More than Meets the Eye (Mark 4:21-34)

More than Meets the Eye (Mark 4:21-34)

Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling


January 3, 2021

Mark 4:21-34

More than Meets the Eye


In the 1980s, the toy action figures called transformers came out. Transformers are cars and trucks. They are perfect for fighting evil aliens because the aliens look at them and just see a harmless vehicle. But when the alien least expects it, the car or truck unfolds into a dangerous robot with missiles and guns. Now the aliens don’t stand a chance! The theme song for the Transformers cartoon was, “Transformers, more than meets the eye.”

The parables of Jesus operate in a similar way. They start out as a simple, harmless story. But suddenly, when you least expect it, the parable transforms into a dangerous story about reality, about yourself, and the God you were trying to avoid. There is always more going on than meets the eye in a parable.

Eugene Peterson describes Jesus’ parables in a similar fashion. He writes: Parables sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, meals and coins and sheep…. As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant…. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. He was talking about God; they had been invaded!

There really is more going on than meets the eye.

In this passage in Mark 4, we will look at the following three parables:

  1. 1. The parable of the lamp.
  2. 2. The parable of the growing seed.
  3. 3. The parable of the mustard seed.

Each one tells us something about who Jesus is and what he desires to accomplish in his mission.

The Parable of the Lamp

In v.21-22, Jesus says, Do you bring a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.

At first glance, it seems like Jesus is talking to the disciples about the importance of letting their light shine. He’s saying, Don’t be afraid to share the good news about the gospel. Don’t be ashamed. Instead, be bold and courageous. Let people know you are my follower, let your light shine and share the gospel.

That’s true. And the Bible does tell us to let our light shine and to not be ashamed of the gospel.

But Jesus is saying something more than that.

He’s explaining that there is an intrinsic “hiddenness” to the gospel. There are times when we can’t see its light. It’s like God is hiding its light from us and we might assume that it will stay that way. God wants us to trust that he will reveal its splendor and glory in due time.

In what sense is the gospel hidden? Two ways: 1) Jesus’ ministry and 2) In our own lives.

  1. In Jesus’ ministry

Throughout the book of Mark, Jesus cloaks much of his ministry in secrecy.

  • Mark 1:25: When a demon announces that he is the “Holy One of God,” Jesus tells him to be quiet
  • Mark 1:44: When Jesus heals a man with leprosy, he tells them not to tell anyone.
  • Mark 1:45: Jesus stays out of the major population centers and spends most of his time in isolation in the countryside
  • Mark 4:11-12 We’re told that when he does speak to large crowds, he does so very cryptically—using parables to code his message (Mark 4:11-12).
  • Mark 9:9 When some of Jesus’ disciples seem him appear on a mountain, transfigured in glory and talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus tells them: “Don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen until after the resurrection.”

There’s a secrecy to Jesus mission. It’s as if he’s hiding the glory of his identity under a bowl or a bed.

Why would he do that? Because he’s starting a revolution. And like many revolutions, it starts underground.

Jesus’ message that he is the King of Kings is treason to the Romans. It’s blasphemy to the Jews. And stands to be misunderstood by the masses. Jesus keeps a low profile so that he has time to teach his disciples about who he really is and what he has come to do.

After the resurrection, then the fullness of what God has done will be revealed and then and only then will it be time to spread the message to the four corners of the earth. The light will be put up on a stand for the world to see.   

  1. In our own lives

The Apostle Paul says that there is a sense in which the glory of God’s grace and power is hidden in our own lives. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 he says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” He means that sometimes we miss the beauty and splendor of God’s work in us, because of our broken situation. The gospel seems hidden in our suffering.

Thought we can’t see it, our times of failures, setbacks and suffering are often the places where God’s power shines the brightest.

Years ago, when I first read the Diary of Anne Franke, one of the things that stuck me is her desire to be a great writer. She wanted to write something that would endure and be read by people around the world. But instead, she was stuck in an attic hiding from Nazis and could only write seemingly insignificant entries in her diary.  In one entry, she writes: “I want to be used to bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift [of writing], which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me! When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great…?” (Wed. April 5, 1944)

What she didn’t know. What she couldn’t see, was that even as she wrote the words, “Will I ever be able to write something great?” She was writing something great. Something enduring beyond her wildest imagination.

Death and suffering and hardship often make us thing that God’s power is not present.

But the point of the parable of the lamp is: Just because you can’t see it, don’t assume it’s not there. God will reveal it in time.

