The Gospel of Mark: Light and Measures

Sermon by David Strain on March 3, 2019

Mark 4:21-25

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Let me ask you all please to take a Bible in your hands and turn with me to Mark's gospel, Mark chapter 4; Mark's gospel chapter 4, page 839 in the church Bibles. It may seem to you like a hundred years ago now, and so you may barely be able to remember, but there was a time when we began to work our way through Mark's gospel! And we've been broken off looking at Mark for some time, and since I'm back in the pulpit for a little while in the evenings, I thought we'd pick up where we left off and see how far we can get this time around. So Mark chapter 4. We'll be focused on verses 21 through 25.


In verses 1 through 20, we have the famous parable of the sower. And then as we’ll see in weeks ahead, verses 26 through 32, there are two more parables – the parable of the seed that grows by itself and the parable of the mustard seed that will grow to give shelter to the birds of the air. All of these parables have to do with the nature of God’s kingdom that has broken into the world with the coming of Jesus Christ. Specifically, they teach us about the way God’s kingdom grows by the Word of God. That’s the message, in one way or another, in all of these parables. It’s the big idea of the whole chapter, really. So it’s still the theme at the heart of these two little parables before us tonight.


Now if you know the gospels well – I’m not presupposing that you do – but if you do, as we read these two little parables in verses 21 through 25 together you might hear some phrases that are very familiar. You may remember that Jesus uses the rather silly image of hiding a lamp under a basket elsewhere – Matthew chapter 5 verse 15. In that context, He uses it as part of an exhortation to His disciples not to hide their own light but to be good witnesses to the world for Jesus Christ. Don’t hide your light under a basket; let it shine. Let people see that you love the Lord Jesus Christ. Or you may remember that He used the metaphor of the measure that we use being measured back to us in Matthew chapter 7 verse 2. That’s a metaphor that He uses again in Mark 4. But in Matthew 7, He used it in the context of a warning not to engage in unjust judgments, lest the measure you use to judge others is used by God to you and you find yourself being judged in turn.


And when you see that, when you notice these are phrases that Jesus uses in other places, you might be tempted to try to force the interpretation of these two parables here in Mark chapter 4 to somehow make them mean the same thing as the same expression is found in other places. And that would be a mistake. Jesus, just like us, is perfectly capable of using the same expressions and deploying the same metaphors and similes in different contexts to press them into service for quite different purposes. Anybody who speaks publicly with regularity or anyone who teaches will often find themselves returning to familiar expressions and turns of phrase and adapting them and deploying them often in widely different situations and circumstances for their own purposes. So here’s just a little extra. This is a principle of good Bible interpretation to keep in your back pocket when you’re reading the Scriptures for yourself. Just because Jesus is using the same image or the same expression or the same phraseology in more than one place, does not automatically mean that He intends to communicate the same message in every place. We have to pay attention to the context.


And so in Matthew 5:15, Jesus is urging us to do something. We're not to hide our lights under a basket. We are to be His witnesses. But here in Mark chapter 4, Jesus uses the same metaphor but He's not actually urging us to do anything. Instead, He is promising us something wonderful about the destiny of the Gospel in the kingdom of God. We might sum up the message of verses 21 through 23 like this – the first parable here is teaching us that in the kingdom of God the future is bright. In the kingdom of God, the future is bright. Or take the other image in our text – the image of the measures. In Matthew 7 verse 2 where Jesus uses the same metaphor, He's warning about the way we are judging others, lest we ourselves be judged. But here, in verses 24 and 25, there is still a note of warning to be sure, but this time the focus falls on our hearing the Word of God. So the teaching this time we might say is, in the kingdom of God, the stakes are high for how we hear, what we do with the Word of God. So first, in the kingdom of God, the future is bright. Secondly, in the kingdom of God, the stakes are high. It matters how we respond to God's Word.


Before we read the passage and then begin to examine these two parables together, let me ask if you would please bow your heads with me one more time as we pray. Let’s pray together.


Lord Jesus, we have come together this evening to sit again at Your feet, to enter Your school, to be discipled by Your Word. Would You grant to us the ministry of the Holy Spirit to take up the Word and by it to give us light. Help us to take heed how we hear, what we hear, that it may bear much fruit, that what we have already received we may still receive yet more. Open our eyes, hearts, minds to receive the truth and cause it to bear much fruit for Your glory in our lives. For Jesus’ sake, amen.


Mark chapter 4 at verse 21. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“And he,” – Jesus – “said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ 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. 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.’”


Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.


