Parables of the Kingdom
2 Jun 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM
The conveying of Bible truth has never been an easy matter, regardless of which age of history we find ourselves in.
The question is often asked as to why the message of the Church mostly falls on deaf ears? What should we do if only a few seem to be listening?
Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides some insight into this problem. Because of his anti-Nazi views, he was writing from his small prison cell in Tegel Prison, Berlin in 1944. He says, 'How do we speak…in a secular way about 'God'? (Short, 1969: 7)
If those in the world are spiritually deaf, how do we communicate the truths of Scripture when they cannot hear, or may not even want to? How do we get to the point where as Isaiah 11: 6 says,' …and a little child shall lead them.'
Jesus, during His earthly ministry faced the same issues, even with people who were eager to believe in Him. Let's read what He says in John 8: 43, 44 and 47. I am reading from the New English Bible (NEB).
He says, 'Why do you not understand my language? It is because my revelation is beyond your grasp. Your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father's desires…He who has God for his father, listens to the words of God. You are not God's children; that is why you do not listen.'
In Charles L. Schultz's comic strip called Peanuts, Charlie Brown is making the comment taken from Hebrews 13: 8 (NEB) where he says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.' (Short 1969: 8)
In this cartoon, he intimates that the response from the world could be:
Who knows what it means?
Who even listens to this kind of thing any more?
The Church, like Charlie Brown, is not used to having somebody listen to what it says. Occasionally, as shown in the cartoon, the Church is surprised, but this is also unusual.
If this situation is true it does not bode well for the Church, because the Church lives in order that others might listen, and really hear what it is trying to say.
The Church is called of God to tell the world the good news of Salvation not only in word, but also in deed. Absolutely everything it does is directed towards this purpose. Romans 15: 2 and 1 Cor 14: 26 say that the Church community and the sharing of the Good News was given for the edification of the Church at large and also to make it strong in the faith.
We are admonished in Col 4: 5-6 to make the most of our chances to tell others the Good News. Let's read what it says: (NEB)
'Behave wisely towards those outside your own number; use the present opportunity to the full…Study how best to talk with each person you meet.'
Jesus makes a comment in Mark 3: 27 that could provide his own answer to the problem of reaching those who are not listening. He says here that 'No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.' In other words, we need to capture their attention by other means if they will not listen.
How did Jesus do this in his teaching ministry, because we know he faced the same problem where many of his listeners were spiritually deaf?
Without a doubt, He did this through the use of parables.
The New Testament makes very clear in Matt 13: 34 (NEB) that 'All this [information], Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed He said nothing to them without a parable.'
Mark 4: 33, 34 says: 'With many such parables he would give [the crowds] His message, so far as they were able to receive it. He never spoke to them except in parables; but privately to His disciples He explained everything.'
At one time the disciples came to Him and said in Matthew 13: 10, 'Why do you speak to them in parables?' Or as some versions put it, 'Why do you speak to them in figures or stories?'
Why did Jesus choose an artistic, indirect, parabolic, generally puzzling means of expression, rather than launching immediately into a forceful no-nonsense direct attack? Why?
It is believed that the parables that Jesus taught, even in their simplest form, were to bind the strong men of the world. It may be the reason why the crowds who were listening to Him were spellbound by His teaching.
Mark 11: 18 (TNIV) says that, The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed at His teaching.' J. B. Phillips translation says '…for His teaching had captured the imagination of the people.'
Author C. H. Dodd suggests that it was the parables of Jesus that were the most characteristic element in all His teaching (Short, 1968: 12). If this is true then we need to know more about them.
Well what is a parable? How would we define it?
A parable is usually referred to as 'A short simple story designed in such a way that it communicates or conveys spiritual truth involving religious principles or moral lessons. As some suggest 'It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.'
Jesus' main focus through many of His parables was to introduce to his hearers what it meant to become part of the Kingdom of God. These stories were to tell us of God's love, His wonderful grace, and His desire to have us in the Kingdom
Jesus came to reveal what God was really like. Consequently, He was now going to have to explain a lot of things that people had never really understood. In Matt 13: 34, 35 Jesus tells us that He will now open His mouth in parables and '…utter things which have been kept secret from the foundations of the world.'
