cast our gazes on many things that contain a reflection of his glory–and find a modicum of satisfaction–but until we gaze upon Jesus, the fullness of his glory, our hearts will remain discontent.

So what are you waiting for? Why settle for water that does not quench when Living Water is available?

Look to Jesus and see in his glory an invitation to true worship. When you look, you will see, for he has promised, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

 

Questioning Through Mark: 4:1-9

The Parable of the Sower:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

1. Do you have ears to hear? Ears to hear compared to what? Ears to speak or see? Jesus’ phrasing is interesting. Ears, by nature, are for hearing. So why does Jesus say “ears to hear” instead of “Do you hear?” Because Jesus is highlighting the difficulty of hearing truth and receiving it into the heart. Hearing is more than processing sound. It is internalizing the heart of what is being said and responding to it with wisdom and understanding. Ironically, in the next passage, Jesus must explain to his disciples what the parable means. And the whole point of the parable is that some who hear the Gospel get it and produce fruit, and some don’t–for various reasons like temptation or worldly cares.

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2. What are your expectations for the Gospel? Are we expecting that every time the Gospel goes out it will land on good soil? Or are our hearts defeated and frustrated, believing that the only soil left is shallow and that the seeds of the Gospel can find no good place to land anymore? Jesus relies on common agricultural knowledge in this parable. Farmers sowed seed indiscriminately over a wide area of land, sometimes through crossroads, knowing that not all seed would provide crop. Sometimes, seed was sown before the ground was even plowed–on hard soil–and then farmers went back and plowed later. What is Jesus’ point? Not all who hear will receive and produce a crop. Many who hear the Gospel will not receive it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t spread the seed. We are called to be farmers of the Gospel. 

3. Are you farming the Gospel? Or are you concerned with sowing something else? Some other legacy? Some other good cause? It is no good to fight for issues of social justice without the backdrop of the cross and resurrection and a call to repentance.

An Every Day Sabbath

The difference between living shackled to the law or free in grace?

The Sabbath Lifestyle.

An Every Day Sabbath

Just because Christ has come and inaugurated the New Covenant doesn’t mean we can toss the Sabbath to the roadside. The rhythm of Sabbath is woven into the creation of this world. A principle as old as the beginning of heaven, earth, and time.

The message for us? We need Sabbath like we need our next breath. The gift Christ bought for us on the cross is the gift of rest: rest from guilt and condemnation, rest from the mandates of the law, rest from the punishment of hell.

Christ fulfilled the letter of the Sabbath law to provide for us an opportunity to enter fully into the lifestyle of the Sabbath. Every day. Rest for our striving souls.

The author of Hebrews, echoing the Psalmist, expounds:

“‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’ Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

Do you hear the warning? By recalling the sins of the Israelite’s–who failed to accept God’s gift of rest–the author of Hebrews encourages us to press in to the Sabbath lifestyle because therein lies promises and all the gifts of grace we need to live a godly life (read Hebrews chapters 3 and 4).

Do not resolve to live the Sabbath life this year, for what good is our own resolve? It flourishes for a little while–or for those with greater discipline, a longer while–but eventually our discipline sputters out and leaves us aching in our failure. So do not resolve (conjure up from your own strength).

Rather, accept and abide. Accept that God has offered you more than you could ever have earned. Abide in the presence of Jesus, your Rest.

Promise of Rest

The Sabbath lifestyle recognizes that nothing we do is enough (need), that all that He does is more than enough (provision), and that resting in his enough overcomes our not enough (grace).

Let this be our mantra for the New Year: that Sabbath is available to us every day, in the midst of all circumstances, and triumphing over all emotional states.