Rediscovering Jesus - Unstoppable Progress — A Christian Growth Message - Hope 103.2

Rediscovering Jesus – Unstoppable Progress — A Christian Growth Message

A series looking at our Saviour through the book of Mark, by Simon Manchester of Hope 103.2's Christian Growth Podcast.

By Simon ManchesterSunday 16 Apr 2023Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute

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We’re reading Chapter four of Mark (verses) 21 to 34. We’re taking another little portion of Mark’s gospel as we kind of wind our way along through Mark’s gospel, which, as you probably realise, is fitting into another series along the way. And today we come to these verses that come after the parable of the seed and the four soils.

What does Jesus say immediately after teaching the parable of the four soils? Well, the thrust of the section in Chapter four, which we’re looking at today, listen carefully to this is that the Christian life calls on you to be responsible to heed God’s word and to be confident knowing that he will fulfil it. It is a very beautiful blend and balance of taking your part in the hearing of God’s word, the doing of it, and also the unbelievable confidence that we have that God is at work to do his word.

It’s hard to find a illustration of this, but during the week I bought myself a cheap bicycle and you know enough to know that a bicycle riding person needs a combination of responsibility and security so that there is a sense in which you’re doing some steering and you’re doing some peddling. That’s your responsibility. But also the bike is basically holding you up and is taking you from a to B faster than you could ever go on your feet. So responsibility. Confidence. That’s what we see in these verses. And if you belong to Christ, you will know by now that your Christian life goes well when you take these two seriously, when you take your responsibility to heed the word of God and you take confidence that he will keep his promises. Or put it another way. Think of somebody. Maybe yourself, and you’re going well. In the Christian life, you’re thinking of somebody who’s really seems to be on fire. What is the mark of that person?

They love the message of God, and they are trusting the grace of God. Think of a person who’s drifting and is not going to Well, chances are they’ve stopped receiving and loving the word of God and stopped trusting in his grace and power. That’s our that’s our passage this morning. Now there are 14 verses, four little paragraphs, and I’ve called the four paragraphs. If you’re taking a note first, be clear. Second, be hungry. Third, be confident and fourth, Be amazed.

Be clear. Be hungry. Be confident. Be amazed.

This is what he says. Chapter four, Verse 21. We just had these verses read not long ago, Jesus says. Does a lamp come along to be put under a bed? Do you switch on one of your little lights at home and then go immediately and put it into a cupboard? That’s the question that Jesus asking. Now you have to picture him preaching the parable of the seed and the soils, and we’re told that later he had to explain that parable to his disciples. And now, in Chapter four, Verse 21 he says to them, Does the lamp get put in a cupboard?

Who is the them? Is the them the crowd, or is it the disciples? Is this being said in public? Or is this being said in private? I want to suggest to you that it’s being said in public because the last two verses 33 34 tell us that he spoke in parables to the crowds, and then he explained them to the disciples and what we’re reading here is parables, so we can be fairly sure that he’s speaking to the crowd. And he said to the crowd, A sewer goes out, scatters seed That’s the message. The message that Jesus lived, died and rose. There will be four reactions.

Some will be like a hard path. They will go after the preacher afterwards, and they’ll say, Isn’t it cold? Because nothing was said that went in. I don’t want to be rude about saying, Isn’t it cold? You can say that if you want, but you know what I’m saying? The person who’s not listening doesn’t get anything, just talks about something irrelevant, less relevant.

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Some people says Jesus will be like shallow soil. They’ll come up and say It’s great, We love this. We love the course We love doing Christianity explained, and you’re so hopeful. But within weeks or months they’ve gone and then there’s other people, said Jesus and they seem to go for months and months and months, maybe years and years and years, and then they get a promotion. Some lover comes along, something takes over and they give up and then says Jesus, there’s good soil and the message goes in changes them, starts to bear fruit 30 60 and a hundredfold. And he turns around and he says to that crowd, Do you bring a lamp and put it in a cupboard?

That’s his question. Now why do you think he says this? I suggest to you that he’s saying this because the crowd are going to be tempted to think that the word of God is not particularly generous or not particularly abundant and are going to be less than confident. We’ll come back to this in a minute. But he’s asking the question about whether this lamp should be brought and put into a cupboard.

He’s basically said to them that the seed comes at them abundantly. And now, he says, the light comes at you abundantly. What you do with the seat, of course, is going to be your business. What you do with the light is going to be your business. But Jesus says, I want you to know that God is a God who sends out abundantly.

