Parables of the Kingdom
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Mark 4:21-34
November 10, 2019

Parables - short stories that illustrate a spiritual truth

The word parable comes from a Latin word which in turn comes from Greek meaning "comparison."

Jesus taught in parables - stories which compare one thing to another. In Mark 4 he tells parables about the kingdom of God. Illustrations meant to give us insight into the kingdom of God.

Jesus actually introduced his ministry by affirming that the kingdom of God is at hand.

But the kingdom of which Jesus spoke was not well understood by his first century listeners.

Many expected, prayed for and desired a messiah who would overthrow Rome and set up a kingdom in the manner of David. Restoring glory to Israel.

We know of course that the kingdom of God which Jesus inaugurated was something altogether different.

It is both an anticipated reality - something which is yet to come.
And at the same time a present reality. A kingdom within the hearts of the people of God.

From Mark 1 we was the kingdom as a spiritual kingdom that is focused upon God and characterized by the messiah bringing salvation to mankind.

Now, in Mark 4, Jesus is going to illustrate more of the kingdom for us. Our text is Mark 4:21-34

“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? 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.”

And he said: The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickly, because the harvest has come.”

And he said “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 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.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

This is the word of God.

Three observations about the kingdom of God.

1. The kingdom is meant to be seen

We are going to delve into a little bit of Greek on this text. Now, I’m not an expert in Greek. I did take the required Greek classes while working on Masters of Divinity.
I can’t just look at the Greek and translate it in my mind. Truth be told, I can hardly translate it on paper - with loads of helps!

But I do know how to use a concordance and a Greek/English dictionary which enables me to do some in depth word studies.

And I happened to have my interest piqued in this verse because of a paragraph in a commentary I was reading.

So, in verse 21, virtually every English translation says something like this:

“Is a lamp brought in...”

First thing of note is that in the Greek there is a definite article rather than an indefinite article before the word lamp.

So, instead of “Is a lamp brought in...”
The Greek says “Is THE lamp brought in...”

Even without a knowledge of Greek you can see this merely by looking this passage up in an interlinear Greek text.
The translators aren’t trying to hide anything from us!

Which brings us to the second interesting point from this verse. That same interlinear Greek text will show you that although they translate the sentence, “Is a lamp brought...”

The word brought isn’t actually in the text. They have substituted the word “brought” for the Greek word “come”

And it is not like the Greek word is an unusual word. It is used 632 times in the Greek text.
And in over 600 times it is translated as come, coming, came, or comes.

And it is translated as “brought” exactly ONE time.

Of course the translators are attempting to construct sentences which make sense to us in English.

A lamp doesn’t come into a room by itself. It is brought in.

But doing so veils a significant point contained in this passage.
Rather than “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket?” A more literal translation would be:

“Does the lamp come to be placed under a bushel?”

NO. The lamp has come for the purpose of giving light to those around it.

And Jesus is here referring to himself as the lamp.
He has come, not to be hidden but to be seen.

The kingdom of God is meant to be seen.
And what is hidden now, will be made known.

The spiritually blind do not now see the kingdom, but eventually everyone will see the kingdom. Eventually every knee will bow and tongue confess the Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the mean time all of mankind is given an opportunity to respond to the kingdom of God amongst us.

We are all given the chance to measure our response to the word of the kingdom. To hear the word and accept it or to reject it.
The statements Jesus makes in the midst of this parable are truths about spiritual understanding.

Pay attention to what you hear.
With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

If you receive the word of kingdom of God with eagerness and joy you will come to understand and appreciate it more.

To the one who has, more will be given and from the one who has not even what he has will be taken away.

This is not some sort of oddball economic theory.
This is a spiritual truth.

Those who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit (reflecting the good soil of verse 20)
Those that have spiritual sensitivity and understanding will be given more.
But those who with hard hearts reject the word will find it more and more difficult to accept it.

Thomas Aquinas wrote this “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

The more we respond to spiritual truth, the more we recognize deeper truths.
The more we harden our hearts to spiritual truth the more calloused we become to it.

Jesus, the lamp, has come, not to hide the truth, but to make it known.

The parable of the lamp shows us why Jesus came -

That the kingdom of God might be seen.

