Matthew, chapter 13. Here we find a chapter full of parables, 7 to be precise and all of them talk about the Kingdom of God.
- The parable of the sower
- of the weeds
- of the mustard seed and the leaven
- of the hidden treasure
- of the pearl of great value
- of the net
- of the new and old treasures
When Jesus talks about the Kingdom, it is unlike anyone else.
John 1:18 ESV
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
For all the revelations of Scripture, here, at last, was the Son of God, come down from heaven to tell us about his eternal Kingdom.
And he did so, in parables. A parable is an illustration or a metaphor that is used as an aid to teaching. It helps reaffirm and put the clearer teaching into perspective.
Now, you can do teaching without such illustrations, but think about illustrations without the teaching. Jesus is not teaching them the truth about the Kingdom and using parables to illustrate what he is saying, instead he speaks to them only in parables.
All that the people are being given are metaphors, symbols, or vague pictures of what really is.
Parables without the clear teaching are puzzles. This seemed strange to the disciples of Jesus, and so they came to him.
Matthew 13:10 ESV
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
- Notice here that the question is directed at Jesus, regarding “them”. Not the disciples, but the people that they were travelling and reaching out to.
All this while Jesus has been teaching the people who came to him with the clear message of truth, of the Gospel of the kingdom.
Matthew 4:23 ESV
23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
But now he shifts to parables, intentionally obscuring his message.
- The question the disciples asked can be taken in two ways,
a.Why do you speak in parables, as if to ask what Christ’s purpose was.
b. But also, to ask why he even bothers speaking in parables since the riddles of the metaphor puzzles everybody anyway. What’s the point then?
- And to add to their frustration, he was speaking in parables about a topic that every Jew (correction, every human) wants to hear.
And here is Jesus’ response.
Matthew 13:11–13 ESV
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.
- To you it has been given…. to them it has not been given.
This was intentional obscuring or concealing of revelation. The truth of Christ’s Kingdom was a privilege granted to some and withheld from others. Revelation is not a matter of us deserving to know the truth, it s a matter of the grace bestowed on an undeserving people. It has to be granted to us, the permission and intention of God to reveal the truth.
Biblical revelation is nobody’s birthright. It is divine grace.
- to know
However, the grant or allowance here is not to hear, but to know. The aim is not to obscure the hearing but the knowing. In other words, it must not just be granted to us that we hear the revelation of God, but it must be granted to us to know and believe it.
You see here the sovereignty of God at work, and standalone parables were just a way for God to conceal the knowledge of certain things.
“The ability to understand God’s message, let alone respond to it, is the gift of God, distributed according to His sovereign choice.” – R.C Sproul (The Reformation Study Bible)
- the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
And the parables here are revealing the secrets or mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. This matters, because there are teachings that Jesus does not conceal in parables.
It appears then that the teaching of the Gospel message is proclaimed to the ends of the world for it has been granted for all to hear that message. But we do also recognise that it has not been granted for all to have true knowledge of that message (by true knowledge I mean a saving knowledge).
However, the teaching of the secrets of the Kingdom were proclaimed only to some with clarity. And the reason Jesus gives for this is in the verse that follows.
Matthew 13:12 ESV
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.
- The intention of God given to us in these simple words.
‘Abundance’; that is the assurance of the one who has, and ‘Nothing’ is the assurance of the one who does not have.
If the people have heard, known and come to believe in the fundamental message of the Kingdom (the gospel of the Kingdom) then more will be given to them (the secrets of the Kingdom). More is reserved for those who’ve received Christ.
- The truths about the heaven are reserved for those who receive heaven’s King. And because the people largely disregarded or outright rejected the Gospel of Jesus, they were not granted the mysteries beyond.
Matthew 13:13–15 ESV
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.’
- It might surprise some of you to know that Isaiah wrote these words in a chapter close to the heart of this church, as we’ve preached and referred to it many times from this pulpit – Isaiah 6.
- The grand vision of the King,
Isaiah 6:1–4 ESV
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
- The repentant prophet,
Isaiah 6:5 ESV
5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
The forgiving King,
Isaiah 6:6–7 ESV
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
- The mission of the prophet to veil the eyes of the people form seeing the King,
Isaiah 6:8–10 ESV
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 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.”
- This judgment of God through Isaiah lay upon the hearts of the Jews in Jesus’ time who continue to lack godly perception, and Jesus like Isaiah carries God’s judgment upon the unbelieving by speaking to them in parables.
- The nature of these unbelieving include
- dull hearts – thick, insensitive & unyielding hearts. Stubborn in its ways, having no desire for God.
The deep seat of our emotions, who we are as individuals, all represented by this organ, the heart. So many professing Christians today have grown to possess such dull hearts.
Pleasure & Displeasure both dull hearts to the Gospel.
- ears that can barely hear – because of all the noise it hears from the world. These people aren’t deaf or without ears, but they can barely hear the Gospel because of all else that they desire to hear.
- eyes they have closed – likewise they have eyes that can see but they have closed it shut.
- lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them – God’s judgment in obscuring the mind of the unbelieving is carried out by their own desire for the world. They shut their eyes and ears from having to see or understand who God is.
- The explanation of Jesus’ use of parables accompanies his explanation of the first parable of the sower, and I believe we should see them together, because much of the people who close themselves off from the clear teaching of Scripture belong to all kinds of soil apart from the good soil.
There we see that they range from total ignorance to an openness surrounded by the displeasure of persecution or the deep pleasure for thorns (worldly passions).
- dull hearts – thick, insensitive & unyielding hearts. Stubborn in its ways, having no desire for God.
Elsewhere we read,
1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV
2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,
Hebrews 5:12 ESV
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,
- Beloved, the solid food, the deeper mysteries that have been revealed in the Scriptures are great and satisfying desires granted to those who are faithful in the little that they have received.
Matthew 13:16–17 ESV
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
- Great and mighty are the revelations of the NT, and how blessed are we to hear, see and understand the greatness of our God.
- Jesus then begins to clearly explain the meaning of the first parable to these his disciples who believed in him.
Therefore, parables were a judgement upon the unbelieving but a grace upon the believing. It means nothing to those who do not possess the clear teaching, but to us is given the clear teaching of truth. But more than that, given to us who love Jesus is the God given ability to believe the clear teaching of truth. Not only are we given the message to hear, but the faith to know and believe it.
We read later on in the chapter,
Matthew 13:34–35 ESV
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.”
If we hear this and dare to suppose that Jesus should not have done this, then read what happens at the end of the chapter when he does speak to them with clarity,
Matthew 13:53–58 ESV
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.