In today’s reading Jesus is teaching his disciples about the kingdom. There are really two things he teaches us.
- At the end of chapter 3 Jesus’ family comes to ‘see’ him, and at first it seems like Jesus’ reaction is unnecessarily rude. However if you put this in the context of verse 21 – “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.'” – you realise that Jesus knows what their motives are. That is why he says: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. Lining up your thinking with God’s is the way to progress in the kingdom, the way to demonstrate you are part of what God is doing. (The fact that Jesus commends his mother into John’s care when he hangs on the cross, shows us that he does not permanently reject his family, but just uses their state of mind as a teaching point. Jesus says some harsh things about family relationships during his ministry. Unless we remember that family/community is the foundation of the Trinity and therefore of Jesus’ ministry, we can easily end up with the wrong conclusions.)
- The point that Jesus makes with the teaching in chapter 4 is that the kingdom is all about increase. Sometimes we come across negative views about the church in the future, but those do not line up with Jesus’ teaching here. Let’s have a look at the different parables and their purpose.
- (v.10-12) First of all the purpose of parables. Jesus tells his disciples that he tells them the secrets of the kingdom, but to those outside the kingdom they have to stay secrets (for now), that is why he talks in parables. More about this in a bit.
- (v.13) “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables.” In other words this parable holds the key to all the others. That is why Jesus explains the parable of the sower (v.14-22). To summarise it: though not all seed is fruitful, the nature of the kingdom is fruitfulness/ increase. Isaiah 9:7 puts it like this: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end”. The kingdom will grow.
- (v.23-25) A lamp is there to give light, that bit is easy enough to understand. However the next bit is a little odd. Jesus essentially says: “A secret is there to be publicly proclaimed.” In order to make sense of that you need to look back to verse 11: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God”. Combine the two and you realise that the secret of the kingdom is to be proclaimed. Paul puts it like this: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
The next section essentially talks about the same concept, but from the hearers perspective: “Pay attention to what you hear“ (v.11: the secret of the kingdom). The measure in which you accept the kingdom in your life, is the measure in which you will receive increasing revelation of the kingdom. Again it is all about increase. (Notice the strong parallels with the parable of the talents told elsewhere.)
The kingdom is on the increase, we live in exciting times. The kingdom is breaking through in exponential ways. The future’s bright, the future is the kingdom!