These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
One of the differences between those who follow Jesus and those who don’t is one of them seeks to understand Jesus and the other doesn’t. One of the difference between a Christian and one who is not is one wants to know Jesus better and the other is indifferent to Jesus. Let’s talk about that today.
We are going through the gospel of Mark. We have come to Mark 4:9 where Jesus says, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” 10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. 11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’” 13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? (NLT)
What we just read is in the middle of Jesus telling of a parable. In Mark 4:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the farmer to the crowds. Then later when asked, Jesus explains to the disciples why He was teaching in parables and then explains the parable to them.
I want to frame this section of scripture under the concept of listening to Jesus. What does listening to Jesus mean? What does it not mean? What are the results of listening to Jesus? Every believer wants to hear from Jesus to be more like Him. Here we go.
Listening to Jesus is active listening.
Number one, listening to Jesus is active listening. Jesus says in verse 9, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Jesus said this at the end of the parable of the farmer. Jesus tells the story about the farmer spreading seed and how it falls on different types of ground. Then He concludes by saying, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
Jesus is saying, “Think about what I’m saying. What does this mean spiritually? After hearing me teach about the Kingdom of God what is this saying about God’s kingdom?” This type of listening and understanding takes work and effort. You are going to need to think. Understanding does not just happen.
Later in Mark 4 Jesus is going to address this listening and understanding again. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. 25 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them” (Mark 4:24-25, NLT). We will look at this in more detail when we get there, but one principle is clear. The closer you pay attention to Jesus the more you understand about Him and your life. For those who aren’t really listening, the little understanding they have will be forgotten when it’s really needed.
Right now, you are either paying close attention and engaged in what God is trying to say to you or you thinking about other things.
- There are people who listen to sermon after sermon week after week and they are like deer who thirst for water, they are like the person who is searching for a valuable lost coin. Their ears are wide open and they are wanting to hear from God and ready to hear from God. Hopefully, that is you.
- On the other hand, there are some people who listen to sermon after sermon with no intent of applying it. They don’t think much about what God is trying to say to them and teach them. Because of their lack of listening and understanding they have very little understanding and the little bit they have will not be put to use in their life.
So, listening to Jesus is active listening. Take every thought captive. Listen to what God is saying and don’t let the devil distract you. This is spiritual warfare over your mind and thoughts.
Listening to Jesus requires asking questions
Number two, listening to Jesus requires asking questions. Look at Mark 4:10 where the Bible says, “Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant” (NLT). Keep in mind that when Jesus would tell a parable, He would simply tell the parable without explaining it.
At this point the crowds have left and “Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples” and “others who were gathered around.” In this small group “they asked him what the parables meant.” According to Matthew 13:10, “His disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?’” (NLT). They were confused because they did not understand why Jesus chose to address the crowds using unexplained analogies and spiritual enigmas. Why did He tell stories without explaining what they meant?
- Here is what Jesus was doing. Jesus would tell the parable with no explanation. It’s like this, Jesus would tell the parable of the farmer to the crowds, “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed.4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” (Mark 4:3-9, NLT). He would leave it there without explaining any of it and the people would be left to figure out what Jesus meant by it. So then the people would talk among themselves asking questions like: Whose the farmer? What does the seed represent? What do the birds represent? What do the four different types of ground represent? He did this parable after parable.
- To get even more of a feel for this. Let me tell you one of my parables. “There was a man who was walking down a road. He came to some trees. One tree he cut down and threw it away. Another tree he cut down and took it home. The third tree he climbed to the top and gave the fruit from the tree to all who would take it. The kingdom of God is like that. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” What in the world does that mean? I shared this parable with my wife. I asked her what does it mean? She said, “I have no idea.” Then I said,
- “The man walking down the road is Jesus headed to the three crosses represented by the trees. One cross has the thief who rejected Jesus (it was cut down and taken away), the other tree was the thief who accepted Jesus (that tree was cut down and kept by Jesus), and the other tree Jesus climbed to the top and died for our sins and offered the fruit of forgiveness to those who would accept it.”
This is what Jesus was doing. He would tell a parable without explaining it. Now why would He do that? Because the genuine followers of Jesus would be identified by wanting to know the true answers. They would seek Jesus out and hang out with Jesus to discover the answers. They were truly wanting to learn from Him. Those who didn’t stay around to ask questions were only curious, but not real disciples.
With that said listen closely to Mark 4:33 where we are told, “Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 34 In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them” (NLT). His disciples would spend time and make time to be alone with Jesus to hear from Him and to learn the meaning of these parables.
True disciples will want to spend time and make time to hear from God’s Word. They want to learn the meaning of God’s truth and how it applies to them. This type of listening and following is active and not passive. Listening to Jesus requires going to Jesus to learn from Jesus.
