Christ’s Power Over Every Need
The Gospel of Mark Sermon Series
If You Have an Ear, Listen To This: Parables
Mark Batterson relates how on a January morning in 2007, a world-class violinist played six of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most stirring concertos for the solo violin, on a three-hundred-year-old Stadivarius worth $3.5 million. Two nights before, Joshua Bell had performed a sold out concert where patrons gladly paid $200 for nosebleed seats, but this time the performance was free.
Bell ditched his tux and coat tails, donned a Washington Nationals baseball cap, and played incognito outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station [as an experiment]. The experiment was originally conceived by the Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten and filmed by hidden cameras. Of the 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen. The forty-five minute performance ended without applause or acknowledgement. Joshua Bell netted $32.17 in tips, which included a $20 spot from one person who recognized the Grammy Award winning musician.
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, on one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many similarly sublime moments do we miss out on during a normal day?
Keep Doing What God has Called You To Do (vv. 1-9)
1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus has moved from his house and returned once again to teaching by the sea. He has decided to get into a boat because, “a very large crowd gathered about him” In the previous chapter Mark tells us that there was concern of being crushed by people pushing in toward Jesus to be healed (3:9).
Not only did the crowds keep him from being able to eat, rest, etc. but the pressing crowd seems to keep him from teaching as well – so he pushes out from the shore and is “teaching them many things in parables.”
Remember that Mark’s gospel is not written chronologically, but it is divided into main sections to show who Jesus was and why He appeared on the earth. There is a general introduction with John the Baptist and His temptation, then we experience what spending a day with Jesus is like, then there is a series of conflicts with the scribes and religious leaders, then a section on how he had to stay focused on His ministry, and now how Jesus taught in parables.
Parables have been defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Jesus had many enemies and people who just didn’t get what he was saying, so “the parabolic form of teaching was “less open to attack, better as an intellectual and spiritual training for his disciples, better also as a test of character, and therefore as an education for the multitude.” He could tell what kind of person you are, by what you did with the simple parable.
We already know that His teaching and preaching was very important to Him, and that he was unique, Mark 1:22 “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” And in Mark 4 we see the word parables used for the second time (Mark 3:23, “And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”) He has also given previous smaller parables in his discussion with the religious leaders (patching a preshrunk cloth, new wine in old wineskins, fasting at a wedding).
Here in Mark’s discussion about Jesus using parables he gives four examples, Matthew gives eight, and in both gospels they say, (v. 33) “With many such parables he spoke the word to them,” meaning that this was a sampling of many that Jesus taught the crowds. So we ask, “of all the parables Jesus taught, why did Mark choose these four?”
Jesus begins in v. 3 with the word, “Listen,” and he ends the first parable with ““He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” “It is well known that the man who teaches has much responsibility, but Jesus is saying here that the man who hears also has responsibility. Hearing is a serious matter. It is not to be taken lightly. Watch out how you hear is the key-note to the parable.” Jesus describes four different types of soil in which the seed fell. Each describes a different type of listener or how people receive the word (i.e. seed).
Jesus “knew the stony soil of the minds of the scribes and Pharisees; he had met the shallow and unstable enthusiasm of the crowd.” He experienced the disciples readily accepting his call to “come and follow me.” Jesus gives three types of soil that are bad, and one that is good. The sower is casting seed to all of them – but only 50% seems to have a response, and only 25% have a genuine response.
This first parable is for those that teach a sow God’s Word. Even though much seed lands on the types of soil that ultimately do not lead to a harvest – there will be some seed that falls on good ground. 1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Don’t Put off What Needs to Be Taken Care of Today (vv. 10-20)
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
“By this method of teaching in parables Jesus not only invited audiences to penetrate below the surface and find the real meaning; at the same time he allowed them the opportunity – which many of them took – of turning a blind eye to the real point at issue”
(v. 12) When Jesus pulls the disciples close, He quotes Isaiah 6:9, and “what is certain is that the use of parables on this occasion was a penalty for judicial blindness on those who will not see.”
Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9, “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand,” In Isaiah’s day he was to preach the Word of God, and to faithfully teach them. But they would not take what was given to them, in fact they would show up to hear what was said, but there would be no change in their hearts and no actions. Every time they would hear a message from Isaiah and then go home and do nothing with that message their hearts would grow harder.
God warns Isaiah “that there will be no positive results in the hearts of many who listen to what he says. Instead of bringing conviction, humility, and confession of sins, Isaiah’s divine message will have the primary effect of hardening people or confirming their hardened unwillingness to respond positively to God.”
For those that have hardened hearts, listen – The day of salvation is today, it may be your unwillingness to change that God will use this message to seal your ears, and harden your heart so that you will never make a decision for Christ.
Those in Jesus’ audience are being condemned for their willful blindness and rejection such as the Pharisees and their blasphemous accusation against Jesus (that he casts out demons by the power of Satan).
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
Do Something With What You Have Already Received (VV. 21-25)
21 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.”
