Summary: The limitation of the Parables and the need for Faith.
UNDERSTANDING THE MYSTERY.
It is possible to ‘Like’ Jesus without really ever knowing what He is all about. For some, He is a wonderful teacher, making ‘it’ all so much ‘easier’: yet what is ‘easy’ about, for example, Matthew 5:21-22 or Matthew 5:27-28? Or they admire the ‘simplicity’ of the parables, making everything so clear: but Jesus Himself suggests a different reason for the parables.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” asked Jesus’ disciples (Mark 4:10). Jesus’ answer is surely a surprise: “Because it is given to you to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Mark 4:11). It is a gift, “given to you” (disciples), but not given to them (the crowds, cf. Mark 4:1). Hitherto hidden secrets ARE being unveiled, you see, but they are only being revealed to those who have ‘ears to hear’ (cf. Mark 4:9).
So Christianity is not a matter of laying hold upon some wonderful teaching, and following it as best we can. Nor is it about our striving to imitate Jesus - as if we could ever do that in our own strength. Christianity is about the unfolding of a mystery (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:7) - not to the knowledgeable, but to those to whom “it is given” (Mark 4:11).
Now Jesus makes it perfectly clear that the natural man is totally incapable of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom thus revealed. He speaks to them in parables “BECAUSE seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Mark 4:12).
In our homes, we tend to have a source of illumination in every room. We do not keep our reading lamps under a rhubarb bucket in the porch (Mark 4:21). Electric lamps are most likely to be on the ceiling, where their light can disseminate throughout the room.
There have been secret Christians - like Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, in Jesus’ own time - but by and by they must reveal themselves and nail their colours clearly to the mast (John 19:38-42). Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5), but we have also been commissioned to bear His light to the nations (Acts 13:47). This is done through evangelism, but also through living the life of Christ before men (Isaiah 60:1-3; Philippians 2:15-16)
We have to ‘beware of men’ (Matthew 10:17) - but we need not fear them. We need not fear any of the malignant forces mustered against us, because although we are operating in time, we are also operating in the light of eternity. Right will be brought to light (Mark 4:22).
We must “be careful what (we) hear” (Mark 4:24). It is a serious matter for us to judge one another, as if the day of judgment had come, and our own unworthy selves were the judges. Worse than this, if we are setting ourselves up as a standard when we are less than perfect ourselves, then we will later be judged by the same standard as we have used for the other - and will find ourselves wanting (cf. Matthew 7:2).
As I said before, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that the natural man is totally incapable of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom. Even man’s greatest wisdom and understanding will come to nought (Mark 4:25; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14).
In our day, we might be proud of our learning, of our supposed superiority to ‘the ancients’. But it does not matter what century we find ourselves in, the problem remains the same: we cannot, we will not accept the gospel. For as Jesus said to one Pharisee, a teacher in Israel, ‘Except a man be born again he CANNOT see the kingdom of God’ (cf. John 3:3).
The mystery that is thus revealed is God’s way of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 3:16). The mystery of the incarnation. The mystery of the Cross and Resurrection. The mystery of full free forgiveness in Him. The mystery of grace. The mystery of the new birth. The mystery of justification by faith. We could go on and on.
‘Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear’ (Mark 4:23). Amen.