Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:10-13; Mark 4:10-12, 33; Luke 8:10
The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied, "Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. Matthew 13:10-13
Jesus conceals truth for us, not 'from' us!
There are two main conceptions in what and why Jesus uses parables in edifying and instructing us. One, He uses simple everyday illustrations, allegories, stories, and word pictures that He pointed to, showcasing an illustration that people could understand and relate to. Second, in the illustration dwells a layered meaning-like an onion, if you will--that has a depth to it. His main reason? People, for the most part, are 'concrete' thinkers. We tend to look to the simplest, easiest meaning to mentally digest solution and rarely seek a deeper meaning or application. However, to grow in faith, we need to grow beyond ourselves, our perception, and our assumptions in order to grasp the true Truths Christ has for us. Thus, for us to grow in faith and character, we must ponder what and how we can get there--by seeking the deeper meaning and application. We must begin seeking, what is Jesus saying here, what is He saying to me? These truths can be had when one is ready. A parable's more profound meaning can be hidden from those who would not comprehend, who were not ready to make that truth real and relevant in one's life. The truth can be hidden from those who refuse to grow beyond what their fears and pride will allow. Yet, Jesus gives us the ability to peel the layers off as we realize and internalize them. Once we have learned one level, we have the maturity to move to the next. This is not Gnosticism; rather, this is maturity in the evolution of our faith development.
Christianity is a journey of our faith development as we encounter more of Christ through our learning and discoveries from His Word. We can also discover from our discipleship in Him. We grow in our knowledge and faith but we are not always ready for the deeper truths until we understand the basics and foundations. There are many truths and precepts in God's Word to be discovered and applied into our lives and churches. I have been deeply studying God's Word for over 30 years, and I find something new every day. This does not mean that the Word is new, nor does it mean that something has "just appeared" or that I change the meaning to fit my current view. Instead, my new discoveries or rediscoveries come from deeper thinking upon the precept, and this comes only as I grow in faith and understanding the Word in a more profound manner. Why is this? Sometimes, we are not ready for the Truths, and, as we grow, we discover more. We are able to discover and rediscover and better understand; we are better able to apply what He has for us and our church. So, Jesus teaches us in a way that illustrates a point that will showcase a more profound point when we are ready for it.
What is a Parable?
The word 'parable' comes from the Greek word parabole; it means "to throw alongside. (The word 'ball' comes from this.) Parables use everyday objects to teach deeper philosophical truths which most people could never grasp otherwise. Jesus uses them to teach more profound Divine eternal matters by which non-Christians cannot comprehend. A parable does not necessarily hide the lesson; rather, it teaches in such a way that it can be grasped better by those who are opened to the understanding required for learning and application. It is the intangible wrapped in the tangible. It is beyond logic, metaphor, allegory, or abstract reasoning; it is stimulating the person's interest to open his/her eyes and ears and engaging his mind to seek truth, rather than himself, as a means of grasping the lesson God has for him (Matt. 13:52; 2 Tim. 3:7 ).
There are two main types of parables in the New Testament--Teaching Parables and Kingdom Parables. Kingdom Parables tell us about the value, veracity, and necessity of the Gospel. Think of the parable of the Sower. Like, where the seed is the Gospel, and it is about how people respond to Christ's gift and call. Usually Jesus tells us with the proclamation, the Kingdom of God is at hand or the Kingdom of heaven/God is like; He then gives a call to repent or an illustration of what and why that is. Teaching parables challenged the Disciples and believers to discipleship and commitment by instruction as found in the Parables of the Rich Fool and the Unjust Steward in Luke and abut the coming Judgment like the Barren Fig Tree (Mark1:14-15; Luke.12:16-20;13:6-9; 16:1-8).
In these parables, Jesus explains the value of His Kingdom and the foolishness of chasing after the things of the world. His Kingdom is what life is all about; yet, we tend to wrongly preoccupy ourselves with life in a dysfunctional way. Parables help us come to the point where these teachings from our Lord will make a profound difference. We have to ask the questions, and present a real, genuine answer to our Lord and to others around us: Is our faith in Christ authentic; is it making a difference? Or, are we the faker, the pretender, the person who causes strife and dysfunction in His Church instead of glorifying Him? The answer to the question of whether our faith is real or pretend requires us to be discerning, to see if our heart is receiving His Word, and if we are only looking to ourselves. Is life all about "me," or is it all about Him? If it is all about "me," then there is a good chance your faith is a fake, or, at the least, needs a lot of work. If your motivation is all about Him, then there is a good chance you are a real, authentic disciple of our Lord, and are applying His Truths into your life (Matt. 7:21-29).
