Beth Moore - The Master Storyteller
Would you turn with me to the gospel of Mark chapter 4, the gospel of Mark chapter 4? And I want to center on verses 24 through 34. As we launch our topic this weekend, I'm very, very excited about what we've come to talk about. But I want to get to verses 1 through 3 at the very beginning of the chapter first, just so we can put it in place and you can hear the repetition of some wording that he is going to use.
So, we're jumping in Mark chapter 4, I want to read verses 1 through 3 and then I'm gonna hop over to verse 24 and I'll tell you when it's coming. Mark 4, verse 1, "Again he," and he is Jesus, "began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them". Let me give you just enough of it to know where it's headed. "Listen, behold, a sower went out to sow".
And so, in the next verses, he's going to tell the parable of the seed and the seed is representative of the Word of God. Keeping that in mind, jump with me to verse 24. "And he," still Jesus, said to them, "'Pay attention to what you hear.'" Do you remember what it said back in verse 3? That he began his teaching with the word "Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow".
Verse 24, "'Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' And he said, 'The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 'And when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.' And he said, 'With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It's like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.' With many such parables he spoke the word to them," listen to that again, "with many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything".
When it comes to the Word of God, stories teach. Stories don't just entertain, they teach. When it comes to the Word of God and the approach that Jesus had in his teaching, stories were not fluff, stories were not just filler. They literally were part of the sermon, not a break in the sermon. It wasn't just for entertainment that Jesus would tell stories over and over again in his teaching, and that was the primary approach he used for his teaching out in the crowds. It is by no accident. It was a way of inviting somebody through a side door that might have been reluctant to go in through the front door.
Does anybody know what I'm talking about? Parables, stories, Jesus inviting us into these short stories called parables so that he can invite the listener into the larger story, which is his own story. I want to say to you, we're studying the master storyteller, Jesus Christ, and we're looking at the fact that he taught so often by using story because he knew there was power in it, that there was something about a story that people would want to hear when they didn't even want to hear the point of the story, but they wanted to hear how it went. Those that think that the Bible was divinely inspired without pictures have somehow managed to miss the parables because the parables are inspiration through illustration. They are pictures, they are pictures. They're the way he brought the listeners in to something that captured, in living color, the things of normal life to which they could relate so that he could teach them something unknown through something known to them.
You know, the Scriptures are God breathed, we know that from 2 Timothy chapter 3 that literally inspired from beginning to end, God breathed. And so, throughout the Word of God, there are numerous genres that he uses in all these different pens of men that he inspired to write his Word, to complete it from Genesis 1:1 to the very end of Revelation 22, all these literary genres. But did you know we'd have like, let me throw out a couple in case somebody new to the Word, we would have laws, commands.
We'd have prophecies, letters in the Word, poetry, proverbs, and so on. But did you know that the one that is used, the genre used most in the Word of God is narrative? In other words, it's telling a story that of all the ways he chose to lay out his Word when he breathed it on the page, he chose that most of all, he would use narrative. He would tell history through stories. He would tell what it happened. He would tell the redemption of Israel throughout the Old Testament, and how he chose out a nation through which he could bless all nations so that then he could bring about the one, the one seed that was promised from the very beginning to bring salvation to the world, all of it through this gorgeous, gorgeous narrative.
Now, narratives and parables are not synonymous, but they're both ways that he tells stories throughout Scripture and they show us, without a doubt, and I hope to prove this to you, that God has a strong affinity for a really, really great story. Now, here's the thing, if you're like me, I was trying to think what I would have running through my head when I realized that this is what we were studying at our conference this weekend, and I got to see that up in front of me. And I thought to myself, I might be, if I were really new to this kind of environment, I might be a little bit relieved.
Okay, I understand something about story. I think this may be interesting after all, or maybe if I were a seasoned student, I might think, you know what? This is gonna be nothing but fluff this weekend. We're just gonna talk about sweet little stories. But let me tell you something, if there is anything they weren't, it was fluff as part of the story. I want you to hear this with me. Look throughout the parables that Jesus told and you find that they can bring comfort, they can bring courage, they can bring conviction, and in Christ's case, they could bring a cross. And until I studied this, I did not realize.
