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Fuller Revelation

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In this evening’s text, Mark records two sayings that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke during his earthly ministry. One has to do with the appropriate use of candles, and the other with the fairness of measuring practices.

Mark recorded these two sayings, one immediately after the other, although he doesn’t actually say that Jesus said both of them on the same occasion. In Matthew and Luke, they appear at different times in our Lord’s ministry,[1] having slightly different shades of meaning depending on the context. This is not a problem, of course, since preachers often use the same or similar illustra­tions to fit different circumstances.

But what is important, and even necessary to a correct understanding of them, is that we must interpret them in relation to what Jesus was teaching about himself and his ministry in the immediate context. This is what Jesus meant in verse 23 when he said, If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. The fact is that Jesus used parables, miracles and sometimes proverbs, like those in our text, to instruct his disci­ples in the nature of the kingdom of God and his role in that kingdom.

The Hidden Shall Be Revealed

The first of the two sayings in our text is about a candle or a lamp. Jesus said, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?

As far as it goes, this is easy to under­stand. Were someone, for example, to buy a lamp only to hide it in the back corner of a dark closet or under a davenport, we would immediately question his sanity. Why? Because hiding a lamp runs counter to the purpose of having it. We buy lamps to illuminate the darkness. A lamp will be successful in this mission if it is placed out in the open, not hidden where its light cannot be seen.

But it’s also obvious that Jesus did not give this saying to be merely a lesson on interior decoration. He wanted us to understand something else, something more directly related to the situation at hand. When truths are cast in the form of basic proverbs, they often illustrate the point to be made. But what did Jesus want us to learn? To answer this, we have to ask a few other questions, like “What does the lamp in this parable signify?” and, “What does its light reveal?”

Three things in our text shed their own light on these questions.

First, look at the phrase a candle. That’s what the KJV says. In fact, it’s what almost all of the major translations have. But it’s missing one very important thing. The Greek text has the definite article: “the candle” ( λύχνος). In other words, the lamp in this saying is not just any old lamp. It’s not some kerosene lantern that you might find in your grandmoth­er’s attic or a flashlight that you have sitting in the garage. No, it’s a specific lamp — one particular candle.

Secondly, note the word brought. There are several words in the Greek language that mean to bring. This is not one of them. In fact, the word used here (ἔρχεται) is one of the most common words in the New Testament, occurring over 640 times. It means come. The magi in Matthew 2 saw the star of the king and came to worship the Christ-child (v. 2). They brought gifts for him, but they came. Herod asked them to inform him of the young king’s whereabouts so that he too might come to worship him (v. 8). And the star that led the wise men led them until it came and stood over where the child was (v. 9).[2] It’s easy to see, though, why the translators translated the verb as they did here. We don’t normally speak of lamps coming and going, as if they walked around on their own. But the translation also looses the full force of the original.

And thirdly, the verb come is in the present tense. Proverbs generally use the present tense, since they are by nature statements that are true all the time. But it is also possible that the present tense might indicate present action, i.e., something that was happening even as Jesus spoke.

The Geneva Bible, which predates the KJV by several decades, is one of the few translations that retained the full force of the original. It translates verse 21 as follow: “Also he saide vnto them, Commeth the candle in, to be put vnder a bushell, or vnder the bed, and not to be put on a candlesticke?”

In any case, when you put all of this together, Jesus’ meaning becomes clear. He is the lamp. He came into the world on his own. He came for the express purpose of revealing that which was secret. And he was present with his disciples at the time that he spoke to them.

But the second question still remains: Jesus came to reveal something that had been hidden. Verse 22 says, For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. But what was it that Jesus revealed?

In this case, the obvious answer is the correct one. Mark says it several different ways throughout his gospel, but it all amounts to the same thing. The very first verse of his gospel reads, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (ch. 1:1). Jesus came to reveal the gospel — the message about himself. A few verses later, after he had been baptized and spent forty days in the wilderness, Mark says that Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God (v. 14). And we have a similar statement in the immediate context. Chapter 4 begins with the Parable of the Sower. And what was that parable about? Jesus said, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables (ch. 4:11). In fact, Mark carried this theme through the entire book. The two sayings that immediately follow today’s text in verses 26 and 30 explicitly mention the kingdom of God.

Many passages in the New Testament highlight the Lord’s prophetic ministry. I Corinthians 2:7, for example, mentions the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory. That hidden wisdom is the gospel of our salvation. Whereas a veil had covered the minds of the Jews whenever they read the Old Testament, making it impossible for them to know how it would be ful­filled in Christ, the Spirit of God has removed that veil from those who believe (II Cor. 3:12–18).  As a consequence, we now see with much greater clarity than they did.

When Paul wrote to the Colossians that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ (Col. 2:3), he was saying even more. It’s not just that Jesus is our prophet, but that the content of his prophec is himself. Everything must be understood in relation to the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that we know God. God’s law only makes sense when we understand that Christ paid the penalty for our law-breaking and that he kept the law both for our justification and to qualify him to act as our high priest. The church is the body of Christ. The sacraments set his work before our eyes. Our hope is his second coming.

Jesus came to bring light (John 1:5). His life is our light (John 1:4). He is the brightness of God’s glory (Heb. 1:3). Those who do the truth come to his light (John 3:21). In fact, he is the light himself. Jesus said, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12).

The Right Measure

The Lord’s second saying concerns measuring practices. The bushel basket which was mentioned in verse 21 plays an even more important role here. Jesus said, 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.

Here the point is that we have a responsibil­ity to use the light that Christ gives us. Jesus impressed the urgency of this upon with a solemen warning right at the beginning of the statement. He said, Take heed what ye hear (v. 24).

