Show and Tell

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Mark 4:21-25 (Parables of the Lamp and the Measure)

INTRODUCTION: Take a minute and think back to your school days. (If you are still in school, this should be real easy, you won’t have to think back too far.) I want you to think back to kindergarten. You are five years old, and it’s your turn for show and tell. You remember that, don’t you, those good old days of show and tell? You might even remember what you brought in. I don’t, but I do remember being excited when it was my turn.

Well, these two parables from Jesus remind me a little bit of show and tell. In show and tell, your teacher asked you to bring in something that your classmates didn’t know about, something that was important to you, something that had meaning, and you shared it with them. In the same way, God calls us as Christians to do some “show and tell.” We have something that is important to us. It has meaning. And there are people in our lives who do not know about it.

I am talking about our faith, or course, and I am especially talking about Jesus. We all have friends and neighbors and co-workers who do not know Christ, and we need to share our faith with them. And that is a big part of what Jesus is talking about in these two parables.

I. The Parable of the Lamp (verses 21-23)

Let’s take a look at the parable of the lamp first.

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. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:21-23)

This is a pretty straightforward parable, but the application is a little tricky. The comparison itself is clear enough. You don’t take a lamp and put it under a bowl or under a bed. Anybody here keep your lamp under your bed? Unless you like to do your reading under there, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? The purpose of the lamp is to shine and give light, and so if you cover it up in some way, you are defeating its purpose.

I am guessing that nobody argued with Jesus on this one. But I am sure he had a lot of heads scratching. They heard the words, but what did they mean? They knew Jesus wasn’t just talking about lamps and bowls and beds. He was teaching them some spiritual truth, but what exactly was it? And that is what is tricky about parables. They are deceptively simple. They are easy to understand on the surface, but sometimes difficult to interpret.

    A. The purpose of parables: to conceal and reveal

This goes back to something we said last week about parables. The purpose of parables is both to conceal and reveal. We saw last week that when Jesus’ disciples got him alone later, they asked him about the parables. And he told them,

The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” (Mark 4:11-12)

In other words, the reason Jesus taught in parables was so that those on the outside would not understand what he was teaching. The parables concealed truth from those outside Jesus’ inner circle, but revealed truth to his disciples.

The parables still work in a similar way even today. Those who just listen to the parables on the outside but don’t listen with the intent of truly hearing and understanding Jesus’ teaching miss out on God’s truth. How many people have heard the parable of the prodigal son and marveled at the love of the father for his son, but have never humbled themselves before God, repenting of their sin and asking God’s forgiveness? It’s just a story to them, but for those who believe it is so much more.

    B. That which is hidden will be revealed

So what’s the point of this parable? What does Jesus mean by not putting the lamp under the bowl or under the bed but putting it on the lampstand instead? Look at what Jesus says in verse 22:

Whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. (Mark 4:22)

These same words are used elsewhere in Scripture to speak of the final judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Luke 12:2-3; Hebrews 4:13), but they have a different meaning here. They have to do with Jesus and his mission and the coming of God’s kingdom in his person.

If Jesus had come right out and spoken plainly about his identity from the start, the Jewish and Roman leaders would have put him to death that much sooner. But Jesus could not die until the time was right. He had to train and prepare his disciples first, and he had to complete the work God had sent him to do. So when the demons tried to reveal his identity, what did Jesus do? He silenced them! Even to his disciples he revealed who he was slowly over a period of time, teaching them only what they needed to know at the time.

But once the time came for Jesus to go to the cross, he spoke very clearly about who he was. He spoke plainly to the disciples in the Upper Room the night he was arrested. (John 16:29-30) During his trial when the high priest charged him, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” (Matthew 26:63-64)

Jesus kept his identity hidden until it was time for him to go to the cross. But now that Jesus died and rose again, there is no reason to keep it a secret any longer. In fact it is wrong for us to keep it a secret now that Christ has risen. God calls us to be witnesses for Christ, to testify that he is the Son of God who died for the sins of all men. We are not to put the lamp under the bowl or under the bed, but we are to put it on the lampstand for everyone to see. God calls us to show and tell! We need to let the light of Jesus shine through our lives, showing our family and friends God’s great love for them, and then we need to tell. We need to tell them about Jesus and what he has done for them.

