Hearing the Code of the Kingdom – 2
I am so excited to explore this passage with you here and at home, those of us who are joining through livestream. If you’re not in Mark 4, go ahead and turn there.
According to Carl Trueman, we begin to understand how we created the current politics of sexual identity when we grasp three major transitions. First, “The self was psychologized, psychology was then sexualized, and finally sex was politicized.” The self was psychologized — think Rousseau — psychology was then sexualized — thank you, Freud — and then finally, sex was politicized, which is a little more complicated, the overflow of the entire identity politics movement. We don’t have time to unpack all of that right now. But let’s focus in on that first statement. The self was psychologized. What does that mean? Today it’s kind of assumed. But historically speaking, it’s actually relatively new. For example, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau, mid 18th century, wrote his “Confessions,” he claimed to be doing something that, in his words, “has no model.” His objective was to “make known his inner self.” In some ways, he was inventing the autobiography.
But, did he really have no model? Can you think of another earlier version of “Confessions”? Who wrote that? Augustine, 1350 years earlier, late 4th century, wrote his “Confessions.” And the similarities and differences between these two writers is fascinating. Both Augustine and Rousseau lived, at least for parts of their lives, very immoral lives. Augustine today probably would have been diagnosed a sex addict today, prior to becoming a Christian. Rousseau claimed to make some of his greatest, most significant philosophical discoveries with a prostitute. He and his mistress had five children. He forced her to put all five in an orphanage where they would most likely not survive. And then he went on to write (This is disgusting!) one of the most influential books on parenting in all history, although he never raised a child. That’s the quickest way to be an expert, by the way.
Both “Confessions,” Augustine’s and Rousseau’s, explore the self, but they do it quite differently. Rousseau idolized his inner voice. He believed that truth is found by looking within. Society will contaminate you. He’s famous for having said, “Men are wicked, man is good.” Men, society is wicked. Man in solitude, tuned in to our inner voice, is good. He put these words in the mouth of a priest in one of his writings.
“Conscience, conscience! Divine instinct, immortal and celestial voice, certain guide [that’s key] of a being that is ignorant and limited but intelligent and free; infallible judge [this celestial voice within] of good and bad which makes man like onto God; it is you [this celestial voice] who make the excellence of his nature and the morality of his actions. Without you, I sense nothing in me that raises me above the beasts.”
So, for Rousseau, his Bible was his inner voice, his feelings. And this evolved into what Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher, describes today as “a culture of authenticity.” He writes (this is Charles Taylor):
“Our moral salvation comes from recovering authentic moral contact with ourselves… There is a certain way of being that is my way. I am called to live my life in this way and not an imitation of anyone else’s …. If I am not [living my life according to my inner way], I miss the point of my life. I miss what being human is for me.”
It’s a beautiful description of what we mean when we say the self was psychologized. And this psychologized self manifests itself endlessly in our music and our movies. I think, it’s an older example, but “High School Musical,” the movie (one of them), one of the characters sings,
“The answers are all inside of me
All I gotta do is believe.”
That’s Rousseau without a wig. Now, compare Augustine to what Rousseau said. Augustine in his “Confessions,” Book 10, said this:
“For that darkness is lamentable in which the possibilities in me are hidden from myself;”
What is he saying? He’s saying, there are so many things happening in my heart that I don’t even know what they all are. Some of them are hidden. I can deceive myself.
“so that my mind, questioning itself upon its own powers, feels that it cannot likely trust its own report …”
Augustine is acknowledging that I cannot count on my inner voice being authoritative. Now, I think Augustine at times goes too far with self-doubt and self-examination and that kind of thing. But what he’s getting at is, how do I trust a voice I don’t even fully know that is saying contradictory things? He ends that paragraph this way. It’s beautiful.
“Our one hope, our one confidence, our one firm promise is Your mercy.”
In all the chaos of my internal voices, the one voice that I know I can count on is your firm, stable promise.
So, let’s review real quick. Rousseau is saying, if you fail to listen to your inner voice, you’ve missed the point of your life. Augustine is saying, my inner voice, though a gift … And I want to emphasize that. I’m not saying that emotion or self-reflection, listening to ourselves … That’s a gift from God. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from the animals. I’m not minimizing that gift. It’s just not authoritative. Does that make sense? It’s vital, but not authoritative because it can be delusional, ignorant. It can lead us astray.
“Our one firm [voice] promise [as Augustine said] is your mercy.”
This hit me anew yesterday as I was reading Psalm 51:6. David prayed,
“Behold, you [God] delight in truth in [my] inward being … you teach me wisdom in [my] secret heart.”
