(For the PowerPoint presentation for this sermon, Click Here)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 3, 2015
Parables in Context
Today we will continue our study of the Lord’s parables and specifically those concerning the growth and composition of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:24-43 and Mark 4:26-34. Before we look at our text for this morning, it is once again very important to set the context of these parables, for if the background and reason for the parables are not clearly understood, it will be impossible to properly discern their meaning.
The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders had been escalating for some time and it reached a peak earlier this same day when the scribes and Pharisees falsely accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus denounced their accusation as illogical and hypocritical and then continued to condemn them explaining that because they had blasphemed the Holy Spirit in doing this, they could not be forgiven. While this particular sin cannot be repeated today in the same way as it was then since Jesus is not physically with us performing such miracles, there is still a strong warning to the unbeliever that continued rejection of the truth can reach a point in which the Holy Spirit will cease to strive with them after which there is no hope. Jesus also rebuked them for seeking another sign and gave a strong warning to the multitudes about following their lead. (See: The Danger of Blasphemy)
Jesus left the house and went to the shore of the Sea of Galilee where another crowd gathered. Jesus has now gotten into a small boat just offshore and He begins to teach them, but there is a marked change in His method of teaching. Jesus switches from using straight discourse, such as in the Sermon on the Mount, to using parables. Parables are supposed to bring additional understanding to the point being made by illustrating it with an example from common life, but Jesus tells a series of parables without explaining the point except that they were about the kingdom of heaven. Why? Jesus later explains to His disciples that by this means He could give to His followers an understanding about the mysteries of the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:11-12,16-17) while at the same time hiding that same knowledge from His enemies (Matthew 13:11-15). Jesus’ followers would be able to understand the parables because A) they would have the benefit of the Holy Spirit enlightening their minds, and B) Jesus would explain several of the parables to them in private. Jesus’ enemies would just become more confused because A) the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), and B) they would try to understand what was said according to their already false understanding of the Old Testament. (See: Introduction to Parables)
The purpose of these parables then is specifically to reveal some of the mysteries concerning the kingdom of God to Jesus’ followers while confusing His enemies about those same mysteries. The Old Testament was not clear on many things that would happen in the future regarding the kingdom of God. Verse 17 states that even the prophets themselves longed to understand these mysteries. They had operated under Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children . . .” Jesus was now revealing some of these secret things through these parables.
Last week we examined the first of these parables and the explanation of it that Jesus gave to His disciples. The Parable of the Soils revealed that the kingdom of God was not going to come in the manner they had been expecting. They were looking for Messiah to come as a conquering king who would both throw off the yoke of Rome and establish Israel as the center of the world (Ezekiel 36-39). Instead, the kingdom would come through the simple act of sowing seed – proclaiming “the word of the kingdom” (vs. 19). The parable also revealed that though the seed would be scattered widely, only what was sown on good soil would actually respond to that message and bear fruit. (See: The Parable of the Sower)
The second parable is given in Matthew 13:24-30. I will try to clarify the elements in it while I read it, but the explanation will not come until verse 36 when Jesus explains it to His disciples.
The Parable of the Tares – Matthew 13:24-30
He presented another parable to them, saying. (The “them” is the multitudes. This is given at the same time as the Parable of the Soils. This second parable is also agriculturally based). “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away.” (The men sleeping were not failing to do their job, but were resting after their days work. The enemy would have come at night to do this dastardly deed).
26But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.” (The “tares” (zizavnion / zizanion) are seed of lilium temulentum also known today as “bearded darnel.” This plant and wheat look alike until they head with grain when they can be distinguished from each other. Darnel is not only a problem as a weed, but it is also a susceptible host to ergot, a fungal disease of grain that can be poisonous when consumed by humans).
27 “And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’” (The servants would have expected some weeds within the field, but there were so many they were confused about how it could be. They thought that perhaps the seed that had been sown had been a mixture of wheat and tares and so they ask the owner). 28 “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’” (The owner immediately recognized that the condition of his field could only have been caused by his enemy. One commentator noted that this must have occurred on occasion because there was a Roman law established which prohibited the practice as a means of revenge).
The owner’s servants want to help and so ask, “‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 28But he said, ‘No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. 29Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (If the weeds were removed too early, some of the wheat would also be damaged since the roots of both plants would be intertwined. The best way to deal with the problem would be to wait and separate them at harvest. The tares being burned up and the wheat taken into storage.
All the clarifications I have mentioned are things that Jesus’ listeners would have understood for themselves since they were all familiar with the agricultural practices of the day. I needed to add the clarifications for those not familiar with such agricultural practices. Jesus did not stop to explain the parable, He just went on to the next one and explained it later as we shall too.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed – Matt. 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32
Matthew 13:31-32, “He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all seeds; but when it is grown is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and roost in its branches.
