Monday, 04 November 2013 13:53

Jesus Speaking In Parables

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Today we begin a series of messages on the parables of Jesus. In connection with that let me read first to you Matthew 13:1-3 and 10-18. Hear now the Word of the Lord from this passage.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.  And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.  And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow….. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?  He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.  For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:  For this people\'s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.  For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.  Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.” 

Thus far God’s inspired infallible Word. From the opening verses of Matthew 13, we learn that Jesus had left the house where He was ministering earlier, and He walked towards the Sea of Galilee. We are not sure what town He was in at this point but most think it may have been the town of Capernaum where He had spent much time. It seems that when Jesus left the house, possibly for a break, that many people followed Him, and the crowd just kept growing. So Jesus then went into a fisherman’s boat, and He used the opportunity to preach to the people about the kingdom of heaven He was establishing. Jesus sat maybe on a chair or else just on the bow of the boat, and so He spoke to the people while they stood on the shore listening to Him. Can you picture it?

What we want to focus on now, however, is how Jesus preached to the people. He spoke in a different manner than usual this time. With this message we want to think about Jesus and Him speaking in parables. Yes, as introduction also to this sermon series on Jesus’ parables, I thought let us just think about Jesus preaching by way of parables. Our text is Matthew 13:3a where we read: “and he spake many things unto them in parables”. And then we will look also at vs. 10-17 to see Jesus’ response to the question of the disciples as to why Jesus spoke to them in parables.

Do you know what parables are? And why did Jesus speak in this way anyways? Maybe some of you have heard before that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. And that is true, but there is more to say about parables. A parable is a story told in a way that draws you yourself into it, even without you knowing it perhaps. In the Old Testament we have the parable story that Nathan told to David in II Samuel 12 about this rich man who stole his poor neighbour’s one and much loved lamb to make a meal for a guest. Instead of using one of his own sheep, this rich man wrongly and cruelly stole the one sheep of his neighbor to feed his guest. And David, upon hearing this, gets all upset with that rich man and he says to Nathan that the rich man deserved to die for this crime, and before he is so punished, he should give at least four sheep back to that poor man! Then Nathan responds to David saying: “You are that man, David! Just think now of your sin with Bathsheba and your murder of Uriah, her husband.” And David sees suddenly what a horrible wicked man he had shown himself to be.

The point now is parables are special stories with a convicting spiritual point, forcing us to ask the question: “Where do I fit in all this? What is my relation to the kingdom of God?” Parables are stories where you take what is well-known and place it alongside that which is not well-known in order to explain it and apply it in a clear and pointed manner. The power of parables is that they help make gospel truths more concrete or real, and they can make it more interesting. Who doesn’t like stories? Also parables, these gospel stories, can be easier to remember, and they can be repeatedly told and drawn from and applied. Parables, in other words, are a very special means of preaching and applying the gospel.

So let us think now about Jesus preaching by way of parables as we are told in vs. 3: “And He spake many things unto them in parables.” By using parables, what kind of preacher does it prove Jesus to be? See if you can agree with me when I now bring out that Jesus preaching with parables shows to us what a caring Man and Preacher Jesus was, and what an earnest Man and Preacher He was, and what a great Man and Preacher He was.

That Jesus was a most caring Man and preacher we can know from the setting of this chapter itself. Jesus may very well have left the house where He had been preaching and teaching just to get a break or have a little rest. But when the people followed Him to the seaside, and many more were added to them, He decided to make use of the opportunity and preach to them some more. And Jesus preaching now in parables brings out how He really desired to come across to them in a way that they would hear and understand what He had to say. Jesus, we can say, went out of His way time and again not only to preach the gospel but to do so in a way that would capture the ears and hearts of His hearers. Jesus used different approaches and styles in His preaching to reach to all in His audience. A study of the first three gospel books shows that the parables of Jesus made up about thirty-five percent of His teaching and preaching.