He’s incredibly generous. He’s not covering the lamp. He’s not holding back the seed. He’s not playing secrets. These little parables that Jesus told we’re not childish stories you know, designed to make everything simple for everybody. We know that these parables, these little stories that Jesus told were actually divisive. They cause some people to get clearer and some people to get less clear. Some people said this is enlightening me, and some people said This is darkening me. So these parables have a sort of a divisive effect. But you see what Jesus is saying. The seed goes out in abundance. It’s up to you, and the light goes out in great abundance as well. It’s not being put into a cupboard is not being put under a bushel. This little phrase light under a bushel, which is a very famous phrase, sometimes means that we must be careful not to put our light under a bushel. Matthew Chapter five. But sometimes it is like here. Mark four. God is not putting his light under a bushel.

Incidentally, the bushel was a container, and the container held about seven or eight litres. So it was what we would call a bucket. And when you hear the word bushel, think bucket and Jesus is saying, does a lamp come and get put under a bucket? Obvious answer No God, God is a revealer. He’s not a concealer. God is a God who delights to tell. Remember many years ago I was reading a book I’d been given called I Believe in Preaching by John Stott, and it was tremendously helpful and practical book. But one of the chapters, quite early was called theological foundations for preaching, and I thought to myself, “This is not going to be the most thrilling of chapters but nevertheless and it was the most thrilling of the chapters.”

And the first thing that he said in the chapter is, if you want to know a theological reason for being a communicator of God’s word, it is because God is light. He delights to reveal himself. I’ve never forgotten it, and I’ve always thought, What a wonderful thing that God is a God who delights to reveal himself. He’s a communicator. Of course. There are times where he hides things. He hides things sometimes in judgement from the proud, but he delights to reveal he is light now. I think this is important for us because the human race assumes that God is tricky, secretive, complicated.

The human race is always putting God into the dock. The human race things, you know, here I am. I’m getting on with my life. I’m getting my kids off to school. I’m trying to do my work. I’m getting to the shops. I’m stopping briefly in a cafe. I’m heading to the doctor’s surgery when I need to. I’m organising the holidays. When we get the opportunity, where’s God? I can hear him. Can’t see him hiding, making things difficult for us.

The Bible says the whole world that we live in is pointing to him. The whole of creation is pointing to him, and all the pleasures that we have in this world are traceable to him and all the pains and all the suffering that we experience tells us seek him. And then, of course, Christ has come changed the history of the world.

All the promises have been rained down to the world, waiting to be grasped and grabbed and loved. God is a great, great revealer. So Jesus says, Be very clear. The seed. The light has come to you in great abundance. He’s a communicator, and that’s why Jesus says in Verse 23 be very careful how you hear, because if nothing is coming to you into you, through you, the problem is not God.

That’s the first thing. Be clear. This is the responsibility section. The second responsibility section versus 24 to 25 is what I’ve called. Be hungry, Jesus says. Consider carefully what you hear with the measure you use, it will be measured to you and even more, and whoever has will be given more. Whoever does not have even what he has will be taken from him. According to Time magazine, the latest edition yesterday in America, a man called Joey Chestnut was competing for his ninth title in the hot dog eating contest. His record 69 hot dogs.

Just try and picture 10 hot dogs on a plate and then put seven of those in front of you on the table. That’s what we call extreme eating, not even extreme hunger extreme meeting, and I think we understand extreme appetite. But we also know that there is something wrong when there is no appetite. That in a way worries us even more, doesn’t it? And still on the seed theme of the seed of God’s kingdom going out Jesus says be careful on your appetite.

Be careful. Be concerned about your appetite. Be careful about your listening, he says, because your intake can be determined by you. If the sack that you take to the storehouse can only open so that the neck gets to about five cents, you are going to take a lot in. And if the container that you take to the grand jury is a thimble or an egg cup, you’re not going to have a big meal with your family that night.

Be very careful, says Jesus. The measure you use will be the measure that is dished out to you. And so Jesus says, Take care. I actually find the little phrase. Take care quite annoying, especially when it comes at the end of an email. Um, I’m being annoying today, aren’t I?

The that little phrase. Take care. I always think it means sort of pamper yourself. Cuddle yourself, Coddle yourself. I’d like somebody to write, take some risks at the end of the email to me, but there is a time isn’t there to take care, And Jesus says you should take care when it comes to your listening. If you’re listening is bad, and we all know what it’s like to have bad listening to the things of God. All of us go through stages where we couldn’t care and we’re not listening.

