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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Word reveals what lives in your heart
Text:Mark 4:21-25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 6 (Augment)
Psalm 19:3
Psalm 33:1,4,6
Hymn 16 (Augment)
Psalm 107:1,2 (after offertory)
Psalm 147:1,2,6

Reading: Hebrews 4
Text:  Mark 4:21-25
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,


Ten years before it happened, things would have been completely hopeless.  But when the American president was shot, there was a new medical technology that could potentially save his life.  The year was 1901 and the president was William McKinley.  He had been shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  He had been shot twice at close range.  The doctors were able to remove one bullet, but they just couldn’t find the second.  And time was running out.  McKinley was conscious and he requested that a new piece of medical technology be used to find it.  Thomas Edison had recently invented an x-ray machine that could be used for medical purposes.  However, despite the hope it offered, President McKinley’s doctors were reluctant to use it for fear of unknown side effects.  He went into septic shock and died from his wounds on September 14, 1901.  The x-ray machine might have saved his life, but it was never used.  However, in the years following, the technology was proven to be safe and it has saved countless lives.  Finally, we had something that could expose what was hidden within the human body without surgery.


As we turn to Mark, we find that there is something similar in the spiritual realm.  Just as there are X-rays to expose what is hidden within our bodies, so God has given something that exposes what is hidden within our souls.  The Word of God is like an x-ray for our hearts.  It exposes what really lives within us.  I preach to you God’s Word with the theme:


The Word reveals what lives in your heart.


We’ll consider:


  1. The reality of this revelation
  2. The result of this revelation


The parable of the Sower precedes this passage and it’s all about hearing.  The seed sown was the Word and the different soil types are different kinds of people who hear the Word.  The message of the Parable is to be the good soil that hears the Word, accepts it and produces a crop.  That parable teaches that the Word should be heard and accepted immediately, deeply, and exclusively.


It’s that context that we need to keep in mind as we look at verses 21-25.  Though at first glance it may not seem to be the case, the Lord Jesus is speaking about the same thing in this passage.  Notice that he mentions hearing again in verses 23 and 24.  That’s a strong hint that this text is about hearing, just like the one before it.  Hearing what?  Of course, it’s going to be about hearing the Word, the Word preached by Jesus, and then later his apostles, and then the church down to the present day. 


That’s probably the most obvious connection between our passage and the first 20 verses of chapter 4.  But there is another connection.  Let’s draw this out by first looking carefully at verses 21 and 22.  Christ is still speaking to his inner circle of disciples, the twelve and some others, and he speaks about a lamp.  “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?  Instead, don’t you put it on a stand?”  I think we all know what a lamp is, it’s simply an ancient version of a light.  However, there was one major difference in that lamps were typically only used when it was dark.  We might have our lights on during the day, just to make things brighter.  But in Jesus’ day, oil was expensive and you wouldn’t waste it by lighting your lamp during the day.  Lamps were for at night.


Moreover, a lamp belongs in a certain place in the house.  It makes no sense to put it somewhere it’s light can’t shine, like under a bowl or under a bed.  Instead, you put it where it can shed light everywhere in the house.  That’s its natural place.


And when the lamp is lit and burning, it gives light to the dark house.  It exposes whatever is hidden and concealed in the darkness.  You light the lamp and then you see the chair you might otherwise have tripped over.  You light the lamp and then you see the toys the kids left on the floor.  The lamp exposes what is in the dark house. 


That’s where there is another connection to the Parable of the Sower.  As the sower went about his work, he didn’t know that there was only one inch of soil in certain places.  He didn’t know that the rock was just underneath the surface.  As the farmer sowed, he didn’t see the roots of the thorns waiting to choke out some of the seed.  All of those things about the soil were hidden.  They only became revealed later after the seed was sown and it started growing.  The seed revealed the different soil types.  According to Christ, the seed stood for the Word. 


Now it’s true that there are other places in the gospels where the Lord Jesus uses this image of the lamp or the light and then he uses it to speak about the believer.  “Let your light so shine before men,” and so on.  But here the context demands that we see the lamp as the Word of God that reveals something, that opens something up which has been previously hidden.  And this is confirmed when the Lord Jesus says in verse 23, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  He’s repeating what he said in verse 9 after he told the Parable of the Sower.  So, this has to do again with the hearing of the Word. 


The message of this passage builds on that of the Parable of the Sower.  The Parable of the Sower told us to be the good soil.  This passage tells us that the Word, like a lamp, exposes what lives in our hearts and recognizing that is supposed to bring about a certain response – we’ll get to what that response is in a moment. 


For now consider that this revealing light of the Word was set on a lampstand in Christ’s day and it still is.  The Word must be publicly proclaimed.  It’s not designed to be hidden but to shine!  That’s how it will do its work.    


