Pastor Scott L. Harris
October 10, 1993
The Purpose of Parables
Matthew 13:1-17; 34,35
Man is many things, but one thing about him that stands out is his pride. I am sure all of you ladies out there would agree that pride in men, also known as the “male ego,” is a malady affecting them all. But females are also infused with pride, though it often manifests itself in a different way. (Tonight one of the things I will be talking about is how the radical feminism existing in our nation is to the detriment of women because one of the things it does is promote obnoxious and prideful behavior in women as is often found in men – and that is no benefit).
The pride existent in all mankind manifests itself in many different ways – from the simple boasting of children to its most dangerous form, believing oneself to be autonomous from God. One of the areas that pride manifests itself is in its demand to understand everything. The quest for and honoring of knowledge is especially high in this country. Science is becoming, and in some sense already is, the “religion” of our nation. We worship knowledge with scientists being the high priests. Consider this, in all the different crises and disasters of the last several years – hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wars, etc. – where did our national leaders turn to for help? Did they call for a day of fasting and prayer? Of seeking out the Lord God and asking for His mercy? No, they turned to “science” to tell them what was going to happen, to “science” to devise ways to deal with the problem, to “science” to find a cure. Has the nation turned to God in dealing with the AIDS crises? No, instead it has turned to “science” and spent billions of dollars to find a cure for something that, for the vast majority of cases, is the result of a moral problem. Am I saying that we should not seek to advance science and learn how to deal with problems and find cures for diseases? No, but I am saying that man confirms himself in his sinful pride when he seeks out “science” as his savior before he seeks out the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth!
We find that college and graduate degrees are in increasing demand even for jobs that really do not require them. Many companies have bought into the erroneous idea that “formal education” makes for a better worker than one with experience. A degree is nice, especially for theoretical knowledge, but it is experience that proves the quality of the worker. This is true when it comes to religion as well. It is certainly a good thing to spend time in formal study of the Scriptures, but having a ministerial degree does not make a man or woman godly. And a person who has such a degree and is not godly is invariably a very proud and self-righteous person. This is the very problem we find that Jesus was dealing with as He confronted the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12.
Remember that the Scribes were the trained lawyers of their time. They were the ones that had formally studied the Law of Moses and the rabbinic writings for many years and were the supposed experts on all questions of what the law of God required of men. The Pharisees were those rigidly trained in how to carry out all of the rabbinic traditions of keeping the law. If you will, the Scribes were the theoretical experts while the Pharisees were the practical experts.
This in turn provoked in most of them a great pride and self-righteousness which clashed with Jesus’ authoritative teaching which often contradicted theirs. We saw in chapter 12 that the conflict between Jesus and these religious leaders reached a peak when Jesus refused to follow their traditions – resulting in their getting so mad they began to plot how to kill Him, and they also began telling the people that Jesus did His miracles through the power of Satan. Jesus confronts them on this issue showing that their accusation was illogical, inconsistent with their own practice, insurrectionary against God, and inane. They had condemned themselves to hell because they had turned their back to the working of the Holy Spirit. (See: The Unforgivable Sin, Exposing The Heart & What Sign Are You Looking For?)
A change has come in Jesus’ ministry because of all of this. Through His teaching and many miracles Jesus had been presenting Himself as the Messiah. His life demonstrated that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. They had rejected Him. From this point on, Jesus starts talking about a kingdom they had not been expecting. A spiritual kingdom rather than an earthly one. Jesus also begins to speak in a way that would confuse these proud and self- righteous men while letting the spiritually-minded understand.
The Setting (Matthew 13:1-3a)
On that day Jesus went out from the house and was sitting by the sea. And great multitudes gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole multitude was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying . . . ”
This is the same day that Jesus had cast the demon out and healed the man who was blind and dumb, had confronted the Scribes and Pharisees for their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and had demonstrated the new relationship available to men when He called His disciples His, “Mother and My brothers.” In Matthew 12:50 Jesus added, “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” We can become the adopted children of God through Jesus Christ.
It is on this same day we now find that Jesus has left the house which had been so crowded earlier, and he has now gone out by the shore of the Sea of Galilee where He is sitting. Once again, we find that the multitudes have gathered around Him. This time in order to be able to speak to them without being too confined – as He was in the house – Jesus gets into one of the boats that was there on the shore and puts out a short distance into the lake. From this vantage point, Jesus can address the crowd more easily since more of them will be able to both see and hear Him. Jesus sits down, the common position of someone who is teaching, while the crowd remains standing on the shore. Then Jesus begins to speak to them about many things, but all of it was in parables. Verses 3-9 are an example of one of the parables.
