God's Story, Our Story: Let Everyone Who Has Ears to Hear, Listen!
Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Mark 4:1-34
- Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand—that the long-awaited time of God’s salvation for his people and the whole world had arrived in Jesus—here and now! It was the stuff of revolution—God turning the world upside down. Jesus didn’t just announce this—he he showed us through his miraculous signs of casting out demons and healing the sick. We’ve experienced Jesus as both a preacher and a healer.
- Today, we experience Jesus as a teacher. He is a rabbi, after all, and a rabbi teaches his students. How does Jesus teach about the kingdom of God? Through parables.
II. What Are Parables?
A. Stories and comparisons that connect with ordinary, everyday life.
B. The word “parable” means “something that is placed alongside something else for the purpose of clarification.” This is Jesus preferred way of teaching about the kingdom of God. “There was a father with two sons…” “A Samaritan was traveling on a road…” “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like…”
C. Parables connect with ordinary life—but there is also an element of surprise in them. They have a way of catching us off guard, knocking us off balance, and help us “see” in a new way. Parables draw us in order to evoke something in us and call us to respond.
III. What’s Jesus saying in this cluster of Parables we just heard?
A. Ordinary images of a farmer sowing seed. And lighting a common house lamp. And a tiny mustard seed that grows into the greatest of all shrubs. There’s nothing big and sensational about these stories. They’re so ordinary!
B. The meaning is not obvious. Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” In fact, this command to “listen” comes up 10 times in these thirty-some verses. The crowd seems to be listening, but they do not understand what the parables mean.
C. The disciples don’t quite understand either. When they are alone with Jesus, they ask him about the parables. He says to them, “To you has been given the secret (or mystery) of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they maybe not turn again and be forgiven.”
D. What’s Jesus saying here? He’s saying that he is the Messiah that Israel (and the whole world) has been waiting for, and he is bringing God’s kingdom—this revolution in which heaven is invading earth. But it’s not obvious because it’s not what the world expects! He will be a different kind of Messiah, and his kingdom will look different than all the kingdoms of the world (like we’ve seen already). He will not come with his guns blazing, with fireworks and fanfare.
E. This revolution that he is bringing is coming in small, quiet, humble ways that will eventually change everything. His work is like the quiet work of a farmer extravagantly sowing seed everywhere he goes. Much of it, maybe even a majority of it, will fall on soil where it doesn’t take root—but some of it will fall on good soil and produce an abundant harvest—more than we can even imagine!
IV. Let Everyone with Ears to Hear, Listen!
A. The disciples still aren’t clear what he means, so they need Jesus to explain the parable (aren’t you glad they didn’t understand? Doesn’t make us feel so bad for our own confusion, right?).
B. Jesus identifies himself with the sower and the seed is God’s Word—Jesus’ message about God’s kingdom.
C. And Jesus is talking about the conditions of different hearts and how that message will be received. The first soil is the hardened heart—where the seed falls on the path but Satan (the powers of darkness in the world) come snatch it up and so it doesn’t burrow into the soil. Soil two is the shallow heart—the rocky ground—where Jesus’ message is received with joy at first, but when troubles come, the heart backs off. The third soil is the cluttered heart, where the seed starts to grow, but because of worry and the pressures and temptations of the world, the seed gets choked and fails to yield fruit. The fourth and final soil, however, represents the open heart; “they heard the word, accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundred fold.”
D. Which of these four different soils represent the condition of our own hearts, we are prompted to ask? How are we responding to God’s Word?
E. Remember that key command of Jesus: “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” What’s interesting to note in the first three soils is that they all “hear” the Word, but it is a kind of hearing where it goes in one ear and out the other. There is a different Greek word used for “hear” in the good soil—it is an ongoing hearing—listening intently—not just once but all the time—and then receiving the word and allowing it to bear fruit. It is a hearing that leads to heeding God’s word—to yielding to the Word and obeying it.
F. So God’s kingdom, God’s revolution, is breaking in now—and Jesus tells us that the primary place it breaks in is in the place of our own hearts. Jesus produces fruit in us as we stand under his word—yield to it. Here’s the thing: the different types of soil don’t just represent the condition of the heart of four different kinds of people. These four types of soil are part of the terrain of every human heart! And so we pray that God’s Spirit would continue to cultivate the conditions of our heart so that we might more and more be receptive to his Word!
V. Discipleship is about a relationship with Jesus Christ- being with him and sent by him.
A. We can only understand Jesus’ parables and produce fruit if we are in relationship with him. That’s one of the most important things Mark wants us to see here. We can only hear, understand and obey Jesus’word, which means find ourselves in God’s Story, by being with Jesus.
B. To be a disciple is to be an apprentice, a student, to follow Jesus and learn from him. This is an ongoing journey of growth. And often God is working grow and transformation in us in small and quiet ways, but they are profound never the less!
VI. The Mystery is made known to us SO THAT we can share it with the world!
A. Jesus makes the mystery of the kingdom known to us as disciples (hear, receive, bear fruit). But it’s not just for us! He then calls us—sends us into the world—to share this mystery with others. Lesslie Newbigin: the gospel is an “open secret”
B. Parable of the lamp—don’t hide it under a bushel. Let it shine.
C. Parable of the mustard seed—God’s work of transformation works in us in order to work through us…in small, ordinary ways that, by God’s power, will have a big impact.
D. And as we grow into the character of Christ, daily choosing to surrender our hearts (all the soils) to him, Christ’s power works through us. Not necessary in big, explosive sorts of ways. But in small ways that make a big difference. Mother Teresa: “Don’t attempt big things for God; do small things with great love.”
VII. A Word to Confirmation Students
A. Students, hasn’t it been ordinary people who have done small acts with great love that have impacted you—and this moment today when you will be confirmed? People who have had a faithful and loving presence in your life? Whom God has used to plant seeds in your heart, nurture those seeds, and help begin to bring them to harvest?
B. Today is confirmation—what is being confirmed? Who? You are being confirmed. But this is about God’s faithfulness—God’s power at work in you. You are being confirmed into God’s family, marked by the waters of baptism. You are being confirmed as one who belongs to Jesus. You are being confirmed on this journey of discipleship. This isn’t the end, in many ways it’s just the beginning. And you are being confirmed to join God in his mission. Yes, God has plans and purposes for you. But it’s not about you having to figure out how to really make your life count and do something big for God. It’s about you embracing your identity in Jesus, and growing every day as a disciple. It’s about being open to how God wants to use you—your ordinary life—in extraordinary ways through the way you love others and use your gifts.
C. Oswald Chambers – “No matter what you do, where you go, who you are with…be absolutely His!”
D. Heidelberg Catechism: “You are not your own but belong to God in Christ—body and soul, in life and death…because you belong to him, the Holy Spirit makes you whole heartedly ready and willing to serve him!”