SERMON TITLE: Unexpected Kingdom
TEXT: Mark 4:21-34 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — I want you to know that God loves you and I love you too.
And if you’re a guest with us, we’re going through the gospel of Mark here at Gateway. Last year we made it through the first three chapters and we’ve picked up right where we left off. But know that you can check out all the sermons from last year by going to our website or app.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
And if you have your Bible please turn with me to Mark chapter 4. We’ll be looking at verses 21-34.
And one other thing — if you’re a guest with us — something I like to do is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
Now Mark’s gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus — it’s all about what Jesus did and what He taught. And today we’re continuing our look at Jesus’ life and ministry and seeing how His words should shape and influence our lives — even in some unexpected ways. And that’s what we’re finding in Mark’s gospel — we’re discovering things Jesus does or says that are surprising — they’re unexpected.
Now our story is a continuation of the dialogue from last week. So Jesus is by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He’s just taught the crowd a parable about salvation and then explained it to a smaller group.
And last week we learned that a parable is a story from everyday life used to illustrate a moral or religious truth. And the religious truth Jesus is teaching us today is this: Here’s what the Kingdom of God is like — Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God.
So before we get too far along, we should know what the Kingdom of God is. So what is the Kingdom of God? If you’re taking notes, the Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign rule in the universe and in the hearts of Christians. The Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign rule — and by sovereign rule — picture in your mind a supreme ruler, an unrivaled king, an unbeatable warrior — so the Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign rule in two places — the universe and in the hearts of Christians.
God rules over all creation — things seen and things not seen — both the physical and spiritual world. And He rules in the hearts of Christians — people who believe in Jesus — who trust in Him alone for their salvation and with their life.
And a distinguishing mark for the Christian — something that sets a believer apart from an unbeliever — is that God rules their heart.
He has their loyalty.
He has their submission.
He has their affections.
He has their attention.
He has them.
And in today’s three parables — Jesus is going to teach us what God’s sovereign rule — specifically in the hearts of Christians — what is it like. What is the Kingdom of God like?
Let’s begin in verse twenty-one of Mark chapter 4.
LIKE A LAMP
“And he said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." 24 And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."” (Mark 4:21-25 ESV)
So Jesus begins teaching about the Kingdom of God by saying that no one lights a lamp in a house only to hide it in a place where the light won’t be seen. You’ve probably noticed that in your house — or apartment — there are lights. Natural light that comes through windows and manmade light from light bulbs. And you do something instinctively with these lights. You don’t cover them — you don’t hide them. Most people don’t put furniture in front of windows that will block out the light. Sure we put up shades or curtains for privacy, but even then the curtains can be opened in order to let what in? To let light in.
We don’t turn on a lamp and then smother it in a blanket — what’s the point of turning it on — if you just cover it up? Sort of like mounting a TV on a wall in your house that doesn’t have an electrical outlet — you don’t put a TV there. No one puts a TV on a wall for looks. A TV is for watching something on it, so a wall without a power outlet wouldn’t be the place to hang the TV.
And Jesus says what we know not to do with a TV is what we’re not supposed to do with a lamp. Or, I should say, “the lamp.”
English translations of the Bible are great, but sometimes there are nuances that get hidden in the translation process. These aren’t things to worry about — your English Bible has everything you need to love and obey God — but my role is to help us all understand the Bible better. And in our English translations, most versions talk about “a lamp” but Jesus says something more like “the lamp” — no one hides “the lamp” instead they let its light shine brightly.
