Matthew 13 presents a priceless display of some parables of Christ and also gives His reasons for using this device in His teaching ministry. Best of all, it offers two examples of Christ’s own interpretation of His parables. They give us a snapshot of the history of the kingdom of God from its earliest beginnings to its consummation.
A parable is an extended simile or a metaphor that explains aspects of spiritual truth in everyday terms. The word parable describes the act of placing two objects or ideas side by side for comparison.
Christ’s use of parables is often commended to preachers and teachers today as an alternate way to reveal a truth; however, the Lord used parables primarily to conceal or hide His message from casual, indifferent, or unbelieving hearers. “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,” Christ declared (Matt. 13:11 kjv).
Jesus’ parables baffled many people, especially the learned scribes and Pharisees. They went away shaking their heads over such “foolishness” (1 Cor. 2:14). Even when they understood a parable correctly, it only enraged them (Matt. 21:45–46). Unbelief is fatal to all knowledge of the kingdom of God and all personal experience of its power, as Christ’s old neighbors in Nazareth discovered (13:53–58): “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (v. 58).
In the parable of the sower, Christ teaches us that God’s kingdom begins with the planting of precious seed in the hearts and minds of men. He wills that men go forth to preach the Word of God, laying the foundations of His kingdom in the hearts and lives of those who believe on His name. Christ was the first preacher of “this gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:14). He ordained that His church and kingdom be established, built up, and maintained by the faithful preaching of the Word.
Christ had no unrealistic expectations, however. In His parable, He identifies four kinds of responders to the Word. He describes the careless or indifferent “wayside” hearer, to whom the Word means nothing at all; then the “stony ground” hearer, who is easily discouraged by “tribulation or persecution.” Next is the “thorny ground” hearer, who is distracted by the “care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.” None of these listeners reaps a lasting benefit from the Word.
Thankfully, there is also the “good ground” hearer, in whom the Word produces abundant fruit of many kinds. The “goodness” of the ground implies the work of a diligent “husbandman” (John 15:1), or farmer, who has prepared the soil; the abundant fruitfulness of the Word implies the life-nurturing work of the Holy Spirit (Ps. 104:30). Christ speaks of “hearing” and “understanding” the Word, which are acts of true faith, leading to conversion of life (Matt. 13:13–14). Such faith is the gift of God (v. 11).
In subsequent parables, Christ reminds us that other spiritual forces are at work in our world, and we must expect mixed results, even in the church. The enemy sows his own kind of seed, so there are “tares,” or noxious weeds, among the “wheat” in Christ’s “field,” that must “grow together until the harvest” (vv. 29–30).
For those who find the preaching of “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21) too simple a remedy to be effective against the ills of the world, Christ insists that, like the mustard seed, such preaching will produce a result far out of proportion to the means employed. It will work in the world, in the church, and in the believer as a potent spiritual force, just as hidden leaven works in meal or flour.
This Gospel of the kingdom produces many fruits in those who receive it and cherish it as “treasure hid in a field” and a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:44–46). To obtain such treasure and to keep it, we must be willing to part with everything else. In return, those who are “instructed” in the faith and order of this kingdom will find that they possess a vast store of treasures old and new. In Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Despite what we may lose to follow Christ, we have lost nothing of real value.
However, that will not always be so! A day has been appointed on which Christ will judge the world (Acts 17:31). Unbelievers will be cast out and punished as they deserve, while those who turned from their sins in true faith to embrace the grace of God in Christ shall be gathered into Christ’s barn or storehouse to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).
Will you heed the warning and obtain the promised blessing?