His power is made perfect in your weakness. The beauty of God’s power and grace was ultimately revealed at the cross of Jesus Christ. That same beauty will be revealed in the brokenness and pain of your story.

The Parable of the Growing Seed

In the classic children’s book, Frog and Toad Together, there is a story called, “The Garden.” In the story, Toad notices the Frog has a beautiful garden. Frog tells him that gardens are a lot of work. Frog then gives him some flower seeds and Toad goes and plants them. Immediately, Toad puts his head close to the ground and yells, “Now seeds, start growing!” But nothing happens. Later that night, Toad looks out the window and notices the seeds still aren’t growing. He concludes that the seeds must be afraid of the dark. So, he brings out some candles for light and he also reads the seeds a story. Still nothing happened. The next day, Toad sings songs and read poems to the seeds, but they didn’t grow. Finally, Toad falls asleep and when he wakes up little green plants were coming out of the ground. He tells Frog, “You were right—gardening is hard work!”

Toad works hard thinking he can make the seeds grow. But the real work is realizing that the seed’s ability to grow is outside of his control.

No doubt, this children’s story is based on the parable of the growing seed (v.26-29)

Notice that Jesus goes out of his way to show that the seed grows of its own accord.

  • In v.27 Jesus says Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. It doesn’t matter if the famer is sleeping or getting up—it’s irrelevant. The seed grows. In fact, the farmer doesn’t even understand how it happens.
  • In v.28, Jesus says All by itself the soil produces grain. The point is that the growth of the seed is independent from the farmer. The farmer can’t’ control it.

Think about all the ways we try to make the kingdom of God grow: Parents try to perfectly raise their kids to love the Lord. As Christians we converse with non-Christians trying to share the gospel. As people who want to encourage others who are going through a hard time—we want to say something that will develop and grow and change them with a lasting impact.

To all those efforts, this parable is meant to be an encouragement and a warning.

It’s an encouragement for those who think their efforts for the kingdom are fruitless and everything we do is useless. Jesus says, your labor is not in vain—I will make it grow. Your job is to be faithful. Scatter the seed.

But it’s also a warning for those who think they can bring about the kingdom through their own efforts. Just like the farmer shouldn’t pretend that he knows how the seed works, we should pretend that we know exactly how and when God works.

In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, the Apostle Paul says: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

God will make your life fruitful. Your job is to be faithful and to trust God to do his work in his time.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

In Jesus’ final parable, in v.30-32: He uses yet another seed analogy. He says that the kingdom of God is like the tiniest of mustard seeds. Once planted it becomes the largest of all the plants in the garden and the birds come and perch on its branches and find shade.

Twice in this parable, Jesus alludes to language used in the Old Testament. It’s important that we are familiar with this language so we can fully appreciate Jesus message. Here are the two Old Testament references:

First, in v.30 Jesus says, What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?

Here, Jesus is echoing the language of Isaiah 40:18: With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him?

In the context of this verse, Israel is in exile—they have been punished for rebelling against God and were taken captive by the Babylonians. But in Isaiah 40, God says you must not think of me as a powerless and insignificant idol. I’m your Creator, and I will rescue you and restore you.

Jesus is saying, you might think that the ministry of a wandering Galilean teacher is small and insignificant. But don’t despise the day of small beginnings. An earth shattering event is about to take place. I will keep my promise to rescue and restore you.

The second Old Testament reference is in v.32. Jesus says, Yet when planted, [the mustard seed] grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, which such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.

Here, Jesus is alluding to Ezekiel 17:22-23

I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it…On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.

In the book of Ezekiel, the birds nesting in the tree’s branches finding shade represent all the nations. They will come to this one tree for a life and refuge. It will be their home.

Jesus is describing himself, his mission and what exactly his mission will accomplish.

His ministry looks like nothing—it’s almost imperceptible, like the tiniest of mustard seeds.

He is a humble, no-name wandering preacher from Galilee. Followed by a rag-tag group of disciples. Like many others before and after him—he claims to be the Messiah—the savior and rescuer of Israel, but is put to death on a cross.

But there is more to this inauspicious mustard seed than meets the eye.

Because unlike the many other would-be Messiah wannabes, Jesus, after being planted in the ground for three days bursts forth from the grave in resurrection.

And now, he is the mighty tree of life that gives life and refuge to people of every tongue and tribe and nation.

He invites you to come and find shade in his branches.