So what’s “the lamp” that Jesus is talking about here? Or — really — the better question is not what is the lamp, but who is the lamp? One pastor has said, “Jesus is speaking here about the light that has come into the world with the breakthrough of the kingdom of God, and the lamp is Jesus Himself. He’s saying: “I didn’t come here to be concealed forever. I came here as a lamp that’s to be set on a lamp stand, so that the light that I bring may burst forth and manifest itself clearly to all who dwell in darkness. I didn’t come to be covered with a basket or hidden under a bed I came to shine forth.” (RC Sproul)
Jesus is saying that the truth about Him cannot — and will not — remain hidden. It will shine forth like the sunrise breaking through the darkness of night declaring that a new day has begun. What was once hidden — that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God — will one day be evident to all. What has been kept secret — that He is the Savior and Hope of the world — will one day be declared among people of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
And our responsibility — the responsibility of the church — of every Christian — is to not allow the lamp of God — the light of the world — to be hidden. We’re to let Jesus shine in all His radiance and beauty both in our lives as individuals — but even more so — in our life as a community of believers.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” Jesus says. Listen up. Pay attention. Just like last week, Jesus is wanting us to know that this parable requires action on our part. It requires a change in the way we live.
A simple way to see if this truth is changing your life is by answering this question.
Is Jesus’ light shining through you or is He being hidden by you? Is His light shining through you or is He being hidden by you? Is your life proclaiming the wonder and glorious news of who Jesus is or are you hiding who He is from others?
And then Jesus gives us a warning — a dire one at that. He says, “The measure you use will be used against you.” Now what does that mean? He says, “He who has will be given more and he who doesn’t have will have it all taken away from him.” How does this relate to the idea of Jesus being the light of the world that we’re not to hide?
One thing to know about Jesus — especially if you’re sort of checking the Christian faith out — is that He is an incredibly creative teacher. So here’s what He’s doing. He’s come back to the basket that He mentioned before — “don’t put the lamp under a basket.” “What are you talking about Josh? I don’t see the basket being mentioned here — this is all about measuring stuff.”
Exactly. The word for basket — that Jesus used earlier — is actually a basket that was used to measure things. Say you wanted to trade with someone. You’re a baker and they’re a butcher. Well a basket would be used to measure the amount of goods being traded between the individuals. Kind of like a really big measuring cup to make sure that neither person rips the other one off.
So Jesus is playing on words here. And He’s essentially saying that a person who takes a measuring basket and hides who I am will end up with nothing in their basket, but the person who allows My light to shine through their life will have their measuring basket filled with blessings from God.
It makes sense right? To put a basket over a lamp means you have to do what with the basket? You have to turn it upside down. And what happens to the stuff in the basket when you turn it upside down? It all falls out.
So — for instance — each of us have been given gifts and talents — we all have some knowledge about Jesus — the truth of who He is and what He’s done — and the grace and forgiveness He’s offering to the world. That’s what we have in our measuring baskets called our lives. And Jesus says what you and I do with what we’ve been given has eternal consequences.
The person who uses what they’ve been given for the sake of others will be given even more — Jesus will keep filling their basket up with more blessings and favor and talents and gifts and knowledge — the person who uses these things for the benefit of others will be given even more of these tings.
But the person who doesn’t use these blessings for the benefit of others — those who use their basket to cover Jesus’ light — well they lose everything that’s been given to them.
Here’s an example of how this plays out in my life. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that by teaching the Bible to you I learn more about the Bible. If you’ve ever taught in Kidway — or are a life group leader — you know what I mean. In order to be able to teach others, you have to learn yourself.
Now an amazing thing happens to most of us. If we learn just for our own sake — it’s amazing how much we end up forgetting. But when we learn in order to pass the truth on to others — well — somehow our brains remember what we’d usually forget.
So by teaching you the Bible, I learn more about the Bible and God and His great love for me and all people. And I learn what it means to be patient and kind, and how sinful I am and you are. And what it means to be compassionate with those who struggle with doubt or unbelief. And these are all blessings given to me when I take what I learn and pass it on to you.
And even if you don’t consider yourself a teacher, a great opportunity to pass on to others what you’re learning about God — and the Christian faith — is in our life groups. And I’m telling you, if you want God to change you — to shape you — if you don’t want to keep listening to sermon after sermon after sermon and wonder why you’re not changing or growing in your faith — one of the reasons you may not be changing is because you’re not sharing what you’ve learned with others. And a life group is a great place to do that. You may just experience your basket being filled to an even greater capacity because you’re using what God has given you for the benefit of others.
