April 3, 2016
Last week, I shared with you a little about my summer between colleges working at a cemetery. But, I left out part of the story. When I first came home to Greenville from a military school in Colorado, I needed to get a summer job since the government was no longer going to pay for my education. So, I looked through the classifieds. Oh, for some of you, the classifieds are where you found job postings in this thing called a newspaper. A newspaper was how you read the news before the Internet and smart phones – it was actually a print piece on whitish paper called newsprint in largely black letters with some variation in font sizes. Your fingers actually turned black as you read the paper. The neighborhood paperboy delivered the newspaper to your house early every morning. That was actually my first job when I was in junior high – getting up at 5:00 in the morning, inserting the ads, rolling them up, putting a rubber band around them, and delivering newspapers on my bicycle. Never mind.
When I got home that summer between colleges, I first got a job with a roofing company. In Greenville. In the summer. And it wasn’t residential tile roofing – it was commercial, tar and gravel roofing. Hot tar. In Greenville. In the summer. The first day on the job, I carried buckets of hot tar up a ladder. Up and down all day long. I noticed the other guys had their shirts off. So I took mine off. In Greenville. In the summer. All day. After all, I was 6’1”, 145 lbs. – I’m sure I cut quite the figure.
That night, when I got home, to say I was in pain would be an understatement. Not only from carrying five gallon buckets of hot tar up a ladder all day – but my back and shoulders were one massive blister – not kidding. My brother rigged up a fan to blow across my back all night long. After a week of that – I had to find a new job – I found one at Greenville Memorial Gardens, and two weeks later, I was out of there. Why two weeks? That’s something else we used to do – it’s called a two-week notice.
I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where we make a commitment before we know everything, right? You do that all the time. When you interview for a new job, you can read the job description, but you don’t know everything about the job – there is an element of faith or trust to accept the position.
When you find that special someone, start dating or courting, make a commitment and get married – there’s an element of faith. You find out, when you’re living under the same roof – you didn’t know everything. But once you took the step of faith, and made the commitment, your understanding began to grow. There’s nothing like making a commitment, being in, to understand. In fact, in some sense, you have to be in to fully understand.
There was a nationally known Christian speaker years ago who used to travel the country teaching on marriage and parenting. He gathered quite the following – he was homeshool guru. The only problem – he’d never been married – never had kids. Now, I’m not saying you can’t understand some principles of marriage and family without actually having one – but there’s nothing like the understanding that comes from experience – from being an insider.
I will go one step further – you cannot fully understand the Christian faith without being a Christian. Without making the commitment to believe. It’s when you get in, you begin to more fully understand. You see, there’s a lot of profound evidence to prove the reliability of the Christian faith. Lots of supporting historical data to prove the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But in the end, it is the Christian faith. And it takes trust. Most of us know that famous verse in Hebrews 11, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And when you’re in, it is then you begin to understand more. In I Corinthians 1, Paul writes these words:
18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
How do you explain that? The wisdom of this world stands in dark contrast to the wisdom of God. And so, you’re on one side, or the other. And then, in chapter 2 of I Corinthians, continuing this theme, Paul writes:
7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” [that’s not talking about heaven – that’s talking about the Gospel.]
10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,
13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.
16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
Do you see what Paul is saying in those passages? The cross – the Christian faith – is foolishness to those who don’t believe. Because the things of faith are spiritual. And only the Spirit of God knows the spiritual things of God. But we, believers, have received the Spirit of God so we can freely understand the things of God. We have the very mind of Christ.
But, here’s the question – what came first? Understanding or belief. It has to be faith. Commitment. There is enough rational evidence to believe the Christian faith. So take the plunge. Make the commitment. Believe. If you don’t, you’ll never fully get it.