We can say in preaching and teaching with parables, Jesus was like the preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:10-11. There we read, speaking of King Solomon in part, and surely of Christ ultimately: “The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.” So think of Jesus now, as the Good Shepherd, preaching by way of parables, seeking to find acceptable words, literally delightful words or words that would be attractive and compelling, words that would penetrate and stick. Jesus, for sure, was and is the most caring Preacher ever in this regard. Think of Him when preaching in parables, also as the word parable literally means, casting His instructions into various forms to attract and fix the attention of His listeners. We are told Jesus spoke in parables even as He sat on the fisherman’s boat. Jesus is the great Fisher of men and see Him now also by means of parables aim to hook in many into His gospel net and kingdom!

Jesus accommodated Himself in this respect, as far as was consistent with preserving the interests of truth, to the diversified tastes of men. He took care to avoid everything in His mode of expression and in the general manner of His instructions that could tend unnecessarily to irritate or repel those whom it was the desire of His heart to make ‘wise unto salvation’. He sought to gain their ear only that He might more effectually reach their hearts. He used all the sweetness of persuasion, all the solemnity of affectionate warning, and all the faithfulness of kind reproof to win sinners from the error of their ways, and draw them to God.

Jesus using parables was meant to attract all His hearers to the gospel, younger and older, and it was another means “to win men to that which was fitted to secure their happiness, but to which they were naturally disinclined.” Jesus used parables to expose and disarm the prejudices of the Jews against Him, and to draw them into His gospel message so that they were clearly and lovingly confronted with the call of the gospel. Here let me give you a quote from a recent book I bought on parables where the author calls Jesus’ parables, “Stories with Intent”. This author [K.R. Snodgrass] writes correctly: “The immediate aim of a parable is to be compellingly interesting, and in being interesting it diverts attention and disarms. A parable’s ultimate aim is to awaken insight, stimulate the conscience, and move to action. The primary reason Jesus’ parables are stories with intent is, as we shall see, that they are prophetic instruments, the tool especially of those who have a message from God…They are used by those who are trying to get God’s people to stop, reconsider their ways, and change their behavior. Biblical parables reveal the kind of God that God is, and how God acts, and they show what humanity is and what humanity should and may become. Parables are not merely informative. Like prophets before him, Jesus told parables to prompt thinking, and stimulate response in relation to God.   Parables usually engage listeners, create reflection, and promote action. They are pointed and clinching arguments for a too often slow-minded or recalcitrant audience. They seek to goad people into the action the gospel deserves and the kingdom demands. One of the major problems of Christian churches, of Western Christianity in particular, is our stultifying [deadening] passivity. The parables compel us---for Christ’s sake literally---to do something! Parables do not seek the ‘mild morality’ [and superficial spineless hypocritical faith so prevalent all too often, but rather aimed for] radical cross-bearing, God-imitating response worthy of the name ‘conversion’.’’  

Understanding Jesus making use of parables as explained, are you not struck with me on how caring a Man and Preacher Jesus surely was when here on earth? Observe how Jesus went to all lengths to make known the gospel message and to have it hit home in people’s hearts and lives. Yes, making use also of parables in the preaching and teaching of the gospel! Oh, to what lengths Jesus went to make known the way into the kingdom of heaven and the life in the kingdom of heaven and the service thereof! As fallen rebellious sinners by nature, left to ourselves, we deserve only to be cast into hell forever. But see God in Christ spend Himself in bringing the gospel message also in the delightful winsome powerful manner of speaking in parables. How gracious and kind and merciful is God our Saviour, and Jesus speaking in parables so proves this point.