I had read this parable over, and over, and over again but it never occurred to me how significant it was in timing to the decision being made to do whatever it took to see to it that Christ would not only be arrested, tried, and found guilty, but then he would be killed. Let me read to you out of Mark 12. You're right there in 4, turn with me to 12. You're close.
"And he began to speak to them in parables. 'A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, "They will respect my son". But those tenants said to one another, "This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours". And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away".
They perceived that it was against them. And so, he is talking when he gives a parable on a whole lot of different levels there as they were able to hear it because they were different people that had different ways of understanding based on what they knew, based on what they knew, and how they could receive it. But I'm telling you, he gave those scribes and those Pharisees the ability in that moment to know, "This thing was about us". And man, did they have a reaction to it. And what you and I are gonna understand is the importance of perceiving, of not just hearing, but perceiving, of somehow leaning in with open ears enough to understand the Word of God and what he's trying to say to us.
About a month ago, I dropped my iPhone on a walk, and it dropped down in some gravel. And when I picked it up, it just really started with a small little crack in the corner but by the time it'd been about three days, it had run all over that screen and it looked like big inkblots on it until I couldn't use it. Well, I could use it for a while, but I couldn't use the "N" for some reason. You cannot imagine how important the "N" is for your texting because it replaced the "N" with an "M" and it got really, really awkward and just finally pushed toward the point where I was gonna have to have a new phone.
And so, I was writing a really heavy under a writing schedule and my assistant said, "I tell you, you give me your phone. I'm gonna go get you a new one". And so, she got me the brand new iPhone that has all sorts of capabilities my other iPhone did not have. But one of the ones I noticed that phone has face ID, oh, yes, indeed. You can hold it up right to your face. I thought, how simple is that, just right up to the face? And so, I got my instructions for it. It tells you one screen after another this is how you set it up.
And so, here's how you have to do it. So, please picture that there are cars on both sides of me while I'm doing this because you hold your phone up like this right in front of you and you have to do this... and if that's not embarrassing enough, they ask you to do it three sets of times. And it just went so well for about three days until early one morning when I tried to open it up pretty early on in the morning without any makeup on, without my hair brushed, nothing, and it would not open for me. I was so mad at that phone I was going, "It's me, you idiot. It is me. I mean, what do you want? What do you want from me"?
I was so frustrated I thought, "Why don't you recognize me"? I thought, "You too, et tu, Brute? You too demand my mascara from me"? Can I not not go anywhere, not anywhere, not anywhere? I can't even open my phone? Listen, we recognize ourselves in the parables with enough perception. We're hearing these things going, "I think that could be me. I'm somewhere between yes and no, but I think, I think that could be me".
So, his parables were simple enough for the elementary listener, but complex enough for the curious student because the thing that he esteemed in his disciples over and over again... do you remember when he told them, "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you"? Well, they get back alone with him and go, "What did that mean"? And I just wonder if there's anybody in the room who doesn't know that you really do have full freedom to just look up from the Scriptures and go, "What does that mean"? Not one time has he ever answered me out loud, not one time.
Sometimes I don't know anymore four years later than I knew the first time I asked him, but there is a beautiful intimacy in the fact that you do dialogue with God through the study of his Word where you can say because where you can literally be reading and going, "Lord, that is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard". Do we leave God out of his own Word, or do we engage with him? Because you got dialogue going here. He speaks to you through his Word, and you talk back where it's not just a one-way conversation. We go, "You know, I just want God to speak to me. I just want God to speak me". He has spoken. He has spoken. And what he does over and over again is, he will give us deeper and deeper understanding. He'll connect some things, connect some dots that are so meaningful to us.
And sometimes, and I don't know how to explain this. This is just a work of the Spirit. Sometimes I just get peace over a matter. I don't even have an answer. Just for some reason, I have peace over it. I just have peace over it. The power of this words, the power of listening, "What, Lord, does that mean"? The parable not only invites our imagination, it insists upon our imagination. You don't have to choose, "No, I want to look at it intellectually. No, I would just want to look at it with my imagination". No, both of them are required for being good students of the Word of God.
