In Mark 4:2 we are told, “And [Jesus] taught them many things by parables.” Imagine what happened with the majority of that crowd after they went home. Neighbors crowded around them, anxious to know what Jesus had said: “What message did He bring? Tell us all you learned.” Those who had heard Him might have been able to repeat His parables but their words would have been dead, lifeless, with no impact or life-changing power.
I believe the same thing happens in Christ’s Church today. The word that goes forth from many pulpits is dead-letter, with no Holy Spirit revelation or power to deliver from sin. Then, when the people go home, many of them merely repeat the word they’ve heard without the life of the Spirit. What a contrast to the hungry disciples and the others who remained followers of Christ in this scene. These people represent everyone who hungers for God’s Word, and who will pursue Jesus at any cost to get it. They comprise a “Queen of Sheba Company,” servants who want Christ’s life-changing revelation.
How does Jesus respond to their pursuit? He says, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11). The Greek word for mystery here means secrets. In short, Christ reveals His secrets only to those who hunger for life-changing truth. He is saying, “If you want answers to your hard questions, pursue Me. Spend time with Me. I’ll reveal My Word to you, and show you truth that others don’t see.”
So, who are those “that are without” (Mark 4:11)? Jesus is referring to the multitudes who are not willing to wait upon Him. They won’t give up their comforts to do what is necessary to train their ear to His voice. They may come to church regularly and seek the Lord to meet all their human needs, but they’re not interested in knowing His voice beyond His ability to provide for them. His freeing truth remains a bafflement to them, a series of unopened riddles.
“For [the Queen of Sheba] came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42).
We all have to answer one crucial question today: If One greater than Solomon is in our midst, would He possibly leave us in confusion? If His wisdom is always available, do we seek for it as passionately as the queen sought Solomon’s wisdom?
God still speaks to His people today. And He speaks as clearly as He did in the Old Testament, or to the apostles, or to the early Church. Yet, we must realize one thing: God chooses to speak only to those who have ears to hear. Let me illustrate.
Mark 4:2 tells us that Christ “taught [the crowds] many things by parables.” Then Jesus told the parable of the sower, a man who sowed seed in a field. Yet, when He finished the story, the crowds were baffled. They wondered, “Who is this sower He’s describing? And what does the seed represent? All this talk about birds, devils, thorny ground, good soil—what’s it about?”
Jesus didn’t explain it to them. Instead, Scripture says, “He said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (4:9). Only the disciples and a few others, a mere remnant, wanted answers. So they came to Jesus afterward and asked the meaning of the parable: “When he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable” (4:10). Then Christ took time to answer all their concerns (see 4:14-20).
Do you see what’s happening in this scene? Jesus had given the crowd revelation truth, a word spoken directly from God’s mouth, yet it puzzled them. You may wonder, “Why didn’t Jesus explain the parable more clearly?” We find a clue later in the same chapter: “Without a parable spake he not unto them” (4:34). I believe Jesus was saying, “If you want to understand My Word, you’re going to have to pursue Me for the answer. And you must come as the Queen of Sheba did: with a hunger for truth that will set you free. I’ll give you all the revelation you need. But you must come to Me with a pursuing, attentive ear.”
God’s grace not only saves us but it also trains us.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). What great news! Paul extols God’s glorious grace, which saves us. End of story, right? No, that’s hardly the end of the story. Paul quickly adds that this same grace “[trains] us to renounce ungodliness” (2:12).
Paul is describing here what it means to abide in Christ. It involves “[renouncing] ungodliness and worldly passions, and [living] self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (2:12). In other words, God’s grace provides not only eternal life but abundant life now, today. The part we play by abiding in Christ leads to a blessed, godly, peaceful life.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He instructs Titus boldly, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (2:15). Remember, Paul’s subject in this passage is grace. He is stating, in essence, “When grace is preached but it doesn’t train you to deny ungodliness, something is missing.” If we want to serve Jesus, we can’t avoid correction, whether it comes from God’s Word or from our respected friends. Yet we are also promised this about God’s corrective pruning: “Later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
His pruning is powerful—both in its pain and in its glorious fruit. Do you lack peace? Have you drifted from the Vine, your source of life, to draw from other sources? Ask God to take His pruning blade to your heart. He may cut, clear and take away things that don’t belong and when He is finished, the glorious tree in your yard may appear to be no more than a stump. But what grows from that stump is fruit you never could have imagined—and something you could not have produced on your own.
