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Parables of Christ

Parables of the Kingdom

Various Scripture

Lesson audio

The Art of the Parable

The parable did not originate with Jesus; it is, however, closely associated with his teaching. There are a number of reasons for this:

·         Perhaps most obvious is this: they're easily to remember. The human brain is not like a file system — more like an attic, rather cluttered.

·         The parable engages your own experience. When Christ speaks of the wheat and tares, every gardener knows what he's talking about.

·         Parables are simple; anyone can understand them. Sometimes, however, people choose not to understand.

·         Parables promote self examination. The moral of the story is always rather a little bit sly, and sneaks up on you.

·         Sometimes the parable is used to say something in public which will be explained in private. Thus Christ can leave us is teaching without deliberately offending the Pharisees.

·         Perhaps most ingenious of all, the parable is open to multiple interpretations. Sometimes it means this; other times it means that; and sometimes it means both.

To What Shall I Compare

We may begin with some of the simpler parables. Today's subject is the parables of the kingdom of God.

Leaven

Luke 13:20-21 NASB  And again He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  (21)  "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."

The reader will please note that leaven, in the Old Testament, is often a symbol of sin. To avoid confusion, we shall simply state that it does not so apply here.

This is one of those scary little parables. It seems so simple yet he can mean one of many things:

·         Some view this little parable as meaning that the church is the conscience of society. It's a traditional interpretation. However, I must ask: do we really function as the conscience of our society? Do we make any effort to do so?

·         Perhaps more plausible is this: by the power of the Holy Spirit, the small of the church grow more numerous — but not in a highly visible way. This is important if you consider our standard methods of evangelism for our time. As we shall see later, immediate success does not necessarily mean great growth in the church.

·         But there is yet a third interpretation. It also shows that the small in the church and produce great things. It is a warning therefore to the Christian that something will be expected from those who were given little.

Seed Grows Secretly

Mark 4:26-29 NASB  And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;  (27)  and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know.  (28)  "The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.  (29)  "But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

This parable has been known to puzzle Christians mightily. The truth of the parable, taken literally, is quite obvious. This is how plants grow. The key to understanding this parable is the statement that the sower of the seed does not know how it grows. In the kingdom of God, stuff happens. You don't know how it works; it just does. The concept of the "divine appointment" is familiar to most mature Christians.  Why does God work this way?

·         It helps to prevent pride from rising — or at least complacency. When you are aware that you could not have done it your self, but God must have been involved — you have a truer picture.

·         Some of us need a little instruction in this, but it's true. When you see them like this, you know you are blessed.

·         Perhaps most important of all is this: the newcomer will see the hand of God — as long as we don't take credit for it.

Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32 NASB  He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;  (32)  and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES."

This parable presents another fact about the kingdom of God. Most of us recognize that the church starts small, grows slowly but firmly. That's the normal growth pattern to a church. But its growth is not entirely directed at numbers. Bigger is not necessarily better, if you are not fulfilling the purpose of the church. There are several such purposes; the one which is pointed out here is that the church is to be a haven. Our medieval ancestors would have recognized this explicitly; a church was a place in which a fugitive could take refuge. There is a difference between a church which is a very popular health club for saints, and one which is a hospital for sinners. It is well to know which you are.

The Sower

Mark 4:1-20 NASB He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.  (2)  And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,  (3)  "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow;  (4)  as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.  (5)  "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.  (6)  "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  (7)  "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  (8)  "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."  (9)  And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  (10)  As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.  (11)  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,  (12)  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."  (13)  And He *said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?  (14)  "The sower sows the word.  (15)  "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.  (16)  "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;  (17)  and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.  (18)  "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word,  (19)  but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  (20)  "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

It is convenient to analyze this parable in terms of the three less than fruitful soils on which the seed fell.

Path

CS Lewis had his devil, Screwtape, once pronounce that humans think the demons do their best work by putting things into their minds. Not so; it's by keeping them out that they prosper. Satan actively seeks to prevent the gospel from ever entering anyone's life.

He gets a lot of help in this. We live in a time when cynicism is rampant. Indeed you might hear the objections these ways:

·         "I'm glad that works for you." The postmodern world is happy for you to be a Christian – as long as you don't try to spread the idea that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Then things get sticky.

·         "I've never inquired, and I don't need to." So it is that man, the emperor of his own soul, dismisses the truth as being inconvenient. We simply can't be bothered with it.

·         The root cause, of course, is pride. Pride develops a hardness of heart that makes it easy to reject any overture of love.