Isn’t that beautiful? God delights in truth. Not the kind of authenticity that Rousseau is advocating and that our culture advocates where you are authentic with yourself, which is circular, self-referential, incestuous. But true, authentic — Truth, capital “T.”
“You delight [God delights] in truth in [my] inward being, and [he] teaches me wisdom in the secret heart.”
That’s talking about revelation. There are parts of my heart that I don’t even know, and God is kind enough to teach me, to bring truth to the parts of me I don’t even know what to do with and I don’t even understand. We’re not minimizing at all the inner life. God is passionate about that kind of true authenticity. And what Jesus is doing here in Mark 4 is he’s training his disciples to listen to his voice, not their voices. It’s a completely different way to live. And it’s something that doesn’t happen automatically. It’s something that we don’t just instinctively know how to do. It is a gift from God, and it is a part of discipleship. He trains our ears. He disciples us in listening.
And the way Jesus does this in Mark 4:1-34 is he uses parables — these kingdom codes, these stories that both conceal and reveal — to help his followers know how to listen well. He tells four parables. The first parable we looked at last week, the parable of the sower. Notice verse 3, it starts with “listen,” and verse 9, it ends with the same verb “hear” or “listen.” The point is really clear. You’ve got to know how to listen. And then he tells in verses 15-20 about four kinds of hearers.
Number 1, the defensive hearer represented by the hard soil. The seed falls on this soil and Satan immediately takes it away (verse 15). And then secondly, the discouraged hearer, represented by the shallow soil. The soil covering the rock that receives the Word with joy and then when the pressures of life begin to squeeze on it, and persecution comes on account of the Word, it falls away because it has no real root system. Then third, we talked about the distracted hearer, represented by the thorny soil that is choked by the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the desires for other things. Notice in verses 18 and 19, contrary to Rousseau, we can be deceived from external voices and internal. Jesus covers both of them. We can be suffocated by and distracted by the cares of the world or the deceitfulness of wealth or the lust or desires of other things. And then finally he, Jesus, outlines what it means to be what we called a dynamic hearer — an active hearer — represented by the good soil in the present tense continually (verse 20) hearing, receiving, bearing fruit. All the other verbs of “hear” in these verses are aorist, which means they’re an event that ends. This one in verse 20, the verb is present, which means it’s active. It’s dynamic. It’s ongoing.
People have asked me this week, are hearers 1, 2, and 3 believers or not? Good question. Now, I think the text is clear, we’re not talking about believers if you remain as a 1, 2, or 3. However, all Christians struggle with 1, 2, or 3, right? Anybody here ever battle being defensive? If you say no, you’re a liar. Being discouraged, receiving a message with joy and then going out and being confronted with the reality of life. And you’re like, “This is not going the way I thought it would go.” Or distracted, which, as I shared last week, that is me. So, yes, we will battle those things. But what Jesus is saying is, my sheep hear my voice. One of the definitions of a Christian is we listen. We hear in faith and respond.
So, let’s talk about what that looks like. Let’s unpack what a dynamic hearer really is. I think that’s what he continues to do as he wraps up this parable and works into three more parables. So, review first. The dynamic hearer is relational. Dynamic hearing is relational. It is found in a Person. And this is just stepping back and looking at that whole section and realizing that Jesus is continually grounding his teaching in him, not in us. You’ll see, he’s calling his disciples to be with him. Verse 34, the whole section is going to end. He explains everything to his disciples. In other words, we’re not going to learn how to hear just by going to a class or reading a book. It’s entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ by faith, walking with him. He said it this way in John 14:23,
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word [active tense, ongoing, dynamically keeping my word], and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.”
Listening and loving are inseparable. We can’t say, “Hey, Jesus, I love you, I just don’t like to listen to you. I want to listen to me, or I want to listen to them.” No. We, by definition, are in a relationship, a posture of listening. We don’t want the kingdom without the King. The code of the kingdom is found in the King of the kingdom. It’s in Jesus.
Number 2, and this is where we pick up from last week. Dynamic hearing is expandable. It increases with usage. This next parable is a compilation of several statements of Jesus. Verse 21, Do you light a lamp to hide it? Verse 22,
“For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”
In other words, the codes are decoded for the hearers. Truth will come out. Concealment assumes “revealment.” Why do you wrap Christmas gifts? So that they can be unwrapped. You’re concealing it so that the right person at the right time will open them and receive them. That’s the point Jesus is making.
Verse 23, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Notice this theme of hearing continues.
Verse 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. 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.’”
If you don’t use it, you will what? You will lose it. Hearing is not a game. When God speaks, we receive it. And contrary to the hard soil or the discouraged soil (the shallow soil), the distracted, thorny soil, where the Word is heard, but then taken away, not acted upon. Jesus is saying in this parable, “Use what I give you because I’m ready to give you more.”
