Parables Of Jesus

Today we are going to look at an overview of the Parables of Christ and how we can understand what these parables mean. 

As I was working on the sermon for today, I thought about when my children were young, they used to love for me to tell them stories.  I would make up stories about all kinds of things to get them ready to go to bed.  Sometimes I would fall asleep while I was telling the story and one on my children would go tell my wife to come get dad out of our room, he is snoring. Unlike my stories, Parables are not fables or fantasies.  They are stories about everyday life, that would be easily recognized by the people hearing the story.    

The New Testament records around 40 parables told by Jesus depending on how you count them.  Some were short stories; some were only a sentence or two and some just a few words. Today, we are going to look at three aspects of parables, including: 

  • What are parables? 
  • When and why did Jesus begin teaching in parables? 
  • How can we understand parables? 

Then we are going to review the Parable of the four soils. 

What are parables?  

A parable is an analogy being drawn between something common, which all the listeners would recognize, and a profound spiritual truth.  A parable is an illustration or figure of speech made for comparisons sake and used to teach a spiritual lesson.   The lesson revealed in the comparison is always the central and often the only point of the parable.  Trying to find meaning in every part of the story is not what Christ intended.  

For Example – in the parable about the prodigal son, Jesus talks about how the prodigal is so hungry he wants to eat the pods the swine ate.  However, there is no special meaning in the pods, other than to show how desperate the prodigal son had become.    Or look at the oil and wine applied to the wounds of the injured man in the story of the good Samaritan.   The oil and wine have no specific meaning other than simply showing the level of care that the Samaritan gave to the injured man. 

Parables never have elements of myth or fantasy.  The parables of Jesus are all believable, true to life illustrations.  They are simple word pictures providing a profound spiritual lesson.   

Jesus did notInventParables, they were used sparingly by Jewish leaders and teachers, and some were recorded in the Old Testament.  For example, in 2 Samuel 12:1-4, Nathan the prophet tells a parable to David after he had sinned with Bathsheba.  The purpose of the parable was to let David see his sin. 

How do people regard the parables of Jesus today? 

  • Some believe they can be interpreted in any way the reader wants 
  • Some say that we can never know what Christ was saying 
  • Some believe they contain deep mysteries that only chosen people can understand 
  • Yet this is not what Jesus intended. 

What did Jesus intend with parables? The purpose of the parables told by Jesus is to teach spiritual truth. The meaning of parables is understandable to those with “ears to hear” who seek the truth. Matthew 13:1-3a:

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables 

This is the point in Jesus’ ministry where he began to teach almost exclusively through parables. 

Teaching in Parables 

When and why did Jesus began teaching in parables.  He did not always teach in parables.  To understand why he changed his style of teaching, let’s look at when he began to teach this way. Jesus’ public ministry was near the end of its second year.  He had been traveling throughout Israel, healing many and having multiple confrontations with Pharisees and Sadducees and religious rulers. There were huge crowds trying to see him wherever he went.  Many, many people, including the Pharisees and Sadducees had seen Jesus perform numerous extraordinary miracles.  The religious rulers feared him.  They were afraid they would lose their positions.  The common people were in awe of him. 

The busy day 

At this time, again it is near the end of Jesus’ second year of public ministry, we see a day that scholars refer to as “the busy day”.  It is called this because so much happened and was recorded about that day.  It was also a transitional time in Jesus’ ministry. To get a complete picture of “The Busy Day” you can read Matthew 12 and 13, Mark 3, 4 and 5, and Luke 6

  • At the beginning of this day Jesus heals a man with a withered hand.  
  • Jesus quotes from Isaiah describing the Messiah  
  • Jesus heals the Blind, Mute and demon possessed Man 
  • Religious leaders react and accuse Jesus of healing by the power of Satan 
  • Jesus condemns the religious leaders for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit 
  • Jesus then tells how a tree is known by its fruit 
  • Religious leaders ask for a sign 

Think about that for a minute.  Jesus had just performed a miracle that had never happened before.  A blind and mute demon possessed man had been fully healed and restored, yet they asked for a sign.  They had already seen Jesus perform many miracles, yet they asked for a sign.  Jesus had already given them many signs.   

When John the Baptist inquired about Jesus and if he was the Messiah, we see how Christ responded. 

Matthew 11: 2-3 

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 

And how did Jesus respond? 

Matthew 11:4-5 

4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 

Refusing to Believe

These were the signs, but the religious leaders refused to see, they refused to believe. Then Jesus also gives them the sign recorded in:  

Psalm 78:2-4 

2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 

Jesus was giving them sign after sign, fulfilling what the scripture had foretold about the Messiah, yet they refused to believe.  

