Saturday, October 16, 2010

"The parable of Jesus"-"keys to the Kingdom of

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What excites you? Are you a big sports fan? Does watching your favorite sports team in a close game get your adrenaline flowing? What is your passion; what captivates you? Have you ever been really excited by someone or something? Has your mind, your heart, ever become engrossed in an unique experience to the point that you were unaware of what was going on around you? To some in may be a sporting event. To others a good book or movie. To me it is the beauty of God's creation. I love just to sit and enjoy the view of peaceful calm lakes, snow-covered mountains, gentle moving streams or to take a walk along a peaceful ocean beach.

The issue of modern civilization is the furthest thing from my mind when I am absorbed in the beauty of God's creation. I get a similar feeling when Jesus speaks to me in Scripture. He is a master at story telling. He speaks with authority. He taught as no man had taught before. He used simple stories (parables) from every day life to convey hidden truths about the kingdom of God. Like a skillful artist, Jesus painted beautiful pictures with short and simple words. In our imagination, we can join his original audience as they hang on every word. When Jesus spoke, his listeners were absolutely spellbound.

For two thousand years, Christians and non-Christians alike have admired the teaching ability of Jesus. As a teacher Jesus employed a variety of techniques to implant his message upon the minds of his hearers. He is a master teacher in both his method and message. Jesus uses vivid every day illustrations as one of His most powerful teaching methods. In these parables He uses common, every-day experiences of life of His original listeners as illustrations to communicate the most important truths any teacher has ever delivered.

As I study His teaching I can sense His presence. I can hear His voice as He speaks to us through these simple but powerful illustrations. These powerful parables will enable us to grow spiritually like never before. They will transform us into His likeness.

This method of teaching using vivid everyday illustrations is very powerful and makes it easier to remember. It draws the image or word picture on our memory. For example, how many of us can remember the stories of the "Three Little Pigs" or "Goldie Locks and the Three Bears"? I am sure many of us remember the key points of these stories. Yet it probably has been years since many of us have read or heard these stories. This is the same with Jesus' parables. We do not have a bunch of principles to memorize and soon forget. These down to earth illustrations burn themselves into our memory.

Approximately one-third of Jesus' recorded teaching is found in the form of these everyday illustrations, which are called parables. Some of the best know sayings of Jesus are from His parables. For example the words "prodigal son" and "good Samaritan" and their general meaning are well known to most of the world. When we think of a "prodigal son" we think of a wayward and rebellious child. The phrase "good Samaritan" brings to mind a helpful and caring person. These are general thoughts conveyed by these parables, however, Jesus had a deeper meaning than has been captured by the above phrases. During this study we will be investigating these deeper meanings.

The word "parable" is derived from the Greek word "parabole" which means "to place beside, to cast alongside". It "signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view of comparison". This method of comparison of the "known" (earthly) truths with the "unknown"(heavenly) truths shed further light on the unknown. Jesus is placing the known next to the unknown so that we may learn". It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. When Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like....", He was placing an earthly thing beside a heavenly truth for the purpose of teaching about the kingdom.

Jesus used parables because they contain objects that the audience can relate to. Jesus always customized His message to His audience when He taught. When He was answering the Pharisees, He quoted the Old Testament. When He teaches the general audience of His day who were mostly farmers, Jesus used familiar things like seeds, soil, sheep to illustrate difficult truths. These simple concepts are still relevant today.

Jesus' parables are like a road map. His Spirit leads us on a path from the known into the unknown. A specific parable usually conveys its message of truth through an analogy, a comparison or a contrast.

Jesus' parables often had a surprise or an unexpected twist and would catch the hearer off guard. The parable would move from the very familiar and understandable aspects of an experience to a sudden turn of events or a remarkable comparison that would challenge the hearer and invite him further reflection. This required reflection or meditation is what separates the truth-seekers from the curiosity-seekers!

Our understanding of the truths of these parables will have a great impact on our spiritual lives. Parables contrast the inadequacy of man-made religion versus the sufficiency of a personal relationship by faith in Jesus. As we study the parables it is as if God is holding up a mirror showing us our warts. The study of the parables will have a dividing effect on us. It divides those who believe from those who don't. Jesus says that His Word is sharper than a two edged sword and divides bone from marrow.

The truth divides. Our hearts will either be softened or hardened by the teaching of the parables of Jesus. It has been proven in nature that the same sun, which melts ice, will also harden clay. What awakens one will harden another. Our hearts will either be softened or hardened by studying the parables of Jesus. Parables strengthen the faithful while blinding the faithless. They encourage believers and discourage unbelievers. Believers will see more clearly while unbelievers will become blinder. Jesus is the only one who can give sight to the blind. Jesus as the Savior and Lord who is the only One that can change people, regenerate them, give them eternal life (See appendix A - Roman Road).

