The below sermon on the principles of kingdom citizens is from Mark 4:21-29. These free inductive notes are intended as supplement to your own study, not a replacement. Feel free to copy, print, or share them. These notes can be helpful for individual study of the Word or for small group Bible studies. We hope your understanding of God’s Word is deeper from them.
Mark 4:21-29 – Principles of Kingdom Citizens
Mark 4:21-29 – Principles of Kingdom Citizens
- They should publicly identify with Christ
- They should be faithful to listen to and apply the Word
- They should grow spiritually
Introduction: Some time ago I was at an English corner. Most of the conversations I have there are the same topics again and again. Do you like China? Do you like Chinese food? What is the difference between China and America? But on this night I had a conversation I will always remember. I was talking with a young man and I told him that I believe in Jesus. This is what he said to me. He said, “What can I get if I become a Christian? If I become a Christian will God let me immigrate to the US?” He completely misunderstood what it means to be a Christian. He was focused only on the material benefit because he lives in a materialistic society. If you are saved, God has opened your eyes to the truth. Hopefully you ask a better question. Hopefully you ask, “What is a Christian supposed to do?” Or, “What is a Christian supposed to be?” instead of his question, “What does a Christian get?” Many think that being a Christian means going to church or praying. Easter was April 16th. The church I go to had an attendance about 30% higher than average. Apparently a lot of “Christians” did what Christians are supposed to do, and that is go to church. But what did Jesus say His followers should be like? In this chapter in Mark, Jesus is sharing parables about the kingdom of God. We are citizens of God’s kingdom. And today we will look at what Jesus expected citizens in His kingdom to be like.
- They should publicly identify with Christ
Jesus used a common object to teach people this simple lesson. These days we also use lamps although now they are electric. Do you do this? Do you turn on a lamp and then cover it? Do you turn on a lamp and then put it into your wardrobe and shut the door? Of course not. Jesus asks again, “Is it not brought to be put on the lamp stand?” The purpose of a lamp is to shine out. It is not only not hidden, but it is set on a stand so that its light can shine even more prominently. It is not reasonable or logical to cover it up.
So how does that apply to us as kingdom citizens?
We are light bearers who reflect the light of Christ. John 8:12, Ephesians 5:8. – In these verses we learn that Jesus is the light of the world. This was one of seven “I AM” statements Jesus made about Himself, showing us that being the light of the world is one of the key aspects of His nature. Revelation 21:23. Here we see that in God’s eternal kingdom there will not need to be a sun or a moon or lamps as light comes directly from Jesus, an everlasting reminder of Jesus’ innate goodness and holiness Ephesians 5:8. Here we learn that we are actually light in the Lord. Just as God takes away our sin and puts His righteousness onto us, He takes away our darkness and puts His light into us. When we are saved, He lights the lamps of our hearts. Your life will not shine brighter through your own efforts because you have no light of your own. Just as a monkey cannot create fire, neither can you shine spiritually by yourself.
So how can we shine brighter? How can we light up the world around us? In Exodus 34:29 Moses’ face was shining. His face was shining because he spent time with God. He encountered God. He communed with God. This encounter with God left Moses a different person. Inwardly he was different. But outwardly he was also different. The people of Israel could see that something special had happened. They could see that Moses was different. In a similar way, if you spend time with God you will be changed. The more quality time you spend with Him, the more your life will shine. He will change you from the inside out. Your attitude will be different. Your countenance will be different. Your words and tone of voice will be different. What you want to talk about will be different. As you continue to be changed and you shine more and more brightly for Christ, your family and friends will notice. And when they do, use the opportunity to let them know it is because of the Lord so that as Matthew says in 5:16 they will see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven. That means the goal of shining the light is not so people will notice how good you are. It is so that they will be attracted to the Lord.
Application: To shine brighter you must spend time with the Lord. Here are some possible ways you can do this:
- Prioritize morning devotions. If you have them, it will make a difference the whole day.
