The Secret of the Kingdom:
Many of the people who came to see Jesus were curious, but they didn't want to hear what Jesus had to say. They came with stopped-up ears. Only a few were listening. Because of the response of the crowd, Jesus changed His approach. When He began His ministry, He proclaimed the good news. "The time is fulfilled," He said. "The kingdom of God is at hand" (1:15).
As He cast out evil spirits, healed the sick, and forgave sins, He made it clear that He was the Son of God with authority over Satan and over man. But now, from this point on, He would teach in parables.
Only those with open hearts would be able to understand what He was teaching. Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd gathered around Him was so large that Jesus got into a boat and pushed off from shore. There He taught His most important parable. He told the disciples that if they didn't understand the Parable of the Sower, then they wouldn't be able to understand any other parable. Why was this so? Because in this parable Jesus revealed the secret of the kingdom of God. Lets not miss the secret!
I. The Parable of the Sower. 4:1-20
A. The parable.
1. Remember that Mark was a young man and wasn't one of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus around for three years learning from Him.
2. But Mark had made a decision to follow Jesus, to be His disciple, and he was especially interested in how Jesus trained His disciples.
3. Discipleship for the twelve apostles and for Mark was a process a movement.
4. The entire fourth chapter of Mark is important in this process because it's here that Jesus said to those seated around Him, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God" v11.
a. This is the first time since chapter one that the "kingdom of God" has been mentioned.
b. There Jesus said it was "at hand" (Mark 1:15).
c. Jesus' statement about the mystery of the kingdom immediately follows the Parable of the Sower-and the rest of Chapter 4 explains it!
5. Jesus began the parable with the word "Listen!"... He closed with the word "Hear." ... What lies between these two words is very important.
6. The parable is about a farmer who went out to plant his fields.
a. The farmer doesn't change; neither does the seed.
b. Only the soil changes.
c. The emphasis, then, is on the soil.
d. Looking closely, we see other "characters" in the story:
1) The birds "came and devoured" the seed scattered along the path.
2) The sun "scorched" and "withered" the plants which sprang up in the shallow soil.
3) The thorns "grew up and choked" the plants which sprouted in the third group.
4) In all three of these groups, the seed failed to produce fruit.
e. There was a war going on, a conflict which hindered the purpose of the farmer and his seed.
f. But there is a fourth group: good soil.
1) Here the seed "sprang up, increased and produced. some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred". 4:3-8
2) Jesus drew His illustrations from the land and the lives of people about Him.
3) The farmer scattering seed was a familiar sight in Palestine at that time and still is.
a) Often the farmer tied a sack of seed to the back of his donkey which walked along beside him.
b) Since the land used for planting varied-some soil rocky and hilly, some soil rich and fertile-the farmer tried to give the seed every advantage.
c) The birds were always circling, ready to devour the seed, so the farmer tried quickly to plow the seed under, preserving as much as he could.
d) In very rocky soil, he wasn't always able to do this.
e) He planted at just the right time so that the rains would water the seed, but the rains also watered the thorns and they could choke out the life of the tender plants if weeding was neglected.
7. The twelve listened very carefully to what Jesus was saying.
a. They knew that Jesus wasn't just telling an entertaining story.
b. They wanted to understand what He was teaching-so they asked Him about the parable.
c. He not only interpreted the Parable of the Sower, but gave three other illustrations of the kingdom.
d. Jesus wanted to be sure those who asked understood.
B. The Secret.
1. Jesus began his answer with some startling words:
Mark 4:11-12, " And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them."
2. Once again Jesus divided the people into two groups: those outside and those inside.
a. Those outside didn't have the secret to the kingdom.
b. Those inside did.
3. What did those on the inside do that those on the outside did not?
a. If we glance ahead at the interpretation Jesus gave of the Parable of the Sower, we see that all four groups heard the Word.
b. It's doubtful that the crowd gathered on the lake shore would have stayed around had they not been able to hear at all.
c. But, Jesus taught that once people hear the Word, they must respond-and not all respond positively.
d. Those who are sincere want to know more; they ask for more understanding.
e. When they understand, they must obey.
f. Remember how Jesus identified His family?
Mark 3:35, "For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."
4. Quite simply, Jesus said the secret to coming into His kingdom, to be a part of His family, is:
a. To hear the Word
b. Ask for more understanding
c. And obey what the Word says.
C. The Interpretation.
1. Jesus explained that just as seed is sown in four different kinds of soil, so His Word is heard by those who respond in different ways.
a. Some people hear the Word, but do nothing, or they reject what they hear because of unbelief.
b. Others listen for a short time.
1) They are joyful and excited about this "new doctrine."
