Tag Archives: Richard Jackson

Stating the Obvious? Mark 4:11-22

 

 

26th March 2024, Paphos, Cyprus

As a Christian, living in the 21st Century, Christ’s explanation of this familiar parable may appear to be really straightforward. Of course, we read it from the perspective of our times and we bring our own assumptions and understanding of the Kingdom of God. For us, it may feel that in his explanation of this parable, Jesus is stating the obvious.

11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
    and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’[a]

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Mark4:11-20 (NIV)

Of course, if we stop and think about it, we know that our relationship to this story is going to be very different from that of those who heard it for the first time 2000 years ago.

Like so many people around us, most of the people who were in the crowd had little interest in listening to Jesus. Whilst he had told his friends that preaching was his true purpose, many people in the crowd had come from far and wide to see Jesus performing healing miracles. They had not really understood who Jesus was. Again – that sounds familiar.

Those who were interested in hearing Jesus speak, and this includes the disciples, had very specific views of what the coming Kingdom would look like. Their views are very different from ours.

‘People were expecting a great moment of renewal. They believed that Israel would be rescued lock, stock and barrel: God’s kingdom would explode on to the world stage in a blaze of glory.’ (i)

Actually, says Jesus, the Kingdom of God will not be like that at all.  In fact, there will be those who, in varying degrees, just won’t get it. Again, Jesus could be describing people in my own culture.

In fact, he says, whilst the opportunity is there, many people will simply miss the point. They will fail to ever enter His Kingdom at all. Others will fail to thrive or be successful in the Kingdom. This, he says, is the secret, or the mystery, of the Kingdom of God. You think you have understood, but his Kingdom is not what you were expecting it to be. There is something radical hidden away in Christ’s words. Something ”politically incorrect’ (ii). For the original crowd, rather than a simple explanation of what the Kingdom of God is like, there is a radical message of what it is not like. It is not like you are expecting! I think that message remains true today.

I’m reflecting on the culture within which God has placed me. We think of ourselves as intelligent and sophisticated. That’s fine, but I suspect that the people in 1st Century Palestine thought that too. Our modern world is full of people who have their own fixed views of what God is like and who Jesus is. Many have a sense of what God’s kingdom is like (many people assume that it doesn’t exist). Whatever you think, I suspect that even today, Jesus is saying to us you may have got this seriously wrong.

As I reflect on this parable, I wonder whether what Jesus was saying to the crowd, and to the disciples, and is saying to you, to me and to everyone around us is this. You can easily be deceived – your understanding of he Kingdom of God may be way off target.

The Kingdom of God is a secret, or a mystery (v11). Christ explains that mystery by using parables. Each parable lifts the veil on that mystery, just a little. Jesus has invited us to follow. He encourages us to go deeper. If we do, he will encourage us by helping us to grasp a little more of that mystery.

We may be coming to this 2000 years after that first crowd – we may be 21st Century Christians – but however much we think we understand, there is much more for us all to learn about His Kingdom. There is so much more we can achieve within it. Another reminder to all of us who think we have it all worked out. We are a work in progress.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9, NIV)

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

(i) NT Wright, Mark for Everyone, p42
(ii) ibid

Trust (Psalm 20:7)

I’m in a cafe in York. Outside it’s cold and raining. In here it’s warm, dry and familiar. 

I’m reflecting on a recent conversation with my elderly mother. 

My Mum has an old coat. It’s a lightweight, comfortable sort of coat. When I was a kid people would have called it a windcheater.  Nowadays people would just call it a rather lightweight coat. In the right circumstances it’s a great coat. Sort of warm, dry and familiar. On a spring afternoon, my Mum can depend on it.

One winters day, when the temperature was around zero, I had called round to take her out for a trip. When I arrived, she was ready. There she was wearing her rather lightweight coat. “Mum,” I said, “it’s really cold out today. Why don’t we get your winter coat.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “This is a good coat.”

“It really is cold outside, Mum. You will need a thicker coat.”

“I will not be changing my coat.” She said, “This one is perfectly adequate. I’ll have you know that a few years ago I wore this coat at the North Pole.”

The lady was not for changing her coat. We ventured outside. After a few minutes my Mum was complaining about the cold. The rather lightweight coat might have been cheating the wind but it was no protection against the cold. I didn’t mention her trip to the North Pole.

As I’m sitting here reflecting on that conversation with my mother and her readiness to rely on an old windcheater, I’m reminded that we need to be careful about where we place our trust. We need to make sure that we put our trust in something which is worthy of it. 

Psalm 20:7

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Name of the LORD our God.

My Mum is 93 years old. She suffers from dementia. She has never been to the North Pole.