- Pick a verse from your devotional time to meditate on throughout the day. It could be a verse about God’s character or an instruction about how to live.
- Practice a lifestyle of prayer. Throughout the day, make some time for quiet moments to pray to God expressing confession, thanksgiving, and praise.
- Set aside regular times for extended times of prayer when you will put aside all distractions and draw close to the Lord.
- If you regularly commute, use the time on the subway or bus in a fruitful way. Read good Christian books and don’t just pass the time away messing on your phone.
- We should not keep our faith a secret – What would you think about Tony if he asked you to turn on the light on the ceiling and then asked you to cover it with black tape? You would think he was crazy. Maybe we can use a more familiar example. We ask all of you to cook a dish for dinner tonight. All the dishes are finished and then set on the table ready to be eaten. But instead of eating them, Tony opens the window and one by one takes them all over to it and chucks them out of his house.
Jesus is saying here that it is unreasonable and illogical to claim to have faith in Christ and then keep that faith a secret.
As illogical as it is, sometimes believers do not publicly profess their faith in front of others. Sometimes they are afraid of persecution. Sometimes they are afraid of being ridiculed. Sometimes they simply want to fit in with the others around them. Sometimes they are embarrassed because maybe they know they are not acting like believers. If you are sometimes in one of those groups, I want to tell you something today. It is sin. It is sinful to hide your faith. You don’t have to be afraid. You should follow the apostle Paul in Romans 1:16 who said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God.” Fear God rather than man.
I want each of you to think about a question. Do all of the people who are close to you, such as friends, relatives, co-workers, know that you are a believer? If not, why not? And if they do know you are a Christian because of your words, do they see the light of Christ in you? If you invited them to come with you to church would your life witness in front of them make them want to come with you or make them hesitate.
It is better to boldly proclaim your faith because it will be discovered anyway – If I read only verse 22 out of context I would think that it encouraged people not to hide bad things because one day they would be found out. This principle is certainly true and is taught throughout the Bible including . However, it doesn’t seem to fit into the context. In the context it seems that the thing hidden is a person’s salvation. The idea is that you should not hide your faith because at some point you will be found out anyway. If you don’t of your own accord tell your friends/family of your faith, they will probably find out on their own. Then when they do find out it will seem as if they are uncovering a secret that you are doing something bad rather than you announcing something good.
In China, many new believers are nervous about telling their parents about their faith. They know that their parents will likely not approve. I once knew a young Chinese believer named Jack. His parents had apparently heard some rumors that he became a believer. They were very upset. They wanted to make sure that he was not joining any Christian meetings. So they would call him up on wechat at random times and ask him to turn his video on and do a three hundred sixty view of the room he was in to prove he was not in a Christian meeting. For a while Jack was afraid to admit to his parents that he was a believer, but at the same time he didn’t want to stop learning more about God. He was afraid and miserable and worried about being found out. And his parents were suspicious that he was involved in something bad, something that would their only son away from them. I encouraged him to have honest communication with his parents and try to understand what they were worried about so that he could better communicate with them and address their concerns. So he talked with them. They told him that a Christian sect in their town was full of people who didn’t go to work. They didn’t make a living for themselves. They just lounged around and prayed and waited for the second coming. They were afraid that if Jack was a believer, he would quite his job and join the other “Christians” sipping sodas and reclining in lounge chairs. Once he understand their concerns, he was able to share with them the truth such as 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” He told them what it really meant to be a believer and cleared up their misconceptions. The result was that they weren’t suspicious or worried anymore. They stopped calling him and asking him to prove where he was.