So, let me ask you, how did it go this week? Did you use what we received last week? Now, I get it. We can be in our car and already forget what we heard. There are so many distractions. That’s one of the reasons we spent some time last week on dynamic hearers must be intentional about doing something with what they hear. It’s not automatic. That’s the point he’s making here. And I gave some practical examples, some from my sister-in-law overseas. Perhaps journaling what God spoke to you about or memorizing the passage that he spoke to you from or talking about it in your life group so that you can work it in and pray over one another as you seek to apply or re-listening to the message. I have to often listen to something several times to really get it in because it’s so hard to catch it all the first time. I mean, whatever your strategy is, you’ve just got to have one, or it will just fly away. It’s just the nature of how we’re wired.
“Give instruction to a wise man,” Proverbs 9:9 says, “and he will be still wiser.”
If you give instruction to a fool, they’re going to turn and abuse you or they’re going to hate you. But if you give instruction to a wise man, they will receive that and they will become even wiser. Dynamic hearing is expandable, it increases with usage.
Number 3, dynamic hearing is humble. It knows that it doesn’t know. This is one of my favorite parables, I think maybe because there’s so much irony in here. Let me show you a few examples. The kingdom of God is like a farmer (verse 26) who is active. He is scattering seed. But he’s passive (verse 27), he’s sleeping. His productivity is unexplainable (verse 28), “The earth produces by itself.” That’s the Greek word, automate. We get our word automatic from it. So, it’s almost like, “Whoa, it’s happening automatically. It’s a miracle!” But yet it’s also predictable (verse 28}, “First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain.” It’s almost like a scientific process. The farmer, though absent, is ignorant. Most farmers can’t explain the science of germination. Yet the earth is still producing. The kingdom of God is slow. The grain is ripening (verse 29), which takes time. Yet it’s quick (verse 29), “At once he puts in the sickle.”
So much irony. But I believe the heart of this parable is found right in the middle at the end of verse 27. “He knows not how.” The farmer’s sleeping and rising night and day, doing his thing, walking through his routine. Meanwhile, under the dirt, the seed is sprouting and growing, he knows not how. If the farmer were to dig up the seed, cut it open, measure its growth, calibrate its progress, examine the mechanics of what is happening, he would hinder the thing he longs for.
I think one of the points Jesus is making here is, one of the great hindrances for many of us in our spiritual growth and even in the way we listen is we’re constantly trying to examine it, as if we can measure it. If you go into the mirror every day as a little kid to see if you’re growing, you’re probably going to get pretty discouraged. “He knows not how.” If we think we can analyze, strategize, mechanize the kingdom into reality, we are merely revealing we don’t understand the kingdom of God. It doesn’t emerge from our own vision or our own voice.
Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do far more [exceedingly or] abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
Now think about that, all that we ask — so, anything we could articulate, it’s beyond that — all that we think — anything we can calibrate in our brain, envision — it’s more than that, according to the power at work within us. God is at work, but we can’t fully explain it. We’re like the farmer who knows not how, and Jesus is saying, “That’s okay.” Is it okay for you? What if Jesus decides to do his greatest work through you during your hardest year? What if he bears his most fruit in us during the time we barely feel like we’re hanging by our fingernails? And there’s tons of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control popping out in our lives. And what if the overflow … Allan was sharing some examples. We’ve seen that this year as a church, God doing some of his greatest works in the middle of some of our hardest days. I think that’s one of the things Jesus is talking about.
Be careful, we’re part of a harvest that is much bigger than ourselves and there are a lot of things happening right now that we do not fully understand. And I’m not saying we won’t understand any of it, but I am saying, Jesus is saying we won’t understand all of it. Dynamic hearing is humble. It knows that it doesn’t know, and it’s okay. God is working miracles in the mud, under the dirt, invisible to the eye. There are seeds germinating that are going to grow into things that we could not even ask or imagine, and we may not live long enough to see. Humble — it knows that it doesn’t know.
And then finally, and this is building on that one, dynamic hearing is insightful. It grasps what will be, not what is. It sees, it takes hold of what will be and envisions what will be, not what is. So, here he’s building on the last parable. Not that we will fully understand all that will occur in the future, but he helps us see that the kingdom of God is like a small seed. The smallest seed, mustard seed, not the smallest seed to botanists, but the smallest seed that farmers use. A mustard seed is tiny, but its micro beginnings conceal its macro potential. The tiny seed is barely visible, yet it will grow to 10-12 feet high, which is actually quite large for an herb. Or in that day, they basically viewed it as a vegetable. Verse 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.”
I love that. “Make nests” is literally to pitch one’s tent, to encamp, to dwell. The unlikely, practically invisible seed becomes a safe residence for scavengers, for the unlikely, invisible people.