The people, through His parables, were to learn of the unknown through the known. In other words He was to teach them about His Kingdom through earthly things that they were familiar with. These things were usually bound up in their everyday experiences.
We need to remember that the principles of God's Kingdom are so different or so foreign to the way we see things, that it is sometimes difficult for the sinful mind to fully understand them.
For example, do you understand that 'He that is a servant among you will be the greatest in the Kingdom of God' or 'The first shall be last and the last shall be first' or as Luke 18: 14 suggests, 'All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.'
If you want to understand the depths of God's love and his grace then the parables Jesus taught are for you.
People could now learn of the unknown through the known.
In order to overcome the problem of spiritual deafness, Jesus presented His stories so well that many who were listening accepted what they were hearing before eventually discovering that the story concerned them or was condemning them.
They found themselves accepting truth that they originally did not want to hear.
A second reason why Jesus spoke in parables was that it prevented the Jewish spies from collecting evidence they could later use in their accusations against Him. Their hatred of Jesus was so deep that they pursued Him relentlessly, but they were to discover that you couldn't accuse people for simply telling good stories.
However, it was to be more than that.
Parables also have the special quality of revealing truth to those willing to receive it and at the same time hiding truth from those who would reject it. They act like a two edged sword cutting two ways.
Because His illustrations were taken from things that the people would see and experience every day of their lives, they had the capacity to create lasting impressions that would never be forgotten.
Because Jesus was seeking an avenue to every heart, these stories were designed to appeal to different hearers from the humble to the proud.
Jesus knew that the task of communicating truth was going to be difficult because he tells us Himself in Matt 13: 13-15 (KJV) that:
'… because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias…For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they had closed.'
Dear friends, Jesus had a major job in front of him as, according to his words, these people were spiritually dead.
Even the disciples were struggling with some of the concepts Jesus was talking about and we see this in the way they were grappling with their own understanding of God's Kingdom.
This was evidenced by the fact that one eventually betrayed Him
One cursed Him
Others were arguing as to who would sit on His right hand in the kingdom.
Their understanding of the Kingdom of God obviously needed serious attention.
Once having been asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come Jesus replied in Luke 17: 20, 21 that:
'The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, 'Here it is' or 'There it is' because the kingdom of God is within you.'
When you place Jesus on the throne of your heart, the kingdom of God is within you. This is called the kingdom of grace. The kingdom of glory is yet to come.
It would almost seem that Jesus had failed to instil His disciples with this spiritual truth. However, we must never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had sown the seeds of truth and the Holy Spirit was subsequently to bring their understanding to fruition. This is what took place at Pentecost as the multitudes responded to the power of the comforter.
Well what were these parables of the kingdom that Jesus used in His teaching of the multitudes? Let me group some of these together to illustrate how Jesus was to bind the strong men of the world before plundering their houses. His ultimate aim was to introduce them to the concepts surrounding the Kingdom of God.
In order to show how salvation begins Jesus in Luke 15 tells those well-known stories of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son.
Through the telling of these stories, which illustrate those who know they are lost, those who don't know they are lost, and those who have wandered away, He shows that salvation first begins with God searching after us. He calls us to follow Him and does not give up until we are found. This group of parables tell about God's wondrous love and mercy for you and me.
The second group involving the Pearl of Great Price, The Hidden Treasure, The Unfinished Towers, The two debtors, the Sower, and the Great Banquet was to not only show the value of the Gospel, but the effort that was necessary to secure it (Gane, 1997: 14). It also showed how truth was to be received by different hearers and outlined those things that might prevent us from accepting it (Matt 13: 45,46; Matt 13: 34; Luke 14: 25-35; Luke 7: 36-50; Matt13: 1-9; 18-23; Luke 14: 16-24).