So here’s what we’ve learned from this parable.
SUMMARY OF POINT 1
The Kingdom of God is a light shining ever brighter in the people of God. The Kingdom of God is a light that shines ever brighter in the people of God. The question for each of us is this: Is God’s light being covered by me or is God’s light shining in and through me?
Are you putting God’s light under the basket of your life or are you allowing God’s light to shine brightly in and through you so others find their way out of the darkness they’re trapped in and step into God’s glorious Kingdom of light?
The Kingdom of God is a light shining ever brighter in the people of God.
LIKE A HARVEST
Let’s continue reading — verse 26. “And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."” (Mark 4:26-29 ESV)
Now Jesus’ first illustration — about the lamp — puts some responsibility on our shoulders — are you letting God’s light shine in and through you — but this parable describes the Kingdom of God in a very different way.
Jesus says, “Imagine a farmer who goes out and scatters some seed on the ground.” The picture here is one of randomness — the seed kind of lands wherever it lands. And in this illustration, that’s all the farmer does — besides sleep and get up and go back to sleep and get up and go back to sleep and — well you get the idea. The farmer throws the seed on the ground and that’s it.
And in verse twenty-seven Jesus makes it clear that this farmer has no idea how the seed transforms into grain — he doesn’t have a clue. But what does the farmer know to do? He knows to trust the process — let the earth do its job. And he knows that if he’s patient — the harvest will come.
Now he did do his part — he scattered the seeds — but then he’s patient — he waits — he’s confident that the harvest will come. He’s at peace — he can sleep at night and not worry even though he doesn’t know exactly how the crop is produced.
And when the time has come — when the grain is full grown — then the farmer gets back to work and goes out and gathers the harvest.
And this is also what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s a mysterious harvest of souls of men and women who were once enemies of God, but have been saved into an everlasting friendship with God. For two thousand years theologians have debated about how salvation works — and though there are many things we do understand about salvation — if we’re honest — salvation is a beautiful mystery.
For instance, I look out at all of you and I think, “Look at all that God has done — and is doing — in your lives.” I mean some of you were messed up before God saved you — and some of you still are a mess. And that’s OK — I’m a mess too. And it’s a mystery — a beautiful mystery — as to how God is changing us. Yes, we read our Bibles, and pray, and serve, and are in community with one another — but there’s a mystery as to how the Kingdom of God is expanding in the souls of men and women all around the world — including here at Gateway.
And our part is to plant the seeds of the Kingdom — just like the farmer did. We’re to share the gospel, proclaim the gospel, preach the gospel, let the light of the Kingdom of God shine in and through us as we serve and love others — that’s what we’re to do — and then we rest. Our job isn’t to save people — our job is to share the Good News of the gospel with people — and leave the saving to God.
Don’t lose sleep over how great or feeble your efforts are. Know that the success of the seeds you plant are not dependent upon you. Let that free you from the burden of results, so you share the gospel more joyfully and regularly.
So we rest. We’re at peace. We confidently, joyfully, unashamedly share the gospel with others because we know that’s how the Kingdom of God expands, but we leave the results to God.
But oh are we ready — you better believe we’re to be ready — when God does His mysterious work of saving someone. We have to be ready to disciple them — to help them grow in their faith — to teach them what you know. That means you’ve got to keep learning about what it means to follow Jesus so you’re ready to teach them what it means to follow Jesus.
Most of our Life Groups are reading the book Gaining by Losing. There’s a challenge in one of the chapters about personally discipling someone — that discipling others is something every Christian is to do — if you haven’t gotten to the chapter yet — just prepare yourself for a punch to your gut. But you’ve got to be ready — not just me — or the staff and the elders — but all disciples of Jesus are to be disciple makers. We’re not saviors — but we are disciple makers.
