We're going to read the Scriptures together, please turn with me to Mark's gospel chapter 4, Mark chapter 4 verse 21. Now we're looking at the second parable, there are four in Mark's gospel, and we've looked over two weeks at the parable of the sower, the seed and the soil, and this morning were going to look at this parable which is 'The Parable of the Lamp and Its Stand'.
Verse 21 of Mark 4: "And the Lord Jesus said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel", or a basket, "or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?", or a lampstand, "For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath".
Maybe we could just pray as we come now to the explanation of God's word, do pray with me that the light of the living Word would shine into our minds and upon our hearts - if that does not happen, this will be a wasted exercise both for me and you. Father, we thank You that Your Word tells us, it's self-testimony is that its entrance lights our hearts. We pray that we would just now, even as we hear preaching, would walk in the light. We thank You that Your Word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our pathway, we thank You that God is light and this is His word. May there be no darkness in it for any of us, may none of these truths be hidden from us because we have not eyes to see or ears to hear, or have hardened hearts. So we wait upon You Lord, give us ears to hear what the Lord says to the church. Amen.
Let me just remind you of what a parable is. We spent a little bit of time on it both last week and in our introductory week. We said that a parable essentially is a comparison, it's putting something alongside something else to compare. You remember, and this is fundamental in our study of parables, that parables were originally to be heard and not to be read. What came out of that was the fact that the hearers of parables had to make an instant appraisal of what the teacher was saying. So there wasn't time for them to sit down with a black-and-white text and dissect each detail, and try and correspond it to spiritual truth, whilst we can do that now they did not have that privilege. They had to, in a moment, grasp what the speaker was saying, and because of that we need to remember that really in all the parables there is one main fundamental point that the Lord Jesus was getting across. Many of the other details, as He interprets them, are usually related to that one main point. So we saw that the basic lesson in parables is: don't get bogged down, first of all, looking for all the significance in the details of a parable, but find the one main point and all those other details will fall into place.
So, as we quoted a scholar who said, 'There is one great idea that leaps out and shines like a flash of lightning upon our minds and hearts in a parable', so we must ask today: what is the idea that is the bolt of lightning to our hearts in this parable of the lamp and its stand? Well I must say to you first of all that several answers have been given to that question, and explanations offered of this parable. Some people, even commentators and Bible teachers, have interpreted this parable inaccurately because they have confused Mark's parable here in verses 21 to 25 with the Lord's use of the same metaphor, a lamp, a bushel, in different a context.
Let me explain what I'm talking about. You will know that probably the most famous use of this metaphor is in Matthew 5 and verses 15 and 16, where the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says: 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven'. The purpose of the metaphor of the shining lamp there is that others may see good works and glorify God. But here in Mark 4, the light shining is not your good works, that's not what it means. Also, three times in the Gospels, we find the same expression that we find here, 'with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you'. The same figure is used three times, and yet there are different applications of that statement.
For instance, in Matthew 7 and verse 2 that statement is used as a warning against a judgemental attitude towards others. So if you judge other people harshly, you will be judged harshly. Then in Luke chapter 6 and verse 38, the same statement is used to encourage liberality among God's people in their giving and stewardship. So the more you give to the cause of the gospel, and the poor, and those who are needy, the more will return to you. There is also a different context here in Mark 4 verse 24, where it is quoted as an encouragement for us to appropriate God's word to ourselves. So the more we receive and assimilate God's word, the more light from God's word we will have. Now it's important that we do well to remember that similarities and apparent harmonies in the Gospels are not always what they first seem, and if we carefully examine the differences as well as look for the harmonies, often we will find some deep spiritual truths the Holy Spirit intended for our benefit in the differences that there are in the Gospels.
So what is the meaning of both this parable and this statement in Mark's record? I think it will help us this morning, it always does of course, if we keep in mind the immediate context of where he gives this parable. You remember, we spent two weeks on verses 1 to 20, 'The Parable of Parables' I called it, because really the parable of the sower, the seed and the soil is all about how people respond in their hearts to God's word. You see, the purpose of the parable was for opposite effects - on the one hand, the parable was to make truth more clear to those who had hearts to hear; but the converse was that, on the other hand, parables make truth more obscure to those who lacked spiritual discernment and concern. That's why in verse 9 and in verse 23 we find this statement of the Lord Jesus that 'He who has ears to hear, hear'.
