Despite all man’s attempts to build earthly kingdoms, God is establishing his kingdom as the gospel goes forward throughout the world today. And he has promised to consummate this work when Jesus, the world’s true King, returns in all his glory. Amazingly, God uses us in his kingdom work, both in receiving and scattering the seed of his word. In this message from Mark 4:21–34, David Platt helps us understand the parables of the kingdom and how these stories give us hope for the future. Though we don’t always perceive what God is doing with our eyes, we can rest assured that the King is establishing his kingdom.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Mark 4. As you’re turning there, I want to welcome those of you here, as well as others online. It’s good to be together around God’s Word.
I actually want to start today by taking you on a journey with me for a minute to the metropolitan area where I am originally from—Metro Atlanta, Georgia. Travel all the way back with me to 1886, when a pharmacist had come up with a concoction that he was convinced would heal various diseases, cure addictions and various disorders. Basically he had created this syrup and combined it with carbonated water, which many people in that day thought promoted good health.
So he walked into a drug store in Atlanta in 1886 with this concoction and looked for people who would be interested in buying a glass. On that day he sold the first glass for five cents. Over the next year, on the days he was selling this at this drug store, about nine glasses were sold each day on average. Nine glasses at five cents a glass. At the end of that first year, his total sales were $50. The problem was his costs were $70. So he lost 20 bucks that year trying to convince people of this drink. That was 1886, in one drug store, in one city.
Fast forward to today, like this day, February 20, 2022. Today alone two billion glasses of this drink will be enjoyed. Two billion glasses, in over 200 countries. And the sales were a bit different. Instead of $50 over the course of a year, sales total in one year about $35 billion, which is more than the revenue of approximately 75% of the world’s countries.
So what is the product that was sold for the first time on that day? It was Coca Cola. This seemingly insignificant, inconsequential, unimportant little drink for five cents a glass one day led to products that have affected multitudes of lives all around the world. Just in the United States alone, did you know that Coke products, on average, contribute about 11 pounds of sugar to each one of our lives? This is a company that is pouring this much sugar into your body, on average, every single year. And not just in America, but around the world. Did you know that 94% of the world’s population recognizes this logo, this red and white logo? That’s seven-plus billion people in the world who recognize this logo. This is the picture I want to put in your minds, from the start of our time together today. Think of something that seemed really small and inconsequential that grew in just a little over a century to be something almost universal and impactful.
Now I want you to think today of Jesus, talking about something that many in the world today might think is so small, but literally has the power to impact your life for the next ten billion years and beyond—and not just your life, but people in every single nation and people group in the world for all of eternity. Let me show this to you in Mark 4 as we dive right into this parable about soils and seeds.
A parable is a simple, practical story that illustrates significant spiritual truth, often framed as a simile. Go back to your English class for a minute. A simile is a comparison using the words like or as. So a parable is a practical story, often framed as a simile, that illustrates significant, eternal spiritual truths.
We’re going to read a few different parables today and I want you to listen to the language. In Mark 4:26, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man just scattered seeds on the ground.” Jesus starts telling a story about scattering seed, much like we saw last week.
Or look at Mark 4:30 where Jesus 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.” Jesus then tells a simple, practical story about a mustard seed grain and what it grows into.
Jesus used a variety of stories like this that would have made perfect sense to His hearers. There were stories about fishing, farming or other things that would be familiar to them, which is key for us in this gathering today. If we’re going to understand parables that Jesus told 2,000 years ago, we’ve got to start by putting ourselves in the shoes of the people who heard them first.
Let me give you three quick tips for understanding parables rightly, because they are so often misunderstood, as they have been throughout church history.
One example is this. Back in church history, it was commonly accepted in the parable of the good Samaritan that the man who was beat up on the side of the road represented a sinner, the priest who passed by him represented the law, the Levite who passed by him represented the sacrifices, then Jesus was the Samaritan who paid the bill. The inn stands for the church, where believers are cared for. The two silver coins for payment represent baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The innkeeper is Peter, maybe Paul. The problem with this interpretation is Jesus never said that’s what it meant. We can look at all kinds of options but we need to make sure not to read all kinds of things into parables that Jesus never intended Himself. So here are three quick tips when you think about parables.
