I usually get remarks about my sermon, but I was joyfully surprised when one of our very bright high school seniors came up to my after a sermon a few weeks ago and said, “Pastor, your message on the Kingdom is exactly what I am dealing with in my studies right now: ‘Realized Eschatology!’” I paused. I swallowed. I waited for what was next.
“You know, Pastor, realized eschatology: the idea of the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet!’”
Actually I didn’t learn about the aspect of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament which is referred to as the “Already and the Not Yet” until about my third year of seminary, but this kid had it down already!
This is what we are dealing with in the parables of Mark 4. When we read Jesus’ words that the “Kingdom is among you” on a Sunday and then get the word about a malignant tumor, or say goodbye to your husband of fifty years who is about to leave this world, you come to understand what the “not yet” part is all about.
So what do we do with a King-dom that is already here, but not yet come in full? How do we live in the parentheses of life? Let us receive the Word of God in Mark 4:21-25.
Each summer, all over America, families will be packing up for long road trips to go to national parks and beaches and mountains and big cities and new adventures. And in the backseats of millions of cars, about 3 hours into the 36 hour drive you will hear it for the first time, echoed all over the nation: “Are we there yet?”
You know what? A lot of other people also say it.
Missionaries say it. In the 1800s Robert and Mary Moffat labored as missionaries in Kuruman (South Africa) among the Bechuanas with-out success. Robert compared it to a “husbandman laboring to transform the surface of granite rock into arable land . . . ” His wife Mary lamented, “Could we but see the smallest fruit, we could rejoice midst the privations and toil which we bear; but as it is, our hands do often hang down.”1 She was saying, “Are we there yet, Lord?”
Ministers say it. Discouragement is the common malady for many ministers. We preach, we teach, we shepherd with Word, Sacrament and Prayer and yet often see little fruit. We seem to clamor for immediate results and if we don’t see them we grow discouraged. This myopic vision cannot see past one week to what God may be doing long term. “Are we there yet, Lord?”
We all say it. We seek to know God’s will about our jobs, our future spouses, what college to attend, which church to join, what car to buy. “Are we there yet, Lord?” We pray for a lost loved one and expect God to do something yesterday. “Are we there yet?” We grow discouraged if our prayers aren’t answered on our time and our terms.
We may be working for justice and mercy among the poor and yet we see no difference. One Christian worker I talked to, who works among the poor of our city, said, “It’s the same thing ever day. I give out money to meet immediate need, I try to help people learn how to earn a living, how to take care of personal hygiene, but every day more masses of people come to me for help. Often the same people are the first in line.” She was saying it. We are all saying it. “Are we there yet?”
It can be discouraging. This is what Jesus wanted to address. If the Kingdom of God is so mysterious and comes in such clandestine ways, how will it ever grow? The disciples might have asked, “How will the Kingdom of Christ become the Kingdom promised to Abraham, which will embrace the entire world, Lord, if your own mother and bro-thers won’t follow you, much less the learned leaders of our day?”
Following a parable about a Sower where two out of three don’t get it, and following a teaching on parables where outsiders are told parables are to harden them and insiders are to get the explanation — but they still don’t understand — Jesus teaches again in Mark 4:21-25.
So today let’s be honest and put ourselves in their places, for we all really are in their places. The announcement of the Kingdom coming into our lives hasn’t produced all of the answers we were hoping for. “Lord are we there yet?”
In Mark 4:21-25 there are two parables (or at least allusions), two teachings to speak to our cries.
The first teaching of Jesus is intended to deal with the disciple’s discouragement: Jesus is saying that the Kingdom will come — it will shine! (Mark 4:21-23)
The Christian life has more questions than you ever imagined. Our God is greater, His ways are higher that ours. He is God and we are not and that is “a good thing.” The disciples would have felt like that. Their expectations of the kingdom of God were not clarified in Jesus’ teaching. He was telling them in the parable of the Sower that there will be much discouragement before there is final victory. This is not what they wanted to hear. So Jesus tells another story — less a parable and more a comparison story to deal with that discouragement.
The first parable, the parable of the Lamp, is a familiar one to readers of the Bible. In Matthew 5, this lamp refers to the responsibility of hearers to share what they have with others. For Mark, though, the parable follows the Sower parable and the teaching about the mystery of the Kingdom. Here the parable means that despite the present mystery, the seeming concealment of the Kingdom, it has always been intended to shine, to go forth, to be fully disclosed to the whole world.