The lesson in the verse for us is this: It is better to proactively share your faith with your parents and others than it is for them to find out about it on their own. One rule of a good general is that he should always choose himself the place and time of battle. He should act instead of react. By coming forward to your parents you can better communicate the truth of the Word at a time when they will be more likely to listen. You will be able to experience God’s peace knowing you are not hiding anything. Your parents will be able to see how important this is to you. And your faith will be better able to grow because it is not being covered. Not all parents will accept it, in which case you still have to stand for what is right. So how can you start? One person shared the following idea with me for students. You can say something like, “Mom and Dad, you sent me to university to learn more things about the world. While I was in university, I learned something really important that has changed my life. And I would like to share that with you.”
In Deuteronomy 6 we learn that believers should write God’s words on their foreheads and put His words on their gateposts and doorways. The purpose is so that the people around you will know who you are. If they
- Review previous points
They should be faithful to listen to and apply the Word. We learn this in verses 23-25.
By your standard of measure it will be measured to you – A similar phrase is seen in Matthew 7:2 and Luke 6:38 (read). In both cases this phrase has a similar meaning to the phrase “you reap what you sow.” In the passage in Luke we see that if you are generous to others then the Lord will be generous with you. In the passage in Matthew we see that when you hold others to a certain standard then God will also judge you if you don’t reach that standard. This phrase seems a little foreign and hard to understand to us. But consider at that time that deals were often made by using weights, scales, or measures. See for example Proverbs 11:1. In this verse we learn that God hates it when people use dishonest scales. Sellers should not rig their scales to cheat their customers. So this phrase likely meant if you deal honestly and in integrity then generally others will deal with you the same way and vice-versa. So let’s go back to the passage. Jesus’ focus is on listening and understanding His message. We see this in verses 23 and 24. Then taken in this context Jesus’ message is this, if you diligently listen to Jesus words, seek to understand them, and obey them, then He will reward you by giving you even more knowledge. If you reject what God has shown you, then He will not show you anything more.
Imagine there is a school librarian. He is very passionate about his job and loves to guide visitors to the library to the knowledge contained inside. He passionately recommends books and encourages all comers to borrow books and read them thoroughly. Two kids visit the library, Michael and Tony. He gives each a personal recommendation. After one day, Tony comes back. He has already finished the book. It is in pristine condition. Tony talks with the librarian about what he learned inside. The librarian recommends another book. He takes that book. Tony diligently reads it at every moment possible. When he finishes it, he returns. The librarian is impressed that he remembers the content. This time he suggests two more books. But Michael didn’t return. The librarian had to call Michael just to remind him that the book was overdue. Michael comes back and with downcast eyes hands the book back. It is dirty and the cover is ripped. The librarian asks what he learned. Michael confesses that he didn’t read it. His played video games instead. What will the librarian do? Will the librarian passionately recommend another book? Nope! The librarian will take the first book, fine Michael for returning it late and in poor condition, and give him a stern rebuke. Perhaps he will even take Michael’s library card.
Jesus is telling His disciples to pay attention. If a person does listen, He will reward them by teaching them more. If a person doesn’t listen He will not invest more time teaching them.
Take care who and what you listen to – Jesus encouraged the spiritually sensitive to listen to Him and pay attention. There were other forces vying for the crowds’ attention, most prominently the Pharisees who said that Jesus did miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus often said, “Truly, truly I say to you.” This is a reminder to “Listen up.” To “pay attention!” The same idea is seen in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear!” The disciples had an obligation to listen to Jesus. We do too. There will be many people giving you advice on how to live and what to do including friends, family, teachers, bosses, and government. Do not allow worldly forces to shape your convictions and actions. Instead from your convictions and beliefs from the Word and allow that to shape your reaction to other people’s suggestions.
Kingdom citizens should eagerly study God’s Word – God will honor the person who eagerly receives His message. If you love to learn His words, He will teach you more. If you hunger, He will feed you.
So what are some ways we can be better listeners of the word?
- Pray before you go to church or Bible study and ask the Lord to prepare your heart to receive the message He has for you.
- Turn off our phones during church, Bible studies, and devotions. (Tip to husbands and wives here: You can also be better listeners to your spouse if you don’t try to wechat at the same time you are talking with them. Focus on the person you are listening to. That shows them a proper respect.)