Listen from the Hearer’s Perspective
We need to step into the shoes of the people who first heard these simple stories and try to answer these questions: How did they hear them? What stuck out to them? How would they have responded at different points in the story? What emotions might have risen up in them when they heard the word “Samaritan”? If we don’t feel the visceral reaction in a Jewish mind when they heard the word “Samaritan” in that story, we miss the whole point of the story.
I think about a time when I was sitting in a Middle Eastern country, sharing the story of the prodigal son with a Muslim man. His eyes lit up when I shared how the father went running after the son. The Muslim man interrupted me and said, “No way. A father who had been shamed like that by his son would never get up and run to him.” All of a sudden I was beginning to realize how stunning the story actually is.
I think about one other time when I was in a North African desert with a group of Bedouin shepherds, telling them about the parable of the lost sheep. What? Me, a suburban guy, sharing with shepherds about sheep and shepherding. As I was telling them this story with all these details, they started discussing it. It just came alive because I was stepping into their shoes. So as best we can, we need to listen from their perspective.
Look for the Main Point
Usually there’s one main point in a parable; at most maybe two or three. So need to be careful not to read all kinds of things into every single detail of the story.
Let the Truth Change Your Life
The whole point of a parable is to change the way we think about something. A parable uses kind of a back-door route through story to open our eyes to a different way of looking at our lives, a different way of looking at the world. That’s exactly what Jesus is doing in Mark 4. He’s talking about His Kingdom. He’s trying to help us see that His Kingdom is so different than the kingdoms of this world and the way we are all prone to think.
This actually leads to the other term I want to define before we dive into Mark 4, then see its significance for our lives. What is the “Kingdom of God”? We saw this term in the very first chapter of Mark when we saw Jesus’ first words in this Bible book. In Mark 1:15, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” What does that mean?
Then when we came last week to the parable of the soils, Jesus said to His disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11). There’s a secret to the Kingdom? Now this week we’re going to come to the same language in verse 26:“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.” Then in verse 30, Jesus said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?”
What does this phrase mean? I want to give you a quick definition to hold on to, not just as we walk through the Gospel of Mark together as a church, but as you read through the Bible.
So what is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is the redemptive rule and reign of God through Jesus. Now, as soon as you hear that, you might think, “You didn’t help me with that definition. I don’t even know what that means. Redemptive what? It kind of sounds like we’re in seminary. What does this have to do with my life?” Hang with me, because this is so significant for you to understand your life and everything that’s going on in the world right now.
The fundamental words in this definition are “rule and reign.” When we talk about a kingdom, we’re obviously talking about a king who rules and reigns. A kingdom has a king. Here the King is God, so it’s the Kingdom of God. We’re not talking about the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and king Salman there. We’re talking about the Kingdom of God, where God rules and reigns.
As a side note, you’ll oftentimes see the phrase “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven” or “Kingdom of Christ.” Those are not three different Kingdoms; those are all basically interchangeable terms, talking about the same Kingdom.
Now I put “redemptive” in this definition because God has ruled and reigned over everything in all the universe at all times, right? So in that sense you could say the Kingdom of God includes everything in all the universe, because God rules over everything in all the universe. While that’s true, that’s not the primary way Jesus is using this phrase. Instead, Jesus is talking about how God is redeeming a world that is full of evil and suffering and sinners—a fallen world.
So a little background behind this word “redemptive”—especially if you’re visiting today with friends or family, maybe you’re exploring Christianity, maybe you’ve heard this sermon and you’re not really sure what it means, even though you’ve been in church for a long time. This word points us to the big picture story of the Bible, how in the very beginning God created a good world. Men and women in it were made in His image, including every single one of us. We’re made in the image of God for relationship with God. We are made for relationship with the King over it all, a loving relationship, enjoying His love, loving Him. The problem is each of us have rebelled against the King. Every one of us has turned aside from the King’s ways to our own ways. We’ve rebelled against Him. The Bible calls that sin. Our sin and rebellion has separated us from the King. As a result of our sin, we will die and if nothing changes, we will experience eternity in judgment due our sin.