Now having established that, that's the context, how people respond in their hearts to God's word, let's look at these verses. Verse 21: 'And he said unto them, Is a lamp brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a lampstand?'. Now again the Lord, as He always does in His parables, uses common objects. He's speaking of a lamp, one in every house, and He also is speaking in the backdrop of a familiar scene, the home. The lamp that was in the houses in Jesus' day was a clay dish that was filled with oil, and there was a wick put into the oil and it was lit. Here's the question the Lord Jesus poses: is a lamp brought into a house to be set under a basket, or put under a bed; or is it not brought in to be set on a candlestick, a lampstand, so that that light may shed abroad in the whole house for the greatest benefit?
Now that might seem to be obvious in its application, but it's not immediately because when you look at the original language, Mark says in the Greek language 'Is a lamp come into the house to be put under a bushel or under a bed?'. Now you know that lamps don't come anywhere, lamps are inanimate objects, but it seems that Mark is trying to signify that this lamp is a person, and this person has a purpose in coming to light the house. It's not hard to work it out, is it? The person is, of course, the Lord Jesus - and as John put it in John 3:19, He is the light who is come into the world. Now what is the purpose of this light, this lamp? Is it to be put under a basket, under a bed, or on a lampstand? Applying that to Christ, we ask: did the Lord Jesus come into the world to light up the world with the truth of God, or did He come to be hidden? Of course, His purpose in coming was to shine: 'I am the light of the world'. But the fact of the matter was, the reality personally for many of the Jews, particularly the religious ones in Palestine in Jesus' day, was that the light of who Christ was, what His mission and purpose was, was hidden from their eyes that they could not see.
Isaiah 53 tells it well: 'For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him' - the light was hidden to them. John 3:19: 'This is the condemnation', upon men, 'that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil' - because they hardened their hearts through evil deeds, wickedness, and unbelief, they couldn't see the light and they dwelt in darkness. John 1 verse 5: 'The light shined in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it'.
Now, the Lord's commentary on the parable in verse 21 is found in verse 22, look at it: 'For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad'. What had been hidden? Christ's glorious identity as Messiah, as the Son of God, as the Suffering Servant, Saviour King was hidden to the unbelieving Jews of His day. That's the interpretation of this parable, but you need to see also, verse 22 says, that what was hidden and what was not manifested, what was kept secret will eventually be shed abroad and will be manifested, revealed. That's interesting, isn't it? Now the obvious question is: when? The answer, I believe, is given in Revelation chapter 1 and verse 7: 'Behold, he comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen'. The same ones to whom His light, His dignity, His identity was hidden will have manifested to them in judgement who He is on the day He comes again.
Now we must get our interpretations of all Scripture, particularly parables, right. So the first aspect of truth in this parable is: the light of Christ is hidden from those outside the Kingdom now, but one day those hidden glories will be revealed for all to see. Do you understand? At the revelation of Jesus Christ! As Philippians 2 puts it: 'He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, took upon him the form of the servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father'. To those whom that truth was hidden from when He was on the earth, it will be manifested to them when He comes again to the earth.
The period of hiddenness is merely a prelude to the period of manifestation when Christ's apparent obscurity and weakness will be exchanged for messianic glory and power. We sang about it:
'Our Lord is now rejected,
And by the world disowned,
By the many still neglected,
And by the few enthroned;
But soon He'll come in glory!
The hour is drawing nigh,
The crowning day is coming
Now, that is all very interesting, but we might ask: so what? Verse 24 gives us the 'so what': 'He said unto them, Take heed what ye hear', or how you hear. Therefore, because Jesus has spoken the word of the Kingdom and sown it in men's hearts - the parable of the sower - and because we need to have ears to hear, that means hearts that are good soil, not hearts that are crowded by the affairs of this life, the desire for other things; not hearts that are shallow and when difficulty, persecution and temptation come along, we fall; not hearts that are so hard, opening them to other things that make them hard by the trampling of the flesh, the world and the devil over our hearts that we cannot even receive the word of God; but good hearts. If we have those good hearts we will then listen and receive the word of God. So He says: 'Take heed how you hear', because there is this great day of unveiling and manifestation coming, the revelation of Jesus Christ, we need to listen.