Furthermore, this lamp is not weak.  It’s not going to burn out or fade away.  The light of the Word is intense, we’re talking about thousands of candlepower.  And this house where the light shines intensely, it’s a special house, it’s the house of God’s covenant.  Remember:  Christ was speaking to God’s covenant people at this moment.  The light powerfully penetrates into the darkness and exposes the reality of who each person is.  Hebrews 4:12-13 uses a different image, but the message is exactly the same:  “For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  You see, as a child of the covenant, it’s impossible to hide from the lamp of God’s Word.  That’s reality.


That reality existed in the days of our Lord Jesus.  He brought his preaching to the covenant people of his day.  That preaching exposed people for who they really were.  There were some like the disciples who received the Word in faith.  But there were others, many others in fact, who were more like the poor types of soil.


The reality of what God’s Word does still exists today.  Today we still hear the preaching of the Word.  It continues to function as a lamp or an x-ray.  Loved ones, most of us were born into God’s covenant.  Others among us were brought in at later stages.  Whatever the case may be, you cannot hide from this intense light shining into your heart.  The light is still burning and it still discriminates, it still distinguishes the good soil from the bad.  It shows what really hides in our hearts.   


And so let me ask you:  what is the Word exposing in your heart?  How do you react when you hear the Word preached?  This text calls us to self-examination.  Every time we hear the law of God and what it requires of us, when it says “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” do we feel pricked and broken?  Are we convicted of our sin and do we flee to the cross of Christ for refuge?  Every time we hear the gospel of free grace, do our hearts leap for joy at the salvation revealed?  Are we glad to hear the good news that Jesus suffered in our place?  Are we rejoicing that he lived a perfect life for us?  Are we filled with love, praise and gratitude?  Loved ones, what is God seeing when you hear the Word?  Or do we get tired of the Word, thinking we’ve heard it all before?  Do we treat the Word with contempt, looking down our noses at it?  What is the Word revealing about what lives in your heart?  Indeed, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 


We’ve come to verses 24 and 25.  The Lord says, “Consider carefully what you hear.”  In the parallel passage in Luke, we hear him saying, “Consider carefully how you hear.”  In Mark it almost sounds as if Christ is focused on the variety of things you could hear, and saying that it’s important for believers to pick the right things to hear.  That’s possible, but given the parallel and given the context, I don’t think it’s likely.  We could paraphrase what Christ is saying here by putting it this way, “Consider carefully what it is you are hearing at this moment.”  Consider carefully that what you are hearing is indeed the Word of God.


I suspect that none of us have a problem with Christ’s preaching being the Word of God, being on exactly the same level as the Word of God written in the Old or New Testament.  But what about preaching today?  Is the preaching of the Word of God the Word of God?  Well, consider what Paul said to the church at Ephesus.  So far as we know, the Lord Jesus had never been to Ephesus.  Ephesus is in Asia Minor and the Lord Jesus spent his ministry years in Palestine.  But in Ephesians 2:17 we read that Christ “came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”  But Jesus Christ never visited Ephesus!  How can it be that he preached there?  It was through the preaching of Paul.  Paul’s preaching was Christ’s preaching.  Paul’s words were the Word of God to the Ephesian believers.  And while Paul’s words in the letter to the Ephesians were inspired by the Holy Spirit, we have no indication that every word which Paul spoke was of that same character, as if every utterance of an apostle was infallible and inspired.  But yet Paul’s preaching was Christ’s preaching.  We find more such passages in the New Testament to tell us that when the Bible is preached faithfully by one of God’s servants it is the Word of God.  If you want one more example, consider Hebrews 13:7 which speaks about those who had spoken the Word of God to the early Christians.  So, consider carefully that what you are hearing when you listen to faithful preaching is indeed the Word of God and not the mere words or opinions of a man.   


The Lord Jesus goes on to say that “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.”  Here again Christ uses these same words elsewhere in a different context.  Here they don’t have anything to do with judging others.  Rather, here it has to do with how we regard the Word of God.  If we hear the Word and judge it to be the Word of God that has authority and power in our lives, there will be blessings for us in great abundance.  However, if we hear the Word and judge it to be the opinions of a man that we can take or leave, we will not receive blessings, but rather the opposite and in great abundance.  Another way of saying this is that you will get out of it what you put it into it.  If you put faith in it, it will bless you.  If you regard it with disbelief or contempt, nothing good will come from that.


Christ builds on this with what he says in verse 25, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  Let’s take this piece by piece.  First, “whoever has will be given more.”  That means that when a covenant member hears the preaching of the Word and by God’s grace embraces it and accepts it, then he will be richly blessed.  There’s good news:  tremendously rich blessings are in store for the covenant people who respond in faith to the preaching of Christ.  Perhaps when he said this our Saviour was thinking about the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church.  How could any believer not regard that as being given more?  Today we too have the Holy Spirit of Christ living in us and what a blessing that is!  Christ guides us with his Word and Spirit and blesses us richly in this way.  But there are also many other blessings. 


