Back in chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel we read how the Lord Jesus began his public ministry by going into Galilee and proclaiming the good news of God. And do you remember his message? He said:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
That was his message: the kingdom of God is near; so repent and believe. The kingdom of God was near, because he’s the King who was sent by God to deliver his people from their sin and misery by his death and resurrection and to establish his kingdom on the earth, which is an everlasting kingdom which will not end; and those who belong to it will not perish, but will have everlasting life. And, of course, he called on the people to repent and believe, because that’s the way we enter the kingdom: we enter it by turning from our sins in repentance and by turning with faith to the Saviour. And whoever repents and believes is brought in to Christ’s kingdom of grace where there is the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life. The Lord Jesus Christ, while he was on the earth, proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom.
Today’s passage contains three parables about his kingdom. I say three parables, but the first one is hardly a parable at all; it’s really only a saying about what we do with a lamp. But that’s the first one anyway. And then there’s the parable of the growing seed. And then there’s the parable of the mustard seed. These are three parables about the kingdom of God; and all three of them are about the contrast which exists between the beginning of the kingdom and the final condition of the kingdom. What is the beginning of the kingdom like? And what will the kingdom be like in the future? And so, let’s look at these parables now.
Verses 21 to 25
In verses 21 to 25 the Lord asked a question about what we do with a lamp; or what’s the purpose of a lamp? When someone lights a lamp, where do they put it? What do they do with it? Do they put it under a bowl? No, they don’t do that. They don’t put it under a bowl, because who then will see the light? So, do they put it under a bed? No, they don’t do that either. They don’t put it under a bed, because who then will see the light? So where do we put a lamp? Well, we put it on a stand: we put it on the bedside cabinet or on a table in the living room so that everyone will benefit from its light. And if anything is hidden or concealed — for instance, if you ever find a lamp under a bowl or under a bed — you’ll take it out and set it up on its stand, because whatever is hidden or concealed like that is bound to be disclosed and brought out into the open one day.
So, that’s the parable. As I’ve said, it’s little more than a saying. But what does it mean? Well, he’s talking about the kingdom. We know that because the next two parables are about the kingdom of God; and in the passage before this one, he was talking about the kingdom. So, this whole section of Mark’s gospel is about the kingdom of God. And the lesson he’s teaching us here about the kingdom is that the kingdom is like a lamp that in the beginning is hidden. So, it’s like a lamp that is placed under a bowl or under a bed. It’s hidden and concealed and not many people are aware of it; and its presence and power and its effect cannot be clearly seen. So, in the beginning, it’s hidden and concealed like that lamp under the bowl. But just as the time will come when someone takes that lamp from under the bowl and will place it on its stand so that everyone can see it, so the time will come when the kingdom of God will no longer be hidden, but will be disclosed and brought out into the open so that everyone will see it clearly.
When the Lord Jesus came into the world to announce and to establish his kingdom, it was largely hidden and concealed and not many people — who heard what the Lord said and who saw what he did — understood who he was. They listened to his parables, but could not understood what they meant. They saw the miracles he performed, but they did not realise what they signified. They were seeing and hearing, but they were unable to believe that Jesus Christ is the King, sent from God, to deliver his people from their sin and misery and to bring them into his everlasting kingdom. The kingdom was concealed.
And it’s the same today, isn’t it? The good news of Jesus Christ is preached around the world; sinners are invited to come and to hear the good news. And yet, the kingdom of God is still like a lamp under the bed, because so many people disregard it and ignore it and they’re not yet aware of its presence and power.
And yet the day is coming when the kingdom of God will no longer be concealed or hidden. The day is coming when it will no longer be ignored or disregarded by the world. The day is coming when every eye will see that Jesus Christ is the King, because he is coming again one day, in glory and power this time, to bring to an end all the kingdoms of the earth. And on that day, all his enemies will be condemned: all who have rebelled against him and have not believed in him. And on that day, he will bring his people who belong to his kingdom into the new heaven and the new earth, where they will live for ever and for ever.
Right now, the kingdom is hidden and concealed, but whatever is hidden is bound to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is bound to come out into the open; and it will become clear that he is the King when he comes again in power and glory. And on that day, every knee will bow before him and every tongue will confess that he is indeed the Lord and King over all.