An Example (Matthew 13:3b-9)
“And he spoke many things to them in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 And others fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And others fell among the thorns; and the thorns came up, and choked them out. 8 And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.
Now a parable is simply a story from common life that is told in order to give greater understanding to some principle that is being explained. The word “parable” even means “to cast alongside.” Here we find a story that those people would have easily understood since it was an agrarian society, but Jesus never tells them what spiritual principle He is illustrating. In the later parables Jesus says that the story is in some way related to the kingdom of heaven, but He never tells them how the parable compares to God’s kingdom. For the crowds these were just a series of stories that they knew were somehow related, but they did not understand them.
If I came up to you and told you this story, “one day a man went to his garden to plant. Some of his seed landed near the road and the birds ate them. Some of his seed landed on poor soil where they sprouted quickly, but since they were not well rooted they quickly shriveled up when the sun got hot. Some more of his seed fell into a weed infested area and were quickly choked out and died. And then some of his seed landed in good soil where it grew and brought forth a lot of fruit.”
If I told you that and nothing else you would say, “so what?” “What is your point?” “Why are you telling me this?” That is how many in the crowd would have understood what Jesus was saying.
Why then did Jesus speak in parables? Three reasons. First, it was to fulfill prophecy. Second, it was to reveal truths to His followers. Third, it was to conceal the truth from the self-righteous.
Fulfilling Prophecy (Matthew 13:34, 35)
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables; and He did not speak to them without a parable, so that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.
The quote is taken from Psalm 78:2 which in poetic form speaks about the display of God’s power and His awesome works as well as the Lord’s unfailing and forgiving love. The psalmist continues and speaks of the tragedy of those who in spite of God’s love still reject Him, and then finishes with showing how David was chosen by the Lord to be Israel’s shepherd. This is the same basic message that Jesus gives through His parables and thus fulfills the beginning of the Psalm which says that He would speak in such a manner in telling the people of these things.
Now note here the chronology indicated. Jesus spoke only in parables to the multitudes. That tells us that verses 10-23 in which the disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable of the Sower actually take place in one of two occasions. Either these parables were told at different times and the disciples had a chance to speak to Jesus privately between Jesus telling them, or this questioning takes place later than verse 33 when Jesus finishes telling the multitudes all the parables. I favor the latter idea, for Matthew is known for moving events out of chronological sequence in order to emphasize his points. Why would Matthew put this out of chronological order? Probably so that his readers would quickly get an understanding of what was happening and so they would then have a basis to understand the rest of the parables.
The first reason for the parables was so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. The second reason is so that the disciples would be enlightened.
Enlightening to His Disciples (Matthew 13:10, 11, 16, 17)
Look at verses 10-12, 16, 17 “And the disciples came to and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ And He answered them and said to 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 shall more be given . . . ‘” Drop down to verses 16, 17, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Jesus’ parables enabled Him to reveal truth to His disciples while at the same time hiding that truth from His enemies. In these verses we note the blessing they were given in being able to see and hear Jesus and being granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom. Now note that again. Their understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom does not come from superior intellect or even diligent study, but from the fact that God Himself granted to them – that’s a gift – to know these mysteries.
What mysteries is Jesus talking about? In brief, He is talking about the fullness of the gospel message and the coming of the Church Age. Both were hinted at in various places in the Old Testament, but it was not understood. Isaiah 53 speaks about the Messiah being the Suffering Servant who would die as a substitute for sinful man, but none of the prophets understood clearly the atonement made by Jesus Christ for us on the cross of Calvary. Many passages in the Old Testament hint about the gentiles also being able to become true followers of the Lord God of Israel, but no one understood a Church Age in which gentiles would also be grafted into the vine as part of “God’s chosen holy nation of royal priests” (1 Peter 2).
What a special blessing was given to them and to us, a blessing even the prophets of old did not have. 1 Peter 1:10-12 describes it this way, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what time or manner of time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look.” The writer of Hebrews adds in 11:13, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Then in verses 39 and 40, And these all, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive the promise: because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us should they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11)
The mysteries, these hidden truths, being revealed to Jesus’ disciples were things that even the prophets of old did not enjoy; neither did they completely understand them. They only saw them from a distance and trusted God for their future – as we should too. These mysteries are being revealed, but not everyone will understand them, only those to whom God grants it. Now this flies in the face of man who is so arrogant and proud thinking He can figure out everything on His own, and if he cannot understand it, he rejects it. No wonder Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside. 20 Where [is] the wise man? Where [is] the scribe? Where [is] the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed the Jews ask for signs, and the Greeks search for wisdom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness; 24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong; 28 And the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are: 29 That no man should boast in before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.