The Future is Bright

"To hide one's light under a bushel" – that was how William Tyndale, the early translator of the scriptures into the English language, translated the phrase found in Matthew 5:15 and here again in our passage, Mark 4:21. From Tyndale's translation, it passed into common usage and became an English proverb. When someone is told not to hide their light under a bushel or under a basket, what are we telling them? We're telling them not to be so modest; not to hide their talents. "Come, come! Don't hide your light under a bushel! Let it shine. Show people what you can do! Step forward." That's what we're saying. "Don't be so bashful! Let us see your gifts and abilities. Let them shine." Look, we like to be the center of the Bible's attention when we read it, don't we – at least I do. And so it's tempting to read the phrase here in Mark 4 that way. But it's really not about what we are supposed to do at all. In fact, it is a wonderful promise about the kingdom of God, one that is, I think, full of rich encouragement for us. It tells us that in the kingdom of God the future is bright.


The Lamp

Let's look at it together. Verses 21 through 23. The English translations that we're using as our church Bibles translate verse 21 in a way, frankly, that somewhat obscures some important details and when we notice them, I think they help us grasp what is being said. First of all, the English Standard Version that is our church Bible speaks about "a lamp," but the Greek speaks about "the lamp" – one particular lamp is in view. And secondly, the English Standard Version says, "is a lamp brought in." But the Greek actually says, "does the lamp come in." It isn't brought in; it comes in all on its own and I suppose the translators couldn't really make much sense of that and so in order to make it read more appropriately they said, "the light is brought in." But actually, it comes in. Personal agency is ascribed to the lamp. The lamp is a person. The lamp comes in. The lamp is a person. The lamp, I think, is the Lord Jesus Christ.


Actually, we need to go a little further even than that. You remember, after all, the overall context of the chapter has a particular focus on the Gospel message. The surrounding parables, in one way or another, are all about the seed of the Word sown and growing. And so putting all of that together, probably the best way to read verse 21 is that the lamp is the revelation of God and His kingdom that has come in the person, words and works of Jesus Christ; a message, a revelation to us now summarized in the message of the Gospel. But if the lamp here is the Gospel of the kingdom expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, what is Jesus saying to us then when He asks the disciples, "Does the lamp come in to be put under a basket or under a bed and not on a stand?"


I think He’s telling the disciples to be patient. “It seems like the light is hidden and obscured for now,” He’s saying to them. People did not believe in Him. Many were opposing Him. Antagonism towards Him was growing. But He did not come to have His light hidden away. No, verse 22, “nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.” The whole point of His coming in this veiled, often rejected manner, was so that His light might shine soon, undimmed to the ends of the earth. He came in weakness and suffering. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected of men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. As one from whom men hid their faces, He was despised and we esteemed Him not” – Isaiah 53:2-3. In agony, hanging between two criminals, crying out in dereliction, He died in darkness. “The Light of the world by darkness slain.” And He came in this veiled, unrecognized, suffering way so that, “bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again,” and His light would shine into the darkness of a world in rebellion and the darkness not overcome it.



Listen, here I think is the great encouragement of the passage. The Gospel of the kingdom, the coming of Jesus Christ, cannot stay hidden. Nothing can obscure it. No shadow can engulf it. The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” He shines into the darkness, into the gloom of the hearts of rebel sinners and chases the shadows away in the Gospel. We’ve been encouraged here at First Presbyterian Church over the last few Sundays of Mission Conference not only to support the work of global mission but ourselves to be missionaries in our backyards and neighborhoods and workplaces and homes. As we’ve heard – and we’ve heard abundant testimony haven’t we? – of the way God is at work, the way the light of the Gospel is chasing away the shadows of unbelief in India and East Asia and Central Asia and Africa and South America. The light of the Gospel is chasing away the shadows of unbelief. The people who walked in darkness are seeing the great Light. That’s the message of Jesus’ parable here too. It’s encouraging us that there is no darkness so absolute that the light of the Gospel cannot penetrate it. The reason the lamp came was not to be hidden but to be revealed, made manifest. The kingdom will be seen one day. One day it will be seen perfectly and forever when Christ returns. And the light will shine and every shadow will depart forever.


