Have you ever wondered why Jesus used parables? When I researched that question, a lot of different answers sprung up. And I don’t believe there is only one answer, I believe that Jesus used parables for a variety of different reasons.
First, you’ll notice a lot of parables start with the phrase: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like…’ The parables help clarify the kingdom mindset, or God’s mindset, or how the Kingdom of God operates. You’ll notice many teachings of Jesus, and other teachings of the Bible are contrary to our human nature and human way of thinking. How does Jesus get across something so foreign to us? Something that we have never quite have seen or heard or understood before but through comparison?
This past summer, we went on a trip out west. A couple of stops were at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in The Badlands, and Yellowstone National Park. Before we went, we watched a few episodes of Ken Burns’ “National Parks” documentary. And one point that was brought up in the documentary was that when explorers first went out West in the 1800s, people back here in the East didn’t believe their reports. So newspapers, photographers and artists went out and confirmed the reports of the explorers. The newspapers wrote articles, the artists came back with paintings and photographers came back with photographs.
Now imagine being alive during that time. We know all about what’s out west now, but imagine being alive 200 years ago, you have lived here in Watkins Glen your whole life. You have no idea what to expect. Now, this area is quite extravagant—the lake, the gorge, the rolling hills and farmland—and you would have imagined perhaps a few more places like this maybe existed further out west. But when you first heard reports of what people saw, you would have thought the people were crazy.
“You mean there’s an enormous mountain chain? And then a vast desert? On this continent?”
We went out to The Badlands, and it is literally indescribable. Even the photos we took really don’t describe it the way it should. I saw pictures of the Badlands before we went. I thought, meh—well, okay. I wasn’t too excited. But when we went and were there in person, I thought, wow this is amazing. The pictures really didn’t do it justice. The rock formations out there look like something from a sci-fi movie, some of them are spindly or in the shape of natural pyramids. You can’t really put words to it.
And Yellowstone. The majesty of it is so great, it is hard for your mind to take it all in. Around every bend is a new extraordinary sight better than the last.
Now imagine trying to explain the Kingdom of God to those who are unfamiliar with it. Not just the majesty of Heaven, but the Kingdom way—God’s extravagant love—especially when they were so used to their human sense of justice, or the interpretation of the Old Testament, and the teachings of the Pharisees that were so ingrained in people’s way of life.
So Jesus used illustrations to teach people what God the Father and His ways are really like.
This is one reason. What is another?
Well, Jesus could have just used a teaching like, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ and when asked ‘who is my neighbor?’ Jesus could have replied with a statement or a lecture. But the point would not have been as clear or as sharp as the story of the Good Samaritan. In addition, when he told the story of The Prodigal Son, the point of God’s grace and forgiveness for the lost; and all of heaven rejoicing for the lost sinner becomes so much more moving—much more relatable to the average person throughout all of time in every culture.
Is this an example of how God feels about me?
A third reason for storytelling is not only so the point can come across more clearly, but also so the people could remember them better, including his disciples, who would have told them later on after Jesus’ resurrection and would have passed them down to a new set of disciples, and so on.
And finally, a fourth reason, which we will delve into a little bit with our scripture this morning, is this: not only to make the Kingdom principles more understandable and accessible to people, but also to test the hearts of those who heard them. The parables were meant to be obscure. They were meant for people to ponder and to wonder what they meant. They were a test to see who would respond and in what manner. God gave us His word, and now the ball is placed in our court. How will we respond?
Allan Ross, an author and seminary teacher, said this, “Jesus, the King, was approaching a crisis in His presentation of Himself when it would be necessary to challenge peoples’ faith concerning His mission and indeed His identity. In view of this He chose to use parables to begin to uncover the faith of true disciples, and to demonstrate judgment on those who refused to see and hear.”
The disciples of Jesus asked for the explanation. Once an explanation was given to the disciples and others who heard, The Holy Spirit opened the minds of those whose hearts were ready to believe. Those who were not open to Jesus remained in darkness due to their own disbelief or disinterest, so even to this day, they do not appropriately understand the teachings of Jesus or the teachings of the Bible.
On the other hand, some of those who were not followers understood the parables about their judgement. This increased their desire to crucify him.
So there are many reasons for parables. We’ll begin to examine one in our next post.