Monday, March 10, 2014

Mark 4 :10-20 The Purpose of Parables

At face value,  the parable of the sower  and the seed  is a straight forward  story  about a farmer  sowing his seed.  

Jesus spoke  this parable  to   a very large crowd   which  had gathered  beside the sea (3:7; 4:1). The story is about  seed sown which  falls in four kinds of soils -  hard, rocky and shallow, among thorns , and  also  in good soil. Three of the seeds  produce no fruit. Only that seed planted  in  good soil  produces  grain – and in varying proportions-  thirty, sixty… a hundred fold. 
Then He concludes his teaching with these words : “he who has ears  to hear , let him hear.” (4:9) There is  only this story, and very little explanation or application.

We then read,  [10] And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.  Now,  if the disciples  whom He had recently  called to be apostles  ( 3:13-19) did not get the point of the parable, how do you suppose the  crowd  would have understood the parable ? Is it not  a strange  thing, to just tell a story  about a farmer  sowing seed,  and that’s that?  
Be assured that Jesus  is  making a very important  point  here . He is  actually  teaching  the crowd something  about the kingdom of God, but He speaks in hidden terms, in veiled language,  in  parables ,  and  it’s all mysterious  (it’s all Greek!)  to His hearers.  

In response  to their question Jesus  then  answers :  [11] … “To you has been given the secret   or mystery  (Gr. mustērion ) of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, [12] so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”  

Here is the  purpose of  parables explained  :  to reveal  and to conceal  the  true nature of the kingdom of God. 

To His disciples He speaks  in parables  in order to help them to understand the  nature of the kingdom . To  everyone else, his  parables make no sense  whatsoever , and it is deeply significant , that Jesus  here quotes  the prophet Isaiah  from  6:9, 10 in support  of His teaching. Isaiah  sees the LORD in an overwhelming vision, after which he also receives a strange  commission  from God  to  be His messenger  to a people  who will see and not perceive ; who  will hear but not understand . 
Isaiah  himself  was a prophet who often spoke and acted in  parables as He  made known God's kingdom purposes for the nation of Israel. At this time  Isaiah’s ministry was actually  largely  a ministry of judgment , for in that day  God had handed   the northern kingdom over to the Assyrians . However , Isaiah also prophesied that  God would leave a remnant. Isaiah  more than any other prophet spoke about the Messiah – the suffering servant.   Until today  the Jews do not understand Isaiah 53  because they refuse to  believe  in  Christ the Messiah ,  who is the key  to the interpretation of Isaiah's  'suffering servant' passages.  

While we are on that subject , I want you to see that  the life of Jesus itself is a parable and like the  parable  of the sower  He  makes no sense until we receive  a key to understanding  Him  and His work  on the cross. Somebody needs to open up  the door so that we can look inside! And   that is precisely what happens when we are born again, when the Holy Spirit opens up the Word of God to us, and when  He helps us to understand the secrets  of  God .  But, let this be clear! We need  help to understand the Word of God.  We need the Holy Spirit  to show us , and we need  to work with  His inspired Word - the  Bible!  Even when we are converted ,it  takes time to understand the unfamiliar  logic of the Bible  and  for the truth to sink in!   
The disciples  will only  understand the  parables  because Jesus  will help to understand them. but those  who are not helped by the Holy Spirit  and who   do not sit under such instruction will find   this all  to be concealed .  
While the Bible is in some ways  clear in its teaching – even to an unbeliever, the heart  of  the Bible  (Christ and His redemptive work)  is concealed to such.  And even believers, at face value do not immediately   get  to understand  everything  in the Bible e.g. the doctrine of divine election
At face value  the people saw Jesus, but  many did not see Him for who He was – the Son of God ; God the Son! Even Christians who do not regularly  sit at Christ's feet having fellowship with Him and with His people  under His Word   loose perspective  on who Christ is. 

And then think about  this. When Jesus first taught this parable sitting in that boat just off the shore, the kingdom of God had come. He said that at the outset of his ministry (Mark 1:15). In His coming the rule and reign of God had made its appearance in the world. But it was not   like what people  would have expected. He did  not look like a king. He had no army. He did not  conquer the Romans who occupied  the land of the Jews at this time.   The Jewish religious leaders  did  not  embrace Jesus spontaneously  and gladly.  Even his  family were saying :  “ e is  out of his mind.“  (3:21) The  scribes from Jerusalem  maintained  that He was demon possessed.  (3:22).

