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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Come Perch in its Branches!


"He said to them, “Do you bring in 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."

Mark 4:21-22

The trajectory of the message this morning is a bit like that of an aeroplane taking off. It’s going to start slow and earthbound and then it’s going to pick up pace, lift its nose off the ground and rise up into the sky.

We’re in the middle of a group of parables that Jesus told from his pulpit out on the lake - namely the boat he was in.

There are 4 parables in the unit, although I like to think of it as 5. Mark tells us in verse 33 that Jesus ‘spoke the word to them with many similar parables’. So, there were more parables that day than these 4 or 5.


Mark, though, gives us these ones. The parable of the sower - or soils - we had last time.

Though not called parables, the Lamp on a Stand (v.21-23) and the Measure used, (v.24-25) definitely have the flavour of parable.

And then there’s the parable of the Growing Seed and finally the parable of the Mustard Seed.


And it just seems obvious to me that there must be a reason Mark chose to include these ones and not others.

Which leads me to believe that these parables are not random, they’re working together in some way - which is what I really want us to see.


These parables are, I think, on this lift-off trajectory I mentioned a minute ago. As one parable succeeds another, the plane is taking the next step on its trajectory into the sky.

But to get the plane moving on the runway I want to remind you of some things from the parable of the soils which will be important.


In that parable the different soils were people’s hearts, and the seed was the word of God - always the word of God.


The farmer I said, for the purposes of the audience listening to Jesus, was Jesus himself. But we’re going to see this morning that the farmer may not always be Jesus. That’s going to be important.


We saw that there were 4 types of ground, but ultimately 3 types produced no fruit. 1 ground produced no plant at all. 2 grounds produced a plant, but before fruit was borne the plant either got scorched by the sun because it was shallow, or it got strangled by brambles because it was sown in weedy ground.


And we understood from Jesus that those two grounds represented people who looked like the word of God had taken root in their souls, but the reality was life’s trials or life’s pleasure destroyed the plant before it could bear fruit.

But then at last we saw there was a fourth type of soil that bore fruit because it was deep and fertile, and the farmer was pleased with those plants.

In Jesus’ interpretation, then, soberingly, only a minority of the soils demonstrate the authenticity of fruit.

We also saw, if you remember, that Jesus said that he told the truth - he called it ‘the secret of the kingdom’ - in a parabolic form so that some of those listening would be ‘ever seeing but never perceiving, ever hearing but never understanding, otherwise they might turn and be saved’ – in other words he didn’t want them to be saved.

He told the truth in a concealed way not in a revealing way so that those who had rejected him up to this point wouldn’t be able to be saved. He was bringing mini judgment on those who had said, ‘he’s driving out demons by the power of Satan’.

And now he moves to a new parable in verse 21.

It’s not disconnected from this parable of the soils though - it flows outof it.

Look at verse 23, he’s still on this subject of hearing. He repeats what he said back in verse 9,

If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear’. These are the ears of the heart we talked about last time.


Have you got heart ears that hear Jesus? If you have, you believe what he says to you – that’s what this type of hearing means. You will hear it with your head ears and embrace it with your heart ears.

If you reject it, you don’t have ears to hear!

Now, two questions might be in the disciple’s minds - might be in ourminds - after the soils parable. Question 1, if Jesus is going to conceal the secret in parables and only explain it to his disciples then isn’t the kingdom going to be very small?

I mean who can enter the kingdom if Jesus has sealed up the meaning and only explains it to a few choice disciples?!

The second might be, ‘what do you want us to do now Jesus? You’ve told us the secret, but what, do we just sit on that? Just take it to the grave with us?’

And Jesus uses this analogy of the lamp on its stand to answer those questions.


Verse 21, ‘He said to them, “Do you bring in 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 the disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open”’.


The lamp is exactly what Paul described when he was preaching on Eutychus - remember that? It’s a clay vessel full of oil with a floating wick. But, whilst it may have sent Eutychus to sleep, Jesus has a better purpose in mind here. Kind of the opposite purpose.


His point is simple - easy to understand. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a clay lamp then, or the light on a mobile phone now, the principle is true for all time:

In a dark room there is zero point bringing in a light only to hide it. If you hide it there will be no benefit. At root Jesus wants us to understand this simple truth.


Now to get his explanation, we’ve got to remember what he said in the parable of the soils. Here he’s saying that just as a light is not meant to be hidden under a bed or bowl, so something he has in mind is not meant to be hidden either.

And as a lamp is meant to be placed on a stand so that you can see, so this ‘something’ he has in mind is meant to be disclosed also. ‘Whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open’ - see that in verse 22?


What is the ‘something’ Jesus has in mind? Well, it’s the secret of the kingdom isn’t it? Look at verse 11, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you [disciples/believers]. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that…they might not understand’. The secret then was concealed from some of Jesus’ listeners in parables.


But that’s not how it’s meant to be. He’s saying, ‘it’s like that now for a reason, but it’s not meant to be like that forever. The secret is meant to be disclosed, revealed - it’s meant to be made visible’.


