The Purpose of Parables
The parables are not intended to teach general lessons and morals without any coherent, consistent focus. Instead, when Jesus began to teach in parables, he specifically did so in order to reveal the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is presently invisible to the human eye, but it operates in hearts throughout the world and is moving to the finale at the second coming of Christ.
Christ did not unveil this teaching on the Kingdom of God all at once, though. When we study the parables in order, as accurately as we can reconstruct that order, Gerald Bilkes, in Glory Veiled and Unveiled, notes that we see a pattern develop.
“At first, Christ dealt largely with the idea of the coming of the Kingdom in parables about such things as the sower sowing and the seed growing secretly in the earth. The Gospel writer Matthew has recorded most of these. Next, Christ spoke more in depth of the grace of the Kingdom. Think of the parables of the Good Samaritan, the great supper, and the prodigal son. Luke has recorded most of these for us. Finally, as Christ approached Jerusalem, the focus of the parables shifted again – this time toward Christ’s return, an event that would mark a radical division in the Kingdom. Think of the parable of the man without the wedding garment and the parable of the sheep and the goats.
“It is also interesting to notice that the only two parables recorded in the book of John focus on Christ’s revealing himself: the parable of the sheepfold (10:1-18), and the parable of the vine and the branches (15:1-7). Certainly, all of these topics relate to the Kingdom of Heaven and aim to subdue our hearts and minds to its reign of grace.”
The parables are about more, however, than just the Kingdom in code. Ultimately, Christ is the subject of the parables. The glory of the parables is derived from his glory as the King of the Kingdom. Again, Bilkes poignantly describes this aspect:
“Ultimately, he is the one who has come to sow the Word of God (Matt 13:37). He is the one digging around the fig tree (Luke 13:8). He is the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (Matt 13:44, 46). He is the one who, through his messengers, is graciously inviting people to a great supper of God (Luke 14:23). He is the bridegroom, who is soon to come for his church (Matt 25:13). He is the shepherd who goes out to find the lost sheep (Luke 15:5). Who is the father in the parable of the prodigal son, other than God through Christ looking while prodigals are still a long way off (Luke 15:20)? All the parables that speak of grace enfold Christ, at whose expense that grace will be dispensed. When by faith you look in the rearview mirror at all the parables, you realize it is the King of the Kingdom whose portrait is like a watermark throughout. What rich insights there are in the parables into the person and work of the Redeemer, for those who believe.”
When the disciples asked Jesus why he taught in parables, he quoted Isaiah 6:9-10: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” It was when people, especially the leaders, began to reject him and his teaching that Christ began using parables. They unveil the truth of the Kingdom to believers but veil and therefore hide it from unbelievers. How do they do that?
That is the question we will answer this Lord’s Day as we look at the ‘Parable of the Sower’ from Matthew 13:1-17. But the quick answer is that the parables read our hearts. Join us this Sunday as we learn how the parables read our hearts. And while you’re coming, let me encourage you to bring someone along with you. I am looking forward to worshiping the Lord with you this coming Sunday.
Grace to you,