Daring to Ask
These verses come between the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-8) and the explanation of the parable (Mark 4:14-20). It follows Jesus' invitation to His hearers to search for the parable's meaning (Mark 4:9). The disciples were intrigued but needed all the help they could get! They started at the right place - they came to Jesus, away from the crowd, and asked Him what the parables meant. It is always reassuring to know that you are being taken seriously, and even more so when you find that you are entrusted with an answer that is bigger than you thought.
Jesus still treats serious enquirers in the same way. But it needs the 'secret place' of being alone with Him before the 'secret answer' is revealed (Matthew 6:6; Luke 10:38-42). The parables were public appetite-whetters: those who were hungry to know the truth came to ask Jesus. The disciples were on a training course to become Jesus' apostles and there was much for them to learn. Often Jesus exposed them to teaching, miracles and exorcisms which they could not understand to stimulate their hunger to learn. He had chosen them to understand what God was doing so that they could be sent out as ambassadors of God's kingdom (Luke 6:13).
It may seem strange that Jesus did not want the crowd to know the meaning without enquiring more. In quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10 Jesus was preparing the trainee apostles for a very difficult ministry ahead. In Isaiah chapter 6, the prophet was being called to tell a rebellious people to return to the Lord, and he was willing to be sent ['apostle' means 'sent one'] (Isaiah 6:8). Then the Lord told him that nobody would listen to his preaching and Israel would suffer the consequences of ignoring God's Word … however the seed of truth would remain for those who were hungry for truth (Isaiah 6:13). We now know that the 'secret of the kingdom' had been hidden until Jesus came - because He IS the secret treasure of God. Mercifully, Jesus did not come with a new religion but to reveal Himself as the 'secret key' to the home of God, although He was rejected by the religious experts. In Luke 11:52 Jesus said, "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."
What a privilege to be entrusted with that secret! What a responsibility too! In Christ, we have been given the same key to heaven that the disciples had - the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He came to do for everybody. The prophetic task is the same that was given to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8-10), to announce the Kingdom in the full knowledge that many will want to stay on the outside. Discouraging prospect? Don't forget that the disciples were being taught that the seed must be scattered everywhere; they had to learn that the right soil may be found in some of the most unlikely places. So, let's keep speaking of Jesus, feeding truth to the hungry and not being put off by those who don't get it.
© Dr Paul Adams