DUNCAN/Jesus speaks in parables
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 13:10-17. In this passage, we have an opportunity to hear from Jesus’ own lips an explanation as to why He spoke in parables. The Lord Jesus tells us exactly why He spoke to the multitudes in parables, and this, in and of itself, will give us an opportunity to do some healthy self-examination and to learn a little bit about how we ought to learn from biblical parables in general. He says to them, first of all, that He uses parables in order to judge unbelief. And then, He uses these parables as a fulfillment of prophecy, and then He uses these parables to show forth the sheer grace of the gospel.
I. Parables Judge Unbelief
And the first you will see in verses 10-12. In those verses we learn from Jesus that parables judge unbelief. The gospel divides the world into two camps: those who embrace it and those who reject it. There is no third category. There is no third group. The gospel divides the world into two parts: either those who accept it or reject it. Look again at those verses. The disciples come to Jesus and ask Him the question in verse 10, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus’ answer begins in verses 11-12. The first thing that He says to His disciples in response to the question that they ask is in verse 11: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The first thing He says is that they need to recognize the great grace that they have received in being able to understand the truths about the kingdom of heaven and about Himself as Messiah. Understanding and embracing the gospel is always a matter of grace. Only the divine and gracious work of the Holy Spirit can enable us to understand and embrace the gospel of grace.
The second thing that Jesus says to the disciples is even more provocative. He says to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” In other words, He is telling them that it is God’s gracious and divine electing power which has drawn them to Himself, and enabled them to know and understand the truth. And He gives no explanation here as to why that was not granted to the multitudes. And then, Jesus quotes them a proverb. In verse 12 He says: “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.” In other words, Jesus is saying that His parables are a judgment on the unbelief of all those in Israel who refused to believe in Him.
Now this exchange is profound, and it ought to have several different impacts upon us. First of all, we ought to be profoundly thankful and humble that the Lord has granted us to know the gospel. The reason why we have been saved out of the fire is not to be found in us. It is only in the grace of God. Another thing that we learn in this passage is that the gospel divides the world. And the judgment day will reveal those whose hopes have been substantial, and those whose hopes have been in things which are going to pass away. You cannot profess Christ, and then fail to grow in grace, for God’s plan is for those who have embraced Him to grow in grace. And if you are indifferent to the Word of truth and to the changing power of the gospel of salvation, then you are indifferent to Christ Himself.
II. Those Who Reject the Truth Fulfill Prophecy
In verses 13-15 we see that Jesus wants us to understand that He is speaking these parables in the context of Old Testament prophecy. He says that because many see His miracles but do not understand them or embrace the truth which He teaches, therefore, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah 6 is being fulfilled. Because of the hardness of their hearts, because they have seen Christ’s miracles, and they have heard His preaching and they have not embraced that, because they have seen and heard and yet not understood and believed, God will judge them in fulfillment of prophecy by speaking to them in dark sayings.
Jesus knows that this is going to perplex the disciples. The disciples were expecting Jesus’ kingdom to roll like a juggernaut; for there to be thousands conversions to Christ the Messiah in Israel; for the Gentiles to stream into Jerusalem to praise Him; for the kingdom to be set up. And yet Jesus is standing here saying that many of His generation would reject Him. They would reject His truth, they would reject His person. Jesus knows this will perplex the disciples, and so He reminds the disciples of this passage from Isaiah’s call to the ministry and says that His ministry will be like Isaiah’s. That Old Testament quote reminds us that the problem of unbelief lies in the heart of man. It’s not that God has been unconvincing. It is that our hearts are hardened.
III. The Blessings That Come with Understanding
And finally, in verses 16-17, Jesus reminds the disciples again of the blessing that they have, of the spiritual sight which has been granted to them by the Lord. And we ourselves must determine more fully the glory of the gospel privileges that have been granted to us. He says in verses 16-17: “But blessed are your eyes because the see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desire to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” God’s gospels, and even the parables, are a great blessing to the disciples in a double way.
They are a blessing because the disciples understand these parables. For the disciples, these parables were not confusing sayings; they were sayings filled with truth because they had heard the explanation of the parable from the Master himself. So even the parables were blessings to them, just like they are blessings to us. The disciples are also blessed because Jesus says that they have been granted to see something that even the prophets had not been granted. God had not granted to show those things to them. God revealed it to you in a way far beyond Abraham, Isaiah, Jacob, Moses, and David. Do you see that privilege? Do you realize the sheer lavishness of God’s love in revealing that to you? Do we realize the privilege that we have, and have we embraced the gospel in all its life?
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.