************ Sermon on Matthew 13:13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 16, 2021
"The Purpose of Parables"
Difficult Passages #24
Three years ago I began a series of twenty three sermons on difficult sayings of the Bible. Since then I've been asked about a number of other passages.
There are at least two kinds of hard sayings in the Bible. On the one hand, there are texts that are hard to understand. Peter admits this is the case with Paul's teachings (2 Pet 3:16). It takes work, hard work, sometimes to understand what the Bible says. You won't believe the hours I sometimes agonize over a text, or the number of times I lay awake at night thinking about what to say in a sermon, or the number of bike rides it takes me to think through a Bible passage.
On the other hand, there are texts that are not at all hard to understand but that are hard to submit to. The Bible is a hard book. What is says is hard from beginning to end. It calls us to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all of life. It tells us to make every thought captive. It tells us to forgive and be forgiven. None of this is easy.
In His teaching Jesus used images and analogies that everyone was familiar with: sheep, shepherd, light, salt, bread, wineskins, birds, lilies, rocks, foundations, etc. But He also used parables. Parables were a common form of teaching in Judaism; that's why a search of the Greek translation of the Old Testament shows the word "parable" is used forty five times. But parables require explanation and are difficult to understand and leave most people wondering about their meaning.
So, Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" (Mt 13:10). Jesus indicates His reason for speaking in parables is to conceal the truth from those on the outside.
Jesus' answer is one of the difficult sayings of the Bible -- difficult, that is, to understand. How do we make sense of this? Why would Jesus want to keep the truth hidden?
Our Bible reading teaches us three points: the secret of parables, the purpose of parables, and the prophecy about parables.
I The Secret of Parables
A Verse 3 tell us Jesus "told them many things in parables ..." What things? Go to verse 11: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven ..." Jesus used parables to teach the secrets of the kingdom.
In the Bible the word "secret" does not mean secretive. It does not mean something you want to keep quiet. I remember the time Ruth and I thought her pregnancy was a secret. Our middle son Chris blurted it out in Sunday School class. Needless to say, it was no longer a secret. In the Bible, the word secret means something unknowable through human reasoning, human discovery, human intuition. It means something that needs to be revealed -- by God, through His Word and Spirit. In the Bible, secrets are sacred mysteries known only to the initiated.
I am reading Dan Brown's book, "The Lost Symbol." In his books, Brown keeps bringing up the Masons. The Masons have all these religious symbols and secrets known and understood only by a few. Each time you go up a level in the Masons you learn about additional symbols and secrets you had no idea about. Brown reminds us this is nothing new; this is like the mystery religions of Greece and Babylon and Egypt.
In a similar fashion, Jesus used parables to reveal the secrets of the kingdom.
B What secrets of the kingdom are we talking about? Let's start with the prophecy of Zechariah: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the LORD Almighty (Zech 4:6). The kingdom of heaven is the opposite of all earthly kingdoms. Earthly kingdoms are established by might and power -- soldiers, spears, swords, bows & arrows, chariots, aircraft carriers, tanks, rifles, combat drones, missiles, spy satellites, and so on. The secret of God's kingdom? It is established by the Spirit.
Another secret is the upside down values of the kingdom of heaven. Recently, one of our members reminded me of an illustration I used years ago.
A fellow student -- a girl -- at college had a flat tire on her old Chrysler. She had no idea of what to do. I grabbed the tire wrench and tried to loosen the lugs. After 15 sweaty minutes on a cold winter's night I had not succeeded in loosening a single lug. In fact, they all seemed tighter than before. When I mentioned this the young lady said, "I think dad told me this car has a reverse screw." Sure enough, on that Chrysler I had to turn the lugs the other way.There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is a kind of reverse screw. Everything in our culture that seems right is wrong in the Bible. The way up is down. The way to spiritual wealth is to acknowledge spiritual poverty. The way to live is to die. The way to rule is to serve. It is like Chrysler's reverse screw.
Another secret is that those in the kingdom are there by grace. There is nothing warm and cuddly about us. We are poor, miserable sinners. And, in the eyes of the world we are nobodies and nothings (cf 1 Cor 1:26-29). Yet, there we are in the kingdom of God. We don't earn our place, we don't deserve our place, we aren't worthy of knowing the secret.
I can go through each of the seven parables of Matthew 13 and tell you other secrets of the kingdom: it is opposed by an enemy, it starts off small and grows big, it is priceless, until the end of the age it includes weeds and bad fish. None of this can we discern on our own. All of this needs to be revealed.
Do you know the biggest secret of the kingdom? I have not mentioned it yet. That Jesus is King. It is hard to see this because He had no place to lay His head, no army, no visible glory, no riches. But Jesus did preach the kingdom of heaven is near (Mt 4:17) and He called people to acknowledge Him as King. However, Jesus was rejected as King and the Jews wanted nothing to do with His kingdom. In fact, they plotted how to kill their King (Mt 12:14).