So, the church, the preacher, the teacher who communicates, whether blatantly or subtly, that the Word of God can only be rightly divided academically or intellectually, is every bit as off base as the one who communicates that the Word of God means whatever you imagine it to mean. Both are extremes, both are out of place, because what the Holy Spirit does, I love where the Word of God says to us at the end of 1 Thessalonians in chapter 5, and I believe, verse 23 when he says, "May God himself sanctified you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless to the day of Christ Jesus. He is faithful and he will surely do it". He will surely do it.
Listen carefully to what it's saying, spirit, soul, and body, that every part of us is meant to be informed by the Holy Spirit, that there is no boundary we put on it. In other words that, you know, the Holy Spirit just informs my spirit. That's not true. He informs every single part of us. He informs the intellect. He informs our imagination. He was meant to inform our emotions. He was meant to inform the way we treat our physical bodies. He's meant to invade the whole person. That's what it means to walk in the fullness of the Spirit.
Now, before I studied up for you, I would have had the word "allegory" as part of my definition for parable because it makes sense to me. Some of you would be thinking the same thing well, parable, what would make it different from a narrative, which is telling a story, telling history in story? What would be different there is that a parable would be an allegory. Not exactly. And just if you like this kind of thing and this kind of thing interests you, let me tell you what the difference is. Because an allegory is going to have all fitting parts. In other words, all the segments of it represent something that is significant to the telling of the story. "Pilgrim's Progress," if you have ever read that classic, that is a classic allegory, every part of it means something.
Now, some of the parables are allegories. In other words, there'll be multiple ways, multiple players and parts in it, that do have a significance to it. Others, have you ever noticed that you're trying to take it apart and figure who all of these figures are in it and you're going, I can only get this one thing to fit? That's because in a parable, that's all it takes. A parable, all it takes to own up to being that kind of a genre in teaching is that it is a mini story M-I-N-I, mini story that makes a main point of comparison. So, here's what I really love. I kept thinking about this through my preparation for you. What I love about it is that the door of the parables of Christ, which are many, may lead you from the outside, inside, or it can take you from the inside, outside.
Now, think through this with me because I want to throw out a couple to you. For instance, if we were studying the parable of the lost coin, we'd be going from the outside with Jesus, into the house of the woman who is sweeping out her whole house because she has lost one of her coins and she needs to find it desperately. And when she finds it, she is so happy that she calls all her girlfriends to celebrate with her. That is an indoor parable. We also see in the parable of the persistent widow, we go from the outside, only this time we wouldn't be going into a house, we would be going into a courtroom where the persistent widow stands before the judge and he finally says, "Because you have asked me and asked me and asked me, I just will finally say yes". Outdoor to indoor.
Then we have the parable of the great feast where we are invited from the outside into a great banqueting hall. But here's the thing, we're only invited into the banqueting hall long enough to be invited back out to the streets where Jesus then says, "Go into the streets because so many have refused to come, and find the poor and crippled, and blind, and lame". Outside, outside, outside, outside, most of the parables are happening out of doors where there are fields, and there are seeds, and there are soils, and there are vineyards, and there are fig trees, and there are pearls, and there are sheep, and goats, and farmer, and fishermen, outdoors.
I've found the most wonderful segment over the last couple of months. This is by Wendell Berry. Are any of you familiar with the poet and writer Wendell Berry? This is a segment I want to read you that comes out of the compilation of his essays called "The Art of the Commonplace". Listen to this, "I don't think it is enough appreciated how much of an outdoor book the Bible is. It is a hypaethral book, such as Thoreau talked about, a book open to the sky". Hypaethral, meaning open to the sky essentially means to be roofless, to be not ruthless, but roofless. I'll pick back up with his excerpt.
It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther out of doors the better, or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors, we are confronted everywhere with wonders. We see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and ponder the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine, which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water, with soil and sunlight, is turned into grapes.
He said, we're gonna be all freaked out about water being turned into wine when isn't the stranger thing that water is turned into grapes. What a marvelous thought.