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Mark 4:1-34: The Secret of the Kingdom Print E-mail
Mark
Sunday, 12 August 2007

Jesus came to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand (see 1:15).  The reign of God upon the earth was being realized with the coming of Christ.  Yet, if that is the case, then why are so many rejecting Jesus at this point?  If the Kingdom of God, or the reign of God, is coming upon the earth, then surely none will be able to reject it or oppose it, right?  But that is not what we see in the Gospels.  Christ comes, begins His ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom, and there are various responses throughout His lifetime, ranging from the disciples who willingly leave all and follow Him to the scribes from Jerusalem who claim that He is filled with the Devil.  So, why the varied response?  Has the Kingdom come or not?

I believe the answer to these questions is what Jesus refers to as the secret of the Kingdom of God in verse 11.  Look at verses 10-12.  There is a hiddeness to the Kingdom of God.  We have mentioned before the “Messianic Secret” in the book of Mark and I think this hiddeness of the Kingdom goes along with that thought.  What exactly is this secret of the Kingdom?  Simply put, it is the fact the Kingdom of God has already come and not yet come.  The secret of the Kingdom is that it did not come in all its fullness with Christ, but it was established, or inaugurated with Christ and will be consummated at His return.  This was not expected.  This is not how the Jews thought the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled.  Thus, it is the ‘secret’ of the Kingdom, it is already and not yet here at the same time.

There are many illustrations that have been used to help explain this idea.  None of them are exact, but they can be helpful.  For example, remember when the statue of Saddam was torn down in the streets of Baghdad?  Many saw that and spoke of that as our victory in Iraq (at least over the regime of Saddam).  Yet, is the war over?  No, we continue to battle and fight.  In a similar way, when Christ came and defeated sin, Satan, and death on the cross, the Kingdom came and our victory was secured.  Yet, we continue to battle against the enemy.  The war rages on even though its outcome is decided.  I think of it in terms of a basketball game with four quarters.  Jesus came and scored a million points and guaranteed our victory, yet the clock is still running down in the fourth quarter and we are still playing the game if you will.  The outcome is decided, but the battle continues.

Well, if the secret of the Kingdom is that it has already and not yet come, then what specific lessons can we learn about this ‘already, not yet’ Kingdom from our passage?  Let me briefly mention five.

First, there is a focus on the ministry of the Word in the Kingdom.

Two of the parables in chapter 4 deal with the sowing of seed.  The first, which we commonly refer to as the parable of the sower, involves seed being sown into different soils and rendering various results.  The second focuses on the mysterious growth of the seed while the sower sleeps.  What is this seed that is being sown and that is growing?  Jesus, in His explanation of the parable of the sower, answers for us in verse 14.  Look at that with me.  The sower sows the word.  This term, ‘the word,’ refers to the revelation of God, exemplified in Christ.  It is the message of Christ which we find in the pages of Scripture that is sown.  The varied responses are responses to that message.  The mysterious growth of the Kingdom involves that message.  The focus of ‘already, not yet’ Kingdom ministry is faithfully proclaiming (or sowing) the message of Christ (the seed).  Thus, as we have said before, our continual ministry is sowing this seed.

Second, there is real opposition to, and rejection of, the Kingdom.

As we said above, Jesus won the decisive victory of the Kingdom at Calvary.  In a real sense, the game was over when He rose victoriously three days later.  Yet, this does not mean that the Kingdom will not be opposed or rejected.  The parable of the sower and its explanation make it clear that there will be varied responses to the message of the Kingdom.  Look at verses 15-19. 

In verse 15, we read of the seed that was sown along the path and was immediately taken away by Satan.  The soil here did not allow for any growth or even reception of the message.  Rather, the Enemy snatched away the seed quickly.  The second soil, that fell on the rocky ground, hears the word and receives it with joy, but due to the rocks lacks root and when persecution comes they fall away.  The third soil, sown among the thorns, will take root and grow up, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches will choke the plant so that it does not produce fruit.  In all of these, we see the rejection of the message of the Kingdom, namely the gospel of Christ.  Many will hear and many will respond in positive ways, but eventually they will fall away and ultimately fail to produce fruit, which is the ultimate difference between those who reject the message of the Kingdom and those who accept it.  Thus, we need to understand that many will oppose and reject the Kingdom.  Will this opposition and rejection last forever?  No, as we will see in our next couple of lessons concerning the Kingdom.

Third, there is a gradual, but certain revealing of the Kingdom.