Rocks

Those of us living in the American West are quite familiar with the tumbleweed. It is almost the iconic symbol of the loneliness of the desert. It may surprise you to find the tumbleweed to have a root system; it's just their way of using it. The tumbleweed grows quite quickly but when it gets to a certain size its connection to the roots snaps. It's the tumbleweed's way of spreading out. It's also a good example of what happens to those of us who never really get connected to the church just quite right.

You will see an initial enthusiasm, often a very great enthusiasm. What you may not realize is that great enthusiasm is their natural, normal response to a new offer of meaning in life. Your author once had an employee who bounced from one good thing to the next (including salvation by country Western dancing). The first three weeks perhaps even month were spent in boundless enthusiasm for the new method which filled her conversation. Then something happened, some little pressure of the day and she immediately reversed course and began looking all over again for the next new thing. It is very frustrating for the teacher, but it is a normal part of the growth of the kingdom.

Thorns

This situation is the most common of all in our time today. We live in a society which is ultimately materialistic; we compete with each other on the number and size of the toys we buy. It's not new; Jesus was talking about here 2000 years ago. What is new is that our senses are bombarded with the advertising of the materialist lifestyle in a way never before possible. For most Americans, you are what you buy.

Notice please that the "seed", the gospel message, is the same for all three of these folks. What's different is how they nurture the seed. Those on the path is not nurture it at all, those in the rocks let it grow however it wants to, but those amidst the thorns treated as just one more good thing. The sovereign thing in their life is the desire to possess; processing Christianity means that you take a part of the faith, not the whole. It would be a good thing if it didn't interfere with the weekly trip to the lake with the boat.

Some of us grow very well in the midst of the thorns. We need to be reminded that thorns can be twisted to make a crown.

Weeds

Matthew 13:24-30 NASB  Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  (25)  "But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.  (26)  "But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.  (27)  "The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?'  (28)  "And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves *said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?'  (29)  "But he *said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.  (30)  'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

Matthew 13:36-43 NASB  Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field."  (37)  And He said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man,  (38)  and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one;  (39)  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.  (40)  "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.  (41)  "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,  (42)  and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (43)  "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Grow Together

It may have occurred to you to note that not all of the people who attend church really act like Christians. In fact, you may suspect some of them of being hypocrites. And it's just barely possible that some of those hypocrites are doing well by the world's standards. In fact you might know someone who causes you to ask God, "Why do the hypocrites prosper in our church?" Think of it this way: where else would they prosper? You never see a counterfeit of the $25 bill.

In truth, this is an example of God's love for all of humanity. For the hypocrite will prosper in the church, but there is also no more likely ways for him to come to repentance. God gives all a space to repent.

Of course, you might be thinking that it's very difficult to determine just who the hypocrites are. This is true; and therefore you might consider not worrying about it. After all, it is rather judgmental to call someone a hypocrite. Remember that our Lord will separate it out at the end of the age, and lead judgment to him.

While His Men Were Sleeping

Of course, it would be very convenient if we could prevent such people from joining the church in the first place. In fact, we do precious little in this regard. Our ancestors will someday appointed us and say that we failed to do that which we could. For example:

·         No church discipline. It is extremely rare to see church discipline reach a public stage. We'd like to think this because it's unnecessary, but I think we all know better than that. The reason we don't see church discipline is that there is none. We have a driving wish not to offend anyone, and therefore we do not help them.

·         Preaching. Our ancestors would've prided themselves on the fact that they were unafraid to preach on any subject. As a simple matter of fact, this was expected. The preacher was judged on his willingness to take on controversial topics. We now then go backwards to avoid giving offense; I wonder how this sits with the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense.

·         The dull, sleepy church. It's interesting that in church music we have gone to the loud, the up tempo commercial sound. It's just a speculation, but perhaps the reason this is so popular today is that the rest of the church service is rather dull. It is a sign that the church is becoming like the world.

An interesting result was obtained by the Southern Baptists in surveying people who do not go to church. When asked what a church should look like, they replied that it should have stained glass windows, and an organ. A church, you see, should look like a church. The sinners seem to have higher expectations of us than do the saints.

At the End of the Age

The time of reckoning will come. There is no other way to put it; at the return of our Lord will come the judgment. Notice the two types of people that he will pick out of the church as being weeds:

·         First, there are those who are lawless. These are the hypocrites who proclaim themselves pious on Sunday and sophisticated Saturday night.

·         Next, there are those who are the stumbling blocks. There's an interesting point for discussion; just who are these people?

It does matter, you know. It matters every bit as much as heaven and hell.

So there it is: the kingdom of God. It starts is a little thing, grows slowly, and becomes a haven. In the process Satan assaults it, keeping out those who can, and polluting as many of the others as he can.

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