“That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying….” (Matthew 13:1–3a, NASB95)
“And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:10–13, NASB95)
“All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.” (Matthew 13:34, NASB95)
A parable is placing one thing beside another. It is a comparison or analogy used to illustrate a point often told through story. In this way parables often begin with ‘x’ is like ‘y,’ and then the person sharing the parable goes on to talk about ‘y.’ And if the person is able to make the connection between ‘y’ and ‘x’ then the meaning of ‘x’ is more clearly understood.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 Jesus spoke clearly and to the point. Following the sermon, we find Jesus performing many miracles and Him even empowering His disciples to go out only to the Jews to perform miracles and to declare that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 10). He instructed them to go where they were welcomed and to speak to those who would listen, leaving all others behind. He warned them of great rejection and the likelihood of great persecution. As Jesus became more well-known, both He and His disciples grew as the object of attack. Some would hear and listen, but many would not. And it was to those who would listen that they went.
As we enter chapter 13 Jesus begins speaking to people using parables—stories and analogies—such that many did not understand their point. In Verses 3 through 9 of Matthew 13 we find the first of this series of these parables—the parable of the sower. After he had shared the parable with the crowd His disciples came to Him and asked why He had not spoken more clearly to the crowd. To this Jesus responded that those who were given to understand they would be given much, but those whose eyes were calloused and whose hearts were hardened would not understand. In a sense the parables were a way of speaking such that His followers understood and His enemies shook their heads in bewilderment.
Over the next several blogs we will look at these parables and the rich instruction which Jesus gave in them. As we do this it is my prayer that our hearts might indeed be softened to His instruction and that our eyes might clearly see and understand. But having said this, there are many even today whose eyes remain as the listeners then who reject both Christ and His message. To them much of what they hear sounds like foolishness. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1–6, NASB95)
Jesus was not being deceptive, nor was He attempting to keep people from growing in the knowledge and understanding of God. In speaking in parables He knew that there were those whose hardness of heart would continue and that they would reject both the message and the messenger. He also knew that in speaking this way that others would have their hearts pricked; their eyes opened, and would either understand or like His disciples stop and ask more questions.
We see this clearly in the chapters before these parables when many came to Jesus believing that He had the power to heal. These are the ones who understood His power and His authority and who trusted that He was able to do the most incredible of things. In Matthew 5:5-13 we read of the centurion (officer in the Roman army) who came to Jesus seeking healing for his servant. Jesus told the centurion that He would go to his home to heal his servant, but the centurion responded to Jesus that He had no need to do so. The Roman officer understood the power of authority, and He knew that Jesus had the authority to heal whether He went or commanded such from where He stood. Verse 10-13 record what happened next, “Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.” (Matthew 8:10–13, NASB95)
And just as the Centurion believed and his servant was healed, many others saw those same miracles and continued in their unbelief. Having seen the power of God they still chose to reject His salvation. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 we read, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NASB95)
Paul was one of those whose eyes were blinded to these words of Jesus. But when Jesus later confronted him we read, “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. ‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:15–18, NASB95)
So, while others might be shaking their heads at us, we need to be mindful that while there are still many mysteries that we do not understand and that we still have much to learn about our God, God has and will continue to reveal Himself more and more to us as we look to Him and worship Him. As He revealed to the prophets of His coming salvation and His restoration of the rebellion of Israel, He also reveals Himself to us and to those who seek Him. To the prophet Jeremiah He said, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3, NASB95)