When we speak about these blessings, it’s not about the superficial, external things.  It’s about the things that really matter.   Things that matter for eternity.  When you have faith in Christ and receive the Word like good soil, you have pardon for your sins.  You have been forgiven much!  Savour that thought for a moment.  Find delight in the fact that all your sins, not just a part, but the whole has been erased with the blood of Jesus.  Your sins were nailed to the cross.  As if that weren’t enough, you have the blessing of being declared positively right with God.  All of Christ’s perfect righteousness is yours!  You have peace and reconciliation.  You’re adopted into God’s family.  You have a Father who loves you and has a healthy, good relationship with you.  Wonderful, isn’t it?  You have the guarantee that the Father who created you also knew your name and chose you, you!,  before the foundation of the world.  You have holiness, joy, assurance, confidence that you can approach your Father with all your needs.  And you have the blessing of knowing that he will respond in the way that’s best for you.  You have the blessing of knowing that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.  When you have trials on this earth, you can know that even these will be turned for your good somehow, some way.  You have the promise of a glorified body with no aches and pains, no more grief, no more sorrow.  You can look forward to life eternal in the new heavens and new earth.  All these things will be added unto you when the preaching of the Word reveals faith in your heart.  Loved ones, to be blessed like this, repent and believe the gospel as often as you hear it.  Hear the Word and accept it with joy immediately, deeply and exclusively.


Yes, wonderful blessings are there.  There’s plenty of good news.  But our Saviour also speaks about bad news, about a curse for whoever does not have:  “…whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is a serious warning that we all need to hear.  It means that when a covenant member hears the preaching of the Word and by his own fault rejects it, he is in a world of trouble.  If he does not have faith, any blessings that God has graciously given him in his life will in due time be completely removed.  A covenant member who rejects the promises and rejects the Lord may have earthly riches in this life.  God will take them all away when he dies and he will have nothing.  An apostate covenant member may have good health in this life, he may live to be 80 or 90.  He will die and when he does, God will take away any notion of good health in the hereafter.  He will suffer eternally.  A person born in the covenant who rejects Christ for salvation may have a fairly happy family life or a successful business.  God will take it all away in due time and he will be left with nothing but God-forsakenness and brokenness.     


Look at the example of the Jews of Christ’s day.  They were covenant people who had been given wonderful promises.  But without Christ and without faith in him, those promises were nothing.  In fact, the lack of faith led to negative consequences, to a hardening of their hearts and to curses.  They could not reject Christ and his preaching with immunity.  Judgment came upon Israel for her disbelief.  In 70 A.D., God’s wrath was poured out when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and the Jews were dispersed all over the Roman empire.  That happened because the lamp of Christ’s preaching, the x-ray exposed their hearts for what they really were.


And this means that the church today could be the most dangerous place on earth for you to be.  If we think that we’re safe here or that we’re on neutral ground if we go on rejecting the preaching of the Word, not living out of faith in Christ, if we treat the proclamation of God’s Word with contempt, and we think that’s okay, then we’re dead wrong.  If that’s the way we think, the church is not a sanctuary or a refuge for us, rather it’s the place where the sword of God’s judgment hangs precariously over our heads.  That sounds negative and it is, but that is exactly the message that the Lord Jesus was giving here in Mark 4.  Loved ones, listen to his message.  See how rich we are with God’s promises.  Do you want a good summary of what he’s promised you in the Bible?  Look at the Form for Baptism.  The Triune God richly promises us so much in his Word.  Pay attention to this warning against covenant breaking and ensure that the Word exposes faith in your heart.  Fix your eyes on Christ your Saviour and be saved from the wrath which is to come. 


The lamp of the Word of God continues to shine and it results in either judgment or salvation.  Therefore, beloved, consider carefully how you listen.  Let me urge you, don’t be foolish and unbelieving.  Don’t be a hypocrite.  If you choose that route, there will be nothing but curses and eternal misery for you.  Instead, let’s be that soil that God’s light reveals to be, by his own grace, deep and rich.  Let’s be careful to receive God’s Word with faith as it’s preached each Sunday.  Looking to Christ, we will receive the strength to do that.  He will more and more fill us with his Spirit so that we delight in the Word, that we find it sweet for our souls.


Looking to Christ and his Word in faith, we can be confident that even greater blessings are waiting for us.  Imagine:  God dwelling with us and we with God, in perfect harmony and unity.  There will be no sin to hinder our enjoyment of this communion.  The light will still be there, but it will not expose sin.  In fact, when that day comes no one will even think of associating light with sin in any way.  In the age to come, light exists for one purpose alone:  amplifying the glory of God.  Rev. 21:23 tells us what to look forward to, “The city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” 


Let us pray:


Heavenly Father,


Your Word is not only a lamp for our feet, it is also a light shining into our souls.  We pray Lord God that your Word would find faith in each of our hearts.  We pray that the shining of your Word would be salvation for each one of us your people.  Father, we ask that the Word would not expose unbelief and lead to judgment.  We thank you for your covenant promises signed and sealed to each one of us in our baptism.  As we hear those promises proclaimed each Sunday, help us to accept them and believe them freshly and with joy each time and again.  Father, guard us young and old in your truth and in your ways.  Help us always to fix our eyes on Christ our Saviour.  We pray in his name, AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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