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A Primer for Parables

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A Primer for Parables

Modern Parables:  Living in the Kingdom of God[1]

An Introduction to a 12-Week Sunday School Series

October 18, 2009

Pastor Oesterwind

Introduction:  The parables of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate how the disciples began to understand His person and work.  A parable was used by Jesus to communicate truths about His kingdom.  The parable is a short narrative with symbolic meaning.  While many scholars believe a parable only makes one point, some teach two or three points. 

·         The Parable of the Sower has three main points:

o   God spreads His Word throughout the world (broadcasting of the seed).

o   Many respond with less than saving faith (analyzing the soils).

o   The only legitimate response is obedience and perseverance (good ground). 

·         Jesus gave two purposes for speaking in parables (Matt 13.11, 13):

o   To reveal – to the disciples it had been given to know secrets concerning the kingdom

o   To conceal – those seeing did not see because they rejected Christ due to the hardness of their hearts (Matthew quotes Isaiah 6.9-10 in the LXX). 

·         “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

o   Illumination; exposure to the light

o   Hearing means doing in Scripture; do especially in the “light” of the coming judgment

·         The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly (only in Mark)

o   Two Points:

§  The kingdom will continue to grow beyond explanation.

§  When the end comes, the kingdom will be full grown, and judgment will follow (literal presence of the kingdom during the Millennial Reign).

·         The Parable of the Weeds and Wheat (only in Matthew)

o   Three Points:

§  God permits the righteous and the wicked to co-exist in the present.

§  The wicked will be judged and destroyed.

§  The righteous will be gathered and rewarded.

·         The Parable of the Mustard Seed and Leaven

o   The kingdom will rapidly push its borders even though it has a small beginning. 

o   The mustard seed represents extensive growth of the kingdom.

o   The leaven depicts intensive transformation.

·         The Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price

o   Main Point of Both – The kingdom of God is so valuable that it is worth sacrificing anything to gain it.

o   Two points:

§  Hidden Treasure – Stumbling upon the kingdom

§  Pearl – Deliberate seeking

Today during the Sunday school hour, we begin/began a 12-week series on the parabolic teaching of Jesus Christ.  It is my prayer that God will greatly use this series to teach us truth by using a new vehicle. 

1.       We will view short films and application videos of the parables to teach Scripture.

2.       The modern stories that we see will recreate in each viewer the same response that original audiences had when they heard the Lord Jesus teach. 

As you watch each film, you will grasp the heart of each parable almost immediately.  The films will be both entertaining and educational.  They are well done and the application of each is unfolded by a pastor that is faithful to the Word of God. 

Modern Parables is a study of six of Jesus’ parables recorded in the Gospels.  Each parable will cover two lessons.  The first part will help us understand the parable while the second teaches us to live it.  These are the parables we will study:

·         L 1-2                       Hidden Treasure                               Matthew 13.44

·         L 3-4                       Samaritan                                           Luke 10.25-37

·         L 5-6                       The Shrewd Manager                    Luke 16.1-9

·         L 7-8                       The Widow and the Judge            Luke 18.1-8

·         L 9-10                    The Sower                                           Matthew 13.1-23

·         L 11-12                  Prodigal Sons                                    Luke 15.11-32

The films we watch are tools that we will use to understand and apply the Word of God.  After you use a tool, you put it up and it fades into the background.  The only thing that endures is the Word of God, so we will exercise care to keep the films in their proper context.  They are learning tools.

Each modern parable is a story.  As we watch the modern parables unfold, we must understand the plot and characters that make them.  Second, once we understand the story, we parallel each with the parables Jesus taught originally.  The films are designed to parallel the original parables as closely as possible in modern re-telling of the story.  This helps modern students bridge the 2,000 year gap from when the parables were originally told, thereby leaving a similar impact.  Finally, we will take the second lesson of each parable to apply them.  We must understand what the Bible says before we can apply it. 

Transition:  So let’s begin by looking at an example of parabolic teaching in the Old Testament.  Turn to 2 Samuel 12 in your Old Testaments (Read Nathan’s Parable in 12.1 - 14)…

Nathan’s Parable

It was God who sent Nathan to David.  David had been unrepentant for about a year.  David suffered emotionally and physically because of his sin.  He was trying to turn away his conscience and would have had it not been for God’s merciful communication through the prophet.  David had been prepared for repentance and relief. 

Nathan never speaks of adultery or murder, but he does strongly state the injustice and heartlessness of those who oppress the weak when they are strong.  “You are the man!” (v. 7) pulls David into the story as the oppressor.  It makes him face his sin and condemn himself.  “I have sinned!” (v. 13) is God’s desired result. 

1.       David led the double life of a hypocrite.  He kept pace with what was expected of him for a year, but he was actually holding the truth in unrighteousness.

