Why Teach In Parables?
The stories Jesus taught were meant to teach a lesson and that’s what a parable is. It may be about something that actually happened or it may be a made up story, but every person in a parable stands for something else, and everything that happens is to be understood according to what the lesson means.
Jesus liked to teach in parables for three reasons. First, everybody likes to hear a story and so a parable will be listened to by young and old alike. Secondly, Jesus could hide His true meaning from His enemies in a parable. Since everyone has to tell for himself what a parable means, no one could say that Jesus said ‘such and such’ specifically. Thirdly, since a story stays in your mind better than a saying or a lecture, it would stay in the minds of the listeners for a very long time. Think about it, even today the parables of Jesus have a fresh meaning to us just as when they were spoken to the people two thousand years ago.
Sometimes the disciples asked Jesus to interpret a parable because they didn’t get its meaning. He would explain it, but He always told them they should learn how to interpret the stories for themselves. He told them that they could only do that if they gave themselves wholly to God and let His Spirit shine the light of His understanding upon it. And this is what we, too, must do. We must open our minds to God and let His Holy Spirit guide us.
`The parables of Jesus always had to do with common, every day things. Either they were about nature, which lies all around us, or they were about the different interactions with one another, about men, women and children. If we learn them thoroughly and think about them as we go about our everyday life, we’ll be taught by Jesus as much today as when He lived and talked with His disciples in Judea and Galilee.
We have plenty of parables to choose from. The Gospel of Luke contains the largest number of them – 24, and 18 of those are unique to Luke. The Gospel of Matthew has 23, and 11 of those are unique to Matthew. And the Gospel of Mark has 8 parables with 2 unique to Mark.
Basically, there are 7 themes to the parables: parables about God’s mercy and grace, God’s severity and wrath, the importance of obedience, God looking into our hearts, the importance of the kingdom of God, a spiritual kingdom for all and a kingdom where the weak become strong.
The parable this morning teaches us about the importance of obedience to God. It is about a sower who distributed seed which fell upon different kinds of ground. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable after He tells it.
Let’s go back 2000 years and look at a day in Jesus’ life. Jesus had a lot of work to do every day. So many people anxiously awaited to hear His stories. The sick were waiting to be healed. He was often tired and had a hard time finding a place to rest. He spent His night in prayer, on the mountain, in the garden, under the stars, talking with His heavenly Father. And it was from these times of prayer that He drew more strength and more love for the poor people who were so needy and who were so wrong in their thinking. But Jesus wanted time to rest, too, in the sunlight and the woods and on the hills.
So one morning He started out toward the lake. However, as He walked along, the local people saw Him, and a great crowd soon pressed around Him. There were sick people, and Jesus cured them. There were questions to answer and lessons to teach. But the people crowded against Jesus so tightly that He had no room, and He couldn’t see them all very well. So Jesus got into the disciples’ boat and asked to be rowed out a little way from the shore. The disciples did as they were asked and held the boat there, while Jesus sat and talked to the people.
Once Jesus was out on the water, He was able to see all the people, and He could see beyond the crowd up on the hills that rose a little way behind. As He looked up on the hill He spotted a farmer sowing his wheat. The man had a bag of seed hanging around his neck, and as he walked the field, he took a fistful of seed and slung it in a broad, sweeping motion, allowing the seed to fall evenly. After the seed was strewn, the farmer took a bushy branch and dragged it over the ground to cover the seed with earth.
While the farmer has been doing all this, some birds have found their breakfast in the seed, and he hurries to cover it so that the birds can’t eat it. No doubt when Jesus was a boy, he had seen many a field sowed in this way, and maybe He had even helped to sow a field or two. Jesus had lived in a carpenter’s home in the village, but He was a friendly kid, and He knew quite a few farmers. Because He was such a cheerful boy the people of His village were always glad when He came around, and they often let Him help them.
Now, as Jesus looked up from the boat and saw the farmer swinging along, casting his seed, probably a scene of His boyhood came into His mind, and He could see the field with the hard path running through it and a rocky patch and the corners where the brush had been left. He could see the birds following in the farmer’s track. And Jesus made a story from it all, while the people listened and could see the very same thing Jesus was talking about.