2) But when obeying the Word becomes difficult, they lose interest and no growth occurs.
c. Still others hear the Word and get actively involved in learning:
1) But other interests take up more and more time.
2) Finally, the Word is crowded out of their lives completely.
d. Only the fourth group gives the Word of God top priority and grows steadily.
2. It's easy to apply this interpretation to other people-to see unbelievers in groups one, two, and three and ourselves in group four.
a. But the parable is also a picture of our growth as Christians.
b. Let's look at it again from this perspective.
1) If we're like those in group one, we hear God's Word when it's read but our minds wander and we quickly forget what we have heard.
2) If we're like those in group two, we may hear God speak to us through His Word, but we ask no questions.
a) There is no earnest search for understanding.
b) No sincere desire to learn something more.
c) And no growth occurs.
3) If we're like those in group three, we're too involved with other things to take time to respond to God's Word when we hear it.
a) Social life, recreational time, even families and church work-all these can choke out God's Word in our lives.
b) The Word is only on the printed page.
c) It never becomes a process actively working in our lives and it never produces fruit.
d) It doesn't change us, and growth necessitates change!
4) But, if we're like those in group four?
a) We're hungry for the words of Jesus.
b) We want to be with Him and His Word every day.
c) We are listening, asking questions, getting answers, and applying His Word to our lives.
c. The disciples were like this.
1) They followed Him around day and night.
2) They were constantly asking questions:
a) "What is this? A new doctrine?"
b) "What does this parable mean.?"
c) "Don't you care if we drown?"
d) "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?"
e) "How can we feed this large crowd.?"
f) "How can we follow you when we don't know the way.?"
g) "How do we pray?"
h) "Teach us. Teach us."
3) The disciples learned to hear with open ears, to ask with searching minds, and to obey with teachable hearts.
4) And so can we.
II. The Lamp and the Measure. (v21-25)
A. The Candle is for the candlestick.
1. Again, Jesus used the familiar to teach a profound truth.
2. This time He was the one asking the questions.
3. We can imagine that the people were smiling because the answers to His questions were so obvious.
4. Jesus wanted them to understand that the kingdom of God was to be like a shining light to the world.
5. What He was teaching them about the kingdom wasn't to be hidden- but put to use.
6. "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear." (Mark 4:23)
B. Measure for measure. [24-25]
1. But how does the kingdom of God grow?
2. And how do we grow in our under- standing of all that God's Word teaches us?
3. In the Parable of the Sower, those in the fourth group could produce from thirty, to sixty, to one hundred times what they started with.
4. Now Jesus explained this growth process. Note: v24
5. We might call this "measure for measure."
6. Jesus said we will be given more only as we use what we have.
7. But He also issued a warning:
"For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." (Mark 4:25)
8. In today's vernacular it might be said that we either use it or lose it!
III. The Growing Seed. v26-29
Occasionally a Sunday School teacher will send children home with small pots in which a seed has been planted. In that group of children there is surely one who is curious enough about how the seed grows to dig it up in an effort to discover the secret. But the secret of its growth isn't to be found in disturbing the tender roots which sprout from the seed...it is a mystery!
A. Jesus said the kingdom of God is like seed planted in the ground.
1. Even when the farmer sleeps the seed sprouts, grows, and produces grain.
2. Look at the growth of God's kingdom since Christ came.
3. How did it happen?
4. How have millions of lives been changed over the centuries?
5. Most of us have had the experience of seeing the Word of God take root in the heart of someone whom we thought might never come into the kingdom of God.
6. How did the Word suddenly come alive for our friend?
7. How did the change take place?
B. There is a certain mystery about the kingdom of God.
1. We just know that as we hear, ask, and obey...
2. God works and His kingdom grows in the hearts of men.
IV. The Mustard Seed. v30-34
A. Note the patience of Jesus.
1. In explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus compared the kingdom of God:
a. To a lamp on a stand
b. To a growing seed
c. To the mustard seed.
2. The mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds in the garden, yet it produced the largest plant, sometimes as tall as ten feet.
B. Jesus said the kingdom of God was like the mustard seed.
1. Planted in only a few hearts at the beginning, the kingdom of God would grow to be the largest in the garden.
2. As the birds found shelter in the branches of the mustard plant, so would those seeking shelter find it in the kingdom of God.
C. Sometimes we fail to see the value in small things.
1. In Zechariah's day many people thought the work on the Temple was insignificant, and that the Temple itself was too small.
2. But Zechariah asked, " For who hath despised the day of small things?..." (Zec. 4:10).
3. Rebuilding that Temple was part of God's covenant plan-and it spanned generations to the coming of Jesus who would build a Temple not built with human hands.