- Do not listen to a sermon as a critic, looking for things to argue about or disagree with. Instead ask the question, “What can I learn and apply from this?” Even if the sermon is not very good, there is probably something you can learn from it.
- Do not be absent-minded.
- Take notes. I am pretty sure that most of you would take notes for important exams back when you were a student. Do you take notes during sermons or Bible study? Is taking notes helpful? If it is helpful to remember the content, then why aren’t we doing it? I cannot answer for you, but I can answer for myself. When I don’t take notes, normally it is because I am lazy. It is much easier to sit and listen than to take notes. It may be easier, but it is very passive. Taking notes takes energy. But that is Jesus’ whole point here. His word is so important it is worth it to expend a lot of energy to understand it.
- Bonus tip: Mothers of young children often find it difficult to listen because they are busy watching the children. Husbands try to give them opportunities to listen by sometimes taking turns to watch the children so that your wife can focus completely on the message.
Those who don’t pay attention are warned of dire consequences – Is God the one taking away the knowledge from people? See Mark 4:15, 18. The world and Satan are vying for our attention. If a person doesn’t listen to and respond the Word, then the world and Satan will take away the seed that doesn’t take firm root. And why would a sower keep sowing on ground that is not fertile? The lesson for us is that we must use it or lose it! If you don’t use what you learn, you will soon forget about it. That is why I encourage each person to write down specific applications each week from the sermon and then the next week check each other.
Review previous points
III. They grow spiritually by God’s power. We see this in verses 26-29.
This parable is like an extension of the parable of the soils in the first part of this chapter. Mark is the only gospel which records it. This parable gives additional insight into the how and why of the seeds growth.
The how is a mystery. How does a seed grow? How does a leaf sprout and fruit form? How does a tiny bamboo seed sprout 50 meters tall? How does a redwood seed grow into tree standing 116 meters tall? The process is a mystery. It is unseen. We cannot copy it or duplicate it. Farmers do not understand all the details, but they still plant seeds. They believe that these seeds will grow. This is a kind of faith. And this faith causes them to keep on sowing.
How does a person who is hostile to Christ become a believer? How does an agnostic begin to care? How does a person who has been taught evolution all of his life, realize it is false? How do atheists change their minds and turn to the Lord? How do murderers, adulterers, and addicts change? How have our lives, plans, goals, and dreams been changed? Why do some people believe and others do not?
We can’t understand the answers to all of these questions. But we know that it is God’s work. We see this in Ezekiel 36:26-27. It is the power of the Holy Spirit. So from this we can learn three simple lessons.
We cannot persuade people to believe. – I have tried before. Briefly share story of lawyer at Ji Nan. You will not be able to persuade people to believe through your own arguments. Since you cannot persuade people to believe, you should pray more. Pray that God will soften their hearts and cause the seed to grow.
Our job is to keep sowing the seed – We don’t know where it will take root. We don’t know when it will take root. Some seeds can remain dormant in nature for more than 50 years before they suddenly sprout. We do know if you don’t sow seed, it cannot grow. Some seeds you sow may never sprout. Some may fall on the rocky soil or thorny soil. But the more seed you sow, the more likely some will fall on the good soil. So like the good farmer, let us diligently walk to and fro sowing the seed believing that God will cause it to grow.
God wants us to grow spiritually – A kingdom citizen must grow. Sometimes the growth is fast and sometimes it is slower. But always there should be growth. Day to day the differences might not be very clear, but little by little a believer makes forward movement. Step by step he becomes more like Jesus. How can you become more like Jesus this week? How does God want you to grow?
- Where can you be a light for Christ? How will you be a light?
- What are some ways you can be a better listener of God’s Word? Can you choose one way to start implementing?
- Can you share from your own experiences of a time when you tried to persuade someone to believe? How did it go? Can you share a time when you saw God work in someone’s heart beyond your own expectation?