I think we understand the concept. We understand that we are meant to conceal certain things, for example, from children that ultimately, they need to know, but because they’re children it’s not the right time for them to know.

But then a time comes when they need to know, and the thing that was meant to be disclosed, which had been hidden for a good reason, now gets brought out into the open and revealed to them.


Jesus is saying, the secret of the kingdom of God - which we learnt last time is forgiveness in Christ Jesus; is God being reconciled to us, though we were his enemies - that that secret, though concealed in Jesus’ day, was very soon going to be disclosed. It was always meant to be disclosed.

Ok, then, the question now is, who is going to disclose it?

Verse 24, Jesus said, ‘“Consider carefully what you hear, with the measure you use, it will be measured to you - and even more”’.


Now Jesus doesn’t use throw-away phrases. Paul and I might do that sometimes - Jesus doesn’t. He means something when he says at the beginning of the verse, ‘Consider carefully what you hear’. He’s pressing his theme of hearing again.

And he means us to prick up our ears now with respect to this next bit - namely the question of: who will do the disclosing?


Jesus says ‘listen up’ in effect. And he says it because it’s you! You do the disclosing. ‘With the measure you use’. In other words, you receive the word of God and as you receive it, embrace it, trust it, feast on it, you take it and measure it out to other people.

Jesus is saying you evangelise the word of God - the good news of Jesus - to the wider world around you.


Jesus might have been the one preaching in the boat - he might have been the ‘farmer’ that day - but you’re going to be the farmers going forward.

And the ‘measure’ is an image. An image of the farmer going into his grain store and taking seed in his measuring cup to load up his seed bag ready for scattering.


Someone scattered the seed of the gospel in your life, and you got saved by it. Now you go and scatter the gospel on other lives, that they may be saved too. That’s the idea.


And building on what we were thinking about last time, if you’re not in the word, how will you scatter it? That’s why Jesus says be sure to be careful hearers.

I’m often amazed when I think back over my life and think of what things I have listened to. What rubbish I have loved to put through my ears and how reticent I have been to put the goodness of God’s word through my ears.


This week, I drove to the Lake District, and I just thought, I want to hear the beauty of God’s Word in my ears right now. In the 21st century, you can have the bible read to you whilst you drive your car!


I know there’s excitement about an up-and-coming concert by a certain person, but what are her words in comparison with these? Let your hearts get excited about these words, and then go, share them with others.


What does ‘measuring out’ look like? Does it look like preaching? Does it look like Sunday Club? Does it look like witness with colleagues at work? Does it look like raising little one’s day by day with gospel permeating every part of life? Does it look like knocking doors? And the answer is ‘yes’.


It looks like all of those things and just about a thousand other ideas that your brain can imagine up. There really is no limit to the ways you can share the good news of Jesus. We should be doing this as a church collectively; we should be doing this as individuals.

It’s part of our vision to reach the lost people of this community and that will surely require a big share of the seed of the word.

So, find ways that we can do that together.


But remember this too, Jesus said in Matthew’s account of this very parable, ‘Let your light so shine before others, that they may hear of your good deeds and give glory to God’.

Now put that together with the psalmist when he said, ‘your word is lamp unto my feet, and a light on my path’.

So, the word brings light, and the light ought to shine out in good deeds so that people see it and give glory to God!


You could be so fervent for evangelism and yet have a life that smoothers the light because it’s empty of good deeds. Jesus says, let your good deeds speak the good news, as well as your evangelism.

Now, Jesus could say, ‘it’s your duty to share the word, after all you were bought at price’. Which is true. We are not our own, we werebought at price - a very great one. So go, spread the good news.


He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t say ‘it’s your duty’. Rather, he motivatesthe measuring out of the word with receiving a measure in return from God.

As you measure out the word, so God will measure blessing to you.

And the emphasis is on size because that’s what ‘measure’ means. If you use a stingy measure the measure of blessing back will reflect it. If you use a full measure, the measure of blessing back will reflect it.

What does Jesus say elsewhere - sow sparingly, reap sparingly; sow generously, reap generously.

Now, you might say, ‘well Jesus also says, ‘and even more’. Surely that means that whatever measure you use, the measure of blessing back will be full’.

I don’t think that’s true. What ‘and even more’ means is, you can neverout-give God. Whatever you give him, he will always give more.

God doesn’t need anything from anybody. He is perfectly self-sufficient.

We should never think that because he tells us to do things for him that he somehow says that because he needs us to do for him that which he can’t do for himself. Never. God can do everything perfectly well and ten million times better and more efficiently that we can.


He chooses not to because it brings him glory to do it that way. So, to prevent any of us from becoming conceited - saying ‘God paid me back for what I did for him’ - he always out-gives you.

‘And more’ means he will give more than you ever can.

But that doesn’t mean you get a big measure when you’re stingy with half measures.

