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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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Tony's Reflection 45
I sometimes feel quite sorry for my wife. After all, she has to live with me.
I am not always the best of listeners. She can be talking away and I let her words go in one ear and out of the other. I have other things to think about…
How good are you at listening? What about listening to God?
Last week, we left Jesus sitting in a boat, teaching a huge crowd. He has given them the story of the sower. All about God’s message coming out to us (seed being scattered) and how good we are at listening (what kind of soil we are).
Our next story is all about listening, too. Have you got “ears to hear” (Mark 4:23)? You certainly have ears, so pin them back and listen to Jesus…
Read the next story if you can (Mark 4:21-22). It’ll take about 30 seconds. Seems like a statement of the obvious. You don’t buy yourself a nice little lamp and hide it away under your bed, or keep it under a jug, do you? It is meant for shining.
Take yourself back, though and imagine yourself as one of the crowd at the lake, watching Jesus spin his story.
He makes you chuckle, as he mimics proudly coming home with the purchase, strutting through the door, showing off the cute lamp to the whole family. Then the stupid absurdity of giving it pride of place, where everyone will admire it… under a bed.
The audience burst out laughing as Jesus mimes putting it under the bed. He steps back to admire the lamp and, realising he is being laughed at, decides it must go somewhere sensible. No, a lamp can’t go under the bed. There are better places for it than that. Jesus bends over and lifts the imaginary lamp from under the bed. No, the lamp must go somewhere prominent where everyone can see it. Jesus struts around the boat, carrying his imaginary lamp looking for just the right place to show it off. Eureka! He has it. It is going … under this jug! Jesus stands back, full of pretend pride, to admire it under the imaginary jug. The crowd giggles again.
This is so much more than an amusing little caricature, though. There is a serious message behind the clowning. Mark has left us with the tools to penetrate behind the comedy. Let’s crack the code, so we can see the hidden treasure.
We already know Jesus has been talking about the message from God to each of us, which he calls “the word” (Mark 4:14). He also explained to his disciples how the meaning of that word is hidden from the crowds (Mark 4:11-12).
Is it meant to be hidden like that, though? Certainly not.
Before we crack the code, it looks like we have two random stories following each other. Jesus jumps from botany (the sower) to interior design (the lamp).
Penetrate the code, though and it all makes sense. There is a common theme running through both. They are both about God’s word and how his message comes to you and to me.
Let’s start code cracking… what is “the lamp” Jesus has been talking about? This story of the lamp isn’t just about home design.
The “lamp” is God’s message, his “word” to us. The Old Testament, which Jesus and his disciples knew back to front, tells us exactly that. “Your word is a lamp to light my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Even though it is meant to be a lamp for us, there are times when God’s word makes very little sense. Sometimes when you read the Bible, or you hear it explained, you are left wondering, “What on earth was all that about?” You might as well be reading instructions for cooking seal blubber, written in Eskimo, for all the sense it is making.
What you have just read is meant to be a lamp for you, giving light all around your path, so you know the right way to walk. As you read it you are meant get new clarity and fresh perspective on what is going on around you and what you need to do.
Are you left with no more light when you finish reading the Bible or hearing it explained, as you had when you started? This word from God is meant to be your lamp, but it might as well be under a bed or under a jug, for all the light it is giving.
Is it meant to be that way? Of course not. It is a lamp. It is made to give light.
You tell yourself this and you return to what you have been reading or hearing. It’s so frustrating. You just can’t make sense of it. There is still no light coming.
It is not meant to be this way.
“There is nothing hidden which will not be revealed,” says Jesus (Mark 4:22).
Was the message hidden from the crowd? Yes. But it wasn’t meant to be like that. It was meant to be “revealed”. The curtain was meant to be lifted, so they could see the hidden meaning and get the full treasure. If only they would come to Jesus and ask… he would gladly show them.
The invitation is the same for you. Do you sometimes find “the message”, God’s word to you, as you open the Bible yourself or hear it explained, is hidden from you, shrouded in darkness? It isn’t meant to be that way. Come to Jesus and ask him to show you.