But even now, albeit only by degrees, but even now when we open our mouths and speak a word for Jesus, when the Gospel comes from us to others, we ought not to fear that the Gospel might somehow fail. Here we have a promise. The Gospel light will shine and every one of the children of God will be gathered in. Every single one of God's people all over the world will be redeemed by grace; every single one. He simply calls us to go find them by proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ. I think we often feel like our own witness to Jesus is like a little flame in a great, oppressive darkness. You know, like one of those little candles from the top of a birthday cake – that's our witness. You know, pathetic, puny, flickering, the barest puff of a breeze will snuff it out. And all around us is this absolute, impenetrable darkness. "What can my little light do?" we wonder. That's not the right picture. Jesus is the Light. He is the Lamp. The Gospel is the Light. And it shines too brightly there is no shadow so difficult it cannot dispel. There is no one beyond the reach of Jesus Christ. There is no heart so hard His grace cannot soften it and change it forever. The light will pierce the darkness; we just need to let it shine. The future is bright for the cause of Jesus Christ here and all over the world. I'm confident of that not because I think the church has finally got it right – here or anywhere else for that matter. I'm confident of that because of the promise of Christ. The Lamp came not to be hidden away. It came to blaze forth and to give light to the world. And nothing can stop Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop the Light of the world. In the kingdom of God the future is bright, so let's not be afraid to share the Gospel.


Let's not worry that we don't have the answers, that we can't quite articulate the message perfectly when we're put on the spot so we don't even try. The power to chase the shadows away, the shadows of unbelief from human hearts, doesn't lie with us. It never did. It lies with the Lamp. It lies with Christ. It lies with the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. We can have confidence in the Light, in Christ, in the Gospel itself. And so we need to let it loose and watch the Light of the kingdom shine into the darkest corners of our lives, our homes, and our neighborhoods to the glory of God. So this first parable is a promise. I hope it's an encouragement to you that your little light is not the measures of how far the Gospel can penetrate. Jesus is the Lamp and His light will shine and illuminate the ends of the earth.


The Stakes are High

But now notice this second parable. This parable offers not a word of promise but a word of exhortation. Verse 23 ends the first parable with a familiar phrase. Jesus often uses it to conclude the parables – “Let him who has an ear let him hear.” It’s an encouragement to hear, to listen. And this second parable, beginning in verse 24, picks up on that theme, the theme of hearing and listening. The first parable is about revelation coming to the world, light going into the darkness. This second parable is about how we respond when we hear the Gospel, when the Word comes to us. The first parable is about the Gospel coming to us. The second is about how we respond when it does. The first says in the kingdom of God the future is bright. The second says in the kingdom of God the stakes are high. The stakes are high.


Look at verse 24. Notice how Jesus begins. "Pay attention" or "Take heed to what you hear." That's pretty clear. Isn't it? This is the big idea. This is about how we respond when the light of Christ shines upon us in the Gospel. Now, look at the text again. "Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Now, remember this isn't about judging others. That's how this issue is used in Matthew 7. This isn't about judging others. It's about hearing the Word.


Picture a marketplace and you’re selling produce. Let’s say you’re selling grain, rice or wheat or something. And people stop to buy rice from you by weight. And the Bible is full of warnings to merchants, especially in the book of Proverbs, about unjust measurements, about shady businessmen cutting corners when the rice is weighed on their dodgy scales. Proverbs 11:1 – “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” Proverbs 20:10 – “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike, an abomination to the Lord. One day, the Lord will measure out to them in justice, precisely what they have measured out themselves to others in injustice.” 


God Repays Proportionally

The principle is – God repays us proportionally. The measure we use will be measured to us. And here, Jesus applies that principle to the way we respond when we hear the Gospel preached to us. The measure of our engagement with the Word, the way we respond, our desire to grasp its message and digest its truth, will determine the measure of blessing we enjoy from it. So Jesus says in verse 24, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you and still more will be added to you. For the one who has, more will be given and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Pay careful attention to what you hear. Let the measure of your response to the Word be full and complete and heartfelt and diligent and real. Those who give themselves to the Gospel Word, they gain much. They gave new life. They gain pardon of sin. They gain adoption by God into His family. They gain grace to change and to persevere through every trial. They gain comforts that the world cannot know and they gain hope that no tragedy can touch and they gain heaven. But to those who do not respond to the Word, who shrug in indifference, who hear about Jesus and His obedience and His blood and yawn at the old, old story of Jesus and His cross, to them even what they have will be taken away. Oh, pay attention to what you hear. The Word of God proclaimed, no matter how familiar it may be to you, can never safely be ignored. What joy and peace you miss, what hope and happiness you forfeit when you ignore the Word of God.