Jesus is encouraging us to withhold nothing of all that we can give because the return blessing will be abundant.

And he isn’t talking about wealth and health type blessing either. He’s talking about spiritual blessing, faith, grace, love, joy, peace, contentment, both now, and in the age to come.

Notice though, that there’s the warning of soils 2 & 3 in verse 25 as well, ‘Whoever has will be given more; but whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them’.

Luke renders it, ‘whoever thinks they have’. You can think you have the word of life and end up being choked by pleasure or scorched by trials and wind-up, Jesus says, having nothing.

So, we’re speeding down the runway now, but the nose of the plane hasn’t got up yet. Jesus is going to show us the nose coming up now in the parable of the Growing Seed.


Verse 24, ‘He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how’.


With all that emphasis in the last parable on our action - our measuring and sowing - we might be forgiven for thinking we are the decisive factor in whether or not people are saved.


This parable serves to remind us, it’s not us. We scatter the seed like good farmers, but we go to bed like good farmers too. In fact, once the seed is scattered, the sprouting and growing happens without our input.


There are all kinds of mysterious works that take a seed from seed to plant, and the farmer doesn’t know a good many of them!

And when we spread the seed, God works in mysterious ways to bring that seed to life and bear fruit.


Verse 28, ‘all by itself the soil produces grain’. It’s an automatic process not a manual process. God does the decisive work in people by his Spirit, not us.


What is so wonderful about this is that God doesn’t burden us with the pressure of yield. The sowing is ours, but the yielding is his.


What this means is that we must be faithful in sowing the word. Think of someone who you have repeated opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with. You might get to thinking that you can persuade them into the kingdom of God - but you can’t.


You are called to take your opportunities faithfully and then, according to this parable, you pray for the miracle of growth to happen, and then you put your head on the pillow and sleep.

And you sleep well because you’ve done faithfully what you were told to do and set the decisive action before the one who makes the decisive difference.

Verse 28. This is talking about a person from conversion to death. The stalk, then the head, then the full kernel. The seed produces a life of righteousness as God sees fit, and then God puts the sickle to that life and harvests it for himself.


A life that started out with the word being faithfully sown and ends with pleasure (not the deadly type) in the presence of God forever – that’s what’s in view here.

So, the nose of the plane is up now and take off is about to happen. What will it look like?


Verse 31, ‘The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants’.

Notice that the theme is still horticultural. We’ve seen how the word saves a person, goes out from a person, is planted in another person - God provides the growth and saves that person too. But this parable is telling us that that process forms part of a bigger picture.


Every one of those people who is saved will do the same thing - namely, they will take the word and sow it abroad and God will see fit to make that seed grow into fruitful faith. It’s a multiplying model.


And it turns out that God is multiplying people into an entity that he calls his ‘kingdom’. We think of kingdoms as established, powerful, influential things. But Jesus tells his disciples to expect God’s kingdom to look very unimpressive at the beginning. He compares it to a mustard seed - the smallest seed farmers and gardeners of that day sowed.

The point he’s making is not that the kingdom of God is small, or insignificant, or uninfluential. His point is that it starts that way. And like the mustard seed, surprisingly, grows into the largest of all the garden plants. In other words, God’s kingdom is going to be super surprising - it’s going to overtake all the kingdoms of the earth.

Jesus was sat in a boat on the shores of a lake 13 miles long and 8 miles wide telling people this parable about the kingdom of God. It looked pitiful. The Roman Empire looked utterly vast in comparison with this carpenter Jesus from Nazareth.

Yet Jesus is telling us, the kingdom - that came near to them in him - will grow to become the greatest kingdom the world has ever seen or known.


So much so, that nations will come and perch in the branches of the kingdom of God. That’s what the birds in verse 32 represent. In the prophet Ezekiel, all the great nations live in the shade of a great cedar tree.

The nations that will perch in the branches of God’s kingdom will find shade there - they will find peace in his kingdom. God has ordained people from every tribe and nation and tongue to be partakers in his kingdom.


Jesus said at the end of Matthew’s gospel. ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore [I’m passing it to you now] go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.


So, Jesus commissioned his followers, and us, to go to the nations and make disciples of them by sowing the seed of the word of God amongst the people.

The decisive worker in the making of disciples is the Holy Spirit.

But then there’s a further work for us to do, we are to teach the new disciples all that Jesus commanded us and them to do, so that, they will go and do likewise.


And this goes on until the end of the age when Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords and establish his everlasting kingdom on the earth and the nations will perch in its branches.


And with that, the plane has taken off! Jesus has moved us by parable from the ground into the sky. From the seed to the fully developed mustard plant with all the steps along the way.

This is how Jesus spoke the word to them according to verse 33 and he explained everything to them according to verse 34. And he appeals to us to take care how we listen - that our lives might bare much fruit!


Jesus said in John 15:8, ‘This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples’.

May we show ourselves to be what we say we are, by bearing muchfruit for the glory of God and for the growing of his kingdom!


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