And until that day comes, what are we to do? What are you to do? Well, you need to consider carefully what you hear, says the Lord in verse 24. You need to consider carefully what you hear. You see, when it comes to the kingdom of God — when it comes to the good news about Jesus Christ the King — hearing and how we hear is vitally important. We need to pay attention when we hear the message of God’s kingdom. We need to pay attention to the message and believe what we hear about Jesus Christ the King who is coming again one day, because with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
In other words, how you hear now, will determine what you receive in the future. If you pay attention to the message of the kingdom now — so that you turn from your sins in repentance and turn in faith to the King — then you’ll receive a share of all the good things which the Lord has in store for the members of his kingdom when he comes again. And even more shall be given to you! Imagine that. But if you do not pay attention, and if you do not repent and believe, then you will receive no share or benefit from the coming kingdom of God. In fact, if you never repent and believe, you’ll be gathered up with the rest of those who did not repent or believe who will be punished for ever when Christ the King comes again. So, you’re to pay attention to the message and repent and believe in order to receive a rich and glorious share in all the good things which the Lord has stored up for the members of his kingdom. —
Verses 26 to 29
The kingdom of God is like a lamp, hidden and concealed in the beginning, but which is bound to be disclosed and brought out into the open one day, so that every eye will see that Jesus Christ is the King. That’s what the first parable is about. Let’s now turn to the second parable which is found in verses 26 to 29.
This is what the kingdom of God is like, says the Lord. He then describes a farmer who went out and sowed his seed on the ground. Then, night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself, the soil produces the corn and it grows and grows and ripens over time.
Now, it happens slowly, doesn’t it? So, first the stalk. Then the ear. Then the full grain in the ear. It happens slowly, and it takes time to grow. It doesn’t happen immediately. However, even though it may be slow and almost indiscernible, nevertheless it grows and ripens. And as soon as it’s ready — as soon as the time is right and the grain is ripe — the farmer puts the sickle to it and he harvests the crop which has grown.
So, between the time of the sowing and the time of the harvest, there’s a period of growth. That’s what the kingdom of God is like.
As we try now to understand the meaning of this parable, we can say once again that the farmer who sows the seed stands for the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we know this is true? Because the one who sows is also the one who reaps. And reaping the harvest in the Bible is a picture of the last day, when the Lord Jesus will come again to gather his believing people to eternal life. The Lord Jesus is the farmer and he sows the seed of God’s word. He did it in person when he was here on the earth and when he went about, preaching the good news of God. And he does it now through those preachers he raises us and sends out into the world to preach the good news of the gospel in his name. The Lord Jesus Christ is the farmer who sows his word.
And the Lord Jesus Christ, like the farmer, will come again one day. And when he comes again, it will be to harvest the crop. In other words, just as the farmer gathers into the barn whatever has grown, so the Lord Jesus will gather all who have believed in him in every generation and he’ll bring them in to enjoy everlasting life in his presence. Those who have never believed, will be shut out of his presence for ever, but those who have repented and believed and have become members of his kingdom will be brought in to enjoy everlasting life.
So, just as the farmer sowed the seed and then came back for the harvest, so the Lord Jesus has sown the seed of his word through the preaching of the gospel; and one day he will come back to earth for the harvest. And look again at verse 29 where it says that ‘as soon as’ the grain is ripe, the farmer puts his sickle to it. As soon as it is ripe. So, whenever the crop is ready, there will be no more delay. In the same way, when the time has come, the Lord will not delay, but will come immediately to gather his people for eternal life.
But what happens between the time of the sowing and the time of the harvest? Well, in the natural world, between the time of the sowing and the time of the harvest there’a a time of growing, isn’t there? The seed grows and ripens. It happens slowly — first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear — but it still happens. And in the same way, between the time of the sowing of God’s word and the time of the harvest when the Lord comes again, there’s a period of growing. The kingdom of God is growing in the world; and men and women and boys and girls are being added to it. Perhaps the growth seems slow, so slow that we can barely notice it or see it. Nevertheless, through the preaching of the gospel, the kingdom is growing as men and women hear the good news and repent and believe.
And there’s a kind of inevitability to it, isn’t there? In the parable, the farmer sowed the seed and went away; and while he was away, the crop grew. It grew, almost on its own. In fact, the Lord says that ‘all by itself’ the soil produced the corn. And that tells us something about the power of the seed. The seed of God’s word — the preaching of God’s word — is powerful and effective. It does not fall to the ground and perish. It is not wasted, but it produces new life in those who hear and believe. Just as the seed is sown and the corn grows, so the word of God is preached and the kingdom of God grows. And this is true despite all the barriers to growth which we read about in the parable of the seed and the sower. Do you remember the barriers to growth? There’s the hardness of the human heart; there’s the opposition of Satan; there are the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire in our hearts for other things. But despite all those barriers, the word does its work and the kingdom of God will grow. And it will continue to grow until the time for the harvest has come.