So what does that look like? You tell someone, “I’m going to help you grow in your walk with Jesus. And here’s what I want you to do. Follow me as I follow Jesus. Imitate me as I imitate Him.”
Do you feel the weight of that statement? I bet you do.
I bet it’s scary because you suddenly realize you’ve got some work to do — some priorities need to get straightened out, right?
You may realize how sorry of a job you’ve been doing at imitating Christ — because you haven’t been concerned with making disciples who are imitating you as you imitate Christ — it’s not even been on your radar.
But here’s what discipling someone does.
It makes you grow.
It forces you to get serious about your faith.
It makes you wrestle with how earnestly and passionately you’re living for the glory of God.
It reminds you that life’s too short to live for anything other than the fame and honor of the One who’s saved you.
It makes you come face to face with what it means to let God’s light shine through you instead of hiding His light under the basket of your life.
“Yeah Josh, but who do I disciple?” Time for some audience participation.
If you’d say, “I’m a believer in Jesus — I’m a Christian” — would you raise your hand for me — you claim to be a follower of Jesus — even at NM — raise your hand.
Now watch what I do here — keep your hands up. If you’ve been a Christian for 30 years or longer put your hand down — everyone else keep your hand up. Now if you put your hand down look around the room. The hands still raised are all of your options for discipleship.
If you’ve been a Christian for 20 years or longer put your hands down — everyone else keep your hands up. Again, if you just put your hand down, look around the room — the hands still raised are people who need you to disciple them.
If you’ve been a Christian ten years or longer put your hands down. Look around the room at the hands still in the air — people you should be discipling.
Everyone can put your hands down. Now listen, I could’ve kept going because this whole “who do I disciple” question eventually starts getting answered by exiting the room you’re in and walking over to where our middle school students are gathered, and the elementary kids, and preschoolers. If you’re a believer in Jesus, there’s someone here at Gateway you can be discipling.
And just as Jesus said earlier, the more you pass on what you’ve learned to someone else, the more you grow yourself. And you’ll experience deeper joy, and greater confidence, and an ever-increasing hope because God is using you for His Kingdom’s sake
SUMMARY OF POINT 2
The Kingdom of God is a mysterious harvest of souls. It’s a mysterious harvest of souls and we Christians are to scatter the seed of God’s gospel — as we trust Him to save people — all while being prepared to disciple those who come to faith in Him.
LIKE A MUSTARD SEED
One final parable. Let’s continue in verse 30.
“And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” (Mark 4:30-34 ESV)
In this last parable, we see the growth of the Kingdom. And Jesus uses a mustard seed to illustrate how the Kingdom of God has been, is, and how it will continue to grow.
The mustard seed was the smallest seed Jesus’ audience was familiar with — it was the smallest seed in the area — so Jesus uses it for His illustration. Now there are folks who try to use this as an example of Jesus making a mistake — of there being an error in the Bible — but everyone can relax. Jesus isn’t teaching a class on 21st century botany. He’s contextualizing for His audience’s sake — this was the smallest seed they knew of — they thought it was the smallest seed in existence — and He was more concerned with teaching them a spiritual truth than a lesson on plants and their seed sizes.
But the mustard seed was a tiny seed and man could it grow into a large tree. Some reaching ten feet tall, which doesn’t seem very tall compared to trees we’re familiar with, but for this region of the world — and especially coming from such a tiny seed — the magnitude in change from small to large is remarkable.
And that’s how the Kingdom of God grows. It started very small — just Jesus and a handful of followers. Yet today — God’s Kingdom has grown in size to millions upon millions of people who are Christians. And if you look back through history and realize that this religion of ours started out so small — it’s quite remarkable that it’s even around today. In the days of early Christianity the majority of people were worshipping Greek and Roman gods — but not today — there’s not a mass of people rushing to the temple of Zeus to worship. Yet even though Christianity started out very small — it’s grown into something quite huge.