I believe this is what we find in universities across our country which try to discredit the Christian faith. Some – not all – we have a number of Christian faculty and staff at ASU – but some don’t believe and seek to discredit it – because they don’t get it. And they never will – until they believe. And so, when your professors or people on the Internet who don’t believe make fun of those who do – of course. You understand, but they don’t have the Spirit of God – they are dead in their sin. They mock, they scorn – they’re dead. They can’t understand. And on the one hand, we can grieve because they don’t believe. We can cling to our faith and share it with them in the midst of ridicule and scorn. But on the other hand, be encouraged. We inwardly smile, not in derision, but we’re insiders – we get it. It’s been granted to us to believe.
This is what Jesus is teaching in Mark 4. You remember the Gospel of Mark has more action than the other Gospel accounts – less teaching. In fact, there are only two extended portions of Jesus teaching in this Gospel – Mark 4, and Mark 13. We find ourselves in the midst of Mark 4 – the parables of the kingdom. Jesus is telling us what the kingdom will be like. And He teaches in parables – because truth will be kept from those who don’t believe – but truth and faith will be deepened through the parables for those who do believe.
We started with the parable of the sower a couple weeks ago. You’ll remember the emphasis there was on the soils – the reception of the seed. We found the seed to be the word of God – the message of the kingdom Jesus came to bring – repent, and believe the gospel. And by believing, by becoming followers of Jesus – you become insiders, and the truths of the kingdom are for you, and you only.
You see, there are four types of soils – or hearers. Those with hard hearts – the truth doesn’t penetrate hearts of stone at all. In fact, when the gospel is heard, Satan comes and snatches it up right away. Some seed falls in rocky soil – there are immediately signs of life. The seed grows, but when affliction or persecution comes because of the word, it quickly dies. It’s not real. Then there’s the seed that falls among the thorns. These are hearers who receive with joy, but then soon get sidetracked by worries of this life and wealth of the world – choking out faith. Only the seed that finds good soil – receptive hearts – produce a crop. And so Jesus says, he who has ears to hear, let them hear.
He goes on to talk about the nature of the kingdom in the next few verses – the fact that the light of the gospel will shine everywhere – some will believe, and some won’t. Read the text with me – Mark 4:21-25.
That’s a little confusing at first glance. Let’s spend a few minutes taking it apart – trying to grasp what Jesus means, after all, we’re insiders. We’ve received the Spirit of God so we can understand the things of God. There are two parables or two analogies here. They’re common sayings or everyday concepts that communicate spiritual truth.
Mark starts both sayings with the phrase, “And He was saying to them…” First question is, who is the them? The closest antecedent is the Twelve and the other disciples to whom He had just explained the Parable of the Sower. But, after these two sayings, Jesus gives a couple more parables, and Mark reminds us again in verses 33 and 34 that Jesus spoke parables to the crowds. So which one is it? We can’t really be sure, but most think He’s speaking to His disciples in verses 21-25 and to the crowds when He gives those last two parables in verses 26-32. Here’s the quick outline if you want one:
- The Analogy (Parable) of the Lamp (21-23)
- The Analogy (Parable) of the Measure (24-25)
Let’s look start with the first of the two sayings. He asks two questions in verse 21, clearly expecting a no answer with the first one, and a yes answer with the second one. He then applies the saying in verse 22. Look at the questions first – clear questions with expected answers. “A lamp [which was an oil lamp with a bowl usually placed on a lampstand for light] is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed?” Obviously not – a lamp is brought to bring light – to put in under a basket or bed would defeat its purpose.
Now, this isn’t actually the best translation. More literally, the verse reads, “The lamp does not come to be put under a basket or a bed, does it?” And the answer is no. Notice, there is a definite article – not just any lamp, but the lamp. And the lamp is the subject of the sentence – the lamp does not come to be hidden, is the idea. You say, okay, so what’s your point. Most agree the lamp is either Jesus or the message of the kingdom, or both – which makes sense, since He came to bring the message of the kingdom. The meaning then seems to be, Jesus hasn’t come to bring the message of the gospel for it to be hidden, has He – for it be put under a basket or a bed? Of course not – He and His gospel have come to be put on a lampstand – to bring light.