Verses 30 to 34
The kingdom of God is like a lamp, hidden and concealed in the beginning, but which is bound to be disclosed and brought out into the open one day. And the kingdom of God is like a farmer who sows his seed in the ground and then waits for the time of the harvest to come. And while he waits, the seed grows. And so, while we wait for the Lord to come again, his kingdom is growing in the world.
And so we come to the third parable today which is found in verses 30 to 34. What is the kingdom of God like? Well, it’s like a mustard seed which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. And if you’ve seen a mustard seed, you’ll know how small it is. It’s tiny. It could easily blow away in the wind and you look at it and wonder how anything will ever come from it, because it’s seems so small and insignificant. It’s tiny. Yet when it is planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants. In fact, it is so large, it can be compared to a tree in which the birds of the air can come and find shade from the sun under its big leafy branches.
The point of this parable is the contrast which exists between the small and insignificant beginning and the glorious final state. The beginning of the kingdom of God is like the mustard seed, because it was small and insignificant, with only a few who knew the truth and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and who were part of his kingdom. And they were despised by the world and persecuted by their enemies. The world looked at the Lord’s disciples and those who believed in him and regarded them as fools for believing in him; and they treated them with contempt. The beginning of the kingdom of God was small and insignificant, and those who looked at the early church must have wondered if anything will ever come of it? They must have thought that it will one day be blown away by the wind and come to nothing. And even today, the kingdom of God still seems small and insignificant in the eyes of the world; and the church is treated with contempt and derision; and the Lord’s people are regarded as fools for believing in Christ and for believing and obeying his word. The kingdom of God is treated as nothing at all, worthless and useless and not at all important.
But what the kingdom of God is like now is nothing compared to what it will be in the end, when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Because when he comes again, every other kingdom of the world will be brought to nothing; and all his enemies will be condemned and sent away to be punished; and his kingdom will be established as the only kingdom, a kingdom which will never end, a glorious kingdom, comprising men and women and boys and girls from every nation of the world, a great multitude which cannot be counted, a multitude of those who have been delivered from their sin and misery by the blood of the Lamb who was slain for sinners, and who will live with him and reign with him for ever and ever in the glory of the new creation. The kingdoms of the world — which now seem so impressive and mighty and powerful — will come to an end; and there will be only one King, Jesus Christ the Lord, and one kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom.
Just as the mustard seed, when it is planted, is the smallest of all seeds, but it grows to become the largest plant, so the kingdom of God — though now small and despised and apparently inconsequential — will one day surpass every other kingdom in glory and honour and power. That’s the promise of the Lord’s parable; and he will surely do it.
The kingdom of God is like a lamp, hidden and concealed in the beginning, but which is bound to be disclosed and brought out into the open one day. But do you remember the importance of hearing? How you hear now — when you hear the message about Jesus Christ the King — how you hear now will determine what you receive in the future. If you pay attention to the message of the kingdom — so that you turn from your sins in repentance and turn in faith to the King — then you’ll receive a share of all the good things which the Lord has in store for the members of his kingdom when he comes again. And so, consider carefully what you hear and turn from your sins in repentance and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, for there is no other way into his kingdom except through repentance and faith.
And the kingdom of God is like a farmer who sows his seed in the ground and then waits for the time of the harvest to come. Well, while we wait for the Lord to return, believers should pray to God, asking him to ensure that his kingdom will grow in the world, and that more and more men and women and boys and girls will be added to it. We should pray that he will continue to raise up preachers to preach his word; and that his word, when preached, will not fall to the ground and perish, but will produce life in those who hear, causing them to repent and to believe so that they’re added to his kingdom.
And the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, because though its beginning is small and insignificant, it will one day far surpass the glory of every kingdom of the earth: it will be glorious and it will endure for ever and ever. And so, we should not be discouraged whenever the world despises us and hates us; and we should not be discouraged whenever the kingdom of God seems small and insignificant; and we should not let ourselves be distracted by whatever the world has to offer. Everything which glimmers and gleams and shines brightly in the world will come to nothing; but the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the glory of his kingdom will endure for ever and ever.