By William Higgins
In 2023 at their annual Labor Day weekend church retreat at Camp Deerpark, I led a series of Bible studies for Immanuel Community Church, from Flushing, Queens. I taught in a style of teaching that I call ‘Holistic Bible Study’ that involves lots of participation and a focus on applying Scripture to our lives. Our study was on “Stories about Jesus and Women in the Gospel of Mark.”
In this article, I present a brief Bible study from Mark 4:21-25, which encourages us to work hard at being grounded in Jesus’s teaching and the Scriptures.
This passage comes in the context of Jesus’s kingdom parables. Jesus has just experienced a great deal of rejection from many in Israel and he begins to focus on his disciples, those who have believed in him. Outsiders don’t get these parables, but he explains them to his disciples. Jesus encourages us to listen carefully to him and work hard at understanding. Mark 4:21-25 reads:
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? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 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. 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.”
All these sayings, which are parables in themselves, and might seem like they aren’t connected, actually are and, in context, refer to Jesus’s teaching. They teach a simple truth, it takes work to understand Jesus. Jesus really does want his teaching to be understood. He compares it to a lamp in verse 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?”
Just as a lamp is meant to shine out, so his teaching is meant to give light to all. Jesus’ intention is expressed in verse 22.
“For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”
Everything Jesus hides, for instance in parables, he wants to come to light. Everything he veils, teaching that is hard to understand, he wants to be made known. But we have to do some work. Jesus hides his teaching so that only those who really seek after it will find it. The two exhortations that come next tell us what we need to do, verses 23 and 24.
“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear.”
As disciples, we need to listen, and “pay attention to what you read,” since Jesus’s teaching is now written out in the Scriptures. Jesus teaches that you need to put some effort into understanding what he’s saying. Then comes an important principle as verse 24 continues.
“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you . . .”
Jesus uses this principle to put focus on understanding his teaching. Jesus is saying that there’s a relationship between the effort we put in and the understanding we receive from God. The amount of careful listening you put in – seeking, puzzling, discerning, studying – equals the amount of understanding you will get. Likewise, the less of these things you do, the less understanding you receive. But then, there’s the generosity of God for those who put in effort, verse 24 ends with:
“. . . and still more will be added to you.”
If you pay attention and receive from God in proportion to your effort, God will give even more understanding on top of this; a surplus; an added bonus, verse 25.
“For to the one who has, more will be given . . ..”
The disciples are an example here. They have received the message of the kingdom and have gathered around Jesus and are asking questions. They have some understanding of his teaching and what he’s up to. So more is given. Jesus tells them what the parables mean (Mark 4:34). And then we have a warning, found at the end of verse 25.
“. . . and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
This is the other side of the coin, of God’s generosity. Those who don’t listen to Jesus, who put in no effort, will lose even what they have. An example here is the hardened soil of the path. Satan comes and “takes away” the word from them (Mark 4:15). There is no standing still with regard to learning and putting into practice his teaching. We are either moving forward or moving backward.
What does this mean for us?
As disciples of Jesus, we have received the secret of the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus. More broadly we have the Scriptures and all that is taught in them. But all this can still be hard to understand. Like the disciples, who had Jesus to help them, we have the Holy Spirit present with us to help us (John 14:26), as well as other believers (Colossians 3:16).
Why did Jesus hide what he means, if he wants us to get it? One answer might be that it’s a good teaching approach to have students do some work to figure things out. This is a better way of learning than just being told all the answers. Another answer might be that Jesus isn’t just looking to communicate information to us, he wants to be in a relationship with us. What is in our heart? As we wrestle with the Scriptures, do we seek him and thus grow in our closeness to him?
A key challenge in this passage is to honestly ask ourselves, “What measure of effort am I putting into understanding Jesus and the Scriptures?” “Am I reading, puzzling, and studying, or am I content with what I know and feel that’s enough?” There is so much more than any of us will ever discover in a whole lifetime of study. Are you hungry for more?
William Higgins serves as an LMC resource staff in the area of theological education and specifically Anabaptist Christian identity formation. William also serves part-time as a non-resident missionary for EMM. He serves globally providing discipleship training, leadership development, and mutual learning and encouragement with EMM’s partners. He and his wife, Stacey, attend New Danville Mennonite Church. William studied historical and systematic theology and biblical studies at Vennard College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His vision is to help our congregations and individuals be Spirit-empowered disciples of Jesus, living lives that engage and impact the world around us.