The urgency of hearing the gospel — not just listening to it, but obeying from the heart — is based on the fact that the gospel alone is the message of salvation and deliverance through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other gospels should not be heard. When someone comes to you with another gospel, it is your duty before God to give it a deaf ear. Whatever we listen to must be in agreement with the Word of God. And do you know what? God’s people know the difference between the real gospel and all pretenders. Speaking of his sheep Jesus said, And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.… My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:5, 27). We know Christ’s voice because we have his Word.

The Parable of the Measure, however, goes beyond this. It also reassures us that we will be blessed with even greater understanding and enlightenment to the degree that we use what we already have, while those who do not make use of what they have will have everything taken away from them.

In other words, the second of our Lord’s sayings answers a question found earlier in this chapter. The seed of the Word of God falls on various kinds of soil. In some soils, the seed is either choked out or becomes unproductive for some other reason. But in other soils it brings forth a harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundredfold. What makes the difference? The difference is how well we incorporate the Word of God into our lives and thinking. Do we really believe it? Has it captured our heart and soul, or are we pursing it only half-heartedly? Are we doing anything with it at all?

What Shall We Do?

Remember that Jesus gave these two sayings to his disciples and not to the world at large. They are, therefore, not a call to faith, but to faithfulness in seeking Christ in Scripture. Since we are also Jesus’ disciples, we must heed this call, too. How do we do this?

We’ve already seen that Jesus is the light of the world — the great light that even the darkness could not eliminate. Those who follow him, therefore, do not walk in darkness but in the light of the gospel. In a sense we are also lights. In fact, Matthew 5:14 describes us using exactly the same phrase that John 8:12 applies to Christ. There Jesus said, Ye are the light of the world. Christ is like the sun, while we are just little birthday candles. Or better, since we do not produce any light of our own but simply reflect whatever light he gives us, perhaps it would be more correct to say that we’re like the head of pin, merely reflecting a tiny amount of the sun’s light. But let’s not forget this: the light that we reflect is real light nonetheless, and that’s why the Bible says that we are the light of the world.

Question 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us of this when it says that we are prophets of Christ because we share in his anointing. Christ calls us to declare the gospel of the kingdom of God boldly and faithfully. Our light, like Christ’s light, must not be hidden behind a veil of evil, indifference, fear or anything else. Rather, we must let our light shine before men, that they might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:14–16).

We are especially blessed in the Reformed Church. We are not only sons and daughters of the Reformation, which means that we take the fuller revelation of Christ and his benefits, i.e., the New Testament, seriously, but living in the twenty-first century we also have almost unlimited access to Bibles, Christian books and literature, internet resources, and so much more. The danger we face is that our historical heritage, familiarity with Scripture and ease of access to the works of great scholars and preachers may make us lazy in pursuing a greater knowledge of Christ. Since everything is so readily available to us, we have no reason to research it until we actually need it.

We all know from experience that it is very easy to lapse into a state of inattention when it comes to the gospel. Having been raised in the Reformed faith from the time we were knee high to a boll weevil, we often assume that we know the Bible well enough. We take what we’ve learned and tuck it safely away in some hidden recess of our minds. And in doing so we obscure the light that came into the world to teach us concerning our salvation and the kingdom of God.

But the fact that we know more of the truth only makes us more responsible to know it better. Take heed what you hear, Jesus said. Not every philosophy or idea is good. In fact, there is only one good philosophy; the Bible calls it Chris­tianity. Nothing that a person be­lieves except what we find in the Word of the living God will increase our understanding and blessedness in this life or be rewarded in the next. And those who believe will find such an abundance to life in Jesus Christ that the eye cannot see, the ear cannot hear, and the mind, no matter how hard it may try, cannot comprehend.

Our responsibility extends far beyond just paying careful attention to the Word of God. It also includes measuring it out — growing in it, walking according to it, and sharing it with others.

The fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel is a series of parables. With the opposition and hatred of the Pharisees and scribes on the rise, he adopted this style of teaching to teach the truths of his mission to those who were spiritually enlightened and to conceal them from all others. Referring to a passage in Isaiah he said, That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them (v. 12).

In a sense, the Lord’s parables hid the truth. But Jesus assured his disciples that this was not his ultimate purpose, but rather only a temporary necessity. He came to bring light. His light must be set out the open and lifted up high so that all may see it. It is our job, as members of Christ, to hold forth his light to a world that wallows in darkness.

This passage encourages us to know the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ better, not only for our benefit but also for the benefit of the world around us. We know the light. At least in an intellectual sense, we can tell others a lot of things about the light. But how well do we really know the light? Do we crave a fuller knowledge of the Savior and his work in our behalf? Do our lives demonstrate that we walk according to his light? Do we have a burning zeal for others to know the light? Do we long for the New Jerusalem, where there is no need for a sun or moon because the glory of God and the Lamb of God provide the city’s light?

May God make it so with each one of us! Amen.


[1] The places where they occur are as follows: verse 21 (Matt. 5:15; Luke 8:16; 11:33); verse 22 (Matt. 10:26–27; Luke 8:17; 12:2–3); verse 24 (Matt. 7:2; Luke 6:37–38) and verse 25 (Matt. 13:12; 25:28–29; Luke 8:18).

[2] Other than our text, there are only seven times in the New Testament where this word is translated by something other than a form of come (Mark 5:26; John 10:41; Acts 5:15; 11:12; 19:27; 22:30 and Phil. 1:12), and every one of them could be translated come without affecting the meaning.

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