When the Disciples asked why He spoke in parables. Jesus quoted from Isaiah. In Isaiah's famous vision in the temple (Is. 6:8-13), God says the people will hear but not understand His truth because they did not want to listen. Because of this He would allow their hearts to be hardened, their eyes blinded and their ears stopped. Yet it was Jesus' desire that all hear and believe. Jesus' common expression, "He that has ears to hear, let him hear," is a plea for us to understand. This also demonstrates the New Testament teaching that the Holy Spirit is required (does the interpreting) for the believer to understand. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "not everyone would understand." This illustrates the fulfill Isaiah's prophesy that hearts, eyes and ears are closed. It was the judgment of God upon the hardened hearts of Israel. Their dull and rebellious hearts would make them blind and would end in judgement.

Because of these harden hearts Jesus was using parables to perk their interest and awaken their spiritual senses. The parables both revealed and concealed. Those who were spiritually hunger would understand. Those who were not hungry would not be fed. It was not that His word hardened their hearts, their hearts would be hardened to his word.

Jesus' ministry was always in conflict with the views of the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus used parables to catch his hearers off guard and to teach them about their sin in a way that would not make them defensive. His parables often involved an element of surprise or an unexpected twist. The parable moves from the very familiar to something that challenges us to invite further reflection. They catch us of guard and teach us about our sins in a way that breaks through our defenses.

This same technique was used by Nathan to convict King David of his sin. Nathan told the unsuspecting David the seemingly harmless parable of a rich man and a poor man living in the same city (2 Sam. 12:1­4). The poor man owned only a single little ewe lamb, which he loved as a household pet. The rich man owned large flocks; yet when the wealthy farmer had a guest to serve, he took, killed, and prepared the poor man's single lamb for the dinner!

Nathan sought to get inside David's guard and cut the iron bonds of his self-deception and to strike the moral blindness from his eyes. It was a well­laid trap and David responded with moral outrage, thus condemning himself. Nathan then applied the parable to the king's affair with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:5­14). This parable took David by surprise. But with only a few minutes of meditation and with the help of Nathan, he able to realize that "He was the man."

In understanding parables we should consider the context of the parable. Look carefully for the question, issue, or situation that Jesus is answering or illustrating by the parable. Parables should always be interpreted in the context of the lesson Jesus was teaching. And finally, determine what central truth is being taught. The parables usually show attributes of the kingdom, the King, His subjects, and the relationships between them.

Parables can provide great insights into our relationship with Jesus the King. A Key to understanding parables is seeing its context in the ministry of Jesus. Many times Jesus strings parables togeather to illustrate the same point. I like to think of Jesus' parables as portraits or word pictures. In many of the parables we see a picture of Christ. His love, grace, patience, mercy, compassion, faithfulness, powers, and majesty are just a few of His characteristics we see as we study the parables.

The parables also reveal the heart and thoughts of God. Jesus is a living parable, the visual presence of the invisible, eternal God. He is the clear window into the mind and heart of God. To see and hear and experience Him is to see, hear and experience the Holy God of this universe. Yet, the proud pull down the shade and miss the opportunity of a lifetime to know God personally and intimately. God only reveals to those who are interested to know the truth. The Bible says in Deu 4:29 that if you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

A practical way to look at the parables is as a mirror. The parables reflect the difference of your life compared to the principle that Christ was trying to teach in the parable. They force us to take a spiritual inventory revealing the condition of our heart. You'll know where you stand, having studied these parables. They will act as mirrors revealing our heart-condition: our priorities, our commitments, our selfishness, and our sins. They will force a spiritual inventory.

As we study the parables, we will come to a crossroads, having to choose our way or God's way, his will or my will. When we apply the principles taught in the parables we develop a Christ like Character. When studied in this light they become a valuable media of revelation and encouragement. The true value of the parable is how we apply the truths to our daily lives.

To properly interpret a parable, first picture the image in your minds' eye. Allow it to come to life in your imagination. Mediate upon God's word. Once you have the image before you, use it as an analogy. Think about how the analogy works in relation to the Kingdom of God.

Given Jesus' use of parables, we must acknowledge an element of concealment in them. The parables were given to an audience before the cross and the resurrection, and much of the parabolic material concerns the kingdom of God, which only came into being after His resurrection. As Jesus taught one must be "born again" of the Holy Spirit. This is the relationship of a follower of Christ that determines his membership in the kingdom. Although some parables are sometimes hard to understand, they are meant to be understood, at least by those who are led by the Holy Spirit.

Second we can use the knowledge gained from other parables and the scripture as a whole to help us interpret the other parables. For example Jesus explains a few of the parables. We build our understanding from these. Jesus explains the parable of the sower. A central truth to this parable is that the "good soil" brings forth fruit. The "good soil" are those that receive the gospel of Christ and are "born again" of the Spirit. The Bible teaches only those who are indwell by the Spirit of God can understand Scripture. Therefore it is a prerequisite that to understand the parables you must be a true believer of Christ. The Bible teaches that a seeker, one who is seeking to understand who Jesus is, first must accept Him for who He says He is the "Savior". Once you repent and believe that you are "born again" of the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who allows you to understand and apply God's Word to your life.