What then did they see ? They saw  one who  showed   authority of his teaching (1:27). They saw one who took on the  religious establishment of the Jews. They  saw  His miraculous healings   and His authority  over demons.  That  was  remarkable, and many were glad that  He had healed and delivered many!  But despite that,   it was not  obvious to these people that this man from Nazareth was no one less than God the Son,  who had now assumed  human nature. At this point  nobody  truly understood Him, and they  did not  understand  the purpose of this  parable :

[13] And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?    Do you see this ? The nature of the kingdom  of God  is so  different  and so opposite to human reason that it takes divine revelation for people to be able to grasp it .

Many see Christ, but they don’t see Him. There is something in Him, and He sometimes fascinates people, but like the parable of the sower which  hides  a profound story of the kingdom of God , the man  whom we see  is a living parable . He is a mystery  and although He  was standing right  in front of them they did not see that THIS was  God Himself, the mighty Creator of heaven and earth, the longed for Redeemer of God’s people.  Very few  saw  Him for who He actually was : Anna, Simeon , John the Baptist , Mary … at a later stage Peter and the disciples – and then  the three thousand at Pentecost   and so on . 
But Judas heard all of Jesus’ sermons. He  saw  all His  miracles. He even performed miracles himself in Jesus’ name! How could  such a man turn away  from Christ? How could  the Pharisees  who were actually watching Jesus drive out demons and heal the sick say  that he was  demon possessed ?  

The problem was that nobody  thought  that the   kingdom  would  come that way. Nobody pictured it  by the way of a tiny , humble  seed that was sown  upon the  different soils  of this world , with  different results!  
Nobody thought that the kingdom of God would come in such unassuming  forms, beginning with a humble seed.   The mysterious,  secret nature of the kingdom of God is no less obvious today.  People  still  don’t understand this  today .

So then,  the mystery of Christ and  His kingdom needs explanation  and revelation. That is why  Jesus  now does   for His disciples ,  just as He  said earlier  : 
To you has been given the secret   or mystery   of the kingdom of God, 
...and then He explains
[14] The sower sows the word. [15] And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. [16] And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. [17] And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. [18] And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, [19] but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  20] But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Here  is Christ’s explanation  as to how  the kingdom of God grows in this world . It begins with a sower – a Gospel messenger. He has  seed (a message) which he  sows freely and abundantly on the  different soils   of human hearts  in this world. Truly the abundance of gospel preaching is not lacking in the world .  
The problem is not with the sower . It is with the seed and the soil 
Some  seed  falls on hard paths (hearts)  where it lies exposed and  unappreciated , and Satan  snatches it up.  Other seed  is sown  on shallow rocky soil (hearts) – there is initial promise of growth, but no fruit!  So it is with the seed that  grows among the thorns  -  the deceitfulness of riches (a very common  and contemporary problem!) . And then notice that  even among  that seed  sown in productive soil some  bear a thirty , some sixty, and some a hundredfold crop .

What does this  all teach us?

1.     The  work of the kingdom is a mysterious  work of God .
2.     It is not understood  by  conventional  human thought  or through scientific investigation. It is not observed with the naked eye.
3.     You will not  understand it until you receive  the key . Jesus  and His teaching  will remain parabolic ( thrown beside you)  until the  Holy Spirit  shows you who Christ is. Until then  He remains hidden  or concealed !
4.   The proof of  conversion is in  fruit-bearing.  Promises of  initial growth -  a plant  or a tree with green leaves  are not proof  of  genuine conversion . By their fruit you shall know them (Matt 7:20) !  Also, note  that not every Christian is a fruitful  as the other .

This then   is the secret, the mystery that  we have been given to understand.  It has been made clear to us with the help of  a parable . But for those who do not have the interpretational key  to  this  kingdom story , it  will remain hidden .  
Those  who don’t see this  will be  disappointed, and in time  they may  ridicule  and speak against  Christ . Others   embrace  the gospel  for a short time, but because of lack of Word  based teaching or due to the deceitfulness of riches they will fall away .  But it is also heard and accepted by many and in them it bears a wonderful harvest . 

How important that we should understand  this  parable  so that we may have perspective on God's  work in the kingdom of this world  as it  spreads  on  various soils,  and various results.  This , says Jesus,   is the history of the world .

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. 
Where do you stand ?  
Where does the seed fall in you ? 
Test yourself .  ( 2 Corinthians  13:5) 

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