This is a lesson for all, whether it is unbelievers or believers: Jesus is coming again, and therefore when we are here we need to listen very carefully to the word of the Kingdom. Now, He gives us a principle that is behind that statement, verses 24 and 25: 'With what measure you measure out, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that has, to him shall be given: and he that has not, from him shall be taken even that which he has'. Now again, we have repeated this as we've looked at these parables, the Lord is laying down a principle that every time you receive a fresh truth from God's word and you allow it to become real in your life, you can be sure that God will give you more truths to live out. Yet on the other hand, failure to respond to God's truth results in a loss of what you previously acquired. It's not just a standstill, but things will begin to unravel and your spiritual life will rewind.
Let me illustrate this to you from Hebrews, if you turn to Hebrews 5. This was the danger that these Hebrew professing Christians were in, Hebrews 5 and verse 11, the writer reminds the Hebrews of this danger: 'Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing', that's an interesting phrase, 'For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat'. The writer is saying that the time had come when they should have been teachers, and yet they required to be taught again the basics of Christianity which they once had possessed, but obviously had lost. There is a clue to this in Hebrews 2 verse 1, the writer says: 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip'.
So the principle is: the one who responds to the word of God receives more of the word of God, but the one who does not respond to the word of God actually loses what he thought he had of it! If you want to study that a bit more, look at the parable of the talents, the parable of the pounds. William MacDonald comments on this principle very well when he says, I quote: 'Obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge', that's profound, 'Do you want to know more about the Bible?' - that's you, isn't it? - 'Obey what you know!'. Let me repeat that: 'Obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge. Do you want to know more about the Bible? Obey what you know, God will give you more'. That's the way it works, he goes on: 'It's interesting to think that you can reach a certain stage, and then you can come to a block. There is something there that you don't want to obey, and you plateau or even go downward'. I have experienced that, probably am experiencing that. Isn't it the truth that we illustrated a number of weeks ago from the Chinese pastor, who you remember had been given all these Bibles, and the man who had gifted them to him realised that he hadn't been giving them out and a large number of them were still in storage. He replied in answer to why that was: 'I have discovered that it is dangerous to learn truth at a rate faster than we can practise it'. He went on to say: 'I don't want them to encounter too much truth too fast, otherwise they will get into the bad habit of never using what they know'. The bad habit of never using what they know! Why is that a bad habit? Because you won't get any further in the school of God, indeed you might even be demoted to a lower class.
So the first aspect of truth to this parable is that the light of Christ is hidden from those outside the Kingdom now, but one day those hidden glories will be revealed for all to see, therefore as believers would it not be better that our hearts were ready to receive the revelation of Jesus Christ now in His word? So that when Christ comes, and we encounter that great day of unveiling, it will not be as great a shock to us, and we will have great gain instead of great loss.
Now you remember that we saw when we looked at the parable of the sower, the seed and the soil that essentially the correct interpretation was to see the sower as the Lord Jesus Himself, and the reaction of the Jews to His ministry. But we also saw that there was a secondary level to that, and this parable was also sending the disciples out to sow, they were the sowers, and these were the same reactions that they were to expect that were the reactions to the Lord Jesus. Now it's exactly the same with this parable, of course the light is the Lord Jesus, He is the Light of the world, and His light has been hidden from men and it's still hidden from men - but though that was the case, and is the case, there is a secondary application to it: that we are to shine the light of Christ, we are to lift Christ's lamp on a lampstand for all the world to see.