This is the story Jesus told. A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he was sowing, some of the seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it all up. Some seed fell on the rocky ground where there wasn’t very much soil. That seed sprang up at once because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up it was scorched and soon withered away because there was no root. Some of the seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked out the seedlings. However, some of the seed fell on good soil and some of it yielded a hundredfold, some sixtyfold and some thirtyfold.
What exactly does this parable mean? There may have been a young boy or girl in the crowd with their parents, listening to the charming young teacher from Nazareth. They listened intently to His story but they couldn’t quite understand it fully, so they ask their parents. Perhaps the parents weren’t quite sure of the meaning either. If they were wise parents and knew the Scriptures, they would have been able to put the story and the Bible together. We can often find in the Scriptures the secret of the lessons Jesus taught from nature. It’s a good thing to try.
The disciples were not yet used to this kind of teaching. Most of them were rough fishermen, who had not yet studied the Scriptures very much. But by listening to the teachings of Jesus, they would come to know the Scriptures very well, and they would be able to understand the parables of Jesus. But on the day Jesus told the story of the sower, they were perplexed, and perhaps a little annoyed because they couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. So they went to Him and asked, “Why do You teach in parables?”
Jesus tried to ease their concern by answering, “You may know the secret of the kingdom of heaven, but they do not, I have to teach them in parables because they could not understand the truth if I were to tell it in plain words, just as the prophets foretold. But blessed are your eyes and ears, for they see and hear what the prophets longed to know.”
“Don’t you understand this parable? You must listen closely and set your minds to thinking when I tell a parable. And the better you know the Scriptures, the better you will be able to interpret it.” And Jesus continued, saying, “I’ll explain it to you. Listen carefully. What the sower sows is the word of God. The ones by the hard path are those who hear, and then the devil comes and carries the message away from their hearts. The ones on the rocky ground are tose who receive the message joyfully when they first hear it, but it takes no real hold. They believe for a little while, and then in the time of trouble they draw back.
And what falls among the thorns means those who listen and pass on, and the worries and riches and the pleasures of life creep in and choke out the message, and it yields nothing. But the seed in the good soil means those who listen to the message and keep it in good and true hearts, and yield much seed to give to others. Some of them are the best and truest, who yield a hundred times as much. Some others may not be quite so gifted, but they give all they have, and they make sixty times as much. Some, perhaps, are very common people, but they have good hearts, and they yield thirty times what they received. They are all good ground.”
The disciples thought and thought and thought as the word of God fell upon their ears. And I don’t doubt that the boy and the girl whom their parents helped to understand, thought and thought as well. So they all took the seed into good ground, and yielded a bountiful harvest.
The crowd was the field. There were hard hearts there, in which the seed did not bury itself at all, and it was soon taken away. There were minds too shallow to think very deeply. And when persecution came, they had no root, and the word withered away. There were souls filled with cares and pleasures, who let these things choke out the good words of Jesus. But, and this is the best part of all, there were men and women and boys and girls who were good ground, and they yielded fruit in their lives and kept the word of God in their hearts.
To briefly summarize the point of this parable: A person’s willingness to receive God’s Word depends on the goodness and purity of his heart. It can also be said that salvation is more than just a superficial hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it. It is the faith, belief and acceptance of your heart that can lead you closer to God. God’s word is accessible to everyone, but the ability to understand, keep and live by it is not the same in all people.
By reading the Scriptures and accepting the Word of God, we will have the nourishment of the good soil to make us fruitful in our lives.
Sowing the seed on the hard path, or where the rocks are found, Sowing the seed in the brier patch, sowing it in good ground. Dear Sower, I pledge You on my part, To give You good soil in my garden heart.
Christ’s parables became an important part of the scriptures. They were meant to be retold. These stories have provided insights that allow us to embrace the kingdom of heaven and eternal life, and show us the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray together: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your guidance. Forgive us for getting ahead of Your plans, and help us know when to stop and listen for Your direction. Your ways are perfect, Lord. Thank You for offering gentle grace. Help us live today in a way that brings honour to Your name. Let us choose to talk with You each day and to hear You when You speak to us. Thank You Lord for all You have done for us. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
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