How Important is Understanding Jesus Parables?

The Parable of the Sower

Oswald Chambers said, “The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens up and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about himself till you obey what you know already.” Understanding God’s Word is yours to have. Jesus promised it. Jesus expects you to possess it. You need to have understanding in order to engage His sayings. Let’s look at how the disciples of Jesus fared in this area.
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This is part 2 of the Series “The Parable of the Sower?” You can find Part 1 ‘What Is the Parable of the Sower [Podcast]’ here.

  • In last week’s post, we showed you how the Parable of the Sower fits into the outline of Mark’s gospel.
  • The parable is the first teaching which Mark gives out of all the sayings of Jesus.
    • For further study, Matthew’s first teaching was the Sermon on the Mount in chapter five.
    • Luke’s first teaching is found in chapter four in the synagogue at Nazareth where Jesus declared the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.
  • Let’s start this week by looking at parables in general.

What Is a Parable?

Mark 4:2 (KJV)
2 And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,

  • A parable is a simile or a metaphor.
  • Jesus used it to teach unknown spiritual truths using well-known natural realities.
  • Why is this possible? Because the spiritual gave birth to the natural.
  • Offspring mirror their parents. And so, natural things mirror spiritual things.
  • These similes abound in well-known passages of scripture.
    • The one who meditates in God’s Word is LIKE a tree planted by the rivers of water (Ps. 1:3).
    • The righteous shall flourish LIKE a palm tree in Lebanon (Ps. 92:12).
    • The path of the just is LIKE a shining light (Prov. 4:8).
    • A beautiful woman who shows no discretion is LIKE a ring of gold in a pigs mouth (Prov. 11:21).
    • A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown but a disgraceful wife is LIKE decay in his bones (Prov. 12:4).

Vincent Taylor’s definition of parables is excellent. ‘A metaphor or story connected with the affairs of daily life is used as an illustration of moral and spiritual truths, on the assumption that what applies in one sphere is relevant also in the others’ 2.

  • Parables then, are stories about natural things used to illustrate spiritual things.
  • We could say it this way. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the natural order of things in many respects.”
  • Therefore spiritual things are not so hard to understand once the natural connections are unveiled.
  • And I say unveiled because what else is a parable?

Mark 4:11 (KJV )
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

  • According to Jesus, parables are mysteries of the kingdom.

Definition: mystery – The Greek word is ‘mysterion’ – a secret.

  • A Bible mystery is a secret.
  • In order for secrets to no longer be secrets, they must be revealed or unveiled.
  • How do we gain access to the secret?
  • The disciples gained access to an understanding of the parable by getting Jesus alone and asking him.
  • It’s not enough to be lethargically saved.
  • God’s power and revelation always go to the seeker.

The Disciples Understanding of Jesus Message

  • Look at the range of understanding among the disciples where Jesus sayings were concerned.
  • In Mark 7, Jesus gave out a parable concerning ceremonial uncleanness.

Mark 7:18 (KJV)
18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;

  • The disciples followed the same pattern with this parable as they did with the Parable of the Sower.

Mark 7:17 (KJV)
17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.

  • So the disciples flagged Jesus down and asked him about what He said.
  • On another day Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees.

Mark 8:14–21 (KJV)
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. 15 And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. 16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. 17 And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18 Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? 19 When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. 20 And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. 21 And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?

  • Jesus asked his disciples penetrating questions.
    • Why don’t you understand?
    • Why are you reasoning or getting over into the mental arena?
    • Why don’t you perceive?
    • Why do you have eyes but can’t see?
    • Why do you have ears but can’t hear?
    • What’s wrong with your memory?
    • Why is your heart hardened?
  • Jesus is asking these questions and at the same time pinpointing that the hearts of His disciples was not ground ready for harvest.
  • The same thing occurred when Jesus told them about His Passion, His coming death.

Mark 9:30–32 (KJV)
30 And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. 32 But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.

  • They didn’t understand these words of Jesus but there’s a difference here.
  • Unlike the Parable of the Sower, unlike the Parable concerning ceremonial uncleanness, the disciples were afraid to ask Him about His death.
  • They would not come to Jesus for an explanation.
  • And the actions of the disciples after Jesus was led away and crucified showed they didn’t understand.
  • They really should have come to Jesus and asked Him what He meant.
  • They had the opportunity to walk in the revelation of what was going on Calvary.
  • But because they didn’t ask, these disciples of Jesus displayed no more knowledge of what was happening at Calvary than the Roman soldiers who crucified Him.

You can be in God’s ‘in crowd.’ All you have to do is ask.

  • If you don’t ask, you’ll just go through the same stuff and be just as blind about what’s happening as everybody is on planet earth.

Keeping Parables Real

  • Jesus kept His message real.
  • When He taught, He used the everyday language and events of His time.
  • Israel was an agricultural society.
  • Sowing was a real life occurrence to them.

From the beginning of the Bible nearly to its end, we move in a predominantly rural and agrarian world of field and vineyard, cattle and herds, sowing and reaping. Although cities existed in the world of the Bible, the majority of the people were directly dependent on the land for their livelihood. 3.

  • Today, this is not the case. Today, we live mostly in an industrial society.
    If Jesus came today, if He walked planet earth in the 21st century, what would His parables to us be like?

ILLUSTRATION: A Modern Kingdom of Heaven Parable
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who found a start-up company named Microsoft. Who emptied his accounts and took out a second mortgage on his house in order to buy stock in that company. He who has ears to hear let him hear.

  • Or here is a parable for our sports oriented community. Maybe, you have seen this or met this person.

ILLUSTRATION: A Modern Local Church Parable
The local church should not be like a sprinter on a relay team who, because he wasn’t selected as the anchor for the race got mad, picked up his baton and went home. He who has hears to hear let him hear.

Call to Action:

Jesus kept His witness and His teaching real. He framed His message in the words of the day. How about you? Do you know who you are reaching and are you communicating to them in a way they can understand?

Questions: Have you come across any parables which would speak to our generation? Please leave your comments in the comments section below.

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References:

  1. Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd, 2000), 694
  2. Taylor, page 249
  3. Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 269