However, the good news of the Bible is that God, the King, has not left us alone in this state. God, the King, has come to us in the person of Jesus. He lived a sinless life, a life with no sin. Then even though He had no sin to die for, He chose to die on a cross to pay the price for sin. Three days later, He rose from the grave in victory over sin and death. That means anyone, anywhere in the world—no matter who you are, what you have done or how you’ve rebelled against the King—if you will place your trust in the love of Jesus, then God will forgive you of all your sin and restore you to relationship with Him. That is redemption.
The word “redeemed” means to pay a price to free someone, to rescue, to deliver, to save someone. The good news of the Bible is that God has sent His Son to pay the price for your rescue, for your freedom, for your deliverance from sin and judgment. God has made a way for you to be restored to relationship with Him forever. Jesus is the Redeemer Who will make you new, if you will trust in Him.
If you’ve never placed your faith in Jesus as King, as Redeemer, I invite you—really, I urge you —to do that today. Your eternity hinges on how you respond to Jesus. This is so much more important than Coke. This is a Kingdom that determines our destiny forever and ever. The beauty of what we’re reading about in Mark is how the Kingdom has come and how we can be a part of it.
Look at Mark 10:15. We’re jumping ahead to where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” What does that mean? It means with childlike trust, when you embrace the redemptive rule and reign of God through Jesus in your life, you enter into eternal life with God as the King of your life. In other words, you will experience life the way you are intended to experience it, with God as King over your life.
Then you start to realize, “Jesus doesn’t just redeem my life, He is doing this work of redemption in others’ lives too—in ways that affect our relationships with each other, in ways that affect the way we live in this world.” The more we submit to Jesus as King in our lives, families and in our communities of the King called churches, the more it affects every facet of our lives.
I was in the store yesterday getting some Coke, I ran into a couple who introduced themselves as being involved in our Re-engage marriage ministry. They began to share with me how Jesus had not just changed their lives, but had changed, healed, restored and redeemed their marriage. We’re talking about the Redeemer Who has power to heal broken marriages. The implications just start to flow from His power as Redeemer.
We’ll keep going on “Kingdom” in just a minute here, but I want us to see this. On one hand, whenever you see “Kingdom of God,” realize that the Kingdom of God is a present reality because King Jesus has come and His redemption is spreading, even right now. This is why Jesus announced His coming in this way: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” The King had come and was demonstrating the delivering, renewing, redeeming rule and reign of God. He was healing people of diseases, delivering the demon possessed, raising the dead and most importantly, forgiving people of their sins and restoring them to relationship with God. The King had come.
Now get this good news, 2,000 years later—His redemption is still spreading. His redemption is represented all across this room, in other locations where people hear and many of you online. For everyone who has put your faith in Jesus, the King, you have been forgiven of all your sins. You have been filled with the Spirit of God. You are being made new every single day. You have power in you for whatever you face in this world and you have hope of coming to full redemption.
This leads to the second part here: The Kingdom of God is a present reality. He has come. His redemption is spreading. And it’s a future hope because the King is coming back and His redemption will one day be complete. One day the King will return, bringing a new heaven and a new earth with Him, where His perfect justice and righteousness will rule and reign everywhere. There won’t be any more sin. There won’t be any more sorrow, no more pain, no more hurt, no more tears. He will wipe every one of these from our eyes, because He, the King, will reign over all and His redemption will be complete for all who have put their faith in Him. The old will be gone; the new will have come.
As we come to the text, this is where I want us to feel this. Don’t miss this. In this moment right now, we are meeting with the King. This is not just a Sunday tradition we’re going through here. It’s not just, “Ah, I guess we should do that today.” We’ve gathered to meet with the King and He is speaking to us right now. The King has a word for us that has the potential to bear fruit, growing in our lives and in the world in ways far beyond what we can imagine in this moment, if we’ll just listen.
