Seeing the Hidden Kingdom

A Bible Exposition Of Mark 4:21-34

Part of being human is that we are finite. By finite I don’t just mean that our days are numbered, but our understanding is limited. Not only is limited by experience—meaning you can only really learn a limited number of things very well. But our reasoning and our perception are broken as well.

It’s one of the effects of the Fall of humanity into sin. Theologians refer to this as the noetic effects of the fall. Noetic (mental) effects of sin on our minds.

Your thinking is affected by sin. It’s one of many reasons that it is so marvelous to meditate on the person of Jesus Christ. He had a mind unaffected by sin. An ordered thought-life. Clear reasoning and logic. Pure thoughts and memories. And a faith that believed truth as soon as He encountered it. Would have made interacting with Him an unforgettable experience.

But one of the specific effects on our minds is the difficulty in dislodging a held belief even when it is wrong. Some people refer to this as cognitive dissonance. It is the struggle that we have once we come to a position on something, to change our perspective, even when facts require a different conclusion.

This is the great disappointment post-Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was that period that began in Europe in which philosophy and rationalism dominated the writing and thinking of the day. And there was this great hope and promise that if we could finally get to objective data then we would move past so many of our problems. 

In fact, Thomas Jefferson who was influenced by Enlightenment thinking wrote in 1789:

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government…

But as history has shown, this isn’t the case. In fact, the findings from a research project undertaken at the University of Michigan in 2005 and 2006 was outlined in the Boston Globe a few years back.

And the project was this—it set out to understand in the political realm how people interact with facts. And what they found overwhelmingly is that facts mattered very little. What matter most in interpreting data is your personal beliefs and opinions.

Now it’s easy to point the finger at the other side. And say, “see you are so convinced despite the facts!” And fail to realize that you yourself are vulnerable to the very same problem.

It’s part of our fallen thinking. As the researchers observed our tendency is to look for things that affirm our positions and dismiss the things that would threaten them. If I can be so bold as to say it, “we like to be right.”

The researchers documented interactions with liberals and conservatives alike. The most stunning part of the research was this: when a position is very strongly held, evidence that contradicts doesn’t weaken, but rather strengthens the wrong position. 

The more data came and challenged the held beliefs, the more deeply entrenched they became.  Why? Because once we believe something we are deeply committed to it, and will re-interpret everything around us to bolster our position. More opposition means doubling down on our confidence.

This is the same challenge that is going on in the minds of those who hear Jesus speak of the kingdom of God. Jesus is bringing alternative facts, if you will. He is changing expectations. He is flipping long-held, long-entrenched perspectives on their heads.

And whenever that happens you have two options:

  1. Change expectations
  2. Challenge Jesus (outright rejection, modify Jesus, soften Jesus)

When the Word of God confronts your long-held and comfortable perspective. You have doctrinal positions and perspectives on life and ministry that you don’t hold because you learned them from Scripture. 

But rather you can look at facts that are plain and re-interpret them to your own advantage.

As you know, our typical approach at CBC is to dive into a book of the Bible and work through it verse by verse. There are so many benefits of this, but one of them is the depth of insight that we gain as we spend time in a context.

It takes time to get bearings. The longer we follow an author’s course of action the more we can appreciate what’s going on than when we parachute in on a few verses and then jump back out. Of course, it’s God Word and a single verse by itself is still edifying, but this morning as we make our way through a large chunk in Mark 4 I think you will see my point.

In fact, I wrestled this week with how to tackle this section—specifically whether to take it one small paragraph at a time or to bite off the whole enchilada. We are going with the latter. The whole enchilada.

The reason, is because it seems the most appropriate in serving Mark’s original purpose—the mega theme here that he is driving home. Each of these parables we will look at today (there are four them that are grouped together, with the parable we studied last week), are best understood together.

The point that Mark is making is this: the kingdom which you are all longing for is here. But it isn’t shaping up to what you had in mind, and you can only see it or hear it (i.e. understand it) by faith. Your eyes can’t see it, your ears can’t hear about it.

This is the secret Jesus is revealing in v. 11—it’s about the kingdom. What’s the secret? It isn’t that there is a kingdom, but rather how it is being manifested.

George Eldon Ladd said,

That God would bring in his kingdom was no secret. All Jews looked forward to it. The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the Kingdom which is to come finally in apocalyptic [i.e., destructive] power, as foreseen by Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men.” 

The kingdom was expected with the Son of Man coming in judgment to subdue enemies and secure borders. And instead it begins secretly within and among men. Totally different beginning than was expected.

That’s the big idea of today’s message.

The point that Mark is making is this: the kingdom which you are all longing for is here. But it isn’t shaping up to what you had in mind, and you can only see it or hear it (i.e. understand it) by faith. Your eyes can’t see it, your ears can’t hear about it.

Mark’s Approach:

In Chapter 4, Mark weaves together a handful of teachings on the kingdom (five to be exact). We tackled the first one last week (the parables of the soils). 

In the middle of the first teaching, the parable of the soils, Jesus interrupts himself to give us the significance of parables in general (vv. 10-12). Namely, that Jesus is hiding truth from some, and revealing it to others. 

Next Mark inserts the meaning of this parable—the explanation (vv. 13-20), which is shared privately to the disciples and his close friends. Then Mark jumps back into the flow and moves right back to Jesus addressing the crowds through parables.

Some scholars panic here that Mark has missed something because he jumps from the private instruction to the disciples (vv. 10-20) and then by the end (vv. 33-34) He is back with the crowds, with no explanation.

Instead of assuming Mark is confused, we are going to assume that Mark is giving an account the way we commonly do. He is starting off in a direction, and then part way into the story realizes, “I want to take a brief tangent here to clarify something, then I am going to get back to the main point I was making.”

So, the parable of the soils may have been followed by these other parables, but as Mark is organizing the content he chose to give the purpose of parables, and the explanation of this one to us before moving on.

The bird’s eye view of Chapter 4 is as follows:

  • The setting for Jesus’ teaching ministry (4:1-2)
  • The stories of Jesus’ teaching ministry (4:3-32)
  • The summary of Jesus’ teaching ministry (4:33-34)

Today we will continue working our way through the stories of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Here is our outline for today:

Jesus Gives 5 Defining Features of the Kingdom of God

  1. The subjects of the kingdom (4:3-20)
  2. The stages (4:21-23)
  3. The selectiveness (4:24-25)
  4. The spread of the kingdom (4:26-29)
  5. The start of the kingdom (4:30-32)

Mark 4:21–34—21 And He was saying to them, “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? 22 “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. 23 “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. 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.” 26 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 “The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 “But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31 “It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.” 33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.