Parables an Overview pt.2 of 3

Parables – An Overview (Part 2 of 3)

We saw in Part 1 that the definition of parable is “to place beside; to cast alongside”. Vine’s: “signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison”. It’s an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a picture of life set in the mind for instant playback. The heavenly is revealed in the earthly, Divinity in humanity, the invisible in the visible, and the unknown in the known. 

And the purpose of the parables was: 1) to conceal from the hard of heart; 2) to reveal to disciples “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”.  God will only reveal the secrets of His kingdom to humble and trusting persons who acknowledges the need for God and for his truth.

The parables will only enlighten us if we approach them with an open mind and heart, allowing them to challenge us. If we approach them with the conviction that we already know the answers, we, too, may look but not see, listen but not hear or understand. If we listen with faith and humility then each of us will understand what the Lord wants to speak to our hearts.

Jerome, an early church father and biblical scholar remarked: “The marrow of a parable is different from the promise of its surface, and like as gold is sought for in the earth, the kernel in a nut and the hidden fruit in the prickly covering of chestnuts, so in parables we must search more deeply after the divine meaning.”

The subject matter of the parables is the kingdom of heaven which is the theme of Jesus’ gospel message and the apostles’ preaching. Three sub-themes are stressed: 1, the character of the kingdom; 2, the character of the King; and 3, the character of the King’s subjects.

The specific intent of parabolic teaching was revelation of the mysteries of the Kingdom: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” OT saints looked forward to but did not understand these things: (Mt. 13:11 “it has been given to you {NT believers} to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…”)

Matthew 13 was the turning point in Christ’s verbal ministry.  Plain words had been spoken but salvation had not yet been received…although what is to be known of God is plain. The Creation, God’s object lesson, had been elevated to the place of God rather than received as His tutorial. Christ’s parables interpreted the divine thought He had placed in nature at creation.

Matthew 13 has 8 parables given as one discourse divided between the multitudes and the disciples (4 each). The multitudes heard: The Sower, The Wheat and Tares, The Mustard Seed, and The three Loaves with Leaven.  The disciples heard: The Hidden Treasure, The Pearl of Great Price, The Dragnet, and The Householder.

All 8 show the Kingdom in progress among men (“in this age”, not in eternity). The first 4 are a human viewpoint; the second 4 are from the Divine viewpoint. 

In the first 4, man’s viewpoint, all have two opposing influences such as the wheat and the weeds, but in the next 4, good wins over evil.  The human view will always be of the negative over-whelming the kingdom; results always seem small or tarnished.  But the divine perspective shows triumph.

Understand “Kingdom”: The kingdom (or reign of God) would not be found in the form of a physical kingdom – Jn 18:36. It would manifest itself in spiritual ways – Ro 14:17.

In the present, the Kingdom is found wherever the sovereignty of God is accepted in the hearts of men and exercised outwardly in their activities. In the future, the kingdom will be culminated with the coming of the Lord when Jesus “delivers the Kingdom to God the Father” (1Co 15:24).

“Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mt 13:43) It will be the “new heavens and new earth” described by Peter and John “In which righteousness dwells” (2 Pe 3:13)…

In which “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Re 21:3) It will be experienced only by those in the church who are submitting to God’s will: those who do “the will of My Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21-23) and are “diligent to be found by Him in peace” (2 Pe 3:13-15a).

We had a brief look at “the Sower”, also found in Lk. 8 and Mark 4. It is most important to understand this one because Jesus said, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” If you can understand this parable, you can understand all Christ teaches!   

Matthew 13:3-9 3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Matthew 13:18-23 18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Note that the only agent of change is the soil. The parable is about the condition of the heart.  Without getting this straight, we can never understand any of the mysteries of Christ and, therefore, remain subject to having our life devoured, entangled, or fruitless. 

“The Wayside” those who have hardened their hearts prior to hearing the Word. The “birds” represent “the wicked one” (“the devil” in Lk 8:12). This condition is one of being “blinded”: 

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

“The Stony Places” with no root, are not grounded in the Word so that when troubles arise, there is no endurance and stumbling occurs. An emotional reception without a strong foundation based on the Word will not enable one to stand.

“Among The Thorns” are those whose ability to bear fruit is checked by: 1) The cares of this world:

A) Can cause us to be unprepared –

Luke 21:34-36 34 “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

B) Can distract our minds from what is truly important –

Luke 12:29-32 29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. 30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. 32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

2) The deceitfulness of riches, described in 1Ti 6:9-10 carries the danger of diverting our attention away from God, and making us feel self-sufficient (1Ti 6:17).

3) The pleasures of life (involving the flesh in particular) divert our minds from the things of the Spirit (Ga 5:17) and make it impossible to reap life of the Spirit (Ga 6:7-9).

“The Good Ground” bears fruit and produces. Luke adds: he hears “the word with a noble and good heart”, and “keeps it and bears fruit with patience” (8:15). These will be like Bereans who were “fair-minded” because they “received the word with all readiness” and “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Note the connection of “understanding” to “bearing fruit”. (Mt 13:23). Paul also connects: 

Colossians 1:5-6 5 …the hope which is laid up for you…of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;

When one “understands”, they will more likely “bear fruit”; but the key to understanding is having a “good and noble heart” that is willing to listen and learn!

What kind of “fruit” will one bear?  There are different kinds…

a. The fruit of winning souls to Christ – Ro 1:13

b. The fruit of practical holiness – Ro 6:22

c. The fruit of sharing material things – Ro 15:27

d. The fruit of the Spirit (i.e., a Christ-like character) – Ga 5:22-23

e. The fruit of good works – Col 1:10

f. The fruit of praise & thanksgiving – He 13:15

Note that not all will bear the same amount (100, 60, 30).  As illustrated in the parable of the talents, some may be given more according to their ability to use what God has given them (Mt 25:14-15) but, whatever our ability, we should exercise it accordingly (1Pe 4:10-11).

Application: What kind of soil are you?

When Jesus finished His parable of the Sower, He cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  We are responsible for what we do: birds, rocks, and thorns are not soil.  There is one soil and one seed.  In vv. 19, 20, 22, & 23, the seed is always received by a person: “He that received” = seed in his heart. 

Note the progression: 1st immediately; 2nd as soon as sprung up; 3rd in maturity.  The 1st does not understand; the 2nd understands and responds; the 3rd understands, responds, and practices; but only the 4th bears fruit after understanding, responding, and practicing out of a good and noble heart:

Are you like “the wayside”? If you have heard the gospel of Christ and His kingdom, but are not yet a Christian, you may be in the process of hardening your heart and are susceptible to Satan’s deception to blind you and not allow the Word of God to have its intended effect!

Are you like “the stony places”? If you responded to the gospel at one time, but are not being grounded in the faith, you will likely fall away when persecution or temptation comes your way!

Are you like the soil “among the thorns”? If you responded to the gospel at one time, but are becoming too preoccupied with the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world…remember what Jesus said about branches that don’t bear fruit!

John 15:1-6 1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Are you like “the good soil”? If so, you have responded to the gospel and are bearing fruit out of a good and noble heart. You have come to understand the Word, and are keeping it patiently!

As wheat matures, it bends lower and lower with the fullness of fruit in the head.  Jesus said gather the tares out of His kingdom first; they stand taller and are more visible.  This will be the separation of those who have merely joined church from those who have truly joined Jesus!