So now let’s listen to what He says in Mark 4.
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.”
Humbly and Eagerly Receive My Word.
So what is God saying to you and me right now? This King Who rules and reigns over all and Who desires to redeem, transform and make us new through Jesus? He’s saying, “Humbly and eagerly receive My Word.” Right where you’re sitting right now and me even as I’m saying this, Jesus is saying, “If you have ears, hear. Listen. Pay attention to what you’re hearing. Don’t get distracted right now. Pay attention. Your life depends on it.”
In verse 21, Jesus compares Himself to a lamp, saying, “I’m come to shine light for you in a dark world. If you’ll just listen to My Word, you will see.” The picture He’s painting is clear. We live in a fallen, dark world where sin and evil reign, and as a result our thinking is so warped. Jesus is saying, “I’ve come to bring you light, if you will just listen.” He says in verse 24, “If you’ll listen humbly and eagerly to My Word, you’ll receive more and more and more light in the world. But if you ignore My Word, if you reject it or just don’t pay attention to it, then you’ll experience more and more and more darkness, and what you have will be taken from you.”
It’s a pretty powerful picture. Let me try to illustrate it. Imagine being on a journey, in a place you don’t know, in pitch black darkness. Somebody says to you, “I have light that could help you on your way.” But you say, “No, I’m going to figure this thing out on my own.” So you fumble around, running into all sorts of things, because you want to figure it out on your own. In your pride, you’re saying, “No. I want to do this on my own.” That’s the way so many people in the world are living at this moment.
This is the picture, quite honestly, of so many people in this room right now. You say, “I don’t know. I’m not telling God I don’t want to hear from Him.” Well, how much time are you spending listening to His Word? Are you opening it up every day? Is that the first thing you do in the morning, then meditate on it all day and night? Are you humbly, eagerly receiving it?
Or are you in busyness running after so many things in this world, focusing your mind on so many trivial things in this world, and just running around in the dark in the process? Jesus is saying, “I have life for you, if you’ll just receive it. I’ll show you how to live. I’ll show you how to experience life. If you want happiness, I’ve created this in you. I know how to make you happy. I know how to fulfill your heart.” Don’t reject this light.
The reality is, once we start to receive it humbly and eagerly, Jesus says, “I have more for you.” He just keeps giving more and more light that He just pours out on us. He says, “I want to help you live.” This is a gift and a picture of His love for us. It really represents two ways to live, right? One, we could say, “No, I don’t want it.” We either outright say that, or functionally, day by day, we focus on our phones, jobs, stuff, TV, Netflix and everything else the world fills us with, just ignoring the light the King desires to give to us.
Don’t miss it. It’s not just a picture of darkness that this leads to in the world. If you reject the Word of the King, please hear this loud and clear. If you reject the Word of the King, this will be your destiny forever and ever. Outer darkness is one of the words Jesus uses to describe hell. It’s a picture of judgment for all those who have ignored the Word of the King. This is one way for you to live.
The other way to live is to receive His Word humbly and eagerly, to experience light. Experience His light shining on you, leading and guiding you, providing for you, satisfying you.
Which way are you going to live? It’s the King saying, “I am giving you such a gift. I’m giving you light for your life.” Humbly, eagerly receive it, day in and day out. Rise in the morning and meditate on this Word. Do it all day, all night. Meditate on it. This Word brings light.
Teenagers, believe this. This is better than anything you’ll see anywhere on social media or some website. This Word is better—I promise. Let’s show them it’s better than all the stuff this world offers, all the busyness we run after, all the triviality. This is life and light, if we’ll just humbly and eagerly receive it.
I shared a couple weeks ago how family has been walking through some exhausting days—I’ll share more on that at an appropriate time. Many of you have encouraged me and my family. I would ask for your prayers for God’s help; He knows. I want to stand before you today and testify that every single morning over the last few weeks, without fail, every single morning I have opened up this Book and have found light just waiting for me, including this morning. Amidst confusion, uncertainty, doubt and darkness, I have found strength just waiting for me in my weakness. I have found peace just waiting for me to overcome anxiousness and worry. I have found comfort, encouragement, endurance, guidance and joy. I’ve found light. If you were to look in my journal, amidst wrestling through a variety of things, you would see over and over prayers of thanksgiving for God’s Word. I love this Word.