Continuing in this day we see Jesus begin teaching in parables: 

  • Parable of the Sower – 4 soils 
  • Parable of the Lamp 
  • Parable of the seed growing itself 
  • Parable of the tares 
  • Parable of the mustard seed 
  • Parable of the Leaven 
  • Parable pearl of great price 
  • Parable of the net 
  • Parable of the householder 
  • Then we see Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and calming the waves 
  • Finally, Jesus heals the demon possessed man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee 

Yes, this was a busy day. To understand more about what happened, let’s look more at the beginning of the day. Again, large crowds were following him. The religious leaders were trying to trap him.  It was the Sabbath, and a man was at the synagogue with a withered hand.  The religious leaders were watching to see if Jesus would break their laws and heal the man on the Sabbath.  Jesus asks the religious leaders a question:  

Mark 3:4 

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?  

But the religious leaders would not answer him. And Jesus was angry with them and grieved at their hardness of heart. Then he told the man to stretch out his hand and he healed him.  After this we read in: 

  • Luke 6:11 But they (religious leaders) were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.  
  • Mark 3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.  

Jesus knew what they were planning and drew away to teach the people. Jesus was not what was expected.  He was instead what was foretold by the prophet Isaiah (chapter 42) and quoted in Matthew 12

Matthew 12: 18- 21 

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” 

The people of Israel were looking for one type of savior, the conquering king, but Christ showed them that he was the gentle, quite servant spoken of by Isaiah. Yet even in this humble servant, the power of God was fully on display. There could be no doubt from anyone in the crowd that an incredible miracle had been performed. God’s power was shown for all to see.   

Yet the religious leaders, who had come to see and test Jesus, accused him of performing miracles by the power of Satan.   

Matthew 12: 24 

24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 

These leaders chose not to see the power of God in Christ. They could see power and could not deny an amazing thing had occurred. Yet they chose to be hard hearted and unrepentant and attributed this amazing act of God to Satan.  The power of the Messiah, the son of the living God, was on full display, but these leaders would not believe.  And Christ judged them on the spot for blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   

Why did Christ began teaching in parables? 

According to John MacArthur, The main reason Jesus suddenly started teaching through parables had more to do with hiding the truth from hard-hearted unbelievers than explaining the truth to simple-minded people. 

Understanding parables requires faith, diligence, careful study, and a genuine desire to hear what Christ is saying. 

Matthew 13:10-15 

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 

No unbeliever will ever grasp the mysteries of the kingdom of God with human wisdom.  

Scripture is clear on that.  

1 Corinthians 2:7-8  

 The unbelieving “‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” 

It was because of the unbelief of the Religious Leaders that Christ began teaching in parables.  Jesus used parables to teach and reveal spiritual truths.  He did not use parables to hide truth but rather to reveal truth to those who could hear.   

Matthew 13:34-35 

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” 

Mark 4:33-34  

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. 

Jesus’ parables illustrate and explain truth to people willing to listen with faithful hearts, that have “ears to hear”.  But the parables also conceal truth from unwilling and unbelieving hearts. 

How can we understand or know the meaning of the parables? 

The Condition of the Heart Determines whether the Parables are Understood and Obeyed or Rejected.  If you do not have a willing heart and willing ear you cannot understand.   

Isaiah 6:9-10 

9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 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.” 

When trying to understand the meaning of parables we need to remember: 

  • When Jesus gives an interpretation, it must be accepted as final  
  • We need to focus on what the author is saying when interpreting a parable 
  • The way Jesus explains parables gives us a model to understand and learn from His other stories. 

Our responsibility is to understand the word of truth

Timothy 2:15   

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 

So, with that preamble, let’s turn to the story of: 

Parable of the Soils 

Mark 4:3-9 

3 “Listen! Behold, a Sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

Jesus gives the Interpretation: 

14 The Sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.  

The religious leaders and others who refused to accept the words and works of Christ were the seed scattered on the path.  The same is true for people today.  Hard and unrepentant hearts cannot receive the words of Christ.   

16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.  

This is not soil with stones mixed with it but ground that has good soil on top and a rock layer underneath.  Plants in this soil grow quickly but they also dry out quickly and the plant shrivels and dies because it has no root. Following Christ seems good at first, but when difficulty arises, they fall away.  They are not rooted in Christ.   

18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  

These are individuals that hear the word of God, but the desires and material things of the world are worth more to them than Christ.  They choose the world not the savior. 

20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”  

These are the people that hear and follow Christ.  They bear fruit for his name.  The term thirtyfold does no mean 30 times the number of seeds planted.  Rather it means it is a 30, 60 and 100 times increase in the investment made.  It is an overwhelming harvest.   

Each parable told by Jesus has a central message: 

  • Parable of Sower illustrates the different types of people that encounter the gospel and their response 
  • The parable of the prodigal son’s shows us the tremendous love of God the father to see people come to repentance 
  • The parable of hidden treasure is about someone finding something so valuable (salvation through Christ) that he was willing to give all to acquire it 

Parables are intended to teach us the truth of God’ message of salvation and hope.  That by trusting in Christ and Christ alone we can be forgiven of sin and enter a right relationship with God.   

In Summary 

  1. Do you have ears to hear?  
  1. That question is answered by the kind of heart you have and how you respond to God’s word in your life. 
  1. If you do not know Christ, will you trust him today? 
  1. If you already know Christ, will you strive to have “ears to hear”, will you study the words of our Savior so that your life may produce a bountiful harvest?