These mysteries were being revealed through the parables to Jesus’ disciples, but to everyone else, these same parables only made them even more mystifying – and that is regardless of how intelligent or well trained they were or are. Neither the Greek philosophers nor the religious leaders of Judaism understood Jesus’ message. They could not comprehend that gospel message is true and so it remained mysterious to them – as it does to many still today. Apart from the Holy Spirit, spiritual things cannot be understood.
Mystifying to All Others (Matthew 13:12-15)
Look at verses 12-15, “For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 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. 14 And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, “You will keep on hearing, but you will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears the scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return and I should heal them.
For those following Christ, their spiritual discernment is increased and they understand even more, but for the rest even what little understanding they have is taken away. The Scribes and Pharisees were well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures, but they had little understanding of them since they always interpreted them through the rabbinic traditions that had been built up over the centuries – man’s wisdom replacing God’s revelation. As Jesus taught through the parables, it became even more confusing to them what Jesus was talking about. Every confrontation between Jesus and these hypocritical religious leaders only demonstrates their increasing departure from the truth and understanding of the things of God.
Some have questioned God’s fairness in this, but in doing so they fail to understand several fundamental points. First, if God was fair, every one of us would be doomed to hell without hope or recourse. We don’t want God to be fair; we want Him to be merciful and gracious. Second, God did not set them up for their condition. In the context of the passage Isaiah quoted, and in the lives of the Scribes and Pharisees as we have seen them the last several weeks, these people were those who “hear but do not understand” and “see but do not perceive,” these people with dull hearts and hardened ears and closed eyes are the same ones that have consistently turned their back on the Holy Spirit as He has tried to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. God simply seals them in the state that they have reached all by themselves. It is much as in the case with Pharaoh. Yes, it is true that God told Moses that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened (Exodus 7:3), but that is because God knows the future. Pharaoh hardened his heart against what was obviously the work of God’s hand five different times (Exodus 7:22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7) before God sealed him in that state by hardening his heart for him (Exodus 9:12).
Now the principles that Jesus lays down here are still true today. It is as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The Scriptures record the interpretations of the parables Jesus gave to His disciples, but that does not mean they are any more understandable to those who do not have the Holy Spirit. Read through the commentaries and you will find a wide range of interpretation of them. Some of the allegorical interpreters who try to make every detail of the parable mean something come up with some very wild stories.
Man in his pride thinks that he can figure out anything, but because his mind has been darkened by his sinful nature, he cannot discern spiritual truth from spiritual error. There are many so called “Bible scholars” who are not Christians. They can be found in all the liberal theological schools – Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Union, etc., etc. Read some of their writings and you find incredible reasoning and logic being used to contradict what the Bible clearly teaches. They seek to explain away the authorship of almost every book of the Bible. They say Moses did not write the Pentateuch – Genesis-Deuteronomy – but a series of editors and redactors over a period of many centuries. They try to explain away all of Jesus’ miracles. They twist the Scriptures to make them match the preconceived ideas of their darkened minds.
Does it take scholarship to understand the Scriptures? Of course. The mystical interpretations of those who fail to be diligent students of the Bible are often worse than those of liberal scholarship. There is a language and a cultural and a historical barrier that we must cross in order to understand what the Bible says, and that takes hard work. Much study must be done to understand the cultural and historical settings as well as learning the meaning of the words in their grammatical settings. All that is foundational to even get to the point where the Scribes and Pharisees were. But once you are there, the only way you will understand the depth of meaning and how to apply the Scriptures to your life is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Do you want to understand God and His will? That is only possible for His true followers. Have you sought after Him and yielded your will to His? Ask God to reveal Himself to you for He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind, then begin your study of the Scriptures. To do anything less is only an expression of human pride and that runs the risk of losing what little understanding you now have, and of eventually being confirmed in your rebellious state and doomed to eternity separated from God. Don’t be as the Scribes and Pharisees who decided the truth before they even talked with Jesus, but like the disciples who sat at His feet and learned of Him.
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