Before the Lord Jesus Christ became a Gospel-preacher, he was a carpenter. I don’t know that much about ancient carpentry, but what I do know is that every trade has its tools. Even today’s modern carpenters have a whole host of tools available to them. If you’ve ever worked on a project before, then you know that the right tool makes all the difference. Much like a carpenter, when Christ walked as a preacher, He regularly utilized various tools. These tools were not like hammers or saws, though at points they certainly crushed and cut in order to build up His project. One of Jesus’ most famous tools were his parables.
What is a parable? A parable is a symbolic story meant to teach about the kingdom of God. The gospels contain all sorts of parables employed by Jesus to teach His disciples about God’s coming kingdom. But they are to be understood in a two-fold way.
First, the parables are a sign of God’s judgment. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10 ESV) The answer on first reading may be difficult to swallow, especially in our age where everybody has an opinion and they are all equally valid. Jesus taught that the parables true meaning was hidden from unbelievers because of their sin. This is not because of some failure on God’s part, but the hard-heartedness of the listeners. His answer was simple, “To you [disciples] it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Matt. 13:14-15 ESV). Jesus then echoes the very word given by God in Isaiah 6:9, 10.
Second, the parables are a means of instruction for disciples. The disciples are certainly not wiser than others. The whole of the New Testament demonstrates that clear enough. God in His sovereign grace opened the eyes of some to understand the parables. It is not the cleverness of the disciples, but God’s predestinating grace which enables them to understand and receive His teaching. Christ chose these individuals as His disciples. Christ chose to reveal to them the mysteries which were unknowable to them prior to His instruction. New Testament scholar David Wenham gives his helpful summary, “Parables . . . have a dual function and purpose: to reveal and to conceal, to bring blessing and judgment.” (The Parables of Jesus, 243-244)
We are reminded in this instance that God owes us nothing. It is the proud and self-righteous individual who proves the righteousness of God’s judgment. Naturally, we would sooner accuse God of some sin, then be open to the possibility that we deserve His just wrath for sin. God’s holiness is put on clear display in the judgment portion of the parables.
However, God’s gracious character is also displayed in the parables. God was under no obligation to reveal these secrets to us. He chose to because of His kindness and mercy. He wants us to know Him. He wants to show us what the world is really like. This is hard for us to believe sometimes because we are unable to see ourselves or Him rightly. But that is the gift of the parables; we learn to see everything from a heavenly perspective.
If you are a Christian today, then you have the greatest of privileges and it is knowing God’s thoughts after Him. We are able to see the world as it truly is, and not as unbelievers see it. We are not existing in an accidental world guided by chance and leading endlessly in meaningless. Instead, God invites us to see the world for what it is: the theater of His glory, as John Calvin once described. We learn that all of human history has a clear goal and it does not involve my kingdom of dirt, nor yours. All things are progressing one direction and that is the glory of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and His coming Kingdom. This Kingdom’s inauguration has begun! As Christ has ascended into the heavens we know that one day the words of the angels will come to pass, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 ESV) Your Kingdom come!