Why Jesus Taught With Parables – Part 1

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Hidden To Be Found

The principle of commonality says that the more common something is the less it is seen. Hiding something among a lot of similar objects is far better than trying to find an out-of-the-way place for safe keeping. Another principle, duality, tells us that the universe we live in is literally jam-packed with dual counterparts. Art, in all of its forms, incorporates both of these principles which would place it in a category that could be called Common Duality.

There is so much art around us we hardly ever recognize it as such. The entire creation, what many refer to as nature, is a masterful, beautifully appointed, constantly changing landscape. You could think of God’s creation as the first ever motion picture … in slow motion … and 3D. Then consider the art created by people. The sheer volume of artistic creations in just the past year … everything from books, plays, poems, novels, paintings, sculptures, evening gowns and clothing of all types, movies, articles for newspapers, magazines and blogs, food from gourmet to home cookin’ and a whole lot I haven’t mentioned … it’s absolutely mind-boggling.

Parables are works of art. They are a great hiding place for an important message. If you wanted to hide a bunch of parables, what would be better than to arrange them in a thick book full of parables? Not only would the individual parables be hidden among a multitude of parables, but the book of parables would be hidden among millions upon millions of other books. So it is with the Bible. Bibles are full of parables, and Bibles are everywhere. Yet, all too often, they’re just another book in bookcase after bookcase full of books. It is also often true that when someone “discovers” a Bible in one of those bookcases, and actually starts to read it, they most often do not “discover” the parables. Why? Because each parable is hidden among numerous parables.

These things wouldn’t be worth talking about here except that they relate directly to Biblical understanding. The Bible is a work of art, and all art has a dual character. Art is based on the principle of hidden meanings or messages that are meant to be understood. Consider the famous sixteenth-century portrait Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. It is a masterpiece to be sure. But it is not the artist’s craftsmanship alone that continually lures spectators from around the world. The woman’s facial expression is often described as enigmatic. To many, the slight smile is an indication that she is hiding a secret. The great composition, the subtle modeling of forms and other techniques of this master artist are surely characteristics that contribute to the overall beauty of the portrait. However, it’s what is not in the painting, the reason for the woman’s uncertain expression, that continues to fascinate spectators and students to wonder at this famous work.

My point is simply this: da Vinci didn’t just paint a portrait, he created a mystery. He hid something in the painting … something he wanted viewers to find.

Clear Mission, Cloudy Method

Jesus Christ was clear about His mission. He announced His goals by reading from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. His declaration is presented in the gospel of Luke.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blindto set free those who are oppressedto proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

While His mission was clear and the proclamation concise, the way He carried out His commission was not nearly as straightforward. He spoke in ways most of the people following Him did not understand. Many of His statements are shrouded in mystery even to this day. A prime reason for this is that He taught with parables. The people Jesus spoke to did not, for the most part, understand the parables, but Jesus expected His disciples, then and now, to understand all the parables (see Mark 4:13).

It seems odd that Jesus came to show the people the way into the kingdom of heaven, but delivered His message in a form the people almost certainly could not or would not understand. Some of those same messages are recorded in the Bible, and they are just as misunderstood by many today, non-believer and believer alike. Jesus had a clear mission, but He taught with riddles. That strategy just doesn’t make sense, at least not to the natural mind.

The sensible thing from our human perspective is to teach as clearly and directly as possible so our message will be understood. Not so Jesus. He taught in a way His students would almost surely not understand. As if to add insult to injury, when the disciples asked Jesus why He taught in parables, His answer was that He did it precisely because the people could not understand.

 10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.

12 “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.

13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while  seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Matthew 13:10-13)

A Greater Goal

Jesus is recognized as a great teacher, but I’ve never heard Him referred to as a theologian. His goal was for the people to be in a place where they could receive revelations of understanding about the parables. Their problem was that they were in the wrong place spiritually. A shift had to occur if they were to be able to receive understanding from the Holy Spirit. (Read more about the Holy Spirit’s role in understanding the parables see The Holy Spirit: Do-All and End-All of Bible Understanding.) Please don’t just read over this point. It is very important. Let me restate it a little more concisely.

Had Jesus taught clearly and directly, as we would probably do, His students (the people and the disciples) would have acquired knowledge, but there would have been no change of heart, and consequently no possibility of receiving understanding.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot SEE the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Notice that He speaks of seeing the kingdom, He did not say that someone who was not born again could not know about the kingdom. Anyone can read the Bible and know about the kingdom of God. That’s not what Jesus was after, He was then and is now primarily interested in changing hearts not making people smart. A heart that is in agreement with and subservient to a fleshly mind (see Colossians 2:18 NASB, KJV) will never understand the parables, because understanding is a spiritual activity. Only a changed heart of one who is born again is in a place to receive revelations of understanding from the Holy Spirit. Physical knowledge does not accomplish this goal. Understanding differs from knowledge in that it is accomplished with the heart, not the mind.

Here is the point to be grasped: True understanding of the parables only comes by way of revelations from the Holy Spirit.

A person must be born again, because those who are born again have received a new spirit capable of receiving revelations of Truth from the Holy Spirit. Understanding the Bible is not automatic for believers. That is, you don’t become born again and all of a sudden the floodgates of heaven open and fill you with all understanding. You must receive understanding from the Holy Spirit. He or she who finds must first seek. If you are not seeking revelations of understanding from the Holy Spirit, you will not find any. What you will find is your own knowledge, which isn’t even in the same universe as Holy Spirit revelation.

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One Response to Why Jesus Taught With Parables – Part 1

  1. I really like this thinking. I have considered it before actually. Especially in the midst of evangelical Christianity that goes to every length to give people knowledge. Lecture-type sermons are probably the primary way that this is done. Being a university lecturer myself, I understand how to teach in such a way that gives students the correct perspective from which to build their understanding about a specific field. As for real understanding, that can only come from experience. Grappling with a topic and applying it practically to life. Which in spiritual terms, is something that only the Holy Spirit can help one do.

    I think parables create that bridge between the physical and the spiritual that one needs to “enter” the spiritual realm. They are like Jacob’s ladder that connects heaven and earth. In many ways they are also an expression of Christ, who has become our bridge, our Jacob’s ladder. Our tangible doorway to “enter” the spiritual realm. They are Christ in another form. And as we chew on them, and digest them we find that His life begins to fill us.

    Additionally, it is interesting to note the Jesus specifically spoke in parables so that people could not understand with their carnal minds. Another scripture that echoes this thinking is in John 6 where Jesus tells his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. After telling them that, most of them left. Only the 12 remained to which he even asked “You do not want to leave too, do you?” He clearly went to every length to find only those that the Father had drawn by the Holy Spirit.

    This makes one think about some current church practice which tries to draw as many people as possible with fun and interesting services… Maybe we need to go back to the way Jesus did it! I mean, it is after all His church.

    Just my 2 cents.

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