As we said from verses 10-12, there is a hiddeness to the Kingdom.  Yet, this hiddeness will not remain forever.  Look at verses 21-22.  There is a day when the Kingdom will come to light.  It seems that this revealing will take place in two ways.  First, as the gospel is preached to the utter ends of the earth (to the Gentiles), the Kingdom is being revealed.  As more and more people hear the message of Christ and turn and follow Him, the Kingdom grows and the Light is revealed.  Second (and possibly not in view in this particular text), when Christ returns, what is now hidden will then be completely revealed.  All will be brought to light at that point.  Thus, there is a gradual, but certain revealing of the Kingdom.

Fourth, there is a slow, but sure growth in the Kingdom.

This lesson parallels the previous one and I mention it to show the subtle differences between verses 21-22 and verses 26-29.  As we said, the former focus on the hidden secret of the Kingdom being revealed, whereas the latter focus on the mysterious growth of the Kingdom.  In the parable found in verses 26-29, we see that the growth of the Kingdom is unknown to the sower (disciples).  Different interpretations have been offered to this parable, but it seems that Jesus is emphasizing what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 3:6, namely that we sow and water, but it is God alone who causes the growth.  Thus, growth in the Kingdom is dependent upon God. 

Yet, it should be noted, as is often the case in the Bible, the emphasis on God’s sovereignty in the text does not negate the call for man’s responsibility.  We must hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, as the parable of the sower explains, acknowledging that such growth is only by the grace of God.  This slow but sure growth is also the emphasis of the parable of the mustard seed.  Look at verses 30-32 with me.  Again, the Kingdom will start small, but it will not remain that way.  It will start with a whisper and rise to a chorus of praise.  It is this parable that so clearly demonstrates the ‘secret’ of the Kingdom.  No one expected a mustard seed, but just as that small seed can produce a comparatively large plant, so the humble beginnings of the Kingdom will produce a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, gathered around the throne of the King.  The growth is slow, but it is nonetheless sure.

Fifth, there is a future promise in the Kingdom.

The coming of the Kingdom involves a great divide: those who hear and obey and those who hear and reject.  The outcome for both is certain: those who obey will reign with the King (more will be given, verse 25) but those who reject will face judgment (even what he has will be taken away).  This is a sobering truth as well as an exceedingly great truth.  There is a positive slant to each of the parables.  Look at verse 20 (the promised fruit is real), verse 22 (the hidden will come to light [which could be negative as well, see above]), verse 29 (the harvest will come), and verse 32 (the mustard seed will grow into a large tree with large branches).  As followers of the King, we have much to rejoice in.  There is a coming Day of victory that is certain and sure.

How are we to respond to such teaching concerning the Kingdom?  Is this just academic rhetoric that means nothing to our everyday life?  No, let me offer two areas of application:

First, we must participate in the ‘already’ aspects of the Kingdom.  It is beyond this text and this sermon to try and identify all of the ‘already’ aspects of the Kingdom for they are numerous.  One that is clear from our present text is the necessity of responding with repentance and faith in the gospel.  As the word is sown among us week after week, we need to respond with repentance and faith, acknowledging that it is only by grace that we can grow and produce fruit in these ways. 

Likewise, as we go out and sow the seed of the gospel among our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family, we need to pray expectantly for salvation.  We do not need to be overly discouraged by the fact that not all believe.  Rather, we need to move forward in faith, knowing that the King has come and that the King is coming.  Also, even though it is not mentioned in the present text, we have already seen and will continue to see (particularly next week) the power that comes with the Kingdom.  I believe that we are called to expect such power even in our proclamation of the Kingdom.  Why should we pray for salvation and healing on Wednesday nights?  Because the Kingdom has already come in power with the coming of Christ.

Second, we must expect and long for the ‘not yet’ aspects of the Kingdom.  Again, I cannot say here all that could be said about this application, but let me say a word about it.  If we talked about all these positive things that are involved with the ‘already’ aspects of the Kingdom, then what about the difficulties that we face.  How do we endure suffering and persecution?  How do we endure when healing does not come and our loved ones die?  How do we endure when our battle against sin seems so hopeless?  We remember that the Kingdom has not yet come in all its fullness.  We long for the return of the King, the Bridegroom.  We put our hope in the promised victory of the consummated Kingdom.  Our God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through Christ (see 1 Thess. 5:9).  One Day the suffering Bride of Christ will behold her Groom’s face and there will be no end to her joy then.  Come Lord and bring your ‘not yet’ Kingdom as we labor to participate in all that has ‘already’ come.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 19 August 2007 )

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