But then there are days where we are listening and we do care and we are hungry and those are healthy days. And Jesus says, Take care about your listening. If your spiritual ears are blocked, it’s worrying even more disturbing. Verse 25. Jesus says whoever has will be given more and whoever does not have even what he has will be taken away now. This doesn’t mean that God is going to become unfair, prejudicial or something like that, because remember, he sends out the seed and the light in great abundance. But if you have some hunger for his word, there’s going to be some increase. It’s like look how hungry this person is.

If there is disinterest in his word, there’s going to be decrease decline. This is so obvious to me as a pastor because you don’t have to be in a church for long or even a small group for long, or even a team of full time workers or part time workers for long, and you begin to realise that there are those people around you who have got a great interest in God’s word.

They just are hungry, and there’s something about them which is overflowing there. Receptive. They’re enthusiastic and they’re overflowing. And then, of course, there are other times where people have got no great interest in God’s word, and the sad thing is that they don’t seem to have anything going on inside. And there’s no overflow and there’s no delight. So these verses are toward us, and not just, you know, that we might love the promises, although we do, but we might take seriously the commands. As we’ve been reminded this morning.

We need to be very careful to hear what God says on every issue. No matter what the world says, we’re always going to be different from the world. We’re always going to be countercultural. We’re not going to be thinking the same. We’re not going to be listening the same. We need to be very careful, says Jesus. The preacher is often in danger of saying, you know, I hope you’re reading your Bibles, and for some people that comes across as I hope you’re eating your vegetables. But if you hear I hope you’re eating your vegetables and you say, I hate vegetables You could be a little kid when you were growing up. You find yourself increasingly saying, Try and stop me from eating some vegetables I’ve actually grown to like them and I realised that they do me some good.

And when we say read the Bible and you hear me say each of vegetables, I hope some of you will say Try and stop me. I love the word of God. I hope there’ll be those phases in your life where you’re just being disciplined in reading the Bible and finding it tough. And there will be those times where you’re being disciplined in reading the Bible and finding it wonderful.

But you do need to take this test, which Jesus gives us here in verses 24-25. Be careful how you hear the measure of your hearing is going to be the measure of your getting, and I know exactly what it’s like to sit with my Bible or sit in a church with very bad reception in my ears. And I know what it’s like to sit with my Bible or sit in the church and have good reception. The sermon that we preach here, which is always imperfect, is not a song for you to rate.

We’re not meant to get to the end of a sermon and hold up scorecards and say in her 6.2, the sermon is a meal. It’s an opening up of the Scriptures. It’s an unpacking of the Bible, and there’ll be some people in the church who are listening to the same sermon as you, and they are receiving and feeding. And there’ll be some people in the same services you who are listening to the sermon and their fasting. They’re not getting anything.

The words in your Bible are not there like a dictionary waiting for you to consult them when you’re stuck on some particular, issue the words in your bible of food and lights. And if you’ve got eternal life, you know that you need those words for your growth, and you know you need those words for your walk. So Jesus says, Be hungry. Now how can I say to you this morning? Be hungry. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? be hungry, but everybody is hungry for something.

And some who are not hungry for the word of God are desperately hungry for something else. And Jesus says, I want you to watch yourself so that you’ve got a good hunger for the word of God, Please don’t tell me that you’re not a reader. My question is, Are you hungry? Please don’t tell me you’re too busy.

My question is, Are you hungry? I’ve been reading pilgrims progress with my breakfast in the morning. Some of you will know why I’m reading Pilgrim’s Progress or rereading pilgrims progress. And I was very interested this week to read of a character called Talkative those of you who don’t know pilgrims progress. It’s about a man called Christian who’s leaving the city of destruction to go to the city of God and on the way he, of course, meets all the normal challenges and blessings that the Christian experiences in the pilgrimage.

And at this stage, Christian is travelling with faithful, the two of them to godly men travelling from the city of destruction to the city of God. And as they’re travelling, they meet a man called talkative and talkative joins them and talkative, is really talkative. He knows all the words. He knows all the phrases. He knows all the language of the kingdom. Boy, can he talk and faithful is really impressed with him and says to Christian, This guy’s great and Christian says to him, You know, he talks in whatever company he’s in.

None of it really means anything to him. The phrase that Christian uses is there’s no religion in his heart. It’s just in his tongue. He is a saint in the church. He’s a devil at home. And so they decided to push, talkative and, they say to him, were not so interested in whether you know the truth. We want to know whether you do the truth, and we’re not so interested in whether you can name the sins with horror. But whether you’re turning from the sins and then they tell him eventually that his reputation is terrible and that’s when he gets angry and he decides that he’ll have no more to do with them. But see, that’s not the listener. That’s not the hearer that’s not the receiver.