Parables about the Kingdom of Heaven are also how God works both in the Universe and in our hearts. These parables help us to see, to internalize and to apply truth--the Truth of God's most precious Word. We, as followers of Christ, do not need to search for Truth, since we have it already. As such, we are required to learn it, preserve it, study it, apply it, and teach it to others, as the Scribes were commissioned to do under Ezra. The Scribes failed; they lost their call and love. They focused on the past and negated the present. They elevated the Law so much that it was out of the touch and reach of the people. They became prideful hypocrites and manipulators-the quintessential character that God hates the most. They were blinded by power and greed, and they did not recognize what they studied. They learned it, but did not live it; they horded it and did not invest it in others. It was academic, rhetorical, and perverted. What we can learn from them is to follow their commission and not their practice. We are to realize our privilege in having the Truth to study, learn, grow in, and proclaim, because it has been revealed to us. We have the Pearl of Great Price; let us learn it and live it! Let us display it with honor and glory regardless of the sacrifice, because our Treasure is far more valuable than anything we could ever possibly give up (John 14:6; 16:13; 17:17)!
Speaking in parables was not a new teaching tool for Jesus to use; in fact, it was a common literary and speaking device for Greek Philosophers, as well as Rabbis, in Jesus' time to communicate the point. Sometimes, teachers used the term mysteries, as in the Matthew 13 passage, or riddles to reference for something being clear by hindsight what was unclear with foresight. Thus, when the truth was taught, when Jesus was foretelling His death, the point was clearly given, but few chose to understand it; the truth became very clear after the event occurred. Parables also contain comparisons and narratives with central points that are enlightening to those who avail themselves to it and its truth. It is concealed from those who do not believe, who refuse to see or hear. This is so with the Second Coming of Christ; Matthew 24 and 2 Peter make the concept clear and when it comes about, it will be fully realized. We are the ones that cloud it up with our non-sequitur theories that come from clever minds devoid of Scriptural Truth.
Jesus, as well as other gifted teachers in Scripture, used parables as instruments of judgment, because people refuse to listen to God! It also gives credence in an apologetic fashion as strong evidence that these were Jesus' authentic teachings-not things made up centuries later--as only first century Jewish Palestine used such literary devices. Such devices were not used in centuries hence!
Greek philosophers and stern Rabbis used parables to weed out the pretenders and those who were weak-minded. Parables caused someone to think beyond the simple solution; instructors wanted only students who were worth teaching. It was also a tool for the teacher to challenge his disciples to grow deeper and allow for questions; students were encouraged to ask until they understood the lesson. If someone did not hear the parable, it would just be an allegory or riddle they did not understand. In this, they might ponder or forget, risking a forfeit to the challenge and growth. Instructors had to ask these questions--are they (the students) willing and able to comprehend it, and when they are ready? Even though this may not be the device we use to teach now two thousand years later, please remember, Jesus used everyday object lessons they would understand (John 14:26; Col. 3:1-3).
This was and still is important because, i n Jesus' time, disciples were to become teachers, teaching others so the message was multiplied many fold in the same way that Christianity had its start with One, then twelve, then 120, then several thousand to perhaps a billion+ over the last two thousand years. All had to be willing and able to learn, grow beyond one's worldview, situation, and thinking to embrace God's eternal Truth. One had to grow beyond one's self to grow in faith and maturity. Real faith that leads to obedience must first be internalized before it can be made practical; this is illustrated in the Parable of the Sower.
A Look at a Parable
Let's look at one of my favorite Parables, the Parable of the Sower, from Matthew 13. It showcases a basic point with deeper points that we can glean. This Parable explains how God is working in our lives, and shows how we try to keep Him out. In this parable, Jesus--as He was giving a sermon-pauses and actually points to a farmer sowing seed in a nearby a field. Here, a real life illustration by His own providence and design comes into the purview of His listeners as He was teaching. As the people watched this farmer, Jesus explained how the Word of God works in their hearts and respond to His Gospel. A very dramatic and real teaching. An illustration of what we can do also to listen to His points and precepts of God's Word by everyday examples that people can comprehend.
