21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Os Guinness tells a fascinating story about Nasreddin Hodja.
One of the most celebrated personalities of the Middle East is Nasreddin Hodja, the endearing holy-man-cum-scholar of Turkish folklore. His famed wisdom is often threatened by his equally famed stupidity. One day, so a particular story goes, the Hodja dropped his ring inside his house. Not finding it there, he went outside and began to look around the doorway. His neighbor passed and asked him what he was looking for.
“I have lost my ring,” said the Hodja.
“Where did you lose it?” asked the neighbor.
“In my bedroom,” said the Hodja.
“Then why are you looking for it out here?”
“There’s more light out here,” the Hodja said.
We chuckle because of the absurdity and naivete of this famed holy man. After all, how helpful is light if it is shining in the wrong place? Even so, there is wisdom here. Many people prefer the light that reveals nothing because, after all, it is light. But what good is light if it does not actually reveal something?
No, what we want is revealing light, saving light, light that actually illuminates. The image of light permeates the New Testament. In Mark 4:21-25 Jesus speaks about the light in a way that is challenging and perhaps even a bit enigmatic. This has led some people to suggest that our text should not really stand together as a cohesive whole. For instance, William Barclay suggests that our text is comprised of four different independent sayings of Jesus that Mark simply pulled together when he wrote this gospel. As such, says Barclay, “we must not try to find any connection between them, for clearly there is none. They are quite disconnected and we must take them one by one.”
I am happy to disagree with Mr. Barclay. In fact, what we have in Mark 4:21-25 is a beautiful and cohesive unity in which Jesus reveals the nature of His own life and ministry, the nature of the Kingdom of God, and the responsibility that the light of the Kingdom presents to us today.
In Jesus, the truths of the Kingdom are now made visible and known to the world.
What must first be established with our text is the primary meaning of the metaphor of light that Jesus uses.
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The metaphor itself is clear enough: light is intended to shine and not to be obscured. Furthermore, in Christ there is a light that, though formerly hidden, is now meant to shine in all its brilliance and splendor. “Nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”
In the most general sense, we can say that in Jesus there is a light that must not be obscured. In the context of Mark’s gospel we can say more specifically that in Jesus, the truths of the Kingdom are now made visible and known to the world.
Let us recall that our text follows the famous parable of the sower, the seeds, and the soil. In that parable, the seed of the word of God is sown and various kinds of reception (or lack of reception) of the word are explained. Here, immediately following this, Jesus begins to speak of light that must shine.
Seeds that are sown.
Light that must shine.
What Jesus is talking about is revelation. He is talking about unveiling, uncovering, and revealing something. What Jesus came to unveil, uncover, and reveal is the Kingdom of God: its King, its rule, its way, and its life. All of these things are, of course, encapsulated in Jesus so that we can rightly say that Jesus Himself is the revelation of God.
Jesus unveils the mysteries, uncovers the hidden, sows the seed, and shines the light. More than that, Jesus is the truth that is revealed, is the seed that is sown, is the light that shines. As a result, we must (a) see the uniqueness of who Jesus is and (b) take great pains to listen and to hear what Jesus says!
I occasionally thumb through a well-known book that you can often find in bookstores which is an anthology of statements made by Jesus and Buddha. There are certain statements that Jesus said and certain statements that Buddha said that sound familiar. And this is not surprising. There are similarities between the great teachers of the worlds religions. Even so, I am always struck when looking through such books by the dissimilarities between Jesus and all other teachers. I am struck, for instance, by the cross. Christ took up a cross to lay down his life for all mankind. Buddha never did such a thing and never taught such a thing. Muhammad never did such a thing and never taught such a thing. While there are similarities in the statements, there is a radical dissimilarity in what they did. The cross and resurrection of Jesus are the exclamation points at the end of all His teachings that cause all similar statements to fall away and to be seen as what they are: veiled allusions to the light that resided definitively and completely and only in Jesus Christ.
There is a grandeur in Christ that you do not find elsewhere. There is a beauty in Christ that is missing in all other faiths. Christ is the unique light that reveals and outshines all lesser lights that showing them to be nothing but pale flickerings. The beautiful opening to John 1 speaks of the supremacy and unvanquished nature of the light of Christ.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The light shines in the darkness! As a result, we must see. We must listen. We must hear. We do not find in Christ mere life lessons. We do not find in Christ sweet sermonettes to soothe the soul. We do not find in Christ good pieces of advice.
In Christ we find life! In Christ we find the truth! We dare not turn from the truth!
The emphasis on hearing and the importance of hearing are presented in the very literary form of our text. For instance, Robert Stein suggests that Mark 4:21-25 forms a chiasm. It looks like this:
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.
23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
24a-b And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear:
24c with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Notice the center of the chiasm: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” and, “Pay attention to what you hear.”
Listen! Listen! Listen! The words of Christ are before you!
Acceptance of the word leads to transformational addition.
