Mark 4 consists of a number of Jesus’s teachings. In other places you can read about how the people reacted to his teaching. They were amazed at the authority with which Jesus taught and remarked on how much better his teaching was than the scribes. One of the major points of Jesus’ teaching here in chapter 4 is that since he has fulfilled the promised time and brought the Kingdom of God close enough to experience, we must respond with belief and repentance. Again, this echoes his initial summary of his teaching in Mark 1:14-15. This broad theme Jesus has been teaching we call the Gospel, or the Good News: the Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come which calls for the response of belief and repentance. Those who refuse to respond this way we remain outside of this Kingdom. Jesus teaches this truth in the form of Parables in Mark 4.
At this point he is gathered with his disciples teaching only them, not the crowds of people who were following him. This first one has traditionally been called the Parable of the Lamp in Mark 4:21-25. The response to the Gospel is what Jesus talks about in the first part of chapter 4 with the Parable of the Sower, or Soils and the remaining parables of Mark 4 are in that same context. Jesus says in verse 21 (my paraphrase), “you don’t light a lamp to put it under a basket, you light it to put in on a table so that it will light up the room”. Then in verse 22 he almost explains it saying (my paraphrase), “you don’t hide something unless you plan to reveal it at a specific and certain moment.”
Now, this could mean almost anything you want it to mean if unless you agree that the rules of context govern interpretation. He has been talking about those who are inside and outside the Kingdom of God, and he is talking to his disciples, who are on the inside. So, in this context, what is it that is hidden that will be revealed? The reason why there is a division between those inside and outside the Kingdom of God. The reason why some will be in the Kingdom of God and some won’t is because the King has made this pronouncement. Jesus is this King and although at this point in the story of Mark’s book this knowledge is a secret, the time will come when everyone will know. The secret of Jesus’ true identity is going to be revealed in its proper time. The time will come when this “secret” will be revealed, but even then, people will respond in varying ways resulting in being either in our out of the Kingdom of God.
Then in verse 23, Jesus makes his famous remark, “if you have ears, use them to hear.” It is not hearing alone that is important, but how you hear, hear with belief and repentance. If the King has come with his Kingdom, we had better respond accordingly. If the King has come, this is nothing casual or ordinary, it demands that we change the way we are living in his Kingdom to be sure we don’t defy him. Then Jesus says the reason why it’s important to hear this way in verses 24 and 25, which say the same thing in two different ways:
Responding to the Gospel of the King through belief and repentance will result in a greater understanding of the Gospel. Rejecting it will result in further rejection. So be careful that you believe the Gospel, because doing so has tremendous benefits, but denying it has serious results. Jesus then moves onto another story.
The next story in Mark 4:26-29 is referred to in most bibles as The Parable of the Growing Seed, or the Seed Growing. The overall theme of this parable is the way that a farmer sows his crops and they simply grow without his involvement. Of course we know that the farmer must care for his crop, fertilize, irrigate and other things, but that’s not the point of this little story. It is a story of normal growth and harvest, nothing out of the ordinary. The farmer doesn’t determine the seeds growth, so the Kingdom of God is like this. The message (the Gospel) is proclaimed, but God causes the work to be accomplished. The Kingdom has come, and it will be brought to fruition and completion. This parable reminds us that the process in the middle is unknown by us but the hand of God oversees it. Since this is the case, we must respond personally, either through belief and repentance, or through rejection. The main point of this little story is that there is a time for the Kingdom of God to grow and spread, but there will be a time where that will end and the judgment will come. There is a period of planting, a period of growth, and a period of harvest. We don’t know why some people respond and others don’t but the point of this is that our personal response must be one of belief and repentance, so when the end comes to us or to time, we are prepared. This isn’t exactly a warm and touchy-feely story, but one that is important nonetheless. Jesus then tells another story about a different kind of seed.
This next story in Mark 4:30-34 is known as The Parable of the Mustard Seed. Surprise, surprise, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of God. He is telling his disciples that the Kingdom may not look like much now, the time will come when everyone everywhere will know that it has come. Just like a mustard seed is tiny, after it is full-grown it’s big enough for birds to come and live in. This secret of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is teaching his disciples about now, will not stay with them, but will soon be proclaimed to every tribe and tongue. As he is teaching his disciples about the it, he is calling them to the response of belief and repentance.
If the Kingdom has come, this means the King has also come. Although his disciples don’t recognize that he is the King at this point, they soon will. This is one of the common points of all three of these parables he has taught. This is not a sage dispensing wise advice, he is no scribe expounding on ancient teachings. This Jesus who teaches is the King of heaven and earth. The response he calls us to is not suggestion, but truth. He leaves us no room for avoiding and procrastinating because he is the King and he calls us to belief and repentance now if we are to enter his Kingdom which he is proclaiming.