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Life of Christ (2007-2009)


Matthew 13:1-52

Lesson audio

It is not correct to assert that Jesus of Nazareth invented the parable – the device itself goes back at least to the period of the Judges. But the parable certainly is the teaching device most associated with him. Perhaps it appears that the parable is simply an aid to the memory (which it is), but we may see certain other advantages in the parable which might cause us to pay more attention.

  • Parables appeal to the simple – those who can’t understand “theology” can understand the homelike example. Parables don’t prove – but they do make things clear to those who listen.
  • Parables often add an element of emotion to what might otherwise be a purely intellectual exercise. Wheat and tares come to life for the gardener engaged in a war against weeds.
  • Everyone can understand parables – but no one is forced to. Your understanding depends on your willingness to listen.
  • Those who will not hear thus bear their own burden – the literary device is so simple that virtually anyone can understand; rejection or acceptance is thus (obviously) with the hearer.
  • It’s also a great example for teachers, with the added educational advantage that your hearers pay better attention to parables.
  • Parables lend themselves to self-examination; you can often see yourself in the mirror this way.
  • Parables reveal whom God has elected to bring to faith. The rich, the powerful, the arrogant find the meanings hidden. This is what was prophesied; it’s God’s plan from the beginning.

In this lesson we shall see the parables Christ used and derive what may be learned from them with regard to the world, the church, and the believer.

The World

Mat 13:1-9 NASB That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. (2) And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. (3) And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow; (4) and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. (5) "Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. (6) "But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. (7) "Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. (8) "And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. (9) "He who has ears, let him hear."

Mat 13:18-23 NASB "Hear then the parable of the sower. (19) "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (20) "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (21) yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. (22) "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (23) "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty."

The distracted

One thing which is plain to a Christian of this century is this: the path is very wide. Many people are now like this. They hear – but pay no attention. It is a measure of the Gospel that Christ tells us to shake dust and move on. It sounds harsh, but we must remember that the hardness they have is a part of their nature, not God’s. They don’t want to listen – even though it might be their only chance at the truth. The hardness of heart makes it easy to remove the Word and any impact it might have. Before they can hear, God would need to plow up their lives.

The shallow

For the teacher, these are the most frustrating of people. Note that it’s said they have “no root in themselves.” So at first they look like true converts – thus setting the teacher’s expectations. But if you have no roots, you get no moisture. Plants can survive like that; we call them tumbleweeds. People like this go from church to philosophy to some other system of belief, each time hoping that this will be the one that lasts. That’s the frustrating part; they’re looking for long term relationship with God, but they’re not willing to change to have it.

How does this manifest itself? The shallow live only to get, not to give. It soon becomes evident that giving is part of the Christian life; then it’s time to move on.

The choked out

This is the most common case today. People are perfectly willing to go to church, as long as it doesn’t get in the way. What drives people like that?

  • Worries, to start with. You don’t have to be rich to have worries. Christ tells you to put your burdens on him – but even the poor often prefer to keep these things to themselves. Pride says you can handle this yourself, right?
  • Riches are another problem. Some people have money, for others, money has them. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of being rich or poor – just a matter of wanting “more.”
  • For others, there is the system of pleasures of this world. Often enough, it’s drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it’s sex; our youth now “hook up” first and then see if there is interest in a long term relationship. If that’s your priority, the word of God will seem unimportant indeed.

The nature of the Church

These parables tell us of the church we should see as well. For example:

The weeds

Mat 13:24-30 NASB Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. (25) "But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. (26) "But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. (27) "The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' (28) "And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves *said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' (29) "But he *said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. (30) 'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

Mat 13:36-43 NASB Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." (37) And He said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, (38) and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; (39) and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. (40) "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. (41) "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, (42) and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (43) "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

It is a fact of life in the church: there will be false Christians in the church. It is not generally good for us to go around identifying them; the time would be much better spent in making sure we aren’t such. On specific occasions we may bring church discipline to someone. If we judge someone in the church, that is the process to follow. It is not given to us to judge and then look down our noses. We are to correct; we need not condemn.

Why? Because it is God’s will that even the hypocrites will come to understand him, and be saved. I’ve known such; give room for repentance. But still, there will be those who are the weeds in God’s garden. But grant God this: that he may delay his justice for the sake of his mercy, so that more might be saved.

The mustard seed

Mat 13:31-32 NASB He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; (32) and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES."

There is a myth amongst the professional clergy: if only we knew the right formula, we could cause explosive growth in our church. The usual result of this was expressed in one pastor’s words: “Our evangelism explosion just fizzled.” Why? Sometimes we do see an explosion – but it’s usually related to the circumstances rather than the method. We need to remember that God gives the increase. The growth of the church is normally imperceptible, day by day.

But isn’t that the way all complex organisms grow? The more complex the species, the longer its growth time, in general. But see another advantage: growth this way produces a stronger result. The church that grows like a mustard seed soon becomes a haven.

We have forgotten the concept, but the church used to be viewed as a sanctuary from the world. It still is, or can be. It’s a place for those who don’t quite know how to get along with the rest of the world. They come to the church, and there they should find acceptance – with the rest of the sinners.


Mat 13:33 NASB He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."[1]

The church is in the world, not of the world. That means we should not allow the world to change the church. But there is no good reason the church shouldn’t change the world. How so? By our witness. We should change the world – it’s obvious the world is in need of it.

The Christian

So what about the individual Christian. One thing we know: the real thing reproduces itself quite well. But what do these parables say about our faith?

The parable of the Pirate

Mat 13:44 NASB "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

May we point out the obvious?

  • First, that the faith is indeed a treasure. If salvation, justification and the joy of heaven are not treasure, then the word has no meaning.
  • But we might point out: finding the treasure cost nothing. Obtaining the treasure costs everything.

Which asks the question: what are you willing to give up for the cause of Christ?

Pearl of great price

Mat 13:45-46 NASB "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, (46) and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

There is only one pearl of great price; faith, prayed and practiced. It comes to those who are looking for it, but it is so precious that it demands a high price. First, the price is the death of Christ on the Cross, so that you and I might live. Next, it is the price of everything we have and are, past, present and future. If we are not willing to pay the price, it will not be ours.

It is a paradox. The man who pays the price finds himself rich indeed; the man who wants to bargain it down to half price finds it is of no value. If faith is to be that pearl, you must put all you are and all you have down as payment. “Take my yoke upon you, for my burden is light.”

[1] The use of leaven in the Old Testament to metaphorically represent evil has produced some strange interpretations of this verse. I believe this is the common sense version.

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