God, thank You for this Word. It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The news I want to share with you today is that it’s here for you too, right where you’re at. I don’t know all you’re going through, but I do know God loves you and has given you light. So humbly and eagerly receive it. Meditate on it. Don’t spend your life trying to figure it out on your own when your King, your Creator, is saying, “I’m generous with My light.”
How you live, whether you humbly and eagerly receive His Word, will fundamentally determine the level of light you have in your life. God the King is inviting you to be with Him, to hear from Him, to be led by His life. Don’t spurn that invitation. That’s foolishness. That’s the first message from the King.
Confidently and Patiently Trust My Work
The King is telling us right now, “Confidently and patiently trust My work.” I love this next parable:
26 And [Jesus] 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.”
What a simple picture story. A man goes out and throws some little seeds on the ground. Then what does he do? He sleeps. He gets up. So day and night, he sleeps and gets up, sleeps and gets up. That’s all he does—sleeps and rises. Meanwhile, what does the seed do? The seed sprouts and grows—and the man has no clue how. The earth produces by itself.
He might tell us, “Well, I went to sleep and I woke up. I did that many, many times. Then one day, there was a blade. Then there was an ear. Then there was full grain in the ear. Then the grain was ripe. Then the harvest came. All I did was sleep and rise.” Jesus says, “This is how My Kingdom works. If My Word-seed is planted, it does miraculous work all by itself.” In our lives, as we humbly and eagerly receive this Word, we confidently and patiently trust it to work in our lives. We know that it may not be extravagant day after day. It’s not like a farmer plants a seed one day, then the next day there’s this huge plant. No, he’s patiently and confidently trusting.
So if tomorrow you rise and meditate on the Word all day long, don’t think, “Okay, all of a sudden I’m a super Christian.” Just day by day by day by day God’s Word will do miraculous work in your heart, in your mind, in your life. Then through your life, as you sow this seed of God’s Word in others’ lives around you and in your family, He will do miraculous work in their lives as well.
Don’t underestimate, Mom and Dad, that seed you’re sowing in that child’s life—or vice versa, children, what you’re pouring into your parents’ lives. Friends, families, neighbors, coworkers, people you meet this week—don’t underestimate the power of God to do miraculous work through His Word. Just give them the Word and see what it does. It’s not like this farmer is planting a seed in the ground, then going back the next day, digging it up to make sure it’s still there, blowing on it or doing whatever else, then frantically running around. No, he’s trusting that this seed has power.
I was reminded of this yesterday as Heather went to a funeral in Georgia for one of her uncles. That reminded me of her mom who died a few years ago. Ever since Heather and I met and started dating, Heather had asked me to pray with her for her mom, because she didn’t seem to have a relationship with Jesus. She could be religious and very kind, but she was actually pretty cold toward spiritual conversations. So we prayed and prayed and prayed, year after year after year. Heather would write her notes and give her books. We’d buy her Bibles, just looking for every opportunity to sow seeds of God’s Word in her mom’s heart. Until one day, over ten years later, we were on vacation with Heather’s family. Heather’s mom got up early on the first morning to read her Bible. Heather said, “Mom, what are you doing?” They started talking. Long story short, she had read something we’d given her and it finally clicked. Her heart, in that moment, was humbled and softened. She put her trust in Jesus and entered into the Kingdom.
Now she was doing what you do when you’re in the Kingdom. You get up to meet with the King. She started listening to my sermons as she exercised. She was just soaking in the Word. She started sharing the gospel with people where she shopped. A harvest had come.
I had the privilege of baptizing Heather’s mom one Sunday morning, then less than two months after that, she died suddenly from a brain aneurism. I share this story with you to encourage you to confidently and patiently trust God’s work through His Word in your life and in others’ lives to whom you’re sharing the gospel and for whom you are praying. Keep trusting that Word. Keep sowing that seed.
