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The Savior will now use a, number of parables to illustrate His teachings. A parable is a story which is used to teach us about real life situations. In Matthew 13 there are 8 parables. They are really, amazing by virtue of what they reveal – especially in light of their simplistic nature. Most of the parables uttered by the Lord are all recorded in the synoptic Gospels.
Matthew begins with describing the setting. Jesus gets into a boat as the multitude stood on the shore. Can you imagine standing there on the beach with Jesus sitting in the boat, and He looks up and says in verse 3 “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” This is imagery that probably every person present would understand. The imagery carries on today because we refer to sharing the Word of God as “sowing,” don’t we? These people could picture a man or woman with a canvas bag or basket full of seeds. And the person is going forth tossing them and scattering them – introducing the seeds to the earth with the hope that they will take root.
Matthew 13:4-8 “And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” Five verses. Ninety-four words. And one of the best descriptions of the types of Christian walks in all of Scripture.
We’re going to cover the meaning of this parable later. But Jesus concludes teaching it with saying in verse 9 “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Somewhere in the communications of truth, some people are able to take in the truths presented to them and they believe it. And some take in the very same information and reject it. I’ve witnessed it many, many times. So, Jesus, delivering very simple stories, that contain great depth of meaning, is able to reach those with ears to hear and eyes to see, while avoiding giving those who cannot handle the truth too much information. What’s interesting about parables, though is that everyone can draw out from them various levels of meaning, and even those with eyes to see may not completely understand what they mean – including Jesus’ own disciples.
Verse 10 “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” So, even the disciples didn’t automatically understand Jesus’ reasons for teaching in this manner. Nevertheless, verse 11 gives us some insight as to why some understand the parables and some don’t “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” In the Greek, the English word “mystery” relates best to something that has been covered or hidden, not revealed. Therefore, the mysteries of the kingdom do not mean incomprehensible doctrines. They are not “mysterious” or secret. Relative to the Gospel, the Messiah would come and not be a political savior, He would be crucified and raised from the dead. That is the mystery that had been hidden, in a sense, from the blind and deaf world. Paul said in Romans 16:25 “Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.” Refer also to Colossians 1:25-27. In addition to the facts about the Messiah, it was going to be revealed that the gospel would be extended to include a Gentile nation and that the Jews would reject Him. There was no way they were going to see and understand all this, and so it remained hidden unto them, but was being revealed to the Lord’s disciples.
Jesus adds to the teaching, saying in verse 12 “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Jesus was referring to the Nation of Israel. The point is that these people don’t want to understand the Savior’s teachings. Verse 13 “Therefore speak I unto them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” They don’t understand spiritual things because they don’t want to. Then Jesus declares in verse 16 “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” What a compliment! Those apostles were truly blessed to have eyes to see, and ears to hear.
Let’s get back to the Parable of the Sower. In my humble opinion, all of the illustrations in this parable are people who are not Christian except the last, and the last is seen as a Christian because it bears fruit. We’ll get to this in a minute. The explanation of the meaning of the Parable begins with verse 18 “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.” Jesus likens seed – or the word of God – being cast out on wayside soil, or soil that is on the periphery of a plot of ground. The seed lands, or the word is heard. Jesus says it this way, in verse 19 “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside.” There are numerous ways the Word of God is taught to people through their lives. It is sown on their heart-ground, but they do not understand it – especially in a spiritual sense. In one sense, men love darkness more than light because their deeds are evil. They want nothing to do with understanding the truth when it’s placed before them. They see no need to believe – have no reason to embrace it. They don’t understand the value of it in their lives. Now, when Jesus first told this parable before explaining it, all He said was that the fouls came and devoured up the seeds.
Jesus continues to teach, saying back in verse 5 and 6 “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” His explanation in verse 20 “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that hearth the word, and anon (or immediately) with joy.” These people are those who recognize the truth of the Gospel message and gladly accept it, but the Word has not rooted down into them. The deeper the root, the greater the fruit! And the roots only grow by exposure to the Word of God. So, Jesus continues to describe those who do not have root in them saying, verse 21 “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” The heart of the soul is stony with issues contrary to the Word but the only thing capable of clearing the stones out is the Word itself. We can accept some teachings but the tough ones in our lives – that the Word might offend – makes us cringe. Many churches do not teach the Word of God because it is so offensive to their congregations. So, instead their meetings are filled with fluff, and entertainment, and with information that tickles the ears of those in attendance. They’re expectations are: Make me feel good about myself – don’t make me feel guilty.
The Sower went forth to sow back in verse 7 “And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.” Verse 22 “He also that receiveth seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” The Lord paints the picture that temporal affairs “choke” the plant out – for those who struggle to keep their heads above water, financially. And, the “deceitfulness of riches” – those who are wealthy and comfortable. Groups from opposite ends of the spectrum can become unfruitful.