(v. 21) is directed to the disciples, not to the crowds. They have received the truth of various parables, but it is not Jesus’ intention that they keep the secret of the kingdom of God to themselves, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? No, the lamp is meant to be held high, the Word of God is meant to shine forth to the lost world.
(v. 24) “The disciple grows in understanding and knowledge only as he attends carefully and responsively to what he has already received.” As a student of God’s Word take what you have received and apply it, use it, be changed by it – but never ignore it, do nothing with it, or say, “I already know what this means.”
“and parables are a means at once of revealing and of concealing truth – of revealing it to those who ‘have ears to hear,’ and of concealing it from those who have not . . . This separation was not an accidental but a necessary, and therefore an intended, result of his ministry and the choice of the parabolic form was one of the steps by which the inevitable separation must be accomplished.”
All the students in the classroom hear the same teacher and the same lesson. Some will ask questions, clarify, review at home, search for more information in books or the internet, and some students will be distracted during class, not take notes, forget the lesson, and when they leave the classroom – one is not smarter than the other, it is just what you do with the information.
One of my biggest frustrations with math has always been that one principle builds upon the next. If you have A and then B and then C – but you don’t get B, you will never understand C. Spiritual growth and concepts can be like this – people want to lead the church, but they have missed lessons on submission, humbleness, compassion, loving my fellow brother in Christ.
Know How The Kingdom Works (vv. 26-32)
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.”
In the first parable Mark highlights the Word of God, and in this parable we are told what Jesus is talking about, “The kingdom of God is . . .” at hand (Mark 1:15).
Man has the responsibility to scatter the seed (the word of God). He does not have to understand how spiritual things work, any more than the farmer has to understand how a seed works. He has a role to play in the planting process, believers have a role to play in the harvesting of souls. Also, the farmer sleeps, and goes about his day – and the seed keeps on growing, keeps on maturing. The believer does not have to make the gospel work, it does the work on its’ own.
(v. 28) It works automatically. “The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”
(v. 29) When the harvest is ripe, the reaper comes to gather the harvest. Mark says the farmer, “he puts in (apostellei) the sickle” – this is where we get the word apostle John 4:38 says, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
So from these verses we learn several principles about the Kingdom of God:
- The growth of the kingdom is gradual, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” – Christian growth is gradual. We want to make giant leaps, but we forget nature’s lesson, the necessity of gradual growth. No musician is made in a day, there are thousands of hours of practicing. No scientist is made over night, there are hundreds of hours of classwork. Men must be taught the way of Christ, and no one is a mature Christian after one sermon. Mature congregations of the church of the Lord likewise do not spring up overnight. They must be planted, nurtured, and developed.
But also, the disciples wanted the kingdom to grow their work to be finished quickly – little did they know that they would begin a work that still continues to this day. We are still to be about kingdom work.
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and he said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus knows He has to endure the cross and the judgement of the Father, and He is saying, “is there is any other way?” In ministry there will always be the temptation to take a short cut, or the easy way out. Rarely is there an easy way, a quick way, or a way that doesn’t cost us something.
- The growth of the kingdom is orderly, The growth of the plant is marked by an orderly development. It is the way of the tree: first the bud, then the blossom, and finally the fruit. It’s hard to mark when one stage ends and another begins, yet different stages of growth can be clearly recognized.
- The growth of the kingdom is from God. The farmer can plow the ground, put out fertilizer, plant the seed under the soil, and water – but he cannot make the seed grow. The seed grows on its own. There are some things that God alone can do. 1 Corinthians 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” This parable helps us to realize that as Christ followers there are some things that we can do, but it is God who has to move in order for anything to really happen.
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.”
(v. 30) Again, Jesus clues us in to what He is talking about, “compare the kingdom of God,” and in Palestinian culture the mustard seed was used proverbially to stand for anything infinitesimally small. But because of the eventual size of the plant was not planted in the garden but out in a field. It was not unusual for it to grow as high as ten or twelve feet. Such a shrub would attract many birds.
- The growth of the kingdom usually starts small. Jesus is emphasizing the importance of little things. The little mustard seed by itself does not look very important, but experience tells us that it will grow to play a very important role. Jesus is saying that we must pay attention to the little things in life – a cup of water, a visit with the sick, welcoming a stranger, etc.
- Small beginnings are important. A thing may begin very small, almost without hope, and still in the end succeed because God is behind it.
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 Batterson, The Grave Robber (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books, 2014) 15.
 W. N. Clarke, An American Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 2, of the Gospel of Mark and Luke (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press, 1950) 57.
 Neil R. Lightfoot, Lessons From The Parables (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Book House, 1965) 21.
 George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 7 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1980) 696.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 1 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1930) 287.
 Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary, Isaiah 1-39 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Publishing, 2007) 194.
 Buttrick, 703.
 This parable is only found in Mark. Lightfoot, 27.
 Robertson, 289.
 There are seeds smaller than the mustard seed, but it was common in that culture to use the mustard seed to refer to the smallest of things. Lightfoot, 33.