And many times, ministries start the same way — with small beginnings. We all dream of being part of something big and wonderful, but don’t despise small beginnings — don’t despise small ministries. God’s not nearly as concerned about the size of our ministry as He is the faithfulness of our ministry. He’s not nearly as concerned about the breadth of your influence as He is your faithfulness — don’t despise small beginnings — for the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree. What began as something tiny has grown into something remarkable in size.
And what we learn is that…
SUMMARY OF POINT 3
The Kingdom of God will continue to grow until the return of Christ. The Kingdom of God will continue to grow until the return of Christ.
God’s sovereign rule in the universe — and in the hearts of Christians — is growing — and will continue to do so — until Jesus Christ returns to this earth as He promised He would.
And the implication — of these three parables — for us is this: Are you a citizen of God’s ever-expanding Kingdom — or are you an enemy of the King?
A Kingdom implies a King. And your relationship to the King of the Kingdom is the most important relationship in your life. Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God. And He’s promised that He will return to our world to judge every person according to one thing: Have or have they not believed in Me. And by believing in Me — Jesus means — have they submitted their lives to Me, their hopes and dreams to Me, their fears and doubts to Me, their joys and sorrows, their words and thoughts — have they submitted all of who they are — and all they hope to be — to me?
And the Good News is that Jesus wants something better for you than you want for yourself. The best thing most of us can think of is a little less pain and a little more happiness. Relief from the pains of life and a bit more fun. But Jesus gives us something better: He gives us Himself. The King of God’s Kingdom gives us Himself — and when you receive Him — you discover what it means to be both protected by the One who eternally loves you and to find eternal happiness in Him as well.
And Jesus gave us Himself — while we were His enemies. Jesus willing died on a cross so that by believing in Him you might become a citizen of His ever growing Kingdom and experience what it means to have Him as your King — as your Protector — as the One who will shield you from eternal harm. As a compassionate Friend who wipes away every tear from your face and is bringing you into an eternal home where there will be no more weeping or reason to be sad.
And the Kingdom of God is upon us right now. It started small — like a mustard seed — but is growing into something bigger than we can imagine. It’s a light shining forth in a dark world. It’s the scattering of the Good News of God’s great love for sinners — men and women, boys and girls, people like you and me all around this world — and as the News is scattered — God does the work that only He can do in saving people from their sins and welcoming them into His eternal Kingdom.
But when the King returns — will you be a citizen of His Kingdom?
When Jesus returns, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord — that He is King. People of the Kingdom of God do so joyfully now — in this life — as they long for — and anticipate — their King’s return — they do so in this life as they shine His light brightly into the world for all to see — they do so as they scatter the seed of their King’s Good News.
“The Kingdom of God is here,” Jesus says to you. And He’s offering you citizenship in His Kingdom. “Believe in Me,” Jesus says. “Trust Me. Receive Me as your King.” Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for reminding us that Jesus is the King of Your Kingdom. He is the One we must submit our lives to. He is the One in whom everlasting joy is found. He is love. He gives hope. He offers peace. And He does so — graciously — to all of us.
Jesus, help us to shine Your light in and through our lives. May we take seriously what it means to hide your light — for in hiding it we discard the gifts You’ve blessed us with. Help us to let Your light shine in and through us as You fill our lives with even greater blessings that we’re to use for Your glory and the good of others.
Spirit help us to scatter the seeds of the gospel with great confidence — knowing that the results are in Your hands.
And finally — Father — for anyone who’s hearing Your call — for those in whom Your Spirit is stirring a desire to enter into Your Kingdom — I pray that You would do the mysterious work of salvation in them right now. Save them from their sin. Welcome them into Your Kingdom. Give them peace of mind, joy in their spirit, and hope for their eternity.
Thank you for being a Saving God and our Powerful King. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: Have been hiding God’s light; want to experience His blessing once again)
May you go letting God’s light shine brightly in and through you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.