That’s the person who’s taken in nothing but just plays the game of the talk. And Jesus says we need to be very careful in our listening. Be hungry the third and now we come to our confidence in God himself is what I’ve called the confident versus 26 to 29. This is a little parable where Jesus says, 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 grows, though he does not know how. Is this not obvious? Do we not all know this is true? Have you planted anything in your garden? Have you stuck something under the soil? Have you then said to yourself, Well, let’s sit back and watch what happens. That’s the way it works, isn’t it? Why does Jesus tell this?

I think he tells us, because we may underestimate God’s greatness in the whole harvest business. The person is listening to the parable and says, Okay, seed is coming at me, and light is coming at me a lot of responsibility and Jesus says God is miraculously at work. You see what the man can do? The man can just throw the seed on the ground. That’s all he can do.

And we need people to scatter. The seat God uses are scattering. People who scatter the seed like our missionaries are indispensable. But we are very, very limited in terms of making it grow, aren’t we?

When the seed goes under the soil, what can we do? Well, we can go to sleep, get up the next morning. There’s nothing we can do to make that seed grow. But Verse 27 it grows Verse 28. It turns from stalk to bud to wheat Verse 29. There’s a harvest. We can’t fully explain it. We can’t cause the growth. We just collect the results. Why is Jesus telling this? Because God’s work is miraculous and unstoppable. Boy, I find this encouraging. I find this so encouraging as a minister, you know, I sit at the table of Christiane explained, and there’s a group of people sitting around lovely, lovely people, and I explain as best I can. That Jesus lived, died and rose and somebody is looking pretty sleepy in one corner, and someone is looking very excited in the other corner and the courses all over, and I think to myself now what the seed for some of those people went under the soil and God is going to cause it to grow.

And when God causes it to grow, there’s absolutely nothing that I can do to stop it. God is at work. Absolutely wonderful. I see the signs of life in some people. I praise God. I say to myself, You’re working, you’re working. I could never do anything in this person’s life. I see another person in the congregation that looks as though nothing is happening in their life. I’m about to give up on them. I think What can I do? I can’t dig under the soil of their life and check the seed or rattle the seed or shake the seed. I just have to trust God.

This is so encouraging, isn’t it? If you’re a parent, if you’re a parent here, you have given the seed of the message of Christ to your Children and for some of us were waiting to see where that goes. And we have to wait, don’t we? But God is at work, causing the seed in his providence to grow. If you’re a Sunday school teacher, or a youth leader or a Bible study leader.

How wonderful to remember that God as it were, causing the seed under the soil to grow in his good time. It will come up and there will be harvest. We are such great organisers. We think we can organise everything and when things are not going well, we think we’ll reorganise.

There are great limits to our organisation. It’s God by his spirit by his word working. And the word of God is very, very powerful. I was reading in my Bible this week about the godly King Hezekiah, that famous event when the Assyrians came up and said, We’re going to absolutely mow you down and they mocked the people of God. They said, Don’t trust your God anymore. We’ve already killed that nation and that nation and that nation and we destroyed all their gods. Do not think for a minute that your God is any problem to us.

And here’s a guy took the problem to Isaiah, the Prophet and Isaiah. The prophet started to pray and he said, Oh God, this is dishonouring to you. And those are the gods that got destroyed. There are no gods there. Nothing’s. But you are the living god. Will you help us? And the message? The word came from God to Isaiah, the prophet that a Syrian nation will not fire one arrow. How could that be possible?

And during the night, God absolutely decimated the Assyrian army and they withdrew. They retreated the word of God. When God says something so powerful, so wonderful and Jesus is telling us here, be confident. So be aware. God is a God who doesn’t hide but communicates. Be hungry. God’s word deserves your serious attention. Be confident. God’s word is never going to fail. And the last thing this morning is be amazed, he says in verses 32. That the Kingdom of God is like the mustard seed, though proverbially small grows into a great great tree. We know this parable. It’s a very famous parable.

The mustard seed may not have been the smallest seed, but it was proverbially small. And we feel the smallness of the people of God in this city, don’t we? The non people of God seemed to be huge. The people of God seemed to be small. We feel our weakness in the face of hostility to the Christian faith and Christian ethics. And yet Jesus says, what is small is going to be very great. There will be remarkable growth. This little mustard seed that you can hardly see when you put it on your hand is going to turn into a tree, says Jesus. That will be so big that the birds will come and sit in the shade or sit on the branches.

