Everyone likes to hear a great story. Jesus Christ was one of the best story tellers the world has ever known. Over the next few months we are looking into the Parables of Jesus because they are both relevant and revealing to us today. Roughly a third of Jesus’ words came in the form of parables. A parable is a short statement or story designed to illustrate or teach some specific truth, spiritual principle or moral lesson; it conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison or analogy. They are the authentic red-letter words of Jesus and are considered by scholars as direct sayings ascribed to the historical Jesus. It has been said that parables are earthly stories with heavenly messages.
It is important to study how a parable is crafted, however, if we seek to study ever word exhaustively we could end up missing the main lesson of Jesus’ story; we must remember he is telling a story to make a point. In other words, it is more important to take to heart the preaching and the message Jesus desired to communicate. His story telling comes across as thoughtful and as a work of art to those who follow his new teaching. To others, his parables come as a slap across the face, causing them to question what he is saying. His parables often have a surprising twist that catches the reader's attention. Jesus was transitioning the people of God from one Covenant to another. He used parables and their hidden messages to draw listeners into new ways of thinking and feeling and acting. Clearly stated, parables were one of the main ways Jesus introduced the New Testament.
Why did Jesus teach in parables?
Story telling was one of the main ways’ truths were passed onto from generation to the next in Jesus’ day. However, Jesus took this story-telling to a new level using parables. The question is this, if parables have a hidden meaning why would Jesus let people wonder about the story and not simply tell them the truth. The answer to this question is found in the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:2-9 and Luke 8:4-8. The Parable of the Sower concerns a sower who scatters seed, which falls on four different types of ground. The hard ground prevents the seed from sprouting at all, and the seed becomes nothing more than food for the birds. The stony ground provides a little soil for the seeds to germinate and begin to grow, but the plants do not take root and are soon withered in the sun. The thorny ground allows the seed to grow, but the competing thorns choke the life out of the beneficial plants. The good ground receives the seed and produces much fruit.
“When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12) Looking at this passage, we might think that Jesus’ explanation seems uncaring or even unkind. Was he saying the secrets of the kingdom were only for his friends? Was he intentionally trying to hide the truth by speaking in parables? We must remember that Jesus often used parables to introduce new truths and in this case was speaking to different attitudes of heart. Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 where the prophet Isaiah had found that the Jewish people were so lost in sin that they disliked hearing God’s Word and deliberately turned away. Jesus experienced the same struggle as people rejected his message, hence the Parable of the Sower. When Jesus made this statement, he did not say it in anger but with exasperated love in his heart. Jesus was confronting their hearts of pride, religious superiority and those caught up in the cares of the world. In other words, if the people chose to stay in their laziness and prejudices, they are choosing to see but remain blind, to hear but remain ignorant. So, Jesus spoke his parables meaning to trigger people’s minds and to illuminate the truth of God.
In Jesus’ parables he used illustrations or stories that the people would more readily understand than those of us who are far removed by time and culture. Jesus supplied the interpretation for some of his parables, but in other cases, it is left to us to determine the meaning and lesson. Some parables have a clear meaning and at other times they are difficult to interpret.
So, what is the main point of the Parable of the Sower? The condition of your heart determines how you receive God’s Word. Salvation does involve a joyful hearing of the gospel, but also calls the believer to grow onto maturity producing a good crop.
Over the next few months we are going to have the opportunity to look through the Gospels at Jesus’ Parables. We will observe and interpret and apply them to our life and circumstances.