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Tuesday
Jul162019

More Parables II

Mark 4:30-41.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, July 14, 2019.

Today we will continue in Mark 4 looking at another parable that Jesus told.  In it we will see that Jesus knew that his Church would become a large thing and that the devil would take advantage of that to hide his servants among the branches.  Ultimately God is in control and he is not afraid of the things that we fear.

We must learn to pray and to trust his final decisions regarding the difficulties allowed in our life and in his Church.  God always has a way through for us that leads to him and his glory.

The parable of the Mustard Seed

In this parable, Jesus employs the planted seed metaphor again.  We are also told that this is a picture of the “Kingdom of God.”  This parable is also in Matthew and Luke.  In Matthew 13 we told that this is a picture of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  I only point this out because some try to force a technical difference upon these phrases.  However, at least in this case, it is extremely stretched to think that Jesus means anything other than that these phrases are basically synonymous.  Though the Kingdom of Heaven includes the spirit realm and the earthly realm, the parables are generally focused on the earthly realm. 

This parable is short and makes a clear and simple message that is basically about the size of the plant that grows from the seed.  Since the plant represents the whole Church (geographically and chronologically), the seed here represents the deposit of the Gospel into the earth.  What looks like the smallest of seeds grows into a plant that is larger than the other garden plants.  Historically, we can see that this is very true.  The Church began as a small group compared to the other religions of the world, but grows to become a very large concern, even to the point that there are over 2 billion people today who have some connection to Christianity.

Some point to this parable as an illustration of Jesus being in error.  They state that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on the earth.  However, in the context, Jesus is talking about seeds that a 1st century Judean would be sowing in their garden.  In fact, the term “on earth” is literally upon the earth and is used in the same way that we would call dirt “earth.”  Matthew doesn’t even use the phrase, “upon the earth.”  There it says of the seed, “which a man took and sowed in his field.”  Jesus is not claiming that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all the seeds upon the entire planet.  He is not at an International Botany Convention presenting his scientific research on the mustard seed.  When we are intellectually honest with what Jesus is saying, it is clear that he means the mustard seed was smaller than the seeds they would have been planting in Israel at that point in time.  People who make this objection are being bull-headed and attempt to force the words of Jesus to mean something other than what he intended.

Another area people like to pick on is the size of the mustard plant.  They will say that a mustard plant doesn’t get big enough for birds to nest.  However, some mustard plants can get up to 12 feet tall.  The point Jesus makes is not that all mustard seeds will end up big enough that birds will build nests in them.  The main point that it will be larger than the other plants who started with bigger seeds.  Also, that this particular mustard plan will be large enough that birds would nest in it.  The emphasis is its largeness, not that all mustard plants have bird nests.  Thus, the Kingdom of God, or the Church, starts out small, but ends up being larger than the other plants (religions).

In light of the parable of the sower, we must deal with the phrase, “birds of the air.”  There it had a sinister interpretation, and it pointed to the work of Satan and his evil spirits to remove God’s Word from our life.  Though there does not seem to be a need for a sinister interpretation in this parable (due to the fact that it emphasizes the large size of the plant), it makes sense in light of the countless other places where Christ warns that Satan would sow tares among his field, false teachers and prophets would arise, and that deception would be prevalent especially in the last days.  Thus, the Church would become so big that false spirits and leaders would be set up in particular branches without being ran away.

Verses 33-34 tell us that Jesus told many such parables to the crowds, and yet explained the meaning to his disciples later, when they were alone.

To sum up, the parable of the sower emphasizes the importance of the condition of our heart and mind when we hear the word of God.  The parable of the Lamp under a Bushel emphasizes the purpose that God has in giving light, and our responsibility in receiving it.  The parable of the Growing Seed emphasizes that God’s plan is inevitable.  His Word will build the Kingdom of God, until it is ready to be harvested, and then God will harvest it.  Likewise, the mustard seed emphasizes that the Church would become quite large.

Let us remember that Jesus was not contemplating nature and coming up with spiritual knowledge.  He is operating the other direction.  It is his knowledge of spiritual truth that allows him to pick out illustrations from the world around him.  We must be careful of taking these or other natural analogies and attempting to press them into further truths that the Bible does not reveal.  Truth opens our eyes to the world around us.  However, trying to discover new truth by studying nature leads to countless false ideas and false religions of our own making.

