Mysterious Words and Deep Roots

Commissioned to bring God’s Word

In the great commission Jesus called us as Christians to continue what He started. He called us to go into the world and make disciples. Notice Jesus didn’t call us to make adherents to a code nor individuals that ascent to Christ’s existence or even His purpose for that matter. Being a disciple is a much deeper, drop everything, don’t look back, take up the cross and yield to Me calling. Yet so many Christians struggle to find a deeper, life altering faith. Further, when we go into the world and explain the gospel to unbelievers we either struggle to make head-way or the person makes a decision, maybe gets fired up for a little while and then goes back to life as usual. Several churches have analyzed the effectiveness of their outreach and ministries only to find this lack of depth pervasive and this has befuddled many church leaders.

The reason for this struggle within the church and within many Christian lives is deep, debatable and manifold. So it is beyond the scope of this article to address the topic thoroughly and to do it justice. But rather than address this problem of depth I believe that there is insight to be found in how Christ approached people. After all, Christ was the first to call a people to Himself; so I think we can learn something from Him. Jesus dealt with the people He encountered in various ways; with some He was blunt, with some he was empathetic, with others condescending, with others condemning and still others He commended. There was at one level quite an individualized interaction. The concept of dealing with each person at an individual level; understanding where they are coming from, is very important. No one should be treated as a number in a line waiting to get a ticket punched. We certainly must get beyond seeing people as a hand raised in an auditorium to be counted. So we must first start by getting to know backgrounds and how a person perceives themself and the world around them. Many times Jesus started by asking questions and often He answered questions with questions. Listening before speaking is a good place to start.

Looking to Christ’s Example

Eventually in our interactions; conversations need to be directed and answers given. Before we start drawing pictures, explaining positions, defining terms and putting forth arguments it might be instructive to consider an approach Jesus took in Mark chapter four. This chapter is bursting with content and has quite a few perplexing statements; not the least of which is found in verses eleven and twelve.

Mark 4:11-12
11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

I spent some time thinking about this passage reading the surrounding context and took the time to graphically break it down using a method called arcing on The method of arcing breaks a passage down into its individual statements and then asks how they are related to one another. Once the relationship between the statements is understood the next step is to ask “Why”; why is this statement made relative to this statement and the surrounding context of the passage. The goal is as 2 Timothy 2:15 exhorts us; to rightly handle the word of truth. I would commend arcing to anyone who desires to experience the depth of truth in God’s word and to encounter God there.

Mark 4:11-12

Mark 4:11-12

We find in Mark chapter four that Jesus is speaking in parables purposefully not wanting the hearers to understand what is being said. To his disciples He gives the secrets of the Kingdom but alternatively to everyone else He speaks in parables. He wants them to see and hear (12a & 12c), certainly. But He is purposely avoiding perception and comprehension (12c & 12d). The ground or reason (G 12e-f) for this is that He doesn’t want the hearers to act by turning or repenting and thereby experience forgiveness. This is a very perplexing statement and it begs the question, why doesn’t Jesus want his hearers to turn and be forgiven?

The surrounding context of the parable of the sower gives us a clue. In each case where the seed failed to produce a harvest the roots did not go deep. Jesus is not looking for a cursory response that will result in forgiveness for a moment; He is looking to plant a seed which will result in deep roots; assurance of salvation. Many times in His ministry we find Jesus talking in parables which seem somewhat ambiguous. Jesus also makes statements which don’t seem to make sense at first glance. It doesn’t seem that understanding is an issue of cultural context either. Even those within Christ’s own cultural context had troubling figuring out what He was saying. When the Pharisee came to Jesus, Jesus told him, you must be born again. “How can one be reborn?”, asked the Pharisee. While our lostness and inherent sin nature predisposes us to hardness and to think contrary to God’s word this doesn’t seem to be the fundamental reason either (though it plays a part). The conjunction “so that” indicates it is Jesus action and purpose which causes the results not necessarily our predisposition. So, what purpose does a little ambiguity serve?

Everyone Loves a Good Mystery

For one, mystery imbues intrigue. We are drawn to think about perplexing statements. We turn them over in our mind and try to compare them to what we know. We spend more time with them. It is not that Jesus wants to keep the meaning from people as He says in Mark 4:22 “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.” Instead of “broadcasting” everything plainly where the seed lands on top, exposed, Jesus plants some seeds judiciously so they are protected. So that it is protected from the false pride of knowing that puffs us up. So that it is protected from superficial comprehension, without appropriate meditation or evaluation of its significance.