Why world Jesus do this? Palestine, at that time, was primarily agrarian with much farmland; most people worked the land in some way. Galilee was also a large agricultural trading village. Most of the people present were farmers, indentured to Roman masters, and forced to work their family land, with the proceeds going to Rome. What this shows is that Jesus ministered to the people, in their real situations--literally, a grassroots ministry. Jesus is also using the landscape to His advantage as He sat and taught by the sea, the calmness of the seashore acting as a parabolic dish to amplify sound, making the beach like an amphitheater. Jesus was easier to see and hear. Jesus was not only concerned with His message, but also with the very best way to deliver it. Another example as we follow and expound on His Word.
Jesus points His flock to a farmer on a path sowing seeds-something that most of them had done and seen all of the time all of their lives. Most farmers did not have the time or resources to plow first (iron instruments were extremely expensive, and only for the rich), so, they poked the soil with big sticks, and, using more seed, scattering it into the wind for equal distribution. I have seen this many times in the counties I visit in central and south Asia. The seed, as it is carefully tossed into the wind, would fall all over, in addition to where it was supposed to go. Then, they see the path, which was the "footpath" the farmer walked on so as not to walk on the soft soil, disturbing the crops. This illustrated what was obvious as a point to a life lesson. Such as, the stony places, this was not actual rocks that you could see; rather, the top soil. In many places, it was only a few inches deep on top of limestone bedrock. Thus, a plant would grow quickly; then, the roots would be stifled from further growth.
The illustration continues to explain what hinders the farmer's progress and return on the investment of the seeds--the weeds and thorns. Thorns were the roots of the weeds that the farmer did not see or could not pull out. They would grow along with the crops, competing for water and nutrients, strangling the crops. The entirety of the purpose to sow is to eat, to grow crops to make food to sustain ones family, and engage in commerce to buy what a family needed to service. The Return on the investment of thirtyfold and sixtyfold were considered good, bountiful harvests, as the average was ten to twenty fold. What is a fold? It means the multiplication of the effort; tenfold means when one seed is planted ten seeds are given; sixtyfold means when one seed is planted, sixty seeds are harvested. Thus, a hundredfold was considered the maximum that the land, during those times and under ideal conditions, would produce. This was not an exaggeration, but real numbers (Gen. 26:12; Amos 9:13).
Jesus then seals His lesson with a proclamation to listen. He who has ears let him hear, refers to the frustrations of the Prophets who spoke to those who refused to listen-think of Isaiah and Jeremiah who warned his people for decades to repent and get it right or else, and they did not head, choosing to be deaf to God's call. Listening is the quintessential way to learn; we must respond and make real decisions from God's Word and be committed to it. A good disciple will actively listen to his/her teacher, not interpreting instructions just to affirm his/her own wants and desires (Isaiah 6:10; 43:8; 44:18; Ezek. 12:2).
Isaiah's contemporaries refused to listen to the signs of the times. They did not recognize that their sins and willful disobedience to God would lead them, as well as the next two generations, into captivity. Even though every prophecy of Isaiah came true, they denounced his current prophecy and refused to listen. Many today do the same with the Gospel-and many Christians do the same with the Word. We have to be disciples who are willing to hear, to bend our will down, so He remains in control, and so we remain on His path. God gives us the ability to listen and to understand, as well as the ability to respond (Isaiah 6:9-10).
So, what are the obvious lessons that are told here? Well, in this Parable Jesus makes it easy. He tells us in verse 18, that God scatters His Word, it is the seed is the Gospel Message, the world by planting it in our hearts. The Word to the non-Christian is also the Gospel and how people respond to the Gospel. For those who are in Christ, it is the Word of God, the cradle of the Gospel and precepts of God. The Word is the Bible, prayer, discipleship, and our growth in Him. The key to providing nutrients to the soil of your life, is our placement in His Word by our faith and obedience and to continue no matter what may seek to choke us, so His seed produces a hundredfold in you (Dan.4:12, Ezk.31:6, 17:23)!
As with any agricultural endeavor, the goal is to reap the harvest, take the fruit, and let it be used. Yet, so much can stop the seeds from germinating; and, if they do germinate, their growth can easily be stifled by bad soil, weather, insufficient water andd fertilizer, and negligence. The young plants can be trampled on, pulled up, mistaken for weeds. When we are aware of what prevents a good harvest, we can work harder to remove the obstacles, and we can be diligent in creating a good harvest. It is the same with our Spiritual growth; when we know what holds us back, we can strive to push forward in our maturity and sanctification. So, the question is, are you traveling on His path of His Word, and, in nutritious soil, or are you choked off by the weeds?