The Signpost (Matthew 7:24-27)

Matthew 7:24-27

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Close to where I live, there is an old fashioned signpost. You probably know the sort I mean. A sort of black and white ‘finger post’. It tells the traveller the direction for Southwater, Horsham or Barns Green. When it was first set in place, these were quiet country lanes, with occasional visitors using horse drawn vehicles. Back then, we would have been reliant on this kind of signpost to help us to find our way to places. Now, of course, the roads are much busier with fast moving cars and delivery vans. Even if they are unfamiliar with the area, most drivers rely on SatNav to help them get to where they want to go. The signpost seems to belong to a different time. It’s a relic of times passed. It’s largely ignored. But it’s still there. And interestingly, it’s still accurate.

The point is that we have a tendency to overlook ‘old things’ which have, in our minds at least, been overtaken by events, time and technology. Map books. Signposts. They belong to a different era. They seem irrelevant. We take no particular interest in them even if they’re still there.

And that’s fine, except gadgets and technology are not infallible. Occasionally, SatNav lets us down. Sometimes we lose signal. There are moments when we need to make a decision and there is simply no app to help us out. We need to look somewhere else for wisdom and direction to give us the reassurance we need. There are moments when we wish we still had a ‘road atlas’. Sometimes we wish there was a signpost at the next junction to give us a clue.

Scripture is fairly old. Abraham lived about 4000 years ago, and it’s around 2000 years since Jesus started His ministry. It’s easy to think that the things of faith belong to a different time. A different era. We’re modern people with gadgets and technology. Apart from passing curiosity, what can Scripture possibly have to do with us.

Scripture is a bit like that ancient sign post. It was put in place ages ago, when the world was a very different place. The world has changed beyond recognition, yet like the Southwater signpost, the Bible still tells the truth. It still points us in the direction we should be going, and spells out where the alternative path leads.

Just noticing the Bible is there, even just reading the Bible isn’t enough. Our response to what we have read is what matters.

‘Signposts don’t walk in the direction they point. It is we humble mortals who must choose which way to go. The signpost is not responsible for our decision.’

John le Carre, Agent Running in the Field, Penguin, 2019, p.231

Changing Seasons – Unchanging God

During a year when we have been blessed with the birth of a grandson, and saddened at the loss of a relative and lifelong friend, I find myself contemplating retirement. All of the above remind me of the passing seasons of life.

Several years ago, I was living in a very rural area in a mobile home. From my front garden, I was blessed with what was without question, one of the best views in West Sussex. It was an awesome place to live. Directly in front of us were the rolling hills of the South Downs and the iconic landmark of Chanctonbury Ring. Chanctonbury is an ancient hillfort which stands on top of the Downs, a mile or two to the east of the village of Washington. It really was a beautiful view. As the light and seasons changed, so the view changed in awesome and infinite ways. There we go – seasons again.

Over the years we were invited to various neighbours, where we would sit in their back garden for barbecues, coffee or drinks. I discovered that by simply moving a few hundred yards to the east or west of our home, the view of Chanctonbury was slightly different. It was recognisably the same place. The changes were subtle, but real.

My relationship with God is important to me. It always has been. It’s part of who I am. Yet as I reflect on the seasons of life I recognise that the world has been constantly changing around me in so many ways. Inevitably, I as I have reacted to the changing world, I have changed too. As I have changed, my relationship with God has changed in subtle but significant ways.

Chanctonbury looks different when I move to someone else’s garden, but it’s still Chanctonbury. It hasn’t changed.

My relationship with God might look or feel different as I move through the seasons of life, but He is still God. He doesn’t change.

‘I, the LORD, do not change.’ Malachi 3:6

‘Jesus Christ is the same, Yesterday, today and forever’ Hebrews 13:8

Silence: A new manifestation of His presence (Psalm 139)

God, Scripture tells us,  promises that he will always be with us.

‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.’ (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Yet often, God seems far away. Often, God seems silent. Even those of us who have strong faith can feel alone in the silence. Abandoned. Adrift.

I was reminded of Psalm 139, which says ‘Where can I go to escape your presence.’ The Psalm goes on to provide the answer that there is nowhere you can go to escape the presence of His Spirit. It is    everywhere – throughout His creation. This means that whether or not we notice, in spite of the silence, God is closer to us than we can even imagine.

A few years ago, I heard Pete Greig talking about a time when he was facing huge personal challenges. Speaking from a place of profound personal experience he said:

‘There are times when God seems to be silent. But He is not absent. His    silence is a new manifestation of His presence.’ 

(Pete Greig: Speaking at Spring Harvest, Skegness, 2019)

A prayer of St Theresa de Avila
Lord, you are closer to me than my own breath, nearer to me than my hands and feet. Amen