Mark:  Why the Gospel is good news

Week 4:  The Kingdom of God:  3 Parables.  Mark 4:21-33

Sermon:  Sun 31st January 2016
Jesus has called his twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19).  Crowds are thronging to him and following him as he continues his teaching about the Kingdom of God. His teaching is accompanied by signs (miracles) that attest to his divinity, character, purpose and the nature of life in the kingdom of God that is available today through Jesus. Opposition from the established religious groups continues as Jesus engages with them (see Mark 3:1-5) leading to the beginning of a plot against him.
Mark continues his gospel by recording a series of parables in chapter 4.  Parables are earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. In the parables, Jesus teaches by making reference to everyday things/situations/events that people at the time could relate to.
 Brian McLaren offers three helpful insights about the ways in which parables work[1]:

  • There is often a hidden message that becomes apparent at the end of the story.
  • Like many good stories, parables often contain surprises, twists at the end of the tale. For example, the plant emerging from the tiny mustard seed turns out to the largest of all!
  • The stories are frequently puzzling and appear to be open to a variety of interpretations. ?This is a form of teaching that seems to ask more from listeners than the simply communicating facts or instructions. McLaren notes that, “With a clear and easy explanation, hearers can listen and achieve understanding, and then go on their way, independent of the teacher. But when a parable confounds them, it invites them to ask questions, so they continue to depend on the teacher himself, not just their independent understanding of his words.”
In Mark 4, Jesus begins his first block of teaching through parables. By intentionally telling four parables one after another, Jesus wants us to understand what he is teaching and to understand that it is very important.  He is teaching about the kingdom of God and life in the kingdom of God.
In summary, the kingdom of God can be understood as the rule and reign of God. Jesus is King and invites everyone to new life in relationship with God as beloved citizens in his Kingdom. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is work in progress and will be completed after Christ’s return and judgement day when everything will be perfect as God intends. (Note: Jesus used the term “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” interchangeably.)

As chapter 4 begins with the parable of the sower that is well known, I have omitted it from our study. But it is important to remember that this teaching precedes the three parables that we will consider.  They build on the teaching contained in this parable.
Share your experiences of growing flowers, vegetables and fruit from bulbs/seed.
Study: (see Helpful Hints)
Read Mark 4:21-34
  1. Look at verses 21-25. Verse 22 seems to suggest that the message of the kingdom of God has been hidden for a long time, but the time has now come for it to be revealed. Jesus is the light of the world. Just as a lamp is not to be concealed, so Jesus is destined to be revealed and to fulfill his purpose of bringing the transforming light of the kingdom of God to all. 
The extent to which God can work in someone’s life depends on how obedient they are to him (verse 24). How the light grows in and through a disciple.
a) Looking at verses 24-25, how do you feel? 
b) How can we consciously and unconsciously conceal the light of Christ in us and fail to live fully in His light and point others, who are in darkness, to new life in his light?
  1. Read verses 26-29.  Only Mark records the parable of the growing seed. What do you take away from Jesus’ teaching in this parable? 
Take a little time to prayerfully consider how the Holy Spirit speaks to you personally about your ongoing spiritual growth (transformation).
  1. Read verses 30-34.  In your opinion, what is the main point of this parable?
  1. Why do you think Jesus spent so much time speaking in parables instead of providing rules or instructions like the rabbis?
Does the fact that Jesus used stories so often provide any lessons for us, in terms of how we communicate the Gospel in our daily lives? Consider also the importance of the example of Jesus’ character and daily living gave to his ‘authenticate’ his teaching. We are to live the gospel. In the words of an old saying, “we are the fifth gospel”

Take a few minutes to think, reflect and pray together to discern how you may grow in Christ and live the gospel this week?  Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.
Consider agreeing to be accountable to each other and share together next time how you progress in your discipleship.
Helpful Hints:
  1. Verse 24-25 build on the preceding verses (21-23) and the parable of the sower.   Jesus wants us to understand that the more we grow in His truth now, the more we will receive; and if we do not respond to what little truth we may know already, we will not profit from this fully.
Openness to the kingdom of God unlocks the promise of God doing further work in the life of a disciple (verse 25).
  1. The parable of the sower stresses the importance of suitable soil for the growth of the seed and the success of the harvest.  In this parable, Jesus emphasizes the power of the seed (i.e. the gospel message). In a way that is mysterious to the farmer (verse 27), the seed has the intrinsic capacity to grow and flourish.
Verse 29 is an allusion to Joel 3:13 where harvest is a figure of speech for the completion of the kingdom of God.
3.         The main point of this simple parable is that the kingdom of God seemingly had insignificant beginnings.  Think of Jesus birth, upbringing and life as a carpenter in Nazareth. As John 1:46 reveals, Nazareth was a place that was looked down upon by people at the time. The kingdom of God was introduced by the despised and rejected Jesus and his ‘unimpressive’ disciples (by worldly standards.  Yet look at how the kingdom grew in the next three years and how the kingdom of God continues to grow through history (and today) as we await its’ completion.
[1] Brian McLaren, “The Secret Message of Jesus” (pub: Thomas Nelson, pages 44-47)

Richard Jones, 30/11/2015