This parable has been used by some to attack Jesus and the Bible claiming that He is wrong and therefore cannot be omniscient or God, and that the Bible is incorrect so therefore we cannot trust it. Why? Because there exists in the world quite a few seeds including tobacco, some orchids, and various wildflower and weed seeds that are smaller than a mustard seed. They take what Jesus states here as a universal botanical statement instead of an illustration to a particular group of people in a particular place and time.
It would have been silly for Jesus to refer to whatever is the absolute smallest seed in the world for the people would not have known what He was talking about, and He would have no longer been telling a parable for the story would no longer be common to life. Notice as well the particular context. Jesus states the man sowed the seed in his field. Mark states, “when sown upon the soil.” He then talks about the size of the grown plant in comparison to the other garden plants. The particular reference then in its context is to seed and the plants that grow from them that would have been found in their gardens. The mustard seed is in fact the smallest of any of the garden plants they would have known about. In addition, the mustard seed was commonly used in the ancient Near East, including ancient Jewish literature, as a figure of speech or comparison to represent something extremely small.
The meaning of the parable is actually quite simple. Just as a mustard seed is small and grows to be very large, so the kingdom of heaven will start very small and grow to be something very large. The particular type of mustard plant talked about here in the parable could grow to be 10-15 feet tall which is larger than any other annual garden plant. Mark’s account states it “forms large branches” while Matthews account describes it as a tree. It was a plant that became big and strong enough for birds to use it as a nesting place. This is illustrative of the kingdom of heaven for it would start small and then grow to be a place where many would be able to find shelter.
It was not a mystery for the kingdom to become large for the common expectation was that it would come boldly and rapidly establish itself and exert its power and authority over all. The mystery was that it would to start so small. Jesus started by Himself and gained a small following which only amounted to 120 people at His ascension (Acts 1:15). Yet, from that small beginning God provided the structure and foundation upon which all of Western Civilization was built. In a real sense, the Islamic nations were also built on the same foundation since it is a corruption of Judaism and Christianity mixed with Arab paganism.
Due to allegorical interpretation, many commentaries discuss whether the birds illustrate evil or good. However, this a parable, not an allegory, and the nature of the birds is irrelevant to the parable. The present manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth, the professing church, has benefitted all of mankind whether good or evil, for both have nested in the shelter provided by the structure that the church has given to the world.
The parable of the mustard seed illustrated the mystery of the kingdom of heaven’s small start which would grow to be great. That should give us encouragement today. Though our nation is running rapidly away from God, it will never get away from Him, and our mission remains the same as those in the first century of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. We may feel small and insignificant at times, but God uses just that very thing to do great things.
The Parable of the Leaven – Matthew 13:33
“He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened.”
This parable is very similar to the previous one in that it speaks of the expansion of the kingdom starting from something very small and going to something very large. In this case it is a small about of leaven being mixed into three pecks (savton / saton) or just over a bushel (36 liters) of dough. In the parable of the mustard seed, the emphasis was on the outward, visible expansion. In this parable, the emphasis is on the inward nature of that expansion.
Leaven is often used in the Scriptures to describe something that has a permeating influence on something else. It is used in reference to both evil things and good things. Here it is used in reference to a good thing, the kingdom of God.
Leavening bread is a fairly simple process. Leaven is yeast, a single-celled fungi which is added to the flour and other ingredients used to make the dough which is kneaded to thoroughly mix everything together. The yeast does not swell up itself to overwhelm the bread, instead it influences the bread as a by-product of its living. When the dough is allowed to sit some place for a while where the temperature is kept in an optimal range for the yeast to live, the yeast rapidly multiplies and gives off carbon dioxide as it digests some of the sugar in it. The gas forms bubbles within the dough causing it to rise. That is what makes yeast breads light and fluffy.
In this parable, the kingdom of God is described as a force of influence that starts small and multiplies to pervade and cause change from the inside out by its very existence. This is opposite the common expectation that the Messiah would come with great power to conquer and force the world to conform to His kingdom.
Let me make a quick application of this parable to life as Christians in the twenty-first century. The last two thousand years of history record God using the church to change things. There is no doubt that God will still use His church to change things, but we must be careful to keep in mind that the manner in which He wants to use us is the same way as yeast in baking. It is easy for us to try to shortcut this by the quest for power by which we could force change. However, the most that forced change can do is institute reform. Certainly reform would be welcome relief in a world filled with rapidly expanding evil. Putting up barriers to evil is a good and godly endeavor. That is actually God’s purpose for human government and why it is good and proper for Christians to be involved in government, military and police (Romans 13:1-4). That is also why every Christian living in a democracy or a democratic republic should be involved in politics enough to at least vote intelligently since such governments are supposed to be extensions of the people.
