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Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, mathematician, and theologian of the 17th century, penned words that are a profound explanation of why Jesus spoke in parables. He wrote,
“Openly appearing to those who look for him with all their heart, while hiding from those who run from him with all their heart, God governs human knowledge of his presence.
“He gives signs that are visible to those who search for him, and yet invisible to those who are indifferent to him.
“To those who wish to see, God gives sufficient light; to those who do not wish to see, he gives sufficient darkness.”
Where did Pascal get such an idea? He learned it from Jesus.
When asked about parables Jesus said, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4.11-12)
Did Jesus use parables to keep people in the dark about the purposes of God? One early church leader said, “If Jesus wanted to prevent understanding, it would have been easier just to remain silent.”
Clearly Jesus had good reasons to use parables in the way he did, but what were they?
Jesus, A Prophet
When Jesus used the quote from Isaiah 6, he identified himself with prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Parables to Jesus were like tools to enlighten and instruct people.
Like the prophets, he announced both judgment and deliverance for people, depending on their response to his message. The harsh message of the Jesus and the prophets was intended to shock and challenge people, so that they would evaluate their lives and repent.
The Isaiah 6 passage that Jesus quoted was well known by many in his audience to be a classic statement about the danger of a hard and unresponsive heart.
Like Pascal said, Jesus’ parables served God’s purposes of revelation and judgment: “To those who wish to see, God gives sufficient light; to those who do not wish to see, he gives sufficient darkness.”
The Real Issue
Just before Jesus began his teaching about the Sower and the explanation of parables, his family members wanted to speak to him.
Mark records the scene like this, “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’
“And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’
“And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3.31-35).
Without minimizing the great honor of being a biological member of Jesus’ family, let’s fix in our minds that Jesus placed a greater value of doing God’s will than being one of his family members by birth.
Immediately following the parable of the Sower and Jesus’ teaching about parables, Mark included another important thought from Jesus.
Jesus said, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.
“Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
“And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away'” (Mark 4.21-25).
Once again, Jesus highlights the critical importance of hearing and obeying God’s word. Here are three key thoughts:
(1) His message – the “seeds” that are being sown in his parables – is the lamp of God. As a lamp, it reveals the human heart and the purpose of God.
(2) If people can hear, Jesus’ words they are to listen to them and not harden their hearts in willful disobedience.
(3) If we listen and follow his direction, he will give us more direction.
A flashlight in the forest will give us 50 feet of illumination. Once we have walked that distance, we have 50 more feet of guidance, and so on.
If we turn off the light, everything goes black and we stumble.
In order to have God’s guidance and direction, we must hear and respond to his teaching. Note, this is essentially the same message Jesus gave concerning being members of his family.
Jesus told parables to get people to really hear and respond to his message. If we are hearing but not obeying, then we haven’t really heard what he wants us to know.
The message of Jesus that we read in the Bible is truly like a farmer sowing seed. Jesus used parables and other means of communication to guide us into the most fruitful life.
To once again quote Henry Blackaby, “We can’t go where Jesus is and stay where we are.”
Jesus’ parables and other kinds of teaching are designed to confront us and draw us into following Jesus. Their purpose is to challenge our hardened heart of self-will and to produce a willingness to do the will of God.
The value of hearing and doing God’s will is that we have further insight into what is really real in life. In addition, we begin to take on a family resemblance to the Greatest Person to walk the earth, Jesus.
About This Blog
Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, “Stories With Intent.” His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at email@example.com or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.