Having just finished his explanation of the parable of the sower, describing how the seed which falls on good soil will produce fruit of thirty, sixty, even a hundred fold, Christ launches off in to three successive smaller parables: the lamp (vv. 21-25), the growing seed (vv. 26-29), and the mustard seed (vv. 30-32). Those three parables illustrate and teach that believers must be glowing, growing, and sowing Christians. This morning we will concentrate on the first of those three parables.
Let’s read the text, Mark 4:21-34:
And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
The first of three parables which Christ delivers is the parable of the lamp; the parable of spiritual life is followed by the parable of spiritual light.
Glowing - vv. 21-25
The purpose of any light is to dispel darkness, to permit sight, to allow one to avoid dangers that would be unrecognizable in the shadows. That is a lamp’s primary function, but a light this is covered, hidden, or obscured cannot fulfill its intended purpose. We are called and commissioned to reflect Christ’s light and reveal His truth. As believers we are called to let our lights shine before others, so that they may see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father. We are to be glowing Christians.
That is the obvious and easily understandable point of v. 21. Common sense dictates that lamps are not lit to be covered. Lamps are lit to provide illumination; not to be hidden under a bed or bushel.
There are two facets of Christ’s statement in v. 22 that we must understand. The first aspect is…
The Truth's Revelation
There is nothing about God’s truth or His purposes that are secret. There was the veil of the parables, that is true, but the purpose of that relative hiding was not concealment but revelation. Nothing is hidden except to be made known. Christ did not light the lamp of the gospel just to have it smothered. The gospel light was not lit just to be arbitrarily concealed. Remember the words of the Lord to the prophet Isaiah45:19 – “I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.”48:16 – “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning”
In his commentary on this passage Alexander MacLaren wrote the following:
For the intention of all God’s hiding—which hiding is an integral part of his revealing—is not to conceal, but to reveal. Sometimes the best way of making a thing known to men is to veil it in a measure, in order that the very obscurity, like the morning mists which prophesy a blazing sun in a clear sky by noonday, may demand search and quicken curiosity and spur to effort. He is not a wise teacher who makes things too easy. It is good that there should be difficulties; for difficulties are like the veins of quartz in the soil, which may turn the edge of the ploughshare or the spade, but prophesy that there is gold there for the man who comes with fitting tools. Wherever, in the broad land of God’s word to us, there lie dark places, there are assurances of future illumination.
God has revealed His truth to us, and His desire is for that truth to be proclaimed, not concealed. There are no secrets with the gospel. There are no secrets in Christianity. The truths that we have mined from the inexhaustible depths of God’s word are to be clearly, consistently, completely, and charitably declared. This declaration should be made both publicly and privately. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that when he planted that church he “Kept back nothing that was profitable [unto you], but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21)
May we humbly and boldly proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ; not being ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Our mission is to make the truth known with our lips and our lives, and “it is both faithless and shortsighted to hide the light in order to avoid criticism and persecution.” (John MacArthur’s Matthew commentary, Vol. 2, p. 220).
That statement leads us to the second aspect of verse 22.
The Believer's Vindication
Jesus Christ is the One True Light of the world. The light Christ brought was purchased at a high cost. On the cross he took upon himself our sins, bearing the punishment that we justly deserved. Those who come to Christ in repentance and faith receive his light kindled within them. As he have learned, this light is not to be hoarded; it is to be spread abroad. All believers are called to be uncovered lamps brilliantly burning in a world of darkness.
While it is obviously true that lamps are lit to provide illumination, it is equally obvious that a light shines at great cost to itself. Whether you burn a candle, an oil lamp, or an ordinary light-bulb, the light is consumed as it brightly shines.
Understand this: persecution and affliction will attend the believer who shines forth the gospel light. All who live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). In Matthew 10:25-28 Christ told his followers:
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more [shall they call] them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, [that] speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, [that] preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
The genuine follower of Jesus Christ will fear God and not man. Solomon’s instruction is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10), but the fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25). Yet there are many testimonies that have been hindered, ruined, or both because Christians, as well as churches, were afraid of what man may say, think, or do.
In American society, we have not experienced the fear of bodily harm for the sake of the gospel. It seems that the chief fear faced in our culture is that of respectability. Therefore churches and individual churches cave in certain areas of Biblical truth in order to be hip, “relevant”, or highly regarded. Therefore you have...
- Christians who continually stress that “We are not really any different” from unbelievers.
- Christians who capitulate on the ultimate authority and veracity of scripture to accommodate a culture steeped in relativism.
- Churches that configure their services to make the lost feel comfortable.
- Churches that fail to proclaim the entire gospel message in fear that it might offend.