The Kingdom will begin to shine in the life and earthly ministry of our Lord
For now, the Lord would speak in parables to outsiders and explain these things to the insiders. But the time would soon come when even a Samaritan woman would come to know the truth that God has broken into the world. Her life, in John chapter 4, would be radically transformed and a revival would break out in her hometown of Sychar. Soon, masses would gather at the Temple to hear clear teaching of our Lord. Soon, Jesus would even stand before an earthly ruler, Pilate, and there affirm that He is in fact the King, but His kingdom is not of this world.
The Kingdom will shine forth on Calvary
Soon, Jesus would hang on a cross and one of those who hung with him would hear His teaching and be saved. After Jesus died, one of the Roman soldiers would receive the Light of the Kingdom and say, “Surely this was the Son of God.” Soon, the disciples who misunderstood would begin to see.
The Kingdom will shine forth in an empty tomb
Soon, Mary would announce, “He is risen!” Soon the resurrected Jesus would walk through the locked-down doors of their lives and breathe on them the breath of heaven. Soon, Pentecostal power would come down on the disciples and the long-prayed for, long-prophesied worldwide movement would be inaugurated with tongues of fire.
The Kingdom will shine forth to the whole world
Soon, even one of those who had opposed Christ would become the greatest ambassador of them all. When the Holy Spirit refused to allow Paul to go to Asia and gave him a dream of a Macedonian call, God led Paul to Lydia and with the conversion of that woman and the baptism of her household, Europe, the Western nations and then the world would be forever changed.
But it all looked so dismal at the beginning. It was all in mystery, it was small, but Christ was saying there is more to come. “This lamp has got to shine!”
The Kingdom will shine forth in your life
Sometimes the light breaks through in mysterious ways. Some of you have heard my testimony before and know that as a young man I was a prodigal son, left home, and some of you have heard about my testimony of hardship and trial and sin and shame. Out of those years came three little children. The oldest girl’s name was Jessica. She was the most beautiful little creature I had ever seen. But soon, I learned she was deaf, totally deaf. After that, Heather was born and then Matthew. They were all deaf.
Some of you know the paralysis of the soul when the doctor tells me that something is wrong with your baby. Some of you know the pain, too, that comes from parenting chil-dren born with physical hardships. Some of you are heroic in my eyes for parenting in the mystery of your children suffering.
Though I was a prodigal, I had been reared in the faith and knew enough to teach that Jesus Christ would one day return and all wrongs would be made right. Even those who couldn’t see would be able to see and those who couldn’t walk would be able to walk and those who couldn’t hear would be able to hear. That little four-year-old received those words as I signed them and she signed something I could never forget: “I wish Jesus would come back today. I don’t know what it is like to hear, but whatever that is, His voice will be the first I hear.”
In the sin-sick life in the far country of my past, I lost all, including three little deaf children. But, years later, when God worked a miracle and Mae and John Michael and I were united and re-united with Jessica, Heather and Matthew, I told Jessica about that time. Amazingly, she remembered.
Even though those years were dark — and in a way, I lost so much that things would never be the same — the Kingdom was at work. It was an “already and not yet” experience. But that is also true in the lives of those deaf children. One day they will hear. I believe that because I believe in a Kingdom that is here and not yet, a Kingdom that is a light that must shine, even if it looks dark now.
I wonder what you are thinking about right now that seems so small to you, so mysterious, so impossible. Maybe in this passage, today, Jesus Christ is coming along side of you and saying, “There is more to come. “This lamp has got to shine!” Maybe you are trusting God in your business and things aren’t going too well right now. You are like my friend who said, “I trusted in Christ and every-thing is going down hill now!” But if God is in it, this thing has got to shine. God’s time is not your time.
Maybe you are in a blended family and you are praying for God to put you all together. You’ve given it to the Lord, but the tension is still there. I prayed with a wonderful woman this week who is dealing with news of a medical emergency and what it means for her and her husband and children. I suspect that each and every week that is going on with so many who hear me.
Dear friends, hear the words of Jesus. The Kingdom is not meant to be hidden in your life. The Kingdom will shine. The Kingdom will come. That is a call for faith in the darkness of your life now, faith in the questions, faith in the mystery, faith in the bad news. Wait on the salvation of the Lord. The Word of the Lord cannot fail. That lamp has got to shine. It was intended to be put on a lampstand, not under a basket or a bed. It will shine.