Why a blade in this parting teaching from Jesus? He explains, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). “Full” indicates thorough, complete, powerful. What good, true, beautiful parting words He gave to His disciples—and they are manna for us today. God’s cutting and pruning ends up producing joy—all from the hand of the expert gardener who loves us.
The famine was getting worse and Abraham began to drift away from his altar. Take a hard look at him, because Abraham is you and me at one moment or another of our Christian walk. You say, “I have lost something: my passion for prayer, my peace, my worship, my joy, my zeal for His house, my kindness, my generosity, my capacity to be moved by the needs of the people around me or afar.” Abraham had lost his altar because there was a famine.
What is the famine? The famine is a series of hard knocks, one hurt after another. It is when we go through seasons with strings of disappointments, and we bravely try to go on as if we are okay. Abraham had lost his objective, his vision. Listen to him as he pondered the thought “that I may be well, that I may be left alone, that my life might be spared” (see Genesis 12:10-13). He was called to be a blessing to others, but he had lost his very purpose.
Abraham was dying slowly in the grips of a spiritual famine. He was losing not only his fervor and purpose, but also his favor and his faith. The man who had been called to be a source of blessing began to tragically forsake what had made him great: the very faith that had brought the favor of God on him and through him to touch and bless others.
“And Pharaoh’s house was struck with a plague because of Abraham and Sarah. Pharaoh said, ‘Why have you lied and brought this plague on my house?’” (Genesis 12:17-18). Abraham was no longer a source of joy and respect; in fact, he had become someone who brought shame and pain. He had completely lost his faith and trust in God.
Come closer, take a look at him. He was tormented, afraid, and his spiritual heritage was in danger. As we kneel beside him, we realize why he was considered to be the father of faith. He wasn’t a model because he was spotless and sinless, or because his life was an uninterrupted succession of exploits, wisdom and immaculate perfection. The Bible doesn’t treat his sin lightly or justify him in any way. However, he has a message for us all simply because he knew how to rebuild his altar and find God again. “Abraham came back to the place where he had built an altar before and he called on the name of the Lord” (see Genesis 13:3-4).
Claude Houde, lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada, is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences conducted by World Challenge throughout the world. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
I wonder how many Christians reading this message right now are in a cloud of confusion. Does this describe you? Perhaps your prayers go unanswered. You’re constantly downcast. You face things in your life that you can’t explain. You’re disappointed in your circumstances and in people. You continually doubt yourself, you’re plagued with questions, and you constantly examine your heart to see where you went wrong. You feel gloom, despair, indecision—and you can’t shake any of it.
You may be a mature believer. For years you’ve sat under pure gospel preaching but now you doubt yourself, and you feel inadequate. You don’t sense the joy of the Lord the way you once did. So now you wonder if the Lord has a controversy with you.
Let me ask you: Do you trust His promises? Do you embrace His precious Word? Do you go on the offensive against Satan with the Word that you’ve heard preached? Or do you ignore the Lord’s past faithfulness to you? Do you not trust that He stands with you, in control of everything pertaining to your life? If so, then you’ve opened yourself to darkness.
Jesus describes the person who lives in darkness, saying, “He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth” (John 12:35). In other words, “Such a person has lost his way. His steps are confused, he’s indecisive, and he walks in blindness.”
I know what it’s like to enter such a cloud of darkness. Things get confusing. You can’t hear a clear word from God. You want answers quickly, crying out to God, “Oh, Lord, I’m not seeing or hearing You like I used to.” You end up asking Him to be more sympathetic, more pitiful toward your condition. But the truth is, the Lord has no pity for outright unbelief. He’s grieved by it. He expects us to walk in the light we have received. We are to trust in His Word and lay hold of His promises. When we come back to our knowledge of His Word, and to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, will we exit this darkness—but only then!