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Mark IX: Kingdom Parables - Mark 4:1-34

Same message. Same kingdom. Same Jesus. Different responses. Wildly different responses. Why? If this message is good news, why isn’t that obvious to everyone? If God’s kingdom really is breaking into our world, how can so many people not see it? If Jesus is the Son of God, as Mark has said, then why do some people think that he’s an insane demoniac?

The first parable that Jesus tells in Mark 4 illustrates the different responses that Jesus gets, but it does so in a way that ensures that those differing responses continue. Calling forth these different responses is what His ministry is designed to do. And so he uses parables both as a way to explain why and to make sure that different types of people respond differently. Parables are not explanations or illustrations. They are puzzles or riddles; they only give up their secrets after you’ve worked with them for a while. At a basic level, vv. 1-9 do nothing more than illustrate the realities of farming. But as a parable, for those who have ears to hear, there is more to be found.

Jesus says that those who come to Him for wisdom have access to the secrets of God’s kingdom. Others encounter the kingdom only in riddles and mysteries. Jesus quotes the Old Testament to the effect that the kingdom is here, if you want it. But if you don’t want to seek for it, if it’s too much work or if it seems demonic to you, then you will see but not perceive, hear but not understand. Understanding is a gift given only to faith.

Jesus explains the parable of the soils in such a way that the disciples can see how parables work. Parables themselves are like speech seeds, and they only “bear fruit” under certain conditions. It’s not so much in the details of this parable, but in learning how to think “in parable”. The key is to identifying the hidden meaning, and that’s what Jesus shares with those who trust Him enough to come and ask. The sower isn’t identified, but it probably represents Jesus and His apostles. The seed is the Word of the gospel. The hearers are the different soils, and the parable is really about them. The first three soils prove unfruitful, the last three are very fruitful. The first three are unfruitful for different reasons, the last three are fruitful to different degrees.

The point is that the seed reveals the nature of the soil. How you respond to Jesus’ message shows what’s going on in your heart, and how long you remain committed to following Jesus reveals what you really want. Jesus speaks in parables in order to shine light into the secret places of the heart (v. 22), and if you respond to miracles and parables with faith, then the fullness of Jesus’ ministry will be added to you (vv. 23-24).

What makes the difference in responding to Jesus is not in the Word or the sower, but in the hearts of those who hear. Jesus deliberately says and does things that cost him followers and scare people away, so that only the faithful who are really seeking the kingdom remain. The kingdom is not for dilettantes or dabblers; the kingdom is for those who come to Jesus in faith.

If you came to repent of your sins and receive forgiveness so that you can enter into the kingdom of God, then nothing will drive you away, not the confusing parables, not the scandalous actions, not the danger of offending the religious leaders and getting kicked out of the synagogue, not even the death of Jesus Himself. That’s faith, and that’s what God wants, and that’s why Jesus speaks in parables.

And because the kingdom is about faith, it looks different than other kingdoms. It doesn’t come like Rome, overpowering and conquering, and then slowly bending everyone to its iron will. God’s kingdom is about persuading through faith, not coercing through the sword. It looks more like a sprouting seed than a marching army. In fact, it looks like a tiny little mustard seed, a man with a few followers making a stir out in the backwaters of Galilee. That’s the great and unstoppable kingdom of God? Yes, it is. It’s a kingdom of slow maturation leading to a decisive harvest. It’s a kingdom of small and humble beginnings that grows bigger than anyone imagined, until it overshadows the entire garden.

So why doesn’t everyone see the kingdom coming? Because it takes faith to see it, and without faith, it’s impossible to please God. He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, just like a parable rewards those who diligently search out wisdom from the One who hides the treasures of the kingdom in the soil of secret words.

May God give us all ears to hear.

Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2018 by CJ Bowen