With speaking in parables Jesus was aiming to speak with truly acceptable words that would drive home the gospel message and way. It is clear also from Ecclesiastes 12:10 that in preachers seeking for acceptable words, words that would be well understood and received, it should never affect the content of the message. Seeking acceptable words refers to the manner of preaching and not the unchanging message itself, for the text also goes on to say that what was written and spoken was upright, and words of truth. We live in a time today where preachers are all too often careless about what they preach and how they preach. Too many, sadly, choose man-pleasing messages and styles as God’s supposed spokemen, and more and more go away from preaching the Word as given to us. When that is the case, they are no longer faithful preachers of the gospel. While as preachers we must come with acceptable words, it must always be with words that are upright, and words of truth, and not just man-pleasing words and man-pleasing styles of worship.

The balance in Ecclesiastes 12:10 is so important and relevant also for our times. We need preachers who with Paul serve, as he expressed in II Corinthians 2:17: “…we are not as many, which corrupt [peddle] the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of [from] God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”   Also in II Corinthians 4:2&5 the same apostle writes about having “renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God….For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants, for Jesus’ sake.” So it should be in all the ministry of the Word.

Clearly in our text passage with Jesus speaking parables, we see in Him a Man and Preacher Who is most caring and faithful indeed. Caring for all His hearers and caring to bring across the gospel message in as clear and appealing and faithful and compelling manner as possible! Jesus is the Example here for all gospel preachers today. Oh, let us pray for faithful preachers, and pray for our pastors to be men of the Word above all. Oh, for Spirit-anointed and empowered and blessed preaching of the Word in all churches in our country and world! Is this your prayer and care too, dear friends?

How we should love Jesus the Saviour for His preaching not only but also for His different ways of bringing the Word, and not least also for His parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. Does the fact that Jesus spoke many things in parables attract you to Jesus the Saviour? It surely should! Jesus taught the parables, wrote one commentator, “to communicate the message of salvation in a clear and simple manner….In the parables, they [the people] met Jesus as the Christ, [Who lived right among them] and Who taught with authority the message of God’s redemptive love.” Even just this fact about Him, that He spoke also in parables, should make so clear to us Jesus is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to Him in repentance, trusting Him alone, and be saved.

Saying that brings me also to our second main point where we see Jesus speaking in parables proves Him to be not only a most caring Man and Preacher, but surely also it shows Him to be such an earnest Man and Preacher. For this point we need to think about Jesus’ answer to His disciple as to why He was now speaking in parables. In some respects vs. 10-15 may seem disturbing to us but really we should see in them such a call to hear the gospel message and not to be indifferent or hardened against it whenever you hear it.

What does Jesus teach in these verses? He makes clear, doesn’t He, that with all His Word, and especially now also with the parables there is always a twofold effect. Either the Word leaves you broken and receptive or hardened and resistant. And Jesus here tells us that speaking in parables, while it will serve to draw those who will listen and look more into the gospel and kingdom of God, it will have the opposite effect on those who are defiant and resistant against Christ and His gospel message. Jesus never spoke parables with the express purpose to harden the hearts of the unbelieving and those hostile against Him, but He did speak parables to serve for the hostile and repeatedly unbelieving as a veil to the gospel, as a punishment for their ongoing resistance to the gospel.

Be sure you misinterpret Jesus’ reason for using parables if you think He did it expressly to harden some of His hearers’ hearts, because after all, God didn’t really want them to be saved. No, in all Jesus’ preaching and ministry, He sought to win their hearts and to awaken them to the only gospel message. John 3:17 very clearly states: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And in Luke 19:10 we read: “…the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Listen here also to what Sinclair Ferguson writes about parables. “The parables of Jesus were like missiles launched against the kingdom of darkness in men’s hearts. They were ‘timed’ to destroy the self-confidence of men and women, and to overcome all opposition to their conversion to Christ. They were calculated to bring people to a point of decision. That is why their central theme is the way in which the kingdom of God is established in the world…[Jesus’ parables] serve as mirrors of our own lives. They force us to ask the question, ‘Where do I stand in relation to the kingdom of God?’ They show us our own hearts in the light of God’s word [and will].”