Finally, Jesus describes the fourth ground, saying in verse 23 “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Notice, the point is not how much fruit is produced by the believer. The point is, whether the seed takes root and produces fruit or not. This is nutrient rich “heart soil” – a heart that is willing to totally submit to God.
We’ve been talking about the ways in which people respond to hearing the Word. Now as we progress through the rest of the chapter Jesus teaches His disciples about the “Kingdom of Heaven.” The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are synonymous. The Jews believed the coming of the kingdom of Heaven meant the ousting of Israel’s enemies. They expected a political leader – a Messiah to accomplish that. But as we all know Yahweh’s kingdom was rather through the defeat of Israel’s greatest enemy – sin, Satan, and death. Listen to what is says in Luke 17:20-21 “And when he was asked of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold the kingdom of God is within you.” So, the kingdom of Heaven is within you and me! But later Jesus taught Matthew 15:24 “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So, how does the kingdom of heaven – which Jesus came to bring the children of Israel – relate to us Gentiles? All the teachings here about the Kingdom of Heaven are today, as we read them, related to the Body of Christ on earth. Those who truly receive and embrace the kingdom of heaven receive the Christ that the Jews missed when Jesus came and offered it to them. As Gentiles we all need Jesus who defeated sin, Satan, and death on the cross through his shed blood. The kingdom is not a brick and mortar institution – not a corporate organization. The Church is merely an invisible frame-work by which God is drawing as many unto Him who will come. As all believers we make up the Body of Christ.
So, let’s pick up in verse 24 “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:” Now, we have a completely different application of seed here than we did in the parable of the Sower. In the parable of the Sower, the seed being sown was the word of God. But this is not the case here. Here Jesus – represented by the farmer – sows or plants good men – represented by the good seed. Verse 25 “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.” God’s enemy is Satan and he creeps in and plants his children – the weeds – in among the good people. Satan sows false doctrine, false prophets, false believers. In this teaching the word “tares” refers to a type of “darnel grass” that grows in Palestine. It is extremely difficult to separate it from the genuine wheat. When can they be discerned? Verse 26 “But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.” Only when the fruit – the grain – sprouted was the difference between the wheat and the weeds revealed. Verse 27-29 “So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou see good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.” We cannot read another person’s heart. We cannot tell why people do what they do or say what they say. It’s not our duty to try. Our job is to show and express love to all – all of the time. Our job is to co-exist in faith and love with each other, giving all people the benefit of the doubt…giving all an opportunity to grow, to change, to repent, and let the love of God work through them. Here in this parable Jesus makes it clear that when people attempt to extract the weeds from the wheat, we run the risk of uprooting the good along with the bad.
Verse 30 “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” Those who are tares among the wheat have the greatest choice of changing only when exposed to true Christian love.
Now we are going to read more teachings of the Savior that are interrelated with what we’ve covered so far in Verse 31 “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field.” Remember Jesus said that the kingdom of Heaven is “within a person” and that it is likened to the Church expanding out over the world. In either case the beginning is small and over time grows into a tree bearing fruit. Verse 33 “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” There might be some people who see this parable in positive terms, but if we look at all of Scripture, leaven – or yeast – is almost always a symbol for corruption and human pride. This is, why the Jews ate unleavened bread – it was not puffed up by the putrefying element of leaven. The woman in this case was sowing yeast, a forbidden element in most of Scripture. She “hid in three measures.” Why did she sneak leaven into the mixture? I would suggest she did it for the same reason that – as the previous parables showed – that an enemy snuck into the field at night and sowed evil tare seeds. It is the work of the evil one.
Verse 44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” The kingdom of heaven, when discovered by someone, will be sought after with as much desire and care and trouble and effort as a man would put forth in obtaining ownership of a field where-in he literally located a buried treasure chest. It’s the drive to obtain the treasure Jesus is paralleling to obtaining the treasure of the Gospel hid to most people.
Now Jesus presents another parable of a similar bent. Verse 45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” The parallel being that when a person is seeking for truth they too, upon discovering it, will go and sell all they have to obtain it. Just as pearls are precious and beautiful so is the Good News. Give or place the Good News in front of a person who does not understand its value and they will all but trample it underfoot.
The next parable is similar to the one about the Wheat and the Tares. Verse 47-48 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.” This example reflects the missionary work of believers to gather all kinds to hear and accept the gospel. Verse 49-50 “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” This is symbolic of the extreme suffering of the wicked as they face the consequences of their evil choices.
Verse 51 “Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.” If they didn’t understand, He was still willing to teach them. Finally, Verse 53 “And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.”
And, that concludes our review of Matthew chapter 13 and Luke 8 and 13.
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