Mark 4:26-27
26 And he said,”The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.

So that the seed grows from within and one day sprouts having established roots! These perplexing statements bypass our common understanding and act as seeds. When the unbeliever or even the Christian deals with perplexing statements from scripture and spends time thinking about them these become seeds that go deeper, within ourselves, in our spirit and meet with the Holy Spirit and they are given life by the Spirit and they grow.

Common Concepts and Mysterious Metaphors

Certainly there is value in speaking plainly and using language commonly understood in the current cultural context. Many churches have worked to address the use of Christian jargon to make our faith more understandable to those that do not believe. But, we must be careful not to fall prey to modern non-biblical presuppositions. One presupposition having a foothold in the church is well articulated by R. C. Sproul Jr.

For modernism the greatest sacrament, the greatest tool, the greatest engine of progress is education. … If we can teach our children the right things then we will have paradise here on earth. …. Now as Christians we have different views of what is true from modernists but … we become modernists by believing that stringing together sound arguments we will change the world … When our book, our story, tells us something completely different. … Romans one tells us that we sin and construct world views to justify our sin we do not construct a world view and fall into sin. It’s that we think contrary to Romans one that people are lost because they haven’t been given enough information… – R. C. Sproul Jr., Contending for the Truth Conference

Before we were saved we did not believe for lack of comprehension or for lack of information. After we believe we do not struggle for lack of teaching or quality of church programs. As R. C. Sproul Jr said, “I’ve looked a million times at the fruit of the Spirit and smart is not one of them.” This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about the clearness of our message. It must be recognized that there are terms which the church has adopted to refer more succinctly to doctrinal concepts such as trinity, canon, creed, backsliding, outreach, crusade, incarnation, substitutionary atonement to name a few. In most cases it is good to exchange such terms for more understandable explanations. But, other terms have a common meaning which the bible uses to compare or refer to spiritual or eternal realities. We must recognize that there is value in plain speech and detailed explanation.

But is there not value in metaphoric use of words apart from their common use or frame of reference as well? These metaphors were translated based upon their common meaning to the appropriate word in the English language that most closely captures all aspects of that word’s meaning. If we simply define them down to a level relative to our experience the simplicity of the definition often times cannot capture or convey the significant intent or implications that only the original term with all its connotations is able to provide.

The value in such language may be understood if we consider our being as comprised of both the external being and the inner being as described in 1 Thess 5:23 and other passages. We see a relationship between these aspects of who we are physically and our spiritual intersection with realities beyond the physical world and its tangible experiences. The diagram below illustrates this intersection. When we are presented with a common concept representing an idea from scripture this will easily and quickly be assimilated. Based upon our experience stereotypical categories and relationships have been defined in our mind that will immediately be associated with the common concepts constructing a definition. It is a good thing to gain knowledge. But we need to go deeper and engage the soul as the seat of reason and the spirit which appraises significance.

Common Concept vs Mysterious Metaphor

The use of such mysterious metaphors as born again, redeemed, reconciliation, washed in the blood, eating the body and blood of Christ, Savior, sin, bypass our superficial stereotypes and engage the soul and spirit. These concepts were no less complex or perplexing in Jesus day then they are today. It is not just that there is a complexity in them but there are connotations and implications that are hard to swallow. This can cause resistance, “it cannot mean that”. But the soul and spirit must chew on these, fallow ground must be broken up. Then roots will be established and the truth will grow. Sometimes we need to give people something to think about rather then spoon fed answers and overly simplified explanations. The next time someone asks what is meant by redemption ask them if they have ever redeemed a gift certificate and then ask them to meditate on what that might mean relative to what they owe God instead of simply defining the term. Call them to be born again and ask them what it might mean for them to be birthed all over again. Give them plain words, yes, but also give them plain scripture trusting in the Spirits power to cultivate apart from faith in oneself and ones own cleverness. We will sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed will grow laying aside faith in what we can see and trusting in what we cannot perceive.


About Last Fiddle
I have always had many interests; technology, science, philosophy, theology, politics, history, etc... Currently, life for the past twelve years has placed me in the area of technology fulfilling roles in System Administration and Architecture. But I have always been involved in the local church and enjoy researching and discussing issues of theology, philosophy, history and politics...

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