With this in mind Jesus also preached His parables, but Jesus knew His preaching would have a twofold fruit, and that they also would make all the more clear those who were receptive to the truth and those who were rejecters of the truth. For those who would not be sincere seekers, Jesus makes clear, the parables would just leave them in further blindness and darkness. When comparing Matthew 13:13 and Mark 4:12, it is clear Jesus speaking in parables served as judicial punishment on those who would not hear. As John Calvin puts it, “they must endure the blame of their own blindness and hardness.”

From all this we learn too, don’t we, what a fearful thing it is to live in more or less indifference and more or less hardness to the gospel message. For in doing so, if continued, will result only in more hardness over time so that even the simple parables won’t speak to you nor interest you, but only leave you blinder still and more condemned than ever. How we should be afraid of that, or not? Hearing also Jesus’ words that the parables, while having a blessed effect on all who will hear, will have further blinding and condemning effect on all those who will not hear, isn’t it so how these words should lead to the cry: “O God be, merciful to me, a sinner, and whatever happens in my life, don’t let me be one who will not hear Your Word!” Are you too more afraid of hardness of heart before God and His Word than anything else? We need a healthy fear about this, as Isaiah 66:2 also speaks of that where God says: “…To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” Jesus is a most caring and most earnest Man and preacher, and His speaking in parables brings this out. There is nothing as important and urgent as you and me rightly hearing and responding to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you realize this too and do you make it a matter of heartfelt prayer, time and again?

What the disciples had in truly hearing God’s Word and being forever blessed by it was graciously given to them and can and may be given to all of us too. “Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” said Jesus. The purpose of Jesus teaching with parables was further to attract and awaken His hearers to come to Him and be saved and to walk in His ways and stay in His paths. Jesus earnestly preached using also parables because He knew that only with Him is salvation rich and free, and to live apart from Him is death, spiritual, physical and eternal death! How often didn’t Jesus say also with His parables at the end: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”? And surely, you agree, that brings out Jesus’ earnestness in His gospel teaching! If Jesus is so earnest in giving His Word, will you not be earnest in hearing His Word?

The text gives such incentive also to be earnest, and to take care to hear God’s Word and ask about it more and learn from it all we can. For notice how blessed the disciples were in so doing.. Here we come also to our third main point under our theme about Jesus and Him speaking in parables. Jesus speaking in this special way proclaims and proves Him to be not only a most caring Man and Preacher, and a most earnest Man and Preacher, but also it shows Him to be such a great Man and Preacher. Look how ready Jesus was to answer His disciples’ questions about His speaking in parables and later also about the further meaning of His parables. Jesus has so much to teach and so much to give, and when His Word leads you to Him with all your questions and all your sins and all your struggles and all your difficulties, see how ready He is to help and bless in all your needs and ways.

The parables of Jesus, and there are between 37 and 65 depending how you define and classify them, tell of so rich and gracious a Saviour for us, so ready to help and ready to forgive and ready to strengthen, and ready to bless! In vs. 16 Jesus says to His disciples who were hearing and receiving His gospel teaching, including that given in His parables,: “…blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.” And then Jesus brings out how favored and blessed they really were to know the full gospel message. They could hear from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as He as the promised Messiah came in the fullness of time to give His life on behalf of sinners and bring about salvation. As Jesus makes clear also in His parables, He came to open the doors of the kingdom of heaven to all who would hear His voice and repent and believe. There is nothing, says the Saviour, that could compare to this blessing. How many, Jesus says, in times past longed so to see that fullness of God’s gospel promises as revealed in Christ Jesus but they only had glimpses of it Whereas those hearing Him speak, and we now, may live in the time of the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus.  

I’m going to close now just saying, “Thanks, Lord, for preaching the Word also by way of parables and please bless this series. God forbid anyone will even have the parables result in further hardening of their heart, but rather in Your grace grant that it lead us, one and all, truly and more and more, into the way and rule and riches of the kingdom of heaven in and through Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen exalted Redeemer. Oh, he that has ears to hear, let him hear, especially also Jesus teaching by way of parables! Amen.

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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