Lessons From the Parables: Why Christ Spoke in Parables

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Lessons From the Parables

Why Christ Spoke in Parables

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My editor suggested the next parable I write about should be the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32. While looking at it I realized this small parable is set within some of the deepest and most profound parables Christ spoke. The parable of the sower and the seed and of the wheat and tares are just two in this chapter. Matthew collects them at this point in his narrative and lays them together to form the heart of his picture of Jesus Christ's life and message.

Jesus didn’t intend the many to understand His teachings! And this is as applicable today as it was then.

Why not, I thought, take a pause here and consider Christ's reasons for teaching in parables? There are lessons to learn from these reasons as much as there are lessons to learn from each of the parables He gives. Let's look at what Jesus Himself said about His method of teaching in parables—you might find it surprising!

Why parables?

Christ was asked, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" (Matthew 13:10). He had begun to teach the lessons of the man who had gone into his field to sow seed. After telling them the initial idea, Jesus paused to answer this question.

The question is posed by the disciples. This is likely the 12 He initially chose, and could have contained others who were following Him. But if we assume it to be only the 12 core men we at least begin to understand that Christ is here revealing the reason He cloaked His message around the parable form of teaching.

Christ's answer to the question "Why do You speak to them in parables?" is profound: "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matthew 13:11, emphasis added throughout). 

Jesus did not intend the many to understand the full meaning of His teachings! Here is one of His hard sayings that so many can read over and not understand. And it is as applicable today as it was then. Christ knew the ears, eyes and hearts of the masses could not grasp the deep meaning of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. He deliberately cloaked His message!

Let's think about this for a moment. Jesus' Jewish audience looked for the coming of a promised kingdom. The restoration of the house of David and Israel's glory had been foretold by the prophets. These men and women listening to Jesus expected something to happen in their day. Often they eagerly gathered around Him because they thought He might be the expected Messiah. The message of the Kingdom spoke to something they were looking for. It was not an abstract idea. It was an expected reality! That is why many came to hear Jesus teach.

But human nature had not changed through the centuries. Israel rejected the same message given by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and the other prophets. The first-century Jews of Jesus' day would not, for the most part, fully perceive the message Christ brought. There was a reason.

Notice that Jesus offered additional explanation: "For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him" (Matthew 13:12).

This was a way of telling them to be careful how they handled spiritual truth about the Kingdom. Those listening thought they had certain knowledge—as part of the chosen people they thought they had an inside track—yet it was incomplete. Jesus was opening deeper understanding of the law, the nature of God and the Kingdom of God.

It was possible for them to receive more—more understanding of these matters that would broaden their limited knowledge. But it was also possible they would not hear. Hence the reason to speak in parables. Not everyone was going to understand His message. The parables would help to reveal people's thinking and whether or not God was calling them to His truth. 

God is not calling all today

Here is the point: God was not calling all to understand the gospel of the Kingdom then, nor is He today. Jesus would later explain that only God the Father can call a person to understand the truth of that Kingdom (John 6:44, John 6:65).

God's plan to bring knowledge of salvation to all of mankind is being done in stages according to a well-defined purpose and plan. This is the only way you can understand what Jesus is saying here. He hid the full message in parables—illustrative stories with lessons—knowing that only a few would understand and heed the calling. Remember He said, "It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."

Even today this is not well understood. Well-meaning and sincere efforts are made to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Yet look around. Religions are divided. Religious messages are mixed. The conditions of the Kingdom of God are not yet on this earth. Could it be that what Christ said about hearing and understanding His message is true? Let's read on to understand more.

"Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matthew 13:13). Teaching in parables was intended to not only hide the message, but came as a result of the spiritual condition of the nations. This was shown by His next statement—a quote from the prophet Isaiah.

Christ reached back to a scene where Isaiah recorded a vision of God's throne. A question is asked by the Lord, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" The prophet volunteers and is told, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive'" (Isaiah 6:8-9).

This passage shows us that God's intent has been to keep hidden the deepest aspects of His purpose among man. Not all have understood the details—not even those whom He worked with intimately, such as Israel.

Going back to Christ's parable we see that He quotes this Isaiah passage and applies it to His ministry: "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them'" (Matthew 13:14-15).

This is a profound passage. Christ is showing that for the most part people have chosen to allow their hearts to grow dull to where they cannot see or hear or come to know the holy God enthroned in the heavens!

The message from God cannot get through. Even Jesus, as God in the flesh, could not reach many of the people. He was even killed for what He taught!

God, then, deliberately cloaks His message in parables until the time is ready for the veil to be lifted. By saying, ". . . lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them," Christ is speaking of understanding and healing that follow the choice of hearing and responding in the first place.

Blessed are your eyes!

Jesus then addressed the disciples directly, telling them: "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, 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" (Matthew 13:16-17).

Those closest to Jesus, His disciples who had chosen to receive His mentoring and teaching and committed themselves to becoming like Him in every way as their Master and Teacher, were blessed to "see and hear." They had been healed spiritually and could understand Christ's teaching about the Kingdom. What had not been understood by so many good men and women and prophets and kings who had gone before was now open to these disciples.

If God is calling you, this same priceless understanding can be yours. You can have the healing that comes from a true knowledge and understanding of the coming Kingdom of God to earth and submitting to the King of that Kingdom now. You need not be like so many today who don't understand the hope of that Kingdom. This hope can be a part of your life, adding the depth of meaning and purpose that no other knowledge can give!

This chapter, Matthew 13, contains specific parables that teach us many aspects about the Kingdom of God. When they are unlocked and understood, we see revealed many details about God's Kingdom and how it is being prepared in its fullness. When we understand these parables, no longer is it a secret or a mystery! God intends to bring this Kingdom to earth, and you can prepare today to be a part of that realm!

Where do you begin? By becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ! By obeying His teaching and submitting yourself to the way of this Kingdom in your life today!

A disciple is a lifelong spiritual student, always learning but never in this life having arrived at the final goal, which is to become like the Teacher in every way. It begins with a first step toward God in submission of our will to His. That is the common attribute of these disciples as Christ called them to training and service.

Christ begins each of the parables in this chapter by stating, "The kingdom of heaven is like . . ." He then uses examples from everyday life from that time, like the sowing of seed, or a mustard seed or a pearl of great price, to explain the multidimensional vision of the Kingdom of God. These parables hold so much of the details of how we become a part of that Kingdom!

That Kingdom is coming!

Look at today's world. Its many problems and crises cry out for the Kingdom of God. Revolutions in the Middle East produce ominous shadows of terror and uncertainty in the world. In Iraq and Syria we see the rise of a terrorist state with zero regard for human life, its supporters willing to murder anyone who stands in their way. Scenes of horror not seen for centuries are spreading around the globe.

Our world is a changing tapestry of values and morals that are leading many to look for answers in religion. This magazine and this work offer you a refreshing glimpse of a way of life that works.  Its teaching is rooted in Christ's transforming message of the coming Kingdom of God.

We'll begin our next study in the parables of Christ by focusing on the one that teaches us what the Kingdom of God is about. We will study truths that had been "kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35). It will be a fascinating study!