One of the most stabilizing and wondrous realities in the world is realizing the comprehensiveness and grandeur of God’s plan for the world. That plan is the establishment and advancement of His kingdom, a kingdom that will finally encompass all nations and people groups and the best of every culture. Today, the church is the first group of people submitted to that kingdom, and the church’s mission is to proclaim that rule to the world and disciple people into its ways in every area of thought and life.
In Mark 4, our Lord has been teaching us the realities and implications of this great kingdom. He has just finished encouraging us, His messengers and representatives, with a glimpse into the heats of people that explain why some believe and others reject. (O how we need the outpouring and enduement of the Holy Spirit of God if our proclamation is to find a home in the hearts of men!) Now, the Lord is speaking to those who have received the message of the kingdom and is encouraging is with the long-range view of the effects of that message, and how we are to respond to it. These three parables all expand upon and unfold the parable of the soils, in that they continue the theme of revelation and response, and unfold for us the expansion and growth of the kingdom of God.
A. Express the Truth (vv. 21-25)
The responsibility of all who have received the truth of God in the Word of God enabled by the Spirit of God is to, in the power and unction of that same Spirit, proclaim that truth to the world. Our Lord uses the truism of a lit lamp to express this idea: One does not light a lamp just to hide is under a basket or a bed! That defeats the whole purpose of lighting a lamp. So also, if your mind and heart have been illumined by the Word of God, you are to be the light God has regenerated you to be. Note that this does not simply mean to “witness with the life,” as some people like to say to avoid the actual meaning of the Great Commission. A godly lifestyle is essential, but it needs to be expressed in the explicit truths of the gospel and the Word of God, verbally. That is what our Lord is teaching here.
The next verses are most informative. The Lord explains that while He has hidden truth from the rejecting for a time, it will not always be this way: Soon the Spirit will fall, the New Covenant will embrace every nation and people group, and the apostles and the church are to take all of His truth and speak it to the world. Indeed, the Lord says it is hidden (from the rejecting and given to believers in purity) precisely so it can revealed to all. If we have ears to hear we are to hear with obedience and responsiveness.
The Lord then uses an interesting phrase: “Be seeing what you are hearing!” (v. 24a). Perceive the reality of and have divine insight into the truth you are hearing from the Word of God. He goes on to say that we only get back what we put into our study and listening. Literally, the phrase is, “Whatever measure you measure it, it will be measured to you and added to you.” In other words, if you put in the effort, you will get that amount back and much more besides! This is true because of what He goes on to say on verse 25: Whoever has and properly receives the truth (in obedient faith oriented towards proclamation) will receive greater revelation and understanding from God, while whoever does not have the truth (because he rejects it) will lose even what he has—likely here referring to the ability to pursue, understand, and embrace the truth.
How we listen to, study, and read the Word of God is of utmost importance!
B. Exercise Trust (vv. 26-29)
The Lord then moves into the broader concept of the establishment and growth of God’s kingdom. Do you notice the connection? We enter the kingdom by receiving in faith the gospel of the king. It advances as we proclaim the gospel and the whole counsel of God to the saved and the lost, who then surrender to that message and live it in obedience. The point of this parable is the divine, sovereign power of Christ through the Word to create, sustain, and advance that kingdom.
A sower goes out to sow, casting seed, who does his duty and then goes to sleep. While he sleeps the seed sprouts—apart from his work or initiative. The soil produces crops lit. “automatically,” or “by itself”—and there is a progress to them. Like the old hymn, “first the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear.” The kingdom is established progressively—first the present spiritual realm where Jesus rules and reigns over the world and especially His people, then the millennial empire, then the new earth. All of the impetus for this is the power of God. We certainly have a role—we sow the seed, and apart from that sowing it will not be done—but the decisive power is divine, sovereign, so utterly of God that we could be asleep and He does His work!