But when we are confronted by God's Word, the power of His Spirit draws us toward Christ rather than away from Him. That's the purpose of parables and that's the purpose of Bible Study. In Bible study, we come to be confronted with truth that will hopefully turn us toward Christ and ultimately set us free.

God must disclose this truth to us. This is why man's wisdom is never enough. Man can discover many things about life and, with technology, we can invent a lot of useful implements and gadgets but we will never, never satisfy human life on those terms. We must know more spiritually; and only God can teach us. That is why these mysteries are of great importance. The gospel of Christ itself is greatest of these mysteries. Its great secret, Paul says, is "Christ in you, the hope of glory," {Col 1:27}.

We must act upon God's truth in order to retain it. Truth rejected or unused is lost. May God grant us the heart to listen and to act upon what we learn from His Word.

"For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." {Matt 13:12 RSV} That is a basic, fundamental law of life. That is the great principle upon which God operates to govern human lives and human history. "To him who has will more be given ... but from him who has not, even what he has [or, as Luke says, 'even what he thinks he has'] will be taken away." Now, what does that mean? It is so fundamental that it applies to everything in life, to every realm of existence.

It is true on the physical level. You have muscles in your body. Suppose you deliberately refuse to use one? You will find that soon it will begin to weaken, and the strength you once had will be taken away. All you need do to render your arm paralyzed is simply to tie it up and not use it for a few months. Soon you will find you have lost the ability to use it. Life is built this way. This holds true for spiritual strength as well.

The general theme of the parables is "The Kingdom of Heaven is like.. ". In other words Jesus is showing us what the kingdom is to be like. He is giving us a mirror to see our selves as members of the kingdom, plus He is showing is the Father to show us the image unto which we are to be transformed.

There are at least the following three major sub-themes in the parables of Jesus:

(1)The character of the KING, (2) the character of the KINGDOM, and (3) the character of the KING'S SUBJECTS

The kingdom of heaven is spiritual in nature now and involves the reign of the King (Jesus) in the believers' hearts. In is manifested today in the lives of the believers (The church). Yet it has both a present and future sense. Present in the lives of the believers, future in the sense of a physical kingdom in the coming of the Lord Jesus, new heaven and a new earth.

Yet these "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 13:11), containing "things kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Mt 13:35), are now being made known through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. This mystery referred to God siting aside the nation of Israel and substituting the church as the subjects of the kingdom. "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began" "but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith;" - Ro 16:25-26

As we study the parables, let us keep the following thoughts in mind. Let us always start with the immediate context of the parable looking for the question, situation, or problem Christ is addressing. We should start by asking the question, what is the problem that prompted the parable? When Jesus told a parable, He was dealing with either a Question or an Attitude - Often both at the same time. The question might be spoken or unspoken, after all, He can read our minds. Or He might be dealing with a bad attitude. We have to examine the context to see if a question was asked or implied. And we need to see if there is an attitude that needs to be dealt with, etc. If you don't understand the question, you can't come up with the right answer.

Jesus told the parables in the historical context of His day. Most of the parables used such common illustrations that we can grasp the historical/cultural context with out a lot of difficulty. Jesus is drawing on culture, historical events, etc. We need to ask what the historical and cultural context is. We also need to look at the immediate literary context. What is going on in the text both before and after the parable? What has just happened or what has just been said? Did Jesus perform a miracle immediately before or after the parable? Did that miracle illustrate the truth in the parable? Understanding the context keeps us honest and on target with our understanding of the main point of the parable.

Parables are told to make a point. They answer a question, deal with a problem or situation. We need to as "What is the central truth or truths taught"? Of course when all this analysis is done, the most important thing to ask is "How can we apply this?" They will force a spiritual inventory. We will be lead to a crossroad, having to choose my way or God's way; my plan or His; my reasoning or His wisdom. Come let us follow in the steps of Jesus. Let us choose to be obedient to Him. We cannot become like Him unless we allow His Word to transform us into His image.

Parables are told so that only those who really care will come to know the truth. Not so much because they understand the parable, but because they care enough to ask. Just as the disciples asked Jesus to explain some of the parables, we need to do the same. Remember, the disciples didn't understand the parables, but they asked what Jesus meant after the crowds left. They had a soft and open heart. Understanding is an issue of the heart. What happens in your life after you have heard the words of Jesus determines "who you say that He is!"

Do you say that His is a prophet or King? Regardless of your answer now I challenge you to study these few parables included in this book. Meditate on them and allow the Spirit of God to lead you to all TRUTH.

This is the first of a number of articles on the parables of Jesus.

About the Author: Rev. Charles King, D.Min

Rev. Charles King is the founder of Four Soils Ministry and has been involved in the sowing the Word of God as well as the teaching and encouragement of God's servants in a number of countries around the world.

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