One phenomenon depravity produces is man’s penchant to distort the words of Christ. False teachers twist all of Scripture, but when it comes to the red letters, the violations are the most scrupulous. It should be of no surprise that the earthly ministry of God Himself is often attacked or marginalized. Christ’s teachings were offensive to most as He walked the earth, and they are just as offensive to the masses in our contemporary times.
Yet, hasn’t man always disparaged God’s word? When the Lord gave His command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Satan’s subtle suggestion to Eve was essentially, “Did God really mean…?” Christ’s ministry is subjected to the same sinful man-centered reasoning today. Cultural Christianity itself dismisses truths that do not align with human agendas. The love of God is not appealing to human ears. As a result, God continues to harden hearts (Romans 9:18), leading to pitch-black spiritual blindness.
Over the years, false teachers have watered down or “softened” Christ’s commands to make them more palatable for their audiences. My future blogs will address non-biblical teachings in more depth and compare them with Scripture. But for the present, this and the three following posts will focus on a specific set of red letters—the parables of Christ.
Unfortunately, Christ’s parables are mostly ignored within cultural Christianity. This is the case because so many of the Kingdom’s truths are inconvenient to worldly listeners. Due to unbelief, the parables are often twisted, misunderstood, and avoided. However, the teachings’ spiritual lessons present the realities of discipleship costs, faithfulness, and eternal focus. The true Christ-follower will embrace the parables and hold on to them for dear life.
What is a Parable?
The word parable comes from two Greek roots, para (“beside) and ballō (“throw”). Parable means to “place alongside.” As a simple teaching tool, Christ used parables to compare two things that are alike in some way, with the ultimate objective of demonstrating a spiritual lesson. They were diverse— long or short, some contained similes and metaphors, and some utilized proverbs. The parables of Jesus are recorded in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
A significant aspect of Jesus’ parables is that they were never constructed on fiction. They were true-to-life illustrations. And counter to a popular notion, Jesus used parables extensively compared to rabbis who pre-dated Him. As stated by John MacArthur, the device was used occasionally before Christ, it was not used with great frequency. So this begs the question, when and why did Christ use parables in His ministry?
The Parables as Judgment and Mercy
Today, many have suggested that Jesus presented parables to make His teachings more interesting. However, His exclusive use of these illustrations came at a turning point in His ministry. His teaching style changed dramatically in response to hard hearts. Ultimately, His employment of parables has deep eternal ramifications. Let’s examine Scripture to understand.
In Chapter 12 of Matthew, the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking the law by picking grain to eat on the Sabbath. In response to their false accusation, Jesus proclaimed His deity by stating, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus then proceeded to heal a man’s withered hand and later healed a demon-passed man. In contempt, the Pharisees accused our Lord of working miracles through demonic power. These events on the Sabbath became a crescendo for the Pharisees’ hatred.
Later that same day, Jesus would begin a discourse in parables (Matthew 13), and He would use them for the remainder of His public teachings. It was clear that most Jews were blind to His words, and they rejected Him. In His goodness, Jesus continued to spread the truth while encountering staunch opposition to His ministry. Consequently, the parables were judgment because their meanings were obscured, allowing the unbelievers to dwell in the darkness they desired. Yet, in His mercy, Christ provided the parables as charity also. Because they had already rejected Him, more truth would only increase the unbelievers’ eternal condemnation. Hiding the clear truth in parable was merciful.
Spiritual blindness prevented scores of listeners from perceiving the truth and seeking the truth. Like salvation, the privilege of embracing the message of the parables is a gift from God. The truth is not valuable to the hearts of the unbelieving. In explaining this reality to His disciples, Jesus also referred to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy from Isaiah 6:9-10. Jesus stated the following:
“To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'You WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; For THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.' But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:11-17)
Likewise, in Mark and Luke’s accounts, Jesus conveyed that those who are able to see and understand do so because of God’s ordinance. Ultimately, when Jesus stated, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8), He was referring to an ability only bestowed by God. For believers of all-time, this reality is breathtaking. As described in all of the synoptic gospels, the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for comprehending the parables.
Luke 8:1o—“To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.”
In subsequent posts, we’ll examine just a few parables that have been misapplied and misinterpreted by many. These will include the parables of the sower (Matthew 13::3-23, Mark 4:2-20, Luke 8:4-15), the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44), the pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46), and the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
 John MacArthur. Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told. Nelson Books, Inc. 2015. xxx.
Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I WILL OPEN MY MOUTH IN PARABLES; I WILL UTTER THINGS HIDDEN SINCE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD .”
And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN .”
As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.”
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.