Listening to Jesus involves grace
Number three, listening to Jesus involves grace. When the disciples asked Jesus about why He was teaching with parables and not explaining them to the crowds Jesus gave this answer in verse 11, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God” (NLT).
Why would Jesus tell parables without giving explanations to the crowds, but only to His disciples? Jesus gives us one reason here. As an act of grace and because they came seeking answers from Jesus they were “permitted to understand” the parable and what the Kingdom of God was all about.
The followers of Jesus possessed the ears to hear, and Jesus willingly revealed the meaning to them. When Jesus told a parable to those who believed, it was a revelation of grace that made spiritual truth clear.
To understand this better let’s focus in on the phrase “secret of the kingdom of God.” There are two aspects we need to consider.
- First, the word “secret” (musterion) sometimes translated mystery, refers to spiritual truth that was previously hidden but now has been revealed. By definition the word “secret” means something that is not properly understood. It’s a secret or mystery because it’s not understood. It’s like when we talked about the secrets or mysteries of the universe, we are referring to things that we don’t understand because we don’t have enough information. As we gather more information the secrets of the universe become more and more clear. Before Jesus, the “kingdom of God” was not very clear, we had some information but was very limited by the Old Testament, but when Jesus came He made the “secret of the kingdom of God” more clear and understandable.
- The word “secret” (musterion) also means “a valid but not commonly known truth.” For example, when someone talks about the secret of a happy marriage, they are talking about a valid but not a well-known truth that makes marriages successful. The same is true about the “secret of the kingdom of God.” Jesus has come to make known a valid truth about salvation and eternal life that is not well-known.
Not everyone knows or wants to know about the “secret of the Kingdom of God.” But for those who do know they have been “permitted” to know this incredible truth and that is an act of God’s grace.
Listening to Jesus reveals your heart
Number four, listening to Jesus reveals your heart. Jesus said in verse 11, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven’” (NLT). Without giving it much thought, this sounds like Jesus is saying there are some people who I want to understand the parables and there are some who I don’t want them to understand. It also sounds like Jesus doesn’t want them to turn to Him and be forgiven. So, what is Jesus really meaning here?
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 when He says, “When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand.” To understand this you need to understand Isaiah 6. God tells the prophet Isaiah to go preach to some people. However, God let’s Isaiah know up front that as he tells people the truth their hearts are only going to become harder. They are not going to change their mind. They are not going to repent. Even though the people will see and hear the truth of God coming from Isaiah the people will not learn anything nor will they understand, as a result they will not repent and seek forgiveness.
Jesus is saying the same thing about what He teaches and His parables. Jesus is saying, “I can try to teach, explain, illustrate, and describe God’s kingdom and truth. However, it will do no good. For those hearts who are already hard as a pavement they will not see my miracles for what they are and they will not hear my truth for what it is. If they did, they would ‘turn to me and be forgiven.’ But they will never do that because of the hardness of their heart. So I tell the parable without giving its meaning and for those who “see” and want to “learn” and for those who “hear” and want to “understand” I am available for them to come and ask me questions and learn of me.”
What Jesus does is He gives parables to the crowd knowing that in the crowd there are hearts who truly want to learn from Him and they will hang around or find Jesus later to ask questions. He is now intentionally narrowing His classroom. Jesus is intentionally seeking true worshipers.
According to Isaiah 6, this type of teaching toward hard hearts and knowing they would reject the truth was a form of judgement by God.
Here is what this is like…
- You take two people put them in a dark room. One person is blind and the other can see. If you turn on the light one will see the light and the other will not. The light reveals who can see and who cannot. In one way, the light cast judgment on the two people in the room. It judges the seer vs the non-seer. It reveals who sees and who doesn’t. Teaching in parables does the same thing between those who have a heart to learn and those who have a heart of resistance toward God. Listening to Jesus reveals what kind of heart we have.
- Another way to understand this. You take two people one is color blind and the other is not. You show one of those charts with dots on it and some of the dots form a 7 within the picture. The color-blind person will not be able to see it, but the one who can see color will see the 7. The chart cast judgment on the two people. It judges the vision of each person revealing those who can see color and those who cannot. The parables do the same thing regarding people’s hearts. Listening to Jesus reveals what kind of heart we have.
It is important that we listen to Jesus. It is vital we hear what God’s Word has to say. Have you ever heard someone talking but you weren’t listening to what they were saying? Jesus wants us to listen and understand?
- How we listen to Jesus is an indication of whether we are truly a follower of Jesus.
- How we listen to Jesus will determine how or if we grow spiritually.
- Listening to Jesus will take work. This is not passive listening.
What is Jesus saying to you? Are you listening? Are you understanding? Are you applying what you are learning from Him?