So look how Jesus applies it in verse 22. “For nothing is hidden except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.” What does that mean? We have to remember the context of Mark’s gospel. Jesus came veiled in human flesh. He came teaching with authority, driving out demons, and healing people of every imaginable disease. Some believed, many didn’t. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, they believed. But others who saw the same evidence refused to believe.
And remember, He instructed demons and those healed, over and over, keep quiet. We’ve called it the Messianic secret. He was not the Messiah the Jews expected. He came not to throw off the tyranny of Rome but rather the tyranny of sin. He was not what they expected. Not only that, now was not His time. He had work to do, teaching to give, a band of disciples to gather.
John said it this way – He was the light of the world. The light shined in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend or understand it. It was hidden – only made known to those who would believe. Because had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But they did, according to divine plan.
But don’t miss this. While He was veiled in human flesh, while the Messianic secret was in place, it would not remain so. Verse 22 – that which was hidden has been revealed. Through His death, burial and resurrection that we celebrated last weekend, His work is finished. And those who know are to share it – put it on a lampstand. Reveal it. He told His disciples, that which I’ve whispered to you in secret, shout from the rooftops.
This is great news – it needs to be shared. It needs to be brought into the light. But still, not all will believe this good news. There all kinds of verses that talk about the light of the gospel – one is in 2 Corinthians 4:
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,
4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
So we preach the gospel of the glory of Christ, trusting that God will cause dark, dead hearts to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But, you have to believe to see. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Which brings us to the second analogy in verses 24 and 25. And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to.” Stop right there. Don’t miss the admonition to hear again. Ten times in this section of the parables, Jesus highlights listening. Here, He literally says, See that you hear. “By your standard of measure it will be measured to you…” What does mean? Jesus uses this common analogy several times in His teaching – we see it in Matthew and Luke for example when He talks about judging. But here, the context is receiving the word, believing it – the standard by which you measure – whether you listen will be measured to you.
Look at the rest of it, “and more will be given you besides.” Jesus applies the saying in verse 25, “For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” In the context – if you hear and believe, more understanding will be given. But you hear and refuse to believe, even what you have will be taken away. It was a common saying – we have it today, “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” That’s the idea. Believe, and you’ll receive more. You’ll understand more. Refuse to believe, and even what you have will die – it will snatched away by Satan, dried up by affliction and persecution, or choked out by the worries and the world and the deceitfulness of wealth.
So you have a choice. There is a rationality, a reliability to the Gospel message. Jesus proved He was who He said He was by His teaching, by His exorcisms, by His miracles, by His death, burial and resurrection. You can weigh that evidence and believe – and you’ll receive the Spirit of God by whom you’ll understand more. You’ll understand the things of God. Refuse to believe, and even what you have will be taken from you. But the message today is to believe – because eye has not seen, ear has not heard all that God has prepared for those who believe.
We are about to enter a time of communion where we participate together in the bread and cup – two symbols that remind us of the broken body and shed blood of Christ – undeniable truth. And every month, on the first Sunday of the month, we do this little dance. I invite everyone who believes to participate. And if you don’t believe, I invite you to believe. To ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and be the Lord of your life.
And some of you do the two step and sidestep the issue. I don’t believe – I need more evidence, I need more proof. I need my questions answered. And there’s a place for that. In fact, we have an apologetics ministry that seeks to give answers to the tough questions – several of the guys who run that ministry are in this church – and if you have questions, see me – I’ll put you in touch with them.
But, I want you to understand this morning – you have to believe in order to fully understand. And there is enough rational evidence for you to commit. And by doing so, you will receive Spirit of God, by whom you will understand the things of God. What is keeping you from committing? So today, I simply ask you, invite, won’t you believe? It’s called the Christian faith.