Summary: Jesus Himself suggests a different reason to that which His disciples might have expected.
THE PURPOSE OF THE PARABLES.
It is possible to ‘Like’ Jesus without really ever knowing what He is all about. For some, He is a wonderful teacher, making ‘it’ all so much ‘easier’: yet what is ‘easy’ about, for example, Matthew 5:21-22 or Matthew 5:27-28? Or they admire the ‘simplicity’ of the parables, making everything so clear: but Jesus Himself suggests a different reason for the parables.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” asked Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 13:10). Jesus’ answer is surely a surprise: “Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matthew 13:11). It is a gift, “given to you” (disciples), but not given to them (the crowds, cf. Matthew 13:2). Hitherto hidden secrets ARE being unveiled, you see, but they are only being revealed to those who have ‘ears to hear’ (cf. Matthew 13:9).
So Christianity is not a matter of laying hold upon some wonderful teaching, and following it as best we can. Nor is it about our striving to imitate Jesus - as if we could ever do that in our own strength. Christianity is about the unfolding of a mystery (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:7) - not to the knowledgeable, but to those to whom “it is given” (Matthew 13:11).
Now Jesus makes it perfectly clear that the natural man is totally incapable of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom thus revealed. Even man’s greatest wisdom and understanding will come to nought (Matthew 13:12; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14). He speaks to them in parables “BECAUSE seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).
First, there is pride Matthew 13:13-14). And that pride is itself a fulfilment of prophecy (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10). The wonder of the Gospel is that it is not revealed to ‘the wise and understanding’, but to those whom Jesus calls ‘babes’ (cf. Matthew 11:25-26).
In our day, we might be proud of our learning, of our supposed superiority to ‘the ancients’. But it does not matter what century we find ourselves in, the problem remains the same: we cannot, we will not accept the gospel. For as Jesus said to one Pharisee, a teacher in Israel, ‘Except a man be born again he CANNOT see the kingdom of God’ (cf. John 3:3).
Second, there is carnality: “This people’s heart is waxed gross” (Matthew 13:15). In the natural world, a fatty heart dulls the senses. So also in the spiritual realm: if we give ourselves entirely to this world, to the gratification of the flesh, etc., we become numb to the things of God.
Furthermore, thirdly, there is prejudice (Matthew 13:15). There is a certain wilfulness which causes people to close their eyes “lest” they should see, hear and understand, “and should be converted, and I should heal them,” says Jesus. People may tell us the Bible is outdated, outmoded, and full of contradictions: but how many who say such things have actually read it?
The message contained in this mystery is wilfully refused “lest I should heal them,” says Jesus (Matthew 13:15). Well, if people do not think they are sick, they will not seek a physician. As He says elsewhere, ‘I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (cf. Matthew 9:12-13).
There is a beatitude offered here, as a statement of fact. Jesus does NOT say that you are blessed BECAUSE you see and hear - that would be to put the cart before the horse. No, rather He says it is BECAUSE YOU ARE BLESSED that you see and hear (Matthew 13:16). As I said, it is a gift of God (Matthew 13:11).
“Amen I say unto you,” says Jesus (Matthew 13:17). There is no doubt at all that “many prophets and righteous men” would love to have seen and heard the things which we in the Gospel era see and hear and experience. Thank you, Lord, for eyes to see and ears to hear, and for spiritual perception!
The mystery that is thus revealed is God’s way of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 3:16). The mystery of the incarnation. The mystery of the Cross and Resurrection. The mystery of full free forgiveness in Him. The mystery of grace. The mystery of the new birth. The mystery of justification by faith. We could go on and on - it is no wonder that Jesus uses the plural “mysteries” in Matthew 13:11.
“Without a parable spoke He not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 13:34-35). Jesus has "opened His mouth in parables"; He has "uttered things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (cf. Psalm 78:2).
‘Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Amen.