For example, the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 13: 45) suggests that everything else should be secondary in our quest for Jesus and while salvation is free it comes with a great price and may cost everything we have. While it cost the death of Jesus on Calvary, it may also cost us friends, family, riches and ambition. Just as the pearl of surpassing beauty was worth everything to the merchant, Jesus, as our Saviour, is worth everything we own.
In the telling of the parable of the Sower in Matt 13: 1-9 Jesus recognised that in the crowd there were people who were represented by the four types of soil.
Let's read this story in Math 13: 3-9 (NIV)
'Then He told them many things in parables, saying: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop - a hundred, sixty or thirty times what has sown. He who has ears, let him hear.'
The people understood very well the importance of the soil to the farmer, but only those who had ears in the spiritual sense would have understood what Jesus was trying to share with them. The disciples were obviously included in this group because Jesus told them in verse 16 that blessed are their eyes because they see and their ears because they hear. To confirm their understanding he then shares the meaning with them in Matt 13: 18-23.
These parables tell us that it is HOW we respond to God's love that determines the course of our lives. God cannot accept a divided heart. You are either for Him or against Him.
The third group involving the two builders, the leaven and the growing seed show our need to make Jesus the foundation of our lives (Matt 7: 24-27; Luke 13: 20, 21; Mark 4: 26-29). They also outline the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in a person's life (Gane, 1977: 34).
Grounding ourselves in Jesus Christ transforms the heart. The Kingdom of Grace is then within you. We become changed as we await the Kingdom of Glory.
Our fourth group of parables involve the friend who called at midnight and the unjust Judge (Luke 11: 5-13; Luke 18: 1-8). These stories show that if the irritable householder can supply our need and a godless judge can dispense justice, how much more will God grant you.
They also tell us that if we are to maintain our Christian growth we are to be steadfast in our prayers to Him. They show how vital it is to continue our connection with God.
We are to pray and never give up
We are to persevere, be earnest and confident in our prayers.
The disciples understood the power of prayer very well, because they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus responds in Luke 11: 1-4 by providing them with a model prayer.
When you break it up this prayer begins by telling us to:
Give God the glory. Hallowed be thy name. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all other things will be added unto you. Give God the Glory
We then pray for our own needs.
Then we pray for the needs of others
And then you place yourself in God's care (Gane, 1997: 47).
The fifth group of stories involving the Pharisee and the Publican, the two sons and Choosing the place of honour show us the problems of outward conformity and pride without knowing Jesus. Profession without practice is hypocrisy. Self-righteousness is not true righteousness (Luke 18: 9-14; Matt 21: 28-33; Luke 14: 7-11 & Matt 23: 1,2,6).
These parables also tell us that pride is a cancer hindering our relationship with God and it is how we treat others that will determine whether we will take part in God's Kingdom.
In group number six, the stories of the talents and the dishonest steward make clear that God was telling us that we have a job to do and that was to help others prepare for our Lord's return. We are also to be faithful in small things if we are to be trusted with greater responsibilities. We need to remember that the rewards are all the same (Matt 25: 14-30; Luke 16: 1-9).
The seventh group were to involve the parable of The Good Samaritan and The Unforgiving Servant (Luke 10: 36,37; Matt 18: 22-35). These stories were not only to teach the people that true religion consists in active service for others by challenging us to know 'who is our neighbour', but to learn that we need God's forgiveness every day and every hour. In order to cancel a debt and restore ourselves to a former state, we need to 'Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors'. We need to remember that God's mercy to us is measured by the mercy we extend to others.
The final group involving 'The watchful Servants', 'The Sheep and the Goats' and 'The Ten Virgins' show that we are to continue to work for Him until He returns and we need to be ready at a time when we least expect Him (Luke 12: 35-40; Matt 25: 35-40; Matt 25: 1-13).
These parables also make clear that God will not accept the talents of the smartest or the most eloquent if the inner lamp of the soul is not trimmed and burning. They were to represent the need for a consecrated heart and a need of the Holy Spirit.