While reform can be nice, Christians should never be satisfied with reform. Our desire must be revival by which the Holy Spirit renews the hearts of believers and makes the hearts of unbelievers alive to repent and put their faith in Christ. God uses Christians who are walking with Him to influence those around them by their proclamation of the gospel and example of godly living. Mature Christians are the leaven God uses to change families, associations, communities, societies and nations.
The mystery revealed by these two parables is that the kingdom of heaven would start small but would grow by internal influence to become something in which all people could find refuge.
Both Matthew 13:34 and Mark4:33-34 record that Jesus spoke many such parables to the people and that He only spoke parables to them. This was in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 78:2, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” At a later time Jesus privately explained the meaning of the parables to His own disciples. Matthew 13:36 picks up the narrative of Jesus explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares to them.
The Parable of the Sower Explained – Matthew 13:36-43
Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” Notice that though they understand the parable centers on the tares and not the wheat, they still do not understand its meaning. When they return with Jesus to the house in Capernaum, they ask Him to explain the parable.
He answered and said, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.” Stop there before we go on.
Note that the field is the world and not the church. Confusion about that has mislead many interpreters. The kingdom of heaven exists on several levels and it is important to identify which level is being referred to in any particular passage. To have a kingdom you need a king, subjects and a realm. Jesus is the king who has various subjects and different aspects of His realm. The most narrow level would be Jesus reigning as king over the saints in heaven gathered around His throne. When Jesus said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20), He was talking about those people on this earth who were His subjects because they believed and walked with Him by faith. This is the group that would later form the church. A third level is the realm in which everything is within God’s kingdom. Though Satan may be the “god of this age” and the “prince of the power of the air” he is still subjected to the limitations God places upon him. In this parable, the field is the world, and the world is within God’s realm. From out of this field the Lord would harvest both that which came from the wheat and that which came from tares. The wheat would be put in His barn, which would be a reference to the kingdom of heaven in a narrow sense, and the tares would be burned up.
The mystery in this parable is not that the devil sowed tares for that would be expected of him. The mystery is God’s toleration of those tares to remain alongside the wheat until harvest. The people were expecting the fulfillment of prophecies such as Zechariah 14:9-20 which begins, “And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one . . .” Verses 10-11 describe the radical changes in the land and the security of Jerusalem. Then verses 12-15 describes the plague that will come upon those that fought against Jerusalem, and verses 16-20 describe the plague that will come upon those nations that will not obey the Lord. They were expecting the complete removal of all people that opposed the Lord, so to find out that kingdom would have that kind of toleration was quite a revelation of God’s mercy and patience with mankind.
Jesus, the Son of Man, sows His good seed in the world from which He will gain a harvest. The devil, the enemy, seeks to disrupt and diminish that harvest and so he sowed tares in the field. An unwise farmer would have sought to destroy the tares as soon as they could be identified, but that process would actually cause even more damage by trampling on the wheat and pulling some of it up with the tares. The wise farmer understands that danger and so he lets both grow up together until harvest as a protection to the wheat in order to gain the maximum harvest. This is the reason for God’s toleration of the wicked in the present age. It can be very hard to distinguish the wicked from the righteous until they bear fruit, but after that you will know them by their fruit. Based on the fruit, the wicked will be separated from the righteous at the harvest at the end of the age.
Jesus completes His explanation in Matthew 13:40-43 speaking about that harvest at the end of the age when God’s longsuffering will come to an end. “Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
That completed the revelation of the mystery and explained the future fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about a wrathful God taking vengeance on His enemies and then setting up an all encompassing kingdom in which rebellion would not be tolerated. Jesus is descriptive here of the tares the angels would gather. Stumbling blocks (skavndalon / skandalon) are those that cause someone else to sin. Lawless (ajnomiva / anomia) are those who act without regard to the law – they sin. After they are gathered, they have a terrible end for they are cast into the furnace of fire (kavminoV / kaminos). This refers to a furnace used for smelting ore or a kiln used for baking ceramic ware. They will be in fire but will not be burned up. It will be a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
That harvest will occur on the day of the Lord at the end of the age. Until then there will continue to be tares among the wheat because, as expressed in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” We are currently in this age of grace, the Church age, but this age will come to an end, and that could be at any time. This will be followed by God’s judgment as described in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 “when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power . . .”
For those that do know God and obey the gospel, they are made righteous and become adopted children of God and so will “shine forth as the Sun in the kingdom of their Father.” That last phrase reflects Daniel 12:3 which speaks of those who lead others to righteousness shining like the stars forever. That is quite a contrast to those who are stumbling blocks.
Jesus ends His explanation with the phrase: “He who has ears, let him hear.” This simply means to take heed to the truth you have heard. The mystery has been revealed. The Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled, but there would be an age before then in which God would continue to be mercifully patient with sinners, and in which the earthly manifestation of His kingdom, the true church, would grow from something very small to something of great size and influence the whole world.