Some of you are here tonight and God's Word has been pricking your conscience, calling you to repentance from some habit or pattern of sin for some time now. And truth is, you've had your fingers in your ears all along and you're not listening. Some of you have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ many, many times. If I were to stop you and ask you to tell me what the Christian message is, just without thinking you could rhyme it off to me. It would be second nature. You could give me a clear summary of Christian truth. But it's all in your head and your life is untouched. Some of you have been walking with Jesus for years but you've just grown cold. There's no obvious rebellion in your life, you're just stale like bread left out too long – dry, crusty, desiccated. The preached Word used to be like water from the rock in the desert. It used to be manna from heaven. But now you sit through the service and when we're done you honestly couldn't tell anyone afterward what was said. Your mind is elsewhere and your heart is indifferent. Well, let me plead with you to listen to Jesus Christ. Pay attention to what you hear. The stakes are high. If you've never yet responded to the message about Jesus, please will you understand He invites you to turn from life on your terms to come and trust in Him. He wants to wash your sin away, to offer you new life. He died that you might be pardoned. He was condemned that you might be forgiven, and He's calling you to Himself tonight. So pay attention to what you hear. Hear and answer His call and come to Him! Give yourself to the Gospel message with joyous abandon and come running when Jesus invites you to Him. The stakes are high, but if you will answer there's blessing beyond anything you can now guess.



If you've wandered off, if Christ and the Word has been calling you to turn back from sustained patterns of backsliding and rebellion and you've had your finger in your ears, please will you listen tonight. Please, will you listen tonight? The stakes are high. "If you will not listen even what you have will be taken from you," Jesus says. Do not refuse Him who calls. Come back home. Pay attention to what you hear. If you've grown cold and you still show up but you just tune out, you show up and tune out, listen to the voice of Christ Himself pleading with you, warning you. "The measure you use, will be measured to you." A shallow response to the Word of God results inevitably in a shallow Christian life, a shallow acquaintance with Christ, a lackluster response to the Word produces lukewarm devotion to Jesus. What treasures you're missing! What riches are available in the Word! Pay attention to what you hear.


We're about to come to the Lord's Table and here we have an opportunity, right here, to respond to the call of Jesus Christ. For some of us, our response actually is not to come to the Table but to come to Jesus for the very first time. As He invites you to Himself, it's not bread and wine you need, it's Christ crucified that you must go to. You must turn from your sin and flee to Jesus and ask Him to wash you clean and He will. He will. Tonight's the night. Now is the time. Don't delay. Do it now. In your heart, cry out, "Lord Jesus, forgive me. Save me. Rescue me. I've been running from You for far too long but I've heard You call me and now I'm coming to You. Will you have me? Take me. Be my Redeemer, my Rescuer, my Savior, my Friend." And He will. Do it now.


Time to come clean and to fess up. For some of us, this is the moment. You’ve been running away, you’ve been hiding, you’ve been pretending, you’ve been covering up. Sure, you follow Jesus. You trust Him. You love Him. But there’s been this whole area of secret sin that you have left unaddressed. You’ve been lying to yourself. You’ve been trying to hide it from Him. You can’t hide it from Him. He knows. And tonight, He’s inviting you as you come to the Table to come repenting and running back to Him. He’s waiting here to welcome you. He’s waiting here with the grace you need to wash you and cleanse you. Some of you are hungry and thirsty. You’ve been wandering off in the desert of your own selfishness and disobedience for far too long and the truth is, you’re spiritually empty. Here is a feast for you if you will turn from sin and self back to Christ. Do it now. Do it tonight. Pay attention to what you hear. He’s calling to you to repent and come home like a prodigal. Remember the prodigal son who, when he came home, while he was still a long way off the father saw him and ran to him and fell on his neck and kissed him and embraced him and welcomed him home with great celebration. There is no reluctance in Jesus Christ to receive you when you turn back to Him. Won’t you come home, prodigal?


In the kingdom of God the future is bright, so speak a word for Jesus. The light will penetrate the darkness until every eye will see it and the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And in the kingdom of God, the stakes are high and it matters how you respond when He speaks to you. Pay attention to what you hear. Let’s pray together.


O Lord, now as we bow before You, we take a moment to confess. For some, that means confessing that we have never yet responded when You have invited us to come and trust You. But tonight is the night and so we come. And we ask You, Lord Jesus, please will You wash us clean. Please, will You save us and rescue us. Some of us are like prodigals and we've been wandering away, living in a far country. But tonight we want to come home. Would You run to us and embrace us and bring us home? Bring the prodigals home. Some of us have grown weary in well-doing. We're stale and dry. As we come to the Table, open the fountain. Open the well of living water and help us to drink to the satisfaction of our souls. Work in our hearts. How we need You. Come to us by Your Spirit. Deal with us in Your grace as we make our response to You. For Jesus' sake we pray, amen.

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