So the second aspect of truth to this parable is that the light of Christ will be hidden from those outside the Kingdom, but the light of Christ should not be hidden by those inside the Kingdom. Can I repeat that? The light of Christ will be hidden from those outside the Kingdom, but the light of Christ should not be hidden by those inside the Kingdom. Now the parable tells us that there were three places where a lamp may be placed, but there was only one that was the correct place. It could be placed under a measuring bowl, that's what bushel is - that was the usual means, at bedtime, of extinguishing the light so that you could go to sleep. Or the light could be put under a bed, and that may have been a dining couch - but if that happened the dining couch wouldn't be there for very long, it was a fire hazard! Those weren't the places you put lamps if you want to light the room and the whole house, but it should be put on a stand in order to illuminate, and when it illuminated it fulfilled its purpose.
Now, this is a beautiful truth because the Lord inadvertently is showing us that the divine intention is that the precious things of the Kingdom of God are to be displayed. God wants people to know them - now their hearts might be too hard to receive them, they might be too shallow to embrace them all, they might be crowded with other things, but God's intention is that these precious mysteries of the Kingdom be displayed. What is His means of displaying them? It is the disciples, it was their task to illuminate the divine word! Isn't that how Matthew recorded that in Matthew 10:27: 'What I tell you in darkness', Jesus said to the disciples, 'That speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops'. The mystery of the Kingdom is not to be kept to yourselves alone, but it is to be held forth as a bright and shining light for the whole world to see.
That's what Paul meant when he said in Philippians 2, interestingly the same passage as we have the condescension and exaltation of the Lord Jesus, every knee bowing to Him eventually one day, and then we read in verses 15 and 16: 'That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain'.
The disciples were to take this light and shine it forth, but you know I don't think the Lord just meant the individual disciple, because the risen glorified Lord in the book of the Revelation, which is a revelation of Himself, Jesus Christ, tells us in Revelation chapter 1 verse 20: 'The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands', this is the interpretation, 'The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches'. Ultimately the church, God's assembly of believing people, are responsible to shed the light of Christ abroad! The light of Christ will be hidden from those outside the Kingdom, but the light of Christ should not be hidden by those inside the Kingdom. Did the early church hide the light inside the Kingdom? Oh no they didn't! Listen to one of its apostles: 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested', it was revealed, 'and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ' - 1 John 1:1-3. That which was manifested to us, we declared it to you! They didn't hide it. Even when the apostles were told 'You are forbidden to speak in the name of that Jesus' in Acts 4:20, we read that Peter said: 'We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard'. We can help it!
Incidentally, you need a filling of the Holy Spirit if you're going to be like that, and we find that Peter had it, and the apostles, in Acts 4 and verse 8, that gave them that boldness. Did they hide it, even under the pressure of persecution and death itself? No! 'We can't help telling you what we've seen, what we've heard!'. Then in Acts again, in Acts 20 verse 27, you remember Paul was leaving the Ephesian elders, and he says these words: 'I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God'. Can I paraphrase that - it's not a very good one, but it's how I think of it: 'I gave you everything that was given to me, I just passed it on'. The early church didn't hide this message, they shone that light, they were the effective proverbial lampstand that set forth Christ and allowed His light to shine, not only in the church, but abroad and beyond - so that they turned the world of their day upside down, and the whole world was ablaze for Christ.
Now, how are we doing with that commission? I think we are hindered somewhat, would you agree? I'm not saying this is the correct interpretation of the parable that I'm going to give you now, but someone has suggested allegorising this a little, that the basket could speak of business, and the bed could speak of laziness - those certainly are both enemies of evangelism. Do they not speak to us of the rocky ground, shallow, hardships come across, persecution along our path; or the thorny soil where temptation, the world and the desire for other things intrigues us, and so we don't sow the seed any more? What about fear, is it not one of the biggest obstacles in all of our lives to sowing the seed of God's gospel today? I know it's mine. Fear of man brings a snare, the Bible says, and we know about it today in our politically correct society. The Pope doesn't say a lot of things that are true, but one thing he did say recently that is true is that we live in a Christ-o-phobic society, a society that will tolerate anything and everything but Christ. We who preach the Bible know all about that! And that causes fear for us, does it not? It sends shivers up our spine, which brings a paralysis as far as preaching and gossiping the gospel is concerned.
