Sermons : 2015 : June 14, Hidden and Revealed - Mark 4:26-34

Well beginning last week and continuing now for the next several weeks, all the Gospel readings in church are going to be taken from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the shortest of all the Gospels and so there is some debate about whether this gospel was written first to give people the gist of everything or if it was written last because Mark assumed you already knew the story. Now as we move into the first chapter of Mark, we find out that there is an urgency to his message. The first words that Jesus says in this Gospel are, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” It’s very direct and to the point, but it’s not long before we discover that there is a complication. And that is while there is an urgency to this Kingdom of God, its proclamation is not so straightforward. And what I mean by that is that the Kingdom of God is not obvious, it’s hidden. In fact, it is proclaimed in stealth behind such images as a sower and a mustard seed. And we are told very plainly that Jesus did not even speak to people without using these kinds of parables almost as if he is deliberately trying to hide the Kingdom Himself. And so you have to wonder why. Why does Jesus speak in parables? Why would the Kingdom of God be hidden?

Well you know, many of the ways in which God works in the world are a mystery to us. Who expected all that rain in Texas several weeks ago. Who expected a change in the typical Texas weather patterns? We were all surprised to get rain period, let alone floods. And so much of the way God works in this world is a mystery. He tells us as much in the Book of Job and He does so here today in Mark’s Gospel.

Now the two parables Jesus preaches in Mark 4 are somewhat similar. In the first, a man goes out and scatters seed. Apparently, he has no idea how it grows or sprouts. The earth does its job and produces the crop and the man is passively ignorant of this process. At the end of the season, the crop is harvested still without the man knowing how some seemingly insignificant seeds brought forth such a large harvest.

In the second story, there is a grain of mustard seed. It is purposely described as small so that you get the impression that the crop it grows won’t amount to much of anything. In fact, if you look on the cover of your bulletin at the image of the finger, that little object you see on its tip is a mustard seed. It’s so small that if you dropped it, you would never find it again.

And so the Kingdom of God comes through the ignorant sower and the insignificant mustard seed. What does it all mean? Well, it means that on the surface the Kingdom of God seems as if its no big deal. It seems ordinary and unspectacular like a sower or a mustard seed. And it comes across as if its just one option among many and believe me, back in those days, there were other options.

In the time of Jesus, the Romans occupied the Jewish homeland and the Israelites dreamed of freedom every day. Imagine if you passed through 3 checkpoints of foreign soldiers on your way to church today. Everything you care about right now would seem so irrelevant. You would dream of living your life without constant harassment and taxes and control and oppression. You would cling to the slightest shred of hope that deliverance was coming and coming from among your own people. So that’s how the Jews lived. Some of them wanted to bring about this hope through force and they were called zealots. One of the disciples was actually a former zealot. But He saw the light and became a follower of Jesus even though they still referred to him as Simon the Zealot. In fact, it’s probably a little bit of a surprise that Peter cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest rather than Simon the zealot.

Other people like the Essenes withdrew from society and formed a closed community along the shores of the Dead Sea. Today, we might see them as a cult, but they dealt with the Romans by withdrawing from the city and becoming reclusive. They looked for either the coming of a Deliverer or a coming Judgment Day for hope. In fact, some commentators even speculate that John the Baptist was a former Essene.

Now God had promised deliverance so the people knew it was coming. They just didn’t know how, so they were always on the lookout. The question of the day was then, could Jesus be the one to deliver them? This carpenter’s son? This can anything good come from Nazareth untrained preacher, whose own family thought He was crazy? Maybe…or maybe not.

And impressions of Him today aren’t any better, especially given how much our society has changed. Not long ago, President Jimmy Carter said, “We should live our lives as though Christ was coming this afternoon” and no one batted an eye. Major Hollywood studios produced “The Ten Commandments” and they were proud of it. American’s greatest singers did Christmas specials on network television and told us about Jesus Christ and they received national acclaim.

None of that was really all that long ago, but to quote the cliché, “Times have changed.” From our perspective, that mustard seed has gotten even smaller, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God even less significant, less relevant to modern culture and people. Maybe it’s even become less relevant to you. Maybe you’ve dismissed Mark’s urgency and have become less repentant and less concerned about the sin in your personal life or the sin in your society. Maybe you’ve slowly embraced the understanding that these words of Jesus are just no big deal.

In the Gospels, Jesus does proclaim the Kingdom of God is in parables and the parables do conceal this Kingdom. They do make it appear ordinary. But they also reveal this Kingdom of God at the same time. People who readily dismiss Jesus or the idea that God loves the world will not see this Kingdom. If you harden your heart and dismiss God’s Word, He will not force His way in. But His effort to reach you is not half-hearted either. He is persistent. His love for you is immeasurable; His determination is unparalleled and His sacrifice is unequalled. It is true that He comes to us without grandiose displays of power or convincing, indisputable events which derail human skepticism.

God draws us to Himself through seemingly insignificant words that are accompanied by the invisible power of His Spirit. From the beginning, Jesus came into our world as an insignificant looking baby in a no name town. He grew up the son of an anonymous father with an unspectacular occupation. Isaiah tells us that physically Jesus would be nothing special to look at. And so really, Jesus has always been hidden, always ordinary looking, His life itself is always a parable.

Oh but when that mustard seed is planted and when it grows, watch out. He draws you and people from all nations to Himself. He holds the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. He is the only Son of the Father; the only mediator between God and man; He is the alpha and the omega; He is the Prince of Peace; He is God in the flesh; He is the ransom for all men and the Savior for every sinner. Hidden beneath His cross and blood are salvation and life and forgiveness.

But you only know this through faith. You only see this through faith. You only come into the Kingdom of God through faith. Apart from faith, the Kingdom is hidden and you only see a tiny seed, but through the eyes of faith, you see the Kingdom of God and become a partaker in all of its glory.

Much of the world back then didn’t see this Kingdom in Jesus. They hoped for a minute and then went back to trusting the zealots or the Pharisees or the Essenes. Today, it’s the same. In previous centuries, people trusted in philosophers and thinkers like Nietzsche or Freud. They trusted in ideologies like Nazism or communism. Today, they trust in protests or countercultural movement or some version of personal expression.

But all of these things are just extensions of the self and they only prevent people from seeing the truth of the mustard seed; that the seemingly small and insignificant proclamation of Christ is the way in which God reveals His Kingdom. But we rejoice because we have been given eyes to see the truth behind the parables. In faith, we see Mark’s urgency to repent and believe the Gospel. We find our salvation in that seemingly insignificant cross which brings our redemption from sin and death. And so we await that day when Christ returns without parables or stealth because the Kingdom of God will come upon us visibly delivering those who believed to eternity as God ultimately brings all truth into the light for all the world to see. Amen.

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