Now again, Jesus is giving us great encouragement, not only with the with the Kingdom of God progress unstoppably because his word will not be stopped, but it’s also moving in a particular direction. It’s moving from seed to tree, and Jesus says, Therefore, you will be amazed. You will be amazed to see the growth, the progress, the size and my friends. I want to say this to you. If you study church history, you will be amazed. And if you’re a person who belongs to Christ, there will be a day where you will be amazed to see what God has done.

You know, we may be a little amazed, but we’re going to be very amazed, stunned to see what God has achieved now. Therefore, when is this growth going to happen? On the on the one hand, we might say that God has already done great growth in the world. In Jesus’ day. The Kingdom of God looked very small, didn’t it? There’s Jesus. He’s got 12 apostles. One is a traitor. 11 of them are frail and feeble. It looks incredibly weak and tiny. And yet the people of God are now literally billions of people. That is amazing.

And the growth has not been by military force. It’s been by the word of God, that’s it. We don’t have great powers. We just have the word of God, one commentator says. Can you imagine getting in a time machine and going back to those 12 apostles or 11 apostles with some kind of large laptop and showing them on the laptop? The growth of the church in the next 2000 years? Can you imagine showing to those 11 or 12 apostles the crowds at a crusade? The churches, the megachurches, the missionaries, the colleges, the schools, the hospitals, the villages that were receptive to Christ the nation’s. They’d be looking at this insight. Unbelievable, unbelievable.

That’s what Jesus says.

But I want to suggest you as we come to an end this morning that this section is really looking into the future. Yes, we can be amazed today at the spread of the gospel around the world. But the real amazement is in the future. These verses are really what are called Scatological, that is, they’re pointing to the last things.

I’ll give you some examples in verse 22. Jesus says the hidden will be disclosed. When does that happen? Well, of course. In the present, God does some disclosing today, doesn’t he opens eyes and ears and he helps people to see Christ. But there will be a great disclosing at the end where everybody will see Christ And as we’ve sung every knee will bow and every tongue confess That will be a day of great disclosure or verse 25. God is a God who gives and takes. When does God give and take? Well, there’s a sense in which he gives and takes today, doesn’t he? He gives people abundantly and he takes away. He gives blessing. He gives judgement today But there’s going to be a day where God gives and takes in an incredible way where he gives the inheritance to his people, and he gives eternal judgement to those who are not.

There is a very great giving and taking still to come or look at Verse 29 the news of the harvest. Jesus says there will be a great harvest. There is harvest. Today we send our missionaries into the harvest, and they, by the grace of God, see people believe sometimes in great numbers, sometimes in few. But the final harvest is going to be truly amazing where we suddenly see all the people who God has saved from all the tribes and all the nations in all the centuries. And there they are before the throne, and that will be a very great and amazing harvest to see.

And then finally, he says in Verse 32 that the seed is going to become a great tree and we see something of that tree today in the spread of the gospel around the world. But we will see that great final work. At the end. We’ll see all the people who have taken Jesus seriously. His life, his death, his resurrection being welcomed into glory.

So therefore Jesus says, be amazed and you will be amazed if you belong to Christ. There is a very joyful amazement to come. Be clear. God is a God who speaks. He’s not secret. Be hungry. Check your appetite. Be confident the word of God is going to do its work. Be amazed and you will be amazed. And a pastor during World War two who experienced a great deal of suffering, said these lovely words with which I finish – “one day when we look back from God’s throne on the last day, we shall say with amazement and surprise if I had ever dreamed when I stood at the graves of my loved ones and everything seemed to be ended, if I had ever dreamed when I saw the spectre of war creeping upon us, if I had ever dreamed when I faced the meaningless fate of an endless imprisonment or a malignant disease, if I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through these woes, that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair his harvest was ripening and that everything was pressing on towards his last kingly day.”

If I had known this, I would have been more calm, more confident. Yes, I would have been more cheerful, more tranquil and more composed.

And that’s exactly what Jesus says is happening.

Let’s pray

Our Father, we thank you this morning for giving us a challenge to be responsible in knowing that you’re a generous spreader of the word and to be hungry in the privileges and opportunities that you’ve given us. And we also thank you for giving us great confidence in your unstoppable word and also in the great advance of seeing a small seed moved to a great tree.

We pray that in the midst of all the ups and downs of our life, you would feed us on the promises, challenge us with the commands, give to us more and more insight into yourself and help us to live with confidence and responsibility in this world. And we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.