Why is this an expression of trust in God? Because ultimately it does not depend on us. We have an important and necessary role, but the results are the Lord’s. Even our doing is enabled by Him. You don’t have to manipulate people with fleshly music or entertainment or lies about how much better their lives will be if they’re Christians. You don’t have to be culturally relevant, as if that is more important than God’s sovereignty. You don’t have to be cool, or use filthy language to appear relevant, or use secular rock during your Easter service to appeal to the unchurched (yes, all of these are real things attempted in real churches). You just have to faithfully proclaim “the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20) in all its glorious implications and applications, and trust the Lord to bless it as He sees fit. For some, that will mean a large church with massive resources and influence. For others, that will mean going to the foreign field and spending decades before you see one convert. What God chooses to di with your faithfulness is up to His wise plan and loving character. But your faithfulness is up to you. Do not use the Lord’s sovereignty as an excuse to not work, and do not work as through He is not sovereign. This takes patience, and faith. But it is the only way for the kingdom to advance to the glory of God.
Verse 29 says that even though the power is not of the sower, he rejoices in the harvest. This is a metaphor for the final judgment. When all is said and done, God’s people will be vindicated and rewarded (with each of us having played a part in helping others get there; 1 Thess. 2:19-20), and unbelievers condemned and consigned to eternity in hell. Our work now contributes to the final day, when the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of God and the ultimate eradication of evil will be the air we breathe.
C. Expect Triumph (vv. 30-32)
The world around us is fallen. American culture is secular, brutal, ungodly, apostate, hostile, and growing worse (apart from the gracious restraint of God). Surely it is tempting to doubt God’s program and His sovereignty. Surely, as we look at the carnality, worldliness, immaturity, enculturation, foolishness, poor doctrine, and misunderstandings of liberty in the church (for starters), it is tempting to give up and bail on our role in the plan. But God has a fresh word of exhortation and encouragement: Focus on the end of the story. Knowing that our work is inevitably tied to and leads to the triumph in the last day, we are to remain faithful to Him in the long day until the final day. Part of this encouragement stems from a proper understanding of the kingdom, which our Lord gives us here.
The kingdom starts small. It came first in the person and work of a Galilean carpenter in a backwoods part of the world. It extended first to a group of equally unimpressive fishermen and laborers, then to dozens and several hundred more. Then, the Holy Spirit was poured out in state on the day of Pentecost, and thousands came, though still a minority. Today, millions have savingly professed faith in this man and given themselves to His Kingdom—and it has not yet reached the heights it will in the final day.
Like a mustard seed—the smallest seed of all those sown in Palestine at the time—the kingdom starts small, even seemingly insignificant and overlooked. But it grows into an unmistakable, unstoppable, glorious thing. Of note is our Lord’s evident allusion to Ezekiel 17, a clear prophecy of the rule and reign of the Davidic Messiah. Under His rule, many birds (they portray Gentile peoples) will find shelter and safety in the kingdom’s tree. The growth of the kingdom in this age is directly related to its fullness in the future—the age to come of the millennial empire and the new earth. Here, the Lord not only hints that the kingdom in this age is the same kingdom promised and prophesied in the OT, that will be established progressively over time instead of just all at once, but He also alludes to the fact that in its present and future forms the Gentile peoples will play a massive role. Truly, His gospel is for the whole world, and the Davidic kingdom promise is “the charter for all humanity” (2 Sam. 7:19, lit.)!
Mark closes by saying our Lord, for now, proclaimed the truth to the rejecting masses in parables, but privately explained everything to His disciples, preparing them to reach the world (vv. 33-34).
John Piper has often said, “Life is hard. God is good. Glory is coming.” Most of the 12 to whom our Lord spoke, not to mention the hundreds more who were truly following Him, would suffer immensely for their loving and persistent proclamation of His lordship and kingly rule. The kingdom, as expressed in the church, would face many trials and difficulties as they proclaim His lordship to a world that is hell-bent on autonomy (cf. Psalm. 2). And Jesus Himself has said that many will reject. Where is hope to be found? In knowing the end of the story. The kingdom will endure, and grow into something that covers the whole earth, with our Lord reigning from Jerusalem forever. The king will triumph. The world will be reconciled to its Maker. Christ will have the preeminence in redeeming millions from every people group in every age. And He graciously, lovingly includes us in the execution and final fulfillment of that glorious plan! May God grant us grace to be faithful until the day we see Jesus Christ!