The Purpose of Parables

The Purpose of Parables

A common definition of a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” (Barclay & others).
Depending on how you evaluate, the Good Book contains somewhere between 40 and 60 parables. Most of them are in the New Testament and are found in the four Gospels, but you can find nearly a dozen of them in the Old Testament, as well: a pair of them in 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, respectfully, and a half dozen of them in the major prophet book of Ezekiel.

The New Testament has around 30 parables, and a good primer for them is chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, which contains nearly a quarter of the New Testament parables in a single chapter that has been called the “Sermon on the Sea Shore”:

1. Parable of the Sower (vs. 3-9)
2. Parable of the Weeds or Tares (vs. 24-30)
3. Parable of the Mustard Seed (vs. 31-32)
4. Parable of the Yeast or Leven (vs. 33)
5. Parable of the Hidden Treasure (vs. 44)
6. Parable of the Pearl (vs. 45)
7. Parable of the Net (vs. 47-50)

Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, but since most of his early disciples are men of the sea and not men of soil, the parable leaves them scratching their heads. They ask our Lord, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (vs. 10).

So before Jesus can explain the ‘what’ of the parables, our Lord has to explain the ‘why’ to His disciples. Many commentators agree that Jesus’s parables served two purposes: to reveal truth to believers and to conceal truth from non-believers.

Jesus explains his dual purpose to his disciples this way: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have in abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables” (vs. 11-13).

Like the disciples, those of us who are believers at Gospel Community Church have the benefit of being exposed to the revealed truths in Jesus’s parable. Though instead of literally hearing them from the lips of the Son of Man, we have His written Word to read them during our time of Bible study.

Which of the seven parables in Matthew 13 speaks to you? Having been a long-time member of this church family, I personally witnessed the truths of the Mustard Seed parable when our two churches merged in 2017:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds but becomes the largest of plants, and grows into a tree where birds can come and find shelter.” (LB vs. 31-22)
Specifically, every Sunday when I see (and hear) the dozens of children who are safe and sheltered in the Kid City wing of our beloved old church, I think of the blessings of the “birds” that our Lord described in this parable.

About the Author

Jim Nutter, and his wife Laurie, joined RABC in 1998, serving as deacon, Sunday school teacher, and barista at Soul Café; at GCR, Jim serves on the usher, counting, and coffee teams and teaches a Discipleship Community class studying the Gospel of Matthew. Away from church, he’s a professor at Liberty University.

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