The deeper lesson that is hidden, until we are ready, is that we have the choice to do as we please with the Word when it reaches out to us. The seed is given, His grace is given, our sins can be declared clean, we can have eternity, and all we need to do is accept it, by faith. So easy, so simple; yet, so few will. The deeper aspect is pondering what gets in the way, how then will we respond, and how will we learn and grow from it. The practice of our due diligence of faith, as we grow we gain more, we learn more and we apply more and become a bigger and better blessing to others around us and build our church.
When God is instructing us, He is edifying us with information to grow our faith and transform our hearts, character, and actions while leading us into deeper maturity. God is holding up a mirror to show us our real heart. What is inside of you? He is looking for faith, for authenticity, for Fruit, for a soul who cries out to Him, so He can grow His seed in us. God also desires to multiply His seed so He can be made known to others. He is looking to see where His Word has fallen on you. How is His Word being used?
The simple message of this Parable of the Sower is that we all have a call to heed the simple message of the Gospel. Jesus also helps us infer indirectly who and what He is and does directly. We are to capture a parable, ponder its message, and see how our lives can conform to His Truth; with this, we can ascertain a deeper truth. All too often, we can't understand, we confound the simple, or we fail to see what is important because we do not want to disrupt the "importance" in our overly busy lives.
Ultimately, there are only two types of soil-good and bad; in one, the seed dies, and in the other, it multiplies. Which kind of soil are you in? God wants everyone to receive the light of His Word, but He knows "free will" chooses to push it aside; He has to interdict, with His Spirit, unto us for us to receive it. Then, as we reread and study the passage, we can glean more--as hears the word of the Lord and understands refers to implied obedience. We can only serve God by being people of God. We can only bear fruit by the indwelling of His Spirit and by our faith and obedience working together. Yet, even then, the Holy Spirit is never forced; we still have to receive it by faith-a choice we make, for an election He gives, that is predestined. If we do not obey what He gives us, we cannot receive more. The small things matter to God much more then the big things matter to us (Luke 8:16-18; Rom. 8:35).
The deeper lesson we also need to discover is this: for us to further develop trust, internalize the precepts, and break down those barriers that hinder us, parables help us to think and grow deeper in Christ. We can know how to apply this to our churches and to realize what He is doing and trust Him. We have to see that His truth, which is for us today, and His work, will continue. Allow the hope that this gives! God is working; He is willing and able to work in you! He is working in our internal lives and external events.
Does Jesus Hide the Truth?
Jesus is speaking in parables, not to hide the wisdom, but to explain the powerful Truth in a way that it can be easier to grasp. There are no hidden meanings or codes in Jesus' words. Remember, parables are illustrations that made perfect sense to the audience when first given; it may require more effort for us because we are 2000 years culturally removed, but His Truth is there, and it is clear! The clarity lies in the various levels of our spiritual development and employment of that truth. The more mature we are, the more we can handle and discover. Just like math, the more we study and learn the more we can understand and do with it! Just like music, the more we practice the better we get and a better blessing we are to those around us ( Isaiah 6:9; Mark 4:11-12; Luke 8:10 ).
Look at it this way, in God's infinite mercy, He dispends the knowledge and truth we need at the level and timing we can handle it. Then, He brings us deeper into His Word and gives us a deeper understanding as we grow in our faith. No, these truths will not contradict, but rather expound and expand our faith. The more we know and have grown in our faith and knowledge, the more reasonability we have to model and tell it to others. This is also why many Christians are not involved in Discipleship and why most churches do not teach from the Bible or only offer superficial messages; the pastors and members are in fear of their growth because they do not want to responsibly model Jesus or show and tell Him to others. Many Christians prefer disobedience rather than an effectual faith that is contagious.
So, when we are ready, we get it; when we get it, we are responsible for it and have the passion to run with it. If you do not get it, you are too prideful, too apathetic or too immature or too young in the faith to understand because you have not learned and applied what must come and become before. You cannot play Beethoven when first learning the piano, nor can you do calculus when you are just learning fractions. You build up to it, practicing and meeting challenges that are appropriate for where you are. When Jesus first taught these parables, the disciple were not ready, thus they did not get it; they were too young in the faith. The Pharisees did not get it not because of their ignorance; they were certain of what they knew, and they just were so prideful that they would not allow the Truth to penetrate their conceit and traditions. The Romans did not get it due to their apathy, their pluralism, and their disdain; they felt that they also had their own education. We, as followers of Christ, do not need to search for Truth, since we have it already. Now, we are required to learn it, preserve it, study it, and apply it (John 14: 6, 26; 16:13; 17:17; Col. 3:1-3).
What causes us not to understand Parables?
