Mark 4:21-34 – Figuratively Speaking

Discussion question:

What do you remember about the parable of the four soils?

Read Mark 4:21-34

Context

Jesus declared in Chapter 1 that he has come to preach the word about the kingdom of God (Mk1:14-15, 38, 2:2). In Chapter 4 he used a quote from Isaiah to explain that he will be preaching many things in parables so that those who have ears to hear will hear. It is those who hear and actively participate in their personal kingdom growth who will thrive (Mark 4:1-20). The kingdom of God is generous to those who will listen.

Observation

Structure

  • 21-25 The concealed message 
  • 26-29 The Kingdom of God grows mysteriously
  • 30-35 The Kingdom of God is not to be underestimated

21-25 The concealed message 

“He said to them…” The context tells us that he is speaking with his disciples (Mk 4:10) although the closing verse makes that ambiguous (Mk 4:34). This section is not simply more sermons to the crowd but a continued lesson on teaching in parables. The parables in this section continue on from the same conversation with the disciples.

“Do you bring in a lamp…” The question in Verse 21 has an obvious answer and yet Jesus seems to be doing the very opposite with his teaching. The point of the lamp is to be seen or to light up the room that it is brought into. Bad exegesis is to guess what the lamp represents. The context tells us that the lamp is to do with the kingdom of God (Mk 4:11) which is a message kept hidden or secret to those outside but revealed to those on the inside.

“…whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and …concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” At this time, Jesus wishes the kingdom to be taught in parables but explained to the disciples. There will come a time when what is hidden will be revealed to all. It is not hidden in order to stay hidden.

“If anyone has ears to hear…” Jesus said this already in 4:9. Jesus is not intending nobody to understand. But he knows that any time a prophet has spoken, people have closed their ears. It’s the same today. Churches preach the gospel all over the world with their doors wide open (when it is safe), even broadcasting their message across the internet. The kingdom is available to anybody who has ears to hear.

“Consider carefully what you hear…” Verses 24-25 are perhaps key to the whole section of 4:9-35. Investing in the kingdom of God through careful attention will return a blessing 100 fold. It is not a ‘works-based’ religion so that the more effort you put in the more you get out – but – the kingdom of God is full of truth and grace – as we listen and carefully consider all that God offers, we receive eternal life, his spirit and assurance plus more. Being careless with the gospel can result in being suffocated by the things of this world and falling away (see the four soils parable).

“…even what they have will be taken from them.” If this life is all you live and give no careful attention to the gospel, then even what you have will be taken from you. The kingdom of God needs careful and serious consideration.

26-29 The Kingdom of God grows mysteriously

“…what the kingdom of God is like.” Helpful to be reminded of what the subject matter is.

“…though he does not know how…” The kingdom of God is compared to gardening. There is cause and effect – seed sown and plants grow – but the mechanics are a mystery. Every day the garden changes shape and matures until it is time to harvest. The gospel will spread and spread as we sow and speak the word. The mechanics are a mystery. One day the ripe grain will be harvested. This is likely a reference to the kingdom of God being fully revealed (the second coming). We needn’t be anxious about how the kingdom grows any more than we are anxious about how wheat grows.

30-35 The Kingdom of God is not to be underestimated

“…like a mustard seed…” The size of the kingdom is not to be measured by its origin. A middle-eastern man growing up in backward Nazareth, for example, is revealed to be the eternal creator of the universe – our Lord and Saviour!

“…many similar parables…” The teaching method itself is like a mustard seed. It appears simple and weak and yet it has nourished the church for thousands of years. Everything was explained to the disciples and they would go on to write the New Testament for us.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Who is Jesus speaking to in this section? Look at Verses 10, 21 and 34. Is it clear or ambiguous? Looking at Verse 34, what does Jesus do differently in public to what he does with his disciples?

Q2. Jesus repeats in Verse 23 what he said back in Verse 9. What does this tell us about Jesus’ teaching?

Q3. In the first parable, the lamp is either the message that needs to be put in clear view or it is the thing that illuminates the room to reveal what was hidden. Which of those two options seems to fit best with the context? Does Verse 23 help you to decide?

Q4. How is the kingdom of God compared to growing seed? What do we need to be concerned about?

Q5. Considering the final parable in Verses 30-32, what are some unimpressive things that bloom into the kingdom of God? That is, what can the mustard seed be compared to?

Meaning

Jesus did not speak parables in order to make complex ideas easy to understand (a common fallacy) but so that the message could be offered to us to carefully understand. If we give attention to Jesus and his ministry, then the kingdom of God is opened up for us. If we close our ears and look past it, then we will miss the greatest offer ever and anything we think we have now will one day be removed. The harvest involves a sickle! Jesus was beginning with 12 odd men and from the seed planted with them comes the church of Christ and the kingdom growth.

Application

Challenge#1 – Making the most of the bible.

The word of God is given to us for our growth and benefit. If Jesus’ challenge is for us to have ears to hear, how then are you hearing? What is your weekly bible reading plan? If it’s non-existent, then talk together about how to get started. Next, talk about the method. Some helpful things include 1) read small chunks, 2) read a whole book over time, 3) make notes and lookup cross-references, 4) don’t use google, 5) pray to begin and end, 6) use the bible text to construct your prayer, 7) note down questions and work out how you’ll solve them.

Challenge#2 – Valuing the mustard seeds

Weekly church services and weekly Growth Groups are often unimpressive. Not that they are terrible (I certainly hope not) but they are small things which contribute to gospel growth. Over time, we will consume most of the bible together, a lot of doctrine, prayer times, outreach opportunities and personal challenges and growth. Like a plant growing in the garden, it doesn’t grow before your eyes, but you will one day see fruit on the tree! Be dedicated to church and Growth Group for your own growth as well as the growth of others.

Challenge#3 – Live for the kingdom

It’s no good to be aware of the kingdom of God but invest in the kingdom of this world. Note what Jesus said in Mark 4:25. The gospel is about making your choice now: kingdom of you or kingdom of God. Is Jesus your Lord or are you keeping that title for yourself? Be careful with the kingdom of God else you lose both it and whatever you are clinging to.