Christians take heart! God can and will do great things through us regardless of how insignificant we feel.
Sinners, take heed, God is patient, but judgment will come. Are you prepared for it? If not, you need to talk with myself or one of our church leaders today. Do not leave this place without getting right with God.
Parables in Context
The antagonism of the Jewish religious leader reached a peak when they ________________the Holy Spirit
Jesus began to teach parables to the _________________that had gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
Parables allowed Jesus to reveal mysteries to His disciples while keeping them _________from His enemies
The Parable of the Sower (Soils) revealed the kingdom would come through ______________, not conquest
The seed is widely scattered, but only that falling upon ___________________will produce fruit
The Parable of the Tares – Matthew 13:24-30
“Tares” (zizavnion / zizanion) is lilium temulentum – bearded darnel – which looks like ______until it heads
Weeds are normal, but the _____________made it obvious they had been sown by an enemy
In order to avoid damaging the wheat and maximize the harvest, _______would be allowed to grow together
_____________are made on Jesus and the Bible because botanically, there are seeds smaller than a mustard
The is a parable referring to the __________garden seeds sown in that land at that time – not a botany lesson
The kingdom would start small and grow into something very large that would provide __________to many
The mystery is that the kingdom would start so _____________
This is a parable, not an ____________, and the nature of the birds is irrelevant – all benefit from the church
Be encouraged! Growth is up to __________, not the size of the group which He plants
The Parable of the Leaven – Matthew 13:33
Leaven is often used to describe something that has a ________________influence on something else
Yeast is mixed in dough through kneading, and it gives off CO2 __________which causes the bread to rise
The kingdom starts small, but multiples to pervade and cause changes from the ____________out
Reform is _____________and would be welcome relief from the current rising evil
Christians desire _____________that only comes by the work of the Holy Spirt to change hearts
By teaching in parables, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm ________
The Parable of the Sower Explained – Matthew 13:36-43
The field is the ___________, not the church
A kingdom has a __________, subjects and a realm – and can exist at various levels
1) Heaven – the dwelling place of God. 2) The _________- the body of Christ on earth. 3) All the ________
The Lord will have __________wheat and tares harvested from out of His field – the world
The mystery is God’s _________of the tares to remain alongside the wheat until harvest – Zechariah 14:9-20
The Lord tolerates the wicked in this age only so that He can ____________His harvest at the end of the age
Matthew 13:40-43 – God’s longsuffering will eventually end and He will ___________
The Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled at the __________of the age
Stumbling blocks are those that cause ___________to sin, and the lawless are those that sin
The furnace is a place of continued ___________- weeping and gnashing of teeth
2 Peter 3:9 – God is tolerant and patient during the present age of grace desiring all to come to ___________
God’s judgment will come at the end of this ___________- 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
Those who know God and obey His gospel will __________forth – Daniel 12:3
“He who has ears, let him hear” – take heed (____________) the truth you have heard
Christians take heart! ________can & will do great things through us regardless of how insignificant we feel
Sinners take heed! God is patient, but judgment will come – Be prepared, get ___________with God today
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word “Kingdom” is said. Talk with your parents about the kingdom mysteries revealed in the parables of the tares, mustard seed and leaven.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context of the parables of the tares, mustard seed and leaven – what had already happened earlier on that same day? Why did Jesus teach in parables? Why would parables accomplish this purpose? What did the parable of the sower (soils) reveal about the kingdom of heaven? To whom was Jesus telling the parables? What are “tares” and when could they finally be distinguished from wheat? Why would the wheat be damaged if the tares were pulled up? Why did Jesus say mustard seed was the smallest instead of whatever plant in the world actually has the smallest seed? How large could a mustard plant grow? Why is it wrong to apply the allegorical method of interpretation to a parable? Why is the nature of the birds irrelevant in this parable? What is the mystery revealed in the parable of the mustard seed? What is leaven and how does it influence bread? What is the mystery revealed in the parable of the leaven? What is the difference between reform and revival? Why is reform good to pursue? Why is revival better? What prophecy did Jesus fulfill by speaking in parables? When did Jesus explain the parables to His disciples? What three elements are required to have a kingdom? On what three levels does the kingdom of heaven presently exist? Why is it important to note that the field in the parable is the world? Based on prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, what did the Jews expect to happen with the coming of the kingdom of heaven? What mystery did the parable of the tares reveal about the kingdom of heaven? When will the Old Testament prophecies be fulfilled? What will happen to the righteous at that time? What will happen to the wicked – the stumbling blocks and lawless? Why is God patient in the current age – 2 Peter 3:9? Are you prepared for God’s coming judgment? Why or why not? If not, what needs to change? When will you do that?
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