It was really good for me to read this parable this week, in the midst of this season when I feel like we’re doing a lot of waiting so I want to make certain things happen. It was good to be reminded by the King that in our waiting, we can trust God is working in ways we don’t see, in ways we can never manufacture, in ways only He can work. This means we can sleep at night and rest as we wait on Him with patience and confidence. I hope that’s a helpful word for some of you today.
This leads right into the last parable in the chapter, beginning in verse 30:
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.”
What a picture! A tiny seed. Picture a grain of sand put in the ground that grows up and becomes this tree with large branches. Just think about the proportion there, from one tiny seed. Then think about that on a grand scale, with hundreds and thousands and millions of seeds.
You know what’s really interesting? We don’t have time to dive into this or go exploring in Scripture right now, but I’ll just point out that that the birds of the air can make nests in the shade of these plants that grew from tiny seeds. In Ezekiel 17, there is a promise of Jesus to come. It says that under His rule and reign, people from all the nations would be brought to salvation. The nations are described in Ezekiel 17 as birds coming to lodge in a tree. In Ezekiel 31 and Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar is having dreams about his kingdom and the nations and people of the world are depicted as birds nesting in a tree. So the imagery here in this story is not accidental. Jesus is saying to His disciples then—and to us now—this Kingdom starts much like a small seed in your life. Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. This small, ragtag group of disciples are hearing Jesus say these words. They had no idea that 2,000 years later, billions of people have been brought into the Kingdom that started with that small seed of the gospel.
Then realize that that same seed is in your heart, right where you’re sitting. For all who have put their trust in Jesus, no matter how young or old you are, this seed is in your heart, in your life, to bear fruit far beyond what you can ask or imagine. Together, we’re a part of a Kingdom that will one day, according to Revelation 7:9-10, include people from every nation, tribe and language, nestled under the branches of this King and this Kingdom.
Spread the Good News of My Kingdom Everywhere in the World
So what is God saying to us right now? He’s saying, “Humbly and eagerly receive My Word, confidently and patiently trust My work, then spread the good news of My Kingdom everywhere in the world.” This seed—this Word—is not just for you to soak in; it is for you to scatter. It makes no sense for a farmer to go out in the field and just walk around with the seed in his pocket. Yet this is the Christian life for so many people. Don’t do it. Don’t hold this seed in your pocket. You have the light that brings life in a dark world. Don’t hide it under a basket, under a bed.
The King is saying, “I’ve commissioned you to go and spread the good news.” Tell somebody. He’s saying right now to all of us, “Tell somebody this week. Tell that friend of yours, that fellow classmate, that neighbor, that coworker, that friend or family member you’ve been sharing with. Write them another letter. Share with somebody the good news that the King has come and He will change their lives for all eternity. He will forgive them of all their sin and restore them to relationship with God, the King, if they will trust in Him.”
Tell somebody that this week. Don’t keep that to yourself. Don’t stop here; spread this good news all over the world, so that all the nations might hear it. There are 3.2 billion people in the world who still have not heard the good news of Jesus the King and His Kingdom. Church, we’ve got to change that. MBC family, with all the resources we have, in one of the most significant cities in the world where the nations have come, we have so many opportunities to go to the nations. Let’s spend our lives, our families and our church family spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God everywhere in the world. That’s what the King is telling us right now.
Let’s go back to the history of Coke, this drink that started so small, grew to be something so big, so influential and so universally known. I’ve told you before about a friend of mine named Jonathan. He’s the person in my life, probably more than any other, whom God used to open my eyes and teach me about unreached people in the world. A little bit of his background. He and his wife Carla got married and had a little baby girl. As soon as they had her, they moved overseas to Uzbekistan and moved in with an Uzbek family. Just imagine this newly married, newly parenting couple, moving into a small house with an Uzbek family to learn the language and how to live there, and to share the gospel in a place where very few people knew the good news of the King.