They also show us that there will be a period of waiting and watchfulness when the faith of every person will be tested. We are assured that those yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit will have success. A personal relationship with Jesus is absolutely essential. You cannot borrow this from someone else.
All these groups of parables the people could relate to very well because they dealt with those issues of life that they were familiar with in their everyday existence. Jesus was to use these stories to bind the strong men of the world before He plundered their houses.
The career of Charles M. Schultz spanned a period of about 50 years from 1950 to the year 2000. He was born November 26, 1922 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the only child of Carl and Dena Schultz. He grew up in the town of St. Paul, and as a result of being the youngest in his class at Central High School, it was believed that this caused him to become rather isolated and shy as a teenager.
He was reared in the Lutheran faith, but throughout his life he had become active in the Church of God and later in the United Methodist Church.
After being drafted into the US army in 1943, he was shipped to Europe in 1945 to fight in World War II as an infantry squad leader in the 20th Armoured Division. On return to the States he took a job in Minneapolis as an art teacher at the correspondence school where he had previously completed his art course. After various teaching responsibilities in the school, he sold his first cartoon in 1948. 'Peanuts' made its first appearance on October 2, 1950 and became one of the most popular comic strips of all time.
Much of the inspiration for his characters like Charlie Brown, were drawn from his own life's experiences. As such, religious themes came through many of his works making 'Peanuts' a happy combination of the proclamation of God's love for the world and the world as it really is (Short, 1969: 22). It was in this way that Schultz was able to get his message into the streets supporting his belief that 'It's much better being a good cartoonist than a terrible minister' (Ibid: 21). His answer was to 'bend a little' so he could put over his points without being too obvious. This is literally what a parable is. It is a bending or less obvious way of getting to a point (Ibid). Parables tend to act a mirrors of our own lives.
In 1964, a 28-year old pastor by the name of Robert Short began using Schulz's characters to explain the Christian faith. This resulted in a book called 'The Gospel according to Peanuts'. John Knox publishing House were prepared to take a risk and publish it in the hope that it may inspire some Church-school teachers to think outside the square. Their wish was more than fulfilled with over 10 million copies sold and thirty-five years later they were to issue an anniversary edition. This successful venture was to be followed by a second book in 1968 entitled 'The Parables of Peanuts'. This was because Robert Short believed so strongly that the parables of Peanuts and the parables of Jesus, to use Bonhoeffer's phrase, speak in a secular way about God.
Schultz died in Santa Rosa, California in 2000 at the age of 77 but his legacy lives on in the characters of his well-known comic strip and particularly as used in the books by Robert L. Short.
While this is one man's attempt in modern times to share the good news of the Gospel with those whose ears do not hear, the parables of the kingdom as told by Jesus to the people of His day still play their part in our world today. Jesus was the master storyteller of them all.
If we have ears that hear, what do we learn from the stories He shared?
- We learn that Salvation begins with God searching for us.
- He is calling us to follow him regardless of the cost.
- He tells us that the time for decision-making is now.
- He tells us that He cannot accept a divided heart. You are either for Him or against Him.
- When we grow in Jesus, the Holy Spirit brings a transformation in our hearts as we await the Kingdom of Glory
- We are to maintain our Christian walk toward the kingdom through persistent and earnest prayer.
- We are reminded that pride is a cancer hindering our relationship with God and it is how we treat others that will determine whether we will take part in God's Kingdom
- We are admonished to be good stewards and to work for others so that they too may see the kingdom.
- Importantly, we must learn to forgive if we are to continue our walk with Jesus and become children of God.
- We are also told that there will be a period of waiting and watchfulness when the faith of every person will be tested.
- And yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit will bring success.
It is my prayer this morning that we will hear the words of Jesus in the parables he has told and make a decision to follow Him into the Kingdom today.
NEB New English Bible
TNIV Today's New International Version
KJV King James Version
Gane, E. R. (Ed) (1997) Parables of Jesus - Stories of Love and Grace. Adult Sabbath School Lessons. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association
Short, R. L. (1968) The Parables of Peanuts. Bungay, Suffolk, GB: Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd.
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