Yet we are called by the Lord to do it as disciples, as the church we are the lampstand. Perhaps there's someone here, maybe only one - that's enough - I'll preach to you now, just that one, and you say: 'David, I want to shine better'. Well, here's a bit of advice from this parable for you. In order to give light into that house, that lamp had to use itself up, the oil had to disappear and be burned. What an application there is for us in that: we need to die to ourselves, we need to decrease if He is going to increase. Jim Elliott, meditating on the verse 'He makes his ministers a flame of fire', said these words: 'Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of other things. Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is a transient, often short lived thing. Canst thou bear this my soul - short life? In me, there dwells the spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God's consumed Him. Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God'. You know his story, that he was martyred in his twenties by Auca Indians, taking the gospel to them. We still have his testimony with us, and those people thank him and his martyrdom for the spread of the gospel among them. Yet he had to be burned up to shine forth that light.
If you want to shine more, you're going to have to die to yourself. Here's another piece of advice: the oil has to be replenished. The wick of the lamp could only give out as long as it had first taken in. You see, we need to be continually taking in, and one thing we ought to be taking in is: be continually being filled by the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 5:18. If we die to ourselves, and if we get filled with the Holy Spirit, hardships will not put us off, temptation will not put us off, persecution will not put us off, the desire for other things will not put us off, but we will have an understanding and an honest heart - we will receive the word of God and bear fruit to His glory. The question is: are we doing it? Are you sowing the seed of the Kingdom, brother?
I don't know how many of you have been to St Paul's Cathedral, but there in that great church in London there is a stained glass window depicting a man sowing seed. Have you seen it? It was presented as a memorial to a man named Samuel A. Burnett, and Mr Burnett had devoted his entire lifetime to spreading the word of God in the wicked East End of London. Beneath the stained glass window there is a plaque that reads like this: 'Dedicated to Samuel A. Burnett, who served in the East of London for 50 years, and who feared not to sow despite the birds' - that's good.
The question we need to face, and it's a very serious one in the light of the parable of the lamp and its stand, is: there could be an evangelical cover-up, are we covering this light? Are we hindering it getting out, or are we setting it on a stand?
Nee Yung Fa was a Ningbo Cotton Dealer, and he was converted through the ministry of Hudson Taylor. He had also been a leader in what was a reformed Buddhist sect, which would have nothing to do with idolatry, didn't worship things, and that was genuinely searching for truth - but in all the wrong places. At the end of one of Hudson Taylor's sermons, Nee Yung Fa stood in Hudson Taylor's place, and turned to address the audience and said these words: 'I have long searched for the truth as my father did before me, and I have travelled far but I haven't found it. I found no rest in Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, but I do find rest in what I heard tonight. From now on I believe in Jesus'. Nee took Hudson Taylor to a meeting of the Buddhist sect he was a leader of, and he allowed Hudson Taylor to explain the reason for the change of life that was in him. Then eventually Nee spoke, and Taylor was impressed with the clarity and the power with which he spoke - and another member of the group was converted that very night, and both Nee and he were baptised. Then came the question: 'How long has the gospel been known in England?', Nee asked Hudson Taylor. 'For several hundred years', replied an embarrassed Taylor, vaguely. 'What! And you have only now come to preach to us? My father sought after the truth for more than 20 years and died without finding it! Why didn't you come sooner!'. Difficult to answer, isn't it? He didn't come sooner because the church was hiding its light under a bushel.
The issue this morning is: are you? This word is weighing very heavily on my heart, and I want to tell you that God is dealing with me in my heart. Is He dealing with you? What are you going to do? Harden it? Make excuses? Be shallow? Desire other things more? The church needs fruit. The church needs lampstands. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, needs them. Will you be one? Will I be one? Or will we just live for ourselves and let the world go to hell? That's how serious it is.
Lord, help us, help us, help us, deliver us from ourselves. May Your light shine from us, from our lives to everyone we meet, and right across the world perhaps, that many also will be lighted to the glory of Christ. Open men's eyes that we encounter, that they may see in our lives the light of the gospel of the truth of Christ held forth, for His glory. Lord, don't let the birds snatch this word, for Christ's sake we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-third recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Parable Of The Lamp And Its Stand" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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