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On your Mark

Secret message or secret sins?

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4:21-23, NIV)

Is there something in your past that is hidden? You pray that it will never be disclosed?

Suppose that what you did is not a criminal act, but instead an ethical or moral failure. You sinned against God, against another person. What you did never became generally known. You’ve gone on with your life. You repented, and you did your best to protect innocent persons who would be harmed if they knew the secret from your past.

Does this teaching from Jesus apply to you — that everything hidden or concealed will be brought into the open?

To answer that question we must look at the context of Jesus’ ministry as recorded thus far in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus has been gradually disclosing His identity. He doesn’t allow the demons to testify about Him — and so far they are the only ones who know His true identity (1:23-26,34). He’s also gradually disclosed the nature of His kingdom.

The parable of the soils (4:1-20) essentially says that Jesus’ reign or rule will not be imposed, but must be received. It will not be an external Kingdom, but internal; not political, but spiritual; not earthly, but eternal.

Jesus’ opposition didn’t get it. The disciples didn’t understand the parable either (4:10) and, thus, Jesus had to explain it clearly to them.

In that context, Jesus talks about the lamp under the bowl or bed. For the moment, His teaching is that lamp. But it’s hidden — it’s known only to a few. However, Jesus knew the day was coming when His teaching would become broadly known. It was meant to be disclosed.

Thus, in this passage Jesus is not talking about secret sins. He talks about His own teaching — “the secret of the kingdom” (4:11) — given first to the disciples, and subsequently to the whole world. If the disciples from the Day of Pentecost forward had not proclaimed Him, then Jesus’ teaching indeed would have remained under a bowl or bed.

Too commonly this passage is applied to secret sin, with a warning to any who commits a private sin that sooner or later what was done in secret will get out. And many times it does. However, the Lord was not particularly impressed with those who attempted to humiliate the woman taken in adultery (John 8). He is not in the business of shaming sinners.

The very concept of “atonement” means “to cover.” Or, as David put it, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God’s forgiveness includes His intentional forgetfulness. He is not interested in broadcasting your failures. Instead, He throws around you His robes of righteousness.

The true meaning of this passage is that we, His disciples in the 21st century, should not hide His words but openly share the life, teaching and ministry of Jesus with everyone we can. If we have a mouth to speak, we will speak; and if they have ears to hear, then they will hear.

A prayer of response
Jesus, Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world. You take away my sins even though I remember my wrongs that You have forgotten. May I openly share with others the words of life You bring so that Your message does not remain hidden.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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