Summary: Jesus teaches that the purpose of his parables is to reveal or conceal truth.
We are studying the life and ministry of Jesus as it has been recorded in The Gospel of Luke. Two main features characterized Jesus’ ministry: teaching and miracles. We have already examined a number of examples of each.
Jesus used illustrations masterfully in his teaching. His favorite kind of illustration was a “parable.” Elwell and Beitzel note that “an understanding of parables is essential if one is to understand the teaching of Jesus, since the parables make up approximately 35 percent of his recorded sayings.”
Jesus tells us the purpose of his use of parables in the parable of the sower. Next week I shall expound the parable of the sower. Today, however, I would like to examine the purpose of the parables of Jesus.
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:9-10)
Bible commentator Gordon J. Keddie said that his one brush with royalty was in 1959, when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited George Heriot’s school in Edinburgh on the occasion of its tercentenary (300th anniversary). Keddie was a teenage biologist at the time whose task was to dissect a rat for the Royal visitor. When Prince Philip arrived at the lab, he looked at the rat and asked if the rat had anything wrong with it. Keddie reported that it was a perfectly normal rat. Later, however, it occurred to him that however normal it might have been, it was also a dead rat. There it was, all opened up, with its internal anatomy all neatly pinned on a board for all to see.
Keddie said that he has since thought that many Bible commentaries do this with the Bible. They dissect its every component, pulling and teasing and cutting, until it is disassembled and pinned down, supposedly to the end that we might understand what it is all about. But, like the dissected rat, it can end up looking rather dead.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to criticize preachers who felt they had to “share their reading” with their congregations, so that what ought to have been a passionate, experiential exposition of the Word of God ended up being more like a report on a homework assignment. Few portions of God’s Word have been subjected to such minute scrutiny as the parables of Jesus. Keddie notes, “In contrast with their essential simplicity, they have been exegetically dissected this way and that to the point where clarity of meaning and firmness of application have sometimes all but disappeared beneath an overburden of speculation and spiritualization.”
Jesus was a master teacher. And as a master teacher, he used illustrations – especially parables – in a masterful way to illustrate his teaching. So, in order for us to understand more clearly the teaching of Jesus, we need to understand the purpose of the parables.