Jesus calms the storm

At verse 35, Mark turns back to the narrative of events that Jesus and his disciples encountered.  The next situation starts out with a simple task.  They are clearly on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus instructs his disciples to take them to the other side via a boat.  At least 4 of the disciples had extensive experience boating on this sea, so this is not hard thing.  In comparison, Christ gives us a very simple thing to do.  Quit living life for self, pick up your cross, and follow him.  Essentially, we trust him as the way to peace with God and we share that message with those we encounter.  Simple.  These are not difficult things in and of themselves.

However, the disciples encounter difficulty along the way of accomplishing the simple task.  A storm rises up and begins to swamp the boat.  It is clearly worse than any they have seen before and are unable to bail or, at least, keep up with the water coming into the boat.  They sense it is going to sink and they with it.  It is unlikely that they would be able to swim to shore in such a turbulent storm.  It is amazing how even simple things can quickly be complicated by difficulties.  Raising your children for the Lord is a simple thing, but the difficulties we encounter from our culture and from within our own children can sometimes make us feel like we are going under and have failed.  Our mind knows that God allows difficulty, but our heart continually says, “Surely, if God was in it, there would be little difficulty.”  However, without difficulty, we would not be aware that God is truly with us, and we would not become likely him, overcoming adversity.

The difficulty of the storm and their impending death causes the disciples to question whether Jesus cares about them.  Doubt rises in their hearts.  Jesus is sleeping in the stern of the boat.  Why does he not care that we are perishing?  We often judge God’s actions, or more precisely his lack of action, as if he were us.  Things in life often become difficult and threatening.  However, Scripture is abundantly clear on this point.  God cares about us more than we can imagine. He has provided everything that we need, and, when we were without help and hopeless, while we were yet sinners, he stepped in and died in our place in a cruel and horrible death.  The disciples had not seen Jesus on the cross at this point, but we have.  How can we doubt his love when he has shown us by the cross just how much he loves us?  Yes, he cares for you.  Even though it appears that he is doing nothing, or is asleep in the back seat.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm.  “Peace, be still!”  At that point, the winds stopped and it says there was a “great calm.”  He didn’t just turn the storm down enough that they could make it.  He commanded the wind to completely stop and suddenly it was Lake Place, or for our neck of the woods, Lake Serene.

Notice that Jesus had a question for his disciples.  For every question that we have for God in this life, we should remember that he has questions of his own, and we are far less prepared to answer his than he is ours.  Why are you so fearful?  How is it you have no faith?  If I really am a child of God, so loved by him that he would come and die on the cross for me, then what do I have to fear?  Clearly the answer is nothing.  For us, death on a cross or death on the seas are horrible things that we would seek to avoid at all costs.  However, for God these are not problems.   He can “fix” them in a second.  So, if he allows them to continue, he must have a reason.  God’s plans are different than our because even death cannot stop the purpose of the God of the Resurrection.  He can immediately end our difficulty and sometimes does, as we cry out to him in prayer.  Other times, when we cry out to God, he brings just enough relief to help us through the difficulty.  However, sometimes the difficulty, even the death, may be his plan.

Thus, Jesus shows us the way on the night in which he was betrayed and handed over to be executed.  He prayed, “Father, if possible, may this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, your will be done.”  God knows our fears and has purposed to help us in life as we pray to him.  Yet, sometimes there are things that he will not remove, not because he doesn’t love us, but precisely because he does love us.

The powerful display of speaking to nature and it responding shocks the disciples.  Please…it would shock us today.  Our scientists have enough trouble telling us what the weather is going to do today, much less control it.  Sure, there are projects around the world that seek to use directed energy to affect weather, but such things are child’s play compared to what Jesus did and can still do.  It was pure, raw, and undeniably the power of the Creator.  He spoke, “Let there be peace, and there was peace.”  The disciples went from questioning if Jesus cared for them to questioning just who this guy was.  The answer to that question is that he is the Son of God who has all power and authority over heaven and earth.  If you are on the side of such a being, what have you to fear?  Nothing.  What is there not to trust?  Nothing.  May God strengthen our faith and may all our fears be cast at the feet of the one who is greater than even death itself.

More Parables II audio