Mark 4:21

THE LIGHT WHICH MUST BE SEEN

Mk. 4:21

This was one of Jesus’ sayings: “Surely a lamp is not brought in to be put under a peck measure or under the bed? It is not brought in to be set upon a lamp stand?”

Mk. 4:21-25 are interesting because they show the problems that confronted the writers of the gospels. These verses give us four different sayings of Jesus. In Mk. 4:21 there is the saying about the lamp. In Mk. 4:22 there is the saying about the revealing of secret things. In Mk. 4:24 there is the saying which lays it down that we shall receive back with the same measure as we have given. In Mk. 4:25 there is the saying that to him who has still more will be given. In Mark these verses come one after another in immediate succession. But Mk. 4:21 is repeated in Matt.5:15; Mk. 4:22 is repeated in Matt.10:26; Mk. 4:24 is repeated in Matt.7:2; and Mk. 4:25 is repeated in Matt.13:12 and also in Matt.25:29. The four consecutive verses in Mark are scattered all over Matthew. One practical thing emerges for our study. We must not try to find any connection between them. Clearly they are quite disconnected and we must take them one by one.

How did it come about that these sayings of Jesus are given by Mark one after another and scattered by Matthew all over his gospel? The reason is just this. Jesus had a unique command of language. He could say the most vivid and pithy things. He could say things that stuck in the memory and refused to be forgotten. Further, he must have said many of these things far more than once. He was moving from place to place and from audience to audience; and he must have repeated much of his teaching wherever he went. The consequence was that men remembered the things that Jesus said–they were said with such vividness that they could not be forgotten–but they forgot the occasion on which they were said. The result was a great many of what one might call “orphan” sayings of Jesus. A saying was embedded in men’s minds and remembered for ever, but the context and the occasion were forgotten. So then we have to take these vivid sayings individually and examine them.

The first was that men do not light a lamp and put it under a peck measure, which would be like putting a bowl on the top of it, nor do they put it under a bed. A lamp is meant to be seen and to make men able to see; and it is put in a place where it will be visible to all. From this saying we may learn two things.

(i) Truth is meant to be seen; it is not meant to be concealed. There may be times when it is dangerous to tell the truth; there may be times when to tell the truth is the quickest way to persecution and to trouble. But the true man and the true Christian will stand by the truth in face of all.

When Luther decided to take up his stand against the Roman Catholic Church he decided first of all to attack indulgences. Indulgences were to all intents and purposes remissions of sins while a man could buy from a priest at a price. He drew up ninety-five theses against these indulgences. And what did he do with his ninety-five theses? There was a church in Wittenberg called the Church of All Saints. It was closely connected with the University; on its door University notices were posted, and the subject of academic debates displayed. There was no more public notice-board in the town. To that door Luther affixed his theses. When did he do it? The day when the largest congregation came to the church was All Saints’ Day, the first of November. It happened to be the anniversary of the founding of that church and many services were held and crowds came. It was on All Saints’ Day that Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door. If he had been a prudent man he would not have drawn up his ninety-five theses at all. If he had been a man with an eye on safety he would never have nailed them to the church door. And, if he must nail them to the door, with any thought of personal safety he would never have chosen All Saints’ Day to make his declaration. But Luther felt that he had discovered the truth; and his one thought was to display the truth and to align his life with it.

In every walk of life there are times when we know quite well what the truth demands, what is the right thing to do, what a Christian man ought to do. In every walk of life there are times when we fail to do it, because it would be to court unpopularity and perhaps worse. We ought to remember that the lamp of truth is something to be held aloft and not concealed in the interests of a cowardly safety.

(ii) Our Christianity is meant to be seen. In the early church sometimes to show one’s Christianity meant death. The Roman Empire was as-vast-as the world. In order to get some sort of binding unity into that vast empire Emperor worship was started. The Emperor was the embodiment of the state and he was worshipped as a god. On certain stated days it was demanded that everyone should come and sacrifice to the godhead of the Emperor. It was really a test of political loyalty. After a man had done so he got a certificate to say he had done so; and, having got that certificate, he could go away and worship any god he liked.

We still have many of these certificates. They run like this:

To those who have been put in charge of the sacrifices from Inareus Akeus from the village of Theoxenis, together with his children Alas and Hera, who stay in the village of Theadelpheia. We sacrifice regularly to the gods and now in your presence, as the regulations demand, we have sacrificed and poured our libation and have tasted the offerings, and we ask you to give us the required certificate. May you fare well.

Then there follows the attestation.

We, Serenas and Hermas, have witnessed your sacrificing.

All a Christian had to do was to go through that formal act, receive the certificate, and he was safe. And the fact of history is that thousands of Christians died rather than do so. They could have concealed the fact that they were Christians with the greatest of ease; they could have gone on being Christians, as it were, privately, with no trouble at all. But to them their Christianity was something which had to be attested and witnessed to in presence of all men. They were proud that all should know where they stood. To such we owe our Christian faith to-day.

It is often easier to keep quiet the fact that we belong to Christ and his Church; but our Christianity should always be like the lamp that can be seen of all men.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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