The remainder of our text is an explanation of the crucial necessity of hearing the word. Jesus says not only that hearing the word brings with it certain responsibilities and even certain burdens but also that one’s response to the heard word literally determines the course of one’s life from that point onward.
24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.
What we are going to see in these words and the words that follow are the principles of divine addition and subtraction. That principle says this: reception of the word of God brings greater and greater increase and rejection of the word of God brings greater and greater decrease.
In verse 24, Jesus says that reception of the word brings accountability and growth. It brings accountability because “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” and growth because, “and still more will be added to you.” What is important to note is that “paying attention” and receiving the truths of God bring greater and greater growth.
I want very much to draw a distinction between “receiving” the word and merely “hearing” the word. I have heard utterly horrific things from those who attend church every Sunday and have for years on end. For instance, I recall once hearing a senior saint at another church say that a Lutheran sister in Christ was going to hell because she was baptized as an infant. I am a Baptist. I believe that the New Testament shows proper baptism to be of a believer and by immersion. But I see the idea that infant baptism leads to damnation as an utter violation of the truth of the gospel that our salvation is in Christ alone. This is one example among many.
How is it that one can hear the word without ever receiving it? In truth, we all know the answer to this. We all know that it is extremely possible to sit under the hearing of the word without ever really hearing it. It is a profound tragedy!
Being near Christ is not the same as being in Christ. Proximity does not equal receptivity. Many who were nearest to Jesus did not receive Jesus. They heard the word, perhaps many times, but they did not receive the word. There are others, however, who hear it once and truly pay attention!
For the one who pays attention and the one who receives there is the promise of vitality and growth! The classic statement on this is found in the words of Jesus from John 15.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
The seed that finds good soil sees good growth.
The light that is received grows brighter and brighter!
You are hearing, but do you really hear?
You have heard, but have you received?
If you have received, you will see the evidence for it in growth and fruit-bearing!
Rejection of the word leads to regressing subtraction.
As accepting brings the addition of more light and more fruit, so rejecting means the diminishment of even the little bit that we have. Here we see the completion of the equation of divine addition and subtraction.
25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
To hear the word and to turn from the word does not leave the one who rejects even where they were. Rather it leaves them in a worsened and worsening state. As with sown seeds so with shone light: either it is received and grows or is rejected and diminishes into ever greater darkness.
To embrace Christ is to grow….and grow and grow and grow! To reject Christ is to diminish…and to diminish and diminish and diminish! The divine law of addition and subtraction.
Consider the tragedy of rejecting the cross. Those who reject the cross of Christ are doomed to miss the truth even as it stares them in their very faces. Ronald Kernaghan has offered an interesting illustration of this fact.
“Do you know what I like best about your church?” the mother of the bride gushed at the end of a rehearsal. “You don’t have a big old cross cluttering up the sanctuary. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am.” She had not been to church in years. She would have preferred to have had the wedding in a park, but her daughter and future son-in-law had insisted on a Christian church. “Instead,” she continued, “you have this gorgeous stained-glass window that fills the room with light. I just love it.”
She was right about the stained-glass window, but wrong about the cross. About fourteen feed wide and nearly twenty-five feet high, the window is a stunning impressionistic representation of the interplay of light and water elegantly crafted in four panels. The two upper panels extend ten feet down from the roofline, and beneath them are two longer panels reaching down another fifteen feet. Its southern exposure does fill the sanctuary with light. But the four panels are connected by two large, intersecting beams of dark wood that stretch from side to side and from the top to the bottom of the window.
One may stand in front of the cross itself and not see it or refuse to see it and, in not seeing it or refusing to see it, one becomes more and more oblivious to the things of God, to the truth standing right in front of one’s face. There is no light outside of the cross of Christ! There is no light that is merely generic and humanitarian in a spiritual void. The light that lights the world is the truth of Christ and Him crucified and risen!
And what of those who have accepted Christ but who do not want to follow Him into this or that area of life. Consider the rule of divine addition or subtraction. Consider that rejecting Christ in one area carries with it the seeds of rebellion that in time will poison the whole. To refuse to accept Christ in one area is to have even what you have gained in all other areas imperiled.
Either we are moving ever closer to Christ or we are falling ever further away.
Either we are progressing ever higher in our understanding of the things of God or we are sinking ever lower into ignorance.
Beware the human attempt to follow Christ selectively! Beware the temptation to sit in church and filter what you hear from God’s word through the grid of your own preferences!
It is a dangerous thing to reject light. The darkness wants to overcome you. The darkness wants to spread within you. The darkness is not passive. It is active and hostile and aggressive. Only the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ can overcome it. The light too is not passive. It is itself active and seeking to consume the whole.
If you are mired in darkness, run to the light!
If you fear the encroaching night, run to Easter morning!
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
 Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), p.132.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark. The Daily Study Bible. (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1971), p.95.
 Robert H. Stein, Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Eds., Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), p.222.
 Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol.2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p.94.