2.       David didn’t receive any external judgment for his sin for that whole year.  Uriah’s murder seemed to escape the watch eye of God.  Yet God does not slumber or sleep.  He will always do right.

3.       David’s deliverance began with repentance. 

Jesus taught with parables so that the people who heard them would not readily understand them without first understanding the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven/God. 

11Jesus answered and said to [His disciples], “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [those that hear without knowing the mysteries] it has not been given. …13Therefore I speak to them [those that hear without knowing the mysteries] in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Matthew 13:11, 13

Parables are filled with the unexpected.  A king destroys an entire city for speaking out against him, a manager cheats his master out of money and receives praise for it, and a fig tree is cursed for not bearing fruit.  Jesus’ parables are not just good, moral stories that teach a universal lesson.  Instead, He used them to draw comparisons between the natural and spiritual realms.  Those comparisons teach His disciples different aspects about the Kingdom of Heaven/God.

Jesus wants us to know what this Kingdom is like:  30 [Jesus] said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? Mark 4:30

The rabbis of Jesus’ day used parables to teach and explain the Law of God.  But as we have seen in 2 Samuel, they were not the first to use them.  Stories like that of Nathans enabled him to communicate the truth quickly and effectively.  Abstract concepts like love for God and neighbor are given flesh in the form of a story that the hearer readily relates too. 

10But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’
Mark 4:10-12

Why did Jesus keep the truth from those who heard Him?  What did Jesus mean by knowing the mystery of the Kingdom of God?  His hearers thought they understood this Kingdom.  The Messiah would come and wipe out the Romans and set up His visible kingdom on earth.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead, the Father sent the Son to build a spiritual kingdom that would one day manifest itself in a literal way. 

The parables gently brought listeners in by creating a world that they relate to easily.  David heard Nathan’s parable and grew angry at what the characters were doing.  The deeper David went, the more clearly he would be able to see himself.  The lies fell away and all things were naked and open before the One to whom David must give an account.

Jesus taught in parables because…

1.       They were familiar to His audience.

2.       They communicated truth quickly and effectively.

3.       They used relationships between the natural and spiritual realms to make complex ideas easier to grasp.

4.       They veiled the truth from people who would not accept His ministry as the Suffering Servant.

5.       They created a fictional world that slipped through deceitful defenses of people who did not truly understand the Kingdom of God.

How Parables Work

1.       Jesus used parables to deliver His teaching in such a way that they immediately understood what He wanted them to understand.

2.       The parables were effective because Jesus made sure that the characters were not far removed from His hearers.

3.       However, He often filled these stories with actions that were surprising.

a.       A son prematurely asks for his inheritance

b.      Landowners pay their workers the same no matter how long they work

c.       Kings forgiven enormous debts

4.       Prodigal sons are not often forgiven by their fathers in the normal world, but in the spiritual world that Jesus is building, the heavenly Father does forgive this way. 

5.       Entering the story in a deep and meaningful way, we have a strong emotional connection with the characters and events.  We are bound by our honest judgments of their plights.  We carry that honest over to our own worlds.  (2 Sam 12.5-7, 13)

6.       Parables are not like plain doctrinal teaching.  Many people hear doctrinal teaching and easily think right but fail to do right.  Parables powerfully show how doctrine works itself out in everyday life.  We know we ought to love others as we love ourselves (doctrine), but the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10 shows us what that really looks like in our daily lives. 

The church today is in great danger because she knows the truth but fails to do it.

2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”
Matthew 23:2-3

·         Do you do what you say?  What do you believe about caring for the poor, tithing, loving others, and so forth? 

·         Jesus knows that we all tend toward hypocrisy.  Parables battle that hypocrisy by cutting to the quick as in the case of David.

·         Parables show what we must do, what must happen inside, what goals we should pursue in life, and how we should gain discernment - cutting through the fog of sinful deceit. 

·         The parables teach us to live as subjects of Christ’s kingdom, as well as what to expect in the future kingdom.


Aside:  Interpreting the Parables

1.       What do the original words mean?  All translations interpret the original text.  We use tools to help us to understand what the original Greek texts mean.

2.       How would the original audience look at the parable?  What cultural practices affect the interpretation?  What historical information is pertinent in the context?  What about contemporary literature that might shine light on the Bible text?

3.       How is the story laid out?  For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan has three different characters who approach the man (robber, priest, and Levite).  All three come to the man, do something, and then go.  The Samaritan comes, does, and then does. 

4.       What about the context of the parable?  What does Jesus say about it?  Who is the audience?  For example, there are three parables in Luke 15 about lost things (sheep, coin, son).  Why are these grouped?  What about the audience?


[1] The material that follows introduces Modern Parables:  Living in the Kingdom of God by Thomas Purifoy, Jr. & Jonathan Rogers, Ph. D.  It is being used for a combined Sunday school for teens and adults beginning today.

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