There was a time when Jesus kept his identity hidden, but that time is over, forever. Whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. One day Jesus will return from heaven, and then it will really be out in the open. Every one will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11) In the meantime, God calls us to be witnesses for Christ. As Jesus said in verse 23: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

II. The Parable of the Measure (verses 24-25)

So that’s the parable of the lamp. Let’s move on now to the parable of the measure in verses 24-25:

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you — and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Mark 4:24-25)

    A. Consider carefully what you hear.

Jesus begins with the admonition, “Consider carefully what you hear.” There is an emphasis on hearing all the way through the parables in this chapter. For example, in the parable of the sower Jesus began the parable with the call to “Listen!” (Mark 4:3) He ended the parable with the command: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9) When he explained the parable to his disciples, he compared the seed sown in each of the soils to those who hear the word but then respond in different ways. (Mark 4:14-20) He just ended the parable of the lamp with the words, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23) And now he begins the parable of the measure with the words: “Consider carefully what you hear.” (Mark 4:24)

The parable of the measure, like the parable of the sower, is a parable about hearing, particularly about hearing the word of God. We need to realize that when Jesus taught, he was not just saying whatever he felt at the time, but he was speaking the very words of God. Jesus said in John 8: “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28), and then again in John 12: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:48-50)

Jesus spoke the words of God, and so his words cannot be taken lightly. Don’t let Jesus’ words go in one ear and out the other. Let them go in both ears and into your heart. You need to consider carefully what you hear.

    B. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

There is a blessing attached to hearing and obeying God’s word. It is not enough just to hear God’s word, but you must also put it into practice in your life. Jesus said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.” (Mark 4:24)

If you only take a little of God’s word into your life, you will still benefit. But the more you take in, the greater the reward. In fact God’s reward will far exceed your effort. Remember, Jesus said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.” (Mark 4:24) That’s because God always operates according to grace, and he always gives us far more than we ever sacrifice for him.

        1) Whoever has will be given more

Jesus goes on to say that, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Mark 4:25) That doesn’t sound particularly fair at first. It almost sounds like the rich get richer and the poor get poorer! But the difference here is that everyone who has access to God’s word has the same opportunity to hear and obey. The more of God’s word you take into your life, the more you will grow in Christ.

        2) Whoever has not will lose it all

But the person who does not take advantage of God’s word – they will lose even the little that they had. This goes back to the parable of the sower and the people represented by the seed in the bad soils. They heard God’s word, but they rejected it for various reasons. The seed on the path was taken right away. The seed in the shallow soil sprang up quickly but had no root and soon withered away. The seed among the thorns started off good but was eventually choked out and produced nothing. They did not hold on to God’s word, and so even the little they had was taken away from them.

And so the parable of the measure is meant to be both an encouragement and a warning. It serves as an encouragement to those who hear God’s word and obey it, but also as a stern warning to those who treat God’s word lightly and do not take it into their hearts and lives.

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, let me ask you two questions.

  1. How is your witness for Christ? Do your family and friends know that you are a Christian? Have you shared with them about Jesus? Do you have a clear testimony for Christ, or are you hiding the lamp under the bed? We need to put Christ on the lampstand of our lives and let him shine for everyone to see.
  2. How much of your life are you investing in God’s word? Do you read your Bible each day? Are you involved in personal and group Bible study so that you are growing in your knowledge of God’s word? Jesus said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in Germany during the 1940’s. He responded to the question, “Why do I meditate on God’s word?” in this way. He said, “Because I am a Christian. Therefore, every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me.” (Meditating on the Word, p. 22)

God wants you to fill yourself up with his word, so that you will be equipped to share God’s word with others, so that you will be a good witness for Christ, so that you will reap a rich harvest for God’s kingdom. God wants you to shine the light, and share the word. Live it out, and talk it up. Hold forth Christ, and share what God has done. Show and tell. It’s not just a kid’s game anymore.

© Ray Fowler

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