Thus, the light of Christ is placed under a bed of social acceptability; under a bushel of the fear of man. The believer must never forget what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-25:
The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God…it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
About this subject John MacArthur made this comment:
Making God’s truth known includes teaching the so-called hard sayings of Scripture. We are not to be needlessly offensive, and never offensive in our approach or attitude. But when the fullness of God’s revelation is taught, the world will be invariably offended, because it will stand accused. Fallen man does not like to hear that he is fallen; sinful man does not like to face the reality that he is sinful; rebellious man does not like to be told that he is God’s enemy. Those are truths that Jesus and the apostles never refused to proclaim, and it was because they boldly taught such truths that the world rejected and persecuted them.
The world shows little objection to a gospel that is only “positive”, that only mentions God’s offer of peace, joy, and blessing. An unbeliever is not offended by those elements of the gospel, true as they are. But he is terribly offended when he is told that he is a sinner under God’s judgment and destined for hell."
Nevertheless, we are to proclaim God’s true word, and we are not to be afraid of the world because our God will one day vindicate us. All truth and goodness and all falsehood and wickedness will be seen for what they really are. Our concern must not be with what the world says now. Our concern must only be with what God thinks now and what He will say in the end. Do not fear unpopularity or persecution in this life, because, if you faithfully run the course you will be vindicated in the next life. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
Everything that is hidden will be manifested. Everything that is secret will come to light. That truth will either bring you peace of mind or anxiety. Which is it with you?
Christ told Nicodemus that men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. So there are many people who hate and resent the light; who will try to extinguish the light. On the other hand, many people will be drawn to the light, and whoever follows Christ will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Not everyone will come to the light, but (praise God!) some will. Not every soil will bear good fruit, but we faithfully broadcast the seed everywhere because some it will fall on good ground.
One theme that is repeated, not only in today’s text but in all of chapter 4, is the matter of hearing and heeding the Word of God. The words “hear” and “hearing” combined are used eleven times in the first 34 verses, plus the references to understanding and heeding what is heard. In verse 23 Christ said “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he immediately followed that statement with this command: “Pay attention to what you hear.” I find it interesting that Luke writes in his parallel passage to this text “Take heed therefore how you hear” (8:18 Emphasis added).
There is a great deal of importance placed on hearing the Word of God. The primary focus of the Lord is not on the strictly physical hearing of his word but on the spiritual discernment of the scriptures. To hear God’s word as Christ calls us to do means to understand and to obey his Word. James 1:22-25:
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
It is of the utmost importance that one regularly hears God’s word. This is accomplished through public worship at one’s church, and through personal, daily, systematic Bible reading and study. God’s word must be consistently, clearly, completely, and compassionately communicated from the pulpit. The whole counsel of God must be taught, but it must be caught as well. This necessitates that you belong to a church which is committed to the exposition of scripture, and it requires that each of us have a personal commitment to daily search out the scriptures that we may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:2).
Not only is it imperative that you hear God’s word, but how you hear the word is also significant. In other words, are you a good listener? My former pastor, Darrell W. Sparks, wrote about good listeners in a sermon from Luke 8:16-21. He wrote:
Good listeners make good company. Good listeners make good friends. Good listeners make good counselors. Good listeners make good learners. Good listeners make good teachers. On the other hand, poor listeners (who want to hear only themselves and who while they are listening are only planning what they will say next) are usually cheated out of the best relationships in life. From a strictly human standpoint, learning to listen is a very important lesson to learn. It will have a deep impact on our relationships with others.
Far more important than how we listen to other people is how we listen to the Lord. (“O Be Careful Little Ears How You Hear!” From the DBC pulpit 10/03 /03 – Emphasis mine)
I’ve already mentioned how often this theme is repeated in Mark 4 alone, but it is the constant theme of Scripture.
- When the glorified Christ wrote letters to seven of the Asian churches he closed each letter with “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (Revelation 2 – 3)
- Calling people to find their rest in Christ the writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 95:7-8 when he wrote, ‘Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (4:7).
- The prophet Isaiah began his prophecy with, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken” (1:2).
- On the mount of transfiguration, when Christ was glorified and Moses and Elijah appeared in conversation with the Lord, Peter became a little loopy. He said to Jesus, “Master it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Luke says he made that statement “Not knowing what he said.” Then Luke records, “While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.”(Luke 9:33-35)
The key to fruitful living is a hearing ear: “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” Pay attention to God’s word by taking advantage of every opportunity to receive the word. Understand that hearing the word of God preached is a dynamic rather than static experience. To hear scripture taught with clarity and charity is not to endure a monologue; instead, it is a dialogue between the hearer and the Holy Spirit through the word.
Do not be a dull hearer. Emulate the example of the prophet/judge Samuel, whose attitude was, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth,” (1 Samuel 3:10). To some degree, your spiritual condition is evident based on that to which you listen and how you listen.