Throughout the three years of Jesus’ ministry, He often taught in parables. These are stories that illustrate a lesson. I’ve heard it once said that parables are earthly stories that provide a heavenly meaning. Jesus used parables to help us understand God the Father, Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and more.
I always thought Jesus used parables to make truths plain and easy to understand for anyone. But as I’ve studied the Scriptures, I realized parables were not always understood by everyone in the crowds of people that would come to hear Jesus teach, nor were they meant to.
When Jesus’s disciples asked why He spoke in parables when He could have plainly said what He meant He answered:
“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. 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. 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. 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." 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.' But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 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.” (Matthew 13:11-17 ESV)
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"Let’s not be like those who walk away for lack of understanding."
Jesus was not trying to be mysterious, but He did use parables to see who would lean in closer to understand their meaning and who would just brush Him off and walk away. Anytime someone would ask Jesus further about His parables, He always provided more explanation to make their meaning plain.
Let’s not be like those who walk away for lack of understanding. Let’s lean in and seek God to see what lessons from Jesus’ parables are still relevant for us today.
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Lost and Found
Jesus gained the attention of many as he taught. Both men and women, rich and poor, sinner and saint came to hear the wise words of Jesus.
He could easily be found speaking with tax collectors and other people who were known for their sin. So the religious teachers of the law, also called the Pharisees, questioned why Jesus would teach and fellowship with sinners.
Jesus responds with three parables all about losing something of value and the joy that comes once it is finally found.
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Rejoicing Over the One
He explains that if a shepherd losses one of his 100 sheep, he would leave the 99 to find the one that is lost. Jesus continues:
“And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:5, 7 NLT)
Jesus then shares a story of a woman who had 10 coins and lost one. She lights a lamp and searches her entire house looking for this one coin. Jesus then says:
“And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (Luke 15:9-10 NLT)
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Receiving the One with Grace
Last, Jesus shares the story of the prodigal son who takes his inheritance, leaves his father’s house, lives a wild life, and loses all his money. When famine comes to the land and the son is about to starve he decides to go back to his father who welcomes him with open arms and puts on a party to celebrate. When the lost son’s brother complains about the Father’s gracious welcome to his brother and notes that although he has been faithful yes has never had a party, the father replies:
“We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” (Luke 15:32 NLT)
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"God rejoices over all who come to Him"
The meaning of these parables must have been significant for Jesus to share three. Jesus wanted it to be very clear that God rejoices over all who come to Him. He does not care more about one of His children over another, even if they seem to be more righteous. The lesson we learn is God wants more from us than to act righteously, but also wants us to be in right relationship with Him. And when that severed relationship is reconnected, it brings Him great joy. God doesn’t want us to follow rules just to say we follow them, He wants us to follow Him.
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Jesus finds Himself again around a group of people eagerly watching Him. This time, He’s at the house of the leader of the Pharisees. As he uses an analogy of a banquet to teach about humility someone asks what a banquet will be like in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus then replies with a parable about a man who invites people to a banquet he is planning, but everyone comes up with excuses for why they can’t come. Furious, the man tells his servant to invite the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. When the servant does this, there was still room at the banquet, so the man invites those even further away to come. The man desires that his house is full; however, those he first invited and rejected his invitation will not get to come.
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"It takes a humble heart to realize the invitation God offers"
From this parable, we learn it takes a humble heart to realize the invitation God offers us. If we think we are too great or too busy, we may miss God inviting us to something greater. His kingdom is not one that may look appealing to the eye at first, but it is greatly beautiful. We need humble hearts, so we do not miss what God has for us. Notice, it was the weak and those far away who accepted the man’s invitation.
This is such a valuable lesson for us today. With social media we can easily filter our way to a more glamorous life, seated at the head of the social media table. But God does not want us to make ourselves great. He wants us to humble ourselves and allow Him to place us in seats of honor that no man can take away.
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Jesus used parables to explain the fruitful and mature life God desires of us.
In Luke 8:5-15 we read about a farmer who casts seed on different types of soil. The seed only grew and produced a harvest if it landed on good soil. Jesus explained the seed was God’s Word and the soil was man’s heart.
In Luke 13:6-9 Jesus tells a parable of a fig tree that does not produce fruit. The man who planted the fig tree became disappointed and wanted to cut it down but his servant asked him to give it one more year of special attention, and after that, if it did not produce fruit, it may be cut down.
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"Doing what the Word says...leads to the spiritual maturity God desires of us."
Through these parables, we learn that God wants us to grow in spiritual maturity. He has given us the nutrients we need (His Word) to grow and producing fruit. Today more than ever, we have excessive access to God’s Word in the form of multiple translations, apps, and more. Still, we need more than to hear or read the Word. It is in doing what the Word says that we find life change that leads to the spiritual maturity God desires of us.
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Parables Teach About God and His Kingdom
The list of Jesus parables could go on and on, but even with this short list of examples, we learn so much more about God and His Kingdom.
Christina Patterson is a wife and stay-at-home mom with a passion to encourage women in the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word. When she is not folding laundry or playing blocks you will find her with her head deep in her Bible or a commentary. She holds her masters in Theology from Liberty University and is the founder of Beloved Women, a non-profit providing resources and community for women to truly know who they are in Christ: His Beloved. She blogs at belovedwomen.org.
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Originally published Friday, 27 July 2018.