I was excited to see that Matthew 13 begins with the Parable of the Sower because that is definitely one of my favorite parables. And then there was the Parable of the Weeds – oh that’s a great one, too. And, the Mustard Seed and Yeast. As well as the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl and finally, the Fishing Net. I believe Matthew 13 is the home of more parables than any other chapter of the Bible -but please correct me if I am wrong. It’s been a long time since I was in junior high, but I still remember Joyce Knapp, my junior high class Sunday School teacher, describing parables as earthly stories with heavenly meaning. Jesus was a master at telling stories about common, everyday things everyone listening would know about (fields, farming, seeds, yeast, weeds, fishing nets), and creating out of it a deeper spiritual, godly lesson. He didn’t give long confusing lectures filled with mile long words that you need a masters level degree to understand. He wanted to make it as simple as he could so that anyone willing to listen with an open mind could learn, even while knowing that many would not get it because they didn’t want to change or didn’t think they needed what Jesus had to offer.
What was it Jesus was offering? What was the point of all these earthly stories with “heavenly” meaning? It is interesting that Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like…” to introduce many of Jesus’ parables. In fact the term “kingdom of heaven” is only found in the book of Matthew (31 times – and 8 of those are in Matthew 13). The other gospel writers, as well as Paul in his letters, refer instead to the kingdom of God (even Matthew uses this term 5 times). When Matthew was writing with the Jews in mind he knew they took very seriously the commandment to, “Not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7) So, in order to remain guiltless it might be better to not use his name at all. So, when speaking of God and godly things, Matthew often replaced the word God with heaven as that is the throne of God and it would be understood that he was speaking of godly, holy matters belonging to God, without having to risk misusing his name or offending a Jewish listener. These parables are not about being whisked away to heaven when you die. Indeed, they are very much grounded in what is happening on earth both now and in the future judgment. These parables of the kingdom of heaven/God are down-to-earth stories illustrating spiritual/Godly matters.
Take some time today reading and even rereading these parables. Each one has a gem hidden for those who will listen and seek. Each one reveals a little more about what Jesus found most important, what God is preparing, what is required, what is most valuable, what the evil one is up to, what is promised, what are dangerous challenges, what is worthy of sacrifice, what judgment will look like, what is to come, what will be. It’s a treasure hunt in Jesus’ parables. What does the Master want you to find in his stories?
There is one verse that really struck me as I read and re-read Matthew 13. It seems to say perfectly what discussed earlier this week about not throwing away the Old Testament but adding to it the love and beauty of Jesus and what he taught and what he has done and will do. After telling 7 parables Jesus asks his disciples if they are getting it. They reply yes. Then, “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.'” (Matthew 13:52 – NIV) The teacher of the (Old Testament) law who learns and lives by these (New Testament) principles spoken by Jesus and recorded by Matthew as the kingdom of heaven parables and teachings has double the treasure – both old and new.
What treasure in His Word will you find today? How will you use these treasures to make a difference in your life? How will you use these treasures to make a difference in someone else’s life?
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Which of the Matthew 13 parables is your favorite today? Why? What is the lesson Jesus was teaching? Why is this important? How can you apply it or put it into action today?
- Jesus chose perfect illustrations for his parables. Even 2,000 years later, even if you are not a farmer, you know what happens when a seed is planted. Even if you have never been fishing, you understand how a net works. But consider how you would create a parable with one of these same teachings using a modern day illustration.
- Consider the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23). What 4 types of soil did Jesus mention and what do they stand for? What happened to each of the seeds? Have you seen these 4 instances occur to others? What kind of soil best describes you right now, and in the past? What lessons can you learn for evangelism from this parable?