It’s been said that a picture’s worth a thousand words, and that’s probably accurate. If you had never witnessed a sunset, I could spend hours describing one, and your mental picture might still be inadequate. In the absence of the real thing, it would require a picture for you to appreciate the immensity and beauty of a sunset.
But then there are abstract concepts, like virtue and pride. How can we accurately understand something we cannot see or hear or touch? Pictures are still the answer, but they must be constructed with words. In fact, word pictures hold so much value in communicating truth that the two wisest men who ever lived—Solomon and Jesus—used them extensively in their teaching.
What is a parable?The word parable literally means “brought alongside.” In the Bible, parables are short stories about familiar subjects that are used to illustrate a spiritual truth.
Parables Reveal Truth With Simplicity
Solomon’s proverbs are eloquent in their simplicity; for example, “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life” (Proverbs 10:11). We cannot visualize righteousness, but we can appreciate the value of pure, drinkable water. Jesus’ stories are longer, yet just as articulate. With simple illustrations, they communicate profound spiritual truth and challenge us deeply. It is impossible to forget the stories He told.
Someone has defined a parable as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. By starting with something familiar, like baking or keeping a house, they provide a framework in which we can understand transcendent truth. And that’s the essence of education, isn’t it? Education is exploring the unknown through the known.
Jesus takes common things that the Jewish people would have known well and constructs a short story—a framework of knowledge—within which He communicates something His listeners do not know. For those with open ears and open hearts, He unveils more than a new understanding; He reveals a whole new kingdom—the kingdom of heaven.
—Excerpted from The Jeremiah Study Bible
Parables Reveal Truth With Selectivity
Matthew 13 records a conversation between the disciples and Jesus in which they ask the same question we are pondering: “Why do You speak to them [the multitudes] in parables?” (verse 10)
Here is His response:
The “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” are revealed selectively through divine revelation. Those who respond to what they have been given will receive more and continue to grow, but those who refuse to accept what has been given to them will lose their ability to understand spiritual matters. Any lack of revelation is due to a lack of willingness to receive it.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encouraged His followers to exercise the same kind of selectivity, saying, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6). Sharing the Gospel requires discernment. When people close their eyes and ears to biblical teaching, Jesus instructs us to move on and focus our efforts on those who are receptive to the pearls of wisdom contained in God’s Word.
Parables Reveal Truth With Specificity
Because they describe such ordinary activities, it might be tempting to think of parables as casual conversations between Jesus and His followers. We might imagine Him thinking, They’re just not getting it; I’d better tell a story. But Jesus’ use of parables carries significance beyond the truths they teach.
Matthew 13:34-35 provides an additional reason for Jesus’ parables: the fulfillment of a prophecy found in Psalm 78:2. Matthew says,
According to this passage, we become privy to the most ancient and profound secrets ever told when we study the stories of Jesus. The Old Testament prophets received hundreds of specific prophecies about the coming Messiah, but they often couldn’t make sense of them—they knew there would be a Messiah who would reign forever, but they also knew He would die. From their perspective, it didn’t seem to fit together. We have the benefit of interpreting those passages after the Messiah’s earthly life and teaching—events which fulfilled three hundred prophecies and provide context for understanding those that remain unfulfilled.
Parables Reveal Truth to Those With Spiritual Sensitivity
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote a pastoral letter to the church at Corinth in which he compared earthly wisdom with spiritual wisdom. He states, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19).
Wisdom begins with humility. As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate a soft and sensitive heart so that when God speaks, we hear Him. He shouldn’t have to shout. When He shouts, it is often due to spiritual deafness on our part. The best way to hear God’s whisper is to quiet our heart with humble obedience.
He wants to save you, and He wants to send you to others. Won’t you say “Yes” to Him?
—Excerpted from The Jesus You May Not Know, chapter 5
Parables Offer the Power and Privilege of Discipleship
Peter Parker is a fictional character who transforms into the web-slinging superhero we know as Spider-Man. Without his assumed identity, Peter is an awkward high school student who struggles socially. But when he takes up the mantle of Spider-Man, Peter gains supernatural power to avert evil and protect humanity from the criminal underworld. His character has popularized a modern proverb that states, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
We, too, can access supernatural power if we take up the mantle of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 13:16-17, Jesus told His disciples they were a special group of people, for they were able to see, hear, and understand what the prophets in the Old Testament struggled to decipher. As His present-day disciples, we share their privilege.
What is a disciple?The word disciples, which is often used in the New Testament to describe His followers, means “learners.” They were learning from the best—literally the best teacher the world has ever seen. When we speak of discipleship, we’re talking about learning. That doesn’t simply mean learning a handful of facts. It also means learning to please God and live courageously.
—Excerpted from The Jesus You May Not Know, chapter 4
Jesus, the Teacher of Truth, taught in parables because they simply, selectively, and specifically penetrate the hearts of those who are sensitive to His teaching. Like the Twelve, we have access to the wisdom of the ages, and now we are responsible for it.
So let me pose a new question: Are you ready to sit at the feet of Jesus and grow as His disciple? If so, open your Bible and your heart, and let Him tell you a story.
|A Friend in Need||Luke 11:5-13|
|A Wise Man Builds on Rock and a Foolish Man Builds on Sand||Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49|
|Building a Tower and a King Making War||Luke 14:25-35|
|Lamp Under a Basket||Matthew 5:14-16; Mark 4:21-22; Luke 8:16-17; 11:33-36|
|New Wine in Old Wineskins||Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38|
|The Absent Householder||Mark 13:33-37|
|The Barren Fig Tree||Luke 13:6-9|
|The Creditor and Two Debtors||Luke 7:41-43|
|The Dragnet||Matthew 13:47-50|
|The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant||Luke 12:35-38|
|The Fig Tree||Matthew 24:32-44; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33|
|The Good Samaritan||Luke 10:30-37|
|The Great Supper||Luke 14:16-24|
|The Growing Seed||Mark 4:26-29|
|The Hidden Treasure||Matthew 13:44|
|The Leaven||Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21|
|The Lost Coin||Luke 15:8-10|
|The Lost Sheep||Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7|
|The Lost Son||Luke 15:11-32|
|The Minas (Pounds)||Luke 19:11-27|
|The Mustard Seed||Matthew 13:31, 32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19|
|The Pearl of Great Price||Matthew 13:45-46|
|The Persistent Widow||Luke 18:1-8|
|The Pharisee and the Tax Collector||Luke 18:9-14|
|The Rich Fool||Luke 12:16-21|
|The Rich Man and Lazarus||Luke 16:19-31|
|The Sower||Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:2-20; Luke 8:4-15|
|The Talents||Matthew 25:14-30|
|The Tares (Weeds)||Matthew 13:24-30|
|The Two Sons||Matthew 21:28-32|
|The Unforgiving Servant||Matthew 18:23-35|
|The Unjust Steward||Luke 16:1-13|
|The Wedding Feast||Matthew 22:2-14|
|The Wicked Vinedressers||Matthew 21:33-45|
|The Wise and Foolish Virgins||Matthew 25:1-13|
|The Workers in the Vineyard||Matthew 20:1-16|
|Unshrunk (New) Cloth on an Old Garment||Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21; Luke 5:36|
|Unprofitable Servants||Luke 17:7-10|
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