The parable of the seed growing teaches us a second lesson about the kingdom:

2. The kingdom is alive and growing

V 26-29 And he said: The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickly, because the harvest has come.”

There is so much to unpack from these few verses.

It instructs us in how the kingdom of God grows.
And how viable it is even when we don’t understand it or see it growing.

Nature’s growth is often imperceptible; we do not actually see the plant growing day by day; yet, over a period of time, the seed grows.

I love the way Jesus describes the gardener.

He scatters seed on the ground.
He goes to sleep.
He rises night and day.
The seed sprouts and grows.


The earth produces by itself.

This has implications for how we see church growth.

Our responsibility is to scatter seed.
The seed grows all by itself - in Greek it is the one word - automate

The kingdom of God grows all by itself. The kingdom of God is like a farmer who plants and then the soil produces crops all by itself.

We are not the soil in this parable. We are the farmer.

Our task is to prepare the soil. To scatter the seed. To weed the garden. To water. And to protect from insects.
A plant will not grow all by itself unless we work in harmony with the principles of nature.

There are natural, biological, or life principles which determine the ability of a plant to grow all by itself.

The kingdom of God is like this. There are natural principles which govern the ability of the church to grow all by itself.

The important thing is not that we strive for growth, but that we strive for health.

This parable shows us explicitly what we can and what we cannot do.
We can plant and harvest. But we cannot bring forth the fruit.

In the text we find the mysterious description of the earth producing fruit “all by itself” is meant to give us a picture of the way the kingdom of God works. The way God chooses to grow His church.
It grows “all by itself” - it is automatic

As Paul would say, some plant, some water, but it is God that causes the growth.

And the kingdom of God is alive and growing even if we can’t see it.

We scatter, we water, we weed but the kingdom grows in we don’t really know how it does.

It is not because we become experts at doing the right things to gather a crowd.
It doesn’t stop growing because we have somehow been able to thwart the work of God.

The growth of the kingdom is inevitable – like the plant that breaks through the topsoil or the tree whose roots crack cement or asphalt.

The kingdom of God is alive and well.

The kingdom is meant to be seen.
The kingdom is alive and growing
and from the parable of the mustard seed we see that

3. The kingdom will be great

The mustard seed was proverbially in Jewish thinking as the smallest of all seeds. Mark tells us this not as a statement of fact - there are smaller seeds, but for us to understand what the Jewish listener would have understood.

The mustard seed that Jesus is referring to is the Mediterranean Black mustard seed. It’s not the smallest of seeds but it is, never the less, the one most often used in the Old and New Testament when referring to something starting out small but growing to great heights. The physical size of the seed is not Jesus’ point in this story.

What Jesus is teaching here is a contrast between the smallest seed becoming the tallest of the shrubs.

The kingdom is compared to the mustard seed which starts as insignificant but grows in a manner unexpected from its humble beginning.

It is a warning against confusing size with significance.

The small seed becomes larger than all the garden plants. And it provides protection for the birds who make their nest in it.

On April 21, 1855 a Sunday School teacher by the name of Edward Kimball went in to a shoe store and shared the gospel with DL Moody.

No doubt you have heard of him or the school he founded.

In the late 1870s Wilbur Chapman attended a Moody meeting in Chicago and after the service received personal counseling from Moody that helped him to receive certainty of his salvation.

Chapman also became an evangelist and held evangelistic meetings. He hired a guy named Billy Sunday to help to organize his evangelistic meetings.
Billy Sunday had held an evangelistic campaign in Charlotte in 1924 and a men's prayer and fellowship group grew out of these meetings. That prayer group was later instrumental in inviting Mordecai Ham to Charlotte in 1934 for revival meetings.

And it was at one of those meetings that a young Billy Graham met Jesus. He went on to preach through his crusades to millions of people around the globe.

A lowly Sunday School teacher. Such a small beginning. Seemingly insignificant. One who had long since passed from this earth had an outsized impact upon the kingdom of God.

What you do for the kingdom may seem weak and insignificant, but remember the mustard seed.

The day will come when the kingdom of God will surpass the mightiest kingdoms of the earth.

Jesus instructs us through these parables on the kingdom of God. It will be seen. It is alive and growing. It will be great.


Downloadable Documents