Mark 4:1-34

(sermon note: 01-21 sermon note)

Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret 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 may not turn again and be forgiven.”’
And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’
He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who got an opportunity to go ice fishing for the very first time. He went to the river, drilled the hole, dropped in his line…and had no luck. Meanwhile, another guy a little way upstream was catching fish after fish. “Hey, what’s your secret?” asked the first man. The second man waved and mumbled something. “Pardon, what was that?” Another mumble. The first man put down his rod and walked closer. “Sorry, it’s a bit windy and I still couldn’t hear you. You’re catching fish like crazy – what’s your secret?” The second man spit something into his cupped palms and held it up to show the first man – a minnow. “I said, you gotta keep your bait warm!”
Having only gone ice fishing once in my life when I lived up in North Dakota, I wonder if there’s some truth to that man’s wisdom! Heck, I wasn’t even getting nibbles on my line when I was out there. It makes sense that the fish would be attracted to the warm bait above anything else. Now don’t tell me to hold it in my mouth to keep it warm. That’s just plain disgusting! Maybe something I could talk one of my kids into doing for me…anything to help catch a fish in those conditions.
I imagine many people around here could give me far more helpful advice than holding the bait in my mouth. Regardless, there is most definitely a secret to successful ice fishing just as there is a secret to success in any venture. Anyone who is successful at anything has somehow revealed the secret. Whether through several hours of digging at it or just plain luck, the secret was cracked and revealed its powerful knowledge to that person. And what a revelation it was! It made all the difference in how to properly go about the venture. Secrets are meant to be revealed if any true life and growth can occur.
The longer I reflect on Jesus’ words and deeds, the more I realize that he likes to operate in secrecy. The gospel writer, Mark, understood this all too well and it’s reflected in his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. The so-called “Messianic secret” is unique to Mark and reveals an important quality to Jesus’ ministry. You’ll notice on numerous occasions in Mark’s gospel that Jesus will perform a miraculous deed or healing and immediately tell those who witnessed it not to tell anyone about it. Of course, people being people only made them want to talk about it all the more. Likewise, whenever Jesus taught profound truths about God and the kingdom of God he did so through the format of a parable. Parables are particularly cryptic forms of communication. They consist of short stories that have hidden meanings beneath them, kind of like how fables have hidden morals or lessons beneath them. So why all the secrecy and hidden meanings? I reflected on this all week and initially thought it was Jesus’ way of filtering out those who are worthy of understanding his teachings from those who are unworthy. But that seemed awfully exclusionary of Jesus and inconsistent with his desire to save everyone. Jesus loves everyone and wants everyone to know the love of God! No one is unworthy of knowing the love of God! So what wouldn’t Jesus use more plain language to reveal the mysteries of God and God’s kingdom? I wrestled with this all week until it was brought to my attention that Jesus did so as a means of buying himself time. Jesus wants us to know the FULL kingdom of God, not just snippets of it. Jesus wants us to know his FULL glory, not just portions of it. The healings and teachings only reveal a portion of his full glory. They fail to consider the glory of his death and resurrection as well. They fail to consider the sacrifice he made on our behalf. We can’t fully appreciate who Jesus is and what he did for us (and continues to do for us!) if we don’t consider his death and resurrection.
I mentioned earlier how secrets are meant to be revealed if any true life and growth can occur. By nature, secrets hold up life and growth. They stagnate life and growth and we know Jesus is all about promoting life and growth. Secrets must be revealed eventually if life and growth can occur. We know this to be true in our lives and relationships. Secrets are harmful to life and growth, and we should always work towards revealing them. We shouldn’t keep secrets from each other. Jesus only operates in secrecy because he knows we’re impatient and can only handle so much wisdom about God. We want to share what we know about God, but we only know a little. We must keep coming back to Jesus to learn more and more about God. And we mustn’t ever believe we know all there is to know about God. God is ever-broader, ever-deeper than we could ever comprehend. We must always walk in faith and trust and continuously seek out the words of Jesus in our lives. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “so faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (10:17) Heck, we heard repeatedly in today’s reading, “let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Friends, we need to keep listening to Jesus! He’s taught us a little about God. There is so much more to be revealed to us!
We heard God’s kingdom is like a sower sowing seeds, like growing seed, a lamp on a lampstand, a mustard seed. In other words, God’s kingdom is an ongoing revelation. God’s kingdom is in this world and the next world. The first step to revelation is having faith and trust in Jesus. Recall he says to us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Revelation begins and ends in Christ alone. Keep Christ at the center of your life. Keep Christ in control of your heart. If we do so, we will know God. As the Beatitudes teach us, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (5:8) Let us give thanks for the secrecy of Jesus. It helps us be patient and faithful. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.