So they started sharing and started seeing people come to know Jesus. They saw churches started and multiplying. They particularly saw God’s Spirit move among the deaf community in the part of Uzbekistan where they lived. There’s a lot of persecution, with secret police who made spreading the gospel hard. But as the gospel was spreading in the deaf community, they could share the gospel out in public and the secret police didn’t know what they were sharing. So the gospel was spreading out in the open, in the sovereignty of God.
They spent years there, then moved to Kabul, Afghanistan, where they spread the good news of the Kingdom in a really, really hard place there for many years. Later I had the opportunity to serve alongside Jonathan as a pastor here in the States, then he was one day diagnosed with a brain tumor and went to be with the Lord. But do you know where it all started for Jonathan—this zeal to spread the good news of the Kingdom in places like Uzbekistan or Afghanistan?
After he graduated college, he and a college buddy of his decided they were going travel around the world for a year. They said, “Let’s go to the kinds of places that, after we get married and have a family, we probably would not take them on vacation.” So they went to remote, hard regions of the world. They were in this one really remote, mountainous region and met some missionaries, who asked Jonathan and his friend if they would go with some translators and do some survey work among some people in really remote villages. Jonathan and his friend said, “Yeah, we’ll do that.” So they went, gathered some villagers together, then through a translator they started to ask some questions. They asked, “How were we created?” The villagers said, “We don’t know.” They asked, “Well, who sends rain for the crops? How does the rain come?” They said, “We don’t know that either.” Then they asked, “What happens when we die?” The people looked back at Jonathan and his friend and said, “No one has come to tell us about that yet.”
After they finished their questions and before they left, the people invited Jonathan and his friend to come into a house, so they did. They sat down for a few minutes, and the host came over to them with a drink. You’ll never guess what it was. It was a bottle of Coke. That’s when it hit Jonathan that a bottling company in Atlanta, Georgia, has done a better job of getting brown sugar water to the nations than the church of Jesus Christ has done with the greatest news in the world.
Surely it is not tolerable for us that 94% of the world’s population sees this logo and knows what it means, yet three billion people in the world don’t know about the love of Jesus Christ for them. Surely that needs to change. Surely God has brought you and me into the Kingdom to be part of making that change a reality. So let’s be finished and done with casual Christianity, just giving a nod every once in a while to the Word of God.
This is life. Live it up in the light of God’s Word. Receive this humbly and eagerly every day. Soak it in. Trust it to do a work in your life and trust it to do a work in the world. Let’s spread it like we believe it’s true, like we believe we want people in the Kingdom. Let’s give our lives, our families and our church family for making the greatest news in the world known to all the nations of the world. God has put us in this city and has brought so many nations here; let’s be active in spreading the good news of the Kingdom.
Get your hands out of your pockets. Sow the seed, then look for opportunities to give, live, pray and go where this gospel has not yet gone, so that a much better product—the gospel of Jesus Christ—might be made known among the peoples of the world. When that happens, what does it say in Matthew 24:14? “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We want to see our King. We want to see Him praised by all the peoples of the world. So let’s give our lives. Let’s be finished and done with casual, comfortable Christianity that ignores the nations of the world. Let’s give our lives to what matters most in anticipation of the day when our King receives the praise He’s due from every nation, tribe and tongue, when everything that is wrong will be made right by our Redeemer.
Will you bow your heads with me? I want to ask are you following Jesus, the King? Have you submitted your life to the rule of Jesus, the King? To the reign of Jesus, the King? If your answer is not yes, then I want to invite you in this moment just to say to God, the King, “I know, God, that I have sinned against You. I have rebelled against You. But I believe Jesus has died on the cross for my sins. He’s died to redeem me. So I place my faith like a child in Jesus. I trust in You as King. I want to enter into Your Kingdom now and for all of eternity.”
O God, I pray for that miracle to be happening throughout hearts right now. Then for all of us who have experienced this miracle, who have entered into Your Kingdom, we pray that You would help us not to just hear Your Word today, help us do what it says. Make us a people who humbly and eagerly receive Your Word. All week long, every day this week, may we patiently and confidently trust Your work. God, we pray that You would use us to spread the good news of Your Kingdom.