II The Purpose of Parables
A Our second point is the purpose of parables. The disciples asked Jesus, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"
(Mt 13:11; NIV84) — 11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.Do you hear what Jesus is saying? That the secrets of the kingdom are for some but not for others; they are not for everyone. Jesus says He shows and hides. As with the Masons the secrets are revealed to some and concealed from others. Difficult to understand?!
B On what basis or principle does Jesus reveal or hide? Here we come to verse 12:
(Mt 13:12; NIV84) — 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.Notice, verse 12 uses "whoever" twice. This verse makes no sense unless we realize Jesus speaks of two different groups of people.
"Whoever has ..." Who is the first "whoever"? Whoever has a personal relationship with Jesus. Whoever is regenerate, born-again, a believer. Whoever acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, as Savior and Lord.
"Whoever has ..." Has what? Whoever has the secrets of the kingdom. Whoever has the King of the kingdom as their king.
"Whoever has will be given more ..." More what? More of God's truth. More illumination from the Spirit. More knowledge. More insight. More light. More, more, more. An "abundance" of more. Actually, an oversupply. More than you ever need. More than you can ever use.
"Whoever does not have ..." Who is this second "whoever"? The unregenerate, the unsaved, the reprobate, those who are not elect. Whoever does not accept the King and His kingdom. Whoever does not bow before King Jesus.
"What he has will be taken from him." What he has? What is this? Jesus acknowledges that the pagan, the heathen, the unbelieving, the unregenerate have light, some light, a little bit of light, a glimmering of light. They know a bit of the truth, a tiny bit. They have the seed of religion. They have a sense of immortality. They know there is a God over all. But when they have no interest and no regard for the things of God, when they have no hunger for God, when they are openly hostile to the Gospel and the King, then the little bit they have is taken from them. God gives them over, says Paul in Romans 1, to the sinful desires of their hearts. God gives them over to darkness.
Jesus is especially talking of Israel here. They knew from Jesus' genealogy that He was a royal descendant of David. They knew from the Magi that He was born the king of the Jews. They heard divine wisdom in His teachings. They saw divine power in His miracles. They knew His was a perfect, sinless life. In Jesus, they had a foretaste of the kingdom of God: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Mt 11:5). They have light, truth, knowledge -- way more than the Gentiles. As Paul puts it in Romans 9,
(Ro 9:4–5; NIV84) — 4 ... Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.Compared to the heathen, they had it all!
"What he has will be taken from him." When Israel rejected Jesus as King, their hearts were hardened, and all the blessings they had were lost. Those who reject the King and His kingdom are left in spiritual blindness; without the presence of the illuminating Spirit they are in darkness. As Jesus puts it, "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand" (Mt 13:13).
C Let's think this through. The purpose of parables is so believers can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And, the purpose of parables is so the lost stay even further in the darkness of ignorance and sin. That is God's purpose.
This says something, doesn't it, about the entire human race. Either you are coming closer and closer to Jesus or you are being pulled further and further away. No one is at a standstill, no one is motionless. The longer you know Jesus, the more truth He reveals to you. The longer you know Jesus, the more you have ears that hear (Mt 13:9). But, the opposite is also true. The longer you refuse Jesus, the greater your ignorance and the deeper you sink into sin and darkness. The longer you reject Jesus, the duller your heart and the deafer your ears.
Do you understand the Bible? Do you love it and appreciate it? A "yes" answer doesn't mean you are smarter than all others. A "yes" answer is a statement about the illumination of God's Spirit in your life. And, a "no" answer becomes a call to repent for the King and His kingdom and His judgment is near.
Jesus speaks in parables so the elect come to Him. Jesus speaks in parables so the reprobate remain in sin and judgment. What is or should be our cry, our prayer, our song? The words we will be singing shortly:
Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me ...
Open my ears that I may hear
Voices of truth Those sendest clear ...
Do you realize, congregation, what a privilege it is that we know and understand the Bible? The prophets and righteous men of the past longed to see what we see but did not see it, and to hear what we hear but did not hear it (Mt 13:17). What a blessing is ours. I hope you realize this.
III The Prophecy about Parables
This brings us to our third point: the prophecy about parables. I said earlier that the word "parable" shows up forty five times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. One of the places is quoted by the closing verse of our Bible reading:
(Mt 13:35; NIV84) — 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
These words come from Psalm 78. They come from a man by the name of Asaph. Asaph foretold that the Messiah would speak in parables. Do you know what this tells me? It has always been God's plan, God's purpose, to separate the believing from the unbelieving. It was that way at the time of Asaph and Isaiah and Jeremiah. It was that way at the time of Jesus. It is that way today. So the unbelieving "will be ever hearing but never understanding ... ever seeing but never perceiving" (Mt 13:14). As for the believing, "blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear" (Mt 13:16).
I hope you realize the seriousness of what I said to you tonight. Truth and light are only for those who, by grace, come to King Jesus in repentance and faith. And, rejection of King Jesus only means increasing darkness and judgment.
Are you eyes and ears open? Or, are they shut?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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