First off, the parables will confound those who are not His, those who fight the way of the Way, those who refuse God's love and grace; this ignorance causes them to appear more silly, more foolish. The Matthew 13 passages gives us a hint with the phrase hidden treasure; God does not intentionally hide His Word from us. It is actually clearly proclaimed; we just fail to recognize it. What causes the truth to be hidden? It is because we cannot see the value. It is hidden by our own pride, arrogance, busyness, hurts, expectations, and the tyranny of what we think is important. Even what we think is valuable is not always recognized. A diamond looks like broken glass unless you know what a diamond is; a fake diamond will fool anyone who does not know what a real diamond looks like. His truth looks like gibberish to a fool or to a harden heart, but not to one who has the Holy Spirit within him/her.
In Jesus time, many of the people could not get beyond the literal meaning of Jesus' teachings; they wanted a show or easy belief-ism or just 'help for today with no hope for tomorrow'. This thinking leaves behind a great spiritual substance that would last for eternity for something that is fleeting or blocked by our hurt feelings or the complaint that He did not meet their expectations. So, they turned off their brains and chose to argue instead of understanding or seeking help in understanding, just like so many of us do today. Of course, the Holy Spirit is the Great Instructor, too. He prepares and guides those who are His (John 6:52-71; 16:13).
When we realize the value of His Truth, we will dedicate our lives to Christ! We will get rid of everything and anything that keeps us away-we will even sacrifice what we like, if it is bad for us or clouds His Way from us, so we can possess His truth. It is important to note that in no way can we ever purchase His Truth with money (indulgences), or deeds (good works). (The Catholic Church thought (unofficially) in the Dark Ages, in this manner; this very belief spun the Reformation.) We need to see that we will have to account for our lives. There will be judgment when we refuse His grace. (Matt. 13:28-30; Phil. 3:7-10).
How can I make sure I am not the one who will not hear the word of the Lord or be stagnant and never grow deeper? Get on with it; get on with your faith. Do not be the one who chooses to harden your heart! Embrace His Word with passion, so you take His truth, understand its clarity, and believe with conviction, so it endures; in that way, you can also make it known to others in the same way. Being fruitful from the Matthew 13 passage simply means to multiply the seed given to you. We are to make disciples of His Word. We are to point to Christ, never to ourselves! We make disciples of Christ, not of people like ourselves. If you read it and do not understand it, look the passage up in a good study Bible or use our site www.intothyword.org.
Do you hear His Word? If not, why not? Do you see the value? Are you willing to give up your feeble ways, and all that you have, to possess His Truth? If so, what are you doing about it? What has God planted in you? What have you done with it? Is it growing, or is it trampled (John 12:23-28)? And, if you do hear and put into practice His Word, have you told others about Him; has your faith multiplied into the lives of others as well? The barrier that most Christians face, the wall that prevents them taking their faith into their life and relationships, is that they hide the Truth by burying it deep in their lives so it is never shown to those around them! When we receive His Truth, we must never hoard it just for ourselves; it must be proclaimed in our lifestyle, in our deeds, and in our words. It must be real and authentic! Why? Because He is real with us! He dwells in and with us!
The Kingdom of Heaven contains us all. It is not just the perfect, true Church; rather, it is all of humanity where God weaves His love and plan of redemption through and for us all. It is the real, authentic Christian, and the reprobate; it is the good plants, ripe for harvest, and the weeds. It is the good and the evil. It is Christ, taking our sin and reworking us, as Romans, chapter 8 proclaims, for the perfection of eternity. We are not perfect now, but, one day, only those who are in Christ will be with the Perfect!
Why do we need to learn about the parables now? For us to develop trust and to break down those barriers that hinder us, we must grow deeper in Christ; we have to realize what He is doing and trust Him. We have to see that His truth, which is for us today, and His work, will continue; allow it to give us hope! God is working; He is willing and able to work in you! He is working in our internal lives and external events; He is working through the pressures and problems that come to each one of us. He is working in the very circumstances in which you find yourself today, whether at home, work, school, or in relationships. What you need to know is where God is moving in your life and let Him work. Allow Him to carry you over your pride, hurts, fears, circumstances, anxieties, or any other barrier so you can be His instrument to yourself and others. Finally, allow this choice to endure--to be in line with what God does and with what God wills. Only God's work will last. He desires for us to become good and to grow, and He provides the means for us to do so!
God's Word has life and power! Make sure you have received it! Keep receiving it, so that God might use you to reap a hundredfold harvest!
© 2003, 2012, R. J. Krejcir Ph.D., Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org