That is one teaching. Now the other. In Mark 4:24-25, the Lord Jesus links another little parable to that one. In that parable, he warns that his disciples should “take heed.” And he says that the same measure you give out will be given to you, and to you who hear, m ore will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Well, what does that mean? It is the same thing that Luke records:
“ . . . For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
And that Matthew records:
“ Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 13:12).
The first story in Matthew 4:21-23 was about the disciples’ discouragement and Jesus was saying that “the Kingdom will most certainly come” but in Matthew 4:24-25 we see the second teaching:
The second teaching of Jesus is intended to deal with the disciple’s response to the Light: Jesus is saying that the Kingdom will come personally. (Matthew 4:24-25)
The context here is the Light of Jesus Christ that exists sometimes in difficult times. How will you res-pond? The religious leaders rejected Him. Some were apathetic and were healed but didn’t follow Him all the way. Some, like the disciples, heard, but didn’t completely understand, but they were there and they followed and more would be given.
This past week a dear man in our congregation who had heard my last message from Mark 4:10-12, a very difficult passage, came to me to say he was struggling with the text. We spent about an hour together of going through the Word of God, examining what the Bible teaches about the mysterious truths that Jesus was teaching. At the end, he said, “I am going to keep reading, keep studying, keep praying.” We prayed, and before he left I put my arm around him and said, “Come back again. Let’s journey together through this.” This is a man who is being given a measure, he is holding it, struggling with the light in the context of some past pain, but I know that Jesus’ Word is true: more will be given. How about you? How are you receiving the Light? You see the Kingdom will come. The Light is intended to shine. How are you following Christ through it all? What is your response to Jesus?
Last week we read a passage from John 6:65-66 that I feel strongly I need to read again: “And He said to them, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no once can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by my Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
How will you respond to the Kingdom as it comes to you? My Aunt Eva told me once before she died that she had read the Word of God once a year for more than half a century and that sometimes she still didn’t understand everything. But she said, “I just keep following because He never lets me down.”
You know what I have learned? You just take what God has given us in His Word and trust Him in it. You don’t need to reconcile it all, just rest in Jesus Christ. He is the final ans-wer, the final resolution to all our questions. We just receive Him and He will give us more light as we need it. You keep following. He’ll never let you down. In the hard teaching, in the hard times, in the times when the Kingdom doesn’t look like it is here, just keep following.
The Kingdom will come. It will shine. But what are you going to do with what you have been given? This is what these parables are all about today in your life and mine.
Not too long ago I was about to take my own little family vacation. It was going to take me about two day’s drive to get to our destination. A friend shook his head and said, “You know you are wasting a lot of time! Why not fly? Think of all of those wasted hours!” Well, I have nothing against flying. But his idea of wasted hours was my idea of vacation! Mae and John Michael and I love just driving, so we can be together and talk and talk and talk and laugh and “just rest in the presence of each other.” I told him that “the journey itself is the destination for us.”
And you know what? That is what we need to know about life in the Kingdom. It is here and not yet. The destination is eternal life with Jesus Christ but it is also true that the destination is the journey as we come to rest in knowing Jesus through the journey.
Please listen to this final word. Whatever you are facing, wherever your journey has led you to this point — even if it is dark on your journey of faith — Jesus is saying that the Light will come. The day will dawn. Wrongs will be righted and right will win out. The Kingdom will come . . . in your marriage, in your business, in your family, in your health, and if everything fails, if life itself leaves you, He will not leave you. For the Kingdom will come finally through resurrection power and through a Savior who is coming back to judge the quick and the dead and to establish a new heaven and a new earth. No more tears. No more sorrows.
But the passage forces us to ask, “What is your response” to the journey you are on right now? One woman’s response became the title of a 19th century Irish hymn. The chorus of that hymn goes like this:
Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.2
“Are we there yet?” No. No we are not there yet. But we are learning that He is here. And, for now, that is enough. Why don’t you rest in Him today by receiving Him as Lord and Christ? And for some of us, let’s just rest in the joy of His loving heart?
Michael Milton is Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN, and is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.
1. David Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1996), 185.
2. Jean Pigott was Born 1845, Ireland and died October 12, 1882, Leixlip, Lucan, County Kildare, Ireland. CyberHymnal.com reports that facts about her life are rare. But what a blessing she left us in this wonderful hymn!