Please pray right now for individual people who come into your mind—friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers.
God, give us boldness to share the gospel with these people who are on our minds right now. Don’t let us be silent this week. Help us to speak the gospel. We pray that You would bring more people into the Kingdom this week here in the city. God, we pray for our brothers and sisters who have been sent out from here into all kinds of places in the world.
I was just meeting with Mauricio this morning, who is sowing gospel seeds in Normandy, France. Bless him, his wife Rachel, their kids, their family, their church. It’s a small seed of a church. Bless them, God, for the spread of the gospel among so many different nations and people You’ve brought to that city.
God, may the seed just grow and sprout in ways far beyond what we could ask or imagine, in each of our lives, and in our life together as Your church, as this outpost of Your Kingdom. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus, the King, and all God’s people said, “Amen.”
Read Mark 4:21–34
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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
- What are parables and how can we understand them?
- Parable: A simple practical story that illustrates significant spiritual truth. Three tips to understand them rightly:
- Listen from the hearer’s perspective.
- Look for the main point.
- Let the truth change your life.
- Parable: A simple practical story that illustrates significant spiritual truth. Three tips to understand them rightly:
- How should we understand the “kingdom of God?” See Mk. 1:14-15, 4:11, 26, 30.
- The Kingdom of God: The redemptive rule and reign of God in Jesus. (Mk. 10:15)
- It is a present reality: The King [Jesus] has come, and His redemption is spreading.
- It is a future hope [because]: The King is coming back [one day soon], and His redemption will be complete.
- What does Jesus tell us through the parables of this passage?
- Humbly and eagerly receive My Word.
- Confidently and patiently trust My work.
- Spread the good news of My kingdom everywhere in the world!
What does the passage say?
- Read Mark 4:21-34 aloud as a group and take some time to let group members share observations about the passage. Try not to move into interpretation of the passage or application of what you have read quite yet. Simply share what you all observe from the text.
- How would you explain this passage in your own words?
- How many parables are in this passage?
- What natural abilities and what supernatural aspects does Jesus cite in this passage?
- What analogy does Jesus use in this passage?
What does the passage mean?
- What is the light and lamp of this parable and what are the implications of hiding them? (Mk. 4:21- 23)
- How is hearing a measurement? (Mk. 4:24-25) What is ‘good hearing’ and how does it manifest in the believer and the nonbeliever? (See Prov. 9:9)
- Read Mark 4:26-27. What is the focus of this parable and what are the implications of it? (see James 1:21) What is a certainty of the harvest and how is it realized through the gospel? (Mk. 4:28-29)
- To what is the mustard seed analogous? (Mk. 4:30-31, Mt: 17:20) What are the implications of the mustard seed to God’s kingdom? (Mk. 4:32) Why do believers and nonbelievers understand parables differently, and how can we better understand them? (Mk. 4:33-34, 2 John 9)
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
- How devotedly do we study God’s Word to get the right perspective, to understand the main points, and to let the truth change our lives?
- We want our Church Group to conform to the kingdom of God (see Mt. 6:9-10, 33; Mk. 10:15) and to Jesus’ redemptive rule in our lives.
- How are people being made new in and through our group, in the present reality of our King?
- How does our group’s focused Scripture study lay the groundwork for our King’s future return?
- We want to be rooted in God as we see His work, hear His Word, and live in His light.
- How does the light around us testify that we humbly and eagerly receive God’s Word?
- How does the seed of God’s Word, planted in our hearts, bring a miraculous harvest of fruit in our lives, so we can confidently spread it and patiently trust Jesus?
- What is our group doing to spread the good news locally and to all nations (see Ezek. 17, Dan. 4, Rev. 7:9-10), and with whom could we share it this week so it becomes more known than CocaCola?
Remember the essential group elements, and the role of God’s Word to redeem us and others:
- All Church Groups devote time to building community.
- All Church Groups devote time to God’s Word.
- All Church Groups devote time to deeper sharing and specific prayer.