Morning Musing: Mark 4:21-23

“He also said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously describes His followers as the light of the world. In that context, He says that we are not to live such that our light is obscured, but rather to shine for all the world to see. That is, indeed, the purpose of light: to be seen. When we come to these couple of verses in Mark and see Him talking about not putting light under a basket as He did in Matthew, we’re tempted to think He’s talking about the same thing and move on. I’ve thought that before. Taking a closer look, though, reveals something else is in view. Let’s talk this morning about what that is.

First, Jesus is speaking in parables here. This is one of those parables that insiders are going to have a leg up on understanding, but which will probably leave outsiders totally stumped. Notice, I said insiders have a leg up on understanding, not that they will actually understand it easily. If you read something like this and feel clueless, cheer up: you’re in the same boat as the disciples, and that’s a pretty good boat to be in as we’ll see next week.

What Jesus’ speaking in parables means is that He isn’t really talking about a lamp here at all. The question, then, becomes, what does the lamp represent? Again, it’s tempting here to think Jesus is using the same imagery as He was in Matthew, and the lamp represents His light in us. The more I read these verses, though, I don’t think that’s the case.

In this context, when Jesus talks about a lamp here, He’s talking about Himself and His mission and message. He’s talking about the message of the kingdom. And, I think the context gives weight to this understanding. He goes on from here to talk more about the kingdom in parables and how it grows. It starts off small, but gradually gets far larger than anyone who saw it at its start could have imagined it would become. The fertile soil in the parable of the sower produced a yield which, at its smallest, was more than double what an average crop yield would have been. The focus on the kingdom and its growing suggests He was talking about it here too.

So, let’s think about this. What’s Jesus saying? He is the lamp. His message is the light. This wasn’t brought to the world to be hidden. He came to bring light so people could see. Now, sometimes it seems like that wasn’t the case. Think about all the times Jesus explicitly told people who figured out who He was not to share the news. Why would He do that?

Well, put it in context. When you turn on a bright light in a dark room, is that helpful for the folks who were previously in the dark? No, right? It blinds them and they can’t see anymore than they could in the dark. The bright light all at once is painful. Instead, you start with a little light that isn’t direct and gradually get brighter from there. Thus Jesus’ slow and methodical approach.

But the purpose of light is to shine. It is to illuminate. It is to be seen. It is to reveal what is there. You might start with a dim light so it doesn’t overwhelm you, but once you have brought light into the world, you bring more and more and it gradually spreads to cover the space in which it is shining. If something was in the dark in a room where light is shining, it won’t be able to stay there. The light will cover the room. Everything hidden will be revealed. That’s the second part of what He says here.

Then, at the end, He adds a little refrain He often uses in His teaching: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.” Now, written that way in English, it sounds like this is just an invitation. In the Greek, it’s stronger than that. It is more of a command and a warning. He might have said something like, “Pay careful attention to this so you don’t miss what I’m telling you.”

So then, what are we not supposed to miss here? Let me offer one suggestion and we’ll be finished. Now that Jesus has come into the world, darkness and the deeds committed there are going to be revealed. Sin cannot any longer hide in the darkness. If you have something you think is hidden, some sin that you think is safely concealed in the dark places of your heart that no one gets to see, know well that it is not safe there. Do not rest easily or comfortably in that delusion. It will not persist. The light of Christ will continue to shine and brighten until everything that is concealed has been revealed. It may not be now–which allows us to persist in the delusion of hiddenness far longer than wisdom would suggest is prudent–but one day, before the throne of judgment, everything will be laid bare.

Having our darkness revealed is a terrible thing to experience. It is made ever more terrible, though, when it happens at a time and place not of our own choosing. The safest thing to do in light of what Jesus says here–if anyone has ears to hear, let him listen–is to come clean now. Own up to your sin. Let the light of Christ shine now and reveal what’s hidden so you can experience the amazing grace His light brings. Then, walk in the light as He is in the light so you may enjoy to the fullest the life that is truly life.

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