You know how really wealthy people can at times be known for buying stocks when everyone else is selling; purchasing when everybody else is panicking. Why is that? Well, often they are tuned in, not to the emotion or the commotion of the day, but different principles. And Jesus is doing a little insider trading with us. He’s saying, “If you look at my kingdom…” Just imagine Jesus is walking around with twelve men in bathrobes and some stragglers. The Jewish authorities seemed to be in charge. The Romans had absolute authority from a military perspective. If you were a gambler, you would put your money on Pilate or on the Pharisees. You wouldn’t gamble with the kingdom of God. You wouldn’t put your confidence in Jesus. That’s a tiny seed. That’s a mustard seed, I can barely see it. Think about what has happened over the last couple thousand years. Pharisees very quickly, they and their temple got wiped out. Roman Empire, dust. But the branches from this tiny seed stretched around the world, and here we are 2000 years later, making our home in the branches of Jesus’ kingdom. Dynamic hearing is insightful. Not that it grasps all of the details, but it knows what’s coming. Listen to how one writer summarizes it this way.
“One day, perhaps, 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 specter of atomic war creeping upon us [He’s writing in the 1950s]; if I had ever dreamed when I faced the meaningless fate of an endless imprisonment or a malignant disease [or pandemic]; if I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through all these woes; that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair, his harvest was ripening, and that every thing was pressing on toward his last kingly day — if I had known this, I would have been more calm and confident. Yes, then I would have been more cheerful and far more tranquil and composed.’”
I would have been listening to a different voice.
Let me leave you with a few questions to wrestle with this week. One, do you have a relationship with Jesus? Does his Spirit bear witness with yours, that you are his? It’s not at all … The point of this is not at all, “Well, sometimes I get discouraged or sometimes I feel distracted.” That’s not what I’m … But do you have a relationship with Jesus? Because Jesus is going to walk with you, discipling patiently, like he does with the disciples who are such doofuses. We’re going to continue to see this through Mark. They just don’t get it. And I love them, because Jesus is so patient with them. Are you in a relationship with Jesus? He will patiently disciple your ears, making you a listener.
Are you paying attention to what you hear? Verse 24, remember, “The measure you use it, it will be measured to you.” Meaning, your Father is generously giving you truth, promises that are (Augustine) “firm promises,” things you can really count on, in contrast to our fickle inner voice. What are you doing with those? What are you doing to cultivate those? What are you doing to tune your ear so you can distinguish the lies that are in us and around us from the truth? That’s a huge part of discipleship. Pay attention.
If the Spirit speaks to you, if he has spoken to you this morning, he’s taken his Word and he’s spoken to a part of your heart, and you don’t have any plan in mind right now to interact with someone you’re living life with about this, pray over with someone about this, or explore further, seek counsel, memorize the passage. If you have no plan in mind to pay attention to what he’s said to you, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from him. Do something with what he’s saying now, and he will give you more. That’s how it works.
Will you resist the temptation to size up your growth? Our inner voice is constantly inviting us, tempting us to see how we measure up to this standard we’ve created in our mind, how far we should be by this point, measure up to other people. And that’s not the standard by which we evaluate ourselves. It is super discouraging.
And then are you praying to the God of the mustard seed? I don’t know why this week I’ve had in my head (because I didn’t even know this song) “Little Is Much When God Is in It.” I must have heard it in a former life or something. But it is so true. Little is much when God is in it. So many of us right now may feel very little, very powerless, very weak, very unsuccessful in a spiritual sense. And Jesus is telling us from these parables that God loves to bring big harvests out of small people and small places.
Let’s pray. Jesus, thank you for patiently, patiently training our ears, tuning our hearts to hear your voice. There are so many voices around us, there are so many voices within us. We are easily deceived, and yet your Word is truth. So, Father, we have paused in our day today and gathered together, not because we have our act together, but because we know we need to hear from you. We need to tune our hearts to your Word.
We thank you that your Spirit takes your Word and applies it so specifically to our lives. We thank you for a community of brothers and sisters we get to walk through this with. Thank you for the many conversations and prayers this past week and many conversations and prayers this next week as we seek to hear well what you have spoken to us. Lord, we don’t want to be mindless hard-hearted hearers. We want to receive what you have for us, embrace it in faith, and then watch it beneath the mud of our lives begin to germinate and bear fruit. Lord, this miracle is so beautiful, so unexplainable. And you get all the glory. Thank you, God, that you’re doing that right now. Thank you that you will continue as we go from here later on and as we continue to